Tackling themes of death, grief, and emotional turmoil without lapsing into cheap sentimentality, Jacquelyn Mitchard has made a career of pulling the heartstrings without patronizing her readers. With her debut novel The Deep End of the Ocean, the first book ever to be featured in Oprah’s Book Club, Mitchard began a career distinguished by intelligent and entertaining explorations of life’s darkest moments.
"Jacquelyn Mitchard has considered changing her name legally to The Deep End of the Ocean. This is because her own name is much less well-known than the title of her first book," so read the opening lines of Mitchard's biography on her web site. Granted, the writer is best known for the novel that holds the distinct honor of being the very first pick in Oprah Winfrey's book club, but Mitchard is also responsible for a number of other bestsellers, all baring her distinctive ability to tackle emotional subject matter without lapsing into cloying sentimentality.
Mitchard got her start as a newspaper journalist in the ‘70s, but first established herself as a writer to watch in 1985 when she published Mother Less Child, a gut wrenching account of her own miscarriage. Though autobiographical in nature, Mother Less Child introduced the themes of grief and coping that would often resurface in her fiction. These themes were particularly prevalent in the debut novel that would nab Mitchard her greatest notoriety. The Deep End of the Ocean tells of the depression that grips a woman and her son following the disappearance of her younger son. Like Mother Less Child, the novel was also based on a personal tragedy, the death of her husband, and the author's very real grief contributes to the emotional authenticity of the book.
The Deep End of the Ocean became a commercial and critical smash, lauded by every publication from People Magazine to Newsweek. It exemplified Mitchard's unique approach to her subject. In lesser hands, such a story might have sunk into precious self-reflection. However Mitchard approaches her story as equal parts psychological drama and suspenseful thriller. "I like to read stories in which things happen," she told Book Reporter. "I get very impatient with books that are meditations - often beautiful ones - on a single character's thoughts and reactions. I like a story that roller coasters from one event to the next, peaks and valleys."
The Deep End of the Ocean undoubtedly changed Mitchard's life. She was still working part time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison writing speeches when the novel got Oprah's seal of approval and went into production as a major motion picture starring Michelle Pfeiffer. She didn't even consider leaving her job until, as she recounted to Book Slut.com, "my boss finally said to me, ‘You know, kiddo, people whose books have sold this many copies and are being made into movies don't have this part-time job.'" So, she left her job despite misgivings and embarked upon a writing career that would produce such powerful works as The Most Wanted, Twelve Times Blessed, and The Breakdown Lane. She has also written two non-fictional volumes about peace activist Jane Addams.
Mitchard's latest Cage of Stars tells of Veronica Swan, a twelve-year old girl living in a Mormon community whose life is completely upturned when her sisters are murdered. Again, a story of this nature could have easily played out as a banal tear jerker, but Mitchard allows Veronica to take a more active role in the novel, setting out to avenge the death of her sisters. Consequently, Case of Stars is another example of Mitchard's ability to turn the tables on convention and produce a story with both emotional resonance and a page-turning narrative, making for a novel created with the express purpose of pleasing her fans. "Narrative is not in fashion in the novels of our current era; reflection is," she told Book Reporter. "But buying a book and reading it is a substantial investment of time and money. I want to take readers on a journey full circle. They deserve it."
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Mitchard is certainly most famous for her sophisticated adult novels, yet she has also written two children's novels, Rosalie and Starring Prima, as well as Baby Bat's Lullaby, a picture book. She currently has three new children's books in development.
Now that Mitchard has officially scored a successful writing career, what could be left for the writer to achieve? Well, according to her web site, her "truest ambition" is to make an appearance on the popular TV show Law and Order.