Natashia Deon: Defense Attorney By Day, Novelist By Night
At 24, Natashia Deon thought she had her whole life figured out. Despite hanging around L.A. nightclubs while working as a teenage promoter for radio station 92.3 The Beat, she graduated high school in the Santa Clarita Valley at 16, finished her undergrad degree at Cal State Long Beach at 19 and immediately joined the corporate world as an insurance underwriter in San Francisco, while still managing to graduate from law school and become an insurance defense attorney in her early 20s.
"I felt like I was so old at the time. I bought a house, I had a dog, I was just living," she recalls, then pauses to remember another detail from her past life: "I was golfing. Oh my God, I was golfing! I had a whole golf uniform."
Over fish and chips at a downtown L.A. beer bar, Deon remembers the turning point in her life a decade ago. She was working on a court case in which her client was being sued by a 70-year-old woman who had slipped and fallen in his building. Though she needed a hip replacement, the woman's attorney carelessly settled the case for $1,000, not nearly enough to cover her medical expenses. "I was just, like, 'This is wrong. This isn't what justice is about, this isn't why I became an attorney.' "
So Deon quit her job, started volunteering and traveled the world. She eventually met her husband in England and, after the couple moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in an MFA writing program at UC Riverside.
In 2010, she experienced the lively community at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (she'd only applied because a friend told her she'd never get in). She returned home seeking to forge the same sense of writerly camaraderie in L.A.
The result is Dirty Laundry Lit, a nonprofit reading series that feels more like a raucous, all-inclusive party: The writers drink, curse and then hit the dance floor after the show. At a recent Valentine's Day–themed reading, the Virgil in East Hollywood was wall-to-wall with people eager to spend their Saturday night hearing the work of seven mostly unknown L.A. writers.
"I want to celebrate everybody who walks on that stage. I want it to be a party in their honor. I'm going to get so many people there, for literature, and it's going to be the shit," Deon, 34, says, the giddiness in her voice reminiscent of her hustling days as a radio promoter.
The mother of two (a 6- and 7-year-old, born 364 days apart), Deon works as a criminal defense attorney specializing in post-conviction cases where defendants have been given second chances to appeal.
It's not uncommon for her day job as an attorney and full-time job as a mother of two — one of whom is disabled — to inspire the complex characters and painfully uncomfortable situations in her stories and essays.
Despite juggling a handful of jobs, Deon's biggest project is still to come: Her debut novel, which took six years to write, was sold to an agent in January. Set in the pre–Civil War South, the novel's cast of characters includes a Jewish prostitute, a runaway slave and the slave's daughter, who appears to be white.
Now in the final stages of editing and shopping for a publisher, the attorney-turned-writer and literary promoter might finally have her life all figured out.