I first met Lisa at HippoCamp 2016 where I attended her incredibly useful session on writing about one topic across multiple pieces. That was my first writing conference ever, and I was so intimidated by everyone that I only spoke to something like five people, of which Lisa was one. We chit chatted in the waiting area to pitch agents and editors for our then-unpublished memoirs, and although I don’t think either of us found our publisher at that pitch session (I didn’t at any rate) both of our books debut the same year.
I’m pleased to welcome Lisa to the Deb Ball, and introduce everyone to her lyrical and poignant memoir.
Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss 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 (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 their new father-daughter relationship transforms grief and delivers powerful lessons about the bonds that last past death.
On to the interview!
What is one thing that’s making you happy right now?
Both sons (20 and 24) are home for a while, and that means lingering over meals, telling stories and making each other laugh. I love a full nest, especially now that we’re all adults (well, alleged adults). And it’s great to have help with practical matters like technology and reaching the wine glasses on the top shelf!
Where do you love to be?
At a great hotel. As a kid, we traveled a lot and I got very comfortable in hotels. I just love them, and that includes ultra-modern full-service hotels in major cities, gracious well-preserved old-world resorts nestled in mountains or along coastlines, and everything in between as long as it’s top notch. As soon as I step inside, I feel my parents around me, I feel like a treasured, precious child, as if the world is at my feet and anything is possible. My husband and I are very frugal people in everyday life, but I will use up every mileage and credit card point we have to splurge on a fabulous hotel. If I’m going to take time to plan, organize, pack, and travel, I want to end up someplace that’s a whole lot nicer than my own house. Also, a great hotel lobby is one of my favorite places to write.
The road to publication is twisty at best—tell us about some of your twists.
Oh, there are so many stories, but I’ll tell you a happy one instead of the other kind. I found my publisher (University of Nevada Press) because I went to a writers’ conference, a four-hour drive from home, on the spur of the moment. When I struck up a conversation with the director of the press, I had no idea who he was; he looks quite young for his age and I thought he might be an intern. I had a contract three weeks later. The backstory is that I’d been rewriting and submitting various versions of the manuscript on and off for several years and was nearly about to shelve it. When I thought I’d never get married, my mother said, “It only takes one.” The same is true about a publisher.
When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
A sportswriter covering the NHL for the New York Times.Before I started riding horses, I played ice hockey and was a rabid New York Rangers fan. My high school journalism class took a field trip to the Times,and I snuck away from the group to find the sports department. I wanted to meet Robin Herman, the regular TimesRangers beat reporter. I asked the nearest man at a desk (Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Red Smith), where I could find Mr. Herman, and he said, “You mean Miss,” and pointed. When I saw her, it was as if the seas parted. This was 1975 and she was the Times’ first female sports journalist. Role models matter!
Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?
I do write poetry and some has been published, but I’m totally untrained in that discipline, so it’s all hit or miss. I’ve been writing more prose poetry, though I’m never sure whether that’s nonfiction or a poem! I’ve written a half-dozen short stories (fiction) but for now they are living in the computer; I do it mostly for fun and don’t have the courage to show them to anyone yet. But I’m getting braver.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I was doing freelance public relations projects for a major real estate company, and they asked me to be their first “mystery buyer”. They suspected that some houses weren’t selling because of questionable sales agent practices. For two years, I drove around New Jersey on Sundays, stopping at open houses, pretending to be house hunting. Agents were doing their nails, entertaining friends, watching sports on TV (complete with pizza and beer), not bothering to turn on lights, and couldn’t answer basic questions (how many bedrooms?). Once, I walked in on a séance, and another time two agents were getting cozy. But I also saw a lot of fabulous kitchens and always came home each week with a new remodeling scheme, driving my poor husband crazy.
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Lisa Romeo is the author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss(University of Nevada Press, May 2018). Her nonfiction is listed in Best American Essays 2016,and has been published in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Longreads, Under the Gum Tree, Brevity,Hippocampus, and many other places.Lisa teaches with Bay Path University’s MFA program, and works as a freelance editor and writing coach. A former equestrian journalist and public relations specialist, she completed an MFA at Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine. Lisa lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and sons.
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