Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jodi Picoult (and the Difference in Crowd)

When you think, Jodi Picoult you think "controversy". Well, at least I do. Most people probably just think of My Sister's Keeper.

The memories of my first Jodi Picoult book almost feels like home and certainly brings back nostalgic memories. I remember my first experience with Jodi Picoult. It was the summer before seventh grade as I was just beginning to delve into "taboo" books. The movie for My Sister's Keeper was just about to come out. Since I wanted to see it, I figured that I'd give it a try.

Well, Monday night I was off to my second author visit from Philly Libraries. I must say it left me utterly ecstatic. At the very least, I did get an autographed book by her (three. Thanks so much, Mom!) that I saw her personally sign so that at least is a step in the right direction.  It actually gets even better than that

I can't help but think of the chain of events that led me there. I probably should have gotten into this earlier but now I'm thinking about fate and everything. Especially because I'm thinking about that one little detail that got the ball rolling.

This whole book tour thing started with an e-mail. Not even to Jodi (though I did write to her and she did respond. That was before, though). It was to Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. I had read the book in six hours because I absolutely could not put it down (I would have read it sooner but I got it at audio at the library since the actual books were all out. Like I said, jumping into a book about suicide and any other "taboo" subjects made me reluctant. I was just getting over the shock of the birth scene in Breaking Dawn at the time). Anyway, I still felt viscerally connected to the book and I needed to do something with that energy. After countless searching on the Internet, I found his e-mail address and wrote to him. I signed the e-mail "From a Fan in PA." Not only did he respond to this but he told me that he was doing an event in PA in Philly Libraries. Yes, it was beautiful and I even got to talk to him face-to-face. I've been connected to the library chain ever since.

This all brings me to my fourth author event, the one with Jodi Picoult. The one that made me squeal last Christmas when my mom got the tickets for me.

Anyway, we came an hour early so we were just sitting around. I was getting increasingly excited as I waited for it. One of the things that struck me was the difference in the crowd that Anne Rice and Jodi Picoult drew. Everything from their clothes to their ages were different. While Anne Rice's crowd tended to cater mostly to those in their mid-thirties who often dressed in a rather relaxed fashion or sometimes a unique one. Jodi Picoult's fans tended to dress more conservatively and be mostly middle-aged women. Also, I noticed (from the snippets of conversation I heard. Reading in class gets me attuned to these things) that instead of just talking about life and Jodi's books, they talked about politics. Occasionally, I heard them talk about Jodi's books but when they did they talked about certain points in the book.

And then she entered the stage. She went out to the podium and she began to speak. At the sound of her voice, I wanted to squeal. I was actually seeing Jodi Picoult!

There was one marked difference that I immediately noticed between her and Anne Rice. For one, Anne Rice had someone introduce her and speak for much of the time (and ask her questions). She also sat down and her hands were fidgeting and shaking quite a bit (which kind of gave me a sick kind of relief. It kind of affirmed that introverts can make it in the book world and still be loved). Jodi Picoult, on the other hand, only had a podium set up and there was no one with her. My mother was originally afraid that there would be no Q &A and thus acquiring an autograph would be that much harder.

Well, she actually read her book first. First of all, I must say that this kind of scared me. While she was an excellent reader and really made the book (Lone Wolf) come alive, I was kind of scared she would be just reading for the whole time.

That wasn't the case, though. She later began to talk. Most of it was research pertaining to her new book, particularly research on wolves (which was important because of the theme of wolves in the book and what they meant for one of the characters). She discussed how you can tell if a dog is a beta, alpha, tester or numbers dog by the positions they get into (and how this might be useful to you when you buy a dog). At one point, she even showed the audience how different wolves (different as in ranking) sound when they howl by getting audience volunteers. Those who participated cute wolf beanie babies in the end.

I must say that she is a fabulous speaker. She's clear and articulate and uses hand gestures to engage us. She didn't look afraid of talking in the slightest.

My mom left just when things were getting good. She wanted to make sure that our books would actually get autographed that time, unlike the situation with Anne Rice. I felt bad about her getting up and making that sacrifice for me but I really wanted those autographs.

Anyway, I didn't even get the best part yet, though.

At one point, she started to talk about the book that she and her daughter wrote together called Between the Lines. Just as I was whipping out my phone to write down the title, she asked if there was a thirteen-year-old in attendance. No one raised their hand. I took on the attitude of "carpe diem", calling out and saying with a shrug, "I'm fourteen." I had no idea what was going to happen. She told to come up there and I did. Then she handed me a book. One of the very first advance copies of that very book, which is coming out in June. She told me to e-mail her and tell her what I thought. I didn't know what to say.  I just took the book in a blissful kind of shock, hearing murmurs in the audience.

As I adjusted to the feeling of the book in my hand, the Q&A section of the program began. I was still in touch with my environment enough to remember that one question that I wanted to ask her. I didn't know if I should because my mom said that it was "personal".

Once the questions started, the differences from the questions asked to Anne Rice were vividly apparent. I got the impression that Jodi Picoult's crowd were composed of scholars and avid readers, rather than aspiring writers. Because of this, I noticed that the questions were not only less in number but more about her books than about the aspects of writing/the publishing world.

Eventually, I took up that attitude of carpe diem once again. After all, how often do you get to ask a question to an author standing only hundreds of feet away from you (as opposed to hundreds of miles)? There also seemed like she would definitely be able to answer all of the questions that were asked.

I asked her, "How did your son coming out affect the writing process of Sing You Home [that dealt largely with the rights of LGBT Americans]?" I wondered about this ever since I read about her son coming out via his college application essay on her website and then reading some reviews on Amazon about Sing You Home that called it too biased (I imagined that having a gay son would definitely impact her view on the issue).

I was so afraid that she would be angry or taken aback or something (though, in hindsight, I don't know why). She wasn't. 

She thanked me for asking that question and then proceeded to talk passionately about it. When I heard her talk, I felt like I had struck gold. She talked about the story about her son coming out and how that went from being some abstract issue to one that affected her personally. She also talked about the responses in her family to this (all positive. I actually thought about the reactions in my family if I happened to be gay. My poor grandma is already praying over my soul for my atheism). Her voice morphed from tender to wrathful and passionate when she talked about the kids who went up to her and told her that they had been kicked out of their homes, having their college not paid for, etc. and that they told her that that book made them feel like nothing was wrong with them.

After it was over, I DID get an autograph. My mom was in the front of the line and I met up with her there (she, having seen everything, wanted to see my copy of the book). Then I got to talk to Jodi Picoult for a bit, who signed all of the books I had and told me to e-mail her when I was done to review the book.

And then, it ended, just like that. I called my dad afterwards and told him everything about it although I suspect my mom already talked to him.

It's a shame meeting your favorite author is such a rare event.

I'll post the review part of the e-mail that I'm going to send her since I'm planning for it to be about the size of this blog post. I must say, though, I definitely really like the book so far.
No, not mine. All my pics were from my phone and not of the best quality.

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