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Dreaming about Joan of Arc with YA author David Elliott

On the Why We Write podcast: David Elliott tells us about washing pickles, singing opera, and writing a book that's been compared to Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton).

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Find the full transcript at the end of this page.

Episode notes

YA and children's author David Elliott's most recent titles are Bull, a raucous, rhyming retelling of the Minotaur myth that's been compared to Hamilton, and Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc, a story idea that came to Elliott in his sleep. In addition to writing, David teaches in our MFA in Creative Writing program.

In this interview with Georgia Sparling, David talks about his first encounter with Greek mythology (it involves Scrooge McDuck), a stint as a cucumber washer in Greece, and his writing process.

Be sure to pick up Voices, on shelves today.

Check out all our episodes on our podcast page or just go ahead and subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

  • Transcript


    Georgia Sparling: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Each week, we bring you conversations with authors from the Lesley Community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life.

    Hey, my name is Georgia Sparling. I am part of the Office of Communications at Lesley University and today I'm here with David Elliott. He's a member of our MFA in Creative Writing program and accomplished children's book author and most recently he published Bull a retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in verse. Book Page says, “It's rude, it's crude, and it's a whole bunch of fun.” It's received seven starred reviews and was a featured on a number of best of booklets for 2017. He's also got another book coming out about Joan of Arc, which we'll talk about today, but let's start with Bull, which I just finished yesterday. More than a few of our viewers likened it to Hamilton. Is that good, bad, accurate, what do you think about that?

    David Elliott: Well, I can't say if it's accurate because I’m probably one of the few people on earth that has never seen Hamilton or heard the soundtrack.

    Georgia: You’re in good company today then.

    David: Good.

    In fact, I started the book long before-- I'm not saying oh yeah, I beat Lin-Manuel Miranda to the punch, nothing like that. I'm just saying that I'd started the book before Hamilton came on. I'm really wanting to say I wasn't influenced by that because I'd never heard of it and I was already well into the book when Hamilton deservedly made its big mark on the world. One thing that may not be so great about it is that people who love Hamilton have in like in the Goodreads review said oh this guy's just trying to be like Lin-Manuel Miranda.

    I just want to say publicly, not. I was kind of doing my own thing, but of course, it's always nice when people do sort of compare you to something that's now so iconic. I guess like everything in life, it's part of it’s good and part of it may be is less good.

    Georgia: How did you decide to write Bull? Were you always into mythology because I know in high school when we had to do that senior year, I shrunk a little inside but in reading the book, your book, if I would have had this I would have been totally on board. I would want every myth retold like this.

    David: I learned about the myths through a Scrooge McDuck comics. I'm from a very poor family. There were not a lot of books in my house. You would never have described my family as literary. I mean my dad read the newspaper and fishing magazines and hunting magazines. I had this big box of comics, I still don't know where they came from, but it wasn't exactly the happiest family. I often retreated to my room with these comics and one of them was Scrooge McDuck and The Golden Fleecing which was a retelling of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts.

    I remember them and I loved it so much and part of it was sort of what the novelist Peter Dickinson calls “the illicit pleasure of reading comic books” and part of it was, I think, the pleasure I got and the safety I felt and kind of the escape from my family life. All those things psychically, I think, kind of went into the soul and made me love myths. When I first read the real Greek myths, I remember thinking,
    “Wait, they stole this from Scrooge.”


    Then later on, I have always loved that myth of Theseus. One thing about the Minotaur is we know how he is born and conceived in the actual myth. The next thing we know about him, he's in the Labyrinth. The book kind of began with that question like well, what about his childhood? What about his adolescence? They couldn't have put him in there as an infant or he would have died. The book began with that question. I wrote the book to answer my own question, so that's part of it.

    Georgia: How did you choose the form? For people who haven't checked it out yet, each character has their own sections and it goes back and forth between them, and then they're each written in different poetic forms. Why structure like that?

