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UCI Instructor Sells Novel Written as Master's Thesis to Villard Books

May 12, 1990|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whitney Otto of Costa Mesa, a recent graduate of UC Irvine's MFA program in writing, has sold her first novel, "How to Make an American Quilt," to Villard Books.

Villard will publish the novel in hardcover in March, 1991, and a Ballantine Books paperback edition will follow a year later. Both Villard and Ballantine are Random House imprints.

Otto, who teaches creative writing at UCI and composition at Irvine Valley College, wrote the novel as her master's thesis. The Pasadena native said it is an expansion of a short story she wrote while at UCI.

"How to Make an American Quilt" is a contemporary story about a group of women who quilt together in a fictional town outside Bakersfield.

"Thematically, it's about the need, or urge, people have to come together, whether in marriage or friendship or sexual union," said Otto, 35. "At the same time, people have an equally strong desire to be independent and seen as singular."

"But," she added with a laugh, "other people have had different interpretations."

Otto said her book "is not a conventional novel at all." It was written as a sort of "verbal quilt," she said, with each chapter dealing with one of the women in the quilting circle. Sets of "instructions" involving bits of history and technical aspects of quilting link each story.

Although one source said Otto received an impressive advance for her book, the first-time novelist will not discuss the amount.

"I got a nice advance, but what's been happening is the advances some people (in the UCI writing program) have been getting have been getting more attention than the work itself," Otto said. "So with this book, we've decided not to talk about the money part of it, just so the focus remains on the work."

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