Ask most mothers of teenage daughters if they could imagine spending five days a week cooped up in an office for eight hours a day working on a project together for an entire summer, and the answers you would get might not be printable. Not so for bestselling author Jodi Picoult, who began a writing adventure six years ago when her daughter Samantha van Leer, 13 at the time, came up with an idea for Between the Lines (2013), in which the characters have their own lives separate from the fairy tale they are in and one of them tries to escape the story with the help of a reader in the real world who has a crush on him.
So the two worked together, side-by-side in Picoult's attic office. "We would literally speak every word out loud. I might say a sentence, and she would jump on it and piggyback and say the next one. And then I might interrupt, and we kept tossing the narrative back and forth while one of us would be typing. I think she had no idea what she was getting into. And she had a real day job—she was a student, and we worked only during the summers. The first summer we wrote Between the Lines, the second summer we edited the book, and the third summer we toured three continents for it."
Not a bad trajectory. It was a learning experience for both of them to work together. Van Leer tells Show Daily @ BookCon, "I'd never really seen what my mom does for work. All I knew was that she disappeared into her office for eight hours a day. So it really gave me insight into how hard she works as a writer and how hard the process is—everything that goes beyond writing the book that comes afterward, the touring, the editing. I definitely gained a whole new respect for what she does as a profession."
Picoult, too, gained insight into her daughter. "I think what amazed me the most—she's very smart and poised for her age—but she has unbelievable tenacity. There were days when we were up there writing, it was the dead of summer, it was a thousand degrees in my office. Any 14-year-old kid would want to be outside and she wasn't; she was inside and she was committed."
They had such a great response to Between the Lines and so many readers wanted to know what happened next to the characters, they decided to write a sequel. Picoult says, "We figured there were a few things that could be addressed. If we ended book one with ‘fairy tales come true,' what happens in book two if you realize that there are consequences to ‘happily ever after'? There's that sense that you wrap everything up in a neat bow, and then when you look closely, you see the edges are frayed."
For Off the Page, published earlier this month, van Leer, who just completed her second year as a psychology major at Vassar, notes their writing process changed. "The second time around I definitely had more confidence in my writing because I felt like I've done this before. I'm officially a published author, so I could have more of a say. My mom and I actually fought a lot more, but in the end I think it made a better book, because every word and sentence is argued and fought for and thought about, which just made for an incredible product in the end."
And there is more good news for their creative efforts. Picoult and van Leer, are working on a musical based on the book. Under the auspices of Tony Award–winning producer Daryl Roth (August Osage County, among others), they're hoping to make it to Broadway. "As the developing producers, Sammy and I are creatively shepherding it to where it needs to be so we are intimately involved. It's very much a collaborative process and really exciting."
This is van Leer's first experience at BookCon, and she is thrilled to be here. "I'm excited to see how big this is," she says, "and if there are a lot of my fans here because I get to see a lot of the moms and a couple of the teen fans on tour. But I know there's a larger teen base that's usually in contact via email or Twitter or Facebook, so it would be nice to see them in person and get to meet them."
You can see them both today at a special YA panel, with David Levithan for Another Day, Jennifer Niven for All the Bright Places, Nicola Yoon for Everything, Everything, and E. Lockhart for We Were Liars, 1 p.m.–2 p.m., in Room 1A23. They will be signing finished copies of Off the Page at the Random House booth (3119) after the panel, 2:30 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 30, 2015 edition of PW Show Daily @ BookCon.