Interview with Justin Ordoñez
Crimson Flower Reviews Welcomes Justin Ordoñez!
Justin Ordoñez was born in Spain, raised in the mid-west, and currently lives in Seattle. He’s nearly thirty years old, almost graduated from the University of Washington, and prefers to wait until TV shows come out on DVD so he can watch them in one-shot while playing iPad games. For fifteen years, he has written as a freelance writer, occasionally doing pieces as interesting as an editorial, but frequently helping to craft professional documents or assisting in the writing of recommendation letters for people who have great praise for friends or colleagues and struggle to phrase it. Sykosa is his debut novel. Learn more about Justin and Sykosa at http://www.sykosa.com
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? I first realized it when I was in first grade. I wasn’t a good reader, not that anyone is in first grade, but I was definitely behind everyone in my class. Yet, I loved the idea of writing, and I was very impressed by the accomplishment of a book. It felt unique. I was very into sports as a kid, though I didn’t associate “success” or “accomplishment” with scoring a touchdown or hitting the ball, I was associated it with something artistic, and the most frequent association was novel writing. As a kid, it’s a very natural process, you don’t really self-examine a whole lot, so I just kinda toiled around my life thinking about books and writing and never really connected the two. It wasn’t until high school that I really had a moment where I thought, “Gee, I want to be a writer,” but that moment was a long time in the making.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
You might be surprised by this, but I think people “show” too much and “tell” too little. Just today, in fact, I had a conversation with a creative writing student who said, “In school, they teach us in the lower levels, ‘show, don’t tell,’ then in the higher levels, they tell me, ‘sometimes, you need to tell.'” This is very true. Sometimes the best way to relay information, the best way to advance the story, is to just lay it out there. Use your power as a narrator to add depth and richness to the story, don’t always depend on thematic elements and metaphors and action. The dramatic voice is a very powerful one. Ask yourself which is better: “Mandy sat back, her eyebrows coming together and her mouth crinkled up,” or, “Mandy sat back, pissed off and tired of this crap.” There’s many different ways to “show” it, but the description seems lifeless, almost passive and uninvolved. The second is a “telling” statement, but it relays the emotional state in an engaged manner.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How much of a relationship you get into with your art. It becomes almost a person living inside of you who you talk to and interact with. It has moods. You have moods. There’re times when you’re clicking, times when you’re not, time when you’re debating breaking up, times when you’re deeply in love with each other. It’s kind of maddening, but the entire range of human emotions gets involved, and it can be both exhaustive and enthusing.
My writing tends to develop from a very basic goal or premise that I build from. In “Sykosa,” it started as an exercise to write women better, so I made all the characters female and went to work. In another book, I set out to create my own version of a TV show I really liked as a kid. I take these very simple goals, and then a story sort of naturally builds out of whatever conflict I discover about the characters as I go.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
17. My favorite is Sykosa, and that’s why it’s the only one that’s published. Though, every other book I’ve written has its moments of “transition”–sort of markers where you can see I’m improving at something or trying something new or gaining confidence.
What do you think makes a good story?
Stories that take sides–that take an idea or a subject and pursue it recklessly and without regard for what others think. It’s something we’re seeing less of. Personally, I account it the capitalism involved in the book industry now. At one time, all these book publishers were–in relation to other American industries–small potatoes, to be honest. In the 90s, with Bill Clinton’s business deregulation reforms, major media companies started swallowing up these publishing houses, collecting them as if they were baseball cards or something–so we get the dual edge sword of capitalism. We get centralized companies with major marketing potential and massive distribution networks, which is good for authors who’re trying to make a living, but capitalism teaches us to appeal to the masses, that what sells the most is the best, and what sells the most generally takes the least amount of risk and involves the least amount of progress and innovation (artistic innovation, not efficiency in production). Over time, this tends to erode a “culture” within any group of individuals, as it’s done in publishing. What we’re experiencing now is a generation of industry professionals–agents, editors, executives–who’re following a very pragmatic corporate culture, even if they don’t realize it. If things were still boom-times, that wouldn’t be so bad, but since the recession, book sales have gone down, Borders has shut down and Barnes and Noble isn’t far behind it, the big media conglomerates have jettisoned these publishing houses to smaller corporations, retailers (particularly Amazon) have started to monopolize the price mechanism, and in about every way you could imagine, these people have been abandoned and betrayed by every single lesson they’ve been taught about the publishing universe. In that regard, they’re almost sympathetic figures, left to steer this sinking ship, hopelessly throwing buckets of water over the side, only to watch it be sucked back in by the hull.
It’s a complicated solution. How we get back to this notion of “story” I’m not entirely sure, but I think we will figure out, and hopefully we go back to the more balanced book market of the past, finding ways to provide people content that the bells of whistles of tv, movies, and the Internet cannot duplicate. I can’t wait for that day to come, though. I can’t wait to see the stories that result from that type of freedom coming back to u
Summary of Sykosa by Justin Ordoñez
Sykosa (that’s “sy”-as-in-“my” ko-sa) is a junior in high school. She belongs to an exclusive clique of girls called the “Queens.” The leader is her best friend Niko. Their friendship has been strained lately because Tom—Sykosa’s first boyfriend boyfriend—has gotten all serious about making her his pretty Prom princess. That is if he ever gets around to asking her. Before Prom, there’s a party at Niko’s cottage where parental supervision will be nil. He wants to have sex. She doesn’t. He sometimes acts like that doesn’t matter.
Sykosa has a secret she has never told anyone about. Although, some people—Tom included—know anyway. It happened last year and it was big and she’ll cry if she talks about it so she’s done talking about it, okay? Never mind, it’s nobody’s business. Except it keeps happening and it never stops. She doesn’t want to deal with it. He does. She sometimes acts like that doesn’t matter.
Praise for Sykosa by Justin Ordoñez
“**** – Ordoñez expertly captures the inner worlds of both genders with ease. He accurately depicts their moment-to-moment vacillations between confidence and uncertainty. The major and minor players represent complex human beings with intricate motivations. Ordoñez also pinpoints the essence of ‘mean girls’ with his insightful treatment of how Niko’s fair-weather friendship affects Sykosa.” — Jill Allen, Clarion ForeWord Review
“Sykosa makes for some compelling reading. Older teens and adults alike will enjoy Ordoñez’s tale for its humor, realism and relatable protagonist.” — Kirkus Indie Review
“This book really snuck up on me. Because during the time that I was reading it, I would find myself thinking about it when I was driving or doing other things. I would be mulling it over, trying to put the pieces together.” –Libby Rodriguez, Libby’s Book Blog