Lauren Grodstein – Author Interview

When she’s not working in the early hours of the day in the comfort of her home as a novelist she’s a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Rutgers-Camden University in New Jersey. This “unrepentant spy” lives in Moorestown with Ben, her husband of five years, and their fourteen month old son Nathaniel. She has been writing since childhood but became a published author 2002. Lauren has three books published under Goldstein and a young adult novel as Jessie Elliot. Her latest release is A Friend of the Family. Read on to learn more about it and this author’s writing habits.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Lauren GrodsteinLauren Grodstein: When I was a kid, I used to lie – not to get myself out of trouble, but just to make the world a more interesting place. I’d tell stories, embellish things that had actually happened, make up alternate worlds. It seemed clear to everyone, including myself, that I was either going to be a writer or some kind of con artist. Fortunately, I followed the more conscientious path.

Moe: What inspires you?

Lauren Grodstein: I like watching people interact – I’m especially inspired by watching parents and their children love, fight, and try to manage one another. I’m an unrepentant spy.

Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Lauren Grodstein: I get up early – maybe 6:00 a.m. or so – brush my teeth, make some coffee, put my butt in a chair, and write eight pages. They don’t have to be good – they just have to get done. Generally speaking, I don’t get up until I’ve finished my pages. I do this every single day until I’ve finished a first draft. If the book comes easily, this daily grind lasts a few months. The editing that follows is more leisurely – and I let myself eat breakfast before I get started.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Lauren Grodstein: I revise as I go along – and it takes me about a year to get to the point where I would let another human being look at what I’ve done.

Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?

Lauren Grodstein: Never. I’m only thinking about the characters, and their story, and staying true to what would actually happen next.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Lauren Grodstein: I have a general plan, but I’m always open to the characters pointing me in another direction.

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Lauren Grodstein: I tend to write about places I know very well, but I do make research visits as I go, in part because I love researching, and in part because I love travel. My new book is about a physician, so to write it I found myself interviewing a lot of physicians, reading what I could understand of JAMA and The New England Journal of Medicine, and going to online medical sites. I’m also fortunate to work on a college campus full of all kinds of experts, and I’m never afraid to tap them for insights.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Lauren Grodstein: My characters seem to spring into my imagination pretty fully formed. I’ll steal details of people’s lives, and my own, but I don’t steal entire personalities. It would be too hard – I’d always worry about getting it right instead of getting it good.

Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?

Lauren Grodstein: All the time, often while I’m writing – I run out of steam mid-sentence. I usually start reading something I love, and that gets me going again.

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Lauren Grodstein: 1. Find an agent you trust – I’ve been lucky enough to do so, and it’s made my whole career possible.
2. Say yes to as many opportunities as you can – they often lead to bigger opportunities. So if someone asks you to visit a bookstore, guest blog, or even just share your work with his or her writing group, do it, because you never know who you’ll meet or what will happen because you did this one simple thing.
3. A bad review serves a purpose: it makes the good reviews shine more brightly.

Moe: What is your latest release about?

Lauren Grodstein: The novel is about a physician, Pete Dizinoff, who is desperate to put his only son, a 20 year old named Alec, on the same path to success that his friends’ kids are following: a good college, a prominent career, a nice girlfriend, a life Pete can brag about. Instead, Alec drops out of college and moves into his parents’ garage, and, even worse, begins dating the daughter of Pete’s best friend, ten years older, with a terrible secret in her past. Pete tries to end the relationship, and in so doing, mismanages a patient’s care, leading to a medical malpractice suit.

I got the idea from listening to friends of mine who are doctors talk about medical malpractice. I was interested in the way this particular job allows no room for error whatsoever – no room for distraction, no room for miscalculation. In my job, I make mistakes all the time, and the worst thing that happens is – well, nothing too terrible really ever happens. Few jobs are as demanding as the physician’s, and few people are forgiven less. So that’s where the idea came from – I had a doctor’s voice in my head, and I knew he’d made a mistake, and as I kept writing, the mistake he made evolved into the novel.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Lauren Grodstein: I read a lot – everything from literary novels to trashy magazines. I park my kid in his stroller and take longs walks. And I love to travel – we’re always planning the next trip, even if we know it’s going to take us a while to get there.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Lauren Grodstein: Find a community of writers – either on-line or in person. There are enough distractions in life that keep us from writing, but having a community of fellow readers and writers who are expecting you to complete something (and, even better, expecting to read what you complete) helps keep you going.

Read all the time – and read as broadly as you can, because you never know what book will inspire you. And I know, it’s almost as annoying as those suggestions that you stop buying lattes to save yourself seven bucks a week, but seriously, turn off the television. It’s amazing how much time you’ll find to read and write.

Keep going. A professor of mine once said that every talented writer eventually gets published somewhere; the danger is that many will give up in frustration before that happens. I think she’s right.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Lauren Grodstein: If I weren’t a writer, and I were able to get through the cadaver dissection, I’d be a doctor.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Lauren Grodstein: Lately, “mama” – but only when my son says it.

Originally published 10/12/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Lauren Grodstein’s official website.

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