ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Sing You Home and other novels by Jodi Picoult, a sort-of book review and a little opinion about research.

On the release of her novel, Change of Heart, Jodi Picoult visited Australia to promote her book. She told the rapt audience at Sails Restaurant at Noosa Heads, that when she wrote she had a Team Jodi. This team consisted of a group of researchers and professionals who she was able to call on whilst writing her latest book. (Sure beats just having Google!) To write Change of Heart (where she examines the issue of heart transplants amidst all sorts of legal ramifications) she was able to jump on a plane across America and visit death row. Cool. (Wish I could jump on a plane and research the cranberry harvest on Nantucket Island!) One can only imagine the amount of research she now puts in for her latest novels - she churns out one every 9 months!

Her latest novel, Sing You Home, is full of evidence of an army of researchers. Following the now accepted Picoult formula of early novel - set up, last part of novel - court scene, Jodi has used a stunning array of facts, stats and stories to fully examine the issue - should gay married couples be able to adopt children?

At the author talk in 2008, Picoult was asked how she chose the issue for her next novel. She replied that she was a voracious reader of newspapers to keep abreast of the current hot topics. During her sleeping hours the idea for her new novel would form in her mind, and away she would go on a frenzy of research and writing.

Jodi Picoult doesn't need my review to sell her books (you can find over 2,000 reviews of Sing You Home on the net), but something's been bugging me:

How does an author know when enough is enough? I'm a great Picoult fan, but even I am getting a bit jaded with her 'winning' formula - hot topics, loads of research, courtroom scenes with more twists and turns than a medieval maze resulting in reader fatigue with all the stats, spats and what's zats??

As much as I enjoyed Sing You Home (I loved learning about what a music therapist actually does!) and I find her multiple POV style easy to follow,  I got a bad case of legal fatigue during the last half of the book. Thorough research is necessary, but IMHO you don't have to show everything you learnt about a topic by being just so clever. Your reader knows if you know what you're talking about.

I've got to the stage where I know where's she's going and the last page reveal is, well, sure Jodi, you didn't fool me - I knew this is where you were taking me half a book ago, ha ha, whereas in Salem Falls you stunned me speechless with the reveal. I'm still reeling over that one! But I must say the pages and pages of discussion on the DNA chain complete with diagrams had my eyes rolling back in my head.

Here's happy little me chatting with Jodi Picoult after an awesome lunch
 and author talk at Noosa Heads.
From goodreads:

Sing You Home

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·   rating details  ·  7,305 ratings  ·  2,005 reviews
One miscarriage too many spelled the end of Max and Zoe Baxter's marriage. Though the former couple went quite separate ways, their fates remained entangled: After veering into alcoholism, Max is saved in multiple senses by his fundamentalist conversion; Zoe, for her part, finds healing relief in music therapy and the friendship, then romantic love with Vanessa, her counselor. After Zoe and Vanessa, now married, decide to have a baby, they realize that they must join battle with Max, who objects on both religious and financial grounds. Like her House Rules and several other previous Jodi Picoult novels, Sing You Home grapples with hot button issues. The novel also includes a CD of songs, each matched with a chapter in the book. Perfect for book clubs.


  • What do you think about author research?
  • Do you have to show all you know? 
  • Do you agree/disagree with me that sometimes authors go overboard trying to show the reader how much they've learnt? 




23 comments:

  1. I've never read a Picoult novel, will have to amend that - even if it's just so I can attend one of these author talks at Noosa Heads - what a wonderful location for it!
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  2. I've only read one of her novels - and I think it was Salem Falls. I really enjoyed it and keep thinking I must read more.

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  3. Never read one of her books either.
    I don't need tons of details. I prefer action and a steady pace, and that's hard to do with text loaded with details. And once an author hits formula, I lose interest.

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  4. I've read maybe five or six Piccoult novels but I'll be honest, I've stopped reading them because of the 'formula' issue.

    I agree, I don't need to know everything the author knows to enjoy the book. Sometimes less is more.

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  5. Id like to invite you folks to come to Amish Stories for a recipe for "Famous Pennsylvania Dutch Sticky Cinnamon Buns" along with a book signing schedule for Amish fiction writer Wanda Brunstetter for Pennsylvania and Ohio as well as a contest to meet her. I hope everyone so far is having a great weekend. Thanks everyone. Richard from Amish Stories.

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  6. Anything that takes the reader away from the story, including research and factual information, is not a good thing. Like you said, I don't want to know how clever you are. I want you to tell me a story!

    I still pick up Picoult every once in a while, but I agree with you that the formula is so predictable and expected that it takes some of the pleasure away. Her "ripped from the headlines" approach is starting to get to me.

    As for the surprise twist endings, they aren't so surprising or so twisty anymore - not when you're fully expecting them.

    That said, My Sister's Keeper is one of my all-time favorite books, probably because it was the first one of hers that I read. NEVER saw that ending coming...

