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This blog was featured on 06/07/2018
Lauren Groff Talks Process, Tone and Setting
Written by
She Writes
June 2018
Written by
She Writes
June 2018

The nation has its eye on smartypants Lauren Groff. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia, the highly acclaimed Fates and Furies, along with the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds. Florida, her latest collection of short stories, has already been named a most anticipated book of 2018 by Parade, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmo, Buzzfeed, Time, Esquire, and more, and we are dying to know what makes her tick!

On the Process:

Do you have an “aha” moment with your fiction where after twelve drafts you think, “Ah this is what the story is about” or “This is how this character should be”? Or do these things generally come to you quite early?

No they never come to me early. I mean, other than short stories, which have a completely different process for me – I don’t even know how my short stories happen. But for novels, it’s waking up day after day, trying to figure it out and throwing my brain against it over and over again until one day I feel close to the material and the material starts to talk to me. I almost never feel like I know what I’m doing, which is actually a really exciting and wonderful feeling.

What does that mean when you say the material “talks” to you?

I initially try really, really hard to leave as much mystery as possible in the writing process as long as possible. So I don’t want to know what I’m doing. I want this to be messy. And so even when I think I have a really firm grasp of the character, I know for sure that that does not necessarily mean that I have a grasp of what the character has done in the past or will do in any given situation.

I just, for years and years, play. I’m like a small child with Play-Doh sitting in front of me, and I’m just seeing what a character would do in a certain given situation. And Lorrie Moore (Lauren’s thesis advisor at Amherst) has this amazing thing where she sits down with an empty chair opposite her and invites her characters to sit down and start talking to her. And I think that that’s extraordinary and wonderful. But she’s a bona fide astonishing genius, you know? That’s her insane wonderful process. I couldn’t do that. It takes me a lot more time and thinking, a lot more living in the world of the book to start to understand what I’m doing.

On tone:

One theme that pops up in all of your novels is narcissism. What interests you about narcissism?

I’m from people for whom narcissism would be the worst thing you could possibly have, and so I was hypersensitive to it for a very, very long time. My decision to become a creative person in the world seemed to be working against the grain of what I had always been taught – not to be the biggest narcissist on the planet.

I don’t think we all are narcissists but I think there is a time in our lives when we all believe that everyone else around us is a robot and was created for us. And I see it in my little boys right now. And eventually most of us grow out of that phase, and it’s really interesting to see people for whom that phase has not ended in their adulthood.

As an artist, isn’t it necessary to have a good deal of narcissism given that you’re effectively bossing around characters and creating a world?

Maybe. I think it’s equally necessary to be aware of the way that the narcissism is rearing its head in your life, you know what I mean? You have to just be aware of what you’re giving up, I think, and how your actions are affecting other people too, and always try to strike the right balance between artistic self-enclosure and then being an actual human being in the world.

Do you feel like you’re able to strike that balance?

I struggle every single day. I think we all beat our heads against the whole idea of how to be creative in the world. I don’t think I strike the balance but I try really, really hard.

[The above interview was first featured on LongReads. Read the full interview here.]

On Influences:

What’s the last great book you read?

I just read two great books at the same time: I reread Jean Stafford’s “The Mountain Lion,” which is one of the strangest and angriest novels of the 20th century, and for the first time I read Morgan Parker’s “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé,” a brilliant poetry collection playing so cunningly with pop culture that it reminded me that pop culture is astonishingly deep and fascinating and is only considered frivolous because it — like caretaking careers and the domestic sphere — is devalued for being considered primarily feminine.

[The above interview was first featured in the New York Times. Read the full interview here.]

On Setting:

Marissa Stapley: You grew up in Cooperstown, New York, and wrote about it in your first novel, The Monsters of Templeton. Now you live in Florida, and are writing about that. Why do you so often choose to write about the place where you are? 

Landscape is a powerful force on the psyche: your surroundings are part of your character. A person who has only lived atop a mountain, in the clear cold up there, will be different in vast and important ways from a person who lives on the flat pebbled marshes at sea-level. What you notice on a subtle daily basis changes the essence of who you are.

On Real-Life Impacting Fiction

Do you find readers/friends/family often think, especially when you write about marriage or motherhood, that you must be writing about yourself? How do you feel about this?

I’ve resigned myself to the idea that people will read the real me into a fictional version—they tend to do this more with women writers, but not exclusively, of course—to the point where I deliberately play with this idea, because it’s so deliciously fun.

[The above interview was first featured on Hazlitt. Read the full interview here.]

(Photo credit: laurengroff.com

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