Emailing with author Maggie Shipstead. Edith Zimmerman: Maggie! Okay. You travel a lot, but I know you recently (?) went to Bali. How and why was that?
Maggie Shipstead: So, I was in Bali from mid-November to mid-December of 2011. It was a time when I otherwise didn’t really know what to do with myself. A friend of mine had just been to Bali and posted the most amazing pictures, and I was like, “Me too!” I found a little guesthouse online in a town called Ubud that I rented from an American woman who’s lived there for 15 years — it was really pretty and nice. I spent a month in India once, and since then I’ve felt okay about making comfort a priority when I travel. I know I can sleep on a Himalayan bus if I have to, but hopefully I won’t have to ever again. Anyway, after Bali I went to Paris for three months on an artist residency, and after that I spent a month in Edinburgh, so when I described my schedule to people, they’d be like, “Um . . . are you Eat, Pray, Love-ing?”
So it basically WAS some kind of Eat, Pray, Love?
Well, I certainly ate. No praying, though, and I’m not outgoing when I travel, which dramatically reduces the odds of any love. Elizabeth Gilbert says in that book that her superpower is an ability to make friends wherever she goes — that is so not me. I spent eight months alone on Nantucket when I was writing my first book, and my takeaway from that whole time was that a) left to my own devices, I won’t make any friends because b) I’m kind of a furtive skulker, and c) I don’t really get lonely and so am not motivated. Plus, you can’t really Eat, Pray, Love (it’s a verb) unless you’re on a personal quest of some kind. I just wanted to go to Bali. It turns out, though, that I work most efficiently when I’m alone in an unfamiliar place. I wrote my second book in the five months between when I got to Bali and when I left Edinburgh, so now I’ve set myself up to be dependent on this weird, solitary, nomadic lifestyle. My landlady’s housekeeper in Ubud worried about me a little and would be like, “Maybe you come back next year and bring friends.” I’d be like, “Mmmm, probably not.”