Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Laura van den Berg. Her new novel, The Third Hotel, is available from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

This is Laura’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 224 on November 10, 2013.

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Laura BW 2 Your first book, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, came out in 2009. Now it’s 2013. What have you been up to for the last four years?

I lived in Gettysburg, PA, for a year and once saw a civil war reenactor at the grocery store. I lived in Baltimore for three years and fell hard for that place. Baltimore has its issues, but art is everywhere. For a year, I taught fiction at an all-boys high school. The rest of the years, I taught fiction to college kids and to adults. I learned to throw a decent left hook. I leaned how to sleep on planes. I got married. I wrote another story collection and a novel and started another novel set in Cuba. I moved to Massachusetts. I have to say, it’s been a good stretch, these last four years. 



There are four of them.

Dana, Jackie, Pinky, and Cora are cousins. Pinky is also Dana’s little brother. They call themselves the Gorillas because all gangs need a name—see Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Stopwatch Gang, Winter Hill Gang—and also because they wear gorilla masks during their hold-ups. They are criminals, but they still have rules: no hostages, small scores, never stay in one town for more than a week. It’s late summer and they’re roving through the Midwest, from motel to motel, making just enough to keep going. Dana watches the impossibly flat landscapes of Lafayette and Oneida pass through the car window and wonders how they all ended up here. Why didn’t they go to school and get regular jobs and get married and live in houses? The short answer: they are a group of people committed to making life as hard as possible.

Recently, in the fine media tradition of griping about how sick everybody is of talking about something—and thereby talking about it more—I read a tweet that quipped, “Can we stop talking about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 already?”

The answer is no.

Some people dream of being chased by Bigfoot. I found it hard to believe at first, but it’s true. I was driving back from Los Angeles in August, after a summer of waiting tables and failed casting calls, when I saw a huge wooden arrow that pointed down a dirt road, “actors wanted” painted across it in white letters. I was in Northern California and still a long way from Washington, but I followed the sign down the road and parked in front of a silver airstream trailer. It was dark inside and I felt the breeze of a fan. The fat man behind the desk said he’d never hired a woman before. And then he went on to describe exactly what happens at the Bigfoot Recreation Park. People come here to have an encounter with Bigfoot. Most of their customers have been wanting this moment for years. I would have to lumber and roar with convincing masculinity. I can do that, I said, no problem. And I proved it in my audition. After putting on the costume and staggering around the trailer for a few minutes, bellowing and shaking my arms, I stopped and removed the Bigfoot mask. The fat man was smiling. He said I would always be paid in cash.

Why do you like to write about monsters so much?

I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this question so I can better understand my monster fixation myself. With the new film adaptation, I’ve been thinking a lot about Where The Wild Things Are, which was one of my most beloved books as a child. I loved the feelings of magic and fear that it evoked in me and I was also enamored with the idea of these creatures spiriting Max away to a different kind of world—a desire that is often found in the characters that populate What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.