We host the Sykosa Blog Tour today presented by Goddess Fish Promotions. Author Justin Ordonez has written a humorous guest post for us, provided an excerpt into his debut novel, and is also holding a giveaway. (Thank you Justin for mentioning my all-time favorite rock band, Collective Soul!) We welcome everyone to our blog today and hope you enjoy learning about Justin and Sykosa.
Author: Justin Ordoñez
Genre: contemporary YA
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Published 2012 by TDS Publishing
Blurb: 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.
Outside, the sun shines. Inside, there’s only darkness. The blackness is hard to describe, as it’s more than symptoms. It’s a nothing that becomes everything there is. And what one sees is only a fraction of the trauma inflicted. It can get so bad she literally goes black, and she wakes up seconds, minutes, hours—who knows—later, to the silence, and the shame, and the… The blackness is really a panic-attack. She thinks that’s its medical definition. She’s never consulted anyone about it, but she heard a daytime TV personality talking about it once and all the hairs stood on up on her neck and she thought, That’s me. The TV personality said trauma plays a significant role. That made her feel broken, so she decided not to listen anymore and to pretend like nothing was wrong. That’s why no one knows about the blackness—her pretending won’t let them.
The Origins of the Ordoñez;
or How to Concur Neurosis Through Writing
or How to Concur Neurosis Through Writing
It’s Christmas. And I’m not jolly.
A New York guy in a plastic Los Angeles, I’ve traveled cross country to save my marriage, ready to fake smile it through my wife’s Christmas party, located at the—even by New York standards—impressive Nakatomi Plaza, which is a sky-high high-rise who’s contents include 20 to 30 hostages and 10 to 20 terrorists. I’ve been facing them down, one by one, so I know—everything these guys do is textbook, they’re brutal, they’re focused, they just didn’t count on me, the supercop. It’s been trying, and I’m out of witty remarks to fire back at my wife’s captor, but I’ve managed to take down most of them, and in the process, nearly fallen from the building, lodged glass throughout my feet, and I think I’ve got a concussion or ten.
But, nothing will stop me. I must get this guy.
Bet you didn’t think writers lived such interesting lives.
(Spoiler: We don’t.)
Okay, I was describing Die Hard, but while I wasn’t offing terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza, in 1997, as a freshman in high school, I was living my version of it. Staring at my nemesis, the blank Word document. Scroll up on that blank screen and one would find 30,000 completed words. I was so close to, yet so far from, my goal of completing a novel. And every second I wasn’t working towards its completion was like a wild animal biting me dead. I could feel myself being eaten. And I was fighting the only way I knew how—by reliving other people’s great triumphs. Unstoppable John McClain (see above) shouting in my mind, “Yippie kay yay, mother****er.” Or Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon 2, pointing his six-shooter at that apartheid-supporting diplomat who just shouted, “Diplomatic immunity!” before Murtaugh responds, “Has just been revoked.” And if not those successes, then I was endlessly replaying—on tape, see picture if you were born in the aughts—Tubthumping (http://youtu.be/2H5uWRjFsGc), the quintessential late-90s pump-up song, singing to myself, “I get knocked down, but I get up again—you’re never gonna keep me down.”
People used to use these to play maybe 90 minutes of music.
You can stop laughing now.
I was both believing and not believing these things I was saying, singing, or thinking. When you’ve got my past, you learn that emotions lie, logic is faulty, and ultimately failure beats out all initial success. I knew I shouldn’t be reliving those failures. I relived them all anyway, focusing most on the one that started it all.
In first grade, it felt like my entire class was already at a second grade reading level. I’d sit at my desk, staring at the second grade reading book, fearing when they broke us into reading groups and I’d sit with the two or three first grade level kids. The second grade book’s cover had a rainbow on it. I remember these things. They made me furious, and the fury didn’t leave when class adjourned. I used to stay up past bedtime pretending to read my mother’s Danielle Steele hard covers, hoping for a moment when all the words made sense, like how glasses brought people’s vision into clarity. It never happened. And neither did I back down. I fake-read, night after night, until one evening, I was overcome with a notion. I decided, regardless of any obstacle, I would write a novel, it’d be one of the greatest novels ever written, and I’d show those kids what smart was, and I’d make those teachers ashamed of themselves for putting me in the first grade reading group.
I didn’t how I’d do this, but I’d do it.
Save, I didn’t.
In that same first grade year, I tried to re-create a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book as great as one some adult had read to me. I couldn’t do it, and I knew I couldn’t—the second I started, reality hit me, yet I stuck to it as long as I could. I was devastated. I may have cried. In second grade, I started a novel about an FBI agent chasing a terrorist. For some reason, you can speculate yourself, I wanted the terrorist to be black, and living in a predominately white, upper-class suburb, I only knew one black kid named Lloyd and this other guy, who was always on the tv since he was running for president, Jesse Jackson. Oh, I knew one other black person, my teacher Mrs. Foster, and she was not too amused to read Mr. Jackson’s role in my story.
When she confronted me, I got scared and I promised to quit writing it. In third grade, I attempted a fourth to Back to the Future. I figured it fool-proof. I had watched the movies 1,000 times. I knew the characters, the settings, the pace, everything was there, I only needed a new storyline. Turns out that was hard, turns out I failed again. Maybe I cried additional tears, though it was probably the last time, as one becomes accustomed to failure. It followed me into fourth grade, I tried to rewrite a book about WWII I didn’t really understand. I quit. Fifth grade was when I really got pissed off. I caught my friend Maureen totally entrenched in Jurassic Park. She wasn’t pretending to read a grown-up book. She understood it. All these years and my peers weren’t only better than me, they were widening the gap! In sixth grade, I rewrote a low-budget horror movie involving dinosaurs, a knock-off of Jurassic Park. My descriptions of dinosaurs eating people prompted my teacher, Mr. Boyle, to confront my mother on if I was emotionally disturbed. In seventh grade, I crafted a story about doctors fighting a super-virus after watching Outbreak. I got thirty pages in, something that could easily be described as a milestone, before it too ran out of gas. I fought like hell not to quit writing it. I told myself: Don’t quit! You’ve got it! I couldn’t finish it. In eighth grade, I regressed. I quit on so many writings, it was hard to keep count. Upon graduating middle school, I was relieved to know that, in high school, I would probably no longer be asked to write stories.
There I was—fourteen and a failure at life.
If you throw out all my video games, computers, friends, family,
clothes, disposable income, cable tv, Walkman, bicycle,
inheritance, and my Dad’s boat, I’ve got nothing to live for!
I hailed from an achievement based community where educators proclaimed, without a spec of cynicism, “You’re the leaders of tomorrow and that’s what we’re here to teach you.” They’d repetitively told us kids that we needed to find our passion, and if we worked hard once we did, everything would work out. But, I had a problem. I’d found my passion, and I’d worked myself harder than I thought possible, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. In truth, the only thing I’d figured out was that I had the distinguished honor of both finding and sucking at my passion. And while I may have never thought, I give up, I gave up. In the second half of eighth grade, my grades dropped. In ninth, they tanked. I felt like, whether it was my first grade reading text, Mrs. Foster, Marty McFly, Adolf Hitler, Maureen, Michael Crichton, Mr. Boyle, my parents, my special education tutors, the world at large—everyone was saying, “Justin, novel writing isn’t for you. Now just preoccupy yourself by banging your head into this wall and savor your slow death over the next six decades.” And so I decided, if I was to be an imbecile, I would excel at it. I’d misbehave, get suspended, drink, smoke, and become as cliché as I could, living like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.
It didn’t work out.
