The MFA program did one great thing for me: It taught me how to be a better reader and critic. Nothing I wrote during my time at Columbia remains - but learning how to really deconstruct a work of fiction - that, of course, is a permanent part of me now.
Peoria is such a seemingly quintessential American city, and I had always wanted to draw on that in either my fiction or in nonfiction. The Midwest is also a landscape that I have always been infatuated with, perhaps because it's the first one I can truly remember.
When I was growing up, Forest Park was full of integrated families. It was amazing. One my best friends were Vietnamese. Another one was half-Mexican, half-black. Another one was from Colombia. Another one was born in the U.S., but his mom was from Germany and spoke with a German accent. So we all had multiple identities.
Obviously, in marketing, the best tool is to show the autobiography in fiction. It's inevitable how that happens, but it's generic. Say I've written a story where my sister dies. 'Well, did your sister die?' No, she did not. But people use those straws to grasp at the difference between reality and fiction.