novelist Lauren Groff lives in the Sunshine State but
finds herself inexorably drawn to the shade.
a contrast she has probed relentlessly in three novels
(including the best-selling "Fates and
Furies") and two short story collections. And it
explains why she decided to name her fifth work of
fiction (and newest volume of stories)
who donít know Florida carry around the idea that it
is a place of perpetual sunshine and Mickey Mouse ears,
a place that is a little bit ridiculous," says the
39-year-old author. "But people who live here also
see the darkness. Thereís a pervasive, constant dread
that is a mental state but also a physical and
longer that Groff talks about the deceptive nature of
appearances, the more it seems that sheís talking
about herself. The tall woman with the classic bone
structure is a fitness buff who swam competitively when
she was young ó her sister is the Olympic triathlete
Sarah True. Groff is married to her Amherst College
sweetheart, and they have two sons, aged 7 and 9.
first novel was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange
Prize. Her second was named one of the best books of
2012 by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her
third was a finalist for the National Book Award, was
Amazon.comís 2015 book of the year and was chosen by
former U.S. President Barack Obama as his favorite read
during the past 12 months.
all sounds extremely enviable. But the fortysomething
women who populate Groffís stories struggle to live up
to their internalized expectations. They are wrenched by
ambivalence. They desperately want to communicate to the
people they love but are beset by the conviction theyíve
are feelings," Groff says, "that are shared by
almost all of the mothers I know. Weíre all ducks that
under the surface are paddling as hard as we can."
talked with The Baltimore Sun about the inspiration for
her characters, the different expectations readers have
of male and female novelists, and her inability to feel
genuinely comfortable no matter where sheís living ó
and why thatís a feeling she cherishes.
In one of your stories, the main character realizes
reluctantly that if she feels at home anywhere, that
place would be Florida. Has that also become true for
At times I feel trapped by Florida; there are parts of
it that I dread and parts that I love passionately. I
belong here because itís where my children were born
and where the people I love the most in the planet are
as a writer, itís your job not to feel comfortable
anywhere, so Florida is probably a good place for me to
be. Writing is a deeply oppositional art form. As a
writer, youíre always pushing against the constraints
youíve been given.
Place has always been terrifically important in your
books. Would you be a different kind of writer if you
lived in Colorado or Maine?
I would be a profoundly different writer. Where you live
changes who you are on almost a cellular level. I grew
up in upstate New York and I can clearly delineate my
own change in my character after I moved to Florida. If
you come from a hilly, cold place with four very clear
seasons, thereís a natural bent towards reticence and
towards speed so you can get inside and away from the
cold. In the summer, thereís a bursting, almost
operatic feeling when youíre suddenly released from
all your binds.
Florida, you do have seasons, but you have 100 of them,
and they are contingent on which plants are flowering.
Now, itís magnolia season and before that it was
Confederate Jasmine season and before that it was
camellia season. It takes a different kind of noticing.
Summers you hibernate inside because itís brutally
hot, so itís the opposite palate from New York.
How do stories start for you ó with a picture in your
head of a place or a particular character, a voice or a
Novels and stories are completely different processes.
a novel, Iím trying to get at a larger idea thatís
sitting really uncomfortably on my heart. No matter what
I do I canít access it, so I write a novel in that
direction. I know it will take years. I read hundreds of
books and write hundreds of pages that will be
destroyed. When I wrote "The Monsters of
Templeton," I was deeply and profoundly homesick
and wanted to recreate a place through mythology.
"Arcadia" was about the really fundamental
emotional question of how we bring children into a world
we are killing. "Fates and Furies" was about
who gets to tell the stories.
short story is different. Sometimes images or characters
waltz into my head, or an individual sentence. I donít
act on a short story until I put it back onto the
compost heap of my subconscious and let it mature. Over
the years new things flow in, and eventually the story
becomes mature enough so that it blocks out the larger
projects Iím working on and makes me want to write it.
All the stories in "Florida" have female
narrators except for one, "At the Round Earthís
Imagined Corners." How did you decide to tell that
story from the point of view of a young boy?
Each of these stories is built around a grain of sand,
an individual person I have known. Sometimes itís just
a hand gesture, and they would never know that they were
the basis for the character. In that story, the main
character had to be male because he was inspired by
someone in particular.
Will you tell me who?
Some of your stories intentionally mislead readers into
assuming initially theyíre autobiographical ó only
to have you take the story in a direction that clearly
never occurred in real life. Do you enjoy messing with
Iíve been playing with this very deliberately in my
work. The characters in "Florida" who seem the
most autobiographical are not in many ways. Iím very
cognizant that people tend to overtly ascribe
autobiography to any womanís writing. People will
still ask autobiographical questions of female authors
in interviews and at readings. Part of the joy I get is
sewing confusion into the readersí minds; theyíre
going to assume my stories and novels are
autobiographical anyway because Iím a woman.
you see how during the recent lionization of Philip Roth
[after the author died May 22], the tributes were very
careful to never conflate him with Zuckerman? [Nathan
Zuckerman is a character created by Roth who, like the
late author, is a Jewish-American novelist.] Part of it
is the willingness to concede authority to male writers.
People are much less likely to grant authority to
writers who are women.
Has writing gotten any easier now that youíve been
doing it for a few decades?
Itís funny ó the more books you write, the more of a
struggle it is. I look back at the first three books I
wrote, and I marvel at how relatively quick and joyous
the writing was. Iíve been doing this for 20 years,
and Iím still terrified on a daily basis.