Born on Long Island, New York, Jodi Picoult was convinced that the tranquil, suburban setting offered no real inspiration to her for being a writer. There was no drama; just the daily grind of families living their lives. Eventually, though, the story of this challenge became the core of Picoult's bestselling novels.
Picoult studied creative writing at Princeton, and before she graduated, she had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine. This early success inspired Picoult to devote her life to writing. After college, she paid the bills with a series of copywriting and editing jobs, and she even taught eighth grade English. Marriage and children soon followed, and while she was pregnant with her first child, she wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale, a remarkable tale told from five different points of view that heralded a bold new voice in fiction.
In subsequent novels -- including phenomenal bestsellers like My Sister's Keeper (2004) and Nineteen Minutes (2007) -- Picoult has mined the complex mysteries of everyday life: love, marriage, career, family. Faced with difficult, often painful moral choices, her characters struggle to find balance in an off-kilter world fraught with danger and shattered by terrible sociological ills like domestic violence, sexual abuse, and teen suicide. Though page-turners of the highest order, Picoult's stories avoid easy solutions and provoke thoughtful reading and animated discussion. Unsurprisingly, they are a favorite choice for book clubs.
From her web site, Picoult talks about the relationship between her family and her writing. "It took me a while to find the balance," Picoult says, "but I'm a better mother because I have my writing ... and I'm a better writer because of the experiences I've had as a parent that continually remind me how far we are willing to go for the people we love the most."
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"I've gone skydiving," she told us, "and I'd do it again -- if I didn't have kids.
Picoult and her family own two Jersey calves, named Decalf and Coffee.
On her official web site, Picoult reveals some fun and fascinating facts about herself, including:
Before becoming a novelist, Picoult worked at a two-person ad agency, where her main responsibility was "to keep the owner's wife from finding out he was sleeping with the freelance art director."
If she could invite anyone, living or dead, to a dinner party, Picoult's guest list would include Ernest Hemingway, Alice Hoffman, William Shakespeare, Mel Gibson, and Emeril Lagasse.
Other than writing, other talents of Picoult's include making Linzer tortes and broccoli soup, and childbirth. "I'm awfully good at giving birth -- quickly, no drugs, etc. -- though that definitely has a limited appeal," she quips.
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In the summer of 2004, Jodi Picoult took some time to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Gone With The Wind. I read it when I was twelve --I was a total dork, and memorized huge sweeping dialogues I could act out as both Scarlett and Rhett. But what stuck with me was the way Margaret Mitchell managed to create an entire world out of words. I thought, "I want to do that."
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you? The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway -- Because no one can say as much as Hemingway does, with so little words.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- The gold standard for unreliable narrators.
Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman -- The first Alice Hoffman book I read, and to me, she's a writing goddess.
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian -- Very few male writers can pull off women narrators as effortlessly -- and as honestly -- as Chris Bohjalian.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger -- A little gem of a book, by an author I can't wait to see more of.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- This book is about a boy and tiger shipwrecked on a life raft in the middle of the ocean... but it's really about the power of faith and narrative. I closed the book and thought, "Gosh, I wish I'd written that."
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides -- The only book I've ever read that's written in the rare second person form... and that pulls it off.
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard -- OK, I discovered this book about six months earlier than Oprah, and it was the only one I've ever thrown across a room out of sheer emotion, because the storyline tapped into my biggest fear as a mother.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger -- I love adolescent narrators, and this may very well be why. Teenagers have a natural sense of when someone's faking, but still are childlike enough to not have given up hope that the world can change -- and Holden Caulfield epitomizes this.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch -- A children's picture book about a princess who uses intelligence, not brawn, to rescue an inept prince -- and then realizes she doesn't need him to live happily ever after. I just loooooved reading this one to my daughter!
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I was a sucker for Titanic -- I'd wake up for days after that, still thinking about the movie.
Gone With the Wind -- See above -- I don't think I ever got over thinking that I might be cast as Scarlett in the remake.
The Sound of Music -- If I can't be Scarlett, can I be Liesl?!
Out of Africa -- That scene where Robert Redford quotes poetry to Meryl Streep and washes her hair... sigh.
The Piano -- I don't remember what it was about this movie that affected me, but I carried the music around with me in my mind for quiet a while afterward.
The Way We Were -- Because I'm married to a man who is as gorgeous as Hubbell Gardner, and because it's one of those movies you can't click past when you find it on TV.
Shakespeare in Love -- So incredibly clever, and fun to imagine Shakespeare having the same pressures we modern writers do.
Memento -- Brilliant. Just brilliant.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Music is like Kryptonite for me, while I'm working -- I just can't listen to it and function creatively. However, I must have music blasting in my car. My favorite singer is Aimee Mann -- she's a songwriter with the heart of a poet. I also like Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Ben Jelen, Howie Day, Shaun Colvin, Tori Amos, John Mayer, Eric Clapton, Mozart, and the Shrek soundtracks!
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Fiction. There's just nothing like a great novel -- it's an escape and a journey all wrapped up in one neat package.
Do you have any special writing rituals?
When I'm writing, I usually just park myself in my chair and write. I'll do it for hours at a time; my husband is fabulous enough to ferry me coffee or snacks during the day. My desk is usually a mess, covered with post-its and emails. On the hutch above my desk are five sterling silver letters: W, R, I, T, E -- so I don't forget what I'm supposed to be doing there, I guess. I have pictures of my children all over the place, and one of my husband and me in a hammock. And there are two fortune-cookie fortunes taped to my computer: "Be satisfied with one chapter at a time," and "Live a life that will give you great stories to tell." How cool are those?!
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today?
This year, when My Sister's Keeper reached number 11 on the New York Times bestseller list, a reporter asked me if it was my breakout book. I said that if it was, I had the slowest breakout on the planet. It's really been years of growing an audience, and having them pass the word along to their friends. Like many writers, it took me a long time to find an agent. I got hundreds of rejections, and finally, a woman who was just starting her own literary agency business said she believed she could represent me -- and I liked and trusted her. We've been together ever since. One of my favorite stories, however, involves a very high-powered, well-known literary agent who called my publicist a year ago. She wanted to fly me to New York for lunch, to "talk" about changing representation. I declined politely -- I was quite happy with my current agent, I said. And I'm quite sure this woman didn't remember that she was the very first agent to reject me 15 years ago, either!
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Hang in there. Part of the battle is being one of the few still standing at the end. If you refuse to give up, eventually someone will take a second look at you and wonder why you think you're so good... and often a second look is all it takes.
What else would you like your readers to know?
When I'm not writing, I'm usually being a mom. I have three kids. Kyle's 13, a terrific pianist and a fencer; Jake is an 11 year old hockey goalie; and Sammy (Samantha) is 9, and -- go figure -- loves to write. If I am alone in the house and can convince myself not to work, you'll find me in the kitchen -- baking. Last year I took up ice hockey, which was pretty interesting because I don't know how to stop on hockey skates -- and this summer, I've been kayaking. My favorite place on earth is Australia -- Perth, if you want to be specific. And I'd probably eat anything that was covered in chocolate.
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|Jodi Picoult Home
Good to Know
|Songs of the Humpback Whale, 1992|
|Harvesting the Heart, 1993|
|Picture Perfect, 1995|
|The Pact, 1998|
|Keeping Faith, 1999|
|Plain Truth, 2000|
|Salem Falls, 2001|
|Perfect Match: A Novel, 2002|
|Second Glance, 2003|
|My Sister's Keeper, 2004|
|Vanishing Acts, 2005|
|Tenth Circle, 2006|
|Nineteen Minutes: A Novel, 2007|