Orlando Ortega-Medina is a US born British author of Judeo-Spanish descent via Cuba. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles. At university he won The National Society of Arts and Letters award for Short Stories. His collection Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is shortlisted for the UK's Polari First Book Prize 2017. Orlando resides in London, where he practices US immigration law.
rob mclennan 1: How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Orlando Ortega-Medina 1: Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is my first published book. Earlier this year it was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize, the UK’s prestigious LGBT literary award. Since then I’ve been featured in the press and locally in the UK on television and radio, which has boosted my writing career and has generated interest in a follow-up book.
rm2: How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
OOM2: I’ve written fiction for as long as I can remember.
rm3: How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
OOM3: I’ve developed the ability to write at will. No copious notes and no writer’s block. Messy first drafts pour out of me easily, which I later craft into proper stories. Sometimes the final product resembles the first draft; sometimes there is a lot of overwriting that I have to cut away and re-order to make any sense of it.
rm4: Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
OOM4: It always begins with a protagonist, a setting, and a situation. Once I have these elements, I start writing without plotting anything in advance. The story grows out of the main character who leads the narrative while I follow along in the background. While I used to mainly write short fiction, I now focus on novel-length fiction.
rm5: Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
OOM5: I’m a natural performer. As such, public readings of my work are an enjoyable part of my creative process.
rm6: Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
OOM6: It may seem odd, but I give no thought to theoretical, philosophical, or political concerns in my writing. My only concern is to tell a story as best as possible.
rm7: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
OOM7: In my view, writers of fiction are primarily entertainers. Those of us who aspire to more sometimes produce great art.
rm8: Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
OOM8: I find that my work so much better when it is professionally edited. I go into the process knowing this and, as such, enjoy the collaboration and support I receive.
rm9: What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
OOM9: Write every day, no exceptions.
rm10: What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
OOM10: I wake up at 5:30 am every day (except Saturday) and write until 8:00 am. My goal is to produce no less than 1000 words during each session.
rm11: When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
OOM11: My writing never gets stalled.
rm12: What fragrance reminds you of home?
OOM12: Orange blossoms.
rm13: David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
OOM13: Without a doubt, music inspires my work.
rm14: What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
OOM14: Salman Rushdie, Yukio Mishima, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Jorge Luis Borges.
rm15: What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
OOM15: I’d like to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
rm16: If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
OOM16: I would have become a painter.
rm17: What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
OOM17: I like to tell stories. I like to see them in print. I enjoy reading reviews of my work. And I love seeing my work in bookstores and libraries. You can’t get that from anything else.
rm18: What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
OOM18: The Magus by John Fowles was the last great book I read; the last great film I saw was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.
rm19: What are you currently working on?
OOM19: I recently wrapped up the first draft of a novel, which is with my editor. And I’m 10,000 words into my next one.
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