I first met Wendy Ortiz when I was in the MFA program at Antioch in Los Angeles nearly a decade ago. She was a good-natured, gorgeous, unflappable staffperson during my whirlwind year there. I came across her again on Twitter in the past few years. Both of us with small kids, sharing that particular #writermom camaraderie. I was delighted when her memoir came out, and when I was accepted to the Debutante Ball, I knew I wanted to feature an interview with her.
EXCAVATION: A MEMOIR
Wendy C. Ortiz was an only child and a bookish, insecure girl living with alcoholic parents in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her relationship with a charming and deeply flawed private school teacher fifteen years her senior appeared to give her the kind of power teenagers wish for, regardless of consequences. Her teacher—now a registered sex offender—continually encouraged her passion for writing while making her promise she was not leaving any written record about their dangerous sexual relationship. This conflicted relationship with her teacher may have been just five years long, but would imprint itself on her and her later relationships, queer and straight, for the rest of her life.
In EXCAVATION: A MEMOIR, the black and white of the standard victim/perpetrator stereotype gives way to unsettling grays. The present-day narrator reflects on the girl she once was, as well as the teacher and parent she has become. It’s a beautifully written and powerful story of a woman reclaiming her whole heart.
The Debs Interview with Wendy C. Ortiz
1. Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
My body. I turn 43 in a few months and I have never felt this strong, this good, this embodied in my entire life. There’s a new level of pleasure I get from my body that I don’t think could have happened any sooner.
2. Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I’m sensitive to lighting. I would like to walk into a room and be able to change the lighting, often. It’s purely aesthetic. No overhead lights, please.
3. Do you have any phobias?
I have probably a standard case of emetophobia. Like, I prefer when people warn me well in advance if there’s any indication they might vomit, there might be vomit in a movie, or the sound of vomiting coming from somewhere. So maybe this is not exactly standard. I don’t know. I don’t talk to other emetophobes because I think we like to avoid the subject altogether. It’s the number one “normal” bodily thing I absolutely abhor.
4. What’s your next big thing? (new book, new project, etc.)
CCM is releasing my dreamoir Bruja on October 31st, 2016. From their description: A “dreamoir” contains “the details from the most malleable and revelatory portions of one’s dreams, catalogued in bold detail…a parallel plane where the cast of characters are the people that occupied one’s waking life….a literary adventure through the boundaries of memoir, where the self is viewed from a position anchored into the deepest recesses of the mind.” This book feels like I’m throwing out searching hooks into weirder, murkier territories than I’ve been in and I’m thrilled CCM understands and supports this vision.
5. What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
When I was 15 and then 16 I had a job going door to door selling subscriptions to the L.A. Times. A van would drop us off in a neighborhood and if you were a female, the manager usually paired you with a male, probably in the manager’s mind for “safety.” My partner was all feathered eighties hair and soft blue jeans and he was very kind and a great hustler. It seemed like a night didn’t go by that we weren’t invited into some stranger’s apartment to smoke a little weed and go through our sales spiel before we were sent on our way, with or without a subscription sold. I lied to my mother and told her I sold subscriptions by phone at an office.
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014), Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015) and the forthcoming Bruja (CCM, 2016). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. Wendy lives in Los Angeles. You can find Wendy on Twitter, Instagram , her website or tumblr. According to Wendy, “I’ve been using my tumblr as a public notebook, and it’s there one can find (some of) my notes toward whatever I’m writing next.”
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Friday, February 12 to win a copy of Wendy’s EXCAVATION: A MEMOIR. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.