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Author Interview: Lisa Romeo

Author Interview: Lisa Romeo

Today I am pleased to welcome Lisa Romeo on to the blog with a quick interview! She’s come up with some fascinating answers!


What was your favourite thing about writing your book?
Odd as it may sound, my favourite thing may have been not knowing what I was doing until I got very near the end of the process. In that way, I was able to play around as a writer, try different forms, structures, etc. For years, I thought I was writing an essay collection, linked by a common thread, and I went on that way for about six years, writing short pieces (and publishing many of them), assuming they’d all fall into place at some point. When I realized that wasn’t happening and I set out to rewrite as one linear narrative, the fun was being a bit lost, not knowing quite how to do that and then finding out that I could.

Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
The obvious answer would be my dad, since the book is about how I rediscovered who he was after he passed away. But purely in terms of a character who (for the reader) is a bit surprising and compelling, I’ll say it’s Uncle Silvio. He’s a bit of a bad boy, stirs up trouble, but was my father’s closest sibling, a comrade in business, and the person Dad most enjoyed visiting with when he would come from Las Vegas and stay at my house in New Jersey for weeks at a time. Uncle Silvio helped buy my first horse, he worked side by side with Dad for 40 years, and after Dad was gone, it was he who – sometimes by dint of irascible behaviour – made me mad and made me laugh and most of all, made me wish my father was still around to corral him.

What is your favourite drink to consume while writing?
I go through at least five bottles of spring water each day year-round, and always keep the lid on because I’m clumsy. But I live in a drafty old house, and so in the winter I do love a hot chocolate each afternoon, and sometimes drop a small piece of chocolate into the bottom of the (covered) cup!

Do you have any bad habits while you’re writing?
Occasionally, I’ll fall into the rabbit hole of “research,” usually starting at YouTube to confirm something from pop culture in the past – a scrap of song lyrics, a movie title, the way an event was reported on the evening news — and then before you know it, I’ve clicked six links and am buying shoes.

Worse is when I can’t read in the morning what I’ve scribbled down during a brainstorm in the night. I keep a notebook next to my bed, and my son even bought me a pen that has a built-in flashlight. But inevitably, the next morning, I can only make out a word or two. And of course, I’m always convinced that those indecipherable lines are the ones that would fix whatever writing issue I was stuck on!

How did you research your book?
What’s interesting about researching a memoir is that, perhaps contrary to what many might think, it doesn’t all come out of memory (though it begins there). I uncovered a lot of detail that I could have never known myself by talking to my elder relatives and friends of my father. I ran a bunch of things by my sister, who is 12 years older than me and also saw a different side of my parents, who were struggling financially when she was a child, but by the time I was 10 (and she had moved out), they had grown wealthy. I spent a fair amount of time watching old movies and TV shows I remember Dad liking, listening to music he loved and tracking down the artists and years they were popular. Dad’s own scrapbooks and my parents’ photos and other memorabilia were helpful too.

Sometimes I was pleased to confirm things I had suspected but wasn’t quite sure about. Other times, I was surprised or disappointed to learn that an old family story was probably not true after all.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A bit of both. Very often I know precisely where or how I want something to end – what I want a reader to encounter/understand by the end, so to some extent, I plan things out as a plotter might. And that was mostly true of Starting with Goodbye. However, while I’m inside the work, writing everything that comes between the opening lines and the ending, I’m feeling around in the dark, trying to figure things out as I go. That’s largely what writing memoir, personal essay, and other creative nonfiction is about anyway—continually excavating the layers of experience to find out what it all meant, what it has to say about being human. I find I never really understand that deeper meaning until I’ve written and written and worked it out on the page. Often, it’s not what I thought it might be. That makes me something of a pantser.

If you could live in any fictional world, which would you choose and why?
I often tell my husband I want to live in any Jane Austen world, and he smartly points out I wouldn’t last a day without the central heating cranked up, a shopping mall nearby, and late-night comedy TV. That said, almost every time I finish a novel I’ve loved, I want to crawl back inside that fictional world, no matter what it was. I recently finished A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline, and longed for the windy, rocky landscape and harsh rural life of mid-1900s Maine (again, disregarding how I adore luxury).

If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
I’m going to cheat a bit on this and name a “character” from nonfiction books by Bill Bryson. I’d love to befriend the bloke he is in the pages of his memoirs and travel narratives; yes, technically that’s the author, but it’s also someone else he’s invented on the page as the ideal narrator – a terribly curious guy who sees things from a slightly skewed angle and is endlessly delighted by human beings and the things they do and say. I like to imagine we’d have fun on a road trip in any continent. Also, he’s an American who’s gotten to live in the UK for most of his adult life, something I fancy would suit me just fine.

About the Book

Starting with Goodbye asks if it’s ever too late to reconnect with a parent. When Lisa Romeo’s late father drops in for “conversations,” she wonders why the parent she dismissed in life now holds her spellbound. As their relationship shifts, Lisa reconsiders her affluent upbringing (filled with horses and lavish vacations), and the emotional distance that grew when he left New Jersey and retired to Las Vegas. She questions death rituals, family dynamics, Italian-American customs, midlife motherhood, and her own marriage as grief transforms and proves it’s never too late to love the parent who challenged us.

About the Author

Lisa Romeo’s first book is Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, (University of Nevada Press, May 2018). Her short work is cited in Best American Essays 2016, and published in dozens of popular and literary venues, including the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Brevity, and Under the Sun. Lisa teaches with Bay Path University’s MFA program. A former equestrian journalist and public relations specialist, Lisa completed an MFA degree at Stonecoast (University of Southern Maine) and is the recipient of several grants and awards. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.

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Would you want to live in a Jane Austen world?

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