Q: Your first novel features the Greek world of a fictional Ivy League campus. Were you in a sorority?
A: No, I never joined a sorority, or ever wanted to. I didn’t learn about rush until my junior or senior year in college, and I probably couldn’t have explained to anyone what rush was at that time. All I knew about the Greek world was what Greek students told me, mostly bragging about their parties or gossiping about cold rooms in the sorority houses. I heard many lurid tales, a few of which found their way into my novel.
Q: Did you attend Greek parties on campus?
A: Um, that would be an unequivocal no. I grew up in a lifestyle where adults wanted to view the world as one big party (and were easily enraged by the fact that life is not, in fact, one big party), and there was enough irresponsibility in that behavior to make me shun parties at school. I liked being in the library, either the science library or the main library on campus. I also liked being in class, and attending the many free extra lectures that took place during the week (especially in the biology, chemistry, and physics departments on late Friday afternoons. I tried to never miss one of those). Hanging out with academics and listening to them talk about their research was what I considered fun. When I think back to how I spent the bulk of my time at college, attending class and university events on campus dominated my social agenda.
Q: You sound like a geek. Is that an accurate description?
A: I have no problem with that title. It pains me that so many children in America are hurt by that word. I’d like to see happy geeks filling our middle and high schools who are fiercely proud of themselves. The joy of learning and working hard to expand your mind should outlast elementary school. But for so many children, this is, sadly, not the case.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
A: No, I thought I wanted to work for the State Department. I always wrote, especially letters to friends and family and thoughts in my journal. And I did start a book when I was 17 or 18 years old, which I never finished. The idea of writing a novel and trying to sell it didn’t come to me until a few years after college, when I realized that the images that kept flashing through my head were trying to tell me a story. So I started to listen to what these pictures wanted to say.
Q: Did you take writing classes in college?
A: No, but I did attend the Writers Series lectures at my school. These free events, which often took place on Thursday evenings, allowed me to hear Richard Ford, Andrea Barrett, Edwidge Danticat, Chinua Achebe, and so many other brilliant authors read aloud from their work and answer audience questions. These were my all-time favorite gatherings on campus, and nothing could keep me away from them.
Q: Is St. Lawrence University a Catholic school?
A: No, it’s a private liberal arts institution in Canton, New York. It shares its name with the Saint Lawrence River, which is only a few miles away.
Q: Do you have good memories of being in college?
A: Definitely. I loved college. I loved it, but at the same time, at the end of four years, I was ready to be out in the world, putting what I’d learned to use. The argument can be made, based upon all the low-wage jobs I ended up working in tiny mountain towns in Colorado, that I didn’t learn very much. But my family has always lived in small (or tiny) towns, so it was what I was used to. And I did teach public school for five and a half years for the second half of my twenties, and it was really nice to have a salary and health insurance. After three years of low-wage work misery, teaching came as a blessing. And I’ve been a full time writer for the past two years, which has been wonderful.
Q: Do you think high school graduates should know what they want to do in life before going to college?
A: Some people might know the answer to that at 18, but a great majority of people do not. Going to college helps you discover who you are, and exposes you to many different things you might like to do with your life. I wish every student could have the kind of education I received. The humanities and the sciences save us, they make our lives so much richer and beautiful and inspiring. They are a gift and an opportunity that everyone should have.
Q: In your book Love and Student Loans and Other Big Problems, your main character meets a major league baseball player. Are you a huge baseball fan?
A: I love baseball, but I am not an avid fan. I don’t have a team I root for or anything. I had to do a lot of research to write that book, and I had to find baseball fans to read my work, to make sure I didn’t mess up the details.
Q: What’s your favorite TV show?
A: The PBS NewsHour, of course. I love watching the news.
Q: What do you watch if you’re not watching the news?
A: I read the movie reviews on The New York Times webpage (I really love anything A.O. Scott writes, but I’m happy to read all their reviews) and I try to watch the films that they highly praise. Sometimes this means waiting for a movie to come out on DVD, since Durango doesn’t have a huge indie movie scene, though we do get some smaller films showing here, a function of being a college town with a large population of academics.
Q: What is your favorite band?
A: Creedence Clearwater Revival, of course. When I’m driving, I listen to pop music on the radio. I like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Madonna, Rihanna. Bold, gutsy women really know how to rock it. Fortunately for me, there are a lot of lead female singers these days. They’re awesome.
Q: Do you belong to any writers groups in your area?
A: Yes, I belong to a couple. I have a critique group that meets by telephone, another critique group that meets at my house, and I coordinate a group in Durango called Writers and Scribblers, a collection of people who meet once a month to discuss all different aspects of writing and publishing.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
A: Life influences me, and then imagination takes over. Characters show up in my head and start talking, so I listen and write it down. That’s it. I’m a note-taker for that mysterious process known as creativity, which I cannot take credit for, as I don’t invent a story so much as discover it. And the more I edit, the better that discovery goes.