Monday, May 19, 2008

The Monsters of Templeton Author Interview

Shortly after The Monsters of Templeton arrived in my mailbox I sat down to pour over the pages. I had seen the cover of the book months before as it graced the cover of its publishers winter book preview. After reading about the book in the catalog I emailed Lauren Groff to see how she might feel about the prospect of chatting with me. As you will see from the interview below Lauren Groff is a very gracious person. After reading the novel, however, you'll come to find that she is also a talented author.

Kelly Hewitt: Not only did your debut book The Monsters of Templeton land on the New York Times Bestseller list the week that it debuted, it got rave reviews from some very influential literary figures. Stephen King wrote about your book in Entertainment Weekly, writing about is sadness he felt for the end of the Harry Potter books and your own novel.

King wrote: "The sense of sadness I feel at the approaching end of The Monsters of Templeton isn't just because the story's going to be over; when you read a good one — and this is a very good one — those feelings are deepened by the realization that you probably won't tie into anything that much fun again for a long time. What's that like, reading Stephen King's thoughts about your book?

Lauren Groff: It was wild. I knew that Stephen King had liked some of my previous work--he selected a story of mine for the Best American Short Stories 2007 anthology--but I had no idea that he would read my book and tell the world that he enjoyed it. I thought it was an incredibly kind, gracious and generous gesture that he would lend me a little bit of his own luster. Frankly, the man can do anything he wants to do, and the mere idea that he'd be supporting a young unknown shows that he has an enormous heart.

Kelly: Are you familiar with the feeling of sadness at the end of a very good book that King writes about?

Lauren: I think that you can't be a writer without being a reader, and you can't be a reader without feeling that sadness (I think of it more as nostalgia) constantly. As a working writer, I find I read for slightly different reasons now than I did when I was little and always absorbed in some book or other. Now I'm reading not only for the ravishing excitement of a good yarn, I'm also looking to be put under the writer's lyrical spell, and am falling in love with new perfect structures or risky choices, and being blown away by ambition or power. I'm reading to "borrow" from better writers, and to be astonished. There so many great books put into the world every year that even though I read 5-7 per week, I can't possibly read all the worthy new fiction out there; and that's not even coming near all of the classics I have yet to read. The depth of literature in this world is simultaneously wonderful and maddening.

Kelly: Did you find that you had similar feelings of loss when finishing the writing of The Monsters of Templeton?

Lauren: I wrote the Epilogue of Monsters because I really couldn't let go, and finished the last line, weeping. I wrote so many drafts of this novel over so many years that, by the end of the experience, I thought the book would never be published and so I just wrote it for myself. In retrospect, that seems a very pure motive, and, now that I'm working on my third book, one that I regret I don't have any more.

Kelly: An Amazon reviewer writes that The Monsters of Templeton is the most innovative new novel since The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. How do you feel about that comparison?

Lauren: I feel very guilty, but I've actually never read The Time Traveler's Wife. But I've heard it's great, so thanks, Amazon Reviewer!

Kelly: I was really entertained by your blog recently after reading about your post that considered the existence of child birth scenes in literature and the fact that. [Click here to read Lauren's blog.] Call me an astute researcher but I am also guessing from photos and your post that you yourself are with child.

Lauren: Oh gracious. Indeed. I'm due in August, in the middle of a Florida summer. In some ways, having a child seems far less stressful than publishing a book: then again, he's not here yet, so I can't compare. We'll see.

Kelly: How did reading about childbirth in novels make you feel about your own impending birth?

Lauren: Well--the point of the blog is that there aren't really any great, joyful childbirth scenes in novels--so I didn't feel all that happy about it, to be honest. Overall, I'm concerned about balance, finding time for my work, being able to raise a healthy, happy person in this wildly frightening world.

Kelly: Birthing scenes aside, do you think that the experience of being a mother will change the way that you write or think about certain kinds of scenes?

Lauren: It's the job of the fiction writer to imagine herself fully into the heads of characters who have lived lives that are alien to the writer's own experience. I think that a good writer can write from anyone's perspective; that said, having a new experience definitely opens the doors to greater empathy, which only enriches a novel. Because I don't have children yet, I can only imagine what it feels to have them, and the reality is probably much richer and more complicated than what I could create in my own head. I'm hoping that it just adds layers to my writing.

