Sunday, August 04, 2002


I haven't read "The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold, yet, but I will. I remember hearing about the novel from one of my movie scout friends more than two years ago, the Guy With the Amazing Bullshit Detector, and he spoke breathlessly about it, so I never forgot the title, which seemed so odd, so right. Then I read "Lucky," Sebold's memoir about surviving a brutal rape when she was a college freshman, and it was one of those books I didn't want to put down, but had to--the writing was so good--but so hard to bear. So for some reason, I feel vicariously thrilled to see this book do so well, to be "news that stays news," as Ezra Pound called poetry. The other cool thing about Alice Sebold is that she says something wonderful in every interview--about writing, about teaching, about being inspired. This is about all three. This is from the interview.

Your characters are so complete, so real. It's hard to imagine that writing about them would feel like invention. How did these characters develop?

AS: I think having taught freshman composition for a decade in New York was a key ingredient in my education as a writer. Empathy and compassion is central to teaching, or should be, and for me it is also central to writing. I pitched myself into the lives of my students, who came from every background and represented every age. You must first understand, as best as you are able, the true being of your student before you can expect them to trust and to learn. The same thing is true of working with fictional characters. What are they saying to you? Who do they truly want to be? Nothing should ever come easily in answer to these questions because humans aren't easy. I distrust the "Aha!" moment both in life and in writing. As soon as you think you know someone, there is something you haven't seen. My characters guide me to the right way of telling their story just as my students have guided me in the right way of trying to teach. Each student, each character, is handled individually, and when they come together as a group that is another dynamic.


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