I’m a writer.
I hold a PhD from Michigan and an MFA from UCLA. As a screenwriter in LA, I’ve pitched and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. In 2013 I wrote a non-fiction book titled “Shakespeare for Screenwriters” and I worked as a consultant at Netflix for five years. I’m currently at work on a middle grade novel (for ages 8-12) about cats, unfortunate accidents, and the magnificent city of Istanbul.
RIDICULOUSLY LONG VERSION
My step-father worked as a Las Vegas stagehand for the Siegfried and Roy show. We tailored our schedule to his, which meant our family lived like bats. My mother and I would sleep until dark, doing our errands at 24 hour joints, then we’d pick up my step-father at 3am. He was never late, except for the night a crew member got mauled by a lion.
Back in the mob days, before it was invaded by do-gooders and middle-aged parents, Vegas was eerily quiet during the day. We lived on the edge of town, just before the landscape turned to endless sand and rock. I’d sneak out of the apartment before the sun went down to catch lizards. The desert taught me how to be alone. How to enjoy silence. How to love 100 different shades of beige. How to avoid gila monsters. (Which are far more dangerous than they appear, in case you end up needing this information.)
But I only lived in Vegas over the summer. Mostly, I grew up in Ohio, where, at five years old, I helped make legal history: my parents were the first in the state to win “joint custody.” For some years after the divorce, my parents sang together in a band and were good friends. You can imagine how difficult it was for me, having divorced parents and not being able to play them off each other for my advantage.
Most people think kids in Ohio spend their time tipping cows and watching football games, but I spent my halcyon days as a faculty brat in the Women’s Studies at OSU, where my mother was a graduate student.
To this day, I love school. In fact, I have several unnecessary advanced degrees, weird awards, and crazy fellowships to prove it. For a real hoot, check out my dissertation on Judaism, Islam, and Reformation Literature.
My middle name — Malika — has always attracted a certain kind of attention, some of which was unwelcome. Every time someone reads my name on a roster, I’m faced with a complex conversation about my identity. What kind of name is that? Where did you get it? As a kid, I got tired of telling people that my mother grew up in Morocco. (As if that explains anything.) At some point, I decided to use the pen name “J. M.” for my books, but if you’re interested in a longer conversation about identity, message me.
In the summers, now, I visit my father in Ohio and ask him to play his guitar. But mostly, I live in a sandy beach shack by the ocean with my husband and our two young kids. My love for them is richer than my tongue.
Photo credit: Dennis Apergis