Write Here: Elizabeth J. Church

WriteHere‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. Today we soar over Los Alamos, New Mexico, to explore the landscape of Elizabeth J. Church’s debut novel, The Atomic Weight of Love.

high southwest view aerial of Los Alamos Los Alamos National Laboratory (left) and Los Alamos townsite (middle and right)

High southwest view aerial of Los Alamos Los Alamos National Laboratory (left) and Los Alamos townsite (middle and right)

This is not exactly a birds-eye view of Los Alamos, New Mexico. To gain that perspective, you would have to fly lower, and to do so would be to enter restricted air space. Flights over what still is in many ways a secret city remain tightly controlled, because classified work continues at the national laboratory.

What you can see are the outstretched fingers of mesas upon which the small town (population under 12,000) is built. Those fingers extend eastward from the base of the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, and the town sits at about 7,500 feet – a high-desert community covered by deep snows in the winter. Wildlife abounds and sometimes travels through back yards – black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, elk, and of course large populations of ravens and crows.

This is where I write. My small home is located on the mesa second from the left, at the end of the town’s airport. I’m not bothered by noisy aircraft overhead, as no such thing exists – unless one counts the medical helicopter that transports the seriously ill to hospitals in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque.

I write at my desk, in my home office, with my pit bull Darwin sleeping beside me (or, during thunderstorms, wedged beneath the desk at my feet). I write here and only here – because it is in this spot that I can limit my distractions and have everything I need nearby: the internet, my dictionaries, the notebooks I create with dividers for research topics, the outlines and timelines I’ve drafted to keep track of things. I am surrounded by photographs of my dogs, a bulletin board with favorite quotations or encouraging words from friends, a bookcase filled with antiquarian books from my parents’ childhoods and those I’ve collected over time. Too, there is the pulpit Bible that belonged to my great-grandfather, who wrote his sermons in fading brown ink, studied at the University of Glasgow, and who left Scotland for the United States in 1893.

Other than raucous crows, jays, and some sounds of traffic (I live beside the main road in and out of Los Alamos, and approximately 10,000 people commute from the valley below to work in the town, five days a week), it is a quiet, peaceful spot. I am able to work uninterrupted and to focus in the way I need and want to focus. I can enter an interior world and happily remain there until I’m so physically uncomfortable that I’m forced to stand up and move.

I can honestly say that there is nowhere else I’d rather be than at my desk. I’ve worn away the letters on my keyboard; they are now nothing but fungible blank black keys, requiring that my fingertips possess the memory of location and identity.

Elizabeth J. Church’s novel The Atomic Weight of Love is published 20th October 2016.

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