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1. What or who inspired you to start writing?
Furious, uncontained jealous at my peers. When I was young, I was falling behind in my class, having trouble learning how to read and complete math. I remember some of the first graders in my class were already at a second grade level, which made no sense to me as we’d only be in school for, like, two weeks total—how did they already skip a grade? Well, I know now their parents probably taught them a ton of stuff early. At the time, I assumed I was stupid and got rather upset about it. For some reason, this centered on reading and writing for me. I became obsessed with reading books, even though I couldn’t do it at all, and I’d stay up at night staring at some of my mother’s fiction books (Danielle Steele and stuff like that) in my room by myself, pretending I could read. One night, as I was “reading” Sidney Sheldon’s “Memories of Midnight,” I was overcome by a notion. I would write a book one day and I’d show those kids I wasn’t stupid.
2. How did you come up with ideas for your books?
A: It’s kind of a meshing of things really. Sykosa first started out when I had watched the Season 6 premiere of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. At the same time, I was reading Stephen King’s It. I had always wanted to write a book about character named Sykosa, so I started to do so. I set it in a small, northeastern town like Stephen King often uses, and I sort of wrote in that vague, disconnected way that he does. Meanwhile, my heroine was a vampire hunter (not slayer, even I can’t rip-off that much). This said, the published version of Sykosa does not involve a northeastern town, nor does it involve any vampires or the slayage thereof, but overtime, the book morphed into what it is now.
I kind of fly by the seat of my pants, tbh.
3. What components are necessary for the genre of this novel?
A: The genre of this novel is hard to determine. It’s sort of many genres. At first, I thought because of the age of the character, it might be YA, but that proved a poor fit. Literary fiction has worked better. Basically, the book deals with, “Gender stereotypes, racial prejudice, and mental illness mixed with a traditional culture at a parochial school [that] leads to dire consequences for Sykosa.” How I approach all these issues is through a mysterious event from “last year,” so you know something happened, but it must slowly be revealed, and we look at each element while we do so. It’s a little bit mystery, a little bit comedy, a little bit teen movie, and it’s a very intense read.
4. What expertise did you bring to your writing?
Not much, other than that I’ve written a lot in my time. Maybe what of college I did finish contributed some. I was a political science major, and political science is about how institutions work and don’t work, fit and don’t fit, and the results.
5. What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?
That I have strong opinions. I’ve debated being more “me” on my Facebook fan page, but I don’t want to pollute the experience of reading Sykosa. I want people to be able to read it without knowing a lot about me; however, it seems like what makes people read a book is connecting with the author. There’s kind of a play there. Your readers should post in the comments if they like writers who share all their opinions on their blogs or Facebook feeds.
6. As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans?
It’s been hard. When I finished Part I of Sykosa, I had worked fifteen straight years (not just on Sykosa), writing almost every night, maybe 3000 words per night average. I was obliterated. I haven’t held a writing schedule like that since I finished writing the book, and I’ve been busy with this marketing thing. I know I’ve got to finish Sykosa, and I will, but the motivation has been hard to muster. Still, just because you’re not putting words down on a page doesn’t mean you’re not “writing.” I’m writing it in my brain as much as I ever have, and I’ve figured out quite a few things about it.
7. If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
As strange as it may sound, I would be Mackenzie. I think she’s easier to hate in the novel, and she’s clearly the antagonist for Sykosa. She challenges all of Sykosa’s fears, denials, and guilt. Yet, Mackenzie is not an “evil,” person, per se. Like all the kids in the book, she fell into the momentum of a situation that (during “last year”) didn’t feel like it was spinning out of control until it did. Unfortunately, tragic things happen that way. Relationships, lives, whole countries fall apart because people don’t really see it coming, yet after it’s over, they’re somewhat convinced they knew it all along, and of course, everyone else was powerful enough to stop it. Why didn’t they stop it?!?
8. Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?
I do not currently belong to one. I did for a little while but the writers there were inconsistent with their writing and we sort of broke it off for a while. I feel like critique groups are for when you’re really stuck on something. My challenges writing are rarely in that nature. The process of writing is a breeze for me. I can lay down a few thousand words anywhere, anytime. It’s bringing it all together that I sometimes struggle with, and that consumes a lot of my time.
9. When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?
I’ve submitted it off and on, gone to a writer’s conference here or there. I’m not a careerist with my writing, so I don’t have the huge stack of rejection letters that I refer to with either singed pride or Death of a Salesman-like optimism. If someone seems interested in my novel, I give it to them. If they don’t, I don’t. If they like it, I feel happy about that. If they didn’t, I like to know why. I’m not stubborn, I’ve changed things because of feedback. I don’t feel it threatens the integrity of the work.
10. What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
Once, I was in a bar with some friends. I thought I was almost done writing Sykosa, this was many, many years ago, and my friend’s girlfriend (now wife) came up to me sort of tipsy. She knew I was writing book and she hadn’t read a word of it yet, but she said to me, “Justin, you’ve got to know this. It has to have a happy ending. Women don’t like books without happy endings.” At the time, I did not have a happy ending, so I had to trash the whole thing and start over again, lol.
