An Interview with Natashia Deón

9 Jul
Natashia Deón's debut novel will be published in 2016 by Counterpoint Press.

Natashia Deón’s debut novel will be published in 2016 by Counterpoint Press.

Natashia Deón is a Los Angeles attorney, writer, and law professor. She is the creator of the reading series Dirty Laundry Lit and was named one of L.A.’s “Most Fascinating People” in L.A. Weekly’s 2013 People Issue. A 2010 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, her writing has appeared side-by-side with Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Yousef Komunyakaa in The Rattling Wall, in B O D Y, The Rumpus, The Feminist Wire, and Asian American Lit Review. Deón has been awarded fellowships and residencies at Yale, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Prague’s Creative Writing Program, Dickinson House in Belgium, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Deón’s debut novel is due out in the summer of 2016 from Counterpoint Press.

To read two of Deón’s Facebook posts that were republished as stand-alone pieces, plus an exercise on writing artful sentences, click here. In this interview, Deón discusses Facebook’s positive effect on her fiction, the benefit of reading your work aloud, and the importance of being a generous writer.

Michael Noll

What role does Facebook play in your creative life as a writer? Do you have a rhetorical strategy to writing posts? Does the personal aspect of Facebook posts serve as a relief from your fiction writing? I ask because your forthcoming novel is set after the Civil War and so would seem to be at quite a remove from your life.

Natashia Deón

I spend way too much time on Facebook like most people. By too much time, I mean, I know that there are other things I could be doing but I often find myself multitasking in my real life and on social media. Between work and family and volunteering, I’m rarely sitting at home on a computer or somewhere where I can quietly contemplate a post, so my posts are things that randomly strike me in the day, things that I think other people might think are funny or poignant or helpful or sometimes there’s no point, I’m just venting or sharing a day. Is that a strategy?

Honestly, my FB behavior hasn’t really changed since my first sign-on to Facebook years ago after having my first baby and I thought, if I post these photos here, I don’t have to talk to grandma right now. I’ll text her and say, “SEE MY POST!”

Sometimes I say too much. Like having a drink at a bar and talking to a stranger. I’m sure there’s a hazard to this “strategy”–online footprint and all–and I’ve been known to delete posts, but for me, making mistakes matter less to me than connecting with people.

I do think I’ve gotten better at writing short-short stories because of Facebook. You have to get to the point, be clear, or get the dialog right. But that said, I still post long paragraphs that annoy people. But sometimes, that long post is the one that gets the most attention. I try to keep it interesting.

Sometimes I wish I could be like friends who only share other people’s posts, or Bible verses, or encouraging words, but I’m not that girl. I’m the one who’s tapping the microphone saying, “Is this thing on?”

It’s not that I think my thoughts are any more important than anyone else’s but what I’m beginning to understand is that people are afraid. Especially when it comes to social issues, topics that artists for centuries have represented in their work and have been the central voices in positive change. People today, even artists, are afraid of their thoughts and questions and not having the answers or fear that they’ll come to the wrong conclusions.

So I speak for them sometimes. To show people, especially artists, that I don’t know either and it’s O.K. It’s the conversation that matters. There’s still a lot more convincing to do because the trolls will always regulate as they do, convincing people that they shouldn’t have a voice and that we don’t have anything in common.

And yes, breaking away to post on social media is relief. Writing, in general, is relief. It’s emptying out old thoughts and replacing them with new ones. The same as I would in my fiction. And in my debut novel SWEET TEA AND HONEY—the title is about to change—I get to traverse time and through research am reminded that human beings are still the same. We all have hungered, loved, laughed, hurt, are born, die. I’ve read somewhere before that every person alive is the result of thousands of years of love or painful interactions. I’m privileged to live in this time and imagine some of those stories.

Michael Noll

You organize the Dirty Laundry Lit reading series. How important is it for writers to perform or read their work publicly? Do you think it benefits the work that eventually winds up on the page?

Natashia Deón

The Dirty Laundry Lit reading series was called a "raucous, all-inclusive party" by L.A. Weekly.

