The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

Woman Struggles to Find Life’s Meaning
in a New Mexico Desert

An exclusive Authorlink interview

By Diane Slocum

August, 2016

The Atomic Weight of Love
By Elizabeth J. Church
Buy this Book

Meridian loved studying birds and hoped to get her Masters in ornithology. She also loved Alden, a brilliant professor of physics. During World War II, he was called to work on the mysterious project at Los Alamos. After they married, Meridian joined him there as his atomic research continued during peacetime, giving up her own dreams and struggling with Alden’s paternalism. She found solace in studying a community of crows in an isolated canyon. One day a fascinating young geologist stumbles into the same canyon.

“. . . there is so much fascinating, new research going on that proves their intelligence far exceeds anything we’d previously imagined.”

AUTHORLINK: What did you already know about Los Alamos and crows and what did you need to learn for the story? What did you do for research?

CHURCH: I knew some of the wartime history for Los Alamos, through stories I’d heard and articles I’d read.  I had to research clothing to be sure I was accurate, along with coordinating WWII events properly.  When I reached my own era, all I had to do was confirm my memory (or correct it).  As for crows, I knew what I’d observed, what I continued to observe, but I did a great deal of reading to get scientific bases for my observations, for what Meridian was seeing.  And then I had to be very careful that I didn’t give Meridian advanced knowledge about crow behavior – there is so much fascinating, new research going on that proves their intelligence far exceeds anything we’d previously imagined.  As tempting as it was to hint at such things, I had to force myself to leave out the modern scientific disco veries.  For crows, I read several books, one of which I included in the Acknowledgement section of the novel.  I had some original source materials that my mother had kept (e.g., LIFE magazines, receipts she’d kept, college newspapers) that helped immensely with my research (old advertisements are wonderful for clothing descriptions and such).  The internet, when properly double-checked, was most helpful – for example, I was able to view newsreels from particular dates.

AUTHORLINK: Did you know from the start what decision Meridian would make regarding Alden and Clay or did that develop as you went along?

CHURCH: I knew what my heart wanted for her, but I had to challenge that wishfulness with what was realistic, what fit with character, what let Meridian both be her best self and fulfill herself. 

AUTHORLINK: What message does Meridian’s story have for women of today?

CHURCH: To be conscious.  To be vigilant.  To fight against knee-jerk sacrifice.  To realize that sacrifice is not necessarily noble.  I believe it is only noble when conscious and willing – not when it is exacted by culture or society.  Meridian’s story is also a history – a perspective on what enormous changes have come about for women in the last fifty years, largely as a result of the oft-maligned women’s movement.  It is about how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go – for the betterment of our lives, the lives of the men we love, and especially for our daughters.

“Yes. Sex scenes are hard to write when you realize you have three brothers who will read them..”

AUTHORLINK: Are there any parts of the book that were difficult for you to write?

CHURCH: Yes. Sex scenes are hard to write when you realize you have three brothers who will read them.  But more seriously, there was one character who dies (I won’t say who, as it’s a bit of a spoiler), and I sobbed while writing it.  I cried for days, editing and revising it.  I cried every time I reworked it.  Some of Alden’s illness and death brought back the pain of my husband’s illness and death.  Finally, when I finished, I was lost and lonely for weeks.  I missed Meridian so.

AUTHORLINK: Did you change the story much in revisions or did it stay pretty much the same as you first wrote it?

CHURCH: The primary changes were in the form of deletions of characters.  In my early drafts, before I submitted the novel to an agent, Meridian had a disapproving sister with an extremely obnoxious husband, and there were more developed relationships between Meridian and her neighbors June and Bob (Meridian actually had an affair with Bob, after June’s death from breast cancer, after Alden’s death, after Clay – Bob proposed, and she rejected his proposal to keep her independence).  In other words, the stage was pretty crowded.

AUTHORLINK: What have you written before that helped prepare you to write a publishable novel?

CHURCH: Countless legal briefs and scientific articles for a radiology journal – they required that I dissect things, reassemble them with supporting research, and that I have impeccable organization and an ability to argue – to write persuasively.  I’ve written numerous short stories, but I think my talents lie more in longer fiction.  I’ve also written about two-thirds of a novel that has sat on a shelf since 1993 – it was good practice.

” It took me about six months to find an agent, and all of the sudden several agents were interested, all at once..”

AUTHORLINK: How did finding an agent and publisher go for you? How did you feel when your book was accepted and came out?

CHURCH: It took me about six months to find an agent, and all of the sudden several agents were interested, all at once.  I had no connections, no one to help me – I worked from what I learned on the internet.  I will say that I think it’s very difficult to choose an agent without meeting in person, and that’s pretty much impossible for a writer living in New Mexico.  Several publishers were interested in the novel, and I really enjoyed talking with editors by phone, exploring their reactions to and ideas for editing the novel.  After working in isolation for so long, it was thrilling to hear their enthusiasm for my work – just thrilling.  As for how I felt when the book came out – I am not sure it will ever be real to me.  I keep waiting for it to sink in, for the enormity of all of this to hit home, but I’m not sure it has.  It remains a tad surreal.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

CHURCH: A novel set in Viva Las Vegas in the late Sixties, early Seventies.  A Vegas showgirl.  The Rat Pack, Dinah Shore, Eartha Kitt.  Feathers and g-strings and pasties.  A contrast between the fading Vegas of the time, the dying of one form of Vegas, and the hippies, Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement.  How women’s bodies have been used, abused and glorified.  Friendship, guardian angels.  Misfits.  And love.  Always love.

About the Author:

Elizabeth J. Church was born in Los Alamos and lives there now. She practiced law for thirty years. She won first prize in Literal Latte’s short story contest and published in Natural Bridge. This is her debut novel.

Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

Read, listen to or watch other exclusive author interviews.