While it was true I had quit writing, I was still writing thousands of words a day. Like a crazy person, I had taken to laying in my bed or walking my room in circles, repeating aloud the same stories, the same dialogue, slightly modifying it each time a better delivery found me, and since I was unwilling to do homework, had no driver license, and zero money, I had time to do this, sometimes until dawn, then on my walk to school, and spaced out in class, whispering under my breath. I worked the beginnings, the middles, the ends, the turns, the twists, the ambiance, the mood, I’d speed up, I’d slow down, meander, then sprint. Inevitably, I’d think, You should write this down. Then, I’d get to the computer, located in a room far different from my bedroom, the only place I had felt safe enough to entertain this internal lunacy, and I’d dry up, defeated again by the blank document, by first sentence after first deleted sentence. It never sounded as good as it did in my head, and I’d walked away, so practiced at being beaten, I didn’t even need an effort to pretend not to care.
Whatever, I suck at writing, like that matters.
Still, I couldn’t stop the oral storytelling. Against my will, I kept walking those circles, kept starring at that ceiling, kept thinking, You should write this down, and strategizing, Mom has a laptop she brings home from work. If you took it up here, you could talk, then write it down verbatim. It was a possibility. Lately, my talking had all been about school. Since I was failing my classes, and had owned my shit-for-brains, rebel-without-a-cause fate, I had discovered popularity. I had a lot of friends, and I lost a bit of extra weight, then got a haircut similar to the George Clooney ER one, so girls liked me. I had interesting stories, not other stories other writers had written, but my own stories, and I knew I had an audience who’d be
interested in them.
Now that you definitively know what I look like, there’s no
need to find an actual picture of me on the Internet.
I couldn’t do it.
I didn’t want to dream again.
After all, sure I had a laptop available, sure I had good stories now, sure I was talking in ways that made the words sound slicked in butter—but, if I start caring, I could again fall victim to the empty page. Or it could be worse. What if I succeeded? What if I managed to talk my way through an entire book? And what if that book sucked? Not a blank page mocking me, but a full page like a metaphor to my ineptitude, then having to watch my family and peers struggle for words as they, with reservations, said, “Justin, it’s… It’s different, and…different is good, yeah. The important thing is you wanted to do it and you did, so…” It was stupid to mess with my new life, my new reputation, and my talking.
I hadn’t considered all the factors.
Friends, haircuts, girls, talking for hours, they lead to this thing called confidence, and confidence is a dangerous thing. It becomes pride, and pride gives you a voice. When you see that second grade reading book, you no longer keep your mouth shut about it. Likewise, you don’t accept Mrs. Foster’s confusion about your work, you explain it, and you don’t stop until she gets it. I may have accepted my fate as an idiot, but I was getting pissed off at how my teachers and my peers were so accepting of it, and every time one of them blew me off, shrugged me off, told me off, I heard the voice, the one that talks, “You don’t get it. I’m a writer. And I’m better at it than you are and I don’t need you.” This voice was unavoidable, held back at the edges of my throat, I only had to let it out. Fat chance of that, I knew it like I knew it in first grade. You can’t just be another Judd Nelson and say things like that, not without getting eye-rolls and whatevers and “Sure, Justin”s.
You have no choice. You have to write the fucking novel.
The stakes were high, but I wasn’t certain I cared. The page wasn’t my enemy any longer, or so I could tell myself—these people were my enemy, and as long as I focused on their destruction, on their humiliation, on making them feel like I had felt my entire life, then the page couldn’t destroy me. And while part of me knew it wasn’t true, knew the page would own me like it always had, I let that anger, that pride, that rage seep into every bit of my soul, and I let it get so hot that under no circumstance would self-concern or pervasive logic cause me a moments pause.
It was time.
Yippie kay yay, mother****er.
Never mind, sometimes writers are exactly like this.
