Jodi Picoult, CHOICE

Jodi Picoult, CHOICE

#1 New York Times bestseller Jodi Picoult returns to talk with Zibby about her new Audible Original, Choice, as well as the long-awaited debut of her Broadway musical, Between the Lines. Jodi shares how she was inspired by her anger at the current political moment to create the world in Choice in which cisgender men are able to get pregnant, as well as why she is donating all of her earnings to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Jodi and Zibby also discuss how Between the Lines grew out of one of the novels she wrote with her daughter, some of the pandemic-related setbacks the production faced, and the effect she wants it to have on audiences. Email for the chance to win a ticket to a private cocktail party with Jodi and a preview of the show in New York City on June 16th!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jodi. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss some very exciting new work of yours. I can’t wait to talk about all of it.

Jodi Picoult: Zibby, it is an honor to be back here. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Of course. First things first, you wrote — in the introduction to this piece, you explain that you’ve been coping with everything in your life through writing, which I completely relate to, by the way. I can’t do short stories like this, just whipping them out in this magic like you did. You wrote this short story called Choice in response to the Roe v. Wade news of late. It is now out as an Audible Original. Tell listeners what your piece is about and how you structured it, how you got it done.

Jodi: Choice is a short. It’s thirty-eight minutes. It’s a short story, basically, that’s set in a world where cisgender men and boys suddenly and inexplicably begin waking up pregnant. It’s told through the lens of an ex-couple that experiences an unwanted pregnancy in a post-Roe America where it’s the guys who are getting pregnant. The idea for this, I wouldn’t say it was an idea that really came to me. I was burning with fury when I heard about the leak and the Dobbs case. Honestly, I think a lot of women really have been. We’ve been shouting into the void. It just feels like, what can you do? What can you do to move the needle to make a difference when this looks like a done deal, a fait accompli? It’s something that I warned was going to happen way back in 2018 when I wrote A Spark of Light. Everyone said, you’re overreacting. Well, I’m not overreacting. I wanted, really, to do something. Then I happened to listen in to some weird news clip about two male congressmen trying to discuss what an IUD was and how it worked. I realized these guys have absolutely no clue about a female body, about what it means to move through the world as a woman. That’s what got me thinking about writing this piece. Literally, I went up to my husband. I said, “I have to go upstairs now and do some rage writing.” That’s what I did. I sat down, and I just blew this piece out in one single night.

For me, I really wanted to channel my stress and my anger and my frustration. That’s what writing did for me. I needed to create something that would let other people feeling the same way I did feel that they were seen because right now, we’re being erased. I wanted something that got out to a lot of people widespread. I was very, very fortunate because Audible read a text version of the story, and immediately, they were all over it. They wanted to do this. They wanted to get it out. They were willing to release it as an Audible Original for free. They knew that I was planning to donate every cent I got paid to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which creates opportunities for termination, particularly for people in states where it’s highly restricted or banned. I like to think that they paid me a lot because of that. I think they kind of did. I think they were like, okay, she’s giving something with a lot of zeros away here. That made me feel great because I was helping frustrated women be seen. I was hopefully taking payment that I was given and making a huge donation to an organization that’s doing the work on the ground, boots on the ground, and I hope also convincing people who listen to this story that they should do the same in their small corner of the world. If they live in a place where abortion access isn’t going to be restricted, find a place where it is. Really put your money where your mouth is.

Zibby: It’s really unthinkable that this is happening. I cannot wrap my mind around this.

Jodi: It’s unthinkable. It’s insidious. It’s dishonest and disingenuous. To be told over and over, we’re just speaking for those who can’t speak, this is about being pro-life, well, you know, it’s not pro-life. If it was about being pro-life, then the people who are against abortion would be for contraception and for gun control and against the death penalty. We all know that’s rarely the case. It’s not really about being pro-life. It’s about rendering women to be powerless. Part of writing this piece was to remind us we’re not powerless yet. We’ve got a pretty, pretty mighty weapon. That’s a pen, among other things. I remember going back to this when I was writing A Spark of Light and saying, the question should never be, at what point does a fetus become a person? The question should be, at what point does the woman stop being one? If you want to give bodily autonomy to an embryo, to a fetus, great. I am absolutely willing to hear you out. Do it without taking bodily autonomy away from the carrier, from the person who’s pregnant. Then let’s talk.

