Bestselling author Jodi Picoult was on a book tour in Los Angeles when she received a phone call from her teenage daughter, Samantha van Leer. "Mom," she said, "I think have a pretty good idea for a book."
Sammy's idea was a fairy tale with a modern twist, where the characters have lives outside of the story. Jodi could immediately see the potential and so mother and daughter embarked on a two year project, writing the book together line by line during weekends and holidays.
The result is Between the Lines, a charming and funny teenage romance told from alternating viewpoints, with gorgeous classical illustrations. It's the story of a 15 year old loner named Delilah who is secretly obsessed with a fairy tale about a handsome prince named Oliver. One day she discovers that Oliver is not only real, but has fallen for her, and Delilah decides to help him.
Here, Jodi and Sammy talk about falling in love with fictional characters and learning to work together. Jodi is appearing live at the ASB Theatre on Monday 23 July 2012 at 7pm and we have five double passes to give away.
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Are you both fairy tale fans?
Jodi: I actually read a lot of fairy tales as a college student, and learned how to deconstruct them psychologically. My favourite fairytale is probably Cinderella - who doesn't want to be a princess? - so I really like the scenes in Between the Lines where the main character, Delilah, realizes that being a fairytale character isn't all that fabulous.
Sammy: My favourite fairy tale is The Princess and the Pea. Can you imagine being so dainty you could feel something that tiny!?
What intrigued you about the idea of fairy tale characters having a life outside the book?
Jodi: It really all was Sammy's idea. What if the characters had lives of their own, after the cover was closed? What if the act of reading was just these characters performing a play, over and over... but those characters still had dreams, hopes, wishes, and aspirations beyond the roles they acted out on a daily basis for the reader? And what if one of those characters desperately wanted to get out of the book? Better yet, what if one of his readers fell in love with him, and decided to help? When she told me, I thought it was brilliant. Who hasn't fallen in love with a fictional character and dreamed of him walking around the real world?
What was the most difficult thing about writing together?
Jodi: Sammy and I took two years to write the book because I insisted that we be sitting together at the computer, taking turns typing and literally speaking every sentence out loud. Sometimes we were motivated and on a roll. Other times, especially on weekends or summer vacations, Sammy would stare at me in frustration and say "You do this every day?' But really, overall, we had a great time.
What did you learn about each other from writing the book?
Jodi: I learned what I had long suspected: that Sammy has an incredibly creative mind and an innate sense of character and conflict. There were times we argued over narrative bits of the story, and although you might have thought I'd win as I have more experience, she turned out to be dead on right. I really began treating her like a literary equal.
Sammy: I learned to respect my mom's profession. All I really knew about her job before this was that she went up to her office and she wrote. Now I realise that doing what she does is amazing. It's hard work writing a book!
Did you have any major disagreements on the plot's direction and if so, how did you resolve these?
Jodi: Yes, we definitely argued about the tone of the fairytale story. I wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek; Sammy was insistent that it had to sound like a Gothic, dark fairytale. She said that if the characters undergo trauma, happily ever after is that much richer. It was an interesting point, but I still thought I was right! In the end I agreed do it Sammy's way and thought we'd just change it. But, actually, she was correct.
Sammy: We also fought over whether the prince should have blond or black hair. My mom won and Oliver got dark hair - I don't know how! But in my mind, I still see Oliver with blond hair.
Jodi, how was it different writing for a young adult audience?
Jodi: It wasn't that different, really. The characters still have to ring true - even if one of them is a fairytale prince. Ultimately, I write YA themes all the time in my other books: what does it mean to find your place in the world, what if you don't fit in. Moreover, the themes in Between the Lines - like to whom does a story really belong - are very adult concepts. The main difference was the humour.
Samantha, how are you finding the experience of your first book tour?
Sammy: It's very tiring, but it's so exciting to meet all these people who tell me they love something I wrote!?
Do you have plans to write together again?
Sammy: My mom and I have talked a lot about writing a sequel, and I'd love to do it at some point ... but the next thing I'm going to write is my college application essay!