NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bestselling author Jodi Picoult has written a novel almost every year since her 1992 debut, “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” which was done while she was pregnant with her first child.
Her latest book, “Lone Wolf,” concerns the difficult choices a family faces when father Luke Warren, a respected wolf researcher, is severely injured in a car accident.
Picoult spoke to Reuters about the book, which went on sale on Tuesday, and her research which included learning how to howl like an “alpha” wolf.
Q: How did this story come about?
A: “It actually started a decade ago on a plane. I was flying home to New Hampshire, sitting next to a neurologist, and we were talking about his work with patients who were basically in vegetative states. I said, ‘I am not going to be writing this book anytime soon, but one day I’m going to, and I’m going to get in touch with you so please remember my name.’
“So 10 years later, I emailed him and he said, ‘I’d be delighted to talk to you.’ The story began for me with somebody who is a young, active man who winds up in a horrific accident that leaves him with a severe brain injury and with his relatives having to make a decision about end-of-life care.”
Q: How much research did you do on wolves?
A: “I truly believed that this time I had created a truly unique character, someone who had gone out and lived in the wild with wolves. Then I found out that someone had actually done that. He lives England, his name is Shaun Ellis, and he has about six captive packs at a wildlife reserve that he works with.
“Once I tracked him down, he was more than happy to talk to me. It’s remarkable how thoughtful they are as animals and how much more intelligent than I ever would have given them credit for. taught me how to howl. I was there with my publicist and my son, and he taught me how to howl like an alpha, he taught Jake how to be a beta, and he taught my publicist how to sound like a ‘numbers’ wolf, and when you blend the three of us together, all of a sudden six different packs were howling back at us, saying: ‘That’s where you are? This is where we are.’ It was really cool.”
Q: Why devote each chapter to a different narrator, in a different font?
A: “Often when I write about controversial situations, it’s a very easy way to present different points of view. It’s challenging as a writer to make two characters sound different and sound real. As for the font, I started doing that a few years ago when I realized that some people just think visually; they need to see that change in font to remember it’s a new character whose voice they’re reading.”
Q: How much of yourself is in your characters?
A: “Very little. I’m really lucky. I haven’t had most of the situations that blossomed in my fiction. With this book, I’ve never had to make the choice that Edward and Cara have to make. For that reason, this book is a very different one than last year’s book (“Sing You Home”) which was about gay rights in America, and as the mother of a gay son that’s a very personal book to me and a really important one to have out there.
(“Lone Wolf”) is a book that a lot of people who’ve been in this situation are going to find very familiar and haunting and painful. I hope it is also a wake-up call for anyone who hasn’t been in this situation to have a conversation with your loved ones so that they know what you want if, God forbid, you wind up in the same position as Luke Warren does.”
Q: Can you describe your howling technique?
A: “Absolutely! I’m the alpha. Basically, there are three different types of howls. There’s a locator howl, which is like wolf e-mail, saying, ‘This is where my pack is. Where are you?’
“There’s a rallying howl, which is that really classic Hollywood howl that’s really mournful. And then there’s the defensive howl, which is gruffer and tougher and is meant to warn people off.
“ So a locating howl, if you were the alpha, you would have a two-tone howl, and you would howl for about five or six seconds, and then you would pause because you would be listening to hear if anyone is howling back at you, and you want to know: ‘Has the pack in question moved any closer? Are they moving further away? Do we need to change from a locating howl to a defensive howl?’ Because it’s your call-you’re the alpha. So if I were going to howl it would sound something like this: OOooooah! And then I would pause and I would do it again.”
Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; editing by Patricia Reaney