About three years ago, I met Justin Ordoñez through the company where we both worked. My first novel, Freefall, had just sold and Justin was working on a novel of his own called Sykosa, so we starting meeting for lunch every so often to talk about writing.
Recently, Justin made Sykosa available for purchase as an ebook and a paperback. His website has lots of interactive content including chapter excerpts, videos in which his talks about the story and characters, and other fun stuff, including this helpful chart that might help you determine if you want to read Sykosa. (Take a look at the bottom of this entry!)
Today, he's answered a few questions for me:
At age eight, what did you want to be when you grew up? And at age eighteen? And while you’re at it, what about at age twenty-eight?
JO: At age 8, I wanted to be Marty McFly from Back to the Future. Since the original movies had built-in cliff-hangers and intended sequels, I coordinated my friends and we all worked on a second trilogy—movies IV, V, and VI. The best part? My elementary school had a Publishing Center where we would submit our story, then pick a trim, a size, and a fabric for the cover. Volunteer mothers would use rubber cement to fasten the fabric to cardboard, type out the pages, and the sow them along the center. It was a most fantastic experience and I was addicted to going down there with a new story. (Photo courtesy of Justin’s Mom, who kept all his publishing center books!)
At age eighteen, I was desperately in love with two things—my writing and my girlfriend (at the time). It was the most romantic period of my life. I had a decent job, my own apartment, and I used to spend my nights in my non-air-conditioned living room with all the windows open, hearing the distant roar of the 696 freeway and enjoying every subtle gust of wind, while I jammed on the keyboard, drinking too much wine from a box and talking to my girl on the phone, telling her I loved her and needed her and how beautiful she was. (We only saw each other on the weekends). I’d relive that stretch of my life in a heartbeat. A whole bunch of factors came together at the right time for me and things were good, probably better than I’ll ever experience again, so I cherish it, but I also understand it’s over now.
At twenty-eight, which was only two years ago, I was trying to finish Sykosa. I had initially planned to publish the novel in 2010, but I delayed it so I could go back and reconceive the middle of it, called an interlude. It was not a very positive process for me. In fact, I think I’m still actively suppressing the experience, but I stand by it, the new Interlude was exponentially better than its former. In fact, it seems that when people mention something they liked about the book, it’s always from the interlude!
Which Breakfast-Club-style label would have best fit your teenage self?
JO: I was a criminal, but in the cheesy, spoiled, privileged and angry about it upper-middle class white-boy sense. That’s right. My parents were guilty of being solid, reliable folk who wanted me to succeed at life and were willing to sacrifice to provide me every opportunity to do it—so naturally I had to constantly challenge their clear love for me. During high school, I smoked like a chimney, drank recklessly, swore endlessly, refused to smile in pictures, spent all my time in the hotel room during family vacations, stole from my classmates and lifted cigarette packs from my employer, was under the hysterical impression that I was some kind of talented race car driver, and I never talked to the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen because she always looked over for her shoulder at me—for 2 straight years—and I enjoyed the power. Yeah, I was a turd, but I’m glad to report that, as a grown-up, I’ve come to realize that having a good family, good parents, a good education, and a generally agreeable existence are things to be grateful for, not shunned and unappreciated.
Without giving away too much from your book, which character or scene from it are you the most pleased to have created, and why?
JO: Hands down, it’s “Detour Two: Mother Superior.” What’s a detour? Well, Sykosa is not written chronologically, so three “Detours” take you into the past and the future to fill in the story and create intrigue. From the moment I wrote Detour Two, I despised it, and did so for good reason. It was terrible. Over the years, I’m gonna say it logged 250 drafts and was trashed 7 or 8 times. At one point, I worked on nothing else for 45 days. I sat in a dark room, by myself, and didn’t talk or engage anybody—just wrote it. At the end, I had nothing beside mostly marginal sentences that represented semi-developed paragraphs with huge, unwritten gaps between them. When all seemed lost, and I was about to concede, I visited New York City, specifically the Lower East Side, where I stayed with my sister for a much needed vacation. I swore to myself I wouldn’t write during this trip. As it so happens, the first Monday I was there, my sister—who took most of the week off to hang with me—had to work, so I was alone in her apartment. It was smolderingly hot, and I was in my boxers and an undershirt with all the lights off cause I didn’t want any residual heat to be created. I thought to myself, “Just try it, just try it and if it’s not working, you can stop.” I opened my laptop, and six hours later, I had a completed Detour. At 6,000 words, it was too long and I ended up cutting it to 3,000, but more importantly, it accomplished everything I needed it to, and it was gorgeously written and Sykosa was pristine in it.I’ll always remember that day.My first thought after I finished was, “This book’s gonna be good.
Which are your favorite movies to watch again and again?
JO: Okay, this is when people stop laughing with me and start laughing at me. Believe it or not, I’m hopelessly addicted to Roland Emmerich movies. He is the guy who made the grandiose disaster flicks “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and, “2012.” Sometimes, for months, I’ll watch nothing but these three movies on repeat, especially 2012, which speaks to me since John Cusack’s character is a struggling writer who’s passion for writing has devastated his personal life. I can provide you no logical explanation for my powerlessness to these films, but it’s safe to say, at this juncture, I’ve probably developed some co-dependency issues in regards to them.
And, now, the most important question of all: Beatles or Elvis? Please support your answer. ;-)
JO: It’s gonna be the Beatles, by default. I’m shamefully unacquainted with Elvis’s discography. Though, the Beatles were super-talented musicians. They personified the idea of artists who made incredibly complicated things look easy. The way they played guitar made you feel like you could do it. The way John sang his songs made you think, “There’s nothing to this.” The problem? Try to sing a Lennon song at a karaoke bar, you mess up half the song, you can’t handle the note changes, your voice gets tired and starts to crack, also he sometimes manages to fit a whole lot of words in a very short time span, so it’s hard to even sing at all, and you just start talking, then mumbling, then wishing you had picked any other song to sing but this one. There’s a reason the Beatles are frequently imitated, but never duplicated. It sounds cliché and tired to say this, but they were legends.
Sykosa is Justin Ordoñez’s debut novel. It’s a raw, serious novel about teenage life that can be light-hearted, goofy, and extremely funny at points. At one time, he dreamed of ruling the world and getting everything done his own way, now he just wants a mutually satisfying love life and a few spirited dogs. Check out these links below for more on Justin!