Berg's publishing career began in her mid-thirties when she won first prize in an essay contest sponsored by Parents magazine. That auspicious beginning led to hundreds of feature stories, essays, interviews and humor pieces-and the desire to write a novel.
Now, fifteen years later, she's written seven wonderful novels. And that is more than enough reason to listen carefully to the advice she offers for writers in Escaping Into the Open. Berg's principles are simple: "Find your own voice and believe in it"; "Relax"; "If you want to ride, stay on the horse." There is some information here that can be found elsewhere; then again, she includes recipes ("Food for Creative Thought") that you're unlikely to find in any other writing guide. In all, it's a practical, warm and encouraging invitation to the writing life.
Meanwhile, Berg's latest novel, Until The Real Thing Comes Along, concerns Patty Ann Murphy, a woman who makes her emotional commitments quickly and irrevocably-whether she's choosing houses, best friends or men. She's funny, charming, a little insecure and totally loyal. Patty's in her mid-thirties as this novel begins and afraid her biological clock is starting to wind down. The problem is she's still single and there's no solution in sight because Ethan, the man she has always loved, is gay.
Berg's best strength, of an endless array, is her seemingly effortless movement from one character's perspective to another. Whether it's a gay man fleeing the relentless AIDS deaths of friends by trying to will himself straight or the loving husband who tries to maintain a cheerful front while caring for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, Berg presents authentic people with an ease and honesty that is breathtaking.
Elizabeth Berg has shown herself to be an author of astonishing talent. What is even more astonishing is the generosity with which she now shares her insights and wisdom on the process of writing.
While this book will make its way into classrooms across the country, its biggest classroom is the invisible one: someone sitting at a desk or a kitchen table trying to write but not knowing how. Elizabeth Berg's book is as close as you can get to having someone sitting right there with you, giving you quietly wonderful tips.
Rita Mae Brown
Crystal clear, bracing as icewater, Escaping into the Open should be read by all scribblers regardless of material success.
C. Michael Curtis
As a writer Elizabeth Berg hit the ground running. Her very helpful advice to would-be authors is the equivalent of a good pair of track shoes. She knows how the publishing industry works, how sentences work, and why writers need to answer only to themselves. Atlantic Monthly
Ronna Wineberg Blaser
Elizabeth Berg's writing exercises are wonderfully inventive. They capture the play and pleasures of writing. Her book is an insightful guide.
Eileen Herbert Jordan
I'm grateful as can be for having Escaping into the Open. It's part of my library now, and I'm recommending it to anyone with the slightest urge to writeit tells it as it is.
Stephanie von Hirschberg
All the qualities that I have loved in [Elizabeth Berg's] fiction are here in great, generous dollops: intimacy, honesty and humor, and that feeling that you are hanging out with your best friend who is confiding amazing stories to you. I would recommend this book to anyone in the grip of the writing muse.
If your dream is to be a "Writer" with a capital "W," we're pleased to recommend Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, a wonderful new guide by gifted novelist Elizabeth Berg (Talk Before Sleep, Joy School.Imagine that a bestselling author was available to give you encouragement and practical advicethat's exactly what you'll find here. The key to writing that works, according to Berg, is finding your authentic voice so that you can write from the heart. You'll be inspired by her own story as well as the creative exercises she provides.If you've always wanted to write, but were afraid to get started, Berg will have you at your desk, pen in hand, soon after you finish her first chapter.
July is a busy month for Berg. She's publishing a new novel with Random called Until the Real Thing Comes Along (see Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99) and also this writer's guide, which explains how she got from working mother to best-selling novelist.
Read an Excerpt
All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation - it is the Self escaping into the open.
-- E. B. WHITE
11 am sitting in a coffeehouse, listening to the big band music they play here, to the explosive sounds of the espresso machines, to the subtler noise of cash registers and conversation. Across from me, a man of about sixty takes the hand of a woman about thirty and looks at her, sighing. Then he starts speaking in a low and urgent tone, in a language I can't understand. Two tables away from me, there is a serious-looking young man with a notebook before him, writing. He was here yesterday, too, doing the same thing. His handwriting is small and cramped, and he keeps one hand over what he's just put down. I'm dying to read it. I want to go up to him and say, "Can I see?" But I won't. Obviously, he's not ready to share. I watch him sipping his coffee, bending over the page to write a few lines, then staring into space, thinking.
It could be that the man is writing a term paper. Or a letter to his father, or to his girlfriend. But I don't think so. There is something about his face, about his manner. I think he's writing something more creative than that, answering an insistent call to transfer what's in him, out.
Last night, as we ate dinner, I told my partner about what I'd done that day. I said I had been to the pet store, where I watched the owner kiss a gray parrot that kissed him right back. I told him about the ragged V shape of the Canadian geese I saw fly across the sky, about the one goose in the rear that honked and honked,complaining about his seat assignment, no doubt. I described the waitress in the restaurant where I ate lunch, a stringy-haired blonde with cigarette breath who talked tough to all her customers, but who made one man finish his orange juice, because he had a cold. And then I told about a taxi driver I'd seen, a man who stood patiently waiting at the cab's open door while his fare walked toward it. She was an old woman, using a walker, and her progress was remarkably slow. But the cab driver did not look at his watch and curse his fate at having a customer who required so much extra care. Instead, he stood smiling, nodding, telling her to take her time, that she was doing just fine. It was a wonderful example of common kindness, the kind of thing that makes you think people are a pretty swell specie's after all. Everyone who saw that cab driver helping the old woman seemed to experience a certain elevation of spirit, as I did.
My partner listened quietly, as he always does when I tell him all the details of the things I've seen. He knows I have a need to tell stories. But whenever I say them out loud, there is something missing for me. To really tell a story, I need to write it. It's then that I understand what it is that I'm really trying to say. I find the deeper meaning -- and the deeper satisfaction.
The same is true of many others. So many people have things they want to say on paper. Some of these people write freely, and share what they write, even publish what they write. Others, who have wonderful stories inside them, don't tell them. Or if they tell them, they don't share them. If they don't want to share that's fine. But I believe many people do want to share, do want to write, and are afraid to try. They need a gentle nudge to get going. It is my mission and my high privilege to try to make this book that nudge.
There are people who have never studied writing who are fully capable of being writers. I know this because I am an example. I was a part-time registered nurse, a wife, and a mother when I began publishing. I'd taken no classes, had no experience, no knowledge of the publishing world, no agent, no contacts. What I did have is the same kind of passion I see now in that young man sitting two tables from me. And what I want to say to that young man is what I want to say to anyone who wants to write: You feel the call. That's the most important thing. Now answer it as fully as you can. Take the risk to let all that is in you, out. Escape into the open.