The laptop was in my room, the stereo was on, I was inflating my ego bigger than I had ever dared, and the voice was living large. I got it. I started writing. Two paragraphs later, the voice died. I couldn’t write anymore. F*** it. That’s a chapter. I walked around, I talked, I sang to the songs on the radio, I’ve got maybe three paragraphs. F*** it. That’s a chapter. Maybe I caught a glimpse of things inside myself. You know, the third Back to the Future movie sucked. Maybe there was no story left to tell there. I forgot it, and the next day, I wrote what I spoke, and the next day, I did the same. I had no writing habits, so I was inefficient, but if I listened to Collective Soul’s self-titled debut repetitively, it helped me re-find the groove. (I hadn’t noticed my stories were developing grooves). Weird thoughts happened periodically. You’re not a historian. You’re not the right person to write the history of WWII. By the time I had twenty thousand words, the chapters weren’t one or two paragraphs, they were two or three pages. The voice didn’t need to talk as often any longer, it talked through my fingers, it typed and I disappeared and, when I reemerged, I’d written what I’d written. I realized it didn’t matter when someone read Jurassic Park. Maureen read it in the fifth grade, I read it in the eighth. Besides, Maureen hadn’t written anything that was twenty thousand words. Hell, I didn’t know anyone who had. More time passed, the voice got more confident, it said, “Let’s go back, Justin. Let’s rewrite some of the beginning, it’s gonna make for a better ending.” I was a bit hesitant, I had let off the gas before, to disastrous consequences. Then again, maybe I misunderstood Mr. Boyle’s concern about the dinosaur story. Maybe I’d accomplished in another person exactly what I had set out to. What if it was good writing? I didn’t want to question the voice. Beyond giving my life purpose, it was the best drug I had ever found. I went back to the beginning, writing a plot tying these random school stories together—a secret crush, code named 42874, who’s identity I’d slowly reveal throughout the pages.
It worked. I had a story now.
I could finish this and I knew it. Nothing could stop me.
This is the first sign that you’re about to be owned big
I had stopped.
For three weeks, I hadn’t had the voice, and about all I had done was sit around watching tv like a zombie. I couldn’t think anything, I couldn’t feel anything, but I was capable of loathing. And oh, did I loath. What made it really bad was I knew I wouldn’t finish the book. And this failure, it was somehow different. Unlike my past failures, this one was absolutely my fault. I wasn’t slowed down by an inability to read or write, by a teacher’s meddling, by exhausted storylines, or anything of the sort—I was two-thirds done with the book, a book I loved more than I loved anything, one I had clearly proven myself capable of writing, and I allowed it to slip away. I couldn’t understand why I constantly did this to myself, but I’d finally learned my lesson about writing. Not that it brought me any solace, I was still up late at night, paralyzed by this missing voice, in my silent bedroom, suffocating. I didn’t know why, as I almost never thought about it, but I was jilted by the memory of the night when I promised myself I’d write a book.
I couldn’t help it. I broke into a smile. What kind of six year old thinks he can write a novel? It wasn’t negative as much as it was amusement. How could I not see how powerless I was to complete such a task? At the time, I probably still struggled to write my last name, yet I believed with all my soul I should’ve been able to write a book. And why was I so upset about being at the first grade reading level in first grade? I was probably lucky! To think of all those kids at a second grade level, their parents must’ve forced them to do it before school started. Meanwhile, my parents had let me play. They didn’t care if I was the smartest kid on the first day of school, nor did they want me to be a robot, they wanted me to be empowered, they wanted me to believe, they didn’t want me to be someone who had all the tools to, for instance, write a novel, but had not a clue what to write.
They wanted me to be more than smart.
Laying there, I tried to remember the exact book I was reading when I decided to write my own. The only thing I recalled was a vague imprint of the title font, and I thought, knowing this, I’d be able to find it. Unfortunately, my mom kept her books scattered about the house, and she was one of those women who, upon reaching motherhood, found herself such a light sleeper that crinkling paper woke her. I tiptoed in the dark, from room to room, hoping not to destroy some priceless Yadro or something, and angling every book to the moonlight. I’ve been through ten or twenty hard covers and I’ve had no luck. Maybe my mom had let a friend borrow it. Maybe I didn’t really know the font. Maybe I made the whole thing up. Maybe a lot of things… But, wait a second… This one looked something like what I was looking for, Sidney Sheldon’s Memories of Midnight. I was unconvinced, though. It was a let down since I was certain I’d find the book, not so much to find the book, I thought something would happen if I did, some magical clue or tool to show me what was missing, explain to me how a person writes over thirty thousand words and then stops! I didn’t understand why things had to be this way, why I had to be this way, why, why, why, why!About the author: 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.
