Jodi Picoult Interview
Posted by Michelle on February 14, 2008
With thirteen books behind her, Jodi Picoult is a household name, who needs no introduction.
Her books cover various topics, some of them hard hitting, and they raise many ethical and moral dilemmas. Yet throughout can be seen the themes of family, relationships, and love.
Q. Your books cover a range of topics.. how would you describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read them?
A. They’re highly readable, hopefully addicting novels about hard questions that don’t have easy answers – and moral and ethical dilemmas we all face.
Q. How do you decide of those topics, and where do you get your ideas.. are any based on real life events?
A. I don’t base my books on my life (thank goodness) and I don’t pick the topic first. In fact, the topic picks me – via a question I can’t answer as a mom, a wife, a woman, an American. I find myself wondering “What if…” and it blossoms into a whole novel.
However, occasionally real life winds its way into my fiction – for example, in My Sister’s Keeper, I spoke at length with the first couple to conceive a donor sibling in America. Even though my story spun the issue into a different direction – and several years past what they’ve faced – I started with the facts. The horrors faced by the Abenaki during the Vermont Eugenics Project in Second Glance was, sadly, all too real.
Q. How about your characters.. have any of those been based on people you know?
A. No – my characters arrive fully formed. To give them characteristics of friends and family would just be superfluous. However, I AM a really bad friend – I eavesdrop constantly, and am likely to use a conversation I’ve had with someone in a book.
Q. Do you have a favourite character, and is there a particular book that is special to you?
A. My favourite books are The Tenth Circle and Second Glance because, from a writing standpoint, they are just so dramatically unique. It’s fiction that hasn’t been done before, and I’m proud of that. My favourite characters: Ian from Keeping Faith, Jesse from My Sister’s Keeper, Nina Frost from Perfect Match.
Q. You write about some hard hitting subjects, how do you prevent your stories becoming depressing and maudlin?
A. Oh, wow…I thought they WERE depressing and maudlin, LOL! : Just joking – my books are heavy, but often I will cut them with a fool, a la Shakespeare. It’s the reason why, in My Sister’s Keeper, you get to laugh at Campbell’s one liners when people ask why he has a service dog. Or you’ll see a graphic novel wending through the chapters of The Tenth Circle. Moments like that give you, the reader, a chance to catch your breath. I also think that my characters act and sound real – like people who you might have met. That brings the drama into a personal realm, instead of heightening it as if it were a performance.
Q. Your current book, The Tenth Circle, includes a Dante scholar, and a comic book artist. Did these two things already interest you, or did you have to research them for the book?
A. I knew very little about either. I had studied Dante in college and disliked it- had to restudy it for the book (and still dislike it, but hey, I appreciate a bit more about the guy, now.) However, from a metaphorical vantage point, the idea of “being careful what you wish for, as it just may come true” was vitally important to tie the different parts of the book together.
I also wanted to write a book with a main character who wasn’t verbal, necessarily – to show that there are many different ways to tell a story. To that end, Daniel could have been a songwriter or a dancer or a formal artist – but once I had settled on Dante I kept thinking of the graphic novel form. The Inferno is so visual, it cries out for a comic book setting. To learn more about that format, I started with my 13 year old son, who taught me the history of comic books (which were invented in America, during the Depression, by two guys who couldn’t get jobs at a newspaper and created a character who was a loser but still got the girl in the end: Superman) and then met with Jim Lee – a former college friend who is now one of the most talented and famous pencillers in the industry. I must have done something right, since DC Comics recently hired me to write five issues of Wonder Woman. They hit the stands in March.
Q. Have you considered trying a completely different genre, or do you have plenty of ideas still to explore?
A. I think I’d be crippled by nonfiction – too much responsibility to the people whose lives you’re borrowing. However, I don’t think that when I write fiction, I’m bound by genre – my work crosses several of those – so I figure I can go wherever I like and still stay happy for a long while.
Q. Do you enjoy your book signing tours, and do you have a favourite places out of all those you’ve visited? Is there anywhere you’d like to go back to when you have more time?
A. Book tours are gruelling – but they’re also wonderful. They’re a part of the equation – if not for those, the person who buys your book is just a number. At a signing, you get to hear THEIR stories about where they were when they finished a book; which one they loved most and why: it completes the transaction between reader and writer. I love visiting the UK and Australia and New Zealand because that’s where the best readers in the world live: the ones who want a good, meaty story they can discuss for hours on end. In my country, unfortunately, the average reader is one who likes to read the same story over and over, and come to a neat, tied, happy ending – a kind of book I don’t write.
Q. Do you find time to read purely for relaxation? Who are your favourite authors?
A. Alice Hoffman, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Chris Bohjalian, Mary Morris.
Q. Can you give us a sneak preview of what’s to come next?
A. NINETEEN MINUTES is due in March in the US, April in the UK. It’s ostensibly about a school shooting in a small town – and the aftermath, when friendships and alliances break apart. But it’s REALLY about what it means to grow up different, who has the right to judge someone else, and if we ever really know people as well as we think we do – including our own children. I keep calling the book the next “My Sister’s Keeper” because it’s like that – gripping, gut wrenching, something that will call into question your own beliefs…and of course, a killer twist at the end.
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