In college I would try to describe Palisades High to these eastern kids. They couldn’t believe that I went to a high school that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, where there wasn’t even an indoor cafeteria, where there were no interior halls, just sort of overhangs between buildings. In high school there were mornings that a bunch of us would go down to the beach and have breakfast, and you could hear the bell ring and still make it up in time for homeroom. The first semester of 11th grade, we had to do a report about an American author, and at my mother’s urging I wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald. I got so carried away, reading everything of, from, by, and about Fitzgerald, that when it came time to apply to college, I thought I’d apply where Fitzgerald went: Princeton. All his papers were there, and I discovered the correspondence between him and his editor, Maxwell Perkins, which became my senior thesis and eventually my first book. In order to write that, though, I moved back home, back into my high school bedroom. Most people think that to be a writer, you need the angst and the energy of a New York City. But I found that all so distracting. Perkins used to tell his writers, “When you write, you must go into a kind of trance state.” Los Angeles is a wonderful place for that because there’s so little change in the weather and the atmosphere that there’s very little sense of the passage of time. I sat down one day at the end of May, and when I looked up it was September and I had 1,200 pages of my first draft. And I don’t remember writing them. » Berg, 61, won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Lindbergh and is working on a biography of Woodrow Wilson.
Photograph courtesy Kentuckyauthorforum.com