The first author I ever loved was Francesca Lia Block. I loved books before I read hers, but I never loved an author. Loving an author is different than loving a book. Loving an author is developing an insatiable need to consume everything they have written; loving an author is infection.
I found her first book through a recommendation by a friend named Rosemary and if you’ve ever read a book by Francesca Lia Block, you know how fantastic it is that my friend’s name was Rosemary. Rosemary is such a Francesca Lia Block sort of a name. The book was I Was A Teenage Fairy; it’s still my favorite of hers.
In 7th grade, I had the reading level and vocabulary of a 9th grader with none of the perspective. I didn’t yet understand sex, didn’t fully grasp the idea of homosexuality, didn’t understand the culture of Los Angeles. When I finished reading I Was A Teenage Fairy, I felt like I understood the world. What I really understood was aesthetics. I’m pretty sure I never had a perfect, serene aesthetic experience before I read Francesca Lia Block. I love books, movies, and television shows that have a consistent and immersive world or tone (for example: Cat’s Eye, Drive, Justified). Did Francesca Lia Block make that in me or did I love her because that’s what I like? Chicken or the egg?
Before I finished junior high, I had read every single book she produced in the 1990s. I understood sex, what it meant to be gay, what it meant to live in Los Angeles. When I first read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I thought of Francesca Lia Block. Marquez is her favorite author, she stole from him, but because I read her first, her stink, the smell of jacaranda trees, was all over One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Francesca Lia Block might lose her home, which she calls the Faerie Cottage. Her financial problem is complicated, but to sum it up quickly, despite the fact that she has made every mortgage payment on time, her house is underwater and Bank of America might foreclose. There is a blog dedicated to helping her keep her home. I read every post even though it’s white text on a black background and I usually avoid white text on a black background like it’s going to infect me with its head cold.
When I first read Francesca Lia Block’s 1990s books, I fell in love with Los Angeles, and I wanted to move to Los Angeles. I wanted to live in the white spaces between her paragraphs stuffed with sensory details. I wanted Topanga Canyon to be all around me. I wanted the trees, the house parties, the woozy sex, the heart-shaped sunglasses, the pastels.
When I first moved to Los Angeles and I felt lost and alone, when every street looked like a decrepit strip mall and the city’s thick smog of desperation had clogged my pores every day until I developed a mild case of acne rosacea, I reread the opening of I Was A Teenage Fairy:
“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model with collagen-puffed lips and silicone-inflated breasts, a woman in a magenta convertible with heart-shaped sunglasses and cotton candy hair; if Los Angeles is this woman, then the San Fernando Valley is her teeny-bopper sister. The teenybopper sister snaps big stretchy pink bubbles over her tongue and checks her lip gross in the rearview mirror, causing Sis to scream. Teeny plays the radio too loud and bites her nails, wondering if the glitter polish will poison her…The citrus fruits bouncing off the sidewalk remind her of boys; the burning oil and chlorine, the gold light smoldering on the windy leaves. Boys are shooting baskets on the tarry playground and she thinks she can smell them on the air.”
I felt better about Los Angeles in a magenta convertible with her sister than I did about Los Angeles, the place I was living. I’ve grown back into loving it. The parts that look like strip malls hide the best pupuserias. For three years, I lived in an apartment in the same neighborhood as the Faerie Cottage. I read Francesca Lia Block’s books to cheer me up just a few miles from where she lives, without knowing she was nearby, like a faerie, buzzing around my atmosphere, sending out her vibes.