An interview with Jodi Picoult

AE: In the book, Max’s family and pastor consider homosexuality an addiction.

Exactly. They see it like alcoholism: You might still want to drink but you’re not going to because you know it’s not good for you. That’s their purgative. What I had trouble with was when she was throwing the Bible at me and pulling up the same old lines about where the Bible talks about homosexuality being a sin or being wrong. My problem with it, of course, is if you deconstruct the Bible and are willing to look at it like a text none of that holds true. The real problem that I had was that her logic was so circular. When I used the Bible to pin her down and would say, “Well, if the Bible is a sex manual, why are we not stoning to death people who commit adultery or who get divorced?”

There are all of these crazy things in the Bible that no one pays attention to and they are just picking and choosing the bits of text that they think supports their argument. In many cases they’re working with a translation. The word “homosexual” doesn’t even belong in the Bible because it didn’t exist. You can’t call it is the word of God. It’s a translation.

AE: How would Fryrear respond to that point?

She always had an answer. The one that stopped me dead in my tracks, though, was during a conversation when she was talking about how they don’t want to crusade and change people who don’t want to be changed. I said, “If that’s true then why do you have such a strong political arm?” Her answer was that Christians are being silenced and that if everyone else can have a voice why can’t Christians, which is an argument you hear a lot from the Christian Right. I said, “Do you ever worry that your message is getting distorted? That maybe you feel that it’s not the ‘who,’ it’s the ‘do,’ but that sometimes people use the Bible to support acts of violence and hate crimes against gay people?” She burst into tears and said, “Thank goodness that never happened.”

AE: No!

I almost fell off my chair. I couldn’t speak for a minute. I said, “Do you know who Matthew Shepard is?” I gave her a list of 10 other people off the top of my head who have been victims of hate crimes because they’re gay. She couldn’t even answer. She just said, “I don’t know what to say about any of that.” There’s this utter denial. This was one of the hardest interviews I have ever done in my 20 years. I will say, in all fairness, I really applaud the fact that she wanted to talk to me and that she was one hundred percent honest. She provided me with a working understanding of where that point of view is coming from. I thought that was really important.

AE: The book is told from multiple points of view. Did you associate with one more than the other?

I did not associate with Max. I had a hard time writing him because he had to be likable, but he’s a little bit of a buffoon. I don’t think he’s evil. In the end he proves himself. But he was hard for me to write because I’m really not that person. I really liked Zoe. I liked her voice and her pain, the struggle she was going through. Probably the most fun character was Vanessa. She knows what she wants. She’s tough and funny. I enjoyed her voice. It was also fun to write the sessions with Lucy, she was a great character.

AE: Who do you imagine reading this book and what do you hope they get out of it?

I know people who are gay or are supportive of gay rights will read this book, which I love. There’s not a lot of lesbian literature out there. We rarely see a three-dimensional lesbian character whose gayness is not necessarily the most interesting thing about her. I’m delighted to be able to write that character. I also think it’s important that I’m not a lesbian. Although there are terrific lesbian writers out there, so many of them, for me as a straight woman saying, “Wake up and pay attention,” sometimes that shout is heard more because you’re not inside the community.

I think the audience might be a little different because they are not expecting that story from me. The readers I want for this book are the people in the middle of Nebraska who tell you, “I don’t know any gay people” and “I don’t think gay people should be able to get married or have babies. It’s an abomination.” That’s who I want reading the book. Do I know whether they’ll read it? No, I don’t.

AE: Have any of your fans challenged you about the subject?

I have had emails from people who’ve criticized the book even though they haven’t read it, because of the subject matter. I tend to write back, “I really hope you read this book because your point of view is in there but so is another point of view and it’s one you may not have heard before.” I can’t tell you they’re going to change their minds, but I can tell you they’re going to walk away feeling like they understand what it’s like, a little bit better, to be in Zoe’s shoes.

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