Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Feature on author of "the museum of atheism" Laura Ellen Joyce.

Christal Cooper – 1,427 Words
Facebook @ Christal Ann Rice Cooper  

Laura Ellen Joyce’s
“the museum of atheism”
Drenched In Purple Dye
“I was working with a student who studied dentistry.  I took notes for her during sessions where she cut things up and looked at them under the microscope. There were large screens around the lab, which broadcast cheek cells and saliva particles and other things. They were all drenched in purple dye. I think of that lab when I think of the book.”

Writer Laura Ellen Joyce’s first memory is when she was just a child.  She had been asleep in the home she shared with her family and a lodger.  When she awoke she was confused and wondered throughout the house.

       “I  tried to go up to the attic room where the lodger stayed.  The stair carpet was zebra-patterned and it scared me.  The door was locked so I went downstairs.  I had been dreaming of a skyscraper-sized bright-light that had my name in high rainbow letters.”

       Joyce’s first memory as a child is in essence the condition of each of her characters in her book The Museum of Atheism (

     Each character is searching for something, some how lost, wandering in a deep dark wilderness, the goal of finding a missing girl.  Yet, in this novella, there is the sense of the familiar – a case similar to JonBenet Ramsey, yet entirely different;  a cast of characters that seem similar but are so three dimensional and complex that each character, including the setting,  takes a life of its own, haunting the reader long after the last page has been read. 

Perhaps what makes these characters and setting so three dimensional and so hauntingly similar but mysterious, is that it is a reflection of humanity – nothing is as clear as it seems;  nothing is as similar as it seems; and in the end, even surrounded by a skyscraper-sized bright light, there is still darkness, even amongst the rainbows.

       Joyce was born in Birmingham, England in 1981.  Her mother would take on extra work on the weekends, leaving the little girl, aged 7, at home.

       “She would leave a set of writing instructions to keep me occupied while she was gone.  I used to turn what I wrote into books.  One that sticks in my mind is a book about a girl who pretends to be a boy and is humiliated at school.”

Joyce has always held a fascination and
compassion for those individuals considered to be the outsiders of society.   Her interest on outsiders extended to her choice of reading material.  As a preteen she read the works of Edgar Allen Po and Stephen King.  As a teenager she was an avid reader of trashy true crime pieces about cannibals and serial killers.  Her research interests include horror and extreme cinema. 

Later, she was influenced by Jean Rhys, Henry Darger and Urs Allemann.  

The Greek Tragedies were huge influences on her as a writer, specifically when it came to structure.  

PJ Harvey gave a voice to the psychotic woman and it is this voice that suffuses her work.

       In college she studied classical civilization and ancient history.  She received her Masters of Arts in creative writing from Manchester University.  Presently, she is almost finished with her PhD in literature and creative writing at Sussex University and she teaches literature and creative writing at York St. John University.  Her thesis focus is on creative writing, critical writing, and radical new writing, which she defines as writing which has a subversive intent and which exists beyond commercial concerns. 

       “The thesis aims to link creative and critical writing rather than create distinctions.  My project is in the form of a manifesto, which is linked to a novella. I use critical theory to interrogate both sides of the work.”

       Joyce also discusses in her thesis the connection of banality and horror crime scenes that take place in tract housing, trailers, shopping centers, public schools, and motels. 

       While earning her Bachelors, Masters, and PhD degrees, Joyce supported herself by doing a variety of jobs:  office jobs, children’s librarian, gallery assistant, academic support worker, and a creative writing tutor in a psychiatric hospital.
     More recently she worked as project coordinator on the
AHRC/ University of Sussex Project:  Global Queer Cinema, which she worked on for fifteen months while in graduate school. 

       “I am still engaged with the project and it was an honor to be part of it.   It was set up by Rosalind Galt and Karl Schoonover, and I worked on it in a supporting role alongside Catherine Grant who runs Film Studies for Free (  The project brought together academics, filmmakers, and activists working on global queer cinema.  We have a website ( which has some really wonderful critical essays.  We had several public events and slots at film festivals.  The research that the project developed is ongoing.”

       Joyce’s idea for writing the Museum of Atheism came by watching the news about JonBenet Ramsey who was killed in her Colorado in December of 1997. 

       “I was obsessed with JonBenet Ramsey. I wanted to write a story, which implicated us all in her murder. I want to be implicated as the writer and everyone who reads it to be implicated as well. I had written lots of sketches and then thinking about her brought it all together for me.”

       The Museum of Atheism tells the last 24 hours, Christmas Eve, of the life of a murdered six-year-old beauty queen named Ava Wilde, who lives with her parents, a lodger, and an older brother in a mountainous isolated prison community.  There are 25 chapters, each chapter representing different mushrooms and describing how each mushrooms looks, affects humans when consumed, and grows in the dark dirt. 