“Answer me, Sidney! Answer me or you’ll never see your family again!”
I flipped through some pages, reading some of Sidney’s stale words, and determined I wasn’t a fan. Nothing here could help me. And that’s what separates art from reality. In reality, you’re alone. So I closed the book, ready to return upstairs, when I saw, somewhere in the middle, a tiny sliver separating some of the pages. It couldn’t be… A bookmark? Even with the book closed, I could tell it was a makeshift one, nothing thicker than a sturdy piece of paper, and that explained how my fingers hadn’t stopped on the page. But, why was it there? My mother was not someone to re-read or quit on a book, and my father only read the newspaper, so was it mine? I opened it to the page and the color alone told me I had found the book. It was a very, very neon yellow, and when I was young, neon colors were the rage.
Then, I saw what I needed to see.
In my messy handwriting, with crooked letters and probably some help from an adult, I had written a message to my future self. At the time, I hadn’t meant to. Certainly I hadn’t, I had no memory of this bookmark. No matter my concentration, I couldn’t recall the day I decided to make it, nor making it, nor using it in any of the books I had pretended to read. Even in my memory of deciding to write a book, I didn’t remember the bookmark, yet here it was, and like I needed further attention drawn to its message, I had attached glue to the letters, then stuck glitter into it, so now in the aforementioned moonlight, it was sparkling about.
I love books.
What happened next defied modern storytelling convention.
I didn’t have a light-bulb moment, a symphony never played, the girl I was crushing on didn’t realize her true feelings for me. All that happened was—in a peaceful, calm, almost meditative state—I reached a moment of clarity. I loved books. I didn’t hate them, nor did I hate writing, I didn’t need to prove anyone wrong, and even if I did, I certainly didn’t need a written book to do so. All these years I had thought of writing as my bane when it was my salvation. It was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me—having writing in my life, having a reason to fight, having something to believe in, and it had cost a lot, I had failed a lot, but you know what? Upstairs on a floppy disk, I had over thirty thousand words, I had a story, and I had more than that, I had a good story that talked about my ups, my downs, my in-betweens, it was funny, it was sad, it was bigger than life and, in its own way, endearingly pathetic. I didn’t lose all my anger in that moment, it would take years for me to fully process it, but for once, for a few seconds, I had a glimpse into what I could be separated from that anger, into what I could accomplish if I let it go, if I followed my heart, and if I just stopped caring so damn much about what everyone else thought, including the empty page.
I had a new vision of myself.
So that next day, I set up my mother’s laptop in my room, I put on Tubthumping, which I had recorded off the radio cause there was no way I was blowing my miniscule teenage funds on what was clearly a one-hit wonder, and I mentally cycled through all my favorite movie scenes from my favorite movie characters and I didn’t stop until I heard a bit of a voice. It was quiet, but it was back there, it was trying to reach me, so I wrote it. Two paragraphs later, it was gone. I panicked. No, it can’t be gone. This isn’t how this goes. I remembered how this had happened before. When I started writing the book, I only had two paragraphs, and I had let it go, I moved on, and I trusted myself to get it right later. Could I learn from that? Could I have the strength to take that risk again?
“I’m not saying yippie kay yay, mother****er anymore.
It’s your book, do it yourself.”