Zibby: It was so interesting the way you wrote it in the story, men feeling like they just have a tumor or something like that and how the news anchor could not even say it. You did such a good job of this in your last book too, which focused on the pandemic. This is the same thing. You reference the pandemic right away. Already, we’re rooted in time. Here we are. It’s actually right now. The newscasters are like, “It looks like suddenly, men are waking up…” They can’t even say it. The other guy’s like, “Pregnant!”

Jodi: It’s not a swear word. It was really fun to sit down — I made a list, actually, when I was writing it of all the tropes that I wanted to cover. I wanted to make sure that this guy in the story, whose names is James, hears all the things and experiences all the things that I did and that other women and trans men who are pregnant might experience when they are going through a pregnancy. Most guys, they just really don’t get it. Everything from someone laying their hands on you, a total stranger touching your belly or telling you horrible birth stories to watching yourself get passed over for a promotion, even though that is technically illegal, because your company knows that you’re going to have to take some time off — who knows if you’re going to come back, if you’re going to stay off after your parental leave? My favorite one, of course, is when James finally confirms his pregnancy. His doctor is female. It’s a minute clinic. He is just staring at this doctor and saying, “I don’t want this. What do I do? I don’t want this.” Without even looking up, she goes, “Well, you should’ve thought of that before you had sex.” Have we not all heard that?

I have to tell you, Zibby, this is — I keep hammering my husband with this because I keep talking about it. Have you noticed that in this ridiculous cycle of news that we’re in, no one is saying anything about the men involved in pregnancy? It’s very clear this is a punishment for women. There’s not even accountability for men. We have laws that are being proposed in Southern states where a rapist’s family can force a woman to carry that child to term. There isn’t accountability for the person who unwillingly — this woman was unwillingly made pregnant, obviously. To me, it is absolutely vile and a tremendous and glaring omission. You want to talk about getting rid of Roe? All right, let’s put a law on the books first that says if someone becomes pregnant and they have to carry that baby, they do DNA testing, they figure out who the dad is, wherever possible, and that person has to legally commit to eighteen years of covering health insurance, childcare subsidies, everything that woman is going to be stuck with having an unwanted pregnancy, carrying that to term. To me, it’s not just unthinkable. It is unconscionable. It is a tremendous step back into the Dark Ages. It will have ramifications in the United States that nobody has even begun to consider. We’re going to see the economy change. We’re going to see women’s rights be set back. We’re going to, of course, see reversals legally of every other decision that was based on the right-to-privacy laws. That does take you into contraception and gay marriage and even interracial marriage. Where are we going to wind up if this is the first step?

Zibby: This is so depressing.

Jodi: I know. I’m so sorry.

Zibby: No, it’s okay. It’s just, I like to believe that there is a way to effect change when horrible things seem imminent. Yes, of course, we can donate to any —

Jodi: — And you vote. I got to tell you, too, this is one of the things I was happiest about when it went to Audible. A lot of people who are very podcast-forward are younger. There are a lot of younger listeners who get their news and who get their content, really, from podcasts. They love it. I know my kids all are obsessed with podcasts. That is a group that needs to vote. They can’t say, we didn’t get Bernie, I’m not voting this year. That doesn’t work. I really feel like that is something that I hope this piece does. I hope that younger millennial, Gen-Y people who listen to this Audible Original are reminded that they need to get out and physically vote if they want to effect change in the world. That’s all we’ve got that’s left to us at this point.

Zibby: Or we could all write more stories.

Jodi: That’s a stop-gap measure. We still need to vote.

Zibby: I shouldn’t have said or. I should’ve said and. And we can write. Power of the pen continued.

Jodi: And. Totally.

