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Post-Publishing Project Q&A: Hobo Vodka's Marcella Ortega

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As our Hobo Vodka: Americana On The Rocks publishing project comes to a close this month, I talked with Marcella Ortega about what it’s like to lay bare a chapter of her life story each month for the past year. Keep reading!

How do feel about this publishing project coming to an end?

Relieved and anxious. I’m a neurotic and nervous person so I tend to let things consume me at times. I’ve had a love-hate dynamic with this writing process which is not necessarily a bad thing. That’s just how writing is, for me at least. When I have a project, it’ll sit in my gut for days, weeks, months, and making me nervous until I sit down and confront it, which of course ends up being a huge relief.

I went through that every month during this project and so in some ways I’m relieved to have it finished but I’m also anxious in terms of not having an anchor anymore, the thing that consumed me.


Do you feel like your reasons for writing this book evolved over the course of the year?

I think in some ways it did.  When I started this project I was in a transitional place in my life. I was going through a divorce, a career change, a close family member was dying and that was like the first real and largely significant loss in my life. They were two solid years of hell for me because everything about life as I knew it was changing and there was nothing I could do about it. I was living once again in my hometown and spending time with people I hadn’t seen since I was in high school and everything just started to feel surreal. So I wrote down ten chapters and just started writing one day because I felt like at the end of the day that was the one thing nobody could take away from me. Nobody could take away the fact that I could write and at that point I needed to write for my sanity.

But now, I’m just enjoying creating a New Mexican story that’s not exclusively focused on the fact that I’m a New Mexican. I mean, I thought about writing some chapters about the town history in general, but I wasn’t sure how to do that without feeling like I was serving and digesting it for a white western audience which makes me cringe.


In what way would you like to see this project grow or continue?

When I first started the project, I imagined it’d work great as an indie film. Like I thought ideally, if the book grew a following it could potentially be turned into a screenplay.  About a month before we wrapped this up, Eva, the Noodle Publisher, came to me with a serious plan about turning this into an indie film. And instead of being super excited and grateful that she came up with a strategy, I totally freaked out and went into a nervous shock and paralysis. It took me a while to process what  was really freaking me out about it and I soon realized part of it was privacy. Like the stories I write are not flattering for myself or the distinct characters in it, many of whom I really care about and still talk to.

But the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized my greatest fear is for this project to turn into something that gets tokenized or displays New Mexicans in a patronizing light just because we’re New Mexicans. Which like, obviously the Noodle’s not gonna make a cliche screenplay or anything. I’m just not sure about how involved funding sources can become.  Right now, New Mexicans have zero representation in mass media. I would hate to end up being a part of something that fetishizes or patronizes us in order to appeal to a white audience. I see Mexicans portrayed in patronizing ways constantly in media. In so many movies and shows, just their culture and who they are is portrayed as the punchline.

Like how many times, in film, have you seen a white man pouring his heart out or venting and then they show a Mexican, or a person of color, as the person he’s venting to and suddenly the scene is hilarious. There’s this implication in mass media that latinos are an inherently simple and ignorant people. Independent films and highly stylized films aren’t exempt from this. Just look at how Wes Anderson portrays some people of color.  It’s unfortunate. That’s just not something I would handle well. But so far, it looks like the Noodle’s engaging with some awesome looking funding sources which is exciting because I wouldn’t have to freak out over them forcing us to make it highly digestible for a western audience.


Do you feel you’ve grown as a writer the past year?

Yes, in terms of pushing myself to do something that terrifies me. I never thought I’d write about my life. But of course, in terms of form and style, I could kill a darling or two or ten.


What would you have done differently?

I would have put more thought into the names of the characters. Some of the characters hate their Hobo Vodka names. Then again, I’m not a mind reader. When it comes to marketing or sales, I would have come up with a better distribution plan.


What would you like to say to your readers as we near the final chapter?

Thank you for reading and supporting this project. I know it’s fucking weird but I hope you liked it.


How’s your couture lingerie business coming along?

Oh my god. So when I’m not writing Hobo Vodka, I’m stressing about sewing projects. I’ve been practicing a lot this last year. I made Eva’s wedding dress, as well as the suit I wore to her wedding. I have the sweetest boyfriend in the world who supports my existence, like a 1950s business man, and when I moved to Arkansas last year, he bought me a sewing machine because I wanted to make lingerie and sell it. Now that Hobo Vodka is over, I’ll have time to start assembling a collection.

I’ve found that underwires and hooks aren’t the easiest thing to come by. (I mean, if you want them to be pretty and functional. I’m not doing this to make ugly bras that don’t work.) I learned to sew from my grandmother who is a perfectionist but in such an effortless way. She can make anything perfect out of nothing. Not me. I have to endure agony and anxiety, change direction twelve times before I get it perfect but I need things to be perfect otherwise I’m miserable and I’ll throw it away.

I like to think I get that from my great-grandmother Refugito, who taught my grandmother to sew. In the 1930s, she’d sell a goat so that she could afford to buy a small piece of velvet or fur to dress her jackets with. They were so poor, they lived in a two room house next to an orchard, which looks like the garden of eden. She wanted everything to be nice. She’d take old clothes apart by the seams and reconstruct them perfectly with the material inside out so they’d look new again. I love stories about the things she’d make cause she sounds so anxious and stubborn. I actually own one of the shirts she made for herself. I have no idea how she made the collar which is almost like a spring lace. It’s so incredible and intricate.

So anyway, I’m thinking of starting out simple with some bodysuits, rompers, and slips and kind of see where that takes me.