Interview: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Welcome to this stop in Alyssa B. Sheinmel‘s blog tour! There’s two stops here; today, an interview with Alyssa; and tomorrow, a review of The Stone Girl.

Other books by Alyssa: The Beautiful Between (2010);  The Lucky Kind (2011).


Liz B: To begin with, I just have to say how much I adored THE STONE GIRL. Sethie – she is hauntingly real, and I still wonder about how and how things will turn out for her. Also, I am restraining myself from saying, “remember? Remember when you wrote this really awesome bit about August is like Summer’s bitter older sister? Remember that?” I also don’t want to spoil too much for someone who hasn’t yet read THE STONE GIRL.

Alyssa: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Liz B: THE STONE GIRL is a detailed, intimate look at Sethie. Sethie is smart and bright, and from the outside probably looks like she has it all, an easy life: good school, mother who loves her, boyfriend, friends. But once you look deeper, it’s not easy; it’s not simple; and it’s not even what you think, at first.  I’m hesitant to put any type of label on Sethie, to do any armchair diagnosis. She has a complex relationship with food and body image, for instance. What went into creating Sethie? What type of research did you do?

Alyssa: I often find that I begin researching a book long before I decide to write it.  I was reading about adoption, talking to friends about their experiences with it, just before I got the idea to write The Lucky Kind.  I’ve been fascinated with fairy tales and fantasy worlds my whole life, years before The Beautiful Between was even a hint of an idea. 

Eating disorders have been part of my life for a long time.  Body-obsession was a big part of my own adolescence and young-adulthood, and I spent hour after hour reading books, articles, and essays about eating disorders.  They were so endlessly interesting to me that I even wrote my senior thesis about them. 

I guess I always knew that I might end up writing a book that dealt with body-obsession in one way or another.  Honestly, I didn’t want to.  I didn’t think there was anything to say about eating disorders that hadn’t been said already, by people much more qualified than I am.  But a few years ago, an image of Sethie popped into my head, and suddenly, I knew everything about her.  And just as suddenly, I knew that one way or another, I was going to tell her story.

Liz B: THE STONE GIRL is told in third person, and it pulls the reader into the story – it’s not so much as I feel that I am Sethie, as I feel like I am Sethie’s shadow or ghost, someone there for every step yet unable to stop her. Not only is this telling Sethie’s story in third person, Sethie is an unreliable narrator! It actually took me a while to pick up on that, because it is so subtle and because, well, I liked Sethie and trusted her view. Was third person always your choice for Sethie’s story? In writing an unreliable narrator, was it difficult keeping track of what you, the author knew; what Sethie was telling the reader; and what you wanted the reader to realize before Sethie did, herself?

Alyssa: First of all, thank you so much.  I love hearing that the narrative made you feel like Sethie’s shadow or ghost – what an amazing compliment; that was exactly what I had in mind as I wrote it.  In fact, when that image of Sethie first appeared in my mind’s eye, it felt like I was watching her, floating a few feet above her head.  For me, the third person always felt like the natural way to tell Sethie’s story. 

And, I do think that there are things you can say in the third person that you can’t always say in the first – eating disorders come with some very unpleasant and occasionally graphic aspects, and I don’t know if I would have been able to write about them in the same way had the novel been in the first person.

Liz B: The level of anxiety I had as THE STONE GIRL drew towards an end was unbelievable. Honestly, the concern I felt for Sethie, and wanting her to be all right, yet so afraid for her! Did you always know how THE STONE GIRL would end, and how Sethie would get to that point?

Alyssa: I think I always knew that The Stone Girl’s ending was going to be more of a beginning than an end – in fact, the last word in the novel is actually “start.”  At the close of the novel, Sethie still has a long way to go.  We don’t know what kind of help she’s going to receive, how long it’s going to take for her to recover, whether she’ll relapse – just as she doesn’t know.  She’s still not entirely sure what it is that’s wrong with her, not entirely sure what kind of help she needs – she only knows she needs something more than what she has.

Actually, I think all of my books so far have ended similarly – both The Lucky Kind and The Beautiful Between end when the characters still have a long way to go, and a lot of work left to do.  The stories I told – that is, the novels I wrote – just got them to the point when they were ready to take those next steps.

Liz B: As I think is clear from my questions and my review, I became very invested in Sethie. She was real to me in part because her insecurities were so familiar, as were her doubts and fears. It’s pretty intense. Was it hard to walk away from Sethie and THE STONE GIRL? Do you have anything you do between putting down your pen (or, rather, closing your laptop) and rejoining the “real world”?

Alyssa: For many reasons, The Stone Girl was written in fits and spurts – partly because I wrote it while I still had a day-job (in the marketing department of Random House Children’s Books), partly because it was so challenging to write, and partly because I gave up on the story a few times along the way.  So, by the time I finished it, I had gotten used to hopping in and out of the world of the story and the “real” world. 

In the end, though, it was hard to walk away from Sethie, because I was so invested in her myself, and telling her story meant so much to me.  And, I certainly didn’t leave her in the best place – of course, part of me wanted to add that someday, she was going to be fine and happy and her body-obsession would be a memory rather than an active part of her life.  But I think the most honest way to end the novel was to leave Sethie where I did, when she still had such a long way to go, when she still had such a lot of work to do.

And, I have to admit, I was relieved when this book was finished.  Writing The Stone Girl forced me to revisit some difficult parts of my own past, so, as much as I liked Sethie, it was also something of a relief to leave the book behind. 

Liz B: Thank you so much!!

As a reminder, here is the list of other stops on the blog tour.

Author photo from author; used with permission.


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