Roy Robins: Where are you from?
Hannah Gersen: I was born in Bethel, Maine, but my family only lived there until I was five. I did most of my growing up in Boonsboro, Maryland, a small town in the western part of the state.
When did you start writing? And why?
I started writing when I was nine, around the time my family moved to Maryland. That move made a big impression on me and I felt the need to write about my new surroundings as well as the people and places I had left behind.
How did you come to write ‘Fox Deceived’?
‘Fox Deceived’ is the name of a real house that my mother tried to save from demolition in the early 1990s. The name has always stuck with me, but I’m pretty hazy on all the other details. Writing this story was a way of reconstructing that time in my mother’s life. I fiddled with the time frame so that I could also incorporate contemporary themes.
Like Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (which began life as a short story), ‘Fox Deceived’ offers the interior perspectives, ideas and ideals of a middle-aged woman over a single day, as she prepares for an evening celebration. The story’s protagonist, Sandra, feels entirely authentic. How did you settle on the character of Sandra? How did you find the story’s voice?
Sandra is loosely based on my mother, so I built the character from the things I know about her and other women in her generation. I think of the story as having a comic premise — with Sandra as a neurotic character who has turned this simple choice about strawberries into a major ethical dilemma. I think that kind of self-delusion is funny and endearing.
You are currently working on a novel. Short fiction and novels are entirely different in conception, structure and scope. Which form do you prefer?
I prefer the novel, because the process is so long and unpredictable and there’s the potential, throughout it, to surprise yourself. Short stories, on the other hand, are more controlled: you’re aware of the frame the whole time you’re writing. But it’s very satisfying to write short stories because it can be a kind of game — to see how much can be revealed with just a few thousand words.
Who are the writers that have shaped your literary sensibility?
Jamaica Kincaid, Andrea Lee, Lorrie Moore and Marilynne Robinson are writers whose voices inspire me. Whenever I read them I have the urge to get to work and start writing.