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A peek inside the world of author Jennifer Weiner

Jennifer Weiner photo

Although I’m a writer myself, when it comes to reading for pleasure, I tend to dabble in the chick lit section of the bookstore a bit more than a girl should really admit. But hell, give me sunshine, a beach and a pastel paperback and I’m as happy as a clam. Lucky for me, there’s one author in the chick lit section who manages to fill her pink-covered pages with substance, humor (even some Jewish humor), life lessons and a little girl talk.

Jennifer Weiner, a nice Jewish girl from Connecticut, is most well known for debut novel, The New York Times best-seller “Good in Bed” and her second novel, “In Her Shoes,” which was turned into a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine by Twentieth Century Fox in 2005. Weiner’s other best-selling novels include “Little Earthquakes,” “Goodnight Nobody,” “The Guy Not Taken” and “Certain Girls,” the sequel to “Good in Bed.” Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Glamour, Redbook, TV Guide, YM and Salon.com. Weiner, a graduate of Princeton University, lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their daughters, Lucy and Phoebe.

This Monday, July 20, at 7 p.m., the Vernon Area Public Library will bring Weiner to Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire to discuss her new book, “Best Friends Forever,” released this week, along with her past books, personal experiences and women's search for a sense of self. Registration is required to attend.

I caught up with Weiner before her visit to talk Judaism, the inspiration for her new book and shoe shopping on Michigan Ave:

Stefanie Pervos: I understand you grew up in a town where you were one of few Jews. What was your Jewish upbringing like? What role does Judaism play in your life today?
Jennifer Weiner: I grew up in a town in Connecticut where there weren’t a lot of Jews but I did have a pretty traditional Jewish upbringing. I went to Sunday school and Hebrew school and I was bat mitzvahed and confirmed and we lit candles on Shabbat. So I’d say that I had a very strong Jewish identity. I married the nice Jewish guy, and my husband and I belong to a synagogue and we attend most tot Shabbats (with our daughters).

Most of your book’s main characters are Jewish—why is that? And how does your Judaism influence your writing?
Well, I think that a lot of my characters are outsiders and they feel alienated from whatever community they’re in—whether it’s their suburb or high school or the world of thin people—they just sort of feel like they don’t belong. I think in a lot of ways Judaism is my shorthand for that because in most cases (even today) to be Jewish is to still be somewhat on the outside—you’re not part of the majority religion and that puts you in a different place than being Christian does. It makes you look at things a little differently.

I’ve read that you struggle with being labeled as a chick lit writer.
I don’t really struggle with it anymore, because I’ve realized there’s nothing I can do to affect that label one way or another, so I’m just going to have to be at peace with it. The comfort of it is that I think that critics can be very dismissive about chick lit or about anything that they think concerns frivolous questions about romance or marriage or children or women, but I think my readers kind of know what the deal is with my books. I want my books to be entertaining more than anything else. But I also want them to have some substance and to be dealing with issues that are relevant to the people that are reading them— issues of identity, self confidence, what it means to be a mother, what it means to be a sister, what it means to be a friend. So, even if there’s a pink cover and even if The New York Times never mentions them, I think that my readers know what they came for.

I’m curious if you’ve ever been labeled as a Jewish writer?
Not so much, you know, that’s really interesting. I wonder if that’s a literary/commercial distinction? Even though a lot of my characters are Jewish, and they’re observant Jews, I think the chick lit label sort of supercedes everything.

As someone who’s read all of your books, it’s pretty clear to me that you have a very strong voice. How did you find that voice?
I think some of it was growing up Jewish in a place where there weren’t a lot of Jews—you had to have a sense of humor about that or you were just sunk. Some of it is being one of four kids. I wasn’t in a situation where I had parents who were breathlessly hanging on my every word thinking everything I said was so brilliant and so precious. You really had to work to get that positive reinforcement, and I think that all four of us have pretty distinct voices and pretty good senses of humor. And a lot of it comes from journalism and all the reading and writing I did. I’m so happy that I could grow up and be what I wanted to be when I grew up, but it’s a job and writing is a craft and you work at it. Voice is something that you refine as you go and you work.

It seems the impetus for most of your books comes from something going on in your life. How much of what you write is inspired by your real life?
I’d say a lot of it is, and if it’s not my life its something that’s going on with my friends, or my sister or my brothers or my mom. This is my seventh book and this is where you start to get the ‘do you worry about running out of ideas’ question. I really don’t because I think life just gives you so much and your children give you so much and your parents give you so much and I think that that’s where it comes from.

“Best Friends Forever” was interesting because I read Stephen King’s book on writing—which I really, really liked—and one of the things that he talks about is writing Carrie and remembering the outcast girl in his high school and trying to come up with a back story of what had happened to make this girl such a target of everyone. I thought, I want to write a story about the girl who was really unhappy in high school. Because I was unhappy for some of high school, not like desperately unhappy, not unhappy for all of it, but I definitely had that thing that now I think just about everybody had—I’m the biggest freak here, I’m not fitting in, I’m not one of the cool kids— and I wanted to write that girl. So some of it was something I’d read and some of it was something I’d lived and a lot of it is imagination and extrapolation.

It sounds like “Best Friends Forever” might have a little bit of a dark side to it.
Yeah, it’s got a bit of a mystery.  It is a little darker, but it’s got some funny parts too. I would say it’s typical of what I do and of what my readers would expect. It’s also a bit of homage to “Thelma and Louise.” I wanted to write the story of two women on the lam.

So what’s next for you?
I’m trying to get ready to go (on tour). I’m thinking about my next novel, which I think is going to be a story about three different women in three different generations who all have marriages or love affairs go wrong and come together to recover from that and learn things about each other and themselves.  I have a development deal with ABC—basically I’m trying very hard to come up with ideas for television that have my voice and the kind of characters I like to write.

Are you looking forward to coming to Chicago?
My husband went to law school at the University of Chicago—he was Barack Obama’s student and oh Lord did he never let me forget that the entire political campaign (I was a Hillary supporter). I’ve been to Chicago a bunch and I love shopping on Michigan Ave. I think my husband is going to try to confiscate my credit card before I leave. The Nordstrom shoe department (in Chicago) is I think the best in the entire world, so probably I’ll be doing some damage there.

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