Can an author who has sold millions of books learn from her daughter about writing? For the mother-daughter author team of Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer, writing Between the Lines was enlightening for each in different ways. PW talked with the coauthors about their writing process and falling in love with a character in a book.
How did you two decide to work together?
Jodi Picoult: I was on a book tour in California when Sammy called me and told me she had an idea for a story. What if, when a book closed, the characters still lived in their world as people with interests and ideas different from the roles they played "onstage"? And what if a prince in a fairytale was desperate to get out of his fairytale, but couldn't get a reader to see him as anything but the prince in the story...until a teenage girl with a crush on that character noticed him trying to communicate with her? Well, it was brilliant--what reader (even adult ones) hasn't fallen for a fictional hero and wished he could reappear in her world? I suggested that we write the book together.
Samantha van Leer: I was a little surprised when she suggested we write together...but who would turn down that opportunity!
Tell us about your routine. What was it like day-by-day?
SVL: We would go up to my mom's office and sit next to each other at her computer. We took turns typing, and we'd role play and speak each line out loud. Sometimes I'd say a line and then my mom would say the next one, or vice-versa. There were times I was incredibly distracted--I mean, it was my summer vacation after all--but my mom would refocus us both, and give us a quota of a certain number of pages to write. Sometimes we'd figure out a direction for the story but boxed ourselves into a corner and had to write our way out of it--figuring out how to get Oliver out of the book was, for us, a lot like the process Delilah goes through. However, then there were these incredible moments where I'd be saying a line...and my mom would be saying the exact same thing. It was like we were both having the same dream.
How did you find working together? Was it easier or more difficult than you’d expected?
SVL: I learned a ton about how hard it is to be a writer. I never really understood what my mom did up in her office all day long...now I KNOW. It's incredibly time-consuming, difficult work to create a book. Which made it even more rewarding to see that finished product!
JP: I thought when we started that I'd really be the mentor in the writing relationship and that I'd have final say about any and all things literary. But as it turned out, when Sammy and I disagreed about something (for example, the tone of the fairytale in the story) she'd fight until I let her have her way. And then...go figure...she was right. When we finished writing those sections, her suggestions had been the best way to write the story. I treated her much more as a writing equal than I expected to--because her instincts are just so good.
Tell us about the relationship between Delilah and Oliver and your attraction to telling their story.
JP: I confess, I still sometimes hope that Mr. Darcy will show up at my front door. Anyone who's ever found their way inside a book and has been completely captivated by a character will understand why Delilah feels the way she does about reading...and Oliver. I think of their relationship as a very normal teen love affair--who HASN'T fallen for someone who's out of their league? In Delilah and Oliver's case, they are literally worlds apart.
SVL: I think it's pretty universal to feel left out, sometimes, when you're a teenager. Delilah escapes into books the way the rest of us sometimes do--because it takes your mind off your chemistry test or the fight you had with your friend or the guy who doesn't know you exist. I like, too, that Delilah's not a wimp. She gets angry at Oliver, so that he realizes any relationship with her is going to mean they're equals.
What are you both doing next? Any plans to work together again?
SVL: The next thing I'll be writing are my college application essays! But my mom and I both feel that Between the Lines isn't quite over yet--we left it hanging intentionally, and we've talked a lot about what a sequel will look like, and what the characters would do next.
JP: I'd love to work with Sammy again--it was one of the highlights of my career as a writer. So I guess all our readers will just have to beg her to make time for us to write the next installment!