The Dirty Laundry Lit reading series was called a “raucous, all-inclusive party” by L.A. Weekly.

In the last five years or so as I’ve run Dirty Laundry Lit, I’ve seen over a hundred writers take our stage and some are incredible readers and some are so-so readers. So-so is rare on our stage. Both of these “classes” of writers, if you will, are all tremendously talented writers. But sometimes what I hear about the great reader is that he or she is “a great performer” and that’s why he or she did a great job reading, where another reader who might be so-so, is considered to have work that “stands on the page.” It’s one of those double-sided compliments that imply if you’re a great reader, your work does not equally stand.

What I believe and what I have seen is that great work stands when it’s played aloud. Period. Great work stands even when the writer is not a good reader and shines even more when the writer is a good reader.

Readings build confidence in the work. It’s the difference. Not just on the stage but before, as we prepare to take the stage and sometimes while we’re in the throes of reading it. We edit ourselves and armed with the honesty that voice gives our pieces, we become our best editor-selves. We skip things—sentences, words—we make new word choices as we read, playing the sentences aloud. We hear the pacing problems, the unneeded repetition, we become better judges of ourselves, our work. We discover how we can deliver our stories better. Make them more clear. Sometimes we see new things that we hadn’t seen on the page. The solitary side of the writer needs to get dressed and go outside some days. Reading publicly is one of those days. We make ourselves better for the crowd.

Michael Noll

As an organizer of a reading series, you are, in a way, playing a role in the publishing and book industry: you’re giving a voice to writers, giving them a chance to promote themselves and become known and advance their craft. This is an industry that is sometimes criticized for the voices it promotes. In response to that criticism, the small press And Other Stories recently announced that it would publish only women authors in 2018. Given Los Angeles’ rich diversity, it would seem like you could play a similar role with Dirty Laundry Lit, pushing against tendencies within the publishing industry? How do you find readers for the series?

Natashia Deón

When I created Dirty Laundry Lit, diversity was one of my three main goals. And by diversity, I do mean race and gender, and also other larger categories like economic diversity, religious, sexual preference and identity, age, physical ability, etc. This diversity isn’t the exclusion of anyone. It’s the inclusion of all. Or, as many as we can get. Diversity has to be intentional. And without a lot of money, creating diversity means we have to give a lot of personal time and effort to seek and find people, not waiting for them to find us. Our goal for each show is that any person can walk into a Dirty Laundry Lit event and see themselves on the stage; their experience represented. And if not this time, the next, or the next.

This aspect is important to me because when I became part of the literary community here in L.A. that’s not what I saw. Black writers were with Black writers, White with White, Asian with Asian, women with women, most experienced writers with the same, etc. We put ourselves into these ghettos of sameness for protection, support, for encouragement, to even have a space, and I get it. I need that, too. There is richness there but there’s magic when we put our differences together. I believe in creating the world I want to see. We all have a role. Where one repairs, another builds up, and so on as the saying goes. It’s community. The magic is in discovering what’s out there, smoking out the wonder. I believe that’s what we’re doing at Dirty Laundry Lit. And by doing this, we are telling people, you belong here, too.

I choose readers based on diversity, recommendations, and their involvement in the literary community. Dirty Laundry Lit goes hard in promoting writers and we do it with more passion than a paid publicist. We do it because we love it. We truly celebrate writers which is a rare experience for most writers. I was lucky to have first felt “celebrated” as a PEN Emerging Voices Fellow. There were six of us and for the eight months of the fellowship, we were treated like literary rock stars. That’s what I want to share with every writer who signs on to be on the slate of a Dirty Laundry Lit event.

And because we’ve been successful in doing this, there is a wait list to become one of our readers. Writers of all levels come to us and essentially say, “Celebrate me. I’m good.” We want to, but there’s limited time and space. So we tend to choose writers who are generous as we are generous. Writers who are giving back to the literary community already through volunteer work and other ways, and are also making space for other writers. This writing journey is impossible without community.

July 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

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