Zibby: It would actually be neat if there was a whole series. You hand the metaphorical pen to the next author. You tap the next writer and write another one. Then there becomes a whole series.

Jodi: Can I pick someone?

Zibby: Yeah. You pick.

Jodi: Let’s do it on this podcast. Let’s do it. I pick Margaret Atwood because I think she’s pretty good at predicting the future in her fiction. The future’s already happened. I’d like her as a Canadian to unravel what’s being done in America a little bit. I think she’d be brilliant. In some ways, she already has.

Zibby: Audible, did you hear that? Audible can line up the people. Then whoever writes the stories can come on my podcast. How about that? There we go. Perfect. On a lighter note, you also have a show about to premiere — it’s going into previews very soon — called Between the Lines. It’s at the Second Stage Theater. I am so excited. I’m doing one of my Moms Don’t Have Time To outings, which I’m trying to resurrect now that things are back to normal-ish, sort of, a little bit, and bringing sixty women to come see your show and am very excited. By the way, if people listening would like, there are a few tickets left. Prior to this, they’ve only been available through my newsletter, which you should subscribe to at If you email soon, you may be able to win one of the tickets. You still have to pay for the tickets, but I’m hosting a private cocktail party with Jodi right here, and her daughter and the two amazing songwriters for the whole play. We are going to have the most fun night ever on June 16th. Tell us all about the play. I’m so excited for it.

Jodi: I can’t even tell you how excited I am for this. This is actually the perfect antidote to the beginning of our conversation because Between the Lines is a joy spot in a time and world where we need some joy. It actually is a story that my daughter came up with. We cowrote two novels, a young adult series based off an idea that she had when she was thirteen. She called me up on a book tour. I was stuck in traffic in LA. I’m sure you can relate to that.

Zibby: I can relate to that.

Jodi: I’m sitting in traffic. She’s like, “Mom, I think I have a really good idea for a book.” I was like, “All right, let’s hear it.” She said, “What if every time you closed a book, the characters inside it had lives and personalities completely different from what they were in the book? What if there was a teenage girl who was having a really rough time because her parents had gotten divorced, she was being bullied in school, she had to move, and she, like many people, found solace in books, dove into a book, got lost in a book? She was obsessed with a children’s fairy tale because the prince who was illustrated in it was really hot. His circumstances really spoke to her, and then one day, he really does. She finds out that he wants out of his story just as badly as she wants out of hers.” Sammy was sixteen when the first book was published. Then we wrote the second one when she was in college. We stayed up. We did it by speakerphone from ten o’clock to midnight every night we were writing. After that was published, I was like, you know what? I don’t think we’re done. I can’t explain it except to say it sang. The story sang to me. I really wanted to look into making it a musical. Through a very bizarre connection at Dartmouth College, I wound up meeting Daryl Roth.

Zibby: She told me this story. It’s so funny.

Jodi: Daryl is a genius and acclaimed multiple Tony Award-winning producer and one of the only female producers for Broadway. I wrote to her. I said, “Hi. I’m going to do what people do for me all the time that I hate, which is, can you please help me and tell me how to do this in your business?” She basically taught me the ropes of how to build something into a musical. She said, “The first thing you need to do are find writers for the songs.” I was told that Alan Menken would write my show, but it wouldn’t be until 2030, and I would have to pay him lots and lots of money. I said, I want to find an up-and-coming team. It would be awesome to find two women. I didn’t know that was like finding two unicorns in the same room. I actually wound up talking to the head of the BMI Workshop, which is a pipeline for new composers and songwriting teams, as well as to Bobby Lopez, who is well-known for The Book of Mormon and Frozen. They both came up with the same name, which is the team of Samsel and Anderson. I was like, all right, that’s got to be a sign. When I met with Kate and Elyssa, who are a composing team, I was blown away. They’re two beautiful, smart, crazy-talented young ladies. They came to this meeting with the book completely marked up saying, “We think this is a song. This is a song.” It spoke to them, this book, because it’s the story of a young girl. That’s not something that you see in musical theater very often. I literally just had this conversation with my cowriter. I said, “Name for me the number of mother-daughter shows that you’ve seen on Broadway that focus on a very real and complex relationship between a mother and a daughter other than Gypsy, which I would not say is a positive one, and Mamma Mia!, which is farcical one. I’ll wait.”

