Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jodi Picoult Live at the Andaz

Jodi Picoult, Bethanne Patrick, Ellen Wilber (with guitar)

On March 7, Atria Books held a Literary Salon-Series at the Andaz Hotel in NYC with Shelf Awareness' editor of their new consumer publication Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven for Twitter followers) interviewing author Jodi Picoult about her new book, Sing You Home. (My review here)

Publisher Judith Curr introduced Jodi by saying "she has the best hair I've ever seen", and that is so true. If you've seen a photo of her, you know what she's talking about. And it is the best hair I've ever seen too.

Sing You Home is a very personal book for Picoult, and hearing her speak about it reinforces that. The book is about a a same-sex couple, Zoe and Vanessa, who wish to use Zoe's frozen embryos from her IVF treatments with her ex-husband Max to allow Vanessa to become pregnant with Zoe's child. Max is now involved with a fundamentalist Christian Church, and takes Zoe to court to take possession of the embryos to give to his brother and sister-in-law so that they can have children.

Picoult revealed that her son came out to her and her husband when he was 17 years old, although she says she knew he was gay since he was a young child. He is now attending Yale, getting straight A's, involved in many on campus activities, and is a great ballroom dancer. She says "the least interesting thing about him is that he is gay".

She says that this book is a mission for her as a mom; she wants her son to be able to fall in love, get married and raise children, just like everyone else.  Isn't that what all parents want for their children?

Picoult does lots of research for all of her books, and this was no exception. Her most difficult interview ever was with a woman from a group called Focus on the Family. They believe that there is "freedom from homosexuality through Jesus". Picoult respected that this woman wished to have her organization's views portrayed accurately, and she spent six hours with her.

Many scientific studies that are referenced in the court case in the novel were discussed by the women, and when Picoult asked the woman if she worried that Focus on the Family's message was not being used correctly, the woman cried and said, "thank God that's never happened". Picoult brought up the Matthew Shepherd murder, but the woman didn't get it. Picoult was still visibly upset by that interaction as she recounted it.

She also interviewed several lesbian couples, and came to the conclusion that their relationships are just like straight couples, except "they talk all the time", which drew laughs from the audience.  They also don't have gender specific roles, like only one of them killing bugs, taking out the trash; the chores of everyday living are just done by both.

Picoult is selling signed copies of her book to benefit The Trevor Project, a support system and hotline for LGBTQ teens. She is working closely with The Trevor Project, and says the best thing people can do for gay teens is to work on anti-bullying projects in schools. She also says giving gay teens support- just telling them "I love you and think you are great"- can make a huge difference to them.

Patrick asked Picoult about the Twitter dust-up called 'Franzenfreude' that occured when Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom was released. Picoult mentioned on Twitter that it was odd that Franzen got two separate lengthy reviews and a feature story in the New York Times the week his book was released, but several female authors who had books published that week didn't even get a mention. And by the way, most book buyers are women.

Author Jennifer Weiner picked up on the comment and tweeted about the dearth of female authors being reviewed in major publications, and then a person pretending to be Franzen started tweeting back to them, and it turned into a humorous few weeks, with a valid message behind the fun.

Patrick also asked my favorite question- which authors do you read? Picoult says that Alice Hoffman "made me a fan as a reader", and three books that she read recently she loved are Room by Emma Donoghue (so agree!), The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, and Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt, who was sitting next to me in the audience. I was so excited to meet her; I found her book a few weeks ago at Costco and squealed so loudly with joy when I saw it that I think I frightened a woman who was looking at other books. She quickly pushed her cart away following my outburst.

Music plays a big role in the book, as Zoe is a music therapist. Patrick asked Picoult who she listens to, and the response was electic- Wilco, Aimee Mann, the cast CD of the Broadway show Ragtime, and Hannah Montana (which got a laugh of recognition from other moms in the audience). She's also a Gleek- Glee is her guilty pleasure.

She and her friend, musician Ellen Wilber, wrote songs for each chapter of the book, and we were treated to a performance by Wilber of Sammy's Song. A CD comes with the book, with Wilber singing the songs. She has such a lovely, crystalline pure voice. It was a delightful way to end the evening!

Thanks to Atria Books for inviting me to this fabulous event. You can watch the event here on my website.

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