1. You are a wife/mother/critically acclaimed author/practicing lawyer/professor (of law and creative writing) – you wear so many hats! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?
I would say that there are three versions of my mornings. One version is where I wake up at around 5:30am and get breakfast ready for my son and tea for my husband and we’ll start our morning routine before we leave to drop off my son at school. My son has special needs and though he’s 12, he requires a higher level of support. On these same mornings, my thirteen-year-old daughter who is homeschooled will join us at around 7am for breakfast and start school by 8am.
The second version are mornings where I have to be in court. I’ll wake up at 5am with the case I’ve prepared for and I hit the road by 5:45am, first swinging by Starbucks, then braving the crazy Los Angeles traffic to reach the Downtown Courthouse by 8am.
The third version is usually on weekends or holidays, where I sleep till 6am, seven if I’m lucky, and drive to a mountain I call Prayer Mountain, where I’ll walk and pray, and tell God I’m grateful. I’ll start with being grateful for the mountain to climb, then the ability to climb, to drive, to walk, to breathe, to have choices, to have a family, and grateful that He would trust me to manage even a small crumb of His genius.
2. Tell us more about your journey as a writer. How did you get started and what steps did you take to grow in your writing career?
Since I can remember, I wrote stories. But being a “writer” wasn’t an option for me growing up. My parents were from Alabama and came to California with high hopes that their children would excel as doctors, lawyers or engineers. So, I became one.
As a lawyer, I write all of the time. In criminal law, especially, I have to tell and retell the stories of my clients. As a teacher, I love to engage and challenge students with the realities of life … and crime, so they might be better people … thinkers, even if they don’t agree with me.
About eleven years ago, during “version three” of my morning, I was carrying my then-infant son down a hallway and had a vision … or daydream. I don’t know which. When it ended, I wrote down what I saw and put the writing in a drawer not knowing what to do with it, or what it was. Nine years later, it was published as the opening chapter of my novel, GRACE.
So it was that moment when I had that vision that I became again. But that time, I became a writer. And my first step was to enroll in an online writing class through UCLA Extension called Novel 1—How to Write A Novel. And after that class, my professor nominated me for the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Award.
3. In your most full or challenging seasons, how have you still managed to create? What have those seasons looked like?
I try to write one sentence a day no matter the season. Just one meaningful sentence and then I celebrate. I celebrate because, for writers, victories are few and far between. So I’d recommend we celebrate every one. Even if the one sentence is horrible one and even if your celebratory gift to self is a cookie and a weak hallelujah.
4. How do you talk to your kids about your creative work? How do you encourage them in their own creative interests?
My son speaks about twenty words and doesn’t read yet because of his learning delays. I teach him story on a very basic level so we watch movies together and I have him anticipate the highs and lows of the movie before the thing happens. It’s a plot shift. When I teach creative writing at the university or in a workshop, I’ll do something similar when I teach “Plotting the Novel.” A plot will often start by showing what normal life is for a character and then there’s an upset, something goes wrong. My son will have to tell me when he expects there to be a problem in his favorite Marvel movie. With his hands over his eyes, he’ll usually say, “Uh-oh.”
My daughter’s homeschool routine includes Literary Arts. For this subject, she’ll write stories using comic strips that exercise her ability to show—setting, or emotion, dialogue, etc—and to operate in a clear timeline.
As far as my work, I’ve told her she can’t read GRACE until she’s 50 years old. She’ll always be five years old to me and not ready.
5. How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?
Talking to you right now is a bloom. Sharing with anyone who’s reading this is. Being in TIME Magazine and People Magazine. Traveling to Armenia with the US State Department and the University of Iowa as a writer. The twenty-two cities I’ve toured, the friends I’ve met because of writing is bloom. Everything, really. Our literary community, worldwide and definitely nationwide is amazing. And honestly, all of this is unbelievable to me. It feels like I’m watching it happen to someone else and cheering her on.
6. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and author? Do you have any favorite resources that you’d recommend to fellow creatives?
God inspires me. I know that might sound cheesy but that’s it. Realizing that everything I am and see and value are perishable slivers of His genius. That leaves me in awe.
My favorite resources are coffee shops in neighborhoods I’ve never been in before. It leaves me off balance enough to notice things I might never notice. I’m often asked by new writers where to get agents and if they haven’t invested time in writing classes, I recommend agentquery.com. But don’t start there. Take classes and build relationships with other writers. They are your best resource to share with. UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Workshop online is good and is where, in full circle, I occasionally teach. You can also find other workshops in your town. Call your local university’s creative writing program and ask for recommendations. Workshops have short commitments and are usually taught by working writers. Invest in yourself and your craft.
7. Do you have a scripture, word, or mantra that guides your work?
Deuteronomy 31:8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Because of my work in criminal law, I walk in dark places and this helps me.
8. How do you believe motherhood and creative work complement one another?
Motherhood opened doors in my heart and mind that I never knew existed. And since moms are the fun-bringers in the family, behind those doors are games that awaken the imagination in our children and in us. Let yourself run with it.
9. What is something you have learned in the past year that you are taking in to the next year with a new perspective?
To trust God completely. I’ve learned that all I have to do is show up, stand on my mark, and surrender. The rest is Him.
10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice or encouragement, what would it be?
Mom, what no one tells you is that because you are a good mom, you’ll have to write on the edges of your life. In the margins. And that’s totally normal for moms. People will boast about having writing days or will talk about what time of the day they write … and if you have those choices, thank God for that. You are blessed. But know that most parents are writing when they can, and that’s even with our best planning. If you have school aged children, they’ll be sick several times that year, or for good measure, if they’re home, they’ll be loud or doing something unexpected, and if you plan to wake up early in the morning to write, by some stroke of luck—not—they will, for the first time in their lives, wake up with you at that same exact time.
Let there be no excuse. I’ve written with a broken pencil and eyeliner while waiting in my car. I’ve written on receipts and on the back of mail and legal briefs. I wrote 50% of GRACE in the Notes App of my phone and now it’s award-winning.
Some days you won’t write a single line. But let it go and start again. You can write one. Even a bad one. A month ago, I wrote, “I am a fragile instrument.” It became the opening line of the new novel I’d sell two weeks after that. I inserted that line into the novel just before my agent sent it to be considered for sale. That line may get cut or moved, but I want to show you today that even one nothing line can help string together your thoughts and even a novel.
I believe in you.