I love hearing authors speak. Last week, Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones, came to our town. We live in a small town so any news is big news. This was BIG news.
Eve and I went together and exercised our brains very hard to keep up with her speech. She’s very smart (a characteristic I admire in other people) and she tied her writing to many social issues (the war, trauma, government, more war). In her speech, she often quoted the works of Tennessee Williams and Voltaire. Eve and I sat glossy-eyed.
Finally she quoted David Lynch. “Blue Velvet!” we said to each other. Then Alice made an analogy to Axl Rose. Eve and I flashed each other that universal heavy metal hand signal with our tongues sticking out. It felt nice to participate in her speech! I was about to play air guitar when I turned around and noticed the publisher of the local newspaper sitting behind us. “Um, hi, Robin,” he said and looked away. It’s probably a good thing I quit that job.
My favorite part of Alice’s presentation was when she answered questions from audience members. One man asked her what she thinks makes great storytelling. “Be willing to disappear in your own work,” she said.
In The Lovely Bones, Alice was able to touch on so many themes (death, trauma, revenge, sex, love, heaven, God, or a lack of God). And she, as the author, disappeared from the story seamlessly. Alice said she actually stopped in the middle of writing Bones to write Lucky, the memoir of her childhood rape, so she could get all of that out of the way and not cloud the story.
It made me think of my own novel I’m working on. My main character, a 16-year old girl, discovers her own spiritual nature and finds a love for life…but not in a “the Baptist church saved me” kind of way. Sometimes I wonder what in the world possessed me to write a contemporary novel about a girl finding her spirit. But I think many teens nowadays are ready for a novel on spirituality.
And like Alice, I find I have to take myself out of the story I’m writing and draw on my own experiences, but not make it my own experience.
At the end of her speech, Alice said something that definitely resonated not only with me personally, but also with the character in my book. She said, “We are all going to die. But before we die…we live.”