On Martinis and Marguerite Duras
A Q & A with Laura van den Berg
Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida. Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth, received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Find Me is her first novel. She lives in the Boston area.
Name a childhood hero.
Name a work you wished you’d written.
The Quick & The Dead by Joy Williams. Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck. The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada.
If you had to order your work by how successfully you completed what you set out to accomplish, what would that list look like?
For my collections, I think my second, The Isle of Youth, is far more fully-realized than my first, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us—I just had a clearer sense of my own voice and the kind of stories I wanted to create when I wrote Isle. Even though there are some pretty consistent thematic preoccupations, I feel like comparing the collections to my novel, Find Me, would be an apples v. oranges situation (or apples v. starfruit?). I took a lot of risks in that book and I loved what the novel form made it possible for me to attempt.
Name a writer in history you would’ve liked to have been a contemporary of and why.
I would have liked to have been a student in Robert Lowell’s poetry workshops, to drink martinis in the middle of the day and bask in all that brilliance and hopefully not end up suicidal.
Name a work of yours whose reception you’ve been surprised about and why.
Sometimes what I think is funny in my own writing no one else thinks is funny and then what I think is not funny at all other people find hilarious—I love the unpredictability of humor.
Correct a misperception about you as a writer in 50 words or less.
That I am have been to Antarctica; that I have worked as a private detective; that I hate men (?!); that I am a swimmer; that I never smile.
Name a trait you deplore in other writers.
Name your five desert island films.
L’Avventura, The Passenger, Heat, Pulp Fiction, The Princess Bride.
Name a book not your own that you wish everyone would read.
Yoko Tawada’s The Naked Eye.
Name a book you suspect most people claim to have read, but haven’t.
If you could choose one of your works to rewrite, which would it be and why.
All of them.
Share the greatest literary secret/gossip you know.
If I told you, people would break my kneecaps and set my hair on fire.
Name a book you read over and over for inspiration.
The Lover by Marguerite Duras. There’s so much about this novel that inspires complete awe in me—the profoundly complex psychological landscape, the indelible images, the voice, the mystery.
Name the writing habit you rely on to get you through a first draft.
I have “There’s no crying in baseball” from A League of Their Own taped above my desk.
Name a regret, literary or otherwise.
How much time do you have?
Name your greatest struggle as a writer.
Name a question you get about writing to which there really is no good answer.
“Where do you get your inspiration from?” I wish I knew! What goes on inside my head is a total mystery most of the time.
Name a question you wish you had been asked.
“How would you like a million dollars?”