I had an opportunity to interview the very talented and prolific Elizabeth Berg. She has written several bestsellers. Her newest work is absolutely wonderful – “The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted: And Other Small Acts of Liberation.” I loved the stories – they were funny, sad, touching and made me want to reach out and hug some of the characters.
1. Why do you write?
a. The simplest way to answer the question why I write is to say that I have to. It’s therapy; it’s the place I feel best. It soothes me, it helps me make sense of the world, it entertains and sustains me. It is how I make myself feel like i belong here on planet Earth, if you know what I mean.
2. What makes a good short story? How do you know that you have provided enough information in the story to make it “complete”?
a. For me, what makes a good story are the same things that make a good novel, or article, or essay, or poem: an eye for detail, an integration of things seen with things felt; the sense that you’ve been somewhere (physically or emotionally) without having had to go there. Most importantly, I like it when the author gets out of the way of the story and lets it speak for itself. As for how I tell when a story is "complete," it’s just a kind of internal shift that lets me know okay, I’ve said it, that’s enough. It’s intuitive; it’s organic and it’s natural, kind of in the same way that you know when you’ve finished a sentence. I believe in letting the unconscious be your guide. I trust my soul much more than my brain.
3. Your characters are so real. Do you steal from real life? How do you shape them to make them so identifiable – I read your stories and walk down the street, observe people and think, “Oh, that lady could be Elizabeth’s Birdie!”
a. My characters are never taken directly from anyone I know. They are either completely made up (as in the "Birdie’ character you mentioned) or they are composite characters: a characteristic taken from this person, another from that one. But even when I’m pulling from "real life," the characters are transformed in order to serve larger theme of the story.
4. What process to you follow for your writing? Do you write everyday?
a. I write every morning for about three to five hours. I find it best to work as close to the sleep state as possible. I also find it best to let the story tell me, not the other way around. I don’t plot; I like to be surprised by where a work takes me.
5. My "top three nuggets of advice for aspiring writers"?
(1) Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself–don’t try to copy anyone else.
(2) Write because you love to write, not because you think it would be swell to be out on book tour.
(3) READ. Read a lot and read widely: that’s the best way to learn good writing techniques.