An Interview with Jennifer Weiner
Elizabeth LaBan: When you wrote Good In Bed, you had a full-time job as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. You subsequently left that job to concentrate on writing fiction. By the time you wrote Little Earthquakes, you had a young baby. Can you compare the different challenges of finding time to write and think about your books?
Jennifer Weiner: It’s never easy finding time to write. When I wrote Good In Bed, I did it on nights and weekends. With Little Earthquakes, I wrote in the afternoons, while the world’s greatest nanny took care of my daughter. In terms of thinking about what I’m going to write, I think while I’m walking. I’m lucky now because Lucy lets me push her for an hour or even longer in her stroller, and I can try to think about the story, the characters, and what’s going to happen next. But a baby definitely makes it harder, because at this point, she’s always going to be the most interesting thing in the room, more fascinating by a long shot than whatever imaginary world I’ve got going on the computer.
EL: I once heard you say that you wanted to continue to work in an office setting to be around people and gather material for your fiction. Now that you no longer do, has it been harder to find things to write about? Where do you get most of your ideas these days?
JW: As it turns out, the world is full of head cases, funny stories, colorful characters and accidents waiting to happen — and that goes double for the life of a new mother — so no, it hasn’t been hard to find things to write about at all. I get most of my ideas from real life, and real-life relationships: mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, new mothers and the friends they make.
EL: Taking that question a step further, you have been pretty open about using people you know as inspiration for your characters. I even ran into one of your friends recently who proudly claimed to be the impetus for Kelly in Little Earthquakes. How has that affected your relationships with these people? Does the thought of people recognizing themselves in your books ever hold you back?
JW: I think that most people who spend any time in a writer’s orbit know that anything they say or do can and will be used in fiction. I take that a step further with my friends and loved ones — anyone who appears in a book in any incarnation that could cause trouble in his/her career or personal life gets to read the manuscript ahead of time and file their objections. There are writers — I think Philip Roth is first among them — who argue that writers are writing for the ages, and for history and posterity, and that they can’t trouble their minds with petty concerns about the present-day readers. I don’t know where Philip Roth spends Passover, but as for me, I have to go home to my Mom’s, and I want that to be as un-awkward as possible.
Has it affected relationships? Not as much as I thought it would! When I published Good In Bed, I thought, “Now that I am a Real Writer with an actual publishing house, people will be on their best behavior toward me because they won’t want the stupid or mean things they do to show up in print.” Long story short, I was wrong. I think there are people who go out of their way to treat me worse than they would if I were still a reporter . . . maybe to show that they’re not afraid of me, or afraid of some kind of perceived status, or, well, just because they’re jerks. That was one of the hardest lessons to learn: that once you’ve had some success, not everyone’s going to treat you the way you’d want.
EL: You’ve written about pregnancy and having an infant both before (in Good In Bed) and after (in Little Earthquakes) you experienced motherhood for yourself. Did the first-hand experience give you a different perspective?
JW: Yes! I wish I’d known about a hundred different things before I wrote Good In Bed: how exhausted and queasy and just not yourself you feel during that first trimester, how hard it is to find decent maternity clothes if you’re bigger than a size fourteen, how completely an infant can monopolize both of your hands, all of your energy, and every moment of your time. I also wish I’d known how hard women are on themselves and each other, and how at times it feels like no decision you make regarding your baby, your job, or your marriage is the right one. Of course now, that’s all fodder for Book Four.
EL: In Little Earthquakes, one of the mothers suffers a tremendous loss. As a new mother yourself, was it hard to write about that? Is there anything that you couldn’t bring yourself to write about?
JW: All three of my books have an element of “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” In Good In Bed, it’s having an ex-boyfriend writing about your body and your sex life in a national magazine. In In Her Shoes, it’s having a sister sleep with the man you love. Both of those were the worst things that I could imagine. Unfortunately, this time around, the worst thing I could think of actually happened to one of my friends. She had a three-month-old baby who died on the day my daughter was due. I became almost obsessed with the idea of how a mother — and a marriage — could survive that kind of loss, and I think that part of the impetus behind Little Earthquakes was an attempt to answer that question. It was very hard to write about a tragedy happening to a child when I had a newborn myself, and at times it really felt like I was tempting fate, but I thought this was an important story to tell, and one that I hope will have some meaning for people who’ve been through tragedies of their own.
EL: How long had Good In Bed been brewing in your mind before you sat down to write? Was there a moment when you knew you had a novel to write?
JW: I’d been working on a novel on and off since college in the years before I started Good In Bed. What happened was, I had my heart broken by a guy I’d gone out with for three years, and the story of Cannie, of her voice, of her happy ending, basically arrived in my brain fully-formed over a period of maybe a month. (I think of it sometimes as the consolation prize for losing Mr. Not Quite Right.) That’s been sort of the case with all three (now three, plus a work in progress). I’ll take nugget or two from my real life, let it churn around in my subconscious for a while, and eventually, I’ll start hearing a character’s voice and figuring out where I want to take her.
EL: Has the writing time and number of revisions needed to reach a final draft gone down as you work on your fourth book?
JW: I think I know what I’m doing a little more, so I haven’t had to do the kind of drastic cutting I did with Good In Bed. But I actually like revising my books. That’s when the hard work is over and I get to have some fun.
EL: In Her Shoes was recently made into a movie, and much of the filming took place in Philadelphia, where you live. How did it make you feel to see the activity that was generated from a story you created? Did get to read the script and how attached were you to keeping the movie faithful to your novel?
JW: One night last spring my husband and I were driving home and saw that all of the parking spots on our street were blocked off. I was mumbling (well, cursing) about people who think they’ve got the right to monopolize every parking space in Philadelphia when I peered at one of the signs strapped to a telephone pole and read, “We will be filming a major motion picture, ‘In Her Shoes,’ in your neighborhood tomorrow.” That was pretty surreal. It was a complete and total thrill to see, and to be part of the filming in Philadelphia (I was an extra in the Italian Market scene, and according to one of the producers, I’ve made the final cut). Honestly, I still can’t believe it some times. Cameron Diaz starring in a movie from my book? With Susannah Grant writing the script? And Curtis Hanson directing? Yeah, right! Yes, I got to read the script, and it was amazing a really beautiful adaptation that I think improved upon the novel in places. Best of all, I managed to have a really mentally healthy attitude about the whole thing. My thinking was, “I sold the rights, I cashed the check, I need to let go and let this be someone else’s vision now.” That was what I tried to do, and I’ve been thrilled with how it’s turned out so far.
EL: Do you plan to write a sequel to Good In Bed? If so, why have you waited this long to do it?
JW: Hey, Susan Isaacs took 20 years between Compromising Positions and Long Time No See — it’s only been three and a half years for me! The longer answer is, I know what’s going to happen in the sequel, but I’m not quite ready to sit down and tell that story yet (hint: it’s going to involve a Bat Mitzvah that goes horribly wrong. And somebody dies. I promise it’s not Harry Potter!)
EL: What are you working on now?
JW: A social satire/murder mystery set in the suburbs of Connecticut, starring a mother of triplets who solves crimes while her kids are in nursery school. I wanted to call it “Momicide,” but everyone I’ve said “Momicide” to has the same response: “Ugh.” So maybe not so much.