The first Jodi Picoult book I ever read was The Pact. It was back in 2003, and I stayed up all night to finish it. I became a fan, literally overnight. So I’m thrilled to welcome Jodi to The Ball to discuss her 23rd novel (!!), LEAVING TIME, set in the wilds of Africa about a young woman trying to unravel the mystery surrounding her mother’s death.
You’re known for heavily researching each book you write. What’s something interesting you learned while researching LEAVING TIME?
Elephants actually experience grief. They’ve been known to break into research facilities and steal bones that scientists are working with, and bring them back to the site of the elephant’s death. For years after the passing of that elephant, the herd will return to the spot of its death to pay homage for a while – just hanging around there and getting quiet and somber and reflective before moving on. Also, what they say about elephants never forgetting – it’s true. They have relationships that last a lifetime. At The Elephant Sanctuary in TN, an elephant named Jenny was living peacefully when a new elephant, Shirley, arrived. When Shirley came into the barn that night, in the stall beside Jenny’s, Jenny began to pound at the bars between them, trying to get to Shirley. The caregivers eventually opened the gate between them and immediately Shirley and Jenny began to move in tandem – staying inseparable. When Jenny lay down to sleep, Shirley would straddle her, like a mother elephant would a calf. It turned out that when Jenny was a calf and Shirley was 30, they had both been at the same circus for a brief while. They had been separated for 22 years, but recognized each other.
What inspired the idea for LEAVING TIME?
My daughter — my youngest child — was getting ready to leave for college. And I thought about how sad it would be to be an empty nester, and how odd it was that to be a successful parent, you basically have to get your child ready to leave you forever. Then I read that in the wild, a mother and daughter elephant will stay together till one of them dies. It seemed so much…smarter! I wanted to write about what it felt like to be left behind; at that moment, I knew I was going to incorporate the elephant kingdom.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?
My mother is always my first reader, along with my agent. My agent knows the big picture and lets me know if I’m straying from my main purpose for a novel; my mother is my benchmark reader. She needs to laugh and cry at the right moments. Plus, I know that no matter how bad the draft is — she won’t tell me it’s awful!
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
As I get out of bed each morning, I pull the sheets up behind me, already making the bed.
What are you working on now?
LIVING COLOR is going to be about race in America, in the present day. It is a book that has pushed me the furthest into confronting my own unseen prejudices and privileges as a white woman in America. Too often, and too recently, we have seen acts of violence taking place that have a root of racism at their core…yet racism is never mentioned in the courtroom proceedings following. Why is race something both prosecutors and defense attorneys shy away from discussing in court? The answer is because racism is the one conversation this country doesn’t want to have. Which is exactly why I think we need to start talking.
Thank you, Jodi, for stopping by!
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Friday, October 24 to enter to win a signed copy of LEAVING TIME (US only). Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
Jodi Picoult, 48, is the bestselling author of of twenty-three 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) Nineteen Minutes(2007), Change of Heart (2008), Handle With Care (2009), House Rules (2010), andSing You Home (2011), Lone Wolf (2012) and the YA novel Between The Lines(2012) co-written with her daughter Samantha van Leer, and The Storyteller (2013) Her last eight novels have debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Her highly anticipated new novel, LEAVING TIME, was released October 14, 2014.