Friday, July 31, 2009

Author Jennifer Weiner ~ Interviewed

With over eleven million copies of her books in print in 36 countries, Jennifer Weiner is one of the best-selling novelists of today and is beloved for her funny, relatable female heroines who feel like your sister, your daughter, your mother, or your best friend. She is the author of GOOD IN BED, IN HER SHOES, which was made into a major motion picture, and CERTAIN GIRLS. Her six books have spent a combined 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Weiner is the author of the weblog, "A Moment of Jen," which she launched in 2002, making her one of the earliest, and most popular authors in the blogosphere. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Philadelphia with her family. Find her online at Jennifer Weiner.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER is the story of two girls whose lives are completely entwined until they hit high school, when they go through a painful BFF breakup. Flash forward fifteen years, and the beautiful friend who left town shows up at her ex-best-friend’s door with a terrified look on her face and blood on her sleeve. “Something awful happened,” she says, “and you’re the only one who can help.”

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

You can read the whole sordid tale on my website, but one of the lowlights included the agent who didn’t think GOOD IN BED should be about a fat girl (“because nobody will buy the film rights!”)

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Over the years, and now that I’m on my seventh book, I’ve learned my limits in terms of how open I can be to criticism. Gone are the days of obsessing over each Amazon reader review, hitting the “refresh” button like a bulimic bouncing on and off the scale, and feeling my mood rise and fall with my ranking. I swore off Amazon, cold turkey, in the fall of 2002, when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter and didn’t need any more stress, and it was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I was pretty naïve in my belief that colleagues would be happy for me, and that they wouldn’t regard my success as meaning less success to go around, and less potential success for them. I navigated the road to publication pretty smoothly – I did a lot of reading and research ahead of time, so I knew who to query and what I could expect as I tried to find an agent, then a publisher – but there was a year between selling that first book and its publication that was more stressful and less happy than it could have been.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

My life. My friends. My family. Things I overhear or imagine every day.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I am not a fashionista, as anyone who knows me would be happy to tell you, so when I was researching IN HER SHOES, I spent an afternoon in the Saks shoe department, spending way too much time staring at/fondling/photographing the Jimmy Choos and Christian Louboutains. I’m sure the salespeople thought I was some kind of weird fetish girl.

Oh, and speaking of fetishes, as I so often do, the original cover of that book had the exact same image (two pairs of legs in high-heeled sandals) as a book called BEST FETISH EROTICA. I ordered the book from Amazon (I was too ashamed to ask for it at my local bookstore)…and for months, Amazon would give me some very odd “we found that readers who enjoyed this book also liked…” recommendations.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Again, I’ve got pages of advice on my website, but the simplest advice is, don’t give up. Getting published is like falling in love – not every guy in the room has to love you, as long as one guy does, and that one becomes your agent. That, and write what’s true to your heart. Don’t try to follow trends or please an imaginary audience. Write the book that’s inside of you.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

My father was sort of a classically awful father – not physically abusive, but not a nice guy, and with an incredibly dark, mordant sense of humor. For good or for bad, I think he made me a writer, if you buy the idea that people who write fiction are drawn to try to impose order on a fundamentally disordered and chaotic universe. (I should also say that I’m very grateful to my mother, for passing along her sense of equanimity and humor).

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

My husband and I wrote what I thought was a very funny FAQ list for guests at our wedding (I think the questions included “I forgot to pack condoms! What now?” and “I’ve got this rash,” which we answered by explaining that while there would be doctors at the wedding, please not to bother them and go to the nearest ER).

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

There’s a lot of sexism, still, in terms of what books get reviewed and how, and I’m not sure I’d diminish that by calling it a “pet peeve,” which makes it sound kind of cute and lovable. It’s not.

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

I think it’s every writer’s dream, or at least it’s been mine, to have readers say, “Your books made me feel less alone,” and I’m so lucky to have heard that from readers all over the world.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

I don’t think I ever get over the thrill of walking into a bookstore and seeing something I’ve written there. It never gets old.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

Heh. Well, when your mother falls in love with another woman at the age of 54 and becomes a just-add-water totally radical and dismayingly clueless lesbian, you can’t really not write about. God would hate you if you didn’t!

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

I like to write in coffee shops – to just take my laptop, leave the house (and the kids) behind, and be somewhere with noise and music and other people, and scones.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

My college had a literary magazine, and I was too chicken to even submit a piece, because I knew, even then, that I wasn’t writing the kind of artsy, imagery-laden, ambiguous literary fiction that was in favor among my peers. When I was writing GOOD IN BED, working full-time at a newspaper, not only did I not show anyone the book, I only told a scant handful of people that I was writing it – I was worried that it was terrible and that, even worse, I’d be that cliché journalist with a novel in a box underneath her bed. Eventually, I got used to the idea that if I was going to be published, that people were actually going to read my stuff, and have opinions about it, and I figured out how much of those opinions I wanted and could stand to take in. It’s been a learning curve, but I think I’m in a good place with it now.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I wish I could tell you I had elaborate rituals – that I chant, or light candles, or invoke my Muse -- but honestly, what I have are two little kids, so I open a new Word file, and that’s about it.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I find I do my best work when I leave the house – there’s something about the physical act of packing up the laptop, gathering my keys and wallet and heading out the door, that signals to my body or my subconscious that home-time is over and work-time has begun. Nothing too quirky, though, and I can write almost anywhere. I’ve written chunks of each book on planes, in hotel rooms, and, lately, in the minivan waiting for my daughter’s school day to end.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination: I’ll outline, but then let the story take its course.


Lisa Jordan said...

Terrific interview! Thanks for sharing!

I loved the movie version of In Her Shoes. I haven't read the book yet.

One noticeable difference I see between CBA and ABA, other than the obvious faith element, is in CBA colleagues ARE ecstatic when writers get published. They share in the success, not shy away from it for fear they won't have any for themselves.

Tina said...

What a treat to find Jennnifer at Novel Journey. Thanks for the look into your writing journey. You are normal! :-) I love the part about how you were worried about not writing the same types of things as your literary friends and also the part about being a journalist with a book. You are right about writing what is in our hearts and that everybody doesn't have to love us. Best of luck on your journey! Seems like you are doing pretty well.

Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks for the great answers, Jennifer. I loved reading your responses.