Wendy C. Ortiz Interview with Karen Stefano
“Neutral Space” and “Fall” both stun the reader with their deceptively simple prose, prose that packs so much intensity, so much internal conflict through lines such as these:
“She tried not to meet her own eyes in the mirror behind the bar. When that didn’t work, she tried to avoid the eyes of anyone else.”
“They could raise their glasses, salud!, and sip with their eyes downcast, memories falling away from their elbows like black feathers to the floor.”
“She wanted something else, something celebratory, but it was clear. They were to be in mourning.”
“She was becoming aware of the occasional gruffness of him, the moody shadow he sometimes cast, and it made her think of him more and more as a bear, capturing her close in his heavy paws and heaving chest.”
Wendy, tell me, what was the inspiration for each of these pieces?
Both are autobiographical. They were inspired by wanting to describe subtle, yet difficult, interior experiences that had the potential to ripple out and affect other characters.
Well, you nailed it then. I felt that in reading both of these pieces. Tell me about your writing process generally. How do you begin? How do you move from that starting point to get to a finished piece of work? And how do you know when you’ve really finished?
It varies from project to project, but my ideal process is letting an idea brew for weeks, if not months. I might take notes during those weeks, but that’s rare. My fiction, for example, takes years to write—I write as much of the story as I can, leave it unfinished, then return to it later and see where it might want to go next. I think I’ve finished when I feel the click.
You write both memoir and fiction. Is it difficult for you to slide back and forth between the two?
Not at all—I feel more comfortable writing memoir (as comfortable as one can feel writing memoir, which is to say, deeply uncomfortable, which I’m comfortable with)—and fiction feels like using a different muscle (also uncomfortable—compounded by the fact that my fiction typically disturbs or depresses me). I like the “slide”—I need the slide—one relieves the uncomfortability of the other even as they’re both a different kind of uncomfortable.
You’re the author of Excavation: A Memoir. Tell us a little something about this book.
Excavation: A Memoir is about secrets. Burgeoning adolescent female sexuality and libido. Agency and complicity, manipulation, and danger. It’s also about writing and its power over me. Between the ages of 13 to 18, I was in a sexual relationship with my junior high teacher. He continually told me not to write anything down about us, but, writer that I was, I recorded as much as I could in my journals. Excavation tells this story as well as the story of how I integrated such an experience, especially as I aged, later became a part-time teacher of youth, and also a parent.
Okay, you hooked me. I cannot wait to read this book…
In your story,“Neutral Space,” your narrator begins “calculating an escape.” Have you ever had to calculate an escape in your own life?
I’ve had to calculate a number of escapes in my own life at differing levels of difficulty, yes. As a teenager, I had to remove myself from cars I got rides in when the driver was lecherous. I left a home I was unhappy in and in some cases, family members. I’ve run out of a college library during a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. I’ve left a marriage that was compromised before it even began—these are just a few examples.
You live in LA. Tell me three things you love about living there.
Proximity to ocean; proximity to desert; sun.
Now tell me three things you hate about living in LA.
There is nothing I hate about living in L.A.
Come on, not even the traffic? Not to dwell on the negative, but there must be something that bugs you?
Honestly, I hate nothing about L.A. I deal with the traffic rather well.
You co-founded the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles. What prompted you to create this series?
My co-founder and I wanted to have readings in a bar, in our neighborhood, and we wanted to invite a wish list of writers to read. So, our desires prompted us to create the series.
It has been around for over ten years, I understand. That’s pretty impressive. How has the series maintained its longevity?
It has its own will. Every time I consider ending it, someone approaches me and says, I had no idea this existed until now and I love it and when’s the next one? Their enthusiasm—as well as writers from around the country who contact me to read in the series—help keep up the momentum.
What are your favorite books on craft –both for fiction and memoir?
I don’t read books on craft—I haven’t for years. I treat the books I love as instructive, though. So, books I keep returning to again and again: Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje; The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom; The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch; Firebird by Mark Doty, to name a few.
Tell me something about yourself that might surprise me and the readers of Connotation Press.
I may write memoir but readers will never, ever know the whole story. And I like it that way.
What are you reading right now? What do you like or admire about the writing in it?
I’m reading both The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson and The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch. With The Argonauts, I’m admiring the structure, the twists and turns that feel so beautiful and calibrated. With The Small Backs of Children I’m enjoying being placed in a world of several different character perspectives, the leaps the narratives take, and the gorgeousness of language.
What are you looking forward to for your writing life in the coming year?
I’m looking forward to a few things in the coming year: working on edits for my forthcoming book, BRUJA, with CCM; working on a book of fiction stories which is slow-going but as entertaining as it is depressing to me; and a pretty involved collaborative project with another writer.
We’re looking forward to seeing these projects come to life too! Can’t wait to read Excavation! Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your work with us, and for sharing yourself.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.