Vermont writer Megan Mayhew Bergman’s debut collection of short stories, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,’’ wowed critics and wound up on numerous year-end best-of lists. Her new collection “Almost Famous Women,’’ came out last week and has already won oodles of praise. She is working on her first novel.
WATCH THE BIRDIES: I work in an old veterinary clinic. Thirty years ago, my husband’s parents moved to Shaftsbury, Vt., and bought a farmhouse that had an old veterinary practice on the property. Five or six years ago, they moved the clinic five miles down the road, and that’s where my office now is. There are lots of little exam rooms that we’ve turned into a guesthouse that we call “The Kennel.” My office is in the old veterinarian’s office. It overlooks my garden and our goat and chicken pasture. We have two big rescue Nubian goats and 11 chickens. The goats are terribly distracting, and I love watching the chickens. In the spring, we can’t let them free-range because they destroy the garden, and the foxes are hungry, but in the fall and winter we do, and they’re fascinating. They have all these little passions and social complexities.
DOWN ON THE FARM: I wish I had a typical writing day, but living on a small farm in Vermont with two kids doesn’t lend itself to that. My husband usually does barn duty in the morning, then we take the kids to school. I usually have from about 9-2 to work in my office. There’s usually a dog asleep at my feet. It’s pretty quiet.
NOVEL INFIDELITY: I tend to cheat on my books. I’m always reading four books and writing four books. [I’m writing a novel| and sometimes, when the novel’s not working for me, I write short stories . . . My brain thinks in the narrative arcs of short stories, and I’ve always got one going.
LET IT GO: One of the bravest and smartest aspects of being a writer is knowing when to let go. I have found that the better I get as a writer . . . the more I believe in throwing things away . . . I still really believe in the muse, and I know when something has that extra crackle, and I know if I lose passion and interest, the reader will, too. I know something’s a go when I can explain it to my mom.
THE WOMAN WARRIOR: I love writing about strong, physical women. I like women who want something. When you feel a character wanting to accomplish something, it has narrative power. I like seeing women as a heroes in their own stories, wanting something other than romantic love, but motivated by passion. “Almost Famous Women’’ represents 10 years of my reading life. I love reading biographies about unusual women. I really felt that there were a lot of interesting women who were reduced to footnotes, like James Joyce’s daughter Lucia, a modern dancer. Many of these women have one biography about them, often out of print. Writing about them was a way to let these women live. [But the hardest part of writing historical fiction] is deciding how much to be constrained by fact. I have two masters’ degrees, and I have a responsibility to be true . . . as much as anything is true, to really focus on my intentions of writing a good story, not romanticizing the past, and keeping my social agenda off the page. I’m a feminist, but people just want a good story.
Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson @gmail.com.
Correction: Megan Mayhew Bergman’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.