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On any given work day, Jodi Picoult sequesters herself for nine hours of writing in her New Hampshire home, but Monday found the best-selling author in TriBeCa posing for Talbots’ October catalogue and fielding questions for an online video.
Personable in a known-you-forever kind of way, the mother of three jumped up midsentence three times during an interview to hug and thank stylists.
Her modeling debut will coincide with Random House’s Oct. 14 release of her 22nd book, “Leaving Time.” In-store readings and book signings are part of the partnership, including an Aug. 6 one in the Washington, D.C. boutique hosted by Good Housekeeping’s Jane Francisco. At home as she is in her leafy New England college town where a passing bear recently up-ended a Coleman cooler for a brew, Picoult appears to be a master connector. Talbots is banking on Picoult, who has 514,000-plus Facebook followers and 22 million books in print in 37 languages, to rev up fall business. Here, the 48-year-old talks about her new fashion alliance, the advantage of multimedia platforms, the Amazon-Hachette showdown and the ever-trembling publishing landscape.
WWD: Have you ever collaborated with a fashion company before?
Jodi Picoult: No, this is awesome, Random House put it all together. They were looking for a clientele that overlapped with my clientele. My mother-in-law is a devout Talbots fan and we were joking around that since I don’t see her very often she will now see me in the catalogue. Talbots is great for staples — sweaters, T-shirts, your little black dress. Very often I will see three generations of women come together to my events, which I love and which is also a great fit for Talbots. You see a lot of women pass down that style to their children.
WWD: People think of writing as such a solitary life…
J.P.: It is very solitary and the flip side of that is tour, which is everyone in your face all the time and you’re on 100 percent of the time. It’s a very split life. I like being an extrovert. Doing a reading is like being an actress. I love that part.
WWD: What are the funnier things people have done or said at your readings?
J.P.: I proposed for a guy in Colorado. I did have someone who went into labor at one of my readings, which was exciting.
WWD: What was most challenging about “Leaving Time”?
J.P.: I can’t tell you. The writing of the book was extremely complicated, but once you read the book it will be evident. The research was really a lot of fun. I was able to spend time at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which is one of our two elephant sanctuaries in the United States where former performing elephants get to basically live out their lives. Then I got to go to Botswana to work with an elephant researcher, to see elephants in the wild and how she studies them.
WWD: Is there any symbolism in your use of elephants?
J.P.: Yes, in the animal kingdom in a normal wild herd, an elephant mother and daughter will stay together their entire lives until one of them dies. And that’s not what we do — we get our kids to a point where they can succeed without us.
WWD: How do you manage to work so quickly?
J.P.: I have very good discipline and that’s really what it takes. In the morning, I go for a run or a three-mile walk with a friend, shower and by eight o’clock, I’m sitting at my desk working. I keep going until about 4:30 or 5 o’clock. Sometimes I’ll come downstairs and grab lunch and sometimes I’m lucky enough to have my husband bring it to me.
WWD: How do you deal with critics who say you write too quickly?
J.P.: People don’t believe that if you write a book a year that you can write a quality book. That sort of goes to the great divide between literary and commercial fiction, which is a marketing tool. It has very little to do with the book and it has a lot more to do with where it’s shelved. I very clearly, when I was starting out, wanted to be a commercial writer because I knew what kind of book I was going to write and I would much rather reach more people. Literary books usually get all the prizes, but have a smaller print run. I would like to believe there is a vast difference between a sort of pulp fiction or a fiction that’s not written even by the author anymore and those of us who write commercial fiction, but who really pour our heart and soul into it. I absolutely believe that you can write a terrific book in a year and I also believe that for some books it might take 10 years.
WWD: Any thoughts about the Amazon-Hachette controversy?
J.P.: The truth is a year ago Amazon wasn’t the bully. It was Barnes & Noble, and it was Simon & Schuster’s books that were affected. My book was one of them. [Barnes & Noble wouldn’t carry it.] There is always going to be some sort of dispute like this in publishing. It’s cyclical. I’m not going to take sides either way because it’s going to happen again with somebody else.
WWD: What’s your take on Amazon’s subscription deal?
J.P.: I don’t know enough about it to comment. I have said for a long time that I think people will pay a premium if you can bundle a hardcover book, an e-book and an audio. But there are a lot of players to get involved so I don’t know if it ever will.
WWD: “My Sisters’s Keeper” was made into a film. Will there be others?
J.P.: Right now the book they are casting is “Change of Heart.” There is a really cool producer, Cynthia Drok, and a director named Dominique Deruddere. I cowrote the screenplay and it looks very close to the book.
WWD: In the past two weeks, you have championed five other writers on Twitter. Is that an ongoing responsibility or an offshoot of your success?
JP: I think if you’re lucky enough to have a platform. you use it for good. I am very fortunate and have had a lot of success in my career, there were people [like Ann Hood and Mary Morris] who definitely gave me a leg up. I want to pay that forward.
WWD: Do you have any vices when writing?
J.P.: Yes, oh my God — chocolate. Our lake house is very close to Chutters in Littleton with the world’s longest candy bar. Literally, I think I bought a six-pound bag of chocolate and I am eating my way through it, working on the sequel to a young adult novel [“Off the Page”] with my daughter this summer. I am putting on 20 pounds writing this book. It’s really sad.
WWD: Will you write “Wonder Woman” for DC Comics again?
J.P.: I wouldn’t rule out doing it again, but I can’t do it right now. They have great writers right now for “Wonder Woman,” so she doesn’t need me. The cool thing about comics, which makes it a tighter fit to my writing than most people would think, is that comics tend to be more cutting-edge on social issues than any other type of writing. Comic books tend to get there before movies and books do. They’re making Thor female and Archie just died saving his gay best friend, and Green Lantern is black. It’s awesome. I’m really excited about that.
WWD: Are you very interested in graphic novels?
J.P.: I incorporated one into “The Tenth Cycle.” That was how I wound up getting this “Wonder Woman” gig. I wanted to play around with this idea of a character who couldn’t tell you how he was feeling but he could show you. The graphic novel is very much a catalogue of his feelings of his 14-year-old daughter being date-raped. I love the idea that words aren’t the only way to tell stories. When I wrote “Sing You Home,” it came with a CD. The music was composed and sung by my best friend, Ellen Wilber, and the lyrics were composed by me. The main character was a lesbian and I wanted readers to actually hear her voice. I wanted them to identify with her as a person because it’s much harder to dismiss the fears and worries that a gay person has if you meet them, because you think, ‘Oh, they’re just like me.’ And that was the whole point.”
WWD: Do you think we’ll see more branding along the lines of what Jay Z did with Decoded’s launch — text from the book was printed on the floor of a swimming pool in Miami or on the lining of a leather jacket you could buy?
J.P.: Jay Z did a book? To me, what’s really interesting is that David Mitchell just wrote a short story on Twitter. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but I hear it’s great. That is a really interesting use of social media to advance storytelling. He is a great writer who already has a following and to be able to create suspense and surprise and a conclusion that shocks people in 140 characters or less with each tweet is a real feat. That’s kind of fun because you’re taking the storytelling chops that you already have and are trying to adopt them to a new medium.
WWD: If someone walked into your house, what would they most be surprised to see?
J.P.: What a mess it is. I think that all the time. I guess if you’re working really hard something’s got to go. You’re going to be finding piles of things that I really need to put away. Actually, what most people are the most surprised to learn is just how much my house feels like a home. I’ve heard that from a lot of reporters who have had very different experiences with some authors who have to make an arrival and they have a whole staff to welcome you. I don’t have a staff or an assistant — I don’t have anybody. I’m usually going to make you scones and serve you coffee or tea. It’s very down-to-earth. It’s also very much who I am.