Part II of my interview with Eliese Colette Goldbach, author of Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit

In Part I of this interview, Eliese told us a story of the steel mill that didn’t make it into her memoir and about how being a female steelworker helped her find her strength. She talked about hope and despair and holding on through tough times. And she talked about her current work, teaching writing to college students, and about how she shaped the narrative we’re all talking about. If you missed Part I, be sure to catch up, here.

Today, I’m happy to invite the author back. Eliese Colette Goldbach is the author of Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, published by Flatiron Books in 2020.

Eliese Colette Goldbach, author of Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit  Photo credit: Cheryl DeBono/Michaelangelos Photography

“…Eliese dreamed of escaping Cleveland and achieving greatness in the convent as a nun.” Instead, as a steelworker at ArcelorMittal Cleveland, she “discovers solace in the tumultuous world of steel, unearthing a love and a need for her hometown she didn’t know existed.” *

Eliese, your debut memoir was published to lots of praise and national attention. One reviewer compared Rust to Hillbilly Elegy. How did that sit with you? How do you come down on the Elegy issue?

There are definitely parallels between Rust and Hillbilly Elegy. They’re Midwestern memoirs—and Ohio memoirs, in particular—and both stories try to capture the spirit of a misunderstood place through the people who inhabit it. I think readers have a lot to learn from any account written by a native-born soul, especially when that soul is writing about “forgotten” places like the Rust Belt and Appalachia, so I don’t begrudge the comparison. I do, however, fear that some of the generalizations and moralizations made in Hillbilly Elegy aren’t as nuanced or productive as they claim to be.

In addition to memoir, you write essays. And I read a hysterically funny piece of dark humor you wrote published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: “An Open Letter to Everyone in the Event of My Likely Demise While Hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Can you tell us what inspired you to write the piece—and where you learned to write funny? Also, can you tell us a little about what you are writing, now?

I’ve always had a little bit of a funny bone buried deep inside. You wouldn’t know it when you meet me. I’m really shy and reserved at first. I smile a lot. I don’t say much. New friends always assume that I’m nice and uncomplicated, but then I’ll land a zinger out of nowhere. People always do a double-take. “Did Eliese really say that? She’s always so quiet!” Humor writing is the perfect way for this unabashed introvert to say something funny. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed clicking through the pages of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. It never fails to make me laugh. When you read enough of something, you kind of internalize the prevailing tone. From there, you can experiment with your writing and go wild.

In truth, though, I have to give my best friend credit for lighting the spark behind this particular piece. I was actually making plans to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail at the time, and my friend and I started joking around about all the things that could go wrong. I’m pretty sure we were mostly talking about bears. “This should be in McSweeney’s,” she said. The rest is history. I immediately set to work writing. I submitted the draft a few days before setting out for Springer Mountain, and I got the acceptance letter while crashing at a hostel in Georgia. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it very far on the trail. I fractured my heel bone, which made walking pretty painful, but at least I have a little humor to show for it!

As far as current projects go, I’m a little leery of jinxing myself. The process of hammering out my next book idea has involved a lot of dead-end drafts. A few months ago, I told people, “I’m writing a book about X!” Then X changed to Y, so I said, “I’m writing a book about Y!” Now Y has changed to Z and I’m all out of sorts. I’m hoping that Z will stick, but I don’t want to press my luck. We’ll just say that the next book will likely involve a lot of research, although it’ll still be grounded in my personal experience.   

For us avid readers, could you give us some recommendations? A few recent favorites from authors in the Cleveland area or beyond? A memoir? Creative nonfiction? A novel or story collection? Poetry?

Admittedly, I’ve been diving deep into the research component of “Book Project Z” lately. Most of the reading material on my nightstand is pretty old-fashioned. St. Augustine. Emile Durkheim. David Hume. I’ve also been immersed in A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America, which is both riveting and gut-wrenching. I strongly recommend it. When it comes to all-time favorites, I always mention the work of David Giffels. Barnstorming Ohio was an absolute pleasure. Another must-read. And I have to give a shout out to poet Damien McClendon. We both read at an event a few months back, and I was just so taken with his words. Have you ever felt sapped as a writer? Maybe the inspiration has run dry.

Maybe the ideas aren’t flowing. Maybe the cursor on the computer screen fills you with dread. Then, all of a sudden, you hear another writer create something beautiful with language and you feel like you can keep going.

That’s what Damien McClendon’s poetry did for me. I was slogging through my writing at the time, and his words gave me a much-needed dose of inspiration.

Of course, this is a reading and writing blog, Eliese, but we need fuel to do both. Also, I’m always longing for food from home. So, what’s a hometown food you can’t live without?

