Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Interview with memoirist David W. Berner

Today's special guest is David W.Berner. He's sharing a bit about his new non-fiction book, Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons.

As part of his virtual book tour with WOW's The Muffin, David will be awarding a lucky commenter with an e-copy of this book. To be entered for a chance to win, leave a comment below. 

David W. Berner is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, author, and professor at Columbia College Chicago

His first book, Accidental Lessons was awarded the 2011 Royal Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature. His second memoir, Any Road Will Take You There won the 2013 Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writer’s Association for nontraditional nonfiction, and has been re-released by Dream of Things Book Publishing. His collection of essays – There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard will be released by Dream of Things in early 2015.

You also may have heard his voice regularly on the radio. He’s a reporter and anchor or CBS radio and has produced a number of audio documentaries for public radio.

He lives outside Chicago, but grew up in the Pittsburgh area and is a life-long Steelers fan.

Please tell us about your current release.
Any Road Will Take You There is a personal story based on a cross-country road trip. And I am proud and honored that the book was the Recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association. Reviewers called it “honest, unflinching, and tender.” 

I believe it is written in the tradition of the Great American Memoir. As a middle-age father, I decide to embark on a five-thousand-mile road trip – the one he always wished I had taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, I reread the iconic road story – Jack Kerouac's On the Road – and along with my two sons and my best friend, I head out for the highway to rekindle a spirit I sensed I was missing.

But there is also a family secret that turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of my role as a father, and it compels me to look to the past and the fathers who came before me in hopes of finding contentment and clarity.

The book is essentially the story of the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connect all of us.

What inspired you to write this book?
I can’t say that I was necessarily inspired to write the book. I was compelled. In the first part of Any Road Will Take You There I lay out a story of a family photograph, long hidden. It’s of four generations of men: my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and me when I was a young boy. But it was never displayed in my home because it held the secrets of the scars of the men in that snapshot. This is what got me thinking about fatherhood and my own role as a dad. The road trip turned into a deep reflection about my relationship with my father and the ones I was forming with my sons.

The father-son relationship is so intensely complicated and layered. There’s nothing like it. Men carry the DNA of all the fathers who came before them, the good and bad stuff, and we struggle trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away. And because of the long tradition of fathers who stood at a distance from their sons, believing it was the right thing to do or because they didn’t know any differently, the modern father stumbles attempting to figure out what his role is supposed to be. There are all those echoes from the past, all those long shadows. I wanted to explore this, not only because it was important to me but also because I believe it resonates with every single man.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have a collection of essays about pets that Dream of Things Publishing will release next year, 2015. These are stories about the intricate connections between man and beast, focusing on how our pets really reflect on who we are. I think the human connection with animals is incredibly deep and interesting. It’s entitled There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard.

I also have a novel I’m shopping. It’s about a young man in the 1970s who dreams of being the next rock-n-roll radio star. But a mistake in his college years throws off his plan and he has to wrestle with his own demons. He decides to confront them in a special New Year’s Eve broadcast that ultimately changes his life path forever.

And I’m also banging around an idea. It’s another personal story. I recently took a road trip to Virginia after I was unexpectedly chosen as a finalist in a songwriting competition. It was an unbelievable trip, great venue with great musicians, and it evoked a lot of thoughts on aging and how our dreams when we are young are realized or not. I wanted to be a rock star, a folk singer, and play music on stage when I was in my teens and early 20s. But I never really thought that could truly happen. Well it did–when I was 57! I think the subject of young dreams and old dreams are fascinating. I’m still sorting out my thoughts on this. But, I will be ready to write soon.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote a short book in my second grade class called The Cyclops. It was maybe five pages long. I was so proud of that book. Still have it in a storage box somewhere. It was the story of a deep-sea monster and the men who tried to capture it. The idea must have come out of all those Jacque Cousteau specials on TV back in the 1960s.

But I knew I was a professional writer when I began to get paid for writing journalism, print and broadcast, back in the late 1970s. My first writing job was in radio. I was a news reporter and had to write each day on deadline. It made focus on telling a story succinctly. It also helped me be a good editor. That’s probably why I love the rewriting or drafting process.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have a lot of jobs. I teach college, I work in broadcasting, and I’m a freelance journalist. But I really work hard at finding time to write. Sometimes it’s just notes or thoughts jotted down in a Moleskine journal. Sometimes it’s a formal sit-down to write. You have to consider writing like a job. Find a time that can be all yours and do the work.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if it’s a quirk. But I have to move around. I like writing at home, but then I have to change venues and go down the street to the coffee shop and write there awhile. Then I might sit on my porch and write there. The changing scenery, sounds, and people sort of re-boot my thinking. Oh, and I must have coffee, lots of coffee.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an oceanographer. I loved the Jacques Cousteau documentaries on television in the 1960s. All those deep-sea adventures were fascinating. Still are. Then in my teens when music became such a bit part of my life, I wanted to be one of those voices on the radio playing all that great music. I didn’t end up being a disc jockey, but I certainly got on the radio. There was also that dream of being a rock star.

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Thanks, David!

Readers, leave a comment below if you'd like a chance to win a copy of this book!

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