frequently asked questions
Everything you want to know… almost.
Where do you get your ideas?
Target. They have everything at Target.
Seriously, though….many of my ideas spring from my day-to-day life, and then get exaggerated, embellished and sharpened…they get made more fake and, hence, feel more real.
Good in Bed began in the wake of a bad break-up. In Her Shoes came from my lifelong curiosity about the sibling relationship,
Little Earthquakes emerged from the wreckage that new motherhood made of my life, The Next Best Thing emerged from the wreckage of a failed television show.
Then there are stories that come less from what’s going on with me than what’s happening in the world – and, specifically, to women in the world. What’s it like to be the good wife to a philandering politician? That became Fly Away Home. What happens when it takes more than one woman to make a baby? Then Came You tried to answer that question.
I'm interested, in general, in what it means to be a woman, in this day and age, and so whether the inspiration for a specific story comes directly from my life, or from what I'm seeing in the world, those are the stories I tell.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Once I got over my dream of being a ballerina, yes. Always. I wasn’t the happiest kid, and reading and writing were my escapes, and always the things that made me the happiest. I was lucky that my parents were readers, who read to their kids, and who told us that we could read any book in the house, as long as we could give an accurate summary of what we were reading (I remember being eight or so and having my mother take The Bell Jar away from me after I explained that it was about “a very sad lady named Saliva Plath.”) I read constantly as a child, majored in English literature in college, got paid to write every day as a newspaper journalist in the 1990’s, and then was able to devote myself to fiction full-time after Good in Bed was published, and In Her Shoes was written, in 2001. (I think it’s important to point out that I sold Good in Bed in 2000, and did not quit my day job until Book One was published, Book Two was written, and Books Three and Four were under contract).
How much of GOOD IN BED is true?
Cannie Shapiro does have certain similarities to me - or at least to the twenty-eight-year-old version of me. She was a journalist, a Princeton graduate, survivor of a dysfunctional family with a snarky sense of humor and body-image issues. Unlike Cannie, I never had a boyfriend write about me (thank God). When I wrote the book, I'd never been pregnant, and I'd never met any movie stars.
The only thing that made the translation from my real life to Cannie's fictional one is my late rat terrier, Wendell, who went by the nom de plume Nifkin, much to his dismay.
was GOOD IN BED going to be on HBO?
Good in Bed was optioned by HBO in 2002, in development for two years, and then... not so much. It continues to make the rounds in Hollywood, where they are all big fans of plus-size leading ladies. Seriously. Big fans. Huge. the only obstacle is that, in order to come up with someone even remotely the right size, they'd have to staple both Olsen twins to Blake Lively. So... if there's any news on the Good in Bed on TV or film front, you'll read it here.
Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
Oh, that's like asking a mom to pick her favorite kid. I can't. They're all special to me for different reasons, and they all remind me of being at a different place in my life - single and lonely, married with children, watching my kids grow up and my relationships with them, and my friends, and my mom and my siblings, change. I love them all for different reasons... and, maybe the honest answer is "the one I'm working on right now."
What made you decide to write a children’s book?
My younger daughter, Phoebe, was briefly obsessed with a show called Finding Bigfoot, in which a pack of Bigfoot hunters would go out each week and try to... find Bigfoot. My daughters and I started talking about Bigfoots, and mythological creatures like Yetis and vampires, and how, if they were real, they'd interface with the human world. Would they be online? Would they use money?
Then I started thinking about the classic children's stories, where there's usually an orphan (Dickens, Harry Potter) who discovers a magical world underneath the quotidian world (Roald Dahl), and how I could tweak that story to speak specifically to the kind of lonely, outcast girl that I'd once been. I wanted to write the kind of book that I wish had been there when I was a girl, the kind I want to be there for my daughters, and the kind I hope that their daughters will enjoy, but won't need, because we'll have progressed to the point where most, if not all girls feel comfortable being who they are.
True story: The Littlest Bigfoot was supposed to be just one book... but when I turned it in, it was way too long, with way too much plot, too many characters, and too much going on that my editor decided it would work better as a trilogy. So The Littlest Bigfoot, Book One, came out in September of 2016, and the second book, Little Bigfoot, Big City, came out in 2017.