Zibby: There is a daughter in Dear Evan Hansen.

Jodi: Doesn’t count.

Zibby: Doesn’t count? Okay.

Jodi: Because it’s about Evan.

Zibby: What about The Heidi Chronicles? I know this is taking it back.

Jodi: Musical.

Zibby: Oh, musical. Okay. You know what? I won’t play this game. You’re obviously right.

Jodi: That’s because you can’t. The answer is you can’t. That’s because, honestly, Broadway is not a very welcoming community for women or women’s stories. There are two all-female songwriting teams for Broadway. I have worked with both of them, both two. That’s it, just two. You can count on one hand the number of female producers there are. What I love about this story is that it is an empowerment story. It is about understanding that if you don’t like the story you’re in, you can write a new one. You are the engineer of your own life. Frankly, after the last two years, is there anyone who does not want to get themself out of whatever story we were all stuck in? I can tell you it’s not the monkey pox one that I want to fall into. The positivity in this story, it’s so joyful. It’s a great love story. It is funny. It’s a very funny, funny show, which I love. It’s been such a tremendous honor to work in a place that is ripe with women on its creative team. Our director, Jeff Calhoun, is not a woman, but he is brilliant. He directed Newsies, of course. Our book writer, Timothy McDonald, also not a woman, but so generous because he has asked Sammy and I to collaborate. The three of us are the ones who have been crafting all the words that are spoken during the show and organizing it.

It was devastating in 2020 when we were two weeks away from opening our rehearsals and we found out, of course, that Broadway had shut down. Honestly, I’ve never in my life experienced such depression. It wrecked me because Broadway’s a long game. To have spent so many years in development and then to have all that fall away, it was heartbreaking. Now we’re all in this room. We just started rehearsals this week. We’re all looking around going, I think this happened for a reason. The cast that we have now is, by far, the best cast we’ve ever had. The talent is off the charts. Arielle Jacobs and Julia Murney had everyone in tears yesterday doing a scene. Jake David Smith, he’s going to have a million girls and boys falling in love with him because he is a dreamboat. His voice is insane. It is a delightful, delightful cocoon of joy. That’s really what it feels like in the room. We’re all so excited and privileged to be there. We know we’re telling a story that needs to be told right now, not just one about taking the reins of your own narrative, but one about, let’s bring this full circle, women mattering and women’s stories mattering. All of a sudden, this has sort of taken on a whole new cast for me because I think it’s really important that we remind the Broadway community that our stories matter just as much as those of Evan Hansen or any other young male coming-of-age story. When you get right down to the nuts and bolts of this business, it’s usually women who buy the tickets, so why aren’t they allowed to see their hopes and dreams and fears and joys and accomplishments on the stage?

Zibby: What about Annie?

Jodi: Well, Annie doesn’t really have a mom, does she?

Zibby: I know, but it’s a young girl’s story.

Jodi: Zibby, you’ve been hanging onto that.

Zibby: I told you I was going to — .

Jodi: Mother-daughter. You know what? Come see the preview, and then circle back with me. You’ll see what I mean. Look, Sammy and I wrote this book sitting side by side. Do you know how hard that is with a teenager? It was fantastic and also really hard. I think that’s in there. Mothers and daughters have a specific kind of tension because you’re trying to separate from your mother, but you always wind up becoming her somehow. I think that finding the common ground between them, for Delilah and Grace in this story, is something that every woman in the audience is going to experience. I know that when we debuted this in Kansas City seven years ago, we had people come see the show, and then they would come back three or four more times. They would bring their mothers. Then they would bring their daughters. We had grown men who were — it was the strangest thing. Grown men who were contractors and just not the kind of guys you would imagine seeing a musical would come out at intermission sobbing in the lobby to say, I am Delilah. This is who I was growing up. I felt like we were doing therapy sessions in the lobby. It was just a really cathartic and joyous experience. You will leave the theater feeling better than you did when you walk in. I’m so sorry in advance, but you will never get the songs written by Samsel and Anderson out of your head. I told them when they started writing for us, “I would like you to out-Disney Disney.” They did. As a matter of fact, on the strength of their songs for Between the Lines, they were hired by Disney and then Central Park. They’re the staff songwriters for Central Park on Apple. Really talented ladies.

