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Whitney Otto


Whitney Otto

"I was born and raised in California. My childhood was almost a casebook for the post-war suburban nuclear family, right down to the mid-1960s divorce. That is to say, it was all very uneventful. As much as I loved living there, I always had a sense of slight displacement, as if my real home were elsewhere. This combination of an ordinary childhood, which was conducive to imagination, and feelings of being on the outside, or not quite belonging, is more or less how I came to be a writer. I attended very good public schools, before a statement like that became an oxymoron, and went to three different colleges: the University of the Pacific, San Diego State University, and the University of California, Irvine, where I received an MFA in Writing. I call my post-high school education "The California College Tour," since I went to a private university, a state school, and UC. My husband, son, and I now live in Portland, Oregon, having moved from San Francisco. I love being a writer. That is probably the most fundamental thing I can say about myself." 

On the Novel as Collage

My work is like a collage: the images feel like found objects, and they reoccur from story to story. The structure of each novel is almost architectural, as if it is "built" or "assembled." Although my novels follow a certain plan, or logic, in my mind, there is room for the accidental or inspirational. As a writer, I cannot count on lucky accidents; I have to work at what I do. I toss out more pages than I keep and sometimes the transition from the story in my head to my hand is more approximate than exact. I write from my own curiosity. Something attracts me-a quilt, the idea of disappearing, the photographs of Madame Yevonde and James VanDerZee - and soon this interest expresses itself in my writing. 

By writing a book that is not overtly about art - The Passion Dream Book is a love story, after all - but about two people involved in the arts, a casual discussion of art arises. The conversation is neither academic nor scholarly, but is thoughtful. If at all possible, I would like the reader to join in the matter. I want the reader to consider art as accessible, a part of everyday, ordinary life, because that is how I think art should be, and that is how I think about it. 

To carry this idea further, another aspect of The Passion Dream Book is portraying the artist as a "working stiff." The photographers in my novel have to eat, so they have to work. And photography, like writing, can be a service or an art. Sometimes it can be both.

Whitney Otto

Books by Whitney Otto

by Whitney Otto

The novel begins in 1918, with the story of Romy March, whose artistic aspirations alienate her from her wealthy family. She falls in love with Augustine Marks, a photographer. They journey from place to place, separately and together, until they realize in Beat Generation San Francisco that only love brings them back again and again.