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Jennifer Weiner author photo2 © Maarten de BoerIf you spent any time at the Shore this summer, there’s a good chance a juicy Jennifer Weiner novel was in your beach bag. Her first, “Good in Bed,” debuted in 2001, quickly shooting up “The New York Times” bestseller list. With more than a dozen books already published and two more due this fall, Weiner (as in Winer, not Weener) is a chick-lit goddess. But beyond her heartwarming characters, her sassy New York Times op-eds and reviews, along with her staunch support of female writers, all prove she has much more to say.

Weiner has come a long way since her Princeton University days, when she described herself as “a beaky, busty, mouthy kid in a Dorothy Hamill bob . . . looking ungainly in an unflattering Esprit shirt-and-vest combination.” Asked to describe herself now, she says, “a tanned 46-year-old woman with a short, well-tended brown bob and a welcoming smile who looks like she enjoys both exercise and dessert.”

It took time and a learning curve, she says, to get to that point. “It came after really spending an entire decade on a diet. All through my 20s, all I wanted to do was lose weight. I imagined that if I finally could, then I would have everything I ever wanted. I’d have guys. I could date whoever I wanted and wear whatever I wanted, and I’d be happy.” Eventually she realized she wasn’t willing to put in the amount of time and effort needed to lose weight.

But it was having her first daughter, Lucy, now 13, that was her ultimate “A-ha” moment. “I had to think very deeply about what I wanted to show her and how I wanted her to grow up feeling about herself,” she says. “Every time I had a negative thought about myself, I would try to think something positive. I decided to dress the body that I had and not the one I wanted.”

Now she’s passing those lessons on to her daughters, Lucy and Phoebe, 8. “I want them to believe they are seen and that they matter,” she says. In fact, Phoebe’s obsession with the TV show “Finding Bigfoot” inspired Weiner’s next project, the middle-grade novel “The Littlest Bigfoot,” due to be released September 13.

“I wrote the way I would tell the story to my daughter, in that kind of language and tone,” she says. But once she gave the manuscript to her editor, she discovered the rules for books for 8- to 12-year-olds differed from adult novels. “You can’t have nudity, certain body parts or romance, and you’ve got to have short bang-bang-bang chapters and lots of action and cliff-hangers.” The good news is she had written so much the story will now be part one of a three-part trilogy.

“But at the end of the day, a story is a story, and if you have learned how to tell them to adults, you can tell them to children,” she says. She’d like to write young-adult fiction, but her title, “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” was already taken. “That’s an actual book, and as soon as I saw that I thought ‘It’s over now,’” she jokes.

In addition to her middle-grade novel, Weiner poured her heart and soul into her memoir, “Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing,” due out October 11. Described by reviewers as being very honest, Weiner says her openness comes easily.

“People always tell me, ‘You say what I’m thinking, but I would never say that,’” she says. “But I don’t really have much of a filter. For whatever reason, good or bad, I just seem to have the ability to just go there. I think there’s something very powerful that happens when women tell the truth about their lives. So I think it’s important.”

Weiner is fed up with the double standard regarding media coverage for male and female authors. “It’s 2016, and ‘The New Yorker’ is still publishing twice as many short stories by men as they are by women,” she says. “The first step to getting better is admitting you’ve got a problem. We’re just now at the point where the publishing industry and the world of literary criticism are realizing there’s a problem.”

“It’s a persistent double standard, and it’s very deep-seated. I think even women writers struggle with it, because when you were in high school and college you were reading men and men and men, and then Virginia Woolf. Then men and men and men, and then Jane Austen. There were writers, and then there were female writers. We were always on the outside.”

Though she’s still not satisfied with the New York Times’ equitable handling of male and female writers’ book reviews, Weiner now regularly lends her voice and opinions to their op-ed and review pages. The gig started when an editor read a tweet she sent about her 100-year-old Nanna and the mean girls in the assisted living facility.

“I called my Nanna, and she said, ‘No one wants me to sit at their table in the cafeteria,’” says Weiner. “You go from being 12 in junior high to being 98 in assisted living and women are still being bitches to each other.”

Social media also gives Weiner a place to share her opinions, typically in a humorous, engaging manner. She’s become an expert on “The Bachelor” TV show, now appearing on talk shows to share her opinion after her Twitter reactions went viral. “It’s the funniest thing in the world when they introduce me as best-selling novelist and Bachelor expert,” she says.

“But I came up through newspaper, first a small paper, then medium-sized paper, then the Philadelphia Inquirer until my first book came out, so I think that as long as newspapers exist – which I hope is forever and ever – that’s going to feel like home to me,” she says.

She also feels at home writing funny, heartwarming books that have a happy ending. “There are so many not-happy endings in real life,” she says. “I like the idea of people going to my books for comfort.”

 


 

Author Jennifer Weiner will appear at Katz JCC in Cherry Hill on Tuesday, September 13 as part of their Festival of Arts, Books and Culture. Weiner will give the keynote address during a local author meet-and-greet. (Weiner is from Philadelphia.) She’ll address middle-school children and their parents about her venture into the young-adult genre. Program begins at 6 pm. For more information, click here.

September 2016
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