What made you decide to write a memoir?
Hungry Heart is more of an essay collection than a true memoir (at least, that's what I've been instructed to tell you, because 'memoir,' when it applies to women of a certain age, takes on a certain eye-rolling tone.)
Some of the stories in the book are ones that I've been telling forever, at readings and speaking engagements - stories about how I wrote my first book, or what it's like to have a miscarriage, what it's like to find out that your father died of an overdose. Those were hard to live through, and hard to write about, but I believe that there's power when women tell their stories, and get honest about their lives. I thought that if talking about what happened to me could help one woman feel less ashamed or less alone, it would be worth it.
Do you still live in Philadelphia?
I do, very happily with my daughters Lucy and Phoebe, my second and final husband, Bill Syken (we got hitched in March of 2016), and our dog, Moochie, a rescued rat terrier. I moved to Philadelphia in 1994, to take a job as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I've been here ever since. I live in Center City, in a beautiful house that used to be a school, and I really like that my daughters are growing up as city kids - independent, comfortable with public transportation, familiar with our neighborhood, which has great restaurants and coffee shops and parks and water-ice stands and pretty much everything you could want, all within a five-minute walk (a huge contrast to the suburb where I grew up, where you had to drive everywhere).
For the most part, the parks and shops and restaurants that I mention in my books are real. If you've got a question about how to find a specific place, email me or tweet at me and ask... but, for starters, the Reading Terminal Market is at 11th and Filbert, the Morning Glory Diner is at 10th and Fitzwater (I also love Sabrina's, at 9th and Christian).
Was the movie In Her Shoes based on your book?
In Her Shoes the movie was based on my book of the same title. It appeared as a feature film that came out in 2005, and I was very, very happy with the way it turned out. The only issue I had is that I wished Toni Collette had been able to gain more weight and look more like the full-figured Rose I'd imagined. When she started shooting the movie, she'd just lost a lot of weight for a previous role, and was committed to trying to get bigger. I remember getting calls from the West Coast: "She's gained five pounds! She's gained ten pounds!" (And I'd be thinking, "Hey, well that's a good weekend for some of us!") Finally, after about fifteen pounds I got a call telling me, "She's hit the wall." Which was perplexing. There's a wall? God knows I'd never found it.
Did you write the adaptation?
No. A film critic friend of mine told me that a novelist trying to adapt her own material was like a mother trying to circumcise her own son. That was all I needed to hear before deciding to let someone else do the cutting! I stayed very hands-off, and was extremely pleased with the results.
Did you get to be in the movie?
Yes, you can see me for about five seconds. My agent and I got to be extras, and we appeared in the Italian Market scene, walking about five paces behind Toni Collette and Brooke Smith. Oh, and I look horrible. My sister, who'd filmed her scene in LA the week before, called to tell me not to do anything with my hair and makeup, because there would be "people" there to do it. So I arrived at my six a.m. call time bare-faced and uncombed, and joined a room full of two hundred extras... and no "people." When I called my sister to point this out, she nonchalantly responded, "Oh, well, maybe that's because I was a featured extra, and you're just background."
You can also catch a glimpse of my sister Molly with Toni Collette in one of the scenes in the law offices of Lewis, Dommel and Fenick, and my Nanna in the senior prom scene with Shirley MacLaine. I heart nepotism!
Will any of your other work be made into films?
A few of them have been optioned... but a few factors are at play. In Her Shoes was not a huge hit at the box office, and many of my books star - how to put this? - difficult-to-cast protagonists (i.e. they wear double-digit sizes), and are a difficult-to-market mixture of humor and drama. I had a wonderful experience with the adaptation of In Her Shoes – unlike may novelists, I was actually really, really happy with how it all turned out – so who knows? Maybe someday it'll happen again.
Where and when do you write?
When I wrote Good in Bed, I was single with no kids and working full-time at a newspaper. I wrote every night of the week, except for Thursdays, when my programs were on, and did one long hitch on either Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Life has changed... a lot. When I had little kids I'd sneak in my writing while they were napping, or with a sitter, or, eventually, spending a few hours in preschool. Luckily, I was never the kind of writer who could only write in the mornings, in a soundproofed room with a pink-noise machine in the corner and trash bags taped to the windows. I wrote everywhere - in Little Gym class, while my daughter somersaulted around inside, in the carpool lane, at birthday parties in the car... anyplace I could snatch a few quiet moments.
