I have a ton of things to do, including getting back to my manuscript. But in checking my calendar, I realized that Jodi Picoult's newest novel, Nineteen Minutes, will be released on Tuesday.
I've mentioned Jodi Picoult before on this blog. She is actually the writer who inspired me to sit down and start writing again after a dry spell that lasted nearly a decade. When I finished reading her novel Keeping Faith in 1999, I emailed her. She was incredibly gracious, answering numerous questions during the time she was on tour, emailing me from hotels.
A lot of what she told me about becoming a writer is covered in a FAQ on her website here:
DO IT. Many people have a novel inside them, but most don't bother to get it out. Writing is grunt work - you need to have self-motivation, perseverance, and faith… talent is the smallest part of it (one need only read some of the titles on the NYT Bestseller list to see that… :) If you don't believe in yourself, and you don't have the fortitude to make that dream happen, why should the hotshots in the publishing world take a chance on you?
I don't believe that you need an MFA to be a writer, but I do think you need to take some good workshops. These are often offered through writer's groups or community colleges. You need to learn to write on demand, and to get critiqued without flinching. When someone can rip your work to shreds without it feeling as though your arm has been hacked off, you're ready to send your novel off to an agent. There's no magic way to get one of those - it took me longer to find my wonderful agent than it did to get published! . . .
Keep sending out your work and don't get discouraged when it comes back from an agent - just send it out to a different one. Attend signings/lectures by authors, and in your free time, read read read. All of this will make you a better writer. And – here’s a critical part – when you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and THEN go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end.
During our email exchange, Jodi told me she always starts her novels with a question. What if . . .? Her subjects are usually culled from a news story that piques her interest.
Some of the questions she has asked and answered in novels:
What if a seven-year-old Jewish girl began speaking to God? And what if her "Guard" appeared to be the Christian diety and if miracles began to occur in her vicinity? Keeping Faith
What if a thirteen-year-old girl who was conceived in order to produce the bone marrow needed to save her older sister from leukemia walked into a law office and asked for help in stopping her body from being used as a harvesting ground to keep her sister alive? My Sister's Keeper
What if a quartet of teenage girls who are hiding secrets accuse an innocent man of sexual abuse--a man who once served time for a similar offense? Salem Falls
What if the boy still alive after a teenage suicide pact is accused of his girlfriend's murder? How will the teens' two families--best friends and neighbors for twenty years--react? The Pact
I've listed my four favorites among her books above (in order of preference). I have probably read Keeping Faith four times over the past eight years.
As you can tell, I'm drawn to the stories about children and families. However, not all of Jodi's books are on one theme. They are mostly character-driven studies of people in crisis. She is not afraid of the paranormal--both Second Glance and Keeping Faith explore the outer boundaries of reality. She also explores other cultures: Eskimos (The Tenth Circle), the Amish (Plain Truth), or Scottish clans (Mercy) and does extensive research.
My youngest brother and I are the readers and writers of our family. Despite the thousand miles separating us, we talk weekly. We mail each other books and compare notes via long phone calls. He is a sports columnist and spends a lot of time on the road
--covering Wimbleton, the Olympics, football, whatever.
Despite my entreaties, he resisted reading a Picoult novel for years, saying they sounded like "women's fiction." Now he beats me to the bookstore to buy them, and we have long arguments over the plots and characters.
I read my first Picoult novel because a book review in the Dallas Morning News assured readers that she would one day win the Pulitzer Prize. I don't know if she will or not. What I do know is that you'll be doing yourself a favor by buying or borrowing a book of hers.