Q&A with Novelist Jodi Picoult

Ordinary people, extraordinary circumstances.

Posted Sep 25, 2012

At the crux of Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, Lone Wolf is a family torn apart by the struggle between two adult siblings over whether to terminate their father’s life. Here’s more from the best-selling author:

Jennifer Haupt: This line, from My Sister’s Keeper, seems to summarize the overall theme of your novels: “Maybe who we are isn't so much about what we do, but rather what we're capable of when we least expect it.” How is this true for the characters in your latest book, Lone Wolf?

Jodi Picoult: I think that ordinary people who are placed in extraordinary circumstances find themselves pushed beyond their limits, and learn new truths about themselves. Certainly for Cara and Edward, this is the case when their dad is on life support following an accident, and they have to decide whether or not it is in his best interests to keep him alive or to end life-sustaining measures. That’s a decision no one wants to think about making—but realistically, many families find themselves in that situation. When one sibling’s vote contradicts the other’s, another dynamic is added: how far might you be willing to go to get your way?

JH: As in all of your novels, there are no easy answers in Lone Wolf, no clear right and wrong. How did you get into the heads of Edward and Cara, the two siblings with such opposing views?

JP: I started with the idea that each of them has a secret. Edward is haunted by the fight he had with his dad, which led to Edward running away from home and living as a “prodigal son.” Cara is haunted by the last conversation she had with her father, the night of the accident. Because of this, both children are making decisions about their father’s welfare based not on what Luke would want or need, but based on what they themselves want or need for closure.

JH: What was the starting point of this novel?

JP: I was sitting on a plane ten years ago, next to a man who is a neurologist at a local hospital. He was telling me about traumatic brain injuries and the horrific decisions that have to be made in their wake. It sparked my interest. I said, “I’m not ready to write about this yet…but one day, I will be. So can you remember my name when I call you?” He did!

JH: Luke, the father whose life hangs in the balance, is a complex character who is more comfortable with the wolves he has built a career studying than his own family. How much time did you spend researching wolves in order to create the juxtaposition between their relationship with their pack and Luke’s relationship with his family?

JP: I was lucky enough to connect with a man named Shaun Ellis, who, like Luke, has actually lived in the wild with a pack of wolves. (Believe me…it wasn’t easy to find him!) Shaun now runs a wolf preserve in Devon, in the UK, with six captive packs. Everything Luke says or feels or thinks about wolves comes from Shaun’s own experience. I was able to visit him in Devon, meet his wolf packs, feed them, and get up close and personal. I left with a healthy respect for these incredible animals.

JH: After writing eighteen novels, how do you come up with an idea for novel nineteen?

JP: I haven’t run out of ideas yet. Usually while I’m working on a book, I’m doing research for the next one!

JH: I love what you say about how you find time to write, raising three kids: “I write quickly, but I also do not believe in writer's block, because once I didn't have the luxury of believing it. When you only have twenty minutes, you write—whether it's garbage, or it's good… you just DO it, and you fix it later.” Do you have any rituals that put you quickly into your novel world?

JP: Does coffee count?

JH: What’s the One True Thing you learned from Luke and his family?

JP: Have a conversation with your family about your end-of-life wishes while you are healthy. No one wants to have that discussion…but if you do, you’ll be giving your loved ones a tremendous gift, since they won’t have to guess what your wishes would have been, and it takes the onus of responsibility off of them. Write a living will. And become an organ donor!

Jodi Picoult is the author of nineteen novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.