|Best Selling Authors Jodi Picoult, Kathy Reichs, Ruth Reichl,
and moderator Bob Minzesheimer at BookCon 2014.
I first “met” Jodi Picoult when I read My Sister’s Keeper. To this day, it’s the only book that has ever made me cry in public and I’ve been much more careful about where I read Jodi Picoult’s stories ever since.
When I found out she was speaking about best selling books at this year’s BookCon, I knew I wanted to see her. She spoke on a panel with best selling authors Kathy Reichs and Ruth Reichl. Collectively, the panelists have successfully authored over fifty books, many of which have become New York Times best sellers. Their insight and commentary on writing was well worth it.
When asked about the age-old saying ‘writers should only write about what they know,’ Jodi responded, “If I only wrote what I knew, you’d be very bored. Writers should write about what they’re willing to learn.”
All of the panelists were asked about their children who’ve followed in their footsteps and taken to writing, and whether or not they fear their children will eventually produce Mommy Dearest tell alls.
Ruth Reichl laughed and responded of her son, “He has a perfect model in me, who’s made fun of my mother in print all my life.”
Jodi, who has co-written a novel with her daughter, Sammy, and is currently working on a sequel said, “I’m sure one day she will write about me and completely humiliate me.” She too, was laughing.
Jodi always knew her daughter was extremely creative, but when her teacher called and asked if Jodi would type Sammy’s forty-two page short story, Jodi took Sammy’s talent for writing seriously. Sammy’s first story features a duck invited for dinner by animal friends, who later fears that he is their dinner. In case you’re wondering how the story ends, the other animals become vegetarians and are friends with the duck for life. Jodi’s daughter is considering a degree in creative writing.
When asked if the writing process ever gets easier, Kathy Reichs said, “I’m not sure I’ve ever learned. Maintaining creativity is one of the hardest parts. Keeping up with writing and keeping characters fresh is difficult too.”
Jodi, a creative writing major at Princeton University, shared her first workshop experience. “I was told I wasn’t allowed to speak and was asked to sit on the floor in the center of the room with construction paper, scissors, and a glue stick and told to do whatever the other students told me to.”
When Jodi later questioned her professor about why this experience was necessary, her teacher responded, “Because you can handle it.” Jodi repeatedly rewrote that story until it became her first published piece.
Although uncomfortable, Jodi’s first workshop experience is a shining example of how fierce and competitive the writing world can be, especially for women who are frequently less reviewed and at the mercy of assumptions (i.e. female writers only write for women), an assumption Jodi challenged.
“I tracked my fan mail for a year and 49% came from men.”
Best selling authors are also criticized in the literary world, suffering the belief that fiction that sells well isn’t well written, an insult to successful writers and their many readers.
The panelists were also questioned by an audience member, who questioned why most best selling authors don’t have MFAs. Although the panelists have graduate degrees and conflicting opinions on the value of MFA programs, non hold MFAs in creative writing.
|Jodi Picoult and me
As a former teacher turned aspiring author, Jodi’s final thoughts hold a special place for me.
“I studied education in graduate school and I like to think I’m still teaching, I just have a really big classroom.”
Judging from the size of the audience and the line that snaked tirelessly towards the dais after the panel finished, I think there are plenty of willing students.