Author Elizabeth Eslami, native of Upstate S.C., is debuting her novel, Bone Worship.
An article about Elizabeth recently appeared in her hometown and nearby papers. Read it here.
Read articles by Elizabeth here.
Thanks, Elizabeth, for allowing Well-Written Days to share your interview questions. I’m sure our readers will enjoy getting to know you and your novel, Bone Worship.
What was your inspiration for the book, Bone Worship?
The inspiration came in waves, based on what I was immersed in at the time. I was reading a lot of Lorrie Moore and was enamored with her voice. Also I had read Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days and was fascinated with the structure of that book. I wanted to experiment with a first person narrator – despite my better judgment – and create a novel that served as a kind of rumination, one character studying another. Those were my goals.
But the light bulb moment came one night when I was watching a documentary on Animal Planet. It was about elephants and the theory of bone worship, which I had never heard of, elephants recognizing the bones of their ancestors. That idea was so poignant and beautiful to me – and still is – that it immediately felt like the heart of the book. Trying to understand one’s loved ones from the inside out, regardless of what stands in the way. Death or time or culture. Everything I wanted to write about was in that act of turning over bones. The never-ending search for the essence of those you love, the perpetual need to form connections.
In a previous interview you said, “Another thing is how often at readings I’m asked if the book is autobiographical. There is a hunger to this question, a disappointment for the story not to be “true.” As if fiction has suddenly become a lesser art.” Do you think the “hunger” may also be a result of readers wanting to know they’re not alone and that not only your character, but also you, have experienced and felt what’s in the book?
I think that’s certainly a part of it. I’m doing my job if readers feel an emotional connection to my characters, and to an extent, to me. The ideas in the book, the questions I’ve raised, are all close to my heart. I couldn’t have written it otherwise. But part of a writer’s job is to write convincingly and compellingly about what one hasn’t necessarily experienced. I’ve written about Sudan without visiting Sudan, about Iran without having visited Iran. I’ve also written about places I know well, Montana and Oregon, and I don’t feel like the work set there is any better or more “true” than the work in places I’ve encountered only through research. In writing a story or a novel, you’re looking for a truth far greater than yourself. On that journey, one realizes how truly universal human emotion is, how “otherness” is really an illusion. So I would be disappointed if readers wanted a simpler truth, that I’m just writing about myself, for instance, because the truth of the story, of any story, is far richer than that.
Can you tell a little about the humor in the book since you said you didn’t want it to be “heavy”? An example or two of funny scenes?
Talking about what’s funny in the book is a little like Martin Mull’s comment “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” If someone has to ask what’s funny, I’m in serious trouble. What I personally find funny is the overall sensibility, Jasmine’s voice, the weird, skewed way she sees the world. That her mother looks like a bar of soap. That she’d rather talk to a pig in a lab than a human being. Margaret and Yusef (Jasmine’s parents) putting an ad in the paper and holding auditions for Jasmine’s husband. I think any time you have a young adult thrust back into the nest – the push and pull, not to mention the cultural distance between Iran and the rural South, introverted Jasmine dealing with extroverted Margaret – there is no way for it not to be funny. It’s a dark humor, where you laugh through a grimace. There’s so much on the line for this young woman, yet she manages to sabotage herself in the most ridiculous ways.
This is a 3-part interview with author Elizabeth Eslami. Hope you’ll also read Part 2 and Part 3.