Saturday, February 18, 2012

Jodi Picoult talks about Lone Wolf, the Holocaust, and more

If there is a real life Supergirl, I'd have to say it's Jodi Picoult. The mega-bestselling author of 19 novels (with a new one coming up, co-written with her daughter) has won over zillions of fans with 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, and Lone Wolf--the last five debuted as number one New York Times bestsellers. 

She's been awarded the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, she's a recipient of an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association, she won the Book Browse Diamond Award for novel of the year, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, Waterstone's Author of the Year in the UK, a Vermont Green Mountain Book Award, and more. Her books are translated into 34 languages in 35 countries and she also wrote five issues of Wonder Woman comics! The Pact, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle and Salem Falls have all been made into TV movies, while My Sister's Keeper was a big-screen release.

She also has a musical play, she also makes it her business to work for important causes like gay rights, and time after time, she wins the award for "most generous, supportive writer on the planet." She also has great hair! I'm thrilled to host Jodi on my blog again. 

Jodi, a million thanks are not enough for you.

I love  the opening quote from Margaret Atwood, “All stories are about wolves.” But I also think this book has one of the best first lines I’ve ever read “In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have freed the tiger.” Where did that line come from? `

I went to see the Big Apple circus one night and literally woke up with that sentence in my head the next morning.  I realized that Luke would have had a singular moment in his life - a memory - that would have somehow been the fulcrum upon which his whole world turned.  For him, it was understanding that captivity chafes, whether you're human or animal.  It's why - even though he wants to have a family as tight and secure as a wolf pack, he can't confine himself in the role of husband and father.  It also gives us as readers the first glimpse into Luke's mind in terms of what it means to die on one's own terms.

There’ s a lot in the book about why people stay and why they might feel compelled to leave, both their lives and situations. Without giving anything away, I wanted to ask, if you could imagine Luke ten years after the novel. What do you think he’d be doing? How would he have changed from this experience?

Boy - that's a hard one to answer without giving away a spoiler!  Well, I think that Luke would continue to think he could do better as a parent…only to realize that he really can't.  When I met Shaun Ellis, the man I studied with who actually DID live with a wild wolf pack like Luke, he talked about being caught between two worlds.  That is very much Luke's conundrum, too.  Even when he wants to be a better man, he actually fits more seamlessly among his wolf brethren. 

Your novel is so full of so many little surprise and reveals.  Do you know all of these before you start, or do they come as surprises for you, too?

It really depends on the particular surprise.  I knew the epilogue, for example, before I wrote a single word.  And I knew what Cara's little secret was early on.  But I didn't realize that Edward was gay until I literally watched him turn down a pass made by a  woman as I was typing it.  And that informed a whole host of other twists!

 The novel is so much about real moral issues—who decides who lives, and what really constitutes life, but what got me was the human drama swirling around it. There’s a real intimacy in the way the characters speak to us, so that even relatively minor characters, such as one in the epilogue (don’t want to give anything away) have a riveting, living and breathing presence. Did any characters announce themselves that you hadn’t intended to be there?'

  Sometimes I write a book and there are characters pushing at the margins, desperate to have a voice.  In this particular story the "cast" felt very tight to me.  I knew who had a vested interest in the situation and who would have the opportunity to speak.  That said, I hadn't intended on giving Joe a narrative.  He's Luke's ex-wife's new husband (that's a mouthful, LOL) and he winds up representing Edward in court, at his wife's request…although that will mean alienating his stepdaughter.  Joe's history as a guy of Hmong origin trying desperately to live up to the mythic shadow cast by Luke Warren made him a really sensitive, fascinating guy…so he wound up speaking too.

The wolf scenes are so wonderful they are almost hallucinatory in their you-are-there quality and feel.  How close did you yourself get to wolves, and tell us what it’s like to howl?

I really thought I was pretty brilliant, creating a character like Luke Warren, who studies wolves by living with them.  Then I found out a real guy was actually DOING that.  At that point, it became my mission to meet him.  Thankfully Shaun Ellis was more than happy to meet me, to introduce me to the multitude of captive packs he now works with in Devon, England, and to share his expertise.  Everything Luke says - and everything I learned - comes directly from Shaun's life, and a good number of Luke's tight scrapes are borrowed from Shaun's actual experiences in the Rockies living with a wild pack.  

The ones that really stay with me are the time he went hunting with the pack in winter, and the alpha directed the wolves to suck on icicles.  He had thought maybe the other wolves were becoming dehydrated sitting in the snow waiting to make the kill…but it didn't seem right to him.  Then he realized that the alpha had planned for wind direction so that the prey couldn't smell them lying in wait; that the alpha had set up the ambush perfectly, but that due to the cold weather, the prey would be able to see the breath of the wolves in the hollow where they were hiding.  By getting the pack to suck on the icicles like lollipops, she prevented that.  The second story Shaun told me that affected me deeply was a time that his wolf brother suddenly went ballistic, snapping at him and backing him into a hollowed out tree.  Shaun was terrified and sure the wolf was going to kill him, although up till this point the wolf had been very accepting of his presence - and that he had assured his own death by forgetting he was still with wild animals.  After about three hours of snapping and snarling, the wolf suddenly went placid again and let Shaun out from the tree.  That was when Shaun noticed the scat and the claw marks of a grizzly.  The wolf hadn't been trying to kill him -- it had been saving his life.  

When I went to Devon, Shaun had just had surgery and couldn't enter the pens because the wolves would have ripped off his bandage and licked the wound clean -- so instead, I had to meet his wolves with a fence between us.  Unlike normal visitors, though, I was brought through the first fence (there are two) and got close enough for the wolves to get used to my scent and to rub up against my hands.  They can sense your heart rate going up and a tester wolf will turn around and nip through a fence, so you still have to be pretty careful and calm!  I also got to feed the wolves by lobbing rabbits to them; and yes, Shaun taught me how to howl.  It was pretty remarkable to learn the song - and it really IS that, a song.  I played the alpha, my son was the beta, and my publicist the numbers wolf.  We each had a particular "part" in the harmony, and when we all began to howl our individual parts together, all of a sudden a plaintive howl rose from the six individual packs a short distance away -- each of them giving their location in response to the one we had offered them.  It felt like we were having a conversation.

 I read recently new scientific studies are reevaluating vegetative patients and finding them non-vegetative. It puts the whole scenario of pulling the plug into a whole other spectrum.  Plus, this is one of those issues where you can never know what you will do or how you will feel until you are there. What’s most remarkable is that this novel didn’t feel like you were arguing one way or another—you were simply letting the very real human drama unfold, which colored the decisions. So, how hard was it for you not to take a side here?

It was easy this time around, because I don't know necessary how I'd feel if I were in Cara and Edward's situation.  I have joked with my husband and said that if I can still type with my tongue, to keep me alive, but honestly, would a man as virile and active as Luke Warren want that?  There IS no one right answer in a situation like this, which is always tragic, because even if someone winds up being kept on life support their lives may not ever be what they once were.  Living a life, and being alive, are two very different things.  It's true that science changes daily as we learn more about disorders of consciousness, and we may in five years have a much better sense of the difference between vegetative and minimally conscious states -- but a lot of the problem in the medical community involves the difficulty to accurately diagnose the problem in the first place.  Often the "miraculous" recoveries are not miraculous - just misdiagnosed.  Irrecoverable brain injury will remain, unfortunately, irrecoverable brain injury.  I think that if I learned anything writing this book, it's to have the conversation about what you'd want, if God forbid you wound up in this position.  That way you take the responsibility off the shoulders of those who will otherwise be making a decision for you.

I always have to ask, what’s obsessing you now?