    David: If only I knew why I did anything in life, I would probably be so much happier than I am or at least more successful. [laughs] Here's how it happened. This part I can't explain but I had this little verse in my head. Again, I don't know I'll try to start to explain it and it really it's eleven lines and it's the prologue to the book.

    There beneath the palace walls,

    the monster rages, foams, bawls,

    calling out again and again.

    Mother! Mother!

    No other sound

    but the scrape

    of horn

    on stone,

    the grinding crunch of human bone

    under callused human foot.

    I had that in my head. We don't know where these things come from all the time.

    Georgia: Yes. The muse.

    David. Right. The muse. I probably had it in my head for five years just carrying it around. When I was walking the dog, I would say it to myself, when I was doing the dishes (rarely according to my wife) I would repeat it. When I was falling asleep, I would repeat it, but I could not get into the rest of the book. I was locked out. It was like I could see the door to the secret garden, but I had no way to open that door. Then I heard Poseidon, who plays a major role in the myth and in the book, speak and what he said is, "Whaddup, bitches?"

    Georgia: Naturally.

    David: Naturally, as one does. I thought, oh no, not that because first of all, I am probably the least cool person on the planet. I have never said, "Whaddup, bitches?" or "Whaddup?" in my life even. In some ways I was a very unlikely person to take that on. I love-- I listen to classical music, I don't listen to anything but that almost, but that's what I heard and I feel so grateful for it because it opened the door. I didn't know what was going to happen in the rest of the book, I didn't know how I was going to write the rest of the book, but I knew I could write the rest of the book. Then once I discovered that, I thought okay, Poseidon is going to speak in that way, but they all can't be like Poseidon. He's the god.

    I have a wonderful book written by a poet, I think now deceased, named Miller Williams, and the name of that book is An Encyclopedia of Poetic Forms. I think I got it out of a yard sale somewhere for 25 cents. It's not like I went out and sought that out. Then I don't know about you, but when I was younger, when there were such things as phonebooks, we would thumb through them and point to a name and call that person and say, “Is your refrigerator running?” That kind of thing.

    Georgia: They had Caller ID by the time I was a kid so I couldn’t get away with it.


    David: Basically, that's what I did with that book, it's weird. I just kind of thumbed through it, said okay I need a voice for Minos. The split Dublin. Okay I'll try that and I did that all the way through. I've never, you know, I don't really consider myself a poet. I had never written in these forms before, but I'm I also at a point in my life where I don't like to do the same thing twice. I just thought okay, I'm going to go for it so that's how it happened.

    Georgia: A lot of the language does feel very modern, feels like something the kids’ would like. I'm not a kid either so I don't know what they'd like. How did you figure out if some of your lines, if they would resonate with teenagers or if it was the language they were using?

    David: I didn't think about that at all. What I thought about was is this how Poseidon speaks? Is this what he wants to say? I just tried to listen as well as I could to what each character was trying to say and tried to get it on the page. I didn't really think about that and some of the language is a little bit rough in the book, but I hope people will believe me when I say I wasn't pandering to teenagers. I wasn't saying, “I know, I'll use the F-word now, they'll be shocked by that.” First of all, they're not shocked by that. I'm shocked by it but they're not. That is just how the character spoke. I didn't want to do any kind of self-censoring or anything like that, and luckily, I have a fabulous editor at Houghton, Kate O'Sullivan, who really let me go for it. I wasn't thinking of that.

    Georgia: I mean it is a little racy, some of the subject matter you get to is you're like filling in the blanks from the original story. Was there any pause for you on that or was that just how you had to tell it?

    David: Well, the way the Minotaur is conceived was not my doing. That's in the myth and the way he's conceived is that Poseidon gets very angry with the king of Crete and says, "Okay, you cheated on me, so here's what's going to happen." I'm not going to go, I think he says so I'll go after your wife. What he does in the actual myth is cause Persephone, Minos' wife, to develop a very strong lust for the bull which she satisfies with the help of Daedalus. That's all in the myth. When I got to that, I had to deal with it and, really, I did the best I could with it. I tried to make it a little bit funny and then Poseidon continues to make fun of her sort of throughout the book for that act.

