Author Talk Recap: Alice Sebold of The Lovely Bones

Book loving peeps, I’m struggling with this blog post. So bear with me.

This time last week, I was looking at my blog content schedule with excitement. You see, I planned on attending an event at UCI featuring Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones, The Almost Moon, Lucky), where she would do a reading of her work, give a talk, and then sign her books. Because I loved The Lovely Bones and admired Sebold’s bravery and generosity of spirit in sharing the very painful experience of her rape in Lucky, I eagerly awaited hearing about her writing journey, path to publication, what she’s working on now—that kind of thing—so I could share that with you here.

It didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected.

The focus of Sebold’s talk was not her writing, but trauma—her experience as a rape victim, the way trauma connects people of disparate backgrounds, and the vast number of groups who are traumatized under the current president’s administration. If you’ve read my About page, you know I have a strong preference for keeping political rants discussion as far away from my blog as possible.

Alice Sebold talks about trauma at author event.

So, what to share with you about Sebold’s talk that doesn’t comment on politics?

Here’s what I eked out.

“I did not take their ignorance as an act against me.”

If you’ve read Lucky, you know some well-meaning people made some really ignorant remarks to Sebold about her rape—the most infamous, of course, being the police officer’s comment of how “lucky” Sebold was in comparison with the young woman who was murdered in the same spot where Sebold was raped. Sebold acknowledged that those confronted by another’s trauma are often times clueless about what to say or how to act. She suggested that listening is the greatest gift of all in those situations, and to be cautious not to rush in to help or advocate or fix.

But she also said, over the years, she came to a place of empathy for those people who hurt her with their well-meaning words. In the foreword to Lucky, which was re-released in 2017, she says:

“…I also now have greater empathy for those who couldn’t or didn’t know how to help me or, worse still, those who may have inadvertently hurt me.”

Success is fluid

Sebold’s first published novel, The Lovely Bones, was a best-selling phenomenon, described as the most successful debut novel since Gone with the Wind. Its success prompted Lucky, published years earlier, to hit the bestseller list as well. But Sebold’s next novel, The Almost Moon, received sharply mixed reviews, and she hasn’t published any novels since 2007. Yet she continues to write (note: she was circumspect in sharing about her current writing project but does have one underway). Fans still want to hear her talk about her work. Life goes on.

It was also interesting to hear that based upon feedback Sebold received while in the middle of writing what became The Lovely Bones—essentially, that her own voice as a rape victim was interfering with the development of Susie Salmon’s voice—Sebold stepped away to write Lucky. Afterwards, having poured her thoughts about her own experience into Lucky, she was able to return to writing Susie’s character in The Lovely Bones with greater clarity.

“What did you think of the movie?”

During the Q&A, someone asked Sebold what she thought of The Lovely Bones movie directed by Peter Jackson. You might recall that the 2010 movie received mixed reviews, with Roger Ebert calling it “deplorable” and Entertainment Weekly saying “Jackson forfeits depth for safe, surface loveliness.” I liked it okay, if I remember correctly. Anyway, Sebold graciously answered the question by saying that the book had inspired all sorts of art (e.g., sketches, poetry, the movie), and she finds it amazing that she has written something that inspires others’ art. Well said, Ms. Sebold.

Have you had any surprising author event experiences? Tell me I’m not alone in the comments!


Titles Mentioned

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