COG: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a visual artist or professional soccer player.
COG: How did you become you instead?
I studied painting all through college but somehow, during and after college, I found myself attracted to journalism and books — to the impact they could have. I still paint, and do more of it now than any time since college, but there’s nothing quite like the impact a story can have.
COG: Fave lesser-known hero (personal or fictional)?
Public school teachers.
COG: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your work; the least?
My least favorite part is feeling lost while writing a book. There’s nothing worse than feeling you’ve spent years on something that might not cohere. Usually you find your way out of that, though. My favorite part is meeting readers.
COG: If you were a hybrid, what would your two halves be?
Dairy-loving Midwestern child and lactose intolerant California adult. It’s really terrible not being able to eat cheese. It’s on everything.
COG: Describe a teacher, student or colleague you hated (or hate, you big meanie); why?
In school, I was lucky to have an uninterrupted succession of great teachers. Sorry that I can’t provide a juicier answer here.
COG: In desktop publishing, a character tag is embedded code defining the style of a word or phrase. But in the literary lexicon, “character tags” refer to fictional characters’ habits, catch phrases or other distinguishing marks: Yoda’s syntax. Hello Kitty’s bow. Clint Eastwood’s rugged squint. What’s your character tag?
I wear pants I buy at the hardware store. Does that qualify as a character tag?
COG: What’s the last thing that made you laugh, cry or cuss?
I watched 99 Homes last night and that made me angry. It’s a great film, and demonstrates the cumulative effect of systemic indifference to the individual. In this case, it’s about the housing bubble that wrecked the economy, and the banks and other players who preyed on families and turned millions of people out of their homes.
COG: Describe your ideal road trip.
Driving through the interior of Iceland with my family. That’s the greatest landscape on the planet.
COG: What problem, large or small, are you hell-bent on solving.
The most solvable problem, I think, is equitable access to college. Access is anything but fair right now. There are so many actionable solutions available, right within reach, and we’re not pursuing them with enough urgency. But ScholarMatch, our nonprofit in the Mission, is one of the many agencies doing great work. We just need to replicate them all over the country so the playing field can finally and actually be fair.