I was at a business lunch the other day with a straightlaced accountant and an equally stuffy insurance agent (both white males), trying to promote my law practice when instead, the subject of my writing came up. You see, I’m in that “place” again, where I’m consumed by my characters' voices demanding airtime inside my head. So engrossed have I become with my latest story that I'm having trouble focusing on anything else, including blogging, posting on Facebook or Twitter, or breaking bread with business acquaintances.

I began speaking about my fourth novel in progress, Stage Daughter, something of a tribute to the culturally rich and ethnically diverse Bay Area. I excitedly told them about my biracial main character, a single mom bringing up a troubled twelve-year-old girl. My latest protagonist, Sonya Schoenberg, is a 40-year-old closeted lesbian who swore off men thirteen years ago after seducing and becoming pregnant by Aziz, a handsome, successful business owner who happens to be Muslim. She's a frustrated, fading beauty who, after being discarded by her birth mother, was emotionally abandoned by her adoptive parents once they unexpectedly produced a biological child of their own. So when Sonya's daughter, Razia, sets out to find her father (a man who rejected Sonya in favor of an arranged marriage with a traditional Muslim woman), Sonya feels a deep sense of betrayal. And the fun really begins when Aziz decides he wants to step up and be a dad to his newly-discovered firstborn child.

“How do you come up with this stuff?” the insurance guy wanted to know. I've heard that some writers look to their dreams for inspiration, but I feel no similar need to venture to “the other side” when real life affords so much rich material. My largely autobiographical first novel, Later With Myself: The Misadventures of Millie Moskowitz, puts on display the dysfunctional circus that was my childhood; my second, An Unexpected Exile, pokes fun at every obsessive, sex-crazed, abusive relationship I ever had (or witnessed) during my twenties. My third novel, The Floater, candidly unveils the professional and personal challenges a mistreated woman faces after struggling to become a lawyer (something I can personally relate to). And at the heart of Stage Daughter is my own slant on what it’s like to mother a smart-mouthed, angst-ridden adolescent.

I'll admit to dishing a kind of reflective personal truth through my stories, which isn't everyone's cup of tea. My novels are characteristically blunt and graphic, and they don't fit into neat “genres” or appeal to specific “markets.” Just as real life rarely conforms to pat expectations, I prefer to offer my own offbeat perspectives on families, relationships, and dreams both dashed and fulfilled. And because I choose not to tailor my story lines or characters to a mass market audience, I may never get published.

What I get instead is the satisfaction of people opening up and telling me their stories. At first, I was surprised to learn that everyone has at least one—including my seemingly conservative lunch companion. The insurance agent sadly recounted how his father finally "came out" just a few years ago, when he was already in his thirties and raising children of his own. His dad had married, had a family, and lived his entire life as a "straight" man, as was expected during that recently bygone era. Sounds like it's got the makings of a best-seller, if you ask me. But, then again, what do I know?