The worst is probably something very type-A and contemporarily American. Stuff like, “You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you’ve got to breathe this all the time.” Eating is good for you, so is sleeping, and breathing air instead of toner will keep you alive. Another one I don’t like is, “If you struggle through this, things will get better.” I’ve found that’s rarely true. If you want things to be better, you change the circumstances of your life and they get better. If you don’t, things tend to stay the same. I live and die Sykosa and nothing, monetarily or otherwise, will change that. It’s a decision I’ve made, so I go with what comes with it, but I don’t think that work ethic will somehow get me out of that, or allow me to escape it. Work ethic is the key to completing work. If you’re totally miserable with your work, maybe you should try working on something else.
11. Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I just start writing. I wouldn’t follow the outline if I did write it, I like to rebel like that!
12. Do you have any hobbies and does the knowledge you've gained from these carry over into your characters or the plot of your books?
Not so much my hobbies, but my life experiences. I grew up in a community very similar to the one Sykosa is in. I was also part of a wealthy Catholic parish when I was young. My friends and I had resources and misbehaved like the kids in Sykosa do. I’m not trying to be lewd or shocking in Sykosa, it’s a fair representation of my youth.
13. Do you have an all time favorite book?
No, I don’t! I struggle with this question in regards to movie and music, too. It all depends on my mood. Lately, I’ve been telling a lot of people about Black Boy by Richard Wright, so I guess that’s my favorite book of the moment.
14. Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your book?
I am working on Part II of Sykosa. I wrote a blog that discusses some of the themes of the book. They’re teasers, not spoilers, but if you like to be 100% in the dark about things, you might want to pass on checking it out.
15. Do you have any family traditions or recipes you might like to share?
I’m not a cook, but my family is Cuban. My father makes a paella that is to die for and people come from all over the place to be at his yearly party where he makes it. My grandmother also made croquettes when I was young and I ate them by the barrel full.
16. What is your favorite reality show?
I was a big fan of Celebrity Rehab for a few years. I don’t have cable so it’s hard for me to keep up on the new shows.
17. Who is your favorite actor and actress?
I think I could say my favorite actor is probably Robert Downey, Jr. He’s on such a good run of movies. You gotta feel good for the guy. My favorite actress is probably Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Connelly.
18. Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?
The blackness is a personification of the depression, anxiety, and stress Sykosa faces after “last year.” By giving it an identity, it’s easier to write about, and easier for Sykosa to interact with. Otherwise, it’s a very passive, boring relationship.
19. If you were a casting director for the film version of your book, who would play your lead roles?
Oh, that’s too hard! I can say I somewhat built Mackenzie off of Natalie Portman. Mackenzie has “elf ears” and I think of her as kind of having that slightly-phony, certainly-rehearsed, ultra-dignified exterior Portman wears so easily. I knew I wanted Mackenzie to have these traits, something that’s very hard to specifically pin down, but you know something’s not adding up all the same.
20. Anything else you might want to add?
Yep! I’ve got a blog @ http://sykosa.wordpress.com, and your readers should check it out! I’ve got lots of good stuff there!
Sykosa (that's "sy"-as-in-"my" ko-sa) is a sixteen-year-old girl trying to reclaim her identity after an act of violence shatters her life and the life of her friends. This process is complicated by her best friend, Niko, a hyper-ambitious, type-A personality who has started to war with other girls for social supremacy of their school, a prestigious preparatory academy in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. To compensate, Sykosa has decided to fall in love with her new boyfriend, Tom, who was involved in the act of violence. Propelled by survivor guilt, an anxiety disorder, and her hunger for Tom and his charms, Sykosa attends a weekend-long, unchaperoned party at Niko's posh vacation cottage, where she will finally confront Niko on their friendship, her indecision about her friends and their involvement in the act of violence, and she will make the biggest decision of her life—whether or not she wants to lose her virginity to Tom. YA fiction for the 18+ crowd.
Everything is too complicated. It should not have to be. She goes behind the chapel. He goes behind the chapel. They make out. Simple, right? It’s not. Regardless, if even that must be complicated, then certainly the concept that she wants to go to Prom, thus he should ask her to Prom and then they should go to Prom is simple, right? It’s not. You see, he has this best friend, this confidante, this main focus, this everything—and her name is not Sykosa, but Mackenzie.
Or as you will soon find out: “M.” That’s what he calls her.
So, every day, she faces the fact that they are merely acquaintances. Two pigeons in a flock of nine hundred who dress the same, talk the same, and act the same. That’s okay. Pigeons are only pigeons because conformity is only conformity. It’s okay to be like everyone else so long as she is always herself. And that is the reason, because there is no other reason, why she makes out with this boy. Other than she likes it. Kissing is fun. She’s lying. There is another reason. Another trivial teenage doodad—when she talks to him, lame as it sounds, she feels like she is being herself.
Tom’s never understood this. He sees no issue in how she feels like a phoenix, but is only regarded as a pigeon—and not only a pigeon, but one pigeon in a flock of… Never mind, conformity sucks!
REVIEW SOUND BYTES
"… gritty, intense and definitely not a book I'll forget anytime soon! It was so differently written. I wouldn't have expected to fall in love with the writing style but I did. It practically made me get under Sykosa's skin despite getting a dose of the perspectives of the other characters and there were parts that were so lyrical." ~ On Books
"Justin Ordonez’s debut novel, Sykosa Part 1: Junior Year, disproves the old saw that youth is wasted on the young. He adroitly delves into the minds and social lives of his titular sixteen-year-old protagonist and her peers, showing that young people wrestle with tough decisions just like adults do." ~Clarion ForeWord Reviews
"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
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.
Justin will be giving away a $50 gift card to one randomly drawn commenter at the end of the tour.
Please leave a comment. Justin would love to answer your questions.