It is my pleasure to welcome author Sheila Ortego to Tip of the Iceberg. I recently read and reviewed her debut novel, The Road from La Cueva, and fell in love with it. Sheila was able to drop in for a visit to talk about her book, who has inspired her writing, her next big writing project, and what she does when she's not writing.
Many, many thanks to Terri for welcoming me in! So here I go ... my name is Sheila Ortego, not Ortega with an ‘a’, but ending in an ‘o’. Which makes my life very complicated here in New Mexico where there are lots and lots of Ortegas. The reason my name is ‘funny’ is because I’m a Cajun from Louisiana, and more recently of French ancestry than Spanish. So the French-speaking Cajuns changed Ortega to Ortego (I’m not quite sure why they didn’t go all the way and change it to Ortegeaux) and that’s how it all started.
Most of my time is spent on my ‘day job’, working as the president of Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve had that job for 3 ½ years now – but before that, I worked as an Executive Vice President, Assistant to the President, Dean, Director, Division Head – then all the way back to my start at the community college 26 years ago, as a secretary and part-time English instructor. As heady as the job of a community college president can be (and it is quite heady, as we work on exciting new projects such as a Sustainable Technology Center, a new Nursing and Allied Health Facility, and new/innovative programs to increase student success) I still feel my heartstrings pulling me to fiction.
I spent 15 years writing the novel The Road From La Cueva. I got the idea to write it when I was a young mother, very poor, in an unhappy marriage, living on a bad road in northern New Mexico. I basically used my own life as material – as you can see if you read the book, because it’s about a woman (Ana) who gets ‘stuck’ in her life—the same way her car gets stuck in the mire and mud of the road. She tries different things to get unstuck, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, Ana finally learns to relax and appreciate the reality and beauty of the road; she stops seeing it not so much as quicksand – but as something malleable and full of potential (as life itself is).
In my writing life, I have been inspired by the novels of African American women, especially. In fact, I did my doctoral studies on that very subject: the wonderful works of Toni Morrison (Beloved, Sula, The Bluest Eye); Alice Walker (The Color Purple, The Third Life of Grange Copeland); Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) – and more! I’m a romantic at heart, so I love good drama and troubled characters and exotic locales. This may explain my penchant for movies like Out of Africa, The Age of Innocence, Like Water for Chocolate ... anything with a good love story and a beautiful setting!
My next big writing project is something I’ve been “noodling with” for a couple of months. I hope to get it done over the next year. It’s a story about lost love, a canoe trip to the boundary waters (Quetico area, Canadian wilderness), death, and love reborn. (Or so far, that’s the idea! Let’s see how it evolves.) I may call it "The Boundary Waters," as I’m trying to get at the idea of how boundaries between countries are like boundaries between people: narrow or broad, depending on your perspective; difficult to see and recognize; often seemingly impassable, but always with mysterious avenues for navigation if one tries hard enough.
I hope you’ll check out my blog. While you’re browsing, consider signing up to follow my blog or make comments about postings there. I also hope you’ll take the time to read reviews of my book at Amazon.com. My next big book signing event is going to be in Simi Valley, California – I’ll post some info on the blog about that when the time comes (May, 2010).
In the meantime, I hope you are having a wonderful summer. Happy reading!
A big "thank you" to Sheila for taking time out of her busy schedule to prepare a guest post for us here today. And don't forget to check out her book, The Road from La Cueva!.