Elizabeth Berg – June 11 @ Barrington Area Public Library

She couldn't have been nicer, more entertaining or more funny.


And I couldn't have taken worse photos of her if I'd intentionally tried to make her look like crap. Which she doesn't, in reality. She's lovely, but for whatever reason the Barrington Area Library put a hex on my camera, activating the ugly filter. It must have happened when I went through the theft-prevention thingies. That's a term used in the profession, by the way.

The photo above is the best I got. The others were out of focus, save one other that makes her look like she's about to pass out drunk and fall off the stage. I promise I didn't purposely take unattractive photos. The room was dark, I didn't have a tripod, and Ms. Berg has an eye problem that prohibited flash photography. You see my quandry.

She's such a gifted speaker. Her patience answering questions she must have heard a thousand times was admirable. She made it seem like it was the first time she'd answered even the most tired, old questions someone in any given group feels obliged to ask an author:

"Where do you get your ideas?"

"How long does it take you to write a novel?"

"What's your favorite time of day to write?"

"What do you take for constipation?"

(I threw that one in to see if you're still paying attention.)

If I'd been on that stage there would've been eye rolling, a sarcastic crack or twenty, and, sprinkled in for good measure, lots of forehead slaps and a few "Duh!s" to make sure the audience realized they could hardly bore me more.

Who am I kidding? You couldn't pay me to get up on a stage and talk to 180 people. There's not enough money in the world. And if I did? I wouldn't have been charming, sweet, personable or funny. The only similarity is all photos of me would be incredibly ugly. Even in good light.

But enough about me. We hear enough about that the other 364 days a year.

One thing she said during the Q & A session that impressed - and frustrated - me was she can crank out a novel in a year. In a year? My novel drafts don't make it from hard copy to the desk drawer in at least two years. And as for revising? The shredder is my most honest critic.

We also learned she doesn't outline her novels. She sits down (in the early mornings, before you ask, right after she's poured a cup of coffee and before she's woken up properly or dressed), and writes entire novels in a linear fashion, revising very little until her editor's had a look at it. Even then, she doesn't make many changes. She also usually titles her own books. Mere mortal writers, who haven't spent half their careers on the NY Times bestseller lists, usually aren't afforded that luxury. And as for being asked for input on the cover art? Faggetaboutit.

Before I go any further, I have to confess something that's weighing on my shoulders. I'm not an Elizabeth Berg groupie. I've read only one of her 21 books, the one based on a fan letter written by a woman who grew up with a mother who had polio, and wanted Berg to write her life story. Despite the potential for a remarkable work of fiction, the book didn't impress me much.

It's been a long time, but I'm assuming my problem with it stemmed from the writing style. If it's not edgy, dark or very complex I don't like it. I don't like everyday, feel good, domesticated novels guaranteed to come around to predictable, neatly wrapped up endings. A little ambiguity is a very good thing. I don't read to escape life. I read to have it confirmed it really does suck as much as I thought it did.

But for whatever reason, when read in her own voice her current novel sounded a whole lot better. Funny how a little inflection from the author helps. I should have her come over to my house and read all her books to me. Then I'd probably love them.

Apologies to major Berg fans, but I really went to participate in a writers' group outing, and listen to an author talk about authoring. I like to hear writers talk about the craft, even if it is about 99 % the same old thing, repeated over and over. Still, each has his or her own little twist, a nugget of wisdom I haven't heard before, or could stand to hear repeated. I also went to take photos.Crappy photos, as it turns out.

Elizabeth Berg was so, so sweet, such a treat to listen to. Success hasn't gone to her head. She's down to earth and kind, and doesn't really look like she's smelling a skunk, like the picture at the top of this post suggests. One complaint? She said 'The Member of the Wedding' is one of her favorite books, following that up with, "I just love Anne Tyler."

Umm… That's Carson McCullers, Ms. Berg. A truly great writer.

Aside from that gaffe only anal literature majors can't let pass without comment, I'm really glad I went. Even if it does make me aggravated, all over again, that no one attends author events at my own library. And jealous that Barrington seems to have no problem with that.


And, again, one last apology to Ms. Berg for the sub-par photography. Mea culpa, especially considering what a good sport she was:


Stick a fork in 'er. She's done.

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