Interview with Laura van den Berg

Posted: July 12, 2010 in Interviews
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Live Nude Books: In What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, themes, subjects, and images reoccur form story to story.  I was wondering if you could talk about your approach to writing and shaping this collection.  Were you considering the book as a whole when composing the individual stories?

Laura van den Berg: In the beginning, I didn’t work with a particular overarching design in mind. I was just writing stories. After I had maybe four or five, I could see the same central preoccupations recurring and since I had more ideas for stories with similar themes, I began to imagine a book taking shape. But I think in the beginning it was really important to not have a strategy in mind and to just write the things that kept lingering in my imagination; considerations about the overall architecture came later.

LNB: What was your strategy for ordering the stories in this book?

LvdB: My agent and I worked on the ordering together, and we decided to put “Where We Must Be” first because the opening scene is kind of quirky and—hopefully—a little funny, the kind of thing we hoped might grab a reader’s attention. We put the title story at the end because it was the longest story and we felt it would make for a solid “anchor.” As for the others, we tried to arrange them in a way that would prevent too much repetition—staggering the two third-person stories, for example.

LNB: Your stories are either set in or reference locations all over the world.  How important is place in your work?

LvdB: Place is extremely important to me—not so much a place in its literal incarnation, but my own fictional approximation of that place and the meaning the landscape might hold for the characters. The physical world is always applying all kinds of pressure to us and I think those elements can be useful for drawing out a character’s inner landscape in fiction.

LNB: Is there any piece of advice—a writing mantra, of sorts—that you find yourself passing along to students and young writers?

LvdB: Woody Allen once said “seventy percent of success in life is showing up,” and I think that’s so true when it comes to writing—showing up at your desk, showing up for opportunities to get one’s work out there. The outcome is almost always uncertain, but we have to keep showing up.

LNB: What are you working on for your next project?

LvdB: I’m currently at work on a novel and new stories.

LNB: Have you read any recently published books that you’re recommending?  If so, what are some of the titles; who are the authors?

LvdB: Benjamin Percy has a novel, The Wilding, coming out in September and I can’t wait for it. Josh Weil’s fabulous novella collection, The New Valley, is just out in paperback, as is Jessica Anthony’s incredible novel, The Convalescent. Aryn Kyle’s new book, Boys and Girls Like You And Me, is to die for. Matthew Salesses’ Our Island of Epidemics. Pinckney Benedict’s Miracle Boy and Other Stories. Allison Amend’s Stations West. Dawn Raffel’s Further Adventures in the Restless Universe. Tiphanie Yanique’s How To Escape From A Leper Colony. Connie May Fowler’s How Clarissa Burden Learned To Fly. Shane Jones’ Light Boxes, which was just re-issued by Penguin. I could go on and on, which is a great feeling, knowing there’s so much amazing work out there.

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