Elizabeth Berg published her first novel, "Durable Goods," in 1993, and though she's added more than 20 books to her portfolio since then, her debut remained her favorite work until now.
It's finally been pushed from that pedestal by her latest novel, "The Story of Arthur Truluv," which will be released on Nov. 21.
"This book means a lot to me," she said. "It's a very seemingly simple book, but I think there are a lot of deeply held for me truths and revelations in it. I had such a fondness for my character."
Berg will appear at events scheduled over the next few weeks, including visits to Highwood, Darien, Oak Park and Highland Park.
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The new novel follows three characters – two senior citizens and a teenage girl – who are all dealing with grief and loneliness in their own way. But that wasn't Berg's goal when she started writing.
"Whenever I write a novel, most of the time it starts with barest slip of an idea," she said. "In this case, I just kept seeing an image of a guy in a graveyard sitting in a foldup chair by his wife and eating a sandwich. When I write a book, I don't have an idea of what I'm doing. I just go where it leads. It was almost a surprise to me. It's like I'm underwater, and when I surface, I read. I certainly didn't set out to write about three lonely people. That's just how it happened."
Berg said she's attracted to cemeteries and often takes walks in them when on book tours, especially in the South.
"Sometimes the epigraphs are so poetic," she said. "There's a sense you have in such places that life isn't forever, which is a good thing to be reminded of."
She also admits that some of the themes at play in "The Story of Arthur Truluv" might come from her own past.
"I think almost every writer has an agenda they return to over and over again," she said. "When I look at my own work, I see love, loss and loneliness. Part of it might be that I was an army brat. I moved around all the time. There was a sense of nothing being permanent. Your childhood shapes you into who you're going to become."
Writing is a "highly intuitive and very mysterious process" for Berg, and for the past three years she's been trying to help other women through it by hosting workshops. She'll be running her next on Jan. 20 in Oak Park, Ill.
"There is something alchemical that happens when I have these workshops," she said. "Part of it may be that it's all women. I think we are naturally supportive, attentive and good listeners. There's a sense of safety. People cry, myself included. I've begun having Kleenex close by. I never was a big believer that you can teach writing per se. I think you're really a writer or you're not, but providing an environment of safety and discovery and fun can provide so many things to people."
Berg has also brought numerous authors to Oak Park through her Writing Matters series, which she launched three years ago with an appearance by Leah Hager Cohen. The author of "No Book but the World" and "House Lights" had gotten rave reviews in the New York Times, but didn't tour.
"I try to pick people that not everybody is familiar with," she said. "I once described it as the best author you never heard of. I had a sense of frustration for how many writers get no attention at all."
That's not a problem Berg has. Her tour for "The Story of Arthur Truluv" includes trips to both coasts, along with numerous stops in the Midwest. Berg loved her latest work so much that she's already penned a sequel to it, "The Night of Miracles," which will be released next year. That book is set in the same small town and features many of the same characters.
"The times are so awful," Berg said. "Everybody's so anxious and depressed. Even though the book doesn't shy away from difficult things, in the end it's incredibly life affirming. That's the place I wanted to be – in an innocent town."