Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Interview with Jodi Picoult

From KKTV (Southern Colorado) --

My Interview with Jodi Picoult --

By: Leslie Fichera --
Mar 26, 2010 --

There are times when you just think, I love my job! This was one of those times for me. I got to sit down and interview my very favorite author, Jodi Picoult. It was my version of meeting a celebrity and I was nervous! I had to be a one-man band (meaning I was the reporter and photographer) ... not to mention my actual job at KKTV is Web director, so although I write a lot, it had been a while since I'd picked up a camera and done my own story.

Anyway, I really liked Jodi. She was very nice and also very straight forward and funny! She made the auidience laugh a lot during her lecture and I really enjoyed listening to her speak. I was only allowed to tape the first 5 minutes of her lecture (not her rule!), but once I turned my camera off, I sat and listened to the whole lecture. It was so interesting!

Here's the story I wrote about the interview with Jodi... I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed interviewing her and writing it!

She's one of the most well-known and intriguing authors of our day. Her name tops the bestseller list 17 times over. Jodi Picoult is an outstanding writer and a strong-willed woman who dares to write about topics that force us all to challenge our beliefs, question our convictions and ponder a world that could very well be our own, if just in another life.

As an avid Picoult reader, I jumped at the chance to sit down with her while she was in Denver on tour to promote her newest book, out just this month, House Rules.

I wondered, we all know she has the ability to create dramatic and heart-wrenching stories on paper, but, where do the story ideas come from? What's behind her first-person narratives? How does she feel about her outstanding success? What's her favorite of her own novels?

In short, what's her story?

I started with what's probably the most common question for Picoult... where does she get the ideas for her dramatic and controversial books? Centered around topics like a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome who's accused of murder ("House Rules"), a death row inmate who wants to donate his heart to the sister of his victim ("Change of Heart") or an Amish girl who finds herself unmarried and pregnant ("Plain Truth"), is it her imagination or are these real-life experiences?

"My ideas come from the 'what if?' questions that I can't answer. It's the stuff that keeps me up at night," Jodi says. But Picoult says none of her books are completely made up.

"I've been doing this for 19 years now and I have never just say down at my computer and started making stuff up. In fact, sometimes research takes me longer than the physical act of writing the novel. Well, why do I even bother? I think fiction is a tight rope. I think it's my job to whisk you away from your everyday life and to somehow take you to a different place. In order to do that, I have to make characters and situations that reign extremely true, and because of that I have found myself doing some pretty remarkable things in the name of research. I have observed open heart surgery, I have spent time in jail, I got to leave at the end of the night but I did spend time in jail... I have studied with craft, I've shadowed police chiefs, I've lived with the Amish. If I haven't done it, I'm sure I'm getting there sooner of later. It makes for some really interesting work days," Picoult told the crowd of almost 1,000 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts in Denver.

If you haven’t read any of Picoult’s books yet, well, that gives you a taste of the topics. Whether it’s religion, politics, sex, abortion, scandal, the death penalty or violence, Picoult says the controversial topics are no mistake. She says she feels strongly about her beliefs but she hopes the reader will never know it. She says if she’s done her job well as an author then she’s researched and represented both sides of any argument and her own beliefs should never be evident.

Specifically with “House Rules,” Picoult says she wanted to highlight a breakdown in our country's legal system when someone like Jacob Hunt, the book's main character who is diagnosed with Autism, finds himself accused of murder. His "Aspie" tendencies, the inability to look people in the eye, nervous twitches, lack of empathy and monotone voice, look an awful lot like guilt.
“You see that total breakdown in the legal system when you don’t communicate a certain way and that was really what I was driving at.”

“House Rules” hit bookstores on March 2, and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Picoult says the story idea was also partly personal; her 30-year-old cousin is autistic so she’s seen firsthand how it affects families. She says the center of the problem in our society is a simple lack of understanding. And that’s what “House Rules” is all about. That led me to my next question… how do you go about writing a first-person narrative through the voice of someone with Asperger’s syndrome? Picoult says she visited with autistic children and talked to families who live this life every day.

“I have to say I’ve been doing this for almost 19 years and Jacob is one of my favorite narrators. It was great to write like him and really stick my mind inside his. There’s a beautiful logic to Aspergers that we don’t usually think about because neuro-typical people just don’t think that way. But to think differently is not to think lesser than.”

