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Harper Introduces Francesca Lia Block To a Wider Audience
Cindi Di Marzo -- 5/18/98
A sophisticated look and shelving space in adult sections may do the trick
In an unusual move in children's publishing, this month, HarperCollins is issuing a collection of previously released novels by YA author Francesca Lia Block, to be called Dangerous Angels.

Dangerous Angels consists of all of Block's books to date about Weetzie Bat and her unconventional family, beginning with Weetzie Bat (1989) and continuing through Baby Be-Bop (1995). According to Block's editor, Joanna Cotler, "Reading the stories this way -- back-to-back -- makes it a completely different experience," because Weetzie Bat's world grows more fully realized with each new scene and character.

With each new addition to the series, critics have hailed Block's imaginative creation of Weetzie Bat's world. Remarking on Baby Be-Bop in VOYA, Bonnie Kunzel said of the books as a group, "They are frequently bizarre, often quirky, are marked by lively dialogue, episodes of off-the-wall humor. Like bright, psychedelic colors, the text swirls around in my head." And Booklist's Hazel Rochman, in her review of Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, commented that Block's hold on her readers comes from "the rich p try of the setting, which celebrates the colors of a smoggy sunset as well as neon, lovers, frozen yogurt and the smell of honeysuckle."

The ultimate aim of this repackaging effort is to achieve the kind of crossover to adult readers that Cotler initially hoped for when she signed up Block's first book almost a decade ago. Cotler explained that the collection was actually a long time in the making. "Francesca and I had talked about doing a collection," Cotler said, "and [bookstore] accounts had been saying they wanted a package to shelve in their adult sections. Francesca's audience is mainly paperback, but the small size of the [single volume] paperbacks makes them easily lost on shelves." The collection is being released in paperback only, and Harper hopes that the large trim size, provocative cover art and increased page count will make it stand out on shelves, both adult and YA.

Cotler reported that Block's readership among 20-somethings has been increasing, and it's toward those readers that the new edition is geared. And the collection's price of $12, Cotler believes, will appeal to Gen Xers as well.Past sales for most of Block's books, Cotler said, have been steady in her core market -- schools, libraries and children's bookstores. But while she and Block are grateful to the readers who have supported Block from the very first book, Cotler suggested that a book like The Hanged Man (1994), which is more adult in point of view and touches on sexual abuse and eating disorders, would have done better if an older audience had been exposed to it. Block's ambitions as a writer, Cotler believes, are much broader than one particular market.

To achieve a cover image that would appeal to adult readers and give a sense of Weetzie's realm, Cotler worked closely with Block. The paperback editions had been reissued once before, in single volumes with bold, earthy artwork by Caldecott Medalist David Diaz that seems the antithesis of New York-based fashion photographer Suza Scalora's image of a delicate, otherworldly being with white-blond hair, body-hugging strapless dress and pale purple wings.She was going through Scalora's portfolio when she realized that Scalora connected immediately with Weetzie's world. Cotler added that Block loved the idea of Scalora doing the new cover. "Once we hit on the artist," she said, "then we went through sketches, trying to conceive of what this person on the cover should look like. We wanted something mysterious, magical and sexy." For Block's next novel, called I Was a Teenage Fairy, due out from HarperCollins in October, Scalora created a similarly ethereal look.

Harper's plans to focus attention on Block and her books include readers' group guides for adults, speaking engagements at colleges, Internet promotions and a party in Los Angeles to coincide with publication of the fall book. And with Spring 1999 marking the 10th anniversary of the first Weetzie Bat book, Harper is planning a new hardcover edition.

In addition, a television deal is being negotiated to develop Block's short story collection, Girl Goddess #9, into a series, and Cotler reported that a new novel will be published sometime in 2000, called Violet and Claire. "There has been interest in Francesca in Hollywood for a long time now," Cotler said, and it's her prediction that Block's popularity, as a hot property as well as an author, is reaching critical mass. With the reissue out this month, and a new novel to look forward to in the fall, more readers may well indeed sit up and take notice.
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