Today the debs welcome bestselling, multi-published author, Jodi Picoult whose newest novel, Change of Heart, is being released today. Jodi is the author of fourteen novels: Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1994), Picture Perfect (1995); Mercy (1996), The Pact (1998); Keeping Faith (1999), Plain Truth (2000), Salem Falls (2001), Perfect Match (2002), Second Glance (2003), My Sister’s Keeper (2004), Vanishing Acts (2005), The Tenth Circle (2006) and her most recent novel, Nineteen Minutes, which debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
Welcome Jodi, we’re thrilled to have you with us.
DYU: I know you generate your initial ideas for a book with a “what if”
question. What was the “what if” that inspired Change of Heart?
JP: The what-if came from my general worry as an American – I feel like our country can be broken apart on the fault line of religion these days. All the hot button issues: gay rights, abortion, capital punishment – can usually be boiled down to religious beliefs. It made me wonder why religion – which I think was meant to unify, historically – has become so divisive. Why does “I’m right” necessarily mean “you’re wrong?” Why do we believe what we believe – because it’s the truth, or because we are too scared to admit we don’t have the answers? This was a really important book for me to write during an election year, because I think we need to start having a conversation in America, instead of treating beliefs as absolutes that segregate us from each other.
DYU: You tackle tough ethical and emotional subject matter in your books–everything from genetic screening to rape, murder and suicide. Do you ever have trouble shaking it off at the end of your writing day?
JP: Pretty rarely – when I leave my office, I leave my office. I’m fortunate because my family has not suffered the trauma I tend to write about – so making the clear demarcation is easy.
DYU: You are know as an “issue writer”. When you begin a book, do you already have a formed opinion, a strong preference for one side of an issue or the other, or is that something that is shaped in the process of writing the book?
JP: Writing a book for me is probably like reading it, for you. I may have an opinion on an issue, but I may never have asked myself why my opinion is what it is. And even if I don’t change my mind during the course of writing a book, there’s a good chance that it’s the first time I’m ever listening to the argument of the other side. I don’t think as a writer it’s my job to preach or to tell people what to think (in fact – my favorite compliment is when a reader says they don’t know where I personally stand on an issue after reading a book) – but I do think my job as a writer is to get people talking about things they would rather not talk about, because those subjects are uncomfortable or touchy or frightening.
DYU: The scope of your work is massive. Readers are likely to encounter
everything from forensics to Dante to high school politics and hospital procedures. I know you do meticulous research, but it seems to me you must also be a voracious reader of current events, literature and history, just to pull together the multi-layered stories you write. Is this true and can you expand on this part of your process?
JP: Actually, I’m a total research dilettante! When I have an idea and I know who the characters are, I stop and regroup and ask myself what I need to know to write from their POVs. That’s what leads me to the research – and it can be all over the place. For Change of Heart, I spent time at a working death row facility in AZ and had one of the most eye opening discussions with the warden – who executed prisoners but didn’t personally advocate capital punishment! She gave me details about executions that most condemned men don’t even get access to (it’s a legal document they routinely sue to possess, and usually are denied): the order of events, the dry runs, how to move the victim’s family and inmate’s family on execution day so they don’t pass each other; how to find a vein when it’s not medically simple; where the doctor is during the execution (remember, they’re not sanctioned by the AMA and their names are not on the death certificate) – and the timeline between when the sodium pentathol is administered for sedation and the potassium chloride is administered to stop the heart – which is not nearly as long as you imagine, and explains why the Supreme Court is now addressing lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment.
DYU: Some writers write with a specific audience, or one particular person, in mind. Is there someone you’re “speaking to” with your writing and does that change from one book to the next?
JP: I write for me. I write because I have questions and want to explore them, or because I have fears and want to address them. It’s a great bonus when people want to come along for the ride – but I’ve never written a book because I think it’s going to be interesting to people; I write because it’s what I need to write at any given moment.
DYU: You tend to avoid easy endings and this is part of what makes your writing so true and satisfying to read. But do your readers ever want to argue with you about the end of a book? If so, how do you respond?
JP: Oh, they argue with me all the time! However, I can always justify myself – I mean, if I couldn’t it would have been a different ending! – and usually after I explain, they agree with me. Most of the dissension comes from the shock of the ending, not the true fact that it ended that way. My own son wouldn’t speak to me for a few hours when he finished My Sister’s Keeper – but I told him why I chose to end the book that way, and he eventually agreed that MAYBE I was right…!
DYU: What is your biggest challenge with your writing?
JP: These days, finding the time to do it. It’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments – success is great, but it also means you have more demands upon you. (Yeah, I know, I have no right to complain, and usually don’t!) I am on an international book tour each year for 3 months – away from my kids and husband, which is crummy – and the rest of the 9 months I use to produce a new book. It’s sometimes grueling, and I wish I had a little more breathing room.
DYU: What was your debut experience like and do you have any advice to
us as “debutantes”?
JP: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the publishing contract is the brass ring. The sad fact of the business is that your publisher is not likely to pay any attention to your book once it hits the stands – it’s like watching your baby get abandoned! So become your own PR machine – schedule events at bookstores and libraries and book groups – become your own publicist, if yours isn’t doing enough. Word of mouth is the most wonderful precious commodity, and no publisher can pay for it – if you can generate it yourself, you’ll see the payoff in sales — and your publisher is more likely to notice your second book and THAT time around, promote it more aggressively.
We wish you the best with your latest release and with your future books, Jodi! I look forward to reading Change of Heart and encourage everyone to GO OUT AND BUY IT NOW!
Jodi is on day one of her Change of Heart Tour today without much email access, so she may not be able to respond to questions and comments today. Nevertheless, this interview will be linked to her site and she will be checking in when she can. Jodi is also diligent with responding to emails through her site and loves to hear from fans.