Monday, April 27, 2020

Q&A with Gretchen Berg

Gretchen Berg, photo by Ann Schluter Kowaliczko
Gretchen Berg is the author of the new novel The Operator. She lives in Chicago.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Operator, and for your character Vivian?

A: Vivian was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who worked as a switchboard operator in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. My mom told me she used to eavesdrop on all the conversations, which made me laugh.

There was a jarring event in their family that occurred in the early '50s, and I thought it would have had an added element of shock if my grandma had happened to find out about it via her eavesdropping. Hearing people talking about it over the telephone lines.

Q: The novel is set mostly in the early 1950s--did you need to do much research to write the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: I did a lot of research, and the research spanned roughly three and a half decades, although the majority of the story takes place in the early 1950s.

I think the most surprising thing was when I was reading about the I Love Lucy episode.

Americans were obsessed with Lucy, and paid more attention to her having a baby than they did to Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential inauguration, which took place the day after the Lucy episode aired. All the buzz was about Lucy's baby.

Q: The book takes place in Wooster, Ohio. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: Setting is extremely important. Even the town's name, Wooster, is so evocative for me. The story would have had a much different feel if it had taken place in a larger city, or somewhere outside the Midwest.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: Hope is the key word! I would love readers to come away from the book feeling hopeful and inspired, and just happy. We need some of that right now.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on another novel, more historical fiction. There's another family inspiration-connection, also from my maternal, Irish, Wooster-origin side of the family.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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