I met Wendy Ortiz in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. She was this super nova – kind, lovely, talented – and I only really worked up the courage to talk with her once or twice. But I remember the night she did her graduate reading, the way I felt like someone had peeled back my flesh to reveal a glittering skin underneath. Wendy continues to amaze me, and her new book – well, it’s skin-peeling in just the best way. Enjoy this interview with a woman I just adore, Wendy Ortiz.
I always have more than one project in the works. I consider the launch of my first book, Excavation: A Memoir, in July of this year to be a continuing project—because it’s with a small press there is much to stay on top of to keep the positive trajectory going. The next project is to get my second book, Hollywood Notebook, a prose poem-ish memoir, out into the world.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
My father took me to the public library every Saturday morning. My parents took me to bookstores and books were in every room, even if just a paperback from the grocery store. I was an early, avid reader. My mother likes to talk about how she found me reading Jaws at four years old.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I can’t say I have much of a routine or practice. I write when there’s time and space in which to write, when I need to (deadlines, both from outside and self-imposed), and when I want to.
4. Who are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading Megan Stielstra’s excellent book of personal essays, Once I Was Cool.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Okay, three of my top 25 all-time favorites:
Firebird by Mark Doty, for its poetic storytelling and for particular scenes in the book that will stay with me forever, as though I lived them.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, for its honesty, beauty and intensity.
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins because it’s a phenomenal short story collection that reminds me I have so so so much to learn about writing short stories.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I don’t get too complicated with the idea of platform. When I use social media (Twitter, Facebook), for example, I strive to be honest, engaging, and open. I maintain a tumblr but also don’t let it get too complicated.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day involves driving my kid to preschool, possibly seeing clients in my private practice psychotherapy internship, writing with deadlines in mind (outside or self-imposed), reading, and a decent dose of staying in touch with friends, family, and readers via social media.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
In our backyard, we have a garage that I dream of converting into a writing studio one day. All I need is a desk, a window, and a bathtub. Alternately, I also dream of recreating my old apartment on Kingsley Drive in Hollywood, the location of much of Hollywood Notebook.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I got some feedback that essentially suggested that I rewrite an essay that was a little unusual in form, with the advice that I should abandon the form altogether because certain other writers would say that I was somehow getting away from the crux of the story within the essay. My response was to thank my fellow writer for reading and then send it to another trusted writer. The second writer remarked, Yes, this is the form this story should take—a feeling I had and was glad to not abandon. In other words, it was important to get a few opinions. Sometimes one isn’t enough (unless you’ve found your one dream reader, which I can now say, I have).
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
I don’t know about ‘best’ but the wisdom I’ve learned from others and keep returning to is to keep a balance between focusing only on the work in front of you as much as possible while maintaining a connection to whatever literary community you might be lucky enough to call home.
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir and the forthcoming Hollywood Notebook. She wrote a monthly column for one year for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus, and many other journals. She is the co-founder, curator, and host of the decade-old Rhapsodomancy Reading Series. Wendy lives in Los Angeles, California. Read more about Wendy’s work on her website, find her on Tumblr, or follower her on Twitter. Plus, be sure to check out the profile the L.A. Times did of Excavation.