    Georgia: I think that teenagers, if you try to just skip over that, they're like “Hey, wait a second, I know you're sanitizing this for me.”

    David: I know that one of the reviewer said I did sanitize it, but I did the best I could. I mean I got very close, you know, people understand exactly what happened.

    Georgia: Do you read reviews?

    David: I would like to say that my ego is so intact that I don't read them, but I do. I mean I'm not obsessive about it, but I mean I am interested in it. What's interesting is all the ways, not just my book, but all books speak to people, and often you're surprised by what people find in them. I'm kind of interested from that point of view as well.

    Georgia: As you're writing…the Minotaur is demonized in most stories and this one it's a very compassionate look at what happens to him, and how he gets kind of rejected by his mother. How about is that a spoiler?

    David: No.

    Georgia: He ends up in this awful circumstance, and he's like a strange-looking creature. Were you hoping that there would be parallels that people could draw today and like how you treat the other?

    David: I was. I try not to think of any kind of message when I'm writing because first of all, young people especially get enough messages from everybody around them. Also, if you're going to give somebody advice, you'd better have some wisdom, and I'm not there yet. What I really try to do is let the story speak for itself, but I did realize that after I'd written the book, that it ended up being about that in some ways or could certainly be read without. I'm happy if young people or anybody who reads the book and they think about the cruel words that they said or the unkind even the unkind thought and maybe modified in some way.

    I think monsters in most cases are made and we make them, but not entirely intentional. I'll just say one thing, his name is Asterion, and that's his name in the myth. When I learned that and I learned what it meant, which is ruler of the stars, it kind of broke my heart because I thought somebody loved him. He started out loved, to be given that name and that feeling kind of really was part of the thing that provided for me the momentum to go forward because I wanted to know what happened to him.

    Georgia: I love how the pages get darker as he goes into the darker place. Was that something that was your idea?

    David: That actually was my editor’s idea ,which I just loved her for. What Georgia is referring to is that Asterion, the minotaur’s pages start out looking like all the other pages in the book and as he gets more, as he gets closer and closer into the labyrinth the pages darken and finally by the time it's done, the pages are black and the text is light, which I thought was so great of Kate to think of that. This poem I'm going to read right now, Asterion has already been locked now in the labyrinth and he's a very sensitive guy, we've already learned, and his half-sister, Ariadne, has told him that she will save him.

    They have little secret ways that they can communicate. This is just one of the poems from the end of the book and he's speaking from the labyrinth.

    My heavy step, my breath, my mournful wrawl echo in the maze. This, the sound

    of horn excoriating cryptic wall

    strikes terror in the rats that gather round

    me in the gloom, a winding sheet, a Pall.

    Like a corpse, I travel underground,

    my sarcophagus a puzzle carved in stone.

    Like a corpse I live this death alone.

    I listen to my sister's tender words,

    as nourishing to me as milk or bread.

    They migrate through the void like fish or birds,

    blind envoys from the living to the dead,

    to me, in this living rock interred.

    There is a plan. That's what my sister said.

    Asterion. She calls me by my name,

    and lights this sunless coffin like a flame.

    Georgia: It’s heartbreaking. It’s great.

    David: Thanks.

    Georgia:  This one is your first YA book-

    David: It was.

    Georgia: -and I know some people kind of hate that as a genre, they think it's kind of a made-up genre. Books are books.


    David: Yeah.

    Georgia: Why did you decide to- because previously your books were children's, or geared towards children.

    David: Picture books and middle grade novels.

    Georgia: How did you decide to go towards the young adult audience?

    David:  Well, part of it is as I get older, I still love to write picture books and middle-grade novels, but as I get older the things I'm concerned with are different, I think. I would hate to say I'm maturing. Nobody else in my life would say that for sure but I think it's just a notion of what's happening in the psyche and a function of what’s happening and that psyche and the soul at this time in my life.

