Q & A with Jodi Picoult by Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman

Change of Heart by Jodi PicoultToday 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?

Jodi PicoultJP: 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.

Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman

18 Replies to “Q & A with Jodi Picoult by Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman”

  1. Wow, what a great interview – thanks to Danielle and Jodi and big congrats to Jodi on today’s release.

    My question: What has been the best thing a reader has said to you about your work?

    Thanks for being here!

  2. Thanks Joanne and Maureen!

    I don’t think Jodi will be able to respond today but any questions will make their way to her. (and who knows–maybe I can post a follow-up…?)

    She really is a powerhouse of a writer so if you don’t know her work, I highly recommend it.

  3. Jodi–thanks so much for being our guest today–what a wonderful treat. I had to laugh about your readers arguing with you and questioning because my book club had questions about your endings and wanted to find out why you chose to end some the way you did…It’s good to keep people guessing, isn’t it?
    Also I so agree with you on the need for us to come together and stop the divisiveness. My son participated in a fabulous program at the Univ. of Virginia called the Sorensen Institute, whose goal is to bring back civility to the political process, regardless of people’s positions. They start with high schoolers with a passion for politics, then focus on college-aged students and also bring in members from throughout the community. Having worked in politics I was skeptical at first, but I am now so very impressed with how their efforts are working on a grass-roots level here in Virginia.
    Thanks Danielle for the great guest!

  4. Jodi, we are so excited to have you here today, on the day of your new novel’s release! (Which I can not wait to read!) Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Danielle, this was a great interview, and I loved reading Jodi’s responses.

  5. I’ve been a huge fan of your work Jodi and am so very pleased you could join us. I appreciate your advice and the chance to have some insight into your writing process. Another writer recently told me that once you publish writing becomes a job- you may love your job- but like any other job it has big ups and downs. I think we have all wanted to “grab the brass ring” for so long we think once we have it all should be great and it doesn’t always work that easily.

    Thanks for all the reading enjoyment you’e given me.

  6. Jodi

    I appreciate your comments to fellow writers about being your own PR machine. Its nice to know that you’ve gone through the same struggles. I am a big fan of your books and love how they suck me in and really make me think. My Sister’s Keeper was such a wonderful read. Very thought provoking.

    I also have your WonderWoman book. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but hey, How fun was that? It’s my dream to do a Serenity book.

  7. Jodi,

    I really loved hearing that you keep your beliefs separated from your stories. I do the same thing and try to give both sides of a conflict in my stories.

    Thank you for your insights.


  8. Jenny: that’s amazing to hear about your son and the grassroots politics he’s involved with. My husband was involved with youth politics when he was a teenager and it’s given him a lifelong fascination. This sounds like an incredible program.

    Jess: Thanks! This is one of the great things about being a “deb” isn’t it?!

    Keri: We appreciate you coming and celebrating this wonderful writer with us!

    Eileen: It’s wonderful to get insight from authors who are further along this path, isn’t it. We are certainly doing our best here (at the ball) to follow Jodi’s advice-I know none of us is taking any of it for granted.

    Cindy: Oh, I just wept my way through My Sister’s Keeper! Loved it! And every one of Jodi’s books packs an emotional as well as intellectual punch. Thanks for coming by!

    Sandy: It’s a real gift to present both sides of something that way. I love reading a story that lets me see all sides so vividly.

  9. Jodi,

    Thank you so much for joining us today. We met last year at BEA (I’m assuming, based on the huge line of people who wanted to meet you that you probably don’t remember me, but on the off-chance that you have some sort of freakish Carnegie-esque memory skills, I shared with you that my 14 hospitalizations/surgeries as a young child had been a reasonably positive experience, not the horror my mother always worried about.)

    I love, love, love your books. I just picked up Change of Heart today, and can’t wait to read it. I also truly enjoyed your piece about being your own publicist — I think you have such a great perspective. So many authors I know spend a lot of time angry about what their publishers aren’t doing, instead of focusing on what they can do for themselves.

    Thanks for the reality check.



  10. I was wondering if this book(Change of Heart) was based on the movie, The Green Mile? Seems like there are a lot of similarities.

  11. I was wondering if this book(Change of Heart) was based on the movie, The Green Mile? Seems like there are a lot of similarities.

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