Picoult & Van Leer: A Mother-Daughter Writing Team
by Tif Sweeney, Walrus Contributor
On Friday, June 29, Saint Louis provided acclaimed author Jodi Picoult with a very warm welcome, both in temperatures and crowds at the Saint Louis County Library Headquarters. Picoult has authored than 18 novels, many of which have landed on bestseller lists and in the middle of controversy. However, Picoult is exploring new grounds in the world of writing, releasing her first young adult novel, Between the Lines, co-written with her 17-year-old daughter Samantha Van Leer.
The book’s roots begin from Van Leer’s daydreaming in 8th grade French. (Disclaimer: She does not recommend this and shared the important message of “always pay attention in school!”) Van Leer pitched her idea to her mother, and the idea only grew from there over three long summers. Sitting side by side, Picoult and Van Leer co-wrote every single page, providing this young adult novel a true and genuine teen voice. The mother-daughter team have spun a modern fairy tale with their combined words, complete with wit and humor as evidenced by the many laughs from the audience during their dual reading. And, Picoult even promises a happy ending to the tale, despite her reputation for not doing so in the majority of her previous novels!
The most intriguing portion of the night came when the floor was opened up for questions. Audience members ranging from young to old picked the minds of Picoult and Van Leer on a number of topics, ranging from writing to reading to even the movies. Here are five random facts that came out of this session:
- Picoult knows the ending of her books before she begins writing them, providing the opportunity for her to leave a paper trail for the reader when her stories begin taking the many twists and turns that they are famous for. In the case of Between the Lines, Samantha actually wrote the very last line of the book and the duo wrote everything above that line until the book was complete!
- Picoult extensively researches the topics for her books, starting with a simple inquiry to an expert in the chosen field. Some requests have been willingly answered; others she may have had to beg for!
- Picoult never pitches a book until it is completely written.
- Picoult is constantly asked about her feelings regarding the movie version of My Sister’s Keeper. Picoult informed the audience that the rights to the book were sold with the best intentions, but she had to let go and let it take its course. Using an analogy of adoption, she plainly stated that when you give up your parental rights, you can only hope for the best. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it does not.
- Picoult has received more hate mail for her novel Sing You Home, featuring the hot topic of gay rights, than for any of her other novels combined!
The night with Picoult and Van Leer was a night well spent, out from the heat and in with the entertainment. I look forward to discovering if Between the Lines is just as entertaining and lives up to standards of Picoult’s adult novels. For more information on the author and her novels, you can visit her website, Jodi Picoult: novels about family, relationships, love, & more.