    Georgia: Let's like go back to the beginning or not beginning. You have traveled widely and your bio has a lot of interesting careers or jobs that you've had.

    David: Let’s not call them careers.

    Georgia: Popsicle stick maker. Can you talk a little bit about your journey and like international travel and then how did you end up in writing?

    David: As I said before, I'm from-- like my family was poor and it wasn't the happiest family. My mother did what she could, she did her very best, but she was married to a man who was not doing his very best and he was working actively against her in some ways. Also, I grew up in a small farm town in Ohio. I don't know why, I was always a little odd both in my family and I mean, I'm very much a product of my family as well but there were parts of my personality that just, I don't know, felt restricted in that small Ohio town in which I was growing up. I just thought I have to get out of here and at that time, Peace Corps was just starting and an older friend of mine had just come back. I was in high school getting ready to start college and she had just come back from Tanzania. That was my way. It's not like I was going to tour the continent because, no money. Peace Corps became my way of starting to see the world a little bit. I was in Peace Corps. I was supposed to go to Libya and that's when Gaddafi took over. Then, oddly years and years later, I did end up in Libya teaching. At first, I was a Peace Corps volunteer and then I got the travel bug.

    Georgia: You were in the Philippines?

    David: I was in the Philippines for the Peace Corps. Then I came back and then I was to Palau, which is in the Western Pacific. Then I had to escape a relationship that everybody hated me for because everybody loved her. What was wrong with me? I ended up in Greece and that began a very crazy series of events. I ran out of money, I went to Israel, I went back to Greece. I've worked as a-- I'm not Jewish but I knew I could spend the winter on Kibbutz there because I had run out of money. Then I went back to Greece and I worked as a cucumber washer.


    Georgia: I was talking with my coworker about it and we're like, "Does that mean that was his job at a restaurant or…?"

    David: No, I worked at the CriCri Cucumber Factory in the town of Ierapetra on the island of Crete. I was working there with migrant workers who in that part of the world are Gypsies or I think now we refer to those people as the Roma people. It was the real thing. The women wore scarfs with coins hanging from the hem of the scarf and that kind of thing. I washed cucumbers 10 or 12 hours a day. It was just by hand. I will just say this, you cannot understand Sigmund Freud unless you've washed cucumbers.


    David: Many hours a day. You know what, all that traveling did is-- I hope it's not obnoxious to say this, but I really feel like a citizen of the world now because I've lived with Muslim people in the Philippines. I lived with Muslim people in North Africa. I worked with Gypsies. I've found myself in many situations with many kinds of people all over the world. I always think of what Maya Angelou said. I think she was criticized for something she had written. What she said is, "I live in a world, not a cell." That has just stayed with me. That traveling really helped me embody that.

    Georgia: When did you pick up a pen?

    David: I came back to the States. All that traveling, it sounds really romantic, but it was also really lonely. Here's the thing, no matter what you do; travel, write, whatever you do, you're still who you are.

    Georgia: You can't outrun yourself.

    David: You can't outrun yourself. I had a lot of work to do when I got back. At one point I decided I wanted to be an opera singer. Music at that time I had never, knew nothing about. Weirdly, I auditioned at New England Conservatory here in Boston and got in. I was maybe 30 at the time. Maybe a little-- right on 30. I can still sing a mean country and western song. I could yodel like crazy. I can sing a good Broadway tune, but-

    Georgia: It sounds like a CD or an album is coming together.

    David: No. What I could not do was really get the music in my body, of classical music. My range isn't really, I’m a tenor, but it wasn't really I think wide enough. I probably could have been able to do some solo work around, but I just decided what the world does not need is one more mediocre tenor. About this time I met my wife, thank God. On the day I got married, a friend whispered in my ear, "That is the smartest thing you've ever done." It remains the smartest thing I've ever done.

    Eventually, we had our son and I just started messing around, writing things for him. We don't talk enough about the role that luck plays in your life but not even luck, but really the cosmos stepping in to help you. Other people might have other names for that. I was living in Vermont at the time. We were living in Vermont. I met somebody there and we were just talking and I told her about my son. I said, " I'm just writing these crazy things for my son. She said, "I write too." Then she said, "I'd like to see what you've done."

