Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Laura Elizabeth Woollett: Probably the latter. I spend a huge amount of time staring at blank screens, figuring out what exactly to include, which exact words to use. That’s not to say I don’t revise and reshape, but my writing tends to come out relatively polished, and often I’m adding stuff in later drafts, not taking stuff out. This means I’m generally a slow writer and an efficient editor, which balances out in the end.
What was your first publication?
It was a poetic prose piece called ‘Vaucluse’ in Contrary Magazine. I was 21 at the time and obsessed with French Decadence and Petrarch’s ‘Laura poems’. The writing definitely reflects this.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Currently reading: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson; Folsom Street Blues: A Memoir of 1970s Soma and Leatherfolk in Gay San Francisco by Jim Stewart. Thinking about reading next: for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange; Wilderness: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison. Read, but can’t stop thinking about: Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. I devoured all four in March and now physically miss the act of reading them. (The hype is real.)
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
After reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History my last year of high school, I wanted to run off to Vermont to befriend a clique of elitist classics students and participate in modern-day Bacchic rites. I didn’t get to go to Vermont, but I did take a year of Latin. It wasn’t as cool as Donna Tartt makes it seem. I’ve read better books since then, but the atmosphere of The Secret History has stuck with me: the well-defined New England seasons, the country houses, the late ’80s grunge meets Edwardianism, the dapper young people casually dropping references to Euripides. Pretentious? You betcha—but, oh, the mystique!
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
My first and only retail job was at a clothing store that specialized in affordable jeans for Baby Boomer men. The store had its own playlist intended to attract that demographic: a lot of Lee & Nancy, Don McLean, Beatles, Doors (including ‘The End’ in all its 11-minute, 41-seconds glory). It was a pretty bizarre scene. One time, a guy came in with a cat in his backpack, just casually looked around, and walked out. Another time, a guy started swaying with his eyes closed and softly singing along to ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. Another time, one of the other girls got in trouble for singing ‘Sexual Healing’ to a customer. I think the song was taken out of rotation after that.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
Novels—partly because I just don’t have that many ideas, and partly because when something interests me, I like to explore it at length and in depth. And I definitely work best when I’m anchored to a particular theme, subject, or world long enough to feel like I’m part of it, or it’s part of me.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Don’t ignore the worst aspects of yourself; they may come in useful someday.
Your story title: was it your first choice?
The title came before the story. I listened to the T. Rex song a bunch of times and had the idea of writing something with that in mind. Probably 80% of the time I have a title chosen before anything else.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel, Beautiful Revolutionary, which is about Peoples Temple and Jonestown. ‘Children of the Revolution’ is a chapter from that. I wrote about the real-life inspirations and research for the novel in last year’s Jonestown Report. I’m also in the process of editing a collection of short stories, The Love of a Bad Man, for publication this September. The stories are all about the wives, mistresses, and female accomplices of notorious bad men.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
“Michael Fassbender or Justin Trudeau?”
Laura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of a novel, The Wood of Suicides (2014), and a short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man (forthcoming in 2016). She is currently working on her second novel, Beautiful Revolutionary, about a young couple who become involved with Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple in late-’60s California. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at lauraelizabethwoollett.com.