Go Ask Alice (Sebold, That Is)


By Una LaMarche

Alice Sebold chronicled her own rape as a college freshman in 1999’s Lucky, but it was the brutal abuse narrative in The Lovely Bones, published a few years later, that forced readers (and film producers) to stop and take notice. Now, with her third book, The Almost Moon, out next week, Sebold confronts the mother of all transgressions: matricide.

Almost an afterthought for the prolific writer, The Lovely Bones has been given the silver screen treatment for release in 2008, starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel Weisz under the direction of Peter Jackson. After the jump, a reserved Sebold talks about the movie, dementia, and the elusive definition of murder.

BLACKBOOK: Peter Jackson is directing The Lovely Bones. How much involvement did you have in the adaptation? ALICE SEBOLD: I read the script and I gave notes. But it is their [Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyen, who share writing credits for the film] baby.

BB: As a writer, is it exciting to see your novel take life onscreen, or are you terrified that it will be ruined in some way? AS: I just think it��������s fun to watch it go into another discipline. I get to just sit back and let them make the hard decisions.

BB: Your new book, The Almost Moon, centers on a woman who commits matricide, partially because her mother suffers from dementia. Do you anticipate backlash from readers who have family members with dementia?

AS: You know, the truth is that until people read the book, they focus on whatever bold letters are out there. I��������m sure many people will be upset, but when they read the book then they can form their own opinion of the character and her reasoning.

BB: Your first two novels were told from the perspective of a victim of violence, but Helen is the perpetrator. How did you find her voice and connect to her character?

AS: Finding a voice for a character is the central struggle for me in my writing. I can��������t say that one [writing a victim as opposed to a killer] is easier than the other��������they��������re both really hard! So no matter what the circumstances of the character, it��������s always a struggle for me to find their voice and write their story. BB: Some early press for The Almost Moon describes Helen as the polar opposite of Mr. Harvey, the killer in The Lovely Bones, because she is not evil or insane, but a normal woman driven to a violent act. Do you agree that the two characters are so far apart?

AS: It��������s funny, when you only have a few books out people tend to want to compare and contrast. But it��������s murky. The characters [of Helen and Mr. Harvey] are very different. Of course, they both commit a crime, so you could say that connects them. BB: Helen doesn��������t believe that she��������s a murderer. Do you?

AS: There��������s the literal definition of murder on paper, and then there��������s the interpretive definition of murder away from paper, in the soul. I can understand and believe both definitions.

BB: You��������ve said that in The Lovely Bones the rape and murder scene was the first thing you wrote, and in Lucky the rape scene was the last. Where did the murder scene fall in your writing process for The Almost Moon? AS: Just like with The Lovely Bones, even though the murder scene was the first thing I wrote, I wrote it after failed attempts in which it wasn��������t the first thing. So with The Almost Moon, I wrote drafts of the book in different ways. In the final version I ended up using, the murder scene was the first thing I wrote.

BB: Did you need to know how the murder happened to write the story? AS: I needed to know Helen first to find out how she would commit a murder. But the murder is the central action in the story��������the rest is mostly inside Helen��������s head. So it was important. BB: I��������ve read that you don��������t think of the violence in your writing as particularly controversial because it��������s a part of life��������it affects everyone in some way. Now that extreme violence��������particularly involving torture��������has become so much more prevalent in popular culture since 9/11, does it affect how you approach your own violent scenes?

AS: No, I just feel like I��������ve always been feeling that those issues were there and everyone else is just now catching up.

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