Personally, my favorite part of her writing is that style of first person narratives. She weaves and builds characters in a way that makes us all understand them. No matter what the character or extraordinary situation, we empathize with each of them because we get into their thoughts and see it through their eyes.

“One of the things that makes me different is that I’m really hard to pigeonhole. I have people that come up to me and say you’re my favorite mystery writer or they say you’re my favorite women’s fiction writer, you’re my favorite courtroom thriller writer. I’m not any one of those, I’m sort of a mix of all of them. If I had to pick a genre, which I really hate doing, I would say it’s moral and ethical fiction because it really addresses big problems that we usually don’t want to talk about but somehow get easier to talk about when you’re following a fictional family’s excursion through that topic. And that’s something that I think does make me unique.”

Speaking of that “courtroom thriller” title- If you’ve read a lot, or all of her books (like me), you’ve probably noticed a trend: the majority of the stories go to trial. You’d think Picoult must have a law degree with the accuracy and diligence in which she writes. Picoult just chalks it up to research. She says she likes the effect a court case has on a story.

“A trial is a really natural dramatic conclusion. You have a great big build up and there’s some kind of resolution.” Although Jodi laughed as she admitted the “resolutions” are not always what you expect.

Now, I would never dare give away an ending to one of her books because they always pack a punch (Oh, and also because she told the audience during the question and answer portion of her lecture later that night that if their question gave away the ending of a book, she’d kill them – no joke). So I’m keeping my mouth shut, but I will say the endings are my favorite part of her books. Sometimes it’s left open for interpretation and sometimes it’s a huge twist. Either way on the last few pages of every one of her books, I find myself covering up the rest of the page so as not to be tempted to spoil the ending!

Picoult’s thoughts about her books’ dramatic conclusions? “I think the ends leave you with more questions. But that’s what life is. Life doesn’t wrap up in a nice tiny little bow.”

One of her books most well-known for the ending is "My Sister’s Keeper", published in 2004 and picked up as a major motion picture in 2009. It was her first book to be published in 40 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Its global appeal is what Picoult said made it ripe for the picking as a movie, but she emphasizes that she feels the book, not the movie, was the jumping point for her career. (Picoult is also extremely candid about her disappointment in the way the director, Nick Cassavetes, decided to end the movie). To summarize her thoughts: why change a good thing?

As a fan, I agree, and so do many of the fellow Picoult readers I’ve spoken to. Jodi’s face lights up when I ask her about her fans. “I have a really huge demographic and that’s really a big compliment I think. I’m really proud of that.” And her fan base might surprise you… Picoult smiled as she told me, “49% of my fan mail comes from men. Which is a great thing, I love that. And they take away very different things from the books than the women do and I really appreciate the comments that they have and the way that they chose to read the books.”

So what are the days like for a bestselling author? Picoult is on book tours about three months out of the year. The other nine months, almost like clockwork she says, she’s writing a book. She’s on a pace of writing about one book a year. Picoult says she has a strict schedule for herself. Her days start with a 5 a.m. wake-up call and a three-mile walk with her best friend. She then gets her three teenage kids ready for school and out the door. At 7:30 a.m., she sits down at her desk to answer all of her fan mail (yes, the REAL Jodi Picoult answered you!). Then it’s on to the writing, rarely breaking for lunch (except when her husband, Tim, surprises her) until 3:30 p.m., when she says suddenly, she becomes a mom again.

Her methods seem to be working well for his 17-time bestselling author. So could she, or would she, answer my most burning question?

Of the 17 books you’ve written, do you have a favorite?

“I do have a favorite novel. It’s Second Glance. And I have my reasons for it being a favorite. It involved the great research I did, the fact that as a writer it was really hard to put it together, it has characters I know you’ve never seen in fiction and it has a historical plot that is real and that most people don’t even realize ever happened in America. So for all those reasons, it’s like this wonderful constellation of what made it a great act of writing for me. And I’m really proud of the way it came out. I’ve always said you can have a different favorite as long as it’s still one of my books.”

Jodi says a lot of people tell her their favorite book is the first one they read. I say my favorite changes every time I finish another one of her books. So what’s my next favorite? Picoult has already finished her next novel. Here’s a special sneak peak for all of you fans: “Sing You Home” will tell the story of Zoe and will follow suit with Picoult’s controversies by focusing on embryo donation and gay rights in America.

Picoult promises it won’t disappoint, but we’ll have to wait until March 2011 to read it. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be first in line!

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