Age: 48.

Childhood: Born in Chicago to a South Side-Irish father and a mother from Rockford, Ill., Egan moved to San Francisco at age 7 with her mother and stepfather after her parents' divorce. "I feel like I'm from both places. Chicago is rusty and crumbling but strong, Midwestern, and San Francisco has such a striking palette, all light and pastels, which has influenced my entry into fiction to be time and place more than people."

Early musical taste: She was a Patti Smith fan in high school, but describes herself as more of a sideline observer than a full-on member of the punk scene.

Early career aspiration No. 1: Archaeology, until she realized she'd be bored and lonely digging up artifacts. "Imagining reconstructing people's lives with artifacts; writing was more like that for me."

Earlier career aspiration No. 2: "I was a very ghoulish child. I wanted to be a doctor. I loved blood and was very interested in decay. I would walk through the Rockford cemetery with my grandmother and beg her to dig up a body."

High school job: A San Francisco bakery called Kiss My Sweets, run by a "leather boy."

Knew she wanted to be a writer when ... She was backpacking through Europe at 19 and decided she wanted to chronicle the sense of loneliness and disconnectedness she felt. "There was no Internet, you had to stand in line for a pay phone, and if the people you called weren't there, you couldn't even leave a message. Trying to explain this to young people today is like talking about traveling by horse and carriage."

Education: Degree from University of Pennsylvania, studied at Cambridge, England, on a scholarship.

Married to: Theater director David Herskovits.

Children: Two sons, 8 and 10: "If I have to see one more 3-D movie, I'll go out of my mind. My husband and I text back and forth at the theater, debating whether this is the worst one we've seen."

What's next? "A historical novel that sprang from an oral-history project I'm involved with, about women who built and repaired ships at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II."