Lone Wolf

Jodi Picoult on Writing, Publishing, and What She’s Reading

The bestselling author of Lone Wolf reveals her writing habits, what inspires her—and the craziest place she’s been asked to sign a book. Interview by Noah Charney.

David Levenson / Getty Images

In this series, bestselling author Noah Charney interviews great writers who discuss writing and what inspires them, revealing some secrets along the way. This week he chats with award-winning, perennial bestselling author Jodi Picoult. Picoult is already the author of 18 books, the last five of which debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. She has won 10 awards for her writing and has an army of devoted fans—so many that her public appearances are sometimes ticketed to prevent an enthusiasm-fueled riot. Her books have been translated into 34 languages, and four have been made into television movies, while another, My Sister’s Keeper, was made into a film starring Cameron Diaz. And did we mention that, on top of it all, she is really nice?

Name: Jodi Picoult

Most recent book: Lone Wolf

Where did you grow up?

Nesconset, N.Y., in a suburban neighborhood called the Storybook Development.

Where and what did you study?

Creative writing at Princeton University

Where do you live and why?

Hanover, N.H. Because it is one of the only places left in America where you can leave your keys in the car when you park it, and know it will still be there when you return.

Of which of your books or projects are you most proud?

Sing You Home, because it has made a huge difference in the lives of gay teens who have struggled to come out to conservative parents, and because some who defined themselves as evangelical Christians wrote to me after reading the book to say that they have changed their minds about gay rights. Also 19 Minutes, which is taught as curriculum in over 100 schools in the U.S. as part of an anti-bullying campaign.

Describe your morning routine.

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I get up at 5 a.m. and walk for three miles with a friend (I do it for the gossip). I come home, shower, get my daughter off to school, make coffee and a bowl of yogurt with banana, and head up to my office.

Please recommend three books (not your own) to your readers.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, Room by Emma Donoghue, and Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt.

Do you have a writer friend who helps and inspires you?

I have several writer friends, but I don’t involve them in my work process. I’m more likely to talk about the business of publishing with them.

Is there a place that inspires you?

No, I can write anywhere.

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its plot, before the writing begins.

It starts with a “what if” question. I wonder, What would I do in that situation? What if this parameter or that one changed? Eventually characters start talking to me—I can hear them in my head. I then do a ton of research—and finally, when I know I have the perfect first line, I let myself start to write.

Is there anything distinctive or unusual about your work space? Besides the obvious, what do you keep on your desk? What is the view from your favorite work space?

On a shelf above my computer are five letters that spell out W-R-I-T-E. Just in case I forget why I’m there. I also have Wonder Woman paraphernalia from when I wrote five issues of the comic, and pictures of my husband and kids.

What do you do when you are stuck or have temporary writer’s block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it—when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Describe your ideal day.

I wake up in Turks and Caicos. You can fill in the rest.

What phrase do you overuse?

Apparently my characters “murmur” too much.

What is the story behind the publication of your first book?

I had over 100 rejection letters from agents. Finally, one woman who had never represented anyone in her life said she thought she could take me on. I jumped at the chance. She sold my first novel in three months.

Was there a specific moment when you felt you had “made it” as an author?

The first time I hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. My editor called me as I was walking around a mall and I had to sit down, I was so blown away.

Tell us a funny story related to a book tour or book event.

The oddest place I’ve ever been asked to sign a book: I was in a bathroom stall and a lady passed me a copy under the stall door. Apparently she recognized my red shoes. I asked if maybe I could wash my hands first ...

What would you do for work, if you were not a writer?

Pastry chef.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Take a workshop course. You need to learn to give and get criticism and to write on demand. And DO NOT SELF PUBLISH.

What would you like carved onto your tombstone?

“She finally took a vacation.”

Tell us something about you that is largely unknown and perhaps surprising.

I cannot sleep without teddy bears.

What is your next project?

I’m on tour for Lone Wolf but have a bonus book out this year—a young adult/tween novel called Between the Lines that was conceived by my daughter, Samantha van Leer, and co-written by her. It’s a great premise: What if every time you closed a book the characters were like actors on a stage – with their own lives and personalities – and then when the book was opened, they had to jump into Act I Scene I again? What if one of those characters, a fairytale prince, wanted more than a literary existence, but needed to find a reader who might see past the role he played in order to make that happen? And what if there was a 14-year-old loner who had a crush on a certain fairytale prince, when she read the book...?

For more information, please visit www.jodipicoult.com