Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Interview with Alice Sebold

If you're curious what Alice Sebold (author of The Lovely Bones, Lucky and The Almost Moon) had to say in my on-stage conversation with her, a piece just appeared in WritersTalk, the monthly newsletter of the South Bay Writers Club.

Alice Sebold in Conversation with Kate Evans: Creative Minds
by Suzy Paluzzi


On October 25, Alice Sebold, author of Lucky and The Lovely Bones, read from her new novel The Almost Moon at the San Jose Museum of Art. Afterward, she spoke in front of the audience with Kate Evans, local author and co-director of the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University.

This was Alice Sebold’s first appearance in San Jose and she immediately set a very casual tone to the evening. A striking woman, Sebold is known for writing about dark subjects. Lucky, a memoir about her rape, began as a way to find her main character’s voice for the novel The Lovely Bones, which she was writing at the time but had put aside.

Alice Sebold said she “explores lifetime backgrounds as part of her process, and writes a lot that never gets published.” After she wrote Lucky, she rewrote The Lovely Bones. It took her two years to find the voice for the character Helen in her new book The Almost Moon.

When asked about the difference between writing a memoir and writing fiction, the author said, “I had already done my personal work. Memoirs should serve the people reading them, not the author writing. Writing fiction is more free and thus inherently more challenging.”

Sebold shared that she “always wanted to write fiction” and she “wrote poetry as a child” and “writes it as a discipline” now.

The suburbs is the setting for Alice Sebold’s books. “Suburbia is ‘compost’—where it all is, where all is seething,” she believes. “When I was growing up, I used to wonder what was going on in the house across the street.” And in the “suburbs, there is an obsession about perfection—not only in the physical, like lawns—but people. People hide,” the author stated.

When Kate Evans inquired why all three of her books involve violent acts, Sebold responded, “I want to write books that psychologically move in a compelling way. A violent act only opens the doorway into psychological investigation.”

As a child, the author had undiagnosed dyslexia. “ I was raised in a house of readers, and I didn’t read …. Desperation creates a sense of drive.” She started reading, and “poetry was my way in, in high school,” she said. She still writes it now.

She read fiction “obsessively,” when she was in her mid-twenties and the old masters when she was in her early thirties.

The Lovely Bones is currently being filmed [by Peter Jackson]. When asked by a member of the audience how involved she is in the film, Ms. Sebold said, “I don’t have a lot of fear and reservations. I am a ‘process freak,’ not a ‘control freak,’ so I am excited to see what they do.”

Regarding her writing “process,” Sebold offered that she is up every day at 4 a.m. because “if you start in the dark, the judges are all asleep.”

She is “obsessed with reading” and “especially keeps poetry books near her, to “feed her” while she is working.

One of Sebold’s tips is, “It is hugely important to have writing mentors, especially to teach you how to navigate the life you are going to lead. You need to have examples of how to survive those mean years when there is little money.”

Check for tickets to author appearances like Pulitzer Prize Winner Jhumpa Lahiri in the Creative Minds series at http://www.sanjosemuseumofart.org/.

To learn more about The Center of Literary Arts, San Jose State, see http://www.litart.org/.

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