Definitely pierogis! With lots of sour cream!

*Quotes from the book jacket copy

~~~

Thank you again to Eliese Colette Goldbach.

Be sure to check out the author’s website, and don’t forget to purchase her book–and let me know how much you love it!

Like this interview? Comment below or on my FB page. And please share with your friends and social network. Want more author interviews, book reviews, writing advice, and general Rust Belt goodness? Follow me here. Thanks! ~Rebecca

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5 things writing junk mail taught me about writing everything else

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Dear <<future customer>> / <<future donor>>,

I hope your last contact with us left you feeling all the feels you want to feel–and none you don’t.

Please consider paying those feels forward by purchasing our <<product>> / <<affiliation>> / <<service>> / <<whatnot>>…

You get the picture, right? Junk mail? Or maybe you don’t.

Truth is, most junk mail gets thrown out unopened, landing in the recycling bin before its myriad literary merits can be appreciated.

Yep, you guessed it. I’m a junk mail writer. And I am not ashamed. (OK, I’m a bit ashamed.) I don’t often talk about my day job here at Rust Belt Girl–I’m a compartmentalizer–but I got my start as a communications and marketing writer creating junk (ahem) direct mail for a large insurance company we will nickname Lizard. In the ensuing years I’ve found my niche in article-writing for universities and health systems. I tell the stories of students, alumni, professors, doctors, patients and donors. But I cut my teeth on junk. So, here they are:

5 things writing junk mail taught me about writing (in descending order for big feels):

5. Formulas are formulas because they work. As a student of creative writing, I eschewed formulaic writing. I ascribed to the whims and meanderings of the muse! In the business world, I learned that, just as no one wants to read a blog post that meanders for 5,000 words, no one wants to read a direct mail solicitation that strays from a tried-and-tested path. And so here we have one five-paragraph formula for direct mail appeals: #1: Lead; #2: Introduction of signer and idea; #3: Exploration of idea and connection to the reader; #4 Ask; #5: Wrap-up and thanks. I dare say we could apply this same formula to blog writing even–with the ask not for money but for time. Stick around my blog; I’ll show you why you should. Which brings me to…

4. Persuasion is an art worth studying. Oh, Aristotle. I’m sure my former English 101 students tired of me fawning over the big guy of persuasion, but I’m still not done. By thinking about Ethos (Greek for “character”); Pathos (Greek for “suffering” or “experience”); and Logos (Greek for “logic”) in our writing, we can convince our audience of just about anything. (OK, not a geocentric universe, sorry Aristotle.)

3. We write to one reader. There is much talk of lists in the direct mail world. Basically if you’ve ever connected with any company or organization anywhere, you’re on a list. (You don’t have to be up on the news–Cambridge Analytica anyone?–to understand that lists of personal data are big business.) However, even if I’m writing to a list of thousands of people, those people are individuals. Likewise, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received as a newish blogger is to write to one unique reader: you.

2. Go ahead and try funny. I like to think I’m funny. I haven’t quite convinced my kids of this, but that doesn’t deter me. Funny on paper is even tougher. Still, it’s worth a shot. What? You don’t think funny when you think direct mail? Example: I was tasked to write a Valentine’s Day-themed appeal to former insurance customers. How to get the reader who had moved on to a new carrier to open the envelope from their ex-carrier? A “teaser,” basically a catchy lead printed on the envelope. My boss had us copywriters come up with dozens of teasers before we selected one, but this one came to me instantly. (I mean, how different is a former customer from a former lover, right?) Baby, come back. (Ok, maybe it’s not funny funny, but it still makes me chuckle, and if you too now have the 1970s Midnight Special song in your head, you’re welcome!)

1. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett wrote that, and he knew what was up. I admit it is with some trepidation that I write this post. It might fall on deaf ears; it might bomb. This, after the WordPress editors chose “My Interview with FURNISHING ETERNITY author David Giffels” to appear on WordPress Discover (cue the late, great Sally Field’s “You like me!” Oscar speech). Still, we can’t succeed if we don’t give it a go. As for direct mail, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I explain that the letter you receive from the president of your alma mater, your favorite charity, or your car insurance company was written by somebody like me, which makes me a ghostwriter of sorts. And anonymity can be freeing! How much of our writing would be better if we could forget ourselves and concentrate on our reader?

How about it? Have some writing advice to share? I’d love to get your take.

Want more writerly advice? How about literary publishing advice? Book reviews? My handy dandy categories make it easy to find what you’re looking for.

Yours <<truly>> / <<sincerely>> / <<with everlasting gratitude>>,

Rebecca