Louisiana taught me to listen for stories. I learned to knock on strangers' doors in Mississippi as a college student and alt-weekly journalist. In central Africa, I forded a river and survived an armed robbery to report stories about maternal health issues.

I spent the last 11 years at The Oregonian, where I learned to read budgets and board agendas by covering suburban school board meetings. I deciphered zoning codes and planning documents by covering urban renewal in the inner city. I learned to organize narratives by messing them up, starting over and trying again on the next one. I'm obsessed with structure but drawn to messy stories -- teenagers in the throws, narratives with complicated heroes and victims.

Most often, I look to write about people who remind me of those I grew up with in North Louisiana. My parents were teenagers when I came along, and if they had dreams before me, they never talked about them after. My dad sprayed bugs, and my mom cleaned houses. They left me at the library and encouraged me to study the USA Today. On Sundays nights, we cut articles out of the newspaper. When I was 11, my dad worked weekends until he could afford to buy an encyclopedia set at an auction. My first "articles" were paraphrased versions of its entries on transcendentalism and the albatross.

I write now about the marginalized, people readers either can't or won't see.

Eudora Welty lights my way: “My wish, my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.”