The year 1984 was bad for Alice Sebold. She was 21 years old, and had just arrived in the Bayou City to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing at the University of Houston. The weather was nasty. As she stood on the front lawn of her first college party -- sipping a beer, decked out in a skirt -- she thought about how hot her legs felt exposed to the humid air. That is, until she realized she was standing in a bed of ants. It was a sign of things to come.
She impressed enough professors to occasionally be invited over for dinner, but Sebold felt out of place among her older, worldly-wise counterparts. When she was given the honor of introducing a reading by poet Cynthia Macdonald, Sebold somehow managed to trip and do the splits on stage as she was making her way to the podium. By 1985, she was degreeless and heading for New York in search of experience.
"I was just too young to be a graduate student," she says. In the Big Apple, she did everything from teaching at Hunter College to dressing up as a tomato to greet visitors at Union Square Market. Although she had an agent, she wrote several novels before finally publishing Lucky in 1999, a nonfiction account of her fight to bring to justice the man who raped her.
But it is with her first book of fiction, Lovely Bones, a mystery told through the point of view of a 14-year-old murder victim in heaven, that she finally hit her stride. You read not to find out who did it but to see if the clues will lead the investigators to the guilty party.
By breaking out of the confines of realistic fiction, she has created a book that has critics buzzing and readers turning pages. A touch of magic, she discovered, can give a writer real access to emotion.
And now that she's gained a little world experience -- and a lot of success -- Sebold is ready to brave our cruel city once more.