Drunk on Ink Q & A with Lisa Romeo and ‘Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss’
Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018
Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press). Her short nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016, and has appeared in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Brevity, Under the Sun, Hippocampus, The Manifest Station, Brain Child, Sweet, Inside Jersey, and many other places. She teaches in an MFA program and lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.
Starting with Goodbye, published by University of Nevada Press, asks if it’s ever too late to (re)connect 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. Lisa reconsiders her affluent upbringing 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 their new father-daughter relationship transforms grief and delivers powerful lessons about the bonds that last past death.
Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?
Lisa Romeo: From the time I could read at age 5, there were so many children’s books about horses that I read in nonstop gulps, and I can’t remember the name of a single one. The earliest books I remember for certain loving were National Velvet by Enid Bagnold, and Karen by Marie Killilea. The former because I lived and breathed horses, the latter I think because it was the first nonfiction book I read for pleasure and I was so taken by the idea that someone’s life—a non-famous person—could be in a book
To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?
One glass of Moscato or Riesling. Unless I’m hot, then I only want ice cold water!
A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?
Hmm…this is tricky. I want to ask, mandatory for whom? But absent that, the way I’m feeling most days, I’d say “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.
Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?
A lot of them! I read nonstop, but my schooling didn’t include a lot of classics…or maybe it did and I can’t remember. Which I suppose means I need to read or re-read them all. I think in my teens I would have had more patience for Jane Austen, especially because I always longed to live in England.
A favorite quote from your book J
“This father is gone, never was, and is sitting right next to me.”
Your favorite book to film?
Favorite Indie Book Store/s?
Just a few miles from home: Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ. The staff really know their stock and make interesting recommendations but will also leave you alone; there are author events at the store several times a week; and it has that quiet but sublimely buzzy vibe I like in a bookstore.
The one thing you wish you’d known about the writing life?
How long the learning curve is, how that learning curve never ends, how you’re never really finished nor completely satisfied with what you’ve produced, even after it’s published!
Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?
I’ve just published my first book, so I can’t speak to what it will be like to move on to book two. Though I’m guessing: equally difficult! I’ve published hundreds of essays, articles, and other short nonfiction pieces, and each one poses its own challenge to write and place. It doesn’t get easier, you just know more and can avoid the obvious mistakes.
Dog, Cat, Or?
I’m a horse person from way back. I had five horses over about 17 years, and I rode and competed in hunter-jumper horse shows from my teens to my early 30s.
Favorite book cover?
This changes constantly! I suppose I should say my own, since it’s a photograph of my father that I took. But recently, my favorite cover is Still Life with Horses, a memoir by Jean Harper. A horse’s eye is very special and the artist (Benedicte Gele) captured it perfectly in pastels and chalk. Take a look, you’ll see.
Strictly because it takes me back to meeting my husband and hearing him sing for the first time: “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. (My husband, I must note, became the anti-thesis to the neglectful father in the song!)
Recommend a Small Press and Literary Journal?
Sarabande Books does a lot of interesting things with essay and other nonfiction forms.
Missouri Review, for overall consistency and readability. I’m never disappointed.
Last impulse book buy and why?
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. Because I was wandering through a bookstore after doing a reading, and my eye always lands on books about death and the many things that might come after! (I’m strange that way).
Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.
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Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction
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Thrity Umrigar, The Secrets Between Us, novel
John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel
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Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery
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Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood
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