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In this new series we look at notes taken unedited from authors’ journals, then learn how they’re worked into stories, novels and other writing. Today we read field notes from short story writer and novelist Elizabeth Eslami.

Field Notes:

Sixty miles outside of Albuquerque, I’m standing on the dry table of Acoma Pueblo, having joined a tour with other white people, our skin blistering into a plastic doll color. We move like clouds, slow, unaffected, led through real people’s museum lives. I think there’s a story here, turning itself over in the dust, maybe a knot of stories — Acoma stories, whites with Acoma stories.

In my notes, I’ve written:

I never expected it to cut into me. The meshing and clashing of cultures, the Spanish forcing religion upon them. The church with its graves upon graves, built and buried in layers, a rising wall of false heads… All coated in sand, baked like their ovens.

It will become this story:

This is everybody, most of them white. There are a lot of them, small and tall, fat and pale, but if you are looking down at them from the pueblo, they just look like golf tees lined up, brittle and wooden.

Kind of like this: I I I I II I I III I I

–From “Everything Gets Mixed Together at the Pueblo,” Crab Orchard Review Vol. 14, #2, Color Wheel: Cultural Heritages in the 21st Century, October 2009

On Writing and My Creative Process

At Acoma, a child held my hand and, like an antelope, guided me down a steep stone staircase, a narrow fissure carved by ancient waters, but she also guided me down into the story. I thought the words: “miracles, false and real.” They came and settled into the fissures of my brain, and I left them there.

Sometimes there’s a story before the story, and sometimes, one story splinters into more. Don’t be afraid of that. When something breaks, it makes a lot of noise. Just shut up and listen.

Find the place, dip into it, and then pull back, shards of other people’s stories, their voices, their wounds, sticking in you like glass. That part hurts a bit, someone else’s life under your skin. That’s okay. Other story-shards might fall away, ones you thought were important. Perhaps you’ll pick them up and use them later, or maybe you won’t. Keep pulling back, but leave the dust in your eyes, the cuts on your hands.

Then, finally: blink, look away. Write your story. Because now it’s your blood on the page, recording their voices. Their cinnamon fry bread on your tongue. Their antelope-child guide’s warm hand in yours. Listen. Get dirty. Bleed.

Community Connection

Elizabeth’s new novel Bone Worship can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

Travel Writing Tips


About The Author

Elizabeth Eslami

Elizabeth Eslami is the author of the forthcoming novel BONE WORSHIP (Pegasus 2010).You may follow her on Twitter and her blog.

  • Julie


    I’ve never heard anyone describe the writing process quite so beautifully and adequately. I want to print this out and paste it on the wall over my computer and read it again and again.

    • Liz


      I’m deeply honored and humbled! Thank you for creating such a wonderful forum for thoughts about place and writing.

  • Sophie

    Lovely, just lovely. And very inspirational!
    I’ll now hurry up and follow you on Twitter.

  • John

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it really helps English teachers to be able to show students the thought process that goes into writing.

  • Joshywashington

    I love the visual of the shard of peoples lives. Thank you for a glimpse of your process and sharing your talent with Matador.

    I have a few questions;
    What is the subject of your next book?
    Do you incorporate social media into your writing?
    What does your blog do for your process?

    ~ Joshua

    • Liz

      Hi Joshua,

      My forthcoming novel, Bone Worship, (Pegasus Books) is about fathers and daughters, mixed cultures, and the mysteries of those we love the most. The book I’m currently working on centers around an 1890s wolf trapper in Montana.

      Regarding social media, I wouldn’t rule out incorporating any kind of media into my work, provided it serves the story in some way. The story is always paramount.

      Finally, the blog for me functions almost like a high-level version of a journal. The same ideas that I would write about in a journal are there, but the blog is useful as a way of organizing those thoughts and funnelling them into a central theme or topic. It allows a crystalization of thought. From there, you can take that idea anywhere you want, spin it into a specific story or take it to a million different places.

      Thanks for the questions!

      All best,

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