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Berg’s Glitz Book Blitz

by Lisa Finn

Call it the little book that could.

Chances are, if you’ve gone anywhere at all on the East End recently, you’ve seen author Janet Berg’s new book, Glitz of the Hamptons. From bookstores to bagel shops, the little book is prominently displayed in a big way, and readers across the board have been singing its praises.

Perhaps one reason for the tome’s popularity is its heartfelt message, portrayed with aching honesty as an elderly character proceeds on an emotional journey throughout the Hamptons – searching for home.

Included in the book are renderings of Hamptons landmarks.

Berg’s own “journey” toward writing her book began when she and her husband owned a family music business, Record Stop, on Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Although the shop is now located in Lake Ronkonkoma, the memories of Westhampton Beach remained vivid.

“One day the heading of a local newspaper article caught my eye and made me think. It read, ‘Wheres the glitz of the Hamptons?’ It struck me funny,” she said. “I tried to define the meaning of glitz that day. I had never really thought of where I lived as “glitzy.” It was where I had raised my two children. It was always just home for us. So ‘glitz’ holds a different meaning for me, and many others.”

As she wrote her book, Berg felt compelled to illustrate “magic” of the Hamptons through the eyes of someone special, a character who was sensitive to the area’s natural beauty.

Of the books main character, Berg said, “I always think of my grandfather, the little Italian shoemaker – not much unlike Gepetto. A humble, hardworking man who stood proudly behind his handmade counter, mending people’s soles. The main character in my book is aging and lost, to show the younger generation compassion and respect for the elderly.

Back during the days when their shop was located in Westhampton, a deep affection for the East End was born. “The love of running the business was not material driven,” she said. “It was about the people on the street — Main Street. Locals and tourists alike.”

Berg connected with her clientele. “Sometimes I felt like a bartender,” she said. “I’d get to know customers by name, what they needed. It was great fun to talk to them, and they were grateful when we gave them good service.”

Memories of that time helped capture the magic of a Hamptons summer — an ephemeral quality intrinsically woven into the fabric of Berg’s book. “I recall one evening when an elderly white-haired gentleman stood outside on the sidewalk, and mimicked my daughter, who was standing inside the window doing the Macarena. It was very Norman Rockwell.”

Memories formed the foundation for a book that has captured the hearts of Hamptonites today. “Mixing of the young and the old, the locals and out-of-towners brought us great energy, “she said. “In retrospect, I learned about the true glitz of the Hamptons. And what was lasting wasnt really about the hype and the hoopla, the glamour and the glitter.”

Standing at the window of her shop, Berg observed the people — the children and tourists and locals who comprised the colorful canvas of Westhampton Beach. “I was inspired to write about our Hamptons villages, where the community gathered,” she said. “It’s such a shame these Main Streets aren’t in every town. Society needs Main Streets. What a wonderful thing if we could re-establish the real glitz of America, make more memories of humanity. Memories may fade a bit in our minds, but never in our hearts.”

Berg, who currently lives in East Moriches, is pursuing an MFA in Writing at Stony Brook University at Southampton. She has worked for over 10 years as a substitute teacher with elementary schoolchildren, and has recently completed a children’s chapter book and an adult novel.

Her life has been colored by her love of literature. “As a child, I was most touched by two books, Old Yeller and The Diary of Anne Frank — they were my introduction into writing.

Shy as a child, Berg later worked as a flight attendant. She traveled the world, she said, in search of something, which has actually been right here the entire time. “I still love to travel, but have finally realized that what we need most is right here. ”

As a writer, Berg draws inspiration from her surroundings. “Slow down and look at what’s around you. Animals dont fear death, so I like to observe them and learn from nature.”

Berg’s book is a tale for adults, one they can share with children, as a means of imbuing respect for the elderly.

The author has a message for her readers: “People are always curious,” she said. “They will always look for glitz. Sometimes, you’re lucky and it’s right in your backyard. Its knowing what ‘home’ means. “

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KAYLIE JONES

“I learned to write and read in French first, and the object of French, I suspect, is to be as indirect as possible, while the object of English is quite the opposite.”

The tiny blonde author, also known as Professor Kaylie Jones, glides lightly into her Creative Writing classroom at Stony Brook University at Southampton. Natalie, the teacher’s pet, a fluffy white shih-tsu, shadows her delicate movements. Jones repeats words of advice to practice reading good books: “You cannot just sit down and write a great novel. I just reread some early Hemingway stories and realized how sophisticated they are! I never understood them before, not in their innuendoes, not in their depths.”

