by Pamme Boutselis
Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of more than 20 novels: “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” “Harvesting the Heart,” “Picture Perfect,” “Mercy,” “The Pact,” “Keeping Faith,” “Plain Truth,” “Salem Falls,” “Perfect Match,” “Second Glance,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Vanishing Acts,” “The Tenth Circle,” “Nineteen Minutes,” “Change of Heart,” “Handle With Care,” “House Rules,” “Sing You Home,” “Lone Wolf,” “The Storyteller” and “Leaving Time.” Her first tween/YA novel, “Between the Lines,” which was co-written with her daughter, Samantha van Leer, was released in June 2012. Their latest collaboration is “Off The Page,” a romantic YA novel that incorporates humor, adventure and magical relationships.
How have the experiences you have had because of your writing enriched your life?
Innumerably. I certainly wouldn’t have traveled as extensively as I have, or learned how to balance my time between career and family. But perhaps most importantly, I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve had the privilege to meet on book tour — the ones who tell me that “The Pact” kept them from committing suicide, or that “House Rules” helped them understand their child with autism a little better. Those are the sorts of comments you don’t expect to receive when you write fiction…and it’s very humbling to hear them.
What do you know now with regard to writing that you wish you knew back when you first started out?
The brass ring you are grabbing for is NOT the publishing contract. That’s just the foot-in-the-door. What you really need is a publisher that actually tries to sell your book, instead of just letting it sit amongst the thousands in its catalog. If I had realized that, I would have hired a freelance publicist MUCH earlier in my career.
You’re known for your meticulous research. What have some of the most surprising things you’ve learned along the way been?
That the Amish don’t go to church every week – just every other week. I was particularly blown away by the research I did with ghost hunters for “Second Glance” — I saw things I still cannot explain or rationalize, that led me to think maybe there IS more to this world (and the next) than meets the eye. I was given a recipe for crystal meth by an inmate in Arizona, and taught how to make a zip gun. I learned that there are places in Alaska that have no roads, literally, and the only way to get there is on a snowmobile or with sled dogs, along a frozen river (which, in a winter, is given a temporary highway number!). I learned that the grief counselors working with families after the Columbine shooting were told to each tell their “assigned” family its child was the first to die and didn’t suffer (imagine what happened when they started talking and realized they’d all been told the same thing).
I learned the mechanics of lethal injection – and that biologically, there is not enough time for the sodium pentathol to anesthetize the inmate before the potassium chloride is injected to stop his heart. I learned that the concept of Original Sin was not in the Bible from the start…but rather is traced to Augustine of Hippo, a self-confessed sex addict who around 400AD decided Original Sin was the root of all evil, and bribed the Pope with 70 Dominican stallions to include it in Catholic doctrine. I’ve learned that there is a gene for sexual orientation in fruit flies that can be manipulated so that the flies are either attracted to the same sex, or different sex flies. I’ve learned that an alpha wolf can hear the change in your heartbeat from seven feet away, and has the power to terminate her own pregnancy or that of any other wolf in the pack, if she doesn’t feel it it a good time to be reproducing. And I learned that until 2007, the U.S. Genocide statute only covered genocides perpetrated by U.S. citizens against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil — so we have no jurisdiction for any war crimes committed before that against Americans.
You toured with your daughter in support of “Between the Lines,” the YA book you wrote together. What was that experience like?
So amazing! First, I’m always on tour alone, so having a travel companion was fantastic. Having it be my 16-year old daughter was even more fantastic. It was a unique opportunity to spend time with her before she leaves for college…and from a mom’s perspective, I got to watch audiences fall in love with her every night. Sammy had the most remarkable poise and charm — there are grown adults who couldn’t have pulled off the live TV, radio and grueling tour schedule she did, and she made it look easy. (A new tour begins in mid-May 2015 for “Off the Page”)
You’re able to leave only one of your books as your legacy. Which would you choose and why?
Wow, that’s an amazing question. The book that most people know is “My Sister’s Keeper”…but that’s not the one I’d leave. I’d probably pick “Nineteen Minutes,” because of its anti-bullying message, or “Sing You Home,” because it promotes the idea of equality for same-sex couples. I just really hope we get to a point where both of those books are historical relics, because the issues they address no longer exist.
Writers are encouraged to visit Jodi Picoult’s website and listen to her advice in “So You Want to Be a Writer,” #23 on her podcast player.