Award-winning novelist Jodi Picoult opened her Wednesday afternoon Master’s Tea with a dash of levity.
“Full disclosure: I did not get into Yale,” she said. “I’m still holding a grudge.”
With that, Picoult — a regular on the New York Times Best-Seller List and the author of 15 novels — set the tone for a 90-minute discussion on her inspirations for writing, her writing process and her experiences as a young writer. Before an audience of 90 students gathered in the Swing Space activities room, Picoult briefly touched on the politically and emotionally charged issues found in her books — including teenage suicide, rape, capital punishment and school shootings — and emphasized the presence of strong characters in her stories.
“I don’t feel that I create characters,” Picoult said. “I listen to them. They come to me fully formed.”
Picoult published her first novel, “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” in 1992. Since, she has written several acclaimed novels, including “Second Glance” and “My Sister’s Keeper.” In 2003 she was awarded the New England Book Award for Fiction, which rewards writers for a body of work. Her last two novels, “Nineteen Minutes” and “Change of Heart,” have both debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List.
And at Wednesday’s Tea, Picoult said though she often knows how her books will begin and end, “B through Y are up for grabs, and the characters take you there.”
Picoult eschewed writer’s block and stressed how important research was to her writing process. For different books, she said, she has lived in an Amish community and searched for ghosts with paranormal investigators.
During the Tea’s question-and-answer session, Picoult faced a question regarding a recent film adaptation of her novel, “My Sister’s Keeper.” The ending of her book was changed in the movie — a different main character was killed in the movie version than in the novel.
“Because of it, the movie had a completely different message, and a weaker one, I believe,” Picoult said.
Still, Picoult said, she would allow her books to be adapted into movies in the future because it opens up her work to a larger audience.
Later in the Tea, Picoult took a moment to slam a handful of popular fiction writers.
“I could crank out a James Patterson or a Danielle Steele novel easily,” she said, later adding, “Nicholas Sparks is the bane of modern fiction.”
Elizabeth Golden ’11, who has published a book about her own experience with the spinal condition scoliosis, said Picoult was the “inspiration” for her own writing. And Whitney Barlow ’11 said Picoult’s Tea was different from others Barlow had attended.
“There was more dialogue and conversation,” Barlow said. “It was really funny to hear her comment about other authors of today.”
Picoult will return to New Haven on Oct. 10 for a signing at the Yale Bookstore. Her latest novel, “House Rules,” is set to be released in March 2010.