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Author Alice Sebold draws more than 500 to IMU

BY KASSIE FRIEDRICHS | MARCH 5, 2009 7:29 AM

Best-selling author Alice Sebold adorned bright red, rectangular glasses as she began her Wednesday presentation at the IMU by reading from her first novel, The Lovely Bones.

She started, “My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on Dec. 6, 1973.”

In the end of the book’s first chapter, Susie recounts her rape.

“In the beginning, I was encouraged not to read that chapter,” Sebold said. “Then I said, ‘To Hell with it.’ ”

Sebold drew a crowd of more than 500 to the IMU Main Lounge as part of the University Lecture Series Wednesday night.

She said that when she writes, she strives for readers to let go of themselves and become the characters in her novels.

“I had a friend who said when she started reading one of my books, she stopped breathing as herself and started breathing as the character,” she said. “That’s what I want.”

“Inflatable novels,” or beginning drafts of books, she said, are part of a long process to find the correct “voice” of a story.

“Some of them are actually published,” she teased, but she noted that it “takes years to find a voice to propel a novel [to the final stages].”

Sebold is also well-known for her memoir Lucky — an account of her rape at the age of 18 and the trial that followed.

The best-selling author said she sent the book’s final version to her entire family with a note telling them if they felt any part of the story wasn’t seemingly true to let her know.

“My father replied with a long list of grammatical errors,” Sebold said and laughed.

Although she didn’t do much research when she started writing Lucky, she did keep a journal.

Karla Miller, the executive director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, said writing can be a form of therapy for sexual-assault victims.

“It’s not uncommon for victims to write journals about their experiences,” she said. “By putting it on paper, it allows you to look at [the experience] and understand more easily that it’s not your fault.”

Miller also noted disbelief is a common response for victims, and keeping a journal can help make the experience seem real.

“It [also] puts the responsibility where it belongs, and that’s on the offender,” she said.

Miller said such writers as Sebold are great role models for sharing their intensely personal experiences with the world.

Miller also noted sexual-assault victims come into RVAP with Sebold’s books and say the author has captured their exact experiences in her work.

Amanda Martin, a City High junior, said Sebold’s passion for writing came through.

“Her goal of making you feel in that position, feeling like Susie, came true,” she said. “That was really, really powerful.”

UI senior Steph Lindley thought the lecture was informative and pertained to her career choice.

“It was a really good experience to hear her influences [on the writing process],” she said. “I can take something out of it as someone who is going to be a teacher.”

The Lovely Bones is set to become a major motion picture, to be released in December. It is directed by Peter Jackson.


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