Whitney Otto is known as a writer of novels that are innovative both in structure and in language. She was the second of three children born to William B. Otto, Sr., an electrical engineer, and Constance D. Vambert, a public speaker who inspired her daughter to make the most of her talents. In elementary school in Pasadena, where she grew up, Otto found that she liked inventing stories. However, it would be years before she decided on a writing career.
After finishing high school, she attended the University of the Pacific’s Raymond College, then San Diego State University, and finally the University of California, Irvine, where, five weeks before she was to graduate with a major in history, she discovered that she wanted only to write.
Immediately Otto dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco, where she did various odd jobs and even peddled one-page essays on street corners. For five years she was a bookkeeper for two financial district dentists. Although she did some writing, she collected only rejection slips. At thirty, Otto returned to Irvine, obtained her B.A., and entered the Graduate School of Writing, which granted her an M.F.A. in 1990.
Meanwhile, in 1988, after seeing a television advertisement for a quilting program, Otto had decided to do some research on the craft, intending to use it in a short story for a writing workshop. As she developed her story, she found that it was taking shape as a collage, much...
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