Now that my daughters are in school for full days, my life is once more (sort of) my own. I do errands and exercise in the mornings, write in the afternoons, and do the mom-thing (dinner, stories, baths, bedtime) at night. I feel like I've found a decent balance between work-life and mom-life, where they get to see me happy and fulfilled, doing work I love, and I get to spend plenty of time with them. I'm also lucky enough to have a LOT of help – a wonderful assistant and a wonderful babysitter, who both help make my writing and mom-life possible. It's always a struggle to find the right balance, but I've got it a lot better than a lot of working moms.
And I don't have any rituals or superstitions, or exacting specifications (I joke that there is a word for the kind of writer who insists that the room be precisely 70 degrees, with a pink-noise machine in the corner, and that word is "men.") After years spent in newsrooms, which are noisy and profane, and then years as a mother, snatching ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, pulling out my laptop while I waited in the carpool lane or sat outside the Little Gym, I've learned that I can write anywhere. At home, though, I've got a little desk in my closet, the spot where a fancier lady than I am would do her makeup, and I write there.
Who are your favorite writers?
Susan Isaacs is my hero. I love all of her books, adore her spunky, smart heroines, her wonderful dialogue, her brilliant plots, and also, I'm impressed with the life she's been able to build, balancing best-sellers with marriage and motherhood. I'm also impressed with her generosity towards new writers. She gave me a lovely quote for Good in Bed, and I will be forever grateful. I've tried to model my writing life after hers, to support new writers with quotes and also on social media, tweeting and Facebooking about the books I adore. She's one of the reasons I will never be one of those "oh, sorry, I'm too busy to blurb" writers (although I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for those who make that choice).
In terms of straight-up story-telling, I read Stephen King's The Stand and The Talisman as a young woman, and he's one of my favorites to this day.
I read a lot, mostly fiction, all different kinds, from literary to mysteries to thrillers to quote-unquote "women's fiction."
I love Nora Ephron and Fran Lebowitz and Anne Lamott, John Irving, Madeline L'Engle, Eloisa James, Megan Abbott, Kelly Link, Anne Tyler, Peter Staub, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Crais, Andrew Vachss and Harlan Coben, Tom Perrota, Margaret Atwood, Meg Wolizter, Marge Piercey, Erica Jong, Caroline Leavitt, Michael Cunningham, Gail Godwin, Elizabeth Strout, Carol Shields, Roald Dahl, Russell Banks, Donna Tartt, Suzanne Finnamore, Sara Pekkanen, Amy Hatvany, Liza Palmer, Marian Keyes, Melissa Bank, Lolly Winston, Laura Zigman, and Helen Fielding. One of my favorite underappreciated books of all time is Tabitha King's Pearl... and if you want to read Good in Bed's fictional forerunner, check out Gail Parent's Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.
How do you feel about your books being called “chick lit?”
It's a mixed blessing. On one hand, the chick lit label is sexist, dismissive, and comes with the built-in implication that what you've written is a piece of beach-trash fluff with as much heft and heart as a mouthful of pink cotton candy that doesn't deal with anything other than boys and shoes.
On the other hand, I know that the term gives publishers and, more importantly, booksellers and readers, a quick and easy shorthand with which to refer to books that feature smart, funny, struggling, relatable female protagonists. If slapping a lot of pink, a disembodied female torso, naked legs and/or cheesecake on the cover guarantees that my book will get noticed and picked up, that's about all I can ask for. My readers know what I'm going for, even if the critics sometimes miss the point, or, more likely, ignore the genre entirely, and I'd rather have loyal readers than respectful reviews in all the smart places.
What does #franzenfreude mean?
When my first book was published, in 2001, I had a modest set of aspirations. I wanted to go on a book tour, even if nobody showed up at my readings. I wanted to see the book for sale, in stores, even if the only people who bought it were my friends. And I hoped for a review in the paper I'd read my entire life, The New York Times, even though it was unlikely. Back then (and still, to a large extent, now), the only popular fiction that gets reviewed are the mysteries, thrillers, horror stories and science fiction written by, and for, men.
