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The chicks love writers Elizabeth Berg, Barbara Samuel

March 13, 2002
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us
Enterprise staff writer

You've heard of chick flicks, of course. Those are the movies that primarily attract women, not necessarily love stories, but movies that focus on domestic issues and are slower-paced and more reflective than the Lethal Weapon line.

Well, there are even more chick books than chick flicks. One of the most popular writers of chick books is Elizabeth Berg who churns out bestseller after bestseller that always serves to delight her passionate fans

Another writer of chick books is Barbara Samuel who used to be romance writer Ruth Wind, an unabashed admirer of Berg.

The first three sentences of "Open House," Berg's eighth novel, are vintage Berg: domestic, conversational, and quietly charged with emotion:

"You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You stare at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone."

"Open House" describes what happens after Samantha's husband leaves her and their 11-year-old son, Travis. She has to rent rooms in her house in order to make ends meet. And she has to learn how to make her own happiness by coming to terms with the fact that she wasn't happy in her marriage, no matter how hard she tried.

Berg, who lives in Massachusetts, brings to her fiction much of her own personal experiences. She is a former critical-care nurse. She is the mother of two daughters. She has been described by an interviewer as a tall, strikingly attractive woman with long chestnut hair.

"I wanted to write about my experiences in a fictional way, to create characters and events that, although imagined, would testify to the emotional truth of what happened," she wrote.

She has been called a "life-affirming sentimentalist" and that she is. "I'm a rank sentimentalist and I make no apologies at all for it," she said.

But her life and writing is leavened, too, with sobering realities. She suffers from a chronic illness and was divorced after 23 years of marriage.

Berg battles incurable mycosis fungoides, a chronic T-cell lymphoma that affects the skin, appearing as a rash.

She was born in 1948 in St. Paul, Minn. Her father was a career Army officer, so Berg spent much of her childhood moving from town to town with her family. She earned a nursing degree from St. Mary's Junior College in Minneapolis. She married Howard Berg in 1974 and they settled in a Boston suburb.

She began her writing career by entering an essay contest in Parents magazine in about 1985. She won the contest, earned $500, and began writing non-fiction magazine articles.

When she was diagnosed with MF and was told, mistakenly, that she had only five years to live, she went home and made berry pies.

"They were the best pies I ever made," she told an interviewer from the trade journal Publishers Weekly. "I have always appreciated the small, quiet things in life, and what I learned right away is how important to me they are, and how important they will always be."

"Durable Goods" (1993) was her first novel, followed by "Talk Before Sleep," "Range of Motion," "Joy School," "The Pull of the Moon," "What We Keep," "Until the Real Thing Comes Along," and "Open House."

All of her novels are narrated by different women, yet the voice, Berg agrees, is always her own.

"I write about people that I wish I were like, but it's always me talking," she says. "It's always the same motivation, whatever theme it takes. For me, there will always be life-affirming stuff. "

Reviewers have praised Berg for writing about emotionally charged subjects without falling into mawkishness. Critics have said she doesn't always avoid that trap.

And there is a sameness to her middle-class novels that her fans love and her critics endure.

Another writer read primarily by women is Samuel, author of 27 novels, most recently "No Place Like Home."

Samuel lives in Pueblo, Colo.

"I can't imagine living anywhere else," she said. She graduated from the University of Southern Colorado in 1985 with a degree in communications.

As she was finishing up her degree, she took a job tending bar to help pay the bills. She and her husband were raising two young sons and needed the extra income her job provided.

"I overheard a reporter that I admired say that she was going to quit her job and write a novel," said Samuel. "I went straight home and asked my husband if he would give me five years to get published."

It took her 4 years. She published her first romance novel in 1989 under the name of Ruth Wind.

"This provided me with some money and gave me the confidence to keep going," she said. Samuel had put a $600 computer on lay-away and it didn't look like she was going to finish paying for it very quickly. Her husband worked in construction and there wasn't a lot of business.

"But he went out and bought it for me," she said. Since then, she's made a living as a writer.

"Some years are better than others but almost since the beginning I've made a decent living," she said.

However, as the years have gone by the stakes have gone up. Samuel has wanted to make the leap in genres from romance to mainstream.

"No Place Like Home" is her attempt to do so. The plot revolves around a young mother who, estranged from her large Italian family, has lived in New York City for many years. But when her aunt dies and lives her a ranch in the southwest, she decides to take her son and go home.

A review in Library Journal suggests that she has been successful combining the best of romance writing and mainstream acceptance.

Samuel doesn't teach writing, but she stays connected to women through a journaling class she offers to women in transition. The transition can be anything including a move from being single to marriage, from being a daughter to being a caretaker, from working to retiring, and more.

"It gives the women a chance to look at themselves and their lives and the choices they made," she said. "They are encouraged to do this without having to think about other expectations," she added.

"The main mistake most of us make is not trusting the vision of ourselves as we'd like to be," she said.

Samuel said she is a successful writer today because she refused to give up.

"Persistence is everything," she said.

Samuel is currently working on a novel about four women exploring their marriages to find out how marriage has influenced the choices they've made and how they can go about fighting for what they really want.

It comes as no surprise to find out that Berg is one of Samuel's favorite writers.

"I love Elizabeth Berg," she said. "She does magical things with ordinary moments."

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]


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