Cooper – 1,427 Words
@ Christal Ann Rice Cooper
“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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
has always held a fascination and
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
she was influenced by Jean Rhys, Henry Darger and Urs Allemann.
Greek Tragedies were huge influences on her as a writer, specifically when it
came to structure.
Harvey gave a voice to the psychotic woman and it is this voice that suffuses
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.
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.”
also discusses in her thesis the connection of banality and horror crime scenes
that take place in tract housing, trailers, shopping centers, public schools,
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.
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.
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 (http://filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.com). The project
brought together academics, filmmakers, and activists working on global queer
cinema. We have a website (http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/gqc/) 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.
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.
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
Joyce is presently the Lecturer of
literature and creative writing at York St. John University and resides in Leeds,
Description and Copyright Information
1, 2, 3, 14, 16, 17, 28, and 38
Ellen Joyce. Copyright by Laura Ellen
covers of Museum of Atheism.
Ellen Joyce, age 3. Copyright by Laura
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.
King on February 24, 2007
Rhys. Public Domain.
is one of 3 existing photographs of Henry Darger
taken by David Berglund.
Use Under the United States Copyright Law.
cover of The Greek Tragedies Volume 1
Ellen Joyce reading from Museum of Atheism. Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.
Ellen Joyce and GCSC art project.
Copyright by Laura Ellen Joyce.
Queer Cinema website masthead.
Grant. Copyright by Catherine Grant.
Ramsey. Fair Use Under the United States
Mushrooms. Attributed to Stanislaw
Skowron. Public Domain.
Life of Bees
Description: Portrait of
Anne Sexton (1928-1974),
photographed in her home circa 1970
Suicides jacket cover.
Party jacket cover.
Tiqqun’s Theory of the Young Girl jacket cover.
Publishing website masthead
Press website masthead.