• Charmaine Wilkerson

On travel writing and other thoughts from the author of eightball

A palpable sense of place characterizes the writing in eightball (Santa Fe Writers Project, 2019) a new collection of stories by Elizabeth Geoghegan, a Rome-based writer and lecturer at John Cabot University there. We find her characters in different cities and countries as they grapple with relationships and face personal challenges like loss and addiction. In this interview, Geoghegan talks about the stories in this collection and shares her views on the role of location in writing.

You’ve been called a travel writer? Is this a misleading description?

EG: Well, once upon a time travel writing as a genre included fiction, but this has become a less prevalent idea in literary circles. It seems that nowadays prose writers often try to distance themselves from travel writing because it has become so closely linked to the “lists” we see that are ever popular on social media. But undeniably, eightball is populated with travel stories. For me, landscape always plays a role. My characters are restless and on the move. They are as often outsiders in their own homes or cities, as they are when finding themselves in far-flung places. This is as true in “Pura Goa Lawah” which is set in Bali as it is in “Tree Boy” which takes place in Seattle. As a writer, I always consider the setting to be as much a character as any of my protagonists. So, no, I wouldn’t say it is entirely misleading but, truthfully, I don’t think of myself as a travel writer so much as a writer who travels.

The writing in your new story collection touches on the highly personal impact of things like addiction, desire and loss. But you also explore broader social issues like class, joblessness and financial exploitation. How did these issues come to the fore?

EG: Definitely, loss has always been a narrative thread in my work since I began writing. I didn’t really choose it so much as it chose me. In truth, I never think about issues or what a story might be about when I write it. Of course, I do observe certain situations or scenarios – even people -- and wonder if they might work in a story, but I never map things out or really have a clear intention. I don’t like to know what the ending will be when I begin I like the “journey” (for lack of a better word), the figuring it out as I go. Most often, the stories come to me through sound – almost like music. I’ll get a line or a phrase in my head and I put it down. Then I just riff on it and see where it carries me. When I finish a story, I’m often surprised what the take-away is when someone reads it afterward.

You wrote these stories over a significant span of time. How does that feel, now, looking at this body of work?

EG: I never intended to be a short story writer, so the fact that I have a collection at all is a bit of a surprise to me. The first story I wrote was “Cricket Boy,” followed by “Tree Boy.” I wrote them out of frustration with a novel I’d been working on over the course of several years. I decided that it might be a good idea to actually write something I could finish. After those two were completed, I thought I’d try a series. But circumstances kept me from continuing. I essentially stopped writing for about a decade. Midway through that writing hiatus, I wrote “Mother’s Day”—but only because I found the first paragraph in a discarded notebook from a summer spent in Paris. Reading it, I realized I knew what the structure of the story would be, not so much what would happen next, but how it would unfold. I wrote that story in a café in Trastevere over the course of a few days. I remember it was raining in Rome, so it was also raining in the story.

You wrote the other stories more recently, including the title story.

EG: I didn’t conceive of any of them as a being part of a collection. I thought the "Boy" stories were a separate thing, but at a certain point, I began to see how they might fit together and compiled them as a manuscript. Originally, I had a piece of flash fiction as the eighth story, but I wanted something more substantial. By chance, I found an abandoned chapter from the novel I’d worked on in graduate school. I took the first line and started over, and that became the title story. In in a sense, “eightball” operates as a prequel to my unfinished novel, which picked up several years later. Now when I look back I see what I learned by writing each of story and also how my obsessions both changed and, yet ultimately, stayed the same.

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