Thursday, August 31, 2006

Jennifer Weiner, The Guy Not Taken

Jennifer Weiner has talent and a way with words. It's a gift, like good skin and thick hair. She does such a fantastic job of describing a scene or character so clearly -especially those retirees in Florida- you feel as if you were there. When you sit down with a book by Jennifer, it's like partying with P. Diddy- you are guaranteed a good time. I wonder if she's ever been compared to P.Diddy before? I bet not.

One of my favorite books, right up there with White Oleander, Black and Blue, I Know This Much is True and The Glass Castle (to name a few), is the novel In Her Shoes. I was impressed with the way Jennifer set up the relationship between Rose and Maggie, two sisters that don't exactly see eye to eye. And in The Guy Not Taken, we met Josie and Nicki, very different siblings who reminded me of the girls in In Her Shoes.

This new book is a collection of short stories. You know how I feel about short stories-- I get involved and interested in a character and then...on to the next story! Of course I'm reading this book because it's written by an author whose words have never let me down before.

Here’s an obvious question, why a collection of short stories versus a full length novel? And will you turn any of the stories into a novel?

I’ve always written short stories. Some of the pieces in this book are among the first stories I ever published (extensively revised, which is good news), and some are pieces I wrote in the last few years. I enjoy working in the medium – it’s nice to create a world and take the characters in it from beginning to end in twenty-five pages instead of three hundred and fifty.

As to whether you’ll see any of the characters again – either in other stories or in novels – I’m not sure. They’re all still rattling around in my brain right now. We’ll see if any of them keep talking.

In Her Shoes was a brilliant book and the movie adaptation was excellent. How was the whole experience of having your book made into a major film and are you and Cameron Diaz still BFF?

First of all, thank you for liking the book, and thank you for seeing the movie. I had about the best experience of any writer I’ve ever heard of who’s had her stuff adapted for the screen. I decided really early on that once I’d sold the rights, my role was basically that of an enthusiastic cheerleader who’d stay on the sidelines and hope for the best. Because I don’t know
anything about making movies, I was very content to let IN HER SHOES, the movie, be the filmmakers’ story to tell…and I was thrilled with the way it all turned out, from the script to the director to the cast (I was also thrilled to be able to get my Nanna a role as an extra in the senior prom scene).

And yes, Cameron Diaz and I are BFF. In my head, where we have a very warm and intimate relationship, and frequently go surfing together.

So, besides myself and Cameron (of course), what other writers/celebrities/well known personalities would you like to invite to a dinner party?

See, the problem with me and other writers/celebrities/well known personalities is that I tend to become catatonic in their presence…or, worse, sound like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. “You know when you were in the Beatles?” (Witless giggle). “That was cool.”

If I met the authors I like the best, I’d probably make a total ass of myself, so I’d stick to famous funny people. Maybe Chelsea Handler and Sasha Baron Cohen could come. And that guy from America’s Test Kitchen who roasted five hundred chickens to figure out the best way to roast a chicken (not that he’d be so amusing, but at least we’d get a really good roast chicken).

You are so well known by now, people are interested in your every move- they google your name, anticipate your books, want to know what you are doing... do you have any lets say "devoted fans" ? And how do you deal with that aspect of fame?

I think you’re overestimating A., the extent to which people are interested in me, and B., the extent to which I look anything like my author photo on a normal day. (That picture was the result of a lot of help with hair and makeup, which means that I’m not sure people would recognize me enough to stalk me, even if they wanted to).

Plus, while I’m thrilled that people like my writing and anticipate a new book’s arrival, my real life is so incredibly mundane and it’s hard to imagine anyone caring too much about it. Which speaks to the nature of celebrity. I think if you’re Julia Roberts, you have to walk out the door
and be Julia Roberts every minute of every day. If you’re a writer, unless it’s the week that you’ve got a book coming out, or a movie based on your book, you can just go to the grocery store or the playground and nobody’s going to bother you, let alone be interested in your every move. That suits me just fine.

You have written a novel in every genre- chick lit/womens fiction (Good in Bed, In Her Shoes), short stories (The Guy Not Taken), Goodnight Nobody (mystery) not to mention the Cameron Diaz movie and the HBO series of Good In Bed. Has your success surpassed your dreams and plans? Did you always have a feeling that your talent would take you to places that most people only dream about?

When I published GOOD IN BED I thought maybe twelve people would read it, and I’d know ten of them from Weight Watchers….so yes, what’s happened to that book, and my career, has by far surpassed anything I could have imagined. Really, the thing I hoped for most was just being able to walk into a bookstore and see my book there, and being able to make my living as
a writer.

In terms of my talent taking me to places that most people only dream about, when I was a journalist writing features for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I got to cover a Presidential inauguration, the Miss America pageant, Wrestlemania and the Pillsbury Bake-off. I’m not sure whether it was my talent that took me there as much as it was my affinity for oversized
American spectacles and ability to convince my editors to let me write about them, but I did have access to a lot of things that not many people get to see up close (or would necessarily want to see up close).

Would you ever consider moving to the west coast where we could get our teeth whitened together and go shopping and talk about plastic surgery over drinks at the Polo Lounge? Or are you going to live on the east coast forever?

