Your “day job” is in the field of research science. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer as well? How do you juggle the demands of these two very different professional worlds?
I am stupidly busy, and my house is a wreck. If you work, write, and have kids, something has got to give. If I don’t make my bed, no real harm is done. So I prioritize family and writing.
For years, I was on the research faculty at UCLA doing health policy studies. It wasn’t until my 40s that I even thought about writing fiction. In fact, I remember telling my husband, “I can write non-fiction, but I could never make up a story.” But once I started writing fiction, I couldn’t stop. Of course, I was terrible at first. I had to put in my hours reading books on creative writing and practicing.
More recently, I’ve switched to criminal justice research. (My office is inside the secure area of a jail.) Inmates are almost all trauma victims. They are often mentally ill and homeless. Most have traumatic brain injuries. Substance abuse is rampant. They are poor, disproportionately of color, and of low educational attainment. Now they are vulnerable to COVID-19 as more inmates test positive.
Seeing them and working with their data informs my novels, since my protagonist, Anna Blanc, works in a jail.