Category Archives: Elizabeth Geoghegan

Elizabeth Geoghegan: On Accidental Cocktails, Cities & Sweethearts

“Shebooks editorial director Laura Fraser was drinking a Negroni with some Italian women when one told her that everyone in Italy–tutti quanti–are talking about Shebook’s The Marco Chronicles, by Elizabeth Geoghegan. It’s creating a sensation in Italy–try it! As delicious, and slightly bitter, as a Negroni. Can you resist a book that starts, “If Rome were a woman, she’d be a whore”??? (To make a Negroni, shake equal parts red vermouth, gin, and Campari over ice and serve in a martini glass with a twist of orange).”

“How perfect,” I thought, when I saw Laura Fraser’s remarks about The Marco Chronicles. The night beforehand, friends had gathered to toast the publication of my 2nd Shebook Natural Disasters. Traditionally, August in Rome means most inhabitants have high-tailed it to the seaside or mountains for the summer holidays. In case you didn’t get the memo, in Italy, summer vacations are compulsory. At this time of year, Rome can have an almost post-apocalyptic feel. A sultry hush falls over the city, favorite cafes are shuttered, tourists trudge in circles, stunned by the heat. And yet insiders know August is the best time of year to be here, so when could be better to raise a glass and celebrate a new book? But at “casa mia” we do things with a twist, so my friends chose to “cin-cin” with a Negroni Sbagliato instead.

In Italian, “sbagliato” means mistaken. Legend has it the Negroni Sbagliato was born when a bartender accidentally splashed white wine in the place of gin. My Roman pals love anything bubbly, so we dash in Prosecco in the clear component’s stead, rendering the colorful cocktail effervescent and laced with the bitterness of Campari that Italians so favor. But why do Italians crave bitterness? Do they prefer an aperitivo or espresso “amaro” to remind them that life isn’t always sweet? Do they just like extremes? Can you only appreciate the richness Italy offers when it is paired with something tart? It seems so. And does the penchant for all things bitter explain why Italians embraced The Marco Chronicles? It might. In Italy, there is a saying, “Ciò che è amaro alla bocca è dolce al cuore” or “what is bitter to the mouth is sweet to the heart.”

When The Marco Chronicles came out, Italians and expats alike seemed to feel a kind of kinship with certain (admittedly outrageous) pronouncements I made about my adopted city and its inhabitants. But they implicitly understood that I meant no harm; if I was making fun of them, I was also ridiculing myself. It was the wink of “we get each other” not the raised eyebrow of indignation. Perhaps the Italians get me in the same way I presume to get them because we are all of us in love with the same thing: Rome. Besotted though we may be, we are also ever on the verge of divorce—albeit “Italian style,” meaning it may take years. Possibly forever! As glorious as it may sound, living in Rome (or living with Rome) is no picnic. It’s a rite of passage hard won that even the locals suffer. I’ve learned you cannot love the sweet heart (or is that actually the sweetheart?) of the matter unless you first earn it with a touch of bitterness to the tongue. In The Marco Chronicles I may never get the guy, but I most definitely get the girl. I get “La Grande Bellezza.” And in August, I get her all to myself. Like a Negroni Sbagliato, Rome sparkles but lets face it, she’s got an edge.

The Forum in Rome

Read Elizabeth Geoghegan’s latest stories with an edge in Natural Disasters.

 

Elizabeth Geoghegan: For better or worse, the city of Rome is my muse

Elizabeth Geoghegan is the author of the immensely popular Shebook The Marco Chronicles: To Rome, without love. Her second e-book, Natural Disasters, is on the way. In this fun Q&A session, Geoghegan tells how she fell for Rome, the Eternal City, and why fiction is sometimes more personal than memoir.

 

Are there any themes, characters, or imagery that you find recurring in your writing? What are they, and what is their origin?

