If the city of Rome is a seductive and unpredictable character, Elizabeth from New York is our skilled narrator
I meet Elizabeth in the late afternoon when the streets begin to become noisier by the minute, in a typical roman café in the ghetto, right in the heart of the city. It couldn’t be otherwise since her flash memoir refers to many coffee places in Rome and it seems like cafés are the best (or the worst) places where the protagonist, a young expat, keeps bumping into several “Marcos”, a hilarious stereotype for the Italian men.
After having read a preview of The Marco Chronicles, I had somehow made up in my mind an idea of this New York writer who has lived in the Eternal City for more than two decades. I imagined how she might look or talk. The witty, smart and somehow cynical pages of The Marco Chronicles gave me an hint of Elizabeth’s personality as she appears in real life.
Elizabeth arrives at the bar table, she sits and goes straight to the point, deep diving into the genesis of her personal essay based in Rome, written at one point in 2007. It was actually a friend of hers who suggested she should write a book about all the funny things that happened to her while dating Italian men. Then in 2012, she met the Shebooks Editor from San Francisco. As Elizabeth explains, Shebooks was a start-up run by women, for women, committed to bringing women into the digital publishing business.
“The editor at Shebooks said, I really love your fiction, but it’s kind of dark. So she asked me, Don’t you have anything that sounds like you over lunch? And I said: “Well, I have this one thing. It’s been sitting around for a long time…”
Shebooks didn’t wait long, they bought the book’s rights and The Marco Chronicles became a huge success. It turned into an audiobook and a play at the Rome English Theatre. It was also a best seller in the categories of travel, memoir, humour and women.
The short essay will be published anew in the fall with the Santa Fe Writers Project, on 3 September 2022 and it will include “The Violet Hour,” a short story from Geoghegan’s masterful collection Eightball.
We pause over a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, our conversation going back and forth between her writing routine and her life in Rome.
Elizabeth moved to Rome in the late 90s to finish writing a novel set in Italy but actually she never left since that time. And she also never finished the book she came to write, she adds with a smile. Elizabeth reveals to me that she didn’t speak a word of Italian. She has learned it only later on, one step at a time. When she arrived in Rome she had two suitcases and a laptop (a true novelty in Italy at that time!) She checked into a hotel near Campo de’ Fiori and she started looking for a place, circling the adverts in a newspaper with a pen, sitting at her local bar.
As she was supposed to remain in Rome for only three months, I wonder what made her fall in love with the Italian capital. It is the city that made her stay, she says. She didn’t stay for love, that’s for sure.
“I love Rome because I feel like it’s the city that globalization forgot”
and she adds: “You know it has changed here and there, you can use an App to book a taxi and you can find a Nike store and other things, but, it is not like every city in Europe.”
“Rome is still pure, it has resisted some global changes. And I think that’s why nothing works and yet you can live a life that is unpredictable, that it is not mapped down. It is full of surprises.”
In her daily teaching job, whether it is travel or food writing or memoir, Elizabeth uses Rome as an inspiration playground to stimulate creativity in her students. She teaches creative writing to young people in their twenties. For Elizabeth, writing is an experiential learning rather than a conceptual process. She encourages her students to think outside the box and not always refer to their smartphones and Google Maps.
“Writing is a distance sport, not a sprint. It is a practice, a bit like meditation, it takes time.”
Talking about the challenges of sticking to a writing routine, Elizabeth is sure: “The hardest part of being a writer is to give yourself permission to write. Just think about sentences and paragraphs”.
Elizabeth’s mentor is the late Lucia Berlin, an American short story writer. Although she was well known within her circle, Lucia Berlin was not famous during her life. She died in 2004 and only in 2015, did her work become known worldwide, to the point that Pedro Almodovar will make a film based on her stories. This is due to be released next year and it will be the Director’s first English feature-length film. “It is going to be a big deal,” Elizabeth says with enthusiasm and anticipation.
We speak about having the courage to write autobiographical stories and learning to take distance from our fears. Unfortunately, Elizabeth learned it the hard way.
She always wanted to become a writer but only when her brother died at 27 years old, did she dare to purse her passion and become a writer.
“We learned that lesson. Life is short. You never know.”
Not by chance, Eightball is dedicated to her brother, she tells me, and it is made of eight stories based in different locations. One of them is Rome – of course!- and it refers to a true crime story. Interestingly, this is one of the few stories where the main character is not an American woman but a young Italian man from Rome.
Elizabeth’s deep knowledge of the Italian social and cultural landscape emerges from the Roman story, together with a hint of darkness and the capacity to capture the image, sweet and sour, always fascinating, of the Italian capital.
While the collection of stories Eightball is available in English and Spanish, The Marco Chronicles will be published anew in the fall and will be available in English language bookstores such as:
- Otherwise bookshop
- Almost Corner Bookshop
- Anglo American Bookshop
- Libreria Borri Books – Stazione Termini Roma
Find out more about Elizabeth: