AUTHOR INTERVIEW SPECIAL: Jennifer Weiner
I am thrilled to be featuring an interview with one of our favourite authors, Jennifer Weiner! She really needs no more introduction so I'll just launch straight in!
I loved Certain Girls, but I found it quite different to your other books. (It reminded me more of Elizabeth Berg - who I also love - than of any chick lit authors.) What made you decide to write a follow-up to Good In Bed and did you intentionally make it less "chick lit"?
First of all, I’m glad you liked the book. In terms of the book feeling different, that’s very interesting, and possibly birthday-related…I turn thirty-eight and I stop sounding like Sophie Kinsella and start sounding like Elizabeth Berg. God only knows who I’ll morph into by my next birthday. Maeve Binchy, anyone?
Anyhow. I always knew I wanted to come back to Cannie’s story, and I always knew that I wanted to pick it up at some point other than “it’s six weeks after we last left her.” I wanted to see her at a different moment in her life, and see her through different eyes – namely, her daughter’s, a character who is entirely unimpressed with and unamused by her Mom.
Personally, I tend to think that what makes chick lit chick lit is the voice and the tone, as opposed to the subject matter. I never try to intentionally make my books more or less anything, because I am entirely convinced that it’s a fool’s errand: what books get called or how they get reviewed or classified or sold in bookstores is entirely out of the author’s hands and has more to do with the cover, the publicity pitch, the marketing team and the booksellers. So instead of fretting about what my books are going to get called, how they’ll be viewed, where they’ll be shelved, I just try to write the best books I can. Sometimes they’ll be about single girls looking for love, sometimes they’ll be about married mothers looking for a good night’s sleep, and maybe someday I’ll attempt a book from a guy’s perspective.
As in Good In Bed, I was confused by the name "Maxi Ryder" as I feel confident you would expect readers to immediately think the character is based on Minnie Driver. Was that really your intention and, if so, why?
I think the character kind of works as a spoof of a certain type of late-90’s Hollywood starlet whether or not you associate her with Minnie Driver, although I thought the my-boyfriend-dumped-me-on-Oprah was a pretty big clue. Or maybe I’m the only one who has incredibly detailed and vivid memories of how Matt Damon did that do her, back in the 1990’s?
Anyhow. Yes, Maxi was Minnie, who I was supposed to interview long ago. I never got to meet her (her publicist summarily cancelled our appointment after I declined to take an oath in blood that I wouldn’t ask her about Matt), but every time I read about her now, I smile.
There are very few novels by and for women which feature an overweight character who doesn't lose the weight and become happy. But Cannie has pretty good self-esteem to start with. Was it a conscious decision to write her that way?
It absolutely was a conscious decision to write about a quote-unquote larger woman who has some self-doubt and insecurity but also knows that she’s funny, smart and desirable to at least a small segment of American men. I got so fed up (pun intended) with reading about or seeing plus-size women who were either the sassy sidekick, the tragic best friend, or had to magically drop a hundred and six pounds before they got their happy endings. Cannie was very much a deliberate response to those characters, as was the title: I loved calling the book GOOD IN BED and having a pair of big, curvy legs on the cover!
It also makes me really happy that GOOD IN BED made the world safe, in some small way, for other writers to have bigger-than-a-breadbox protagonists in their own books.
Do you think the media representation of overweight women has got worse or better between Good In Bed and Certain Girls?
I think it’s one step forward, two steps back. For every “Ugly Betty,” where there’s a character who looks at least closer to someone you might actually know, there’s a show where every single person, including the quote-unquote quirky best friend looks like she just stepped off the runway. And there’s the continued plague of movies and TV shows in which the average-to-schlubby guy is paired with a hotter-than-hot young thang, and we’re all supposed to accept this without question or protest.
As my blog readers know, I’m a reality-TV junkie, but even reality TV can break a big girl’s heart. The plus-size girls on “America’s Next Top Model” are maybe all of a size ten, and there’s rarely anyone who doesn’t look like she could be a model on the other reality shows, even the ones where looks aren’t supposed to be the point.
I hope that my books are part of the solution. I hope that my willingness to be photographed without hiding behind large kitchen appliances is, too. But it’s a deeply entrenched problem that’s generating a lot of money for a lot of different industries (where would the plastic surgery/diet pill peddlers be if women actually felt good about themselves?), so it won’t disappear overnight.
I wanted to ask you if you'd heard from Curtis Sittenfeld after your hilarious commentary on her review of Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spot, but then I noticed you thank her for reading Certain Girls in the acknowledgments. Would you mind telling us a bit more about how that came about?
Curtis asked me to participate in a LITPAC event, for which I give her a world of credit, because it must have taken a lot of guts for her to invite me (I wonder if she expected her keyboard to explode into hot-pink flames. We talked at the event, and after, and while there are things that we agree to disagree about on the chick lit/literary fiction debate, there are things we agree on as well…and we’ve both had some of the same strange, weird, awkward, funny experiences that go along with sending that first book out into the world. And now I have a writer friend, which is cool. She was kind enough to read a draft of CERTAIN GIRLS and give me some notes that I found incredibly helpful, and I read her forthcoming novel, and suggested that she send all of the characters shoe-shopping at least once (kidding!)
When I was reading In Her Shoes, I seriously considered taking a sick day, I was enjoying it so much (that was before I read books for a living!). Will you ever return to Rose and Maggie?
Thanks so much! I’m glad you liked it. In terms of a sequel, maybe someday. I never say never.
Marian Keyes think women writers should reclaim the phrase "chick lit", that it should be a badge of honour - do you agree?
I think there are writers who already see it as a badge of honor…for instance, imprints like Red Dress Ink and Strapless and The Five Spot publish books that are unabashedly, unapologetically chick lit: they make no excuses, offer no apologies, and readers know exactly what they’re getting in terms of the breezy tone, the romantic complications, the flawed-but-lovable heroine and the happy ending. The fact that places like the New York Times are always going to use “chick lit” as an insult matters not a whit to those publishers, those authors, and, most importantly, the readers who love their books.
What new writers do you like?
In the chick lit genre, I’m a fan of Johanna Edwards, Liza Palmer and Beth Harbison. I like Jonathan Tropper’s books a lot, and Kavita Daswani’s, especially THE VILLAGE BRIDE OF BEVERLY HILLS. I love love love Marc Acito (“How I Paid for College” and the forthcoming “Attack of the Theater People.”)
Your favourite chick lit book?
"Bridget Jones’s Diary" is, of course, the modern classic, but I also love Suzanne Finnamore’s “Otherwise Engaged” and Laura Zigman’s “Animal Husbandry,” which were both early chick lit books that I read back when I was young and single, and colored my hair because I wanted to, not because I had to…and when I’m kicking it old-school, I love to recommend “Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York.”
What are you working on next?
I’m playing around with a few different things: one is a novel, the other’s non-fiction. We shall see. Honestly, the thing I’m working on now is a party for my new daughter’s Hebrew naming ceremony. It’s on Saturday. We rented a bouncy castle. Good times!
Do you have a theme song?
Doesn’t everyone? But mine changes a lot. Sometimes it’s “Every Day I Write the Book,” or “If They Asked Me (I Could Write a Book).” Sometimes it’s “Welcome to the Jungle.”
What question have you never been asked in an interview, but think you should have been? (Tell us the question and answer it too, if you like!)
Hmm. At this point, I think I’ve been asked pretty much everything. The other day, someone asked whether I was a celebrity at my synagogue. At first I was like, “No! Absolutely not! People treat me just like everyone else!” But then I thought about it and realized that it isn’t true. My daughter Lucy has these spectacular Shirley Temple ringlets (as opposed to my new baby, Phoebe, who is basically bald). Lucy went to preschool at the synagogue, so I actually am famous there, as the mother of the girl with the curly hair.
(And thanks to former co-editor Diane for additional questions.)