Kelly: A lot of readers (myself included) have expressed the fact that the family trees, maps, portraits and family pictures in the book add to the authenticity of the book, the town you've created and the characters that inhabit it. When/Why did you decide to include these things? Were you involved in the selection of the photos?

Lauren: The photos came from the composition of the book--I've been a huge fan of old-time photography forever, and one of my favorite things in the world is going to antique stores to find evocative old photographs. Pre-snapshot pictures really show the soul of the human sitting there--there's no masklike grin that we nowadays fall into. I found that when I had a visual reference for some of the characters I was able to dig more deeply into who they were. It wasn't until I sold the book that I thought, "Huh. I have all these pictures...Monsters is a book about genealogy...what if I created a sort of family album effect?" Plus, it helps to keep some of the people straight, and I thought it was pretty fun.

Kelly: I really appreciated the Author's Note at the beginning of the book, it provided me with a firm understanding of what you were working to accomplish and the thought that had gone into writing the novel. It is here that you discuss the fact that you set out to write a novel about your home town of Cooperstown but found a different story, history, and characters residing in your head. And this is how we get The Monsters of Templeton set in new version of Cooper's Templeton.

You wrote that you grew up with Fenimore Cooper's Templeton and characters. At what age did you first read a James Fenimore Cooper book?

Lauren: I'll admit it--I was a ridiculous nerd when I was little (I love nerds, by the way--this isn't a disparaging remark in my world). I read The Grapes of Wrath in third grade and Gone With the Wind in fourth. There's only so much that an eight-year-old can get out of Steinbeck, but those big books gave me the confidence to attack other big books. And because Cooper was a son of Cooperstown, it was natural that I had a sort of wild mania for him in about fifth grade--I think I must have read about seven of his novels before it burned itself out.

Kelly: In one of your interviews you aknowledged the fact that James Fenimore Cooper "doesn't do characters incredibly well." Did that make it easier for you to borrow (albeit loosely) some of his characters for your novel?

Lauren: That was a very natural, very immediate idea that implanted itself in my brain as soon as I read The Pioneers, which is (in my opinion) Cooper's very best book, and the one in which characters are surprisingly well drawn. So, I never thought of it as a challenge--I just took the bare outlines of some of his characters and had an amazing amount of fun with them.

Kelly: Now that you're a bestselling novelist you need to write an autobiography. May I suggest a quote from your own writing, James Fenimore Cooper Saved Me for the title?

Lauren: Ha! Oh, gosh, no. I'll try to apply the art of fiction to every aspect of my life until it's all dry and dessicated and used up and no good to anyone anymore. Strangely, though, autobiography has fascinated me for a long time--I wrote a senior thesis about it in college. That said, I have no desire to write any of it myself.

Kelly: Wikipedia, which we know should never be entirely trusted, has a novel named Arcadia listed as your forthcoming novel. Care to comment?

Lauren: In this case, Wikipedia is correct. First I have a collection of stories coming out entitled Delicate Edible Birds--I'm just finishing up on that one and it'll be out in gorgeous hardcover in January. And then will be Arcadia, which will be out when it's out--whenever that is. We're hoping within the next few years, but novels take their time
to unfold.

Kelly: And finally, Loaded Questions readers are always looking for new books and authors to read. What authors or books would you say should be on any avid reader's list?

Lauren: Ooh, boy. My favorite five books are classics, so I'll skip them in favor of my favorite five *newish* books. They're in no particular order, with the understanding that this list would probably be entirely different tomorrow. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan; The View from the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier; Like You'd Understand Anyway by Jim Shepherd; Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen (out in June)


Milla said...

I can't wait for Delicate Edible Birds! I've been following Groff's writing since Lucky Chow Fun and love love love her work.

Anonymous said...

Hello Princess! I am glad to meet a fellow Lauren Groff fan. I too am looking forward to her collection of short stories and can say without a doubt that we'll certainly feature it!

Keep on reading Loaded Questions!


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