 The Holocaust!  It doesn't have a title yet but it's about a young woman, Sage Singer, who befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community.  Josef Weber is everyone favorite retired teacher and Little League coach and they strike up a friendship at the baker where Sage works.  One day he asks Sage for a favor:  to kill him.  Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard.  Complicating the matter?  Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.  What do you do when evil lives next door?  Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior?  Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged?  And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

And what question didn’t I ask that I should have?

What ELSE is obsessing you now?

Well, for the first time this year, I have TWO books coming out.  Lone Wolf in February…and then on June 26, a YA novel I co-wrote with my daughter Sammy.  It was her idea, and frankly, she's got a better imagination than I ever did at her age.  It's called Between the Lines, and it's about what happens when happily ever after…isn't.   Delilah, a loner hates school as much as she loves books—one book in particular. In fact if anyone knew how many times she has read and reread the sweet little fairy tale she found in the library, especially her cooler than cool classmates, she’d be sent to social Siberia . . . forever.To Delilah, though, this fairy tale is more than just words on the page. Sure, there’s a handsome (well, okay, incredibly handsome) prince, and a castle, and an evil villain, but it feels as if there’s something deeper going on. And one day, Delilah finds out there is.  Turns out, this Prince Charming is not just a one-dimensional character in a book.  He's real, and a certain fifteen-year-old loner has caught his eye. But they’re from two different worlds, and how can it ever possibly work? 
It's an absolutely STUNNING book - with the coolest illustrations that remind of Arthur Rackham's work from the turn of the century and silhouettes that take my breath away -- in other words, it's a book you want to keep on your shelves and just look at because it's so pretty.  But it's also sweet, and funny, and charming, and it was a delight to have the experience of writing it with my own daughter!  I'm incredibly excited for its publication and we'll be on tour this summer to promote it!


Anonymous said...

I am among the millions who love Jodi Picoult's novels. She is one of the most brillant writers I have ever read.
The first book I read of hers was "PLAIN TRUTH" and I was "hooked" after that! I went out and began buying all she had published so far and now own the entire collection. She cannot write her books fast enough for me!!
To think we will get two of her novels out this year is exciting!! The story line of each sounds very interesting and very different...I am so looking forward to their appearances so I can add them to my collection and begin to read them. When I am reading one of her books, everything around me goes untouched! LOL I read until I finish the book, then am sad it is over!!
I have re-read several of her books already and am working on re-reading the entire collection as I have time.
Having her come to my area on a book tour would be such a special occasion to me...I would love to personally meet this incredible author!!!
Francy Richard

Renee said...

I am also a fan of Jodis's books. First one I read was introduced to me at book club, My Sisters Keeper. Totally hooked thereafter. Went out and bought all of her books. I am excited that she is publishing two this year! She can't write them quick enough. I too forget about most things around me and get so immersed, then when I finish I want more! Thanks Jodi for opening my mind with the controversial topics you choose to write about. Thought provoking, love it!

Anonymous said...

I just finished house rules it was very good book loved it / just started sing you home loving it so far

Robby said...

I've read all of Jodi's books leading up to Sing You Home, but there is no reason why I shouldn't rush frantically to the bookstore and buy it (and Lone Wolf). She was one of the first writers who really reeled me into the world of reading, and by the time I could've gotten out, I didn't want to. She is a genius.

Gayle Gardner Lin said...

LONE WOLF just took over my "best-book-ever" slot.
This is a wonderful interview. You asked the perfect questions.
Since you're actually in touch with Jodi Picoult, I wish you'd ask her if she would consider doing a book on the antiquated law of "alienation of affection" which is still on the law books in seven states. I think nobody could handle it quite like she could because she never gives away her own position ... just lets the reader decide.

Ελλάδα said...

The story is told in alternating chapters by the characters. Luke, Georgie, Cara, Edward, and Georgie's new husband Joe, an attorney. All of the characters were developed, most were sympathetic, and each interesting and complex in their own way. Some of the characters have baggage and secrets, each has a story to tell. I enjoyed all of their stories however, in my opinion, it was with Luke's character that the author outdid herself with some powerful characterization -- simply fantastic.

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