I think you should move to Philadelphia, where not only do you not need teeth whitening to be a babe, you don’t even necessarily need teeth. Seriously, though, I have a sister and two brothers in LA, so I visit pretty often, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable there. I remember going to Saks on Rodeo Drive because I needed a blouse and asking where the plus sizes were, and having the woman rearranging the Marc Jacobs skirts stare at me like I’d asked for a kidney before mumbling that they were up the street, in a different building.

In other words, if you wear a size sixteen in Los Angeles you are such a freak that your clothing CANNOT EVEN BE KEPT IN THE SAME BUILDING WHERE THE SKINNY GIRLS SHOP.

At least, that’s how I felt. But I will say that when I located Salon Z in the Big Girls’ Ghetto, which was indeed in another building, up the stairs from the menswear, they had a
great selection, the saleswomen were very helpful, and I got a lovely black lace dress from Marina Rinaldi.

How do you focus on one project at a time when you have so much going on? I’m sure you have a lot of creative energy, how do you harness it?

For whatever reason, focusing on one thing at a time is not a problem for me. Credit all those years in journalism, when I’d write three or four stories a day and dream of the time I could focus on longer pieces….or the early days of motherhood, when I’d long for an uninterrupted fifteen minutes to write. I really cherish the time I get to spend on my current project…and
the rest of my creative energy goes to things like making no-bake banana cookies with my daughter.

What does success mean to you, how do you measure it? Is it by how much money is in the bank or what kind of new car you drive, is it how famous you are or how many books you've sold?

I think it was Francine Prose who said that for women writers, success equals time. The money is lovely – it’s great to take nice vacations, and to know that my daughter’s college education is paid for – but mostly success means that I can be a full-time writer, that I can pay for child care, and that I don’t have to fit my work around a day job, or find teaching gigs to support my fiction.

However, in terms of new cars, I will tell you that in 2005 we bought a fully loaded Honda Odyssey minivan, complete with built-in DVD player, and I love love love it…and in terms of material indulgences, it’s a pleasure to be able to buy any book I want without having to wait for it to come out in paperback.

I suppose people could consider you an overnight succsss but in reality you've worked hard. In the past few years, you have become a household name and everyone I know has read at least one of your novels. Tell me about the road to getting where you are right now.

How much space do we have? Long story short: I was an English major in college. I took a lot of creative writing courses, where I devoted myself to exploring the pain of my parents’ divorce, through fiction and poetry, for four years straight. Good times (especially for my poor professors).

Then I went to work as a journalist, and for the nine years between graduating from college (1991) and selling GOOD IN BED (2000), I worked for newspapers, freelanced for magazines, and wrote fiction on nights and weekends. I sold a few short stories here and there in places like Redbook and Seventeen, then went through a really bad break-up in 1998, which provided the impetus for the first novel. I knew I wanted to write about a girl who was sort of like me, and a guy who was kind of like Satan, and give my heroine a happy ending, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever find one myself.

Once I’d completed the novel, it took me a while to find an agent. I queried all the big names and got turned down flat – they weren’t taking new clients, or new fiction, or new women’s fiction, or whatever. I had one very big deal agent who was interested in having me as a client, but was very uncomfortable with the protagonist’s size (“she’s FAT. We’ll never get a film deal!”)

Finally, the pieces fell into place. I found the right agent. We revised the manuscript for about three months, had meetings with five editors in New York City, and sold the book at auction to Pocket Books (now Atria, still a division of Simon & Schuster). Six years and five books later, I’ve got the same agent and the same editor and publisher, and I’m one of the happiest
authors I know.

How many books are you working on this minute? And what kinds of things can we expect from you in the next year? Like a typical superstar- a clothing line, perfume, a record deal....?

If you had any idea how I usually dress (not to mention how I usually smell), you would not be asking me that.

I’m working on one book right now, and thinking about the one that will come after that. I’m considering taking up knitting or Pilates. I got a gift certificate for Pilates class for my birthday. Which was in March. And that’s about it!


Anonymous Anonymous said...
WOW @ 10:31 PM  
Blogger Manic Mom said...
Okay, if you don't know by now, Jen and Cindy, I AM JEN'S NO. 1 FAN! Duh.

I've been following her when she was featured in Philadelphia magazine in, let me think, in the spring of 2000. I was her first real fan, and you can take that one to the bank! LOL. In fact, I am looking at a picture of Jen hugging ME at her In Her SHoes book-signing at Borders in Philly... she hugged me cuz she realized I was HENHOWZ.

So, see there, I am a stalker.

And I'm going to get the book on Tuesday when it comes out!

Thanks Cindy, for another great interview, with a fabulously, wonderful, talented writer!

Oh, and any other JW stalkers, oops, I mean fans, can go over to her MySpace and watch a video of her reading from Swim.

Question for Jen--the short story you had pubbed in Glamour... is that one in The Guy Not Taken? @ 10:17 PM  
Anonymous tin291 said...
Oh yeah! I 've read some of her books and I tend to agree. She has a way of letting us imagine and letting our minds work on the way she describes scenery and actions. She is just very imaginative. I like her! @ 4:40 AM  
Blogger Manic Mom said...
Oops, Jen, I meant the short story you had pubbed in Seventeen magazine - whichever that very first short story of yours that was published-is a revise of that in the book? @ 12:31 AM  
Anonymous Cole Sprouse said...
Oh..what a story... @ 5:45 AM  
Blogger Christina said...
I love the cover. @ 6:50 AM  
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