For better or for worse, the city of Rome has become my muse. I never expected to live here for as many years as I have, and I never imagined I would write a memoir about Italy, the precedents—Henry James, Elizabeth Bowen, Goethe, D.H. Lawrence, and Mary McCarthy to name a few—are impossible to live up to. But in the end, I finally allowed myself to put down a few of my own experiences in The Marco Chronicles. I wanted to debunk some of the romantic myths about life here and about Italian men. Everyone always seems so surprised when they discover I didn’t stay in Rome for a relationship. Of course, between the lines, the real love affair is with the Eternal City.

There is a dark humor in my fiction; but definitely my nonfiction is lighter, the voice more like my speaking voice, or as my Shebooks editor has said, it “sounds like me over lunch.” Ironically, writing nonfiction feels less personal to me. Fiction comes more naturally and happens on the page in a way that I find more intriguing because it draws upon so many overlapping experiences—my own, those I imagine, events read about, overheard, or at one time recounted to me. Quite often an image will be the starting point for a piece of writing. Other times it is a simple line that I get in my head and can’t let go of until I put it down.

In both nonfiction and fiction, setting is always crucial. I am interested in the intersection between geography and intimacy—how the landscape reflects the inscape or identity of a particular character. In fiction, the theme I return to is loss—whether the literal loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or even the loss of the self. Losing one’s way as a form of exile. I predominantly write about female characters who find themselves outside of things. I try to examine how they live their lives, what they become as a result of the relationships they form, what they learn.

Do you worry about not having the authority to write about situations that you don’t know firsthand?

I think the issue of authority is more integral to nonfiction. And even so, with the proper amount of research, many are able to write about situations they have barely been exposed to and pull it off with great aplomb. However, for an essay, I prefer to write closer to my own experience.

On the other side of things, fiction writers have always been given license to make things up. And they have always written from the point of view of various characters, real or imagined, as well as from the point of view of the opposite gender with great success. It is always a question of voice.

When did you first decide you were a writer?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write. I was an early reader and I wrote my first “book” at age seven, which won a prize and meant my inclusion in a Young Author’s Conference. Since then, it has been a circuitous route toward and away from my writing, but it’s something I always knew I wanted to do.

What writing projects are you working on now?

A collection of interlocking stories where each takes place in a different city or country, and a novel set along the Silk Road. Readers can get to know my fiction in my forthcoming Shebook, Natural Disasters, which contains two short stories.

Do you currently have a job other than writing?

Yes, I teach creative writing and American Literature in several university programs here in Rome, which is something I very much enjoy.

What’s the most interesting day job you’ve had?

I have had a lot of disparate jobs, from working as a stylist for a very successful photographer in Chicago to event planning in New York, to translating Italian screenplays in Rome. But I don’t think there is really any better education for a writer than working in a bar or a restaurant. The characters and stories are there for the taking—and usually they leave you a tip at the end of the evening.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My mentor Lucia Berlin was one of the most underrated short story writers of her time. I recently discovered that FSG (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) plans to reprint one of her early story collections. I am so delighted other readers will soon be able to discover her work. She’s a true talent.

Otherwise, it occurs to me that the authors who most influenced me early on were those who lived in some form of exile (self-imposed or otherwise), apart from their culture and their native language—such as Paul and Jane Bowles, Marguerite Duras, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and Nabokov. Although I never planned on living the expatriate life, I ended up doing just that for the past fifteen years. Now it makes more sense to me why, on some intuitive level, I was always drawn to certain books that had an underpinning of exile in them. More recently, I owe a debt to Flannery O’Connor, who has had an unexpected and strong influence on me. O’Connor, too, lived in a kind of exile for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the lupus that disfigured the trajectory of her life and dictated where and how she was able to live.

Do you have a quote, mantra or thought that you’d like to end with?

“Art requires a delicate adjustment of the outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other. To know oneself is to know one’s region. It is also to know the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world.” —Flannery O’Connor

 MarcoChronicles

See what all the fuss is about: read Elizabeth Geoghegan’s hilarious short memoir The Marco Chronicles: To Rome, without love.