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Between the Covers with Elizabeth Berg

posted by: November 20, 2017 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Story of Arthur Truluv My new favorite character is Arthur! The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg is an emotional story of people finding their place in the world and what family really means. Fannie Flagg writes of this powerful novel, “I dare you to read this novel and not fall in love with Arthur Truluv. His story will make you laugh and cry, and will show you a love that never ends and what it means to be truly human.” Between the Covers was lucky enough to talk to the novelist who shared her thoughts on Arthur, writing and what she’s working on next. 

 

 

Between the Covers: Arthur is kind, compassionate and funny. How did this delightful character come to you? Is he based on anyone you know?

 

Elizabeth Berg: 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!  

 

BTC: The Story of Arthur Truluv is also about two women at two very different places in their lives. Maddie 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, Maddie and Lucille which evolves into more is so poignant. Who or what was your inspiration for this novel?

 

Elizabeth Berg (Teresa Crawford)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 be 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?

 

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.

 

BTC: Maddie, is only 18, yet you really get her. Have you ever considered writing for teens or even younger children?

 

EB: I have written crossover novels: Durable Goods, Joy School and True to Form can all be read and enjoyed by ages 12or even a mature 10and 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 illustratedpretty badlya 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?

 

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.

 

BTC: 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: 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? 

 

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 Anderson 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’s 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.

 

Want to hear more from Elizabeth? She will be at the Carroll County Community College in Westminister on November 28 at 7 p.m. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from one of today’s shining writers. And there will be cake!


 
 

Revised: November 20, 2017