Felicia Luna Lemus

[WRITER]

“I DID LITERALLY HAVE MY GRANDMOTHER SAY TO ME ONCE, ‘AY! DIOS MIOS, IS THAT A BOY OR IS THAT A GIRL?’”
Grandma’s new vocab list:
Butch
Femme
Androg
Kiki

In the heart of Hollywood, down the trashed and scraggly hilltop where the letters of the Hollywood sign lean together drunkenly, I wait for Felicia Luna Lemus. For so much of Lemus’s debut novel Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties (published this September by FSG) the main character is hopping between those lesbo gender expressions butch (girls who look like boys) and femme (girls who look like girls), I didn’t know if I was scanning the coffee shop for a suited-up boydyke or a cherry-lipped ladygirl. Then Lemus appears, adorable. Her hair is inky black like a Hernandez Brothers comic, her dress is a flouncy thrifted thing, her ankles are anchored in giant army boots. She has a teensy, darling bouquet of flowers plucked from her garden—a yellow daisy, spindly stem sprouting fuzzy purple nubs, a stalk of stinky rosemary—and wrapped in tinfoil.

Rambling and sugary, Trace Elements is the story of Leticia, a latina queer girl with a fluid gender thing going on. It’s a first-person tale of punk rock Los Angeles dykedom, and family—Leticia’s birth family, featuring a cranky, loving Nana, dramatically deceased parents and macho street-corner boy cousins; Leticia’s hand-selected family of truck-driving, graffiti-tagging butch girls, glamorous, femmed-up rich girls pretending to be from the hood, and swaggering, strapping older dykes. Then there’s Weeping Woman, the folkloric spirit-vixen who haunts the text. Leticia prays to Weeping Woman, receives her nighttime visits, and is ultimately abandoned by her when families natal and chosen collapse. The book presents a magical, candy-colored vision of southern California that brings to mind Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. Like Block, Lemus summons a bright new language, with occasional sentences composed of practically nothing but adjectives, clanking together playfully on the page like gaudy faux jewels strung on tinsel: “My girl Edith: smarty-pants Mission District glamour homegrrrl moved down to Los Angeles on her leopard-print motorcycle…. When she entered a room, sweet thick crisp green lilac perfume sharpened the air.”

It was Lemus who suggested we brazenly stroll onto the grounds of the mammoth Scientology Celebrity Center across the street. The Scientologists stared at us, knowing we were not of their people. The possibility of being kicked out for trespassing infused our interview with a sense of urgency which manifested in much giggling. And so we sat amidst the cult’s million-dollar landscape job—waterfalls! bubbling brooks! gazebos twined with blooming vines!—to talk about stuff like gender and class, and to keep an eye out for John Travolta.

—Michelle Tea

*

THE BELIEVER: How did Trace Elements come together?

FELICIA LUNA LEMUS: I started writing it in bits and pieces. I just started writing little vignettes mostly. I was obsessed with this one historical figure named Nawee Olean, who’s from the 1920s avante garde, and she’s really amazing. She has these very spooky eyes. If you were to see a photo of her she looks as if she could easily be a contemporary punk rock girl, but she’s from the twenties. She painted and she wrote poetry and she wrote these pseudo-scientific books that were kind of these explorations of the world around her but in this very poetic way, incorporating all those kinds of modern science. She’s really amazing. So I became obsessed with her and then somehow those vignettes became the beginning of this book. She in some ways inspired Weeping Woman, the way I used Weeping Woman in this story.

I have a friend who just took my rambling, babbling, hypermanic, freak [manuscript] and said “OK. You need to have structure. Why would someone want to keep reading this? It might be interesting for a couple pages but you need to kind of ease them along and invite them in and this kind of thing. You’ve offered people these truffles but now they need a glass of water. Give them water.” [Laughs] I think he was kind of saying I was killing my reader. It’s like they’re dying. [Laughs]

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Michelle Tea’s most recent book was the memoir The Chelsea Whistle. It was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and picked by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the top 100 books of 2002.

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