How I Learned to Crush My Darlings’ Souls

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

As a reader, I’ve always understood how important it is for the characters in a novel to suffer.  If the main character doesn’t suffer enough, a novel fails to engage me no matter how much I might like the character or the prose.  As I look back at the books I’ve loved at different points in my life — from Little Women to The Lord of the Rings; from Catch-22 to The Remains…


Putting Your Characters Through the Wringer

The wringer through which we are supposed to put our characters
Tuesday, October 20, 2015

This week we’re discussing how we torture our characters. Characters must be put through the wringer, made miserable and low, thrown every obstacle, and then come out the other end a better person for it. Chuck Wendig has a great piece on how to mess with your characters (but with more f-bombs than we tend to use over here on the Deb Ball. Not that I don’t love a good…


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…


Going All In

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Work on I LIKED MY LIFE began as something to tinker with when I couldn’t give the corporate world any more; nights I couldn’t sleep, long flights, weekends. It was slow-going. Then the kids came along, eleven months apart, and writing was replaced with ear infections, diapers, and feedings. It was as if I had two identities—one in a business suit creating and presenting global sales programs, and the other…


Day Jobs (Or How I Turned My Traumas into Art)

Picking kiwis in Israel
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

We’re talking day jobs this week on the Deb Ball. Oh, the joy of the day jobs. I’ve had day jobs I have loved. Loved, loved. And I’ve had day jobs that I’ve hated. Like poke-my-eyeballs-out hated (which would be a much better image had I not smacked into a branch last week while running and given myself a corneal abrasion. That I suppose is a story for another day:…


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…


My writing cave…

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I have a home office where I used to work 60+ hour weeks. It all felt very important. When I quit to pursue writing, the room still carried a serious air. I associated it with conference calls and stack ranking people and complicated financial models, destroying any hope of creative productivity. Enter my own version of feng shui. First, I painted inspiring quotations along the main wall.           …


The Room My Father Built

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When I was a little girl, my favorite room in our house was my father’s library.  We lived in a typical 1960s suburban subdivision, where every third house had the same floor plan, but my father had taken our dining room for his own.  He was a lawyer by day, but a craftsman by night, and he lined its walls with shelves that he filled with a literary treasure trove….


Have Pen, Will Write: My Writing Spaces

writing nook
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Writing for me happens just about anywhere. I have a notebook in my purse and I’ve been known to jot thoughts down while waiting for kid activities to end or in the bathroom of a party when an idea comes up (because folks don’t appreciate it when you whip out paper in the middle of a conversation and say, “Wait! I’m going to use what you just told me for…


Where I Write

Monday, September 21, 2015

Early in my writing life, I used to be precious about where and when I would write. It had to be the right environment–silent and clean, someplace that smelled good and where I could work uninterrupted, and then only when I had at least 3-4 hours of time. Then I entered into a year-long revision workshop for novelists. During that year I worked full-time (actually working more hours than I…