Tag Archives: Bone Worship

Interview with Elizabeth Eslami, Part 3 – Life Around Bone Worship

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Are you still tweeting with Timothy Hutton? Who else famous have you crossed paths with as your book gains notoriety?

It’s been a while since I’ve tweeted with him, or since I’ve seen him on Twitter, though I suspect we’re probably just tweeting at different times. I’m still quite grateful to him for tweeting my book launch.

I remember joining Twitter a year ago, while I was zonked out on Vicodin after having my wisdom teeth removed. I had no idea what one was supposed to do with it, and now, somehow, inexplicably, I have 1,000 followers. Some of the writers I’m “Twitter friends” with either have become or already are well known – Julie Klam, Beth Hoffman, Harrison Solow, to name a few – but that’s not something that figures into the conversation.

They are all lovely, funny people and brilliant writers, and it’s a profound pleasure to know them, as it is to know Gina Collia-Suzuki, Michelle Rick, Chris Clarke, Elizabeth Enslin, Kate Mayfield, Eric Rickstad, and bloggers like Becky Sain, Judy Clement Wall, and many others who might not be famous but most certainly should be. Twitter is a nice equalizer that way. You prove yourself with your wit, not with fame.

Tell us some about growing up in the South.

My parents met in Maryland, near where my mother grew up. My father was a doctor and my mother a nurse, and they moved first to Charleston, S.C. and later to Gaffney, S.C. so that my father could work at Upstate Carolina Medical Center and later Mary Black.

I was born and raised in Gaffney and my parents still live there. I come back at least once a year to visit, so I still feel a strong connection to the South, the flora and fauna. I’m always flooded with memories of going to school in Spartanburg, S.C. – St. Paul’s Catholic School for elementary and Spartanburg Day for high school. Some of my best friends are the friends I made during those years. It’s wonderful to be able to relive those memories, to see how Gaffney and Spartanburg have changed over the years, and to remember the hopes I had then, many of which have since come true.

What’s next in your life? In your career?

Connecticut for the next five or six years, punctuated by numerous trips to Montana, writing and reading, and hopefully some teaching. I’ve just completed a draft of a short story collection, and I’m working on a second novel. My first trip to Iran is in the works for 2012. Also, I’d really like to teach my dog to swim. We can’t seem to get her to go in past her chest. She’s almost nine now, but I refuse to give up. I keep telling her to jump, but she’s having none of it.

Thanks, Elizabeth. It’s been a pleasure. All the best with your book, your writing career, and your dog’s swimming lessons. Feel free to send updates from time to time.

This is a 3-part interview with author Elizabeth Eslami. Hope you’ll also read Part 1 and Part 2. 

Interview with Elizabeth Eslami, Part 2 – The Path to Bone Worship

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You talked about taking the writing path early on and not experimenting in other careers. How have you made your living? Strictly writing or have you supplemented your income with other work?

It’s nearly impossible for anyone, certainly any writer starting out, to make a living strictly as a writer. You have to take other jobs. When I was fresh out of graduate school, I thought rather naively that it would be easy to find a teaching job, and that I would use the connections I’d made in my MFA program to find an agent. In reality, I left without any insider connections, and, because I wanted desperately to make a life in Montana, I found myself in a town of 3,000 where most of the jobs available were in the cattle industry.

I worked as a housekeeper at a hotel, and for years as a maid in people’s homes. Nobody cared that I had an MFA or a novel that I was hoping to have published. I was the person who cleaned their toilets. It was extremely hard, low paying, backbreaking work – but there was time to think, and I was, in a sense, invisible. Nobody pays attention to the maid. So you get a real sense of how people behave, in their best and worst moments, when they think no one is watching. That was invaluable for me.

There was a time when I flirted with becoming a veterinary technician, but I just didn’t have it in me, either the scientific knowledge or the nerve for it. So, no, I suppose I never considered any career other than writing. But it’s a constant scramble to make it pass for a living, and I suspect it always will be. You write as much as you can, and you vary your material. You freelance, you tutor and teach when you have the chance. And you scrape by. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, I came to a point when I realized that if I let myself, I would be cleaning houses for the rest of my life, without time to see if I could make it as a writer. I decided to jump into the ocean. For the present, at least, I’m still paddling around.

You mentioned being encouraged by teachers. How about your parents – were they hopeful about your writing? What have they said about your novel?

“Hopeful” might not be the best word. Supportive, yes. I’ve found in talking to other writers that unless one’s parents were also writers, there is often the sense that writing is more of a hobby than a career. My father always suggested that I write “on the side,” secondary to a solid job. Sound advice, but fortunately or unfortunately, I was born believing that writing is as important as eating or sleeping. It wasn’t just a dream for me or a hobby, being a writer. I treated it like one would treat becoming a chef or a social worker. I worked at it. My mother respected it more than my father, but for her it was the myth of the muse, the fantasy that I would write when inspiration struck, and when I did, it would be autobiographically about the family, about our neighborhood. I think my folks are still mystified by what I do, and I suppose I can’t blame them for that. It’s a strange art and a stranger business.

Believe it or not, we’ve barely talked about the book with each other. When I call them, they are far more interested in whether I’m maintaining my car or going to the dentist regularly.

How did it happen that you were published with Pegasus? How did you find them? Do you have an agent? 

My agent is Mollie Glick, of Foundry Literary + Media. When I was first starting out, I really didn’t know how to find an agent, though I had my Writer’s Market and the listings in Writer’s Digest. I did a search for the agents who represented my favorite authors, and I queried them. After about six months or so, I signed with Mollie. And way down the line, after many months of revisions, she sent the book out to various publishing houses, and Pegasus was one of them. It was a lot of patience, frustration, elation, perseverance, and luck, and a lot of people working hard on my behalf.

You had quite a schedule of touring in 2010. Did you expect the busyness? Was it exciting, tiring, encouraging to be on the road so often and speaking?

I can’t say it was unexpected because for the most part, I planned it. As a debut author with a small publisher, it was my responsibility to orchestrate the tour and promote the book on my own. I was determined and happy to give 100 percent of my efforts to that end. Sometimes I’m asked if it’s frustrating not to have someone do those things for you, to book events, to plug you into the publicity machine. Of course it is, but there’s also a tremendous amount of freedom. In the end, no one’s going to work harder than I am.

It was exciting, tiring, encouraging, discouraging, scary, all of those things. Honestly I thought I’d be terrified throughout, the idea of all that public speaking, but I really got comfortable and more confident as it went on. I was supremely lucky to have my husband by my side for nearly all of the tour, rounding up people in bookstores and on the streets. I couldn’t have done it without him. I’ll miss touring, meeting readers and booksellers, traveling, all of those things when the events end and it’s time to hunker down. What I won’t miss is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to write while you’re on the road.

What other ways are you promoting yourself?

I use social media as much as possible – I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Red Room, Goodreads, and I try to maintain an active presence. I post my work, essays and short stories, and I blog. I contribute to The Nervous Breakdown, The Millions, and Matador which are all terrific websites in terms of their content and their ability to nurture writers. I made a book trailer early on, had a website designed, made posters and bookmarks, did radio interviews. Basically, I keep my eyes open, and I say yes to opportunities that come my way.

This is a 3-part interview with author Elizabeth Eslami. Hope you’ll also read Part 1 and Part 3. 

Interview with Elizabeth Eslami, Part 1 -The Novel, Bone Worship

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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.