Interview with Laura van den Berg


As The Plot Thins (ATPT):When you approached writing this story, was it always in a post-apocalyptic setting?

Laura van den Berg (LvdB): Yes— the sickness that sweeps the country was a part of Find Me from the start, though it evolved a lot in the years that I worked on the book. Initially the sickness was more grounded in realism, but ended up becoming progressively surreal.

ATPT: What made you make the decision to create a world that was represented in the pre/present/post of the epidemic? It wasn’t world crushing, but it still messed up the lives of a good number of people living in the US.

LvdB: Dystopian fiction is a broad term, but often calls to mind the scorched earth apocalypses that explore what happens after the world as we know it has been completely decimated. I admire many of those books, but was more interested in creating an American landscape that was off-kilter and damaged and surreal, but at the same time not completely unlike the American we know now. In art, I’m drawn to sharp contrasts, to landscapes where the familiar and the strange make contact.

ATPT: The characters in Find Me are one of the novels strongest assets. Did you originally intend to write a story with such a small cast or was that realized later on?

LvdB: Joy was always the center of the story and in terms of the other characters, I thought of them mainly in terms of how they illuminated her character; she was the sun around which the other characters orbited. And since this is such an interior book, so much about Joy’s psychological journey, that naturally kept the cast of characters relatively tight.

ATPT: Your previous two books were short story collections released to much acclaim. Were you at work on Find Me for a while that you released two collections or do you really enjoy writing short stories?

LvdB: I love the story. It’s the first form of literature I fell in love with and it’s a form I’ll always return to. I’m writing new stories now, in fact.

ATPT: Once in a while you find a writer of whose prose you admire and love so much you would read no matter what they wrote, even if they narrated the phone book. Do you find this happens often to you?

LvdB: Oh yes, all the time! I feel this way about Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard and Victor LaValle and Yoko Tawada and Denis Johnson, just to name a few.

ATPT: Aside from writing, what other things do you like to do creatively?

LvdB: I love visual art, but have no aptitude for it myself, so I am a happy spectator; looking can feel very creative to me in certain contexts.

ATPT: How methodical do you tend to be about your writing? Do you plot and plan or is it more of a natural process where you just let the words all come out and the story leads you?

LvdB: When I’m drafting, I tend to work intuitively, without a lot of planning, and as a result I end up taking many wrong turns, so I do a lot of re-seeing and re-writing, where I shift into a more methodical mode. For the first draft, I tend to ask myself “why not?” and in revision I start asking myself “why?”

ATPT: Are you hard at work on another project right now? Maybe your second novel or another collection of short stories?

LvdB: I’m in the early stages of a new novel set in Havana and I’m also working on some new stories.

ATPT: 2015 has already been a great year for literature, with releases by John Boyne, Miranda July and Sandra Newman. With releases from Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, T.C. Boyle and Kazuo Ishiguro forthcoming, which books are you looking forward to reading the most?

LvdB: I am a huge Ishiguro fan, so I am dying to read THE BURIED GIANT.

ATPT: Lastly, do you have any words for your loyal fans? I know there  are legions of people dying to read Find Me on publication day.

LvdB: I am truly grateful to anyone who reads FIND ME. Thank you!

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