Alyssa B. Sheinmel's new book, The Stone Girl, will be published by Knopf Books For Young Readers on August 28. A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of The Stone Girl. Today, as part of a blog tour, Alyssa is also stopping by to answer a few questions about the book, fairy tales, sisters, and more!
ABS: Through sheer force of will, Sethie can make her inner-world smaller even as the world around her is expanding; she can meet new people, make new friends, and still force her private world to shrink.
There are plenty of theories as to why eating disorders work this way. Some experts theorize that eating disorders can be an attempt to keep from growing up – literally, in some cases, trying to reverse puberty, because the body becomes more childlike as the anorexic loses weight. That’s not exactly what Sethie’s doing; though she is at once desperate to begin and terrified to face the next phase in her life, to move out of her mother’s house, to leave Shaw behind, to begin attending the college she always dreamt of attending.
And then, of course, there is the control factor, the generally-accepted notion that eating disorders are about control more than anything else. Sethie’s eating disorder can go on no matter what else is happening in her life. It’s familiar, it can be relied upon. Sethie can’t control whether she gets into Barnard, which dorm she’ll live in, whether her mother will ever finish filling out the FAFSA forms. But she can make her eating disorder stay exactly the same, no matter what other changes she’s facing.
Jen: In your introduction, you also say you “infused a little bit of magic into Sethie’s world.” It seems to me that all your books have magic or fairy tale elements. The Beautiful Between describes high school as a kingdom, The Lucky Kind refers to a sort of magic love bond that holds true through difficult times, and The Stone Girl is, in part, a story about transformation. When you were working on each book, did you have specific fairy tales or magical themes in mind?
ABS: Magic seems to find its way into each of my stories. I have always loved fairy tales; I love the delicious Disney versions that I grew up with, the darker Grimm tales I read later, the fantasy worlds of The Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials. When I wrote The Beautiful Between, fairy tales – Rapunzel in particular – were foremost in my mind. Writing The Lucky Kind, magic found its way in, even though I hadn’t originally intended it to be a part of the story.
When I wrote The Stone Girl I made a conscious choice to include little bits of magic as another way to illuminate Sethie’s world. Connelly, the protagonist in The Beautiful Between, created a fantasy world for herself to protect herself from the loneliness of losing her father. The magic in Sethie’s story is a bit more subtle: Sethie fixates on her best friend’s defined collarbones, and in her mind, they glow when Janey is excited. Sethie longs to be closer to her distant boyfriend Shaw, but his skin is always ice cold, making Sethie shiver. Sethie finds a friend in Ben, who reminds her of an unlikely hero in a fairy tale, the giant who saves the day.
Jen: Yes! That's exactly how I saw Ben. I was glad that he didn't just swoop in and save Sethie, fairy tale hero style, but I loved the way he helped her see the world a little differently.
You end each of your three books with an Ernest Hemingway quote. On your blog bio you say that you try to read a little Hemingway every day. Can you talk a little bit about how his writing inspires you?
ABS: There’s a quote that I keep on the bulletin board above my desk, from one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, about Ernest Hemingway’s writing: “There was just something magnetic to me in the arrangement of those sentences.” Leave it to Joan Didion to say it so brilliantly. Magnetic is the perfect word for the way I feel about Ernest Hemingway’s writing. I’m drawn to it: his metaphors seem to crackle and pop off the page; his imagery brings to life places I’ve never been, foods I’ve never eaten, wines I’ve never drunk. There’s just something magical to me about his prose.
Jen: Your older sister, Courtney Sheinmel, is a middle grade author. What is it like having another writer in the family? Have the two of you ever thought of collaborating on a book?
ABS: Courtney and I grew up in a house where books were paramount. Our parents always encouraged us to read, never refused us a book when we wanted it, and always supplied us with notebooks in which to write down our own stories. I think Courtney and I both wanted to be writers from the minute we figured out it was an actual job, and not just something fun to do when we were bored.
I have to admit, though, I think I would be a terrible collaborator! I don’t like to talk about my writing while I’m in the middle of a project, which is kind of a prerequisite for working on a book with someone else. I think I would probably be a nightmare to collaborate with!
Jen: Can you tell us about a project that you’re working on – or thinking about – right now?
ABS: I usually have a few works-in-progress. I don’t like to talk about the books that I’m working on while I’m working on them – I’m scared I might jinx myself. With every book I try to do something that I didn’t do before; with The Lucky Kind, I tried to write in a voice completely different form the voice I’d written in for The Beautiful Between. The Stone Girl is my first novel in the third person, and I tried to add a little more magic to it than had been in either of my previous books. Next, I’m going to try to experiment with more magic, to play in different settings and create very different characters. Most of all, I just want to write a better book than the books I’ve written before.
Jen: Well, I can't wait to read it! Thanks so much for stopping by!
Here are all the details on Alyssa's blog tour: