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Library’s popular Author Series draws best-selling novelists to island

By Staff | Feb 18, 2010

Wisconsin writer Jane Hamilton, author of the best-selling novels "The Book Of Ruth" and "A Map Of The World," shows the crowd at the Sanibel Public Library on Friday her local library card.

Last week, two of the latest participants in the Sanibel Public Library’s popular second year program, dubbed the Author Series, came to the island to share their tales about how they developed into writers, the process of getting their books published and the meteoric fame that followed their releases being selected to the Oprah Book Club.

On Thursday, Elizabeth Berg attended the library’s second Author’s Luncheon, an intimate and elegant gathering hosted by The Sanctuary Golf Club. The writer of the worldwide best-seller “Open House,” Berg explained to the crowd the difficulties she experienced during her childhood.

“I grew up an Army brat, so I don’t know where home is,” she said. “But I do think that New England is the prettiest place. I like to see the change of season.”

Asked about her impressions of Sanibel, and the author was quick to note, “I was thinking about leaving the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my hotel room door and hope that they keep passing me by until spring.”

Berg, who has had 21 books published, also explained how her family – especially her father – influenced her desire to become a writer, and how she identified that passion at an early age.

Elizabeth Berg, who appeared at an Author's Luncheon last Thursday at The Sanctuary Golf Club, penned the popular books "Open House," "Talk Before Sleep" and "Durable Goods."

“Becoming a writer is a dream come true, but I had never dreamed about becoming a writer,” she said. “I believe that writers are born and not created. Growing up, I just felt like I needed to write.”

Berg also explained what it means, as she so eloquently put it, to become “so interested in the landscape of the human heart.”

“I think that most writers are loners,” she added. “I think that we also need to be sensitive. Being a writer, you need to have an ability to bring back details that are interesting or important.”

At the age of 9, Berg submitted her first poem to American Girl Magazine. Although it was rejected, she eventually entered a writing competition – some 25 years later. She started her career writing for magazine for more than a decade before penning her first book, “Family Traditions,” in 1992.

During her 40-minute lecture, Berg went on to detail her career as a novelist, which reached a best-selling pinnacle after being chosen as an Oprah Book Club Selection in 2000. However, she cautiously reflected upon becoming an international success simply by the praise bestowed upon her work by an icon of Oprah Winfrey’s stature.

“People who buy your book aren’t buying you… they’re buying Oprah,” Berg told the audience, noting that her book sales went from 30,000 copies to more than 500,000 copies almost overnight.

In April, Berg’s 22nd novel – “The Last Time I Saw You” – will be released.

Later that night, the author attended a lecture and booksigning at the Sanibel Public Library.

On Friday afternoon, another best-selling writer visited the island. Jane Hamilton, author of six novels, including the current hit “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.” attended a standing-room-only Author Talk at the library.

Hamilton made an immediate positive impression upon the crowd by holding her Sanibel Public Library card above her head as she stepped up to the podium and declared, “This is the best $10 non-resident rate buy on the island!” The entire audience applauded.

Much of Hamilton’s discussion centered around her decision to write “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece,” which represents a departure from her more somber and emotion-driven novels released during her 20-plus year writing career.

“You write ‘bummer’ novels,” her publisher told her at a meeting in New York City, called after she submitted the manuscript for “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.” According to Hamilton, Grand Central Publishing’s Board of Directors paused before printing her submission.

“This book is going to be the end of your career,” he told her, to which she responded, “Wow! I’m glad that you think that I have a career!”

Hamilton’s first release, “The Book Of Ruth,” was not only the winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel, it was also an Oprah Book Club Selection. After receiving an invitation to attend a luncheon with Winfrey from one of the TV show’s producers, the author said that her experience in meeting the multimedia magnate was “swell.”

“They didn’t tell Oprah I was coming… they wanted it to be a surprise,” she explained, adding that she was grateful for what Winfrey has done for the medium. “Because what do you get someone like Oprah? You get her a person.”

She told that crowd that she believes that in order to become a writer, you have to become a reader first.

“Take pleasure in your own words and your own things – some things on some days work better than others,” Hamilton said, noting that a good practice to get into is to read your writings aloud. “Listen to your words. You’ll hear what’s good and works and what isn’t good and doesn’t work.”

Hamilton also shared a story about teaching a writing class during a cruise ship excursion, and that most of the students “kinda wanted to write… but what they really wanted was to be published.”

After fielding several questions from the crowd, Hamilton offered the ageless paradox: Is life comic or tragic? She gave no answer, but did make one suggestion:

“Life is tragic, so every once in awhile you have to laugh at it… or invest a lot of money in pharmaceuticals!”