    I said, "Okay." I showed it to her and then she'd said, "Oh." By that time, I think we had moved to Ohio and she wrote to me and said, "I'd like to send this to someone." I said, "Well, what do you mean?" As it turns out, she had just retired as the editor at Dial Books, as the executive editor of Dial Books. I didn't know that. I knew nothing about the children's book world and I still don't really. I'm reckless in some ways. That's how I got my start. Then I thought like many people who want to write children's books, I thought, I can do this, easy.

    Georgia: Not so easy.

    David: Not so easy. I wrote a lot of really bad books. I got a lot of rejections and not even nice rejections. Just No.

    Georgia: Not sugarcoating it at all.

    David: I just kept at it and eventually I found my way into it. I learned a few things. I'm not that talented. That means I have to work really hard. I work hard.

    Georgia: I think other writers will appreciate that though. I think it's Anne Lamott, she said, there's a couple of people who, they write their draft and it's pretty perfect and then they send it off and she's like, "We all hate them." Paraphrasing.

    David: No, she's right.

    Georgia: You've continued writing and your next book is on Joan of Arc. Tell me about that. Also in verse.

    David: It's also in verse. I'll just tell you the truth about it. After Bull was published, as you mentioned people seem to respond very positively to it. I'm very grateful for, so thank you and you all you guys out there who liked the book. We said, okay, my editor and my agent said we should do another one. I said, "Okay." I love fairy tales and I have a favorite fairy tale that I wanted to retell. I said I'll retell this in verse. I felt like I knew how to expand it in a way that would have some resonance for people.

    I was maybe 30 or 40 pages into that, and then it's hard to explain. I just woke up at three o'clock in the morning one night and the name Joan of Arc was just floating in the air in front of me. My memory is that I gasped and sat up, but that isn't really what happened.

    Georgia: That makes a good story.

    David: The emotional truth of that is that I did do that. I just looked up myself a name and I try not to ignore that thing. I pay attention to my dreams and try to understand what they're telling me. The name floating in the air wasn't as weird as the fact that I knew nothing about Joan of Arc. I didn't care about Joan of Arc. In fact, I guess I knew she was French and I knew she was burned at the stake, but I could not have told you by whom or why or when or any of that.

    I did a little investigating over the next couple of days and then I called my agent and said, "I'm going to put that fairy tale book aside and write a novel in verse about Joan of Arc." By then I was very excited and full of myself. I said, "By the way, I'm going to tell it from the standpoint of the objects in her life: her sword, her armor, and the fire will talk. Then I'm going to use medieval forms”

    Georgia: Silence on the other end.

    David: She's used to me but I guess there was.


    Then I hung up and I thought this is going to be so good. I wrote a very quick proposal and my editor again Kate O'Sullivan said, "Let's go for it. Let's do it." We got it all signed up and then it was like, "Well, what am I doing? Why did I say write? Let's get back to the fairy tale." What I discovered is that in Joan of Arc's lifetime in France, there was a female poet who was the court poet of Charles VI. Her name was Christine de Pizan and she wrote a long verse about Joan of Arc, that Joan of Arc could have heard in her lifetime. It's the only thing written about her in her lifetime.

    I thought, "Oh, how cool would it be if Joan spoke in that same form." Well, it wasn't cool.


    She was saying things that I knew she didn't want to say or saying them really weirdly, but I was so stubborn. I kept at it and at it and at it. I struggled for I don't know six, seven, eight months with it and could not get anywhere. Then I had to finally put aside that idea but then I was stuck and I'd used up eight months and I had a deadline coming and then the deadline got moved up. Sometimes pressure is a good thing and then I began to find my way with it.