In previous decades, a writer who disapproved of the Paper of Record's policies would have had to content herself by muttering imprecations to her spouse or her dog. But in the brave new world of social media, that same writer could hit Twitter, and come up with a hashtag to broadcast her displeasure to the world.
The summer of 2010 was the summer of Jonathan Franzen, a literary writer who seems to have limitless scorn for everything from popular fiction to e-readers to Oprah Winfrey's audience. after the Times put its breathless review of Freedom online, days before the book went on sale, Lizzie Skurnick, the author of the Times' "there should be a word" column, tweeted to ask what to call the Franzenfrenzy, and I dashed off, "#Franzenfreude," without first consulting the German-to-English dictionary that I don't have, because I never studied German (it isn't a language that Jewish families tend to urge their children to acquire).
It turned out, of course, that the "freude" part of "schadenfreude" means "joy." It also turned out that, in spite of my very compelling hashtag, the Times was in no hurry to relinquish its unofficial duties as Franzen's personal publicist. Indeed, that summer, popular opinion seemed to be that anyone who took issue with the amount of coverage this book was receiving (more reviews in the Times, it should be noted, than the entire romance genre combined) was a jealous, embittered hack, or was engaging in what Franzen would later call "Jennifer Weiner-ish self-promotion," and was just speaking up to get attention.
But the social-media conversation continues to simmer - about whose books were getting reviewed, and where, and by whom, and with what language; about who were the "right" writers to drive the conversation, about whether the change was necessary, about whether change was possible. People kept talking... and people started counting. The #franzenfeude hashtag gave birth to the VIDA count, which debuted in 2011 and is now an annual event illustrating, through vivid pie charts, the extent to which men are still being published and reviewed much more frequently than women. The first count confirmed that, indeed, there was a problem at the Times, and an even worse problem at places like The New Yorker and Harper's and The Atlantic. In the years since, then, all of those publications have pledged to do better, and some of them actually have.
Things are not perfect... but I believe they're getting better, especially at the Times.
What makes you think so?
In 2013, the Times tapped Pamela Paul to run the Sunday Book Review... and Paul seems to have effortlessly corrected the gender imbalance, without setting quotas or, as some critics fretted, tapping less-worthy writers to review less-excellent books just for the sake of equity. Paul unveiled a feature called "The Short List," which does brief reviews of books grouped by theme - including, every once in awhile, romance (and also including one of my books, All Fall Down). Most importantly, in 2016, the Times put Paul in charge of all book coverage, which means that the separation between daily and Sunday critics - a situation in which the daily critics weren't allowed to know what the Sunday section was reviewing, and vice versa - is no more. This means that the redundant, two-reviews-and-a-profile prize will be handed out less frequently... and that it won't always go to the same handful of well-connected white men.
Did you have a show on TV?
For a hot minute, I did! I worked with Jeff Greenstein, of Will and Grace and Desperate Housewives fame, and wrote a pilot called State of Georgia, that starred Raven-Symoné and aired during the summer of 2011 on the ABC Family Network.
As it turned out, the world was not desperately waiting for a Jennifer Weiner / Raven-Symoné collaboration. The stars were incredible, the writers were hilarious, the cast and crew were all great... but it was tough to do what was meant to be a show about a big girl trying to make it as an actress with an actress who was no longer big, and who had no interest in being "that girl" anymore.
So I had my Hollywood heartbreak... but the show was fun while it lasted, and gave me a lot of great material for The Next Best Thing.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love riding my bike, kayaking and paddle boarding, and walking anywhere I can. I've done a few sprint-distance triathlons, which were great fun to train for - if you're even thinking about doing one, I'd encourage you to go for it! I endure yoga - I'm the least flexible person on the planet, and my mind is never quiet, but I try it. I love to cook, and like to spend Sundays trying out new recipes, usually the ones in the Times Magazine, if it looks good. Of course, reading is my all-time favorite leisure activity.
I wrote a novel, too! Can I send it to you for a blurb?
