Con­gre­so Cien­tí­fi­co Inter­na­cional Amer­i­cano (Buenos Aires, Argenti­na), 1876, by Sociedad Cien­tí­fi­ca Argentina.

A fre­quent ques­tion asked by read­ers and acquain­tances is, Where do you get your ideas?”

It reminds me of how at age twelve, a friend and I tried writ­ing sto­ries with prompts like The lit­tle girl’s moth­er didn’t return home….” I wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly good at that, and nev­er fin­ished a mem­o­rable story.

Decades lat­er, though, after life’s vicis­si­tudes shook me, social injus­tice raised my indig­na­tion, and human nature pre­sent­ed me with all its ugli­ness, I need­ed no fur­ther prompts to write stories.

As a busi­ness woman with an edu­ca­tion in eco­nom­ics, I had been work­ing for years on women’s issues. Believ­ing that eco­nom­ic free­dom was the first of all free­doms, I vol­un­teered for the Small Busi­ness Administration’s women entre­pre­neur­ial pro­grams and watched as, in the USA, finan­cial inde­pen­dence gave a woman the courage to leave an abu­sive mar­riage. In an African vil­lage, she could real­ize her vision of a school for girls.

And then I attend­ed the 1995 Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Con­fer­ence in Bei­jing, where I led entre­pre­neur­ial work­shops and par­tic­i­pat­ed in eco­nom­ic pan­els. On my sec­ond day, I was shocked to my core by accounts of cli­toridec­to­my of tens of mil­lions of Mus­lim and African women, and the Indi­an burn­ing of the brides” over fam­i­ly dowry dis­putes. In the com­ing days I learned of Chi­nese gen­der­cide — sin­gling out baby girls for death — and about the way our US jus­tice sys­tem betrayed molest­ed chil­dren by giv­ing cus­tody to their moles­ters. I learned of mass rape as a tool of war to break a nation’s spir­it, and of how the Japan­ese Impe­r­i­al Army cap­tured thou­sands of girls dur­ing WWII as com­fort” sex slaves to its sol­diers, yet stead­fast­ly refused to acknowl­edge this war crime.

My world was shak­en of its illu­sion that finan­cial inde­pen­dence was the first inde­pen­dence, because I had tak­en for grant­ed the real first free­dom — the free­dom from vio­lence against women.

I closed my five-city mar­ket­ing firm, can­celed the mul­ti-phone lines, and donat­ed my busi­ness suits to char­i­ty. In the new silence I let the voic­es of coura­geous girls and women fill my head, chan­nel through me into the tips of my fin­gers, and come out in the form of nov­els as I set out on the lone­ly and treach­er­ous jour­ney along­side one pro­tag­o­nist at a time. The sto­ries were all around me. Skele­tons were hid­ing in all cor­ners of our soci­ety — all over the globe — often in full sight. Each time I fin­ished a nov­el, the next one pre­sent­ed itself, tak­ing hold of my head and heart, and com­pelling me to sit down to what turned out to be three to six years’ work at a time.

My world was shak­en of its illu­sion that finan­cial inde­pen­dence was the first inde­pen­dence, because I had tak­en for grant­ed the real first free­dom — the free­dom from vio­lence against women.

The process con­tin­ues. Work­ing now on my sixth nov­el, I’ve real­ized that the seeds of every sto­ry sprout­ed roots years ear­li­er. All it takes is a pass­ing com­ment, a line in a news­pa­per, or a road sign, and the idea blooms. It grabs me and doesn’t let go until I crawl under the skin of a new pro­tag­o­nist. I rise and fall with her spir­it as she strug­gles against the forces that shape her life, be they psy­cho­log­i­cal, polit­i­cal, social, geo­graph­i­cal, legal, eco­nom­ic, or religious.

The process of writ­ing for me is like being in a dream: it feels real — I see the sights, inhale the smells, and hear the sounds. But unlike the trance world of a dream, the sto­ry remains ratio­nal. In time, I learned to observe my own brain as it thinks in mul­ti-lay­ered plots, where char­ac­ters are sub­ject to the above-men­tioned forces work­ing either in con­cert or against one anoth­er. The scenes are often so heart-wrench­ing that I find myself sob­bing while my fin­gers furi­ous­ly tap the keyboard.

Cry­ing is good for the read­er, too — I real­ized that ear­ly on — but only if it is relieved by moments of tri­umph and exhil­a­ra­tion. Indeed, as I mas­tered the craft of fic­tion writ­ing, I became for­ev­er mind­ful of the emo­tion­al roller-coast­er required of both the writer and the read­er. Once I grab my reader’s atten­tion with the open­ing scene, or the first sev­er­al pages, she falls asleep for the night, my book tossed on the floor. She doesn’t get back to it until per­haps the next evening, after a full day of deal­ing with a boss’s demands, fight­ing with her moth­er on the phone, over­spend­ing at the beau­ty counter, rush­ing to get stitch­es on a child’s gashed chin, fret­ting about a pile of dirty laun­dry, or being aggra­vat­ed when her car over­heats while stuck in traf­fic. Through­out her tur­bu­lent day I hope that my hold on her is so tight that she won­ders time and again what will hap­pen next. Then, when she final­ly falls back into bed, exhaust­ed, I must make sure that she wants noth­ing more than to pick up my sto­ry where she’s left it.

Indeed, as I mas­tered the craft of fic­tion writ­ing, I became for­ev­er mind­ful of the emo­tion­al roller-coast­er required of both the writer and the reader.

I, Talia, am not in any of my nov­els; I feel no need to dis­sect my life and serve it on a plat­ter, while, like an actress on stage, I enjoy enter­ing into anoth­er per­son psy­che. But I need not invent the emo­tions I bring to each nov­el — the pow­er of moth­er­hood, the pain of a trau­mat­ic child­hood, the quest for per­son­al growth, the anguish of fil­ial respon­si­bil­i­ty, the joy of love, or the strug­gle against social norms.

Author Paul Gal­li­co said, Open a vein and let it bleed all over the page.” My fic­tion writ­ing is my attempt to stop some­one else’s bleeding.