Alyssa Sheinmel on Writing the Stone Girl
By Alyssa Sheinmel, for The Children’s Book Review
Published: August 16, 2012
I have to admit, I had a really fun time writing The Lucky Kind. Of course it was plagued, from time to time, with bouts of self-doubt, questions over where the story was going and how I was going to get it there, but overall, I look back on the experience of writing that book as a great time. I loved the characters, I loved the voice, the dialogue seemed to crackle and pop as I put it down on paper. Writing The Beautiful Betweenwas difficult, but always exciting, because it was my first novel and there was so much possibility in every new chapter. I didn’t know if I was writing it just for me and me alone or if it would be published.
Writing The Stone Girl, however, was not particularly fun. It was exhilarating, from time to time, because I was writing about things I’d never written about before, going someplace darker and deeper than I’d ever been as a writer. It was thrilling, sometimes, when the words came quickly and I wrote chapter after chapter in rapid succession. But the words never came easily. There were times when I would go weeks and weeks without looking at the book at all.
I came up with the idea for The Stone Girl in a car, driving from the San Francisco airport to the hotel where my then-fiancé and I were planning our wedding. It was a few days before my 28th birthday, a few years since I’d last made myself throw up, and I was reading Blackbird House, by Alice Hoffman, for the first time. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw a girl, still and silent as a stone, crouched beside a toilet. At once, I knew everything about her. I knew her name was Sarah Beth, but she preferred to be called Sethie. I knew the boy she loved was only half of a boyfriend, and I knew she was destined to be hurt by him. I knew exactly when and how she first learned to throw up. I know she wore her clothes a couple sizes too big so that waistbands and cap-sleeves wouldn’t dig into her skin. I knew that sometimes she wanted to take a knife to her body and cut the fat pieces away.
I began scribbling in the spiral notebook I always take with me when I travel. A few messy pages of notes later, I’d begun writing The Stone Girl. But I quickly put it aside. The Beautiful Between hadn’t even been published yet. I had only just begun writing The Lucky Kind. And did I really want to write a book about a sick, sad, lonely girl anyway?
Whether I wanted to or not eventually became besides the point. I kept thinking about this girl and I kept scribbling notes, typing stray chapters, imagining where her story would take her. I remembered things long forgotten, from the years I spent wrapped up in my own body-obsession: my illogical “fat-free” days, when I would eat only foods with the words “fat-free” splashed across their packaging; the way toilet water felt when it splashed against my face after I made myself vomit; which foods came up easily and which I had to struggle against.
But sometimes, those memories seemed far away; so far, that I thought maybe I had no place writing a book about such experiences. Maybe I’d gotten so far past them that I couldn’t write about them honestly. Times like that, I felt like an imposter in the world of eating disorders and body-obsession.
And sometimes, I had to shove the book aside, because spending that much time in Sethie’s head threatened to bleed into my real life; there were days when I found myself counting calories without meaning to, wondering whether I could still make myself throw up, considering skipping a meal just to see if I could anymore.
In short, it was a difficult book to write. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. That same day that I first pictured Sethie, crouched by a toilet, still and silent as a stone, I also saw that her future was much brighter than she imagined. I knew that there would come a day when sticking her fingers down her throat would seem as preposterous to her as it does to me now. I knew that one day, she would become bored with, exhausted by, and tired of her body-obsession, would want a life that involved more than counting calories and crouching by toilets. Simply put, I knew her life would get better. And even when I was writing the novel’s darkest scenes, I kept that light in the back of my mind. Without it, I might not have been able to tell Sethie’s story.
It is September in New York City and Sarah Beth Weiss has just turned seventeen. For as long as she can remember, she has been called Sethie; her parents, her grandparents, even cousins and uncles who barely know her name at all, know that she is called Sethie. Only new teachers get it wrong. At school, when they go through roll call, Sethie has always had to interrupt to explain. It happened just today, the ﬁrst day of her senior year. She thought all the teachers at her small school would know her real name by now. But there was a new math teacher today. It wasn’t his fault, and Sethie knows it, but she was angry at him. She was frustrated that he made her explain about her name. She felt bad, later, for having been angry.
—Excerpt from chapter one of The Stone Girl.
Add this book to your collection: The Stone Girl
For more information, visit: http://www.alyssasheinmel.com/
You can also follow Alyssa on her The Stone Girl blog tour:
8/2—Emily’s Crammed Bookshelf Interview & review
8/3—Literary Rambles Guest post & giveaway
8/6—YA Romantics Review
8/7—The Book Addict’s Guide Interview
8/8—Book Club Chic Review
8/9—A Tale of Two Bookies Guest post
8/12—The Teen Book Guru Interview
8/13—The Teen Book Guru Review
8/14—Itching for Books Guest post
8/15—Random Acts of Reading Guest post
8/16—The Children’s Book Review Guest post & giveaway
8/17—Isabel Bandeira Mini-interview & guest post
8/20—YA Romantics Interview
8/21—Taking It One Book at a Time Interview
8/22—Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers Review & giveaway
8/23—Confessions of a Bookaholic Guest post & giveaway
8/24—The Compulsive Reader Guest post & giveaway
8/27—Almost Grown Up Interview
8/27—A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy Interview
8/28— A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy Review
8/29—Letter Blocks Interview
9/1—Distraction No. 99 Guest post
9/2—Literary Escapism Guest post (for School’s In)
9/3—Dear Teen Me Guest post