The Wasteland – Q&A with W.A.W. Parker

Everybody and their mom knows by now that I adored The Wasteland. It’s such a great book it’s already in my Top ’21 Chart, first place. I felt like I wanted to indulge a bit more into it tho, so I did the thing any sensible girl would do in my place: I contacted W.A.W. Parker and asked him if he was interested in doing a little interview with me.

And he said yes 😀 thank you so much, Adam!

The extraordinary career and devastating life of T.S. Eliot.

T.S. Eliot is a hollow man trapped in a dreary world. He works at a bank, a slave to the clock, the same routine, day after day. While London’s elite enjoy a Great Gatsby lifestyle and poets like Robert Frost are rock stars, attracting thousands of fans to each reading, Mr. Eliot walks past life, peering at it through cracks or around corners. Only in his imagination does the world drip with color.

The Wasteland is the untold story of T.S. Eliot, his secret struggle with being gay, the people left in the wake of his meteoric career trajectory, and the madness that helped produce his greatest work.

First thing first, what inspires you to write?
The way I think about this question it’s more like: What keeps bringing me back to the keyboard? There are so many fascinating stories out there, but which ones will keep me coming back to the keyboard over and over again until the project is finished? For me, more often than not, that’s stories about queer people in history, because I want to reclaim our cultural legacy.

How do you choose your topics?
My topics usually start with a question that has nothing to do with a story. I’ll just be interested in a person or an event in history, and then I’ll have questions about that, and then that will lead me to something else, and while I’m trying to figure that out I find a footnote that raises another question, and it’s a rabbit hole that leads me to a dilemma or a story that I hadn’t heard of before. Of course, there are many stories that fit this description, but then I think about whether other people might be excited by this story. Maybe it’s something that a lot of people know a little bit about, but it’s not a topic or person that’s fully formed in their minds. And then I get to use their cultural knowledge as a sort of IP.

What kind of research did you do?
I would say, in general, I try to read every book about a topic that I can, but sometimes there are so many you have to do the humanities work of figuring out which books are more authoritative. Then I dive into primary sources. During this process, I’m creating a timeline of someone’s life, annotating it from the sources. Once that’s done, I look for ways to weave the story together. I love figuring out how some events might be connected in unexpected or previously unexplored ways.

For “The Wasteland,” my favorite thing to research was Polari, a slang that used to be spoken by gay people, amongst others. I love how colorful and campy the language can be.

Poetry-prose style: was that a conscious decision, a pre-planned stylistic choice?
I knew I wanted to incorporate the style of modernist poetry, with its lyrical qualities and intermittent rhyming, into the prose writing of this novel. And I was lucky that right before this project, I had just finished the lyrics for a musical. So, I just didn’t have to turn off the lyrical part of my brain.

Organization-wise, tell us a little about your writing routine.
I would say traditionally, I describe myself as a blue-collar writer. I try to keep the same 9-5ish hours as my husband at his job, and I just sit down and write. No routine, but when I’m writing, I’m writing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes I need to switch that up. For instance, I recently started writing as soon as I wake up, before emails and other needs of the day can creep into my head. But we’ll see how long that lasts.

Other than historical fiction, what kind of genres do you like?
I would say that I love reading and watching a ton of different genres, primarily upmarket literary fiction about transformative experiences. For me as a writer, I see historical fiction as a term that includes many different genres, spanning narratively from creative nonfiction to purely speculative fiction. And it’s often combined with other genres as well like comedy, horror, coming-of-age, etc, so I’m happy to write in an area that has so many different avenues.

Are you already thinking about your next project?
I’ve actually already turned my next book into the publisher who released my first novel. And now I’m in early stages with my fourth novel

Adam, once again I need to thank for your time and kindness: I’m looking forward to read anything else you’ve got in store for us :D. And y’all, if you love queer fiction and history (and poetry!) as much as I do, go grab yourself a copy of The Wasteland.

You won’t regret it – girl scout’s honor.

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