    The story is told in four different ways through the imagined voice of Joan of Arc and I've imagined through the objects and saints and people in her life. Those are all in forms that are basically have their roots in the Middle Ages. There are things like villanelles and sestinas and triolets. I think there are 11 different kinds of verse in the book. By the way, I'm saying those things like they trip off my tongue now. At the time, I had to have my book right by me and, "How do you do that?" Then the fire does speak and also I just thought Joan of Arc is one of those characters that everybody projects something onto. Vichy France used her, the resistance in France used her, the suffragette movement used her, fashion uses her like the flapper hairstyle from the 1920s was inspired by Joan of Arc.

    Georgia: Really, wow.

    David: I just thought-- I really, it's impossible not to do that but I thought well, she should also be able to speak for herself. I used excerpts from her trials and so the book also-- You also hear in translation because she was speaking French but you hear actually what she said in response to many of the questions she was asked. That's how the book was told. It was really hard to write. It was a really strange experience, but I'm glad I did it.

    Georgia: What was the book or what is it called?

    David: The title of the book is Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc because she's speaking, in my book she's speaking from the stake. Her life is passing before her eyes.

    Georgia: In this book, I heard you read from a little bit the other day. It's a lot more-- Well, it's just completely serious whereas Bull had a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments.

    David: Right.

    Georgia: How is it to write with so much gravity whereas usually, you're very lighthearted?

    David: Thanks for asking that because that was for me the hardest thing. You were at the reading the other night?

    Georgia: Yes.

    David: You heard me say that I've heard a comedian-- All my life people told me I'm funny. I heard it-- Even like when the last job I took which was 15 years ago at a college or 20 now because I haven't worked there for five years. I thought, Okay, my first day on the job I thought. I can't let people really understand how glib I am. I've got to really act right.

    Georgia: Easier said than done.

    David: Right. The first day somebody came up to me and said, "Are you David?" I said “yes.” He said, "I heard you are so funny." I thought, "Okay, give it up."

    Georgia: Yes. It's not going to last.

    David: As I said then, I heard a comedian at the reading the other night. I heard a comedian say, "You can't be funny unless you've been humiliated sufficiently." That was the first, I would say, 16 years of my life. All my life that's where I am the most comfortable. Not to be too psychological about it but I understand what that humor is doing for me in my life. This wasn't-- The Joan of Arc story, there's nothing funny about a girl being burned to death. Who knew? It was a big challenge for me because I couldn't do the thing I always do. It was whether the book is successful or not, I really hope it is and I hope it-- I hope the girl, Joan of Arc, not the Saint Joan of Arc because I'm not interested in the saint.

    I just want people to understand that this was a real living girl. She wasn't a hero. That takes away her humanity and the saint takes away her humanity. I just wanted the humanity of the girl that was really burned because she says she invaded the landscape of men and they could not take it. I had to stay there and it was hard for me. I don't know quite what else to say. In some ways, I feel like, Why me? I'm the least likely person for that name to have been-

    Georgia: You had your own Joan of Arc moment. You had all.

    David: Yes, it's interesting. Smart of you to say that, interesting to say that because as it turns out there are many Joan of Arc devotees all around the world.

    Georgia: Who knew?

    David: Yes, who knew? As I was doing my research and everything, my wife and I did go to France and went to many of the Joan of Arc places, but I was trying to figure out- we had limited time and limited money and I couldn't get to every place that we wanted to go or I wanted to go. I called this man in Texas. He and his wife lead a Joan of Arc, a Saint Joan of Arc tour every year there. The first thing that was so interesting is that they weren't Catholic which-

    Georgia: You would assume.

    David: Right, as it turns out he was evangelical. I wanted to talk to him if she could give me some ideas about the places I should go and that kind of thing. In our conversation, we've had many conversations, but in one of those conversations she said, "Now, why are you writing Joan of Arc book?" Because like I told him upfront I said, "I have to be honest. I'm writing a book about Joan of Arc, but I'm not really a Christian." Though I was raised a Baptist, which by the way, all that hymns singing really helped me understand meter and rhyme which has been so helpful for me.