The structure of the book can be compared to The Secret Life of Bees –each chapter has a small entry about bees and how they live. 

“I wanted to offer a mixture of real and fictional mushrooms and properties. It was one of the fun parts. I like taxonomies and categories as a means of constraint to write against.”

The novel is divided into five parts: 
Mushroom Soil, Part One:”   “Playing Doctor, Part two:”  “The Museum of Atheism, Part Three:”  “Realflesh;” and “Part Four:  Playing Dead.” 

There are a total of twenty-five chapters – twenty-four of the twenty-five chapters represents an hour on Christmas Eve, 2000.  The exception is the “Part Two:  The Museum of Atheism,” which takes place on October 1, 2000 at 7 p.m.

“I planned the novel hour by hour and wrote it in chronological order over the course of a month. I then had excellent feedback from several readers and my editor. I was studying and working at the time so  it was a very intense period - I wrote every day and didn’t stop until it was done. I took my laptop everywhere and any time I had a spare minute I turned it on.”

       Some think the novella is poetic (Joyce is a fan of Anne Sexton), or literary, but Joyce likes to describe it in more simpler terms – that of a horror novel.

“I tried to loosely categorize the stuff I was working on and I thought it could be called party horror - because I like to combine kitsch and glitter and people getting wrecked with the more straight down the line horror elements. I’m influenced by stuff like Carrie and The Virgin Suicides and Gerald’s Party by Robert Coover. They’re all party horror.”

One could describe The Museum of Atheism as many things, but, according to Joyce, didactic should never be one of them.

“In a more general sense I’m interested in revealing the violence that underpins human interaction. In this specific story I wanted to consider how ‘innocents’ are treated - both the JonBenet  figure and Daniel, the suspected pedophile. I hadn’t then read it, but now I feel retrospectively influenced by Tiqqun’s Theory of the Young Girl and think of the JonBenet figure as a metaphor for the violence of capitalism. Sexual abuse and misogyny haunt murder stories and I wanted to make some attempt at dismantling the more formulaic representations of gendered violence by drawing attention to how those tropes work.”

       The Museum of Atheism was published by Salt Publishing ( on November 15, 2012.   The book is also available on Amazon. ( 

Her new novella The Luminol Reets will be published by Calamari Press ( in 2014.

       Joyce is presently the Lecturer of literature and creative writing at York St. John University and resides in Leeds, United Kingdom. 

Photo Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1, 2, 3, 14, 16, 17, 28, and 38
Laure Ellen Joyce.  Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Photo 4 and 5.
Jacket covers of Museum of Atheism.

Photo 6.
Laura Ellen Joyce, age 3.  Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Photo 7.
Edgar Allen Poe.  Somewhat retouched and with transparent background. Original daguerreotype taken by Edwin H. Manchester, photographer employed by the Masury & Hartshorn firm (second floor of 25 Westminster Street) of Providence, Rhode Island, on the morning of November 9th, 1848.  Public Domain.

Photo 8.
Stephen King on February 24, 2007

Photo 9.
Jean Rhys.  Public Domain.

Photo 10.
Henry Darger.
This is one of 3 existing photographs of Henry Darger taken by David Berglund.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 12.
Jacket cover of The Greek Tragedies Volume 1

Photo 13.
PJ Harvey performing live at the O2 Apollo in Manchester, United Kingdom on Thursday, 8 September 2011.  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Photo 15. 25, 29, and 30
Laura Ellen Joyce reading from Museum of Atheism.   Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Photo 18.
Laura Ellen Joyce and GCSC art project.  Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Photo 19.
Rosalind Gault

Photo 21.
Global Queer Cinema website masthead.

Photo 22.
Catherine Grant.   Copyright by Catherine Grant.

Photo 23.

Photo 24.
JonBennet Ramsey.  Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 26.
Deathcap Mushrooms.  Attributed to Stanislaw Skowron.  Public Domain.

Photo 27.
The Secret Life of Bees jacket cover.

Photo 31.
Description: Portrait of Anne Sexton (1928-1974), photographed in her home circa 1970
Photographer: Elsa Dorfman (born April 26, 1937)
Fair Use Rationale.

Photo 32.
Carrie jacket cover.

Photo 33.
Virgin Suicides jacket cover.

Photo 34.
Gerald’s Party jacket cover.

Photo 35.
Tiqqun’s Theory of the Young Girl jacket cover.

Photo 36.
Salt Publishing website masthead

Photo 37.
Calamari Press website masthead.

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