Why Alice Sebold Wrote Nonfiction

When Alice Sebold began writing her bestselling novel, The Lovely Bones, the first chapter came to her quickly.  It was the story of a 14-year-old girl’s rape and murder.

Yet, memories of her own real-life rape kept interfering with her work. So Sebold set aside her novel manuscript and instead began to write her nonfiction book, Lucky, which detailed her own attack and her rapist’s subsequent trial.

Lucky went on to became Alice Sebold’s first published book, a memoir which did well and established her credentials as a book author.  The title refers to something chilling she had been told by a policeman: that she was lucky to have survived her attack, as the previous victim had been brutally murdered.

The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s second published book; a novel exploring what might happen if someone didn’t survive a brutal rape. Sebold wisely made her character younger so that she could examine the effect on her fictional parents, siblings and school friends.  It became a bestseller almost overnight, despite the editors who were doubtful due to the novel’s “dark” subject matter.

In the aftermath of her real-life attack, Sebold might have wondered what would have happened had she died—would she have been better off?  Her answer, as told through protagonist Suzie Salmon, is no—but you can find peace, even in death.

Many first novels are semi-autobiographical; in this way, Sebold was able to exorcize her own story and be free to write her novel, benefiting herself both personally and professionally.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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