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  7. I've never read anything by Jodi Picoult.

    I agree that authors shouldn't mention absolutely everything they know about a subject--give the reader enough details to understand the story, but don't swamp them with technicalities.

    (Though, I have to say, I do enjoy it when there are details about technology in Science Fiction. Part of the reason I love Hard SF.)

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  8. This was an interesting review to me, because I got sucked into Sue Grafton's alphabet murder series and just kept reading. Then at about the letter R I got tired of the formula and stopped.

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  9. I avoid formula books like the plague - Sue Grafton did me in early on - as did others - I feel as though they're writing for the money, more hacks than novelists - not entirely fair, but, hey, give me unique creativity any day and I'm as happy as can be..

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  10. Hi all! Well I'm glad no one has taken too much umbrage at me for raising this. Formula does tire after awhile and I'm glad some of you mentioned the Grafton series. I stopped reading at about C is for...When you think about it, so many writers write to a formula because it works for them, but they forget, only for awhile.

    Denise

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  11. I might be in the minority, but I’ve always loved a book with well-done multiple POVs. I also enjoy books that let me learn something new, but not if it feels more like it’s someone showing off their knowledge because then I can’t lose myself in the book I’m so aware of the author and not the characters.

    BTW, I’m delighted you “met” Margot Finke on Bird’s-eye View; I thought about you when I did this post, Denise. :)

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  12. Hi, Denise,

    I agree with you. Yes, I do believe that research is VERY necessary, but it should be used to balance out the story NOT overpower it.

    I hope you had a great weekend. BG is almost done and I will be sending it to you by the end of the week. I can't wait for you to read it.

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  13. Hi Michelle. I said in the post that I do enjoy her multiple POVs.
    I was excited to read about Margo's books.

    Denise

    Hi Michael: Glad you're nearly ready to send BG to me. Exciting!

    Denise

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  14. I love getting stuck into Jodi's books but the same thing bothers me too. Not only that there is so much stuff I have to wrap my head around most of the time, but I know exactly how her books are going to end :-/ The only one so far that surprised me was Handle With Care. Have you read that?

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  15. I love well-researched books but I don't want to be pounded over the head with information. If I wanted that research, I'd do prefer it if she referred the reader to a website or something.

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  16. Jessica: Yes I've read Handle With Care and I agree, she does surprise the reader with that ending. My Sister's Keeper surprises too but that was awhile ago. Maybe if I read it for the first time now I'd get it!

    Clarissa: Yes, me too. Definitely.

    Denise

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  17. Just wanted to say thanks for your lovely comments on my blog Denise, you can expect me regularly over here :)

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  18. Yeah... I'd like a team of researchers too! hehehe.
    Also not a fan of getting every miniscule piece of "interesting" fact unless it is relevant to the plot.

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  19. Sarah: Thanks for visiting again. My pleasure.

    Lynda: Yeah,wouldn't we all! And too much definitely affects the read.

    Denise

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  20. Wow, so jealous you got to meet her! Can you believe I've never read one of her novels? I must rectify that.

    Well, I'm someone who only researches when I really need to, and even then I don't write about even ten per cent of what I've learned. I think you need the research to inform your writing, but not to do info dumps.

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  21. Jodi's Nineteen Minutes stunned me. I have another one of hers on my shelf, but haven't read it. Maybe I don't read her others because they require a lot of emotional energy and time; her books are long, and I'm not the swiftest of readers, and right now I'm having enough trouble trying to squeeze in ANY reading time between blogging and taking care of Jen (when the aide leaves) and writing (the latter is getting lost in the maze).

    From what you say here, I suspect I would feel the same way. Overkill. It's the way I've felt a few times reading a book that goes on and on with such details, and in some cases details that are trivial. Author research is needed in some cases such as in Sing You Home, it sounds like; but a little bit goes a long way.

    I definitely don't think you should try to show all you know. The central story and characters should always be in the forefront.

    Picoult has incredible energy. I think she's a brilliant writer, based on what I've read. Obviously the reading public loves her novels, too. And I love this pic of you two beautiful gals surrounded by some gorgeous greenery!

    YOUR energy also amazes me! (And I'm sorry the Beach Boys don't fly to Australia for a concert! My daughter is still talking about the night out with her favorite group.)
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  22. Hi Denise, I linked over here from the campaign... I've never read Picoult, and from what you've written here, it sounds like she is trapped in the formula that established her career. A little research is a good thing, but when a novel begins to feel like a work of nonfiction, the reading can get tedious. I prefer novels that are character-driven.

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  23. Talli: It was great. She's very down to earth mumsy.

    Ann: Nineteen Minutes was stunning, as are most of her earlier novels. Her story ideas are always great but now I think she just puts too much detail in it takes away from the story/characters. They don't seem so real any more.

    Boo hoo with the Beach Boys!

    Katie: Hi! So pleased to meet you! I'll be over soon!

    Denise

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