Nothing off-limits for novelist Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult has become one of the most prolific, popular, and celebrated writers of this generation. The Boston Globe got it best when they wrote: "Picoult writes with a fine touch, a sharp eye for detail, and a firm grasp of the delicacy and complexity of human relationships." Her novels are uncannily timely and have delved into such topics as stem-cell research (current bestseller Handle with Care), Eugenics, (Second Glance), school shootings (Nineteen Minutes), teen suicide (The Pact), and religious miracles (Keeping Faith). Of particular interest to our readers is the fact that come 2011, we will see the release of a book that focuses on issues close to the GLBT community. But we’ll get to that.
Having been a New York Times bestselling novelist for years, her stock rose when
My Sister’s Keeper was released and became a worldwide phenomenon. The book is about a little girl born to be a donor for her leukemia-stricken older sister, who then sues her parents for the right to control her own body. The novel was passed on from reader to reader, usually with a packet of Kleenex and the bittersweet warning "you won’t believe the ending."
After fifteen books, three Lifetime movies and one play adaptation from her novels, the first major-motion picture based on her most celebrated work is finally hitting the big screen. Directed by Nick Cassavettes (The Notebook) and starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin, My Sister’s Keeper opens wide on June 26, 2009.
I contacted Jodi at her home in New Hampshire where she was battling the remnants of a very nasty cold. With a stay-at-home husband and three teenagers, she is, in turns a soccer-mom, wife, and world-wide bestselling author who not only went to Princeton but worked on Wall Street before deciding to make it a go as a writer.
Having known Jodi for about five years now, I always look forward to speaking with her. Her manner is down-to-earth, breezy, and refreshingly blunt. No subject is off limits and she makes no excuses for her opinions and beliefs.
A new ending?
EDGE: So what was the process of My Sister’s Keeper coming to the screen?
Picoult: It was bought by Fine Line...who gave it to New Line because I guess they thought it was more commercial. Keep in mind, the book had just come out. It’s not really selling much yet. But the book then became the little engine that could. And eventually became a book that sold 18 million copies. And I think it got bigger and bigger and bigger, and at the same time, New Line got eaten up by Warner Bros. and all of a sudden we were a Warner Bros. film.
As Jodi tells it, writer Jeremy Leven (who adapted The Notebook for the screen) was brought on to write the film and possibly direct. But he did the one thing that would have every Picoult fan aghast: He wanted to change the ending.
Picoult: I had never talked to anybody at New Line. Ever. And I finally said I wanted to talk to [executive Meredith Finn]. I said, "Before you make this decision, can I just plead my case?" And I told her why I thought the ending was so endemic to the story. And why I thought it was what had sold 18 million copies of that book. And she said, "That’s exactly the reason I got it. A friend gave it to me and said ’I can’t tell you what happens. Just read it.’" [So] I said, "isn’t it worth then thinking about why that ending works?
Shortly after, Picoult explained, Nick Cassavettes was hired on as the writer and director of the project. Having handled the phenomenally successful book-to-movie adaptation of The Notebook, it seemed like a perfect fit. [Jodi and Nick] discussed the book together, to which he finally told her that he promised if he changed the ending for the movie, he’d personally let her know and would tell her why. Two weeks after he was hired, he called Jodi to tell her that he re-read the book and that she was right. It was the right ending. But here comes the inevitable Hollywood twist...
Picoult: I got an email from a fan who worked at a casting agency who wrote to tell me "we just got the script for My Sister’s Keeper. Did you know they changed the ending?" I hadn’t heard it from Nick and that still hurts me. Ultimately, it is his to do what he wants with it. That’s what it means when you sign the rights away to a property. I still don’t really know why he changed the ending or why he thought that was the right ending for his film. It is his prerogative. Do I still think it’s a good film? Absolutely. I’ve seen it. I applaud him for getting some of the strongest acting I’ve ever seen out of those actors. I applaud him for keeping the narrative structure of the book where different people narrate at different times. I applaud him for creating a beautifully filmed, emotionally resonant movie. Ultimately for me... it is a different message than what I intended in the book. It’s not going to have the same impact.