How did you become a writer?
I would read the sports pages of the San Francisco Chronicle with my father in the mornings, and he told me about how people got paid to cover sports teams. He talked about some of them (Jim Murray of the LA Times, for example) with reverence. I wrote for my school newspaper in high school and loved it and I just decided I would be a journalist. Then I did everything I could to land a job in that profession. But I was probably more reporter than writer in my early years as a professional, and I realized that. So, around 2004, I went and got an MFA from the University of San Francisco to try and push myself as a writer.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
There are the people who helped me become a writer -- Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, Bill Dwyre, Kerry Temple -- and then there are writers I try and emulate, which include Tracy Kidder, David Grann and Susan Orlean.
When and where do you write?
In the mornings or the late evenings. Rarely ever during the middle of the day. I like to write in public places, so I got to coffee shops or bakeries or, late at night, to a bar. I put on headphones, sit in a corner, and write.
What are you working on now?
A book for Ballantine on the way America develops soccer players, why we have been bad at it and why there is hope we'll get better in the future.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No. My training was as a journalist, often writing on a very tight deadline. When I covered basketball, some nights I'd have 30 minutes to write 700 words. You can't NOT file something; I'd get fired if I did. So you always just wrote. Of course, some days the writing is better than others and some days you're tired of writing and feel fried, but even on those days I pick something very easy to write (like a character's basic details or a description of a town), something that is mostly just information and doesn't require any smart crafting, and I get it done.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I was a very cautious writer for a long time, which just happens when you are a journalist. A professor at the University of San Francisco told me that it was time I started taking chances in my writing, that it was obvious I could write clearly but now I needed to really write. It was pretty basic advice but something I needed to hear at that time.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Learn how to report. Young writers often think they can just sit down and write and it will be brilliant. They don't realize that almost no one does that. Even the best fiction writers do hours and hours of research and reporting for every chapter they write.