Joy In the Struggle: Stories of Healing and Transformation

Friday, October 23, 2015

Apparently, it’s Alice Mattison week on the Debutante Ball. Like Heather, I also worked with her as an MFA writing teacher, and she was amazing. Even decades later, I can still hear what she said to me in our conference: “Aya, we don’t want our protagonists to suffer because we love our protagonists. But they must suffer, because otherwise there’s no story.” Like Jennifer said earlier this week about “torture,”…


The Accidental Academic and the Literary/Commercial Divide

Friday, October 16, 2015

By day, I teach creative writing at UC Berkeley. I direct the Poetry for the People program, founded by the late African American poet and essayist June Jordan. My courses are in poetry and spoken word, but in the context of the African American Studies Department. Therefore my colleagues are mostly social scientists, and not writers of poetry or fiction. I call myself an “accidental academic,” because I never set…


The Publishing Secrets I’ve Told, and The One I’m Still Keeping

Friday, October 9, 2015

As a child, my mother was an elected official, and my dad was well-known in the community, as well. So people always knew who I was. I grew up with strangers asking me Isn’t your mom on the school board? When I was in middle school, my mom received death threats for some of her antiwar activism, and at one point, we had a plainclothes police officer stationed in front…


The Deb Interview with Naomi Jackson, Author of THE STAR SIDE OF BIRD HILL

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The first other black woman debut novelist I connected with online was Naomi Jackson. I was so excited about her novel that I interviewed her for my own blog shortly after the book was released. Shortly thereafter, I listened to it in audio format (busy mom reading habits). The book was everything that the critical acclaim promised. When I was accepted to the Debutante Ball, I knew I wanted to…


My Agent Story: Strength in Numbers

Friday, October 2, 2015

My fellow Debs have done an amazing job this week of demystifying the agent querying process. All have given stellar advice and/or shared their experience. I hope those new to the process are learning that there’s no typical success story, and every “yes” “no” or “maybe” from an agent is the result of a million different factors. That said, there are some particulars about my book that led me to…


The Place I Write About: How Obama’s Cuba Policy Shook Up My Novel

Friday, September 25, 2015

One of the big challenges of being a political writer of controversial topics is that the political foundation for your work-in-progress can suddenly shift. When legislative or policy changes happen—even positive ones—it can rock your fictional world. For example: I write sex worker characters who struggle against the legal barriers to making a living. I agree with many activists that consensual adult sex work should be decriminalized. However, if decriminalization…


Confessions of an MFA Dropout…Who Eventually Finished

Friday, September 18, 2015

I have been loving the MFA conversation this week. The fact that I get to weigh in last feels almost like taking a test where I’ve been able to look over everyone else’s shoulder… In my 20s, I began a low-residency MFA program–which shall remain nameless–in New England. It had an all-white faculty, and a focus on literary fiction. Although I was writing literary fiction at the time, it was…


The Debs Interview with Carolina De Robertis + GIVEAWAY of The Gods of Tango

Saturday, September 12, 2015

As this year’s Deb class moves toward publication of our first novels, I was inspired to call on one of the women writers who inspires me, Carolina De Robertis. I met Carolina when she was waiting for her first novel to come out (and expecting her first child!) I have carefully observed her career as a novelist, a wife and mother, and a cultural critic. I am thrilled to have…


Sex, Books, and Politics: The Inspiration for my Feminist Heist Novel

Friday, September 11, 2015

What an honor to be joining the Debs class of 2016! Thanks to the founders and all the wonderful women writers in the previous classes who have paved the way for us. Female authors, although we are often overworked and underappreciated, are still some of the most generous people on the planet. It is a joy to be joining this tribe. Mommy, where do novel ideas come from? My kindergarten-age…