Over at Entropy, we just explored Wendy Ortiz’s new book, Hollywood Notebook, from Writ Large Press. Now let’s talk a bit about its genesis and also where’s the one place you should visit when you swing by LA. (Read the review at Entropy: here.)
AK: First off, let me say how much I enjoyed Hollywood Notebook. I lived in Pasadena for a year, so I have some sense of LA as an actual place, versus as somewhere that just exists in the American imagination. Even though as an East Coast person, it was overall too sunny for me. I need more clouds and moldy, overcast afternoons. Anyway, let’s chat.
WCO: Thank you. That’s funny that you mention Pasadena, because that’s an area of Los Angeles I know next to nothing about!
AK: In many ways, Hollywood Notebook is a study of daily life, with its difficulties, frivolities, good times, and minor epiphanies. I’m wondering then, given this broad context, what compelled you to focus on the particular experiences in each chapter. Did you set out to explore a specific array of emotions or did you cull the material in any way?
WCO: The text was written on my blog Lab of Lux as it happened. It’s possible that I was unconsciously exploring a specific array of emotions, but at its core, I was trying to integrate and describe particular kinds of loss. The overall text took heavy edits later, a kind of culling.
AK: Going off that, given the diary-like nature of the work, I’m wondering if you could talk about its creation process. The timeline seems expansive, with a focus of being in your (early) thirties and the changes in perspective that brings. Was there a specific date / reason for beginning this project? Over how many years were you working on this? Could you talk a little about that?
WCO: The project began simply because my friend Karrie Higgins gave me the web space and I could do anything I wanted with it. So I started the blog and felt like my audience was mainly my friends, with a few other random spectators whom I came to know over time through their own blogs. Hollywood Notebook moves roughly in and out through parts of 2002 to 2006 but also jumps around in some vignettes, such as from 1996, 1997.
AK: The power of place — not just the city of LA itself, but specific streets, neighborhoods, bars, bus stops — is of preeminent importance here. How do you see place influencing you as a person and an artist?
WCO: I’ve only lived in two places in my entire life (not counting transitory living, like a month in Mexico, three weeks in Ecuador, or weeks on an island in Washington state). Los Angeles—the San Fernando Valley, then over the hill to Hollywood, Koreatown, West L.A., Mid-City, West Adams—and Olympia, Washington. Place to me is character. Los Angeles will always be a character in my work just as Olympia will always be a character in my work.
I was recently asked for some fiction that took place in California and realized I only have one thing, a novella, that takes place in California. The rest of my fiction takes place in the Pacific Northwest, mainly in the areas around Olympia. I was kind of struck by that because I hadn’t consciously realized that was the case. These places have left deep imprints on me and I interact with them as though they are people—sometimes as lovers, or as parents, or friends I’m in love with.
AK: Along with being a real place, LA is very much a city that exists in the American imagination as lalaland of silver-screen dreams and a certain kind of unreality. You tap into this a bit, thinking about Joan Didion and The Industry, but for the most part your Hollywood seems, well, uninfected by this fantasy. I ‘m wondering then about this distinction between LA as real place vs. LA as dreamland, and how you navigated that when writing about the city?
WCO: When I left L.A. I was a cynical twenty-year-old looking to get as far away from L.A. as I could, and in fact, I wanted to land in a forest. I was away for eight years. When I returned, I felt the infection of the fantasy, often, it’s inescapable, but it never touched me particularly. I’m often outside of contemporary pop culture so the fantasy doesn’t really do it for me. And I often felt defensive about people’s perceptions that Los Angeles is only one way. I feel less defensive now, because now I don’t care what people’s perceptions are about Los Angeles. My family, my friends who still live here, have their own perceptions that’s so far away from the dreamland that it’s occasionally forgettable Los Angeles wears that mantle. Occasionally.
AK: Do you have any favorite chapters?
WCO: Chapters one, seventy-five, and seventy-six.
AK: Music comes up repeatedly as something that defines your life and specific experiences. What are a couple songs that would serve as the soundtrack to Hollywood Notebook?
WCO: I’m working on a playlist right now that will hopefully be shared—and on that playlist there is definitely some Neko Case and Sally Timms.
AK: If an out-of-towner read Hollywood Notebook, afterward what’s the one place in LA area you’d recommend they visit?
WCO: Frank ‘n Hank, and I would suggest they take a wad of dollar bills, an entire afternoon and early evening, and me.