Marceline Jones was an obvious choice as a subject for my short fiction collection The Love of a Bad Man—a series of twelve stories from the perspectives of the wives and girlfriends of notorious bad men through history. Much like Eva Braun or the female followers of Charles Manson, Marceline was loyal to a man whose name has gone down in history as synonymous with carnage.
Yet avoiding the obvious is something I strive for as a storyteller. This was partly what drew me to the lesser-known woman in Jim Jones’ life, Carolyn Moore Layton. Partly, I just identified more readily with Carolyn, her background and the stage of her life she was at when she met Jim Jones. And partly, I found her role within Peoples Temple more interesting than Marceline’s: not the wife and nurturer, but the woman behind the scenes, the mistress and administrator.
My attempts to capture Carolyn’s perspective in a short story for The Love of a Bad Man fell short, however. Carolyn’s sister, Rebecca Moore, writing of Carolyn’s role within the Temple, posits, “her power resided in her very absence, including from herself, in her total erasure as Carolyn and her substitute self as Jim’s closest aide.” This analysis led me to question the efficacy of first person narrative as a means of portraying Carolyn—a character arguably lacking in a solid ‘first person’.
I didn’t find this lack so much with Marceline. Less radicalised than Carolyn, I felt she offered more interiority and was ultimately more accessible as a first person character. My story ‘Marceline’, set during the final hours of Jonestown, is an attempt to imagine the inner life of Marceline Jones.
‘Born Again’, by contrast, is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Beautiful Revolutionary. Set ten years before Jonestown, it deals with the erasure of a young woman from herself as her relationship with Jim Jones deepens, and is inspired by Carolyn Moore Layton.
Together, I hope that these stories will go some way towards portraying the two compelling yet very different women who were closest to Jim Jones.
(Laura Elizabeth Woollett is an Australian writer. Her short story collection The Love of a Bad Man – which includes the short story “Marceline” – was published earlier in 2016 by Scribe Publications, and her Peoples Temple novel Beautiful Revolutionary is due to be published in Australia in early 2018. Her guest blog for the Melbourne Writers Festival about her research trip to the United States is here. Visit her website at http://lauraelizabethwoollett.com.)