The dog looks intently at her master, Professor Jones, turning her head as she lectures. The students in a way do the same. They’re mesmerized, eager to learn about writing from someone whose mind and sense of humor are of excess size, and who derived so much from her father before her, novelist James Jones, best known for From Here To Eternity and A Thin Red Line.

“My father was raised poor, and joined the pre-WWII Army out of desperation. I have always felt more comfortable with people who haven’t had it easy, despite the fact that financially, at least, I had a pretty easy childhood. I think I must have a sign on my forehead that says Veteran’s Daughter, because they spot me a mile away. I have a number of very close friends who are Vietnam Veterans, writers whose lives and work were influenced by my dad. I think they’re looking to adopt me, and I’m still looking for a dad, so we’re a good fit.”

Like her role model, Kaylie earned distinctions, writing several novels, including: As Soon As It Rains (1986); Quite The Other Way Around (1989); A Soldiers Daughter Never Cries (1990), her autobiography made into a movie, directed by James Ivory, starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey; Celeste (2000); and her latest novel, Speak Now (2003), and screenplays, including the award-winner Anor of Aquitain, co-written with her husband, Kevin Heisler.

My husband and I are reading more of the same books lately, so we can discuss them, something we used to do more of, before we were parents. Our daughter, Eyrna, is an eight-year-old math whiz, thank God. That means she is well-adjusted. Writing is a lonely profession.
Jones is currently working on a memoir about her mother who recently passed away, a subject that is seemingly painful for her to talk about. She describes her husband and herself as homebodies, xenophobes who live in a shotgun New York City apartment. “We’ll be emptying my mother’s house in Sagaponack soon; I have no family left in the Hamptons of my childhood; it’s gone away like the vistas of endless fields that my father loved so, a thing of the past. I’m also working on a humorous novel now, but I feel anything but funny lately.”

Having been born and raised in Paris until 1974, Kaylie goes back as often as possible. My parents settled there, the old stomping ground of my father’s literary heroes. I have a wonderful French publisher and several very close friends still there, but having lost one of my oldest friends in May, Paris seems slightly emptier to me. I have one brother, Jamie, who lives in Washington D.C. with his family, and who is probably the best thing in my life besides my husband and daughter . . . we’re very good together as a family.

When the subject switches to her daughter, Jones beams. “After a terrible, long labor and some complications, she describes waiting all night for the nurses to bring her baby girl to her. I could hear the wheels squeaking on the little plastic nursery cubicles they rolled the babies around in, passing my door. Finally, when the sky was beginning to lighten, they brought her in to me, and I nursed her while the sunlight, totally red, poured into the room. I decided to make a vow to her and to God, not to impose my vanity and my ego upon her, and to let her be whoever she was going to be. It was a hard vow to make, and an even harder one to keep! ”

Jones shared her feelings on what has changed about writing for her over the past 20 years. “It has become much easier to stare at a blank page and not panic, feel that page fright. Im not pressured to finish a book right now; I think my daughter needs me more than the literary world does at this time . . . but, I’ll always be writing.”

Jones says she imagines visiting her daughter at college in ten years from now: The little cabana in Placencia, Belize is going to have to wait . . . She recalls her own childhood, growing up in Paris, and learning Russian, her third language at the age of eight, the age of her own daughter. “They start children learning second and third languages very young in Europe, which is one of their strengths; I think that is one of the things missing in our education here. I recently met an important French minister at a function involving the Alliance Francaise, and I told him my feelings about French education: The teachers are far too mean and condescending. He answered: ‘But theyre preparing the children for the hard knocks of adulthood.’ I said. No, theyre preparing the French to be mean, which is their reputation worldwide. At first when I started to express myself through writing, I found it extremely difficult. I think this is because English is my second written language. I learned to write and read in French first, and the object of French, I suspect, is to be as indirect as possible, while the object of English is quite the opposite.”

“I wanted to be an actor when I was a teenager before my father died, but realized I didn’t have the strength of character it would take.” Kaylie Jones went to Wesleyan University for her undergraduate studies and Columbia University School of the Arts where she received her MFA in Writing. She thinks that it is tougher than ever to get noticed by big publishers today, and cheers her students to write fabulous books. “I think the battle for literary fiction is slowly or quickly being lost, but Im prepared to fight to the end!”

“The first time I really believed I wanted to write was when I was reading War and Peace. Tolstoy had been obsessed with death and dying and wrote a great deal on the subject. That was when I had the first truly spiritual revelation of my life . . . and felt Tolstoy was speaking directly to me in my rage and agony over my Dad’s recent death. I felt this great relief wash over me and I thought, My God, this man who died almost a hundred years ago can make me feel this way, then all people can find hope and salvation through the written word.”