Zibby: I have to say, when Daryl told me what this play was about, I was like, “You know, my parents got divorced when I was fourteen. I did lose myself in books.” I just wrote this whole memoir, Bookends, about that whole experience and falling into books. I’m always talking on this podcast about, but what if that character jumped into that book? What if they all could have a new book about them? I was like, this is going to be my favorite play ever. I have to do something. I cannot wait. I am so excited. I can’t wait.

Jodi: I’m so glad you’re coming. We all have literary crushes. That was why I wanted to write this with Sammy. She came up with a great idea. What if your literary crush actually showed up? What if I opened that door and Mr. Darcy is standing behind it? I don’t know. Zibby, it could happen. I haven’t given up hope yet.

Zibby: Who is the hot guy that you then cast in this play?

Jodi: In our show?

Zibby: Yeah.

Jodi: Prince Oliver, who is the hot illustrated prince, is played by Jake David Smith. He was previously in Frozen. Wait, here’s a great story. He was cast two weeks before we were supposed to open our rehearsals in 2020. He was cast in early March of 2020. Most of us were not there. I think Jeff was there and Tim was there, our book writer and our director. They both had COVID and didn’t know it, so nobody remembered Jake’s audition at all. They were so sick. Then when we finally all got to meet Jake and hear him sing and see him act, we were all just like, are you kidding me? This is a star turn. He will be able to forever say, I think, that this changed his life. I really think it will. I just hope we can stage tour by then because there’ll be lots of screaming people there wanting to take pictures with him and have autographs.

Zibby: I can’t wait. Then I’ll have to come back another time and bring my daughter and my mother and everybody else.

Jodi: You will. See? You’re going to.

Zibby: I’ll come back. I know. I can already feel it. I can feel it. What an interesting range of topics, effecting change, uniting women. It’s really amazing, harnessing the power of this collective in all these different ways. Say again, Jodi, where you are donating the funds from Audible if people want to join you in that.

Jodi: I’m donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds. What they do is, they have partner funds in states like Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas where it’s particularly difficult for women and those who become pregnant to have access to abortion care. They provide not just funds, but literal vans and transportation and housing if you need to get out of those states to have an abortion. As you can imagine, when Roe falls, their work is going to be even more important than ever. That was why I chose to give the money to them. I encourage, if you can make a difference, if you have a little extra cash, everything that you can donate to a fund like that, whether it’s a local fund for you or a national network, Planned Parenthood, any of those organizations that are doing the work and supporting women, they’re going to become critical for all of us. To touch on what you said, I never thought to put these two topics together, Between the Lines and Choice, but this is about women supporting each other and a community of people who can become pregnant supporting each other and each other’s right to decide when that should happen. That is the one thing that they can’t ever take away from us. We historically have banded together. We have moved mountains. We’ll do it again.

Zibby: Amazing. I will put the donation link in the show notes. Also, again, if people want to be invited to this special cocktail party, get the discount rate on June 16th in New York City, email Thank you. This is amazing. Thank you.

Jodi: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: I will see you on the 16th.

Jodi: Zibby, thank you. You’re just a light in the world. I can’t wait to see you. I know you’re going to love the show.

Zibby: I can’t wait. I know I am too. I’m already sad it’s almost over.

Jodi: You’re going to cry. You’re going to laugh. It’s going to be great. Bye.

Zibby: Awesome. Good luck with rehearsals. Bye.

Jodi Picoult, CHOICE

CHOICE by Jodi Picoult

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