Between the Covers with Elizabeth Berg

November 08, 2018 | By Baltimore County Public Library

Portrait of Elizabeth Berg

We are reposting last year's interview with Elizabeth Berg in anticipation of her upcoming visit to our Book Club Bash at the Cockeysville Branch on November 17. In the interview, she mentions working on a sequel to "The Story of Arthur Truluv." That sequel, "Night of Miracles" is coming in November. Place your holds now, and enjoy getting to know Elizabeth here and on November 17!

Between the Covers (BTC): I am so thrilled to be talking to one of my favorite authors! Your books are comfort for the soul and "The Story of Arthur Truluv" has given me a new favorite character. Arthur is kind, compassionate and funny. How did this delightful character come to you? Is he based on anyone you know?

Elizabeth Berg (EB): Arthur came about because I kept seeing the image of a man sitting at the side of a grave, his wife's grave, I presumed. He was on one of those fold-up chairs, and eating lunch. That's all I had when I started, as is typical for me. Most of my novels start with just a wisp of an idea. Arthur is based more on someone I wish I knew, rather than someone I do know. That said, there is a smidgen of my maternal grandfather, called Papa, in him. Papa was really loving and very funny. And a great cook, as opposed to Arthur! 

Cover of the novel The Story of Arthur Truluv

BTC: "The Story of Arthur Truluv" is also about two women at two very different places in their lives. Maddy is a pregnant teenager, and Lucille is older and still hoping for love in her life. These two women are emotionally needy, yet strong. How did you create such realistic women who are coping with loss and looking to be loved?  

EB: You know, the real answer is that my characters create themselves upon the page. They reveal themselves as I go along. I am often surprised by the way they develop, by the turns they take or the unexpected things that they say. I'll give you an example. When Maddy sees a deer, she addresses it as her mom. [She stares back at the animal, its wide and patient eyes, its stillness. Then, "Mom?" Maddy whispers.] That really surprised me. But then it made sense, in the context of Maddy having no one, really; and looking for "helpers" everywhere. Lucille just came barging onto the page and I was happy to let her take over everything.

BTC: The multi-generational friendship between Arthur, Maddy and Lucille, which evolves into more, is so poignant. Who or what was your inspiration for this novel?

EB: I think the inspiration was just that we are living in such difficult, anxious times, and I wanted to write something that was absolutely life-affirming. I am always attracted to little towns, and so I made the setting a fictional small town in Missouri called Mason. I also was influenced by "Our Town" and by "Spoon River Anthology."

BTC: As with all your novels, these three characters really come to life for the reader. How do you develop such insight into human nature? Maddy is only age 18, yet you really get her. Have you ever considered writing for teens or even younger children?

EB: I think insight into people comes from being really interested in them, which I am. Also, being a nurse taught me lot about what people really care about, what matters most to them. I have written cross-over novels. "Durable Goods," "Joy School" and "True to Form" can all be read and enjoyed by ages 12—or even a mature 10—and up. In fact, "Durable Goods" is used in a lot of eighth-grade classrooms. I would love to write a picture book, but haven't tried, yet. Except for the time I wrote and illustrated (pretty badly) a children's book about a dog named Ralph. It was called "Ralph Anderson's Pretty Good Birthday." I never submitted it, and I have no idea where it is.

BTC: What is your writing routine? Any must-have snacks or beverages? Next year marks 25 years since your first novel was published. Has the writing process gotten any easier for you? Has the industry changed?

EB: I like to write in the mornings, when I'm closest to the dream state. Coffee is the beverage of choice, followed by seltzer with a squeeze of lemon. When I'm really deep into something, I eat at my desk, and I like to think of it as a kind of ant-free picnic. The best writing I do always happens when it feels joyful and easy. Whenever I struggle, it's a bad sign. So my writing style hasn't changed much, but the industry sure has. Random House took a chance on "Durable Goods," a small, quiet literary novel. I'm not sure that such a novel would be taken these days.

BTC: Were you always a reader? What was your favorite book as a child?

Cover of the novel Night of Miracles

EB: Yes, I always loved reading. "Beautiful Joe," "Black Beauty" and the Nancy Drew books were favorites. The summer after eighth grade, I read "Gone with the Wind" eight times! I also adored the Andersen and Grimm fairy tales, although they were instrumental in giving me false ideas about love and romance. I liked to read the stories in the ladies magazines and The Saturday Evening Post, as well; it made me feel very sophisticated. I adored Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Mad magazine.

BTC: Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’re working on next?

EB: After I finished Arthur, I really missed being in Mason. So the next book is a sequel to "The Story of Arthur Truluv." It will be called "Night of Miracles." You'll see Lucille, Maddy and Nola again, and meet some more people, too.

Category: Collection and Materials