Two paragraphs… Two paragraphs… Two paragraphs…
F*** it. That’s a chapter. I listened to Tubthumping again, thought, God, I hate this song and I replaced it for Collective Soul again, got myself to track eight, She Gathers Rain, and I felt the song reverberate in my humming throat. I heard the voice. It was a bit louder. It was shaky, though. It didn’t sound as solid. I thought, This is gonna take a while, Justin. You keep trying to hit it out of the park. Be patient… Three paragraphs later, the voice was gone, but I knew what to do. And I did it: F*** it. That’s a chapter. I walked my circles, I talked to the ceiling, I withdrawal from all my friends, all my family, I give this voice everything it needed, and as the weeks went by, I failed tests, then mid-terms, then quarterly projects, and while the word “expulsion” was in any conversation I had with an adult, I stayed focused on that voice, I kept feeding it, and it got stronger. Like it had before, two or three paragraphs turned into two or three pages, which turns into twenty or thirty. I could hardly believe it. I told myself, Don’t forget this. The next time it happens, this is what you do. Eventually the voice would tire, and I would stop for the night, but I would be too excited to sleep, I stayed up, and instead of sulking over my every failure, I tried to find the lesson, I tried to extract useful data. What worked today? What will most likely work tomorrow? I was setting goals, measuring progress, reaching rational conclusions, and building strong work habits; in essence, I was doing everything I was rebelling against, I was now using every stupid lesson every teacher (I resented) was trying to teach me.
Not like I could see it at the time,
I went off on all of them in the book.
It took maybe a month or two, but I finished the book, and finally I could stand that sight of an empty page, as I knew I was its equal. I was the master of two worlds. Maybe I didn’t save a building full of hostages, but I had never really wanted to be John McClain. I wanted to be Justin Ordoñez. And while some kids dreamed of going to the NBA, and others of the Ivy League, I dreamed of writing books, and I had one, my own book, in my hands. (At the time, printing it practically used an entire ink cartridge, so you had to love it to justify the financial hardship). It was called Why I Want To Own A Food Mart, my logic being that if I owned a foodmart, I’d put nicotine into the food and drink products to create a rabid base of customers who needed to visit my store alone.
Surprisingly, my inner-peace soon dissipated.
A new question emerged.
I love my book, but will anyone else?
Up to that point, I had kept my book writing on the down low, but I decided to test the interest of a few people. Turned out they were interested, and the first copies began circulating the hallways, and rave reviews soon followed in whispers all around me. “You wrote a book?” – “I want it.” – “How can I get it?” It was all going well until a student, named Veronica—who’s so talented a disseminator of information if we put her as head of the armed forces we’d never have another war (I’m kinda serious about that)—got her hands on it. What happened was its mass distribution, followed by the explosion of my academic career. Apparently, it was considered in bad taste that I had not altered my teacher’s names, and that I, you know, wrote what they actually did instead of making them look good.
Children, don’t ever attempt this in an American public school.
On grades alone, it was obvious this would be my only year at the school, which was prestigious and by invitation only, which incentivized me to continue distributing my book. I enjoyed my mild celebrity, and in the summertime, when the teachers were gone and I wasn’t seeing my peers everyday, I found myself unsatisfied. Sure, I had a written a book, but I was also fourteen at the time, and since nobody had expected it, it was easy to see how it succeeded. I hadn’t actually reached my limits, nor had I laid it all on the line; meanwhile, the voice was still hungry, so on my yearly family vacation on isolated Sanibel Island, freshly fifteen, I finished my second novel. I recognized the improvement, but I still felt a gap between where I was and where I wanted to go, so that fall, I decided to write another. Then, because I felt like it, I wrote a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth—each time getting closer to that elusive novel I envisioned as a child, save now, with the blank page being my partner in crime, I loved every second of it, yet I always remembered my lessons, and I kept the most important one the closest.
On my bookshelf, right in the center, out of place amongst what would become the likes of Wright, Abbey, Dostoyevsky, sat the most important book of my life, and one I’d still never read, Memories of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon, and inside of it, still on that same page, making the tiniest slit to its existence, was the bookmark, like a signal light in my sometimes lost life, pointing me back to where I belonged, where I was made to be, and to live all my days.
I love books.
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