A Normal Interview with Wendy C. Ortiz
By Jackie Huertaz
Hollywood Notebook is a prose-poem memoir that bends the creative nonfiction genre. Initially started by author Wendy C. Ortiz as blog called Lab of Lux in the early 2000s, Hollywood Notebook meditates on the mundane, explores struggles of the working class, and ruminates on love and friendships. Ortiz’s memoir is a look into your forgotten twenties; her prose whisks you back in time, to a time where moments slow down and everything in life seems possible. Ortiz is also the author of the 2014 memoir Excavation and she wrote the year-long monthly column “On the Trail of Mary Jane” about medical marijuana dispensary culture in Southern California for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.
Jackie Huertaz: What I liked about Hollywood Notebook is that each story is crafted like a snapshot, or vignette, about minor mundane day-to-day details from a working-class perspective. But it’s also how these commonplace experiences function on a much larger scale. I related to your reality, such as the two-hour commute to work, struggling to pay bills while juggling school and work. You write about “the struggle” and that is something that I appreciated. So, I’m curious to know if that was your intention – to intentionally incorporate snapshots of a “working-class struggle” to your audience?
Wendy C. Ortiz: It’s a natural process. It’s writing about my experience at that moment. My experience in L.A. differed from living in Olympia, Washington. In L.A., I was paying three times my rent and there was a lot of struggle. A lot of struggle. I was faced with questions like, “Am I going to be okay?” Still, I had health insurance, yet there was this looming feeling that at any given time, I’m one payday from being in a very messy situation. To me that was the experience I was going through, and it wasn’t my intention, but it was just true to my experience.
JH: Which authors from the creative nonfiction genre do you draw inspiration from?
WCO: I probably answer that differently day to day. There are a few books that are touchstones to me that I keep coming back to. The inspiration I got for Excavation is a book called The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. I highly suggest this book. It takes on the memoir genre and completely turns it upside down. Yuknavitch calls it an anti-memoir, which I find completely fascinating. Yuknavitch takes on very personal, intense stories. Call it dark; there is this kind of openness to her writing that gave me the permission to write my personal stories. Her book made it possible for me to discuss something difficult in my life, and gave me a feeling that I can do this, I can put this out there. While writing Hollywood Notebook, I drew inspiration from poetry by Amy Gerstler, the journals of Sylvia Plath, and essays from Anne Dillard.
JH: The first book by a Chicana from creative nonfiction that I had the privilege of reading was Mexican Enough by Stephanie Elizondo Griest. She explores identity, but I felt more connected to your prose style and experience. I feel the same way – my reading fluctuates day to day – and I find myself intrigued with immersion journalism right now.
JH: According to an interview with Electric Lit online, Hollywood Notebook initially started out as a blog. Do you use social media as part of your writing process?
WCO: Yes, “Hollywood Notebook” started as a blog formerly known as Lab of Lux. I wrote it in my twenties from 2002-2004. I never had any intention of turning the blog into a book except when I received a call from a friend, letting me know Lab of Lux was going to be removed. I used the blog similar to how I use Tumblr now, to generate and capture ideas. So, I kept all the text, and I thought, well, I did all this writing, so I might as well keep it. But Tumblr is a great resource to facilitate, and I also journal at least two or three hand-written pages every day. Every morning. It’s important for me to do that every day to be productive, especially if I’m not going to do any other writing that day.
JH: Yes! I want to start journaling! I don’t know why I don’t do this. I’m always curious too about a writer’s writing process. Where do you write? Do you give yourself deadlines?
WCO: My writing process really varies. When I have an idea, I sit on that idea for literally months, trusting that it will still be there. But in the meantime, I’m still thinking about it, and the idea will usually surface when I’m hiking, and that is when the vision, structure, and direction will come together. But I spend about three to six months just processing the material in my head. However, when you have deadlines with publishers and commitments to journals, you are not actually writing what you want to be writing, and that’s the reality for most writers. It’s not having the time to write and explore what you want to write at that particular time.
JH: In our genre there are hardly any female, Mexican American writers that I have been exposed to. I remember meeting the late Michele Serros for the first time. It was such a big deal for me. She was doing it, and you’re doing it. It makes it possible for someone like me to say, I can do this. Who was the first Mexican American author that you read and gained inspiration from? How have they impacted you as writer?
WCO: The first piece of writing I was exposed to was “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. I had the “Oh my God” moment because Cisneros is someone who is a part of an experience that I am familiar with. I definitely don’t have the same stories Cisneros describes in the book. However, there is a familiarity there because at the time I wasn’t receiving her experiences in anything else I was reading. I immediately felt attached to her. After that I became acutely aware that I wasn’t being exposed on my own to any Latino authors. So, at Evergreen State College, I put together a list of Latino authors and created an annotated bibliography. I needed this. No one else was giving me this, so I took it upon myself.
JH: As a student in an MFA program, I have been labeled a “Chicana writer.” It is a label I struggle with, because I don’t want to be separated from other writers. However, sometimes I embrace this label because I’m proud of my culture. I’m curious to know how you feel about the label. Do you think it hinders your writing? Or does it divide us as writers?
WCO: How you just described yourself is how I would describe myself. I constantly feel like yes, I’m proud of being Chicana. In a place like L.A., people know what Chicana means. However, outside L.A., typically most people do not know what that means, so you become an explanation of something. And that’s what I don’t like, having to explain my identity. Some people will see it how they want to see it, or won’t see it at all. As a writer, I’m going to put my best writing out there and people are going to make it however they want.
Wendy C. Ortiz lives in Los Angeles. She’s the author of the forthcoming Bruja from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2016. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, The Rumpus and Brain, Child Magazine, among others. She co-founded the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series, which she has curated and hosted since 2004. Wendy is a parent and registered marriage and family therapist intern.
Jackie Huertaz is the 2014 Andrés Montoya Scholar at California State University, Fresno, and she is currently a second-year MFA student there, studying creative nonfiction. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English.