Elizabeth Berg visits Morenci 6.24.09

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

There were plenty of familiar faces in the crowd when author Elizabeth Berg visited Stair Public Library Saturday afternoon.book.sign.berg.jpg

But the appeal of the nationally-known novelist went far beyond Morenci. Every city in Lenawee County was represented, plus a few from Fulton County to the south. Albion to the west, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Saline to the north. Sylvania, Lambertville, Erie and Toledo to the east. Even as far away Auburn Hills, Royal Oak and Pinckney.

Nearly 150 people came to hear Berg read from a book and answer questions, and many of them stood in line afterward to have her autograph a book.

Berg read from her latest book, “Home Safe,” about a girl who grows up to become a prolific writer, while putting up with her meddling mother.

“Now I had to do a lot of research to find out how mothers behave in that way,” Berg joked.

Of course she never acted that way with her own daughters, she said.

Berg described “Home Safe” as her most autobiographical book. It started off as a difficult story to produce because for the first time she was really having trouble writing.

“It was driving me crazy,” she said. “It was like I had lost my best friend.”

Eventually the story broke through and like all of her stories, she said, it contains a dose of pathos along with humor.

Berg was asked when she first started writing and she traces that back to a poem she submitted to “American Girl” magazine.

“It was rejected and it should have been rejected.”

And she became dejected because at the time she thought it was a wonderful poem. She didn’t write again for 25 years, long after she was involved in a career in nursing.

She sees the medical profession as great preparation for writing—an excellent way to get to know and understand people.

An audience member asked Berg how she organizes her thoughts in the writing process. Once she gets the germ of an idea, the book tends to write itself, she said.

She typically writes the first 20 or 30 pages, reads it over and notices that it appears somewhat “wobbly” at first. Before long, however, the story starts to flow and she feels like a secretary writing it all down.

She thinks her first book, “Durable Goods,” is still her best and it took the least amount of time to write—just a few months.

She urged writers in the audience to “honor the intent” of their story and take as much time as necessary to finish and finally let it go.

But overwriting, she cautioned, can take the life out of a story.

She once wrote an entire book and in the end, didn’t like it. She put it aside but eventually returned to it and reworked it. The story was “Open House,” the novel that became an Oprah Book Club selection.

How did the Oprah choice change her life? She went from living in a small condo to buying a big house.

It validates your work in a way, she said, but it’s a mistake to think that every subsequent book will sell. Many readers won’t remember your name, Berg said. It’s only the Oprah selection that drives readers to the store.

Berg admitted, sadly, that she doesn’t write for herself anymore. No journals, few letters—everything is directed to her fiction.

An audience member wondered if writers retire or if they simply run out of ideas. Berg believes the ideas always keep flowing.

“You’re a writer because you have a different way of looking at the world,” she said.

Writers continue to be observers. Once a writer, always a writer, she said.

What did Katie Nash grow up to be? someone asked.

Nash was the focus of Berg’s first book and made a later appearance in “Joy School” and then again in “True to Form.” Berg thought she directed readers to the girl’s future in “True to Form,” but it wasn’t clear to that audience member.

“That second book came after someone asked for another book to follow up on Katie,” Berg said. “Well, maybe I’ll have to write another book.…”

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