By Joe Tash
Carmel Valley writer Debra Ginsberg finds her community full of contradictions — its homes are similar on the outside, but the people who live inside them have widely diverse viewpoints and backgrounds.
“It’s more interesting than it looks on the surface,” said Ginsberg.
Her newest novel, “The Neighbors Are Watching,” is a psychological thriller and character study of a suburban neighborhood, seen through the eyes of residents who are at once trying to fathom a mystery that unfolds before them, and concealing secrets of their own.
Set in Carmel Valley, the novel tells the story of Diana Jones, who shows up pregnant at the home of her biological father, whom she’s never met before. As the story progresses, the massive wildfire of 2007 strikes, forcing the evacuation of a half-million people, which Ginsberg herself experienced.
“The girl disappears during the evacuation. That sort of sets the rest of the novel in motion. What happened to her?” Ginsberg said.
“I want to get inside these people’s heads so I can understand them better. That’s what I was trying to do here,” she said.
“The Neighbors Are Watching,” which was published Nov. 16, is Ginsberg’s sixth book. Her first, a memoir about her two decades as a restaurant waitress, called “Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress,” was published in 2000. She has also written a memoir about her son, Blaze, who was diagnosed with autism, a memoir titled “About My Sisters,” and the novels “Blind Submission” and “The Grift.”
Ginsberg was born in England and moved with her family to the United States when she was in fourth grade. She said she has wanted to be a writer since she was a little girl, when she dictated stories to her mother, a poet and painter.
“From a very early age, I wanted to tell stories, I wanted them to be published in books,” she said.
As an adult, she wrote two novels that were never published, before she wrote “Waiting.” The book was successful, which allowed her to leave restaurant work and devote herself to writing and freelance editing, which she does from the Carmel Valley home she shares with her “significant other,” Gabriel Barillas, who works for a publishing house.
Her son, Blaze, now attends community college, and has written his own memoir, titled “Episodes,” about his experiences attending school with a different learning style than other children. The book is laid out like a database of various television series, with each series and its episodes corresponding to a different period of Blaze’s life.
“It’s a fabulous, fabulous book. He’s an absolutely gifted writer,” said Ginsberg.
Ginsberg’s new novel is the first for which she has completed a video trailer, much like the trailer for a movie. The video was shot and edited by a college friend, Matt Giraud, with the help of Ginsberg’s friends and family members. Her sister Maya wrote the music.
When Giraud proposed doing the video trailer, “I said I’d like to because all the cool kids are doing it,” Ginsberg said.
The rapidly evolving publishing industry forces writers to be much more involved in promoting and marketing their work, said Ginsberg, and tools such as the video trailer are one way to do it. “It is harder and harder and harder to make a living at this,” she said.
When she’s not in front of her computer keyboard, Ginsberg might be engrossed in a book about one of her favorite bands, such as the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. “I love rock biographies, it’s sort of my guilty pleasure,” she said.
Or she might be out walking through Carmel Valley’s neighborhoods. She doesn’t drive because of what she called a phobia induced at least in part by accidents she experienced as a child, and walking is both good exercise and helps hone her skills of observation needed to inform her writing.
Although she moved around a lot as a child, both internationally and throughout the United States, she has now found a home in North County, an area she calls “paradise.”
“I never want to live anywhere else,” she said. “Why would you, is my thinking.”
To see the video trailer for “The Neighbors Are Watching” and to get more information about Ginsberg’s books, visit