An interview with Jodi Picoult

AE: You’re getting emails from people who haven’t read the book yet?

My favorite e-mail came from a woman after an event I did in Toronto, which is a gay-friendly city. I was talking about this book and how excited I was. She came home and wrote me an e-mail that said, “I’ve read all of your books, but I cannot read this one and I cannot condone the fact that you wrote it. Homosexuality is a sin. It says so in the Bible and I’m really upset that you’ve chosen to do this.” I wrote her back and said, “Thank you for telling me your point of view. I really hope that you’ll read the book and make a decision. Maybe you’ll hear a different point of view for the first time, but your feelings will be represented too.” She writes me back and says, “Well the thing is, I was in a same-sex relationship and then I found Jesus and became born again. My husband knows all about my past. The real problem I have with your book is I think it would be like being an ex-smoker in a room full of smokers. It might just hit too close to home.”

AE: Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.

Even better is that’s not the only letter I’ve gotten like that. I was just sitting thinking, “Oh, we’re so messed up. We need to advance this understanding that it’s not a curse to be gay and it’s not a problem that you have to deal with or suffer through. It’s who you are. Period.” And it’s not, in 99 percent of the cases, even the most interesting thing about the person.

Jodi with Ellen Wilbur, who wrote the music for the accompanying CD that comes with the book

AE: Have received any positive responses?

Oh my god, I’ve received so many positive responses. Really great ones from people who’ve had advanced readership. Many people who are gay and lesbian have written to me and said, “I’ve been waiting for this book my whole life.” For me that is such an honor. I would say overwhelmingly that what people are saying is that they are relating deeply to the characters, which is all I want them to do. I do anticipate backlash, I know it’s going to happen, because there are a lot [of people] in this country who will judge the book without having read it. That’s OK, too, because that means I wrote about the right issue.

AE: What was your editor or agent’s response when you told them about the book?

They were so excited. The great thing about my editor and agent is no one ever says to me, “You can’t write about that.” Not only did I walk in and say, “I’m writing this controversial book about gay rights.” I also said, “By the way, you’re going to be packaging it with a CD of original music.” I’m sure they were like, “What?” But they were really on board 100 percent.

In fact, I have another good story. There is a group called Premiere Collectibles. They are a website that sells autographed books. One of the events that I’m doing is a literary salon in New York. It’s a webcast. People who can’t come to the interview can watch online and then if they want to they can go to this website and buy a book. Well, the company said that they would like to donate $2 for every book that’s sold to a cause of Jodi’s choice. I said, “That’s great. I pick the Trevor Project.” All of the sudden they call back my publicist and say, “We are happy to cut Jodi a check and have her make the donation, but we can’t put that on our website because a lot of our clients are Evangelical Christians and we think that it would offend them.” My publicist said, “I can tell you right now we’re not going to be partnering with you. And I can tell you even more that you’re going to be sorry because Jodi has strong opinions, she’s vocal and she has a big following.”

He told me what happened and I went on Twitter — I said, “Boycott this company”—and by the end of the day [Premiere Collectibles] had received so many emails to their customer service department from my fans that they called back my publicists and said, “We’ve had a change of heart — we are happy to partner up with the Trevor Project.”

AE: One last question: Did your son like the book?

He loved it. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered. I love the fact that he is so happy and comfortable in his own skin. I love that he is in a supportive community at Yale. I worry as a mom he’s going to step outside that academic bubble and have someone say, “You’re a faggot.” That would break any mom’s heart. I know it’s going to happen. He knows it’s going to happen.

I am so proud to do whatever I can in my profession to change even a few minds because that’s how you change the world. You don’t do it all at once. You do it one mind at a time. There are going to be readers who boycott this book because of the subject matter, but there are going to be a lot more readers who pick it up and who maybe for the first time rethink their opinions and maybe are not so quick to judge the next time they encounter someone who is gay or lesbian or transgendered who really want the same things out of life that they do.

Sing You Home is available March 1.