Q&A: Bestselling Author Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult‘s newest novel combines her classic formula for a bestseller and an exploration of what it means for two women to fall in love. Sing You Home focuses on the life of Zoe Baxter, a music therapist who has tried for years to get pregnant. After an accident that causes her to lose the only child she ever thought she could conceived, Zoe and her husband Max divorce. And while Zoe throws herself into her career, Max spirals downward in the throes of alcoholism.
But everything changes when Zoe meets her co-worker Vanessa, and Max finds help for his alcohol addiction by way of religion. His pastor, committed himself to fighting the “homosexual agenda,” convinces Max to join the cause. This creates a problem when Zoe and Vanessa ask Max for permission to use the remaining frozen embryos to raise a child together.
Sing You Home explores the challenges of being gay in society, most notably the difficulty of synthesizing sexuality and religion. An though this is the first novel featuring lesbian characters that Picoult has written, she’s revealed that she’ll likely incorporate gay themes into future books.
Known for her bestsellers My Sister’s Keeper (also a major motion picture), The Pact and Nineteen Minutes, Picoult has over 14 million copies of her books in print today. We talked to the author about same-sex parenting, what it was like writing a lesbian story line and what advice she would give to young people about coming out.
Sing You Home explores the concept of same-sex parenting. How do you think modern society defines “family” and do you think this view should and can change?
Picoult: I think family is mistakenly defined as a married mother and father and their offspring. However, you only have to look around you to see that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some are single-parented. Some kids are biological, some adopted. Sometimes a grandparent raises a child. Sometimes a child has two parents of the same sex who love him dearly. There are so many kids these days growing up in non-traditional families that eventually – when they are old enough to start their own families – I’d like to believe their generation will define the word as something much more all-encompassing.
Why did you choose to write about lesbians specifically? Do you ever see yourself exploring this subject again?
Picoult: I wanted to write about a same-sex couple and I wanted my main character to be female, so that obviously pointed to a lesbian relationship! I don’t know if I will explore what it means to want to start a family as a lesbian couple again – but I will definitely include more lesbian and gay characters in my fiction. One of the “leads” of Lone Wolf, my upcoming novel, is a gay man – but it’s hardly a book about being gay.
How did your interviews with the Evangelical Church affect your writing and your perspective?
Picoult: It was very hard to separate my personal feelings as the mother of a gay son and my professional detachment as a writer doing an interview. It hurts me to know that there are people out there who are so delusional, and who believe so blindly in what they are told. The Bible is a very important book for many reasons, but it makes a lousy sex manual. To take it at its word is so problematic, as that “word” is the victim of multiple translations and editorial decisions, and because you can’t pick and choose what parts of the Bible you think are valid and which ones aren’t. If you want to quote Leviticus as proof that God doesn’t support homosexuality, then you have to also be willing to say polygamy is okay and you can marry a 13-year-old and that a widow should marry her husband’s brother. I think that what upset me the most was when I asked the woman I interviewed if she worried that her rhetoric might lead to hate crimes against gays. She said, “Thank goodness that’s never occurred.” When I asked her if she knew of Matthew Shepard, she dodged the question.
Based on what the characters go through in this book, what might you say to someone who’s coming out and anyone who struggles with being honest about who they really are?
Picoult: You are perfect just the way you are. Coming out is a scary thing – and yes, you may lose a friend or two if you confide in them. But your real friends, and the people who love you, love you. They love who you are, not what you are. Know that you are not alone – there are plenty of support groups to talk to if you’re having a hard time. And although it’s hard to see from your current vantage point – it does get better, as the video project says. One day, when you and your partner and your family are remembering this moment, you are going to be awfully glad you were true to yourself, and stopped living a lie.
Picoult talks about Sing You Home and gay rights in America today: