Books | AMERICA Which of your books is your favorite?
In more than a decade, every time I’ve been asked this, I always have said, “Oh, that’s like asking me to pick which kid I love the most!” or in other words, something I wasn’t ever going to do. But right now, I do have a personal favorite — Second Glance. I think it’s the most complex book I’ve written to date, and I am incredibly proud of the characters in there … some of whom I’ve never seen in fiction before. Plus, it addresses themes and concepts that are rarely discussed in fiction. There’s a real tendency when you write to think that Shakespeare did it all, and that we just recycle it … so when you feel like you’ve broken new ground as a writer, it’s a big deal. For all those reasons, I think Second Glance is my biggest accomplishment to date.
How long does it take to write a book?
Nine months. Stop laughing. I don’t know why it takes me the same amount of time to deliver either a book or a baby, but there you have it. Sometimes the amount of research vs. rough-drafting varies, but it generally takes three-quarters of a year for my head to gel ideas into a cohesive story. Often, I work on more than one book at once.
I may be touring for Perfect Match, for example, while editing Second Glance, and writing a new book. It’s like windows on a computer — several are open at once. It also means I’m usually about three books ahead of myself. I am currently writing the book that will be published in 2012.
Does anyone read your books while you’re in the process of writing them?
My mom and my agent. I take their comments and incorporate them into the next draft.
Where do your ideas come from?
Usually, a what-if question: What if a boy left standing after a botched suicide pact was accused of murder? What if a little girl developed an imaginary friend who turned out to be God? What if an attorney didn’t think that the legal system was quite good enough for her own child?
I start by mulling a question, and before I know it, a whole drama unfolds in my head. Often, an idea sticks before I know what I’m going to do with it. For Mercy, I researched Scottish clans without having a clue why this was going to be important to the book. It was only
“Turning the pages, all you’ll care about is what happens next. That’s the mark of pretty much every Jodi Picoult book, and it’s the reason she keeps topping best-seller lists.” - San Antonio Express News
after I learned about them that I realized I was writing a novel about the loyalty we bear to people we love. Sometimes ideas change in the middle. The Pact was not a page-turner when I conceived it. I was going to write a character-driven book about the female survivor of a suicide pact, and I went to the local police chief to do some preliminary research.
“Huh,” he said. “It’s the girl who survives? Because if it was the boy, who was physically larger, he’d automatically be suspected of murder until cleared by the evidence.” I nearly fell out of my seat. “Really?” I asked, and the character of Chris began to take shape. Sometimes I write books because other people make the suggestion: Plain Truth came about when my mother said I should explore the reclusive Amish.
“If anyone can learn about them,” she said, “it’s you.” And sometimes ideas grow out of the ones I’m researching. That happened with My Sister’s Keeper. Information I learned while researching Second Glance was so fascinating to me that I stuck it into its own file and turned it into a story all its own.
How do you do your research?
Meticulously. I hate catching authors in inaccuracies when I’m a reader, so I’m a stickler when I’m writing. At this point, I have several folks on call for me during a book — a few lawyers, a couple of psychiatrists, some doctors, a pathologist, a DNA scientist, and a handful of detectives. When I start researching, I read everything I can about a topic. Then I meet with an “expert.” Some things are harder to find out about than others — getting the head of launch operations at NASA to fit me into his schedule, for example, or making a series of connections that landed me in the home of an Amish farmer for a week.
These are some of the things I’ve done in the name of research: Watched Sly Stallone on a movie set (for Picture Perfect); observed cardiac surgery (Harvesting the Heart); gone to jail for the day (The Pact); milked cows on an Amish dairy farm (Plain Truth); learned Wiccan love spells and DNA testing procedures (Salem Falls); explored bone marrow transplants (Perfect Match); and gone ghost hunting (Second Glance).