    It really got internalized and also the rich language of kind of Southern Baptist sermonizing as terrifying as it is. Anyway, what he said is I wish I could remember exactly how he put it because I don't want to make it too like Twilight Zone but he said, "I cannot tell you how many stories, the details of that story are not the same but the experience is the same." According to him, this is what he said. I don't know what to make of it and I don't try to make anything of it but he said, "Joan of Arc comes to many people in these strange ways." He talked about the experience of a painter that had the same thing as happened to me. Now people are not going to buy the book because they are going think, “he's crazy or mad.”

    Georgia: You have all those Joan of Arc devotees. They’ll buy multiple copies.


    David: Right, that's it. Again, I don't want to- I'm not elevating myself in any way. I think I'm the least likely person to have written that book, but that is just what happened.

    Georgia: Can you read a little piece from it?

    David: Yes, sure. Thanks. I just happened to have brought some. Maybe what I'll do is read- I'll just read the first few pages, they're short. It starts with the prologue and the prologue we begin with one of the excerpts from the trial. This trial is the second trial that happened 24 years later, after her death, in which the king said, "Oh, I can't have it." The king that she had crowned, and who could have helped her but did not. Twenty-four years after her death, and he got smart and said, "Ah, I can't have the person who had me coronated go down in history as a witch". He called another trial.

    Georgia: Yes.

    David: In this trial, all of the friends, her friends from childhood and the people she fought with and other people who knew her testified, and then they revoked the first trial. That trial is called the trial of nullification. This first is a quote from her childhood friend and this is what he says in that trial,

    Joan from what I saw, was a good simple, sweet-natured girl of good behavior. She went readily to church as I saw myself. For almost every Saturday afternoon, Joan with her sister and other women went to the Hermitage of Notre Dame to Vermont bearing candles.

    Now, the candle speaks.

    I recall it as if it were yesterday. She was so lovely and young. In her hand, I guarded and flickered away an ardent lovers adventuring tongue. I had never known such yearning, exciting and risky and cruel. As we walked to the church, I was burning. She was my darling, my future, my fuel. I wanted to set her afire right then, but she was so pure and so chaste, her innocence only increased my desire. Still, I know the dangers of haste. I watched and I studied and waited and I saw that her young blood ran hot, she had no idea we were fated. I could name which she craved. She could not. Then in her eye, I caught my reflection. In her eye, I saw myself shine and I saw the heat rise on her virgin complexion. That's when I knew she was mine.

    Now here's Joan,

    I've heard it said that when we die the soul discards its useless shell and our life will flash before our eyes. Is this a gift from heaven or a jinx from deepest hell? Only the dying know but what the dying know the dying do not tell. What’s more the dying know it seems I'm about to learn.

    For when the sun is at its highest, a lusting torch will touch the fire. The flames will rise and I will burn. I've always been a fire with youth, with faith, with truth, and with desire. My name is Joan but I am called the maid. My hands are bound behind me, the fire beneath me laid.

    Georgia: Well, I think that's a good teaser and hopefully all our listeners will pick it up.

    David: Multiple copies [laughs].

    Georgia: Yes. Probably. Give it to your friends.

    David: Yes.


    Georgia: Thanks so much for being with us today.

    David: Sure. It was so much fun and you did such a great job.

    Georgia: Thanks. It was really good talking to you.

    David: Me too.

    Georgia: Good.


    Thank you for listening to Why We Write. Please head over to lesley.edu/podcast to learn more about David Elliott, our MFA in Creative Writing program or to catch up on past episodes. Also, don't forget to check out David's latest book, Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc, which just hit shelves on Tuesday. If you've enjoyed the podcast so far, please rate and review us on the podcast platform of your choice and tell a friend. Now here's a clip from next week's interview:

    Janet Pocorobba: My agent disappeared, literally stopped taking my calls. I sent certified letters, I think because I wasn't selling to a big six publisher. He was like, "Well." I was horrified. I was so embarrassed. I think I just felt like, "Oh my God, he dumped me." [chuckles] I have been dumped. I think for about two years, I didn't even try to publish anything.