Email me. Please note: I can only read material that's under contract for publication, and at this point, unless you have extraordinary extenuating circumstances, I'm only going to give you a quote if you're a first-time author, If I've given you a quote already, you can use it forever, but I'm unlikely to blurb a second book. (One per customer's fair, right?)
I wrote a novel, too! Can I send it to your agent so she can help me get it published?
Unfortunately, while my agent is legally allowed to read unpublished material, she isn't taking on any new clients right now. Again, check out the For Writers link on advice for how to find an agent of your own.
I haven’t written a novel, but I have a great idea for one. Want to hear it?
Unfortunately, for legal reasons, I'm going to have to decline. My advice: write your own book, and then avail yourself of one of the many invaluable books, and helpful websites, that will tell you how to find an agent and a publisher.
I haven’t written a novel, and I don’t have an idea for one, but you seem really cool, so maybe we could get together and have coffee!
I am not really cool. I am not cool at all. In person, I am incredibly boring. My conversational topics are almost entirely limited to The Bachelor, and how I don't like old people. I rarely manage to look even a tenth as good as I do in my author photos. My table manners are iffy. Many days I barely comb my hair, and when I'm not writing I'm usually holding either a kid's sticky hand or a leash. So in the interests of not having you be disappointed by the fact that, in person, I am an unkempt dog-obsessed weirdo, I am going to respectfully decline. But thanks! And please come to one of my readings, where nine times out of ten my hair is combed.
Will you come do a reading in my city?
I'm not the one who picks the cities I visit on my book tours. That would be my publisher (not coincidentally, the one who pays for the book tours). But it's certainly worth asking - I'm happy to tell my corporate masters about potential places to visit. If you want to send me an email about a reading, please include the bookstore in your neighborhood, so I can forward that as well.
Will you visit, or call, my bookclub?
Before I had kids, I did lots of book club visits, phone calls, and online chats. But now that I'm one of the responsible parties for two children, I'm trying to keep my evenings free.
All of my books come with discussion guides for book clubs, and if you poke around the website, you'll find them here, too.
Will you send an autographed book for my school or organization’s auction for charity?
Probably! Email me, and please put DONATION REQUEST in the subject line.
Will you sign my copy of your book?
If you contact Head House Books here in Philadelphia at email@example.com and tell them which book you want and what you want it to say, I will bop over there and sign it, they'll send it along, and you will get your signed book, along with the warm, happy glow of knowing you've supported a wonderful independent bookshop.
Will you come speak to my group?
Contact Jenna Fogelman at Greater Talent Network, and she'll tell you about my availability, my rates, and about how I have to have green M&Ms and Evian mist-sprayers back stage. You can reach her at 212.645.4200, or at JennaF@greatertalent.com.
Do you read your email?
Back in my early days of being published, I would read and respond to every single piece of mail I got. These days, I either spend my working hours answering email or spend them writing books. Most of the time, I opt for writing books... but I do try to read as much as I can, and answer as often as possible. If you want to stay in touch, feel free to find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I'm @JenniferWeiner. I write funny things! Time Magazine said so!
What’s your sign?
Somebody actually asked me this at a reading once, at the Powell's in Portland and I said, "Aries."
The woman who asked said, "okay, what's your rising sign?" I said, "I have no idea I don't even know what that is." She said, "what time were you born?" Again, I had no idea, so I called my mother, who threw her hands in the air and said, "There were four of you! Do you think I have nay idea what time any of you were born?" After careful questioning and careful applications of mockery, she narrowed it down to "I think it was light out." So I don't know my rising sign and probably never will. Which is sad!
Is Jennifer Weiner really your name?
This isn't actually a frequently-asked question - in fact, I've only ever been asked it once - but it was too funny not to include. The answer I gave, when I stopped laughing, is that Jennifer Weiner is, actually, my name, and that if I were going to come up with a fake I would choose something that was more alphabetically advantageous (not to mention easier to pronounce.)
So your last name’s not pronounced Weener?
No, it's the infinitely more attractive and less-mockworthy Wyner. Or Whiner, if you're nasty.
But people say it Weener anyhow.
Yes, I've heard that once or twice.
I bet that sucks!
That's a bet you would win.