Jennifer Weiner talks fiction, nonfiction, and the #MeToo movement -The Boston Globe

Jennifer Weiner talks fiction, nonfiction, and the #MeToo movement

TAMARA STAPLES Jennifer Weiner
TAMARA STAPLES Jennifer Weiner

Novelist Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling author of “Good in Bed” and “In Her Shoes,” which was turned into a movie starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette, is speaking at Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ annual Pomegranate Society & Friends event Monday. In advance, we got Weiner on the phone for a chat about family, success, and being that nerdy kid at school who always had a book in her backpack.

Q. Welcome back to New England.

A. Lucky for me, I get to spend my summers on Cape Cod. I actually spend quite a bit of time in Boston — sadly, quite a lot of it in Logan Airport. . . . When I lived in Philadelphia, it was all about the Jersey Shore, but when I made my first trip there I was like, “No, this is not going to work for me.”

Q. Why did this event spark your interest?

A. I especially was attracted to the theme of the event: Women who dare. Paying attention to the #MeToo movement and women telling their stories and people finally starting to listen, I think we are at a real watershed moment in America, and I think that if I can be of any use in encouraging women to tell their stories, to speak up, and be brave, and know that they are going to leave the world better than they found it, that’s something I want to be doing with my time.

Q. On the topic of women who dare, has there been a moment in your career when you faced adversity because you were a woman who dared and you succeeded?

A. I think the dichotomy that I have struggled with my entire career is that men are allowed to write books that are both critically acclaimed and totally blockbuster bestsellers. Stephen King is considered a popular author, but he is also in The New York Times. With women writers, it’s always been one or the other — either tremendously popular and people call your books beach books or chick-lit, or you can be a literary superstar and people respect you and you win prizes, but maybe your books never get a chance to become popular. Women have to pick one or the other and that’s something that I’ve talked a lot about.

Q. From your first novel until now, you’ve written fiction, nonfiction, and now children’s books. Which has been your favorite?

A. I think I’m always going to have a soft spot in my heart for fiction. Novels were my first love and books were the thing that saved me when I was this lonely nerdy kid who didn’t have any friends. I could always lose myself in a book and be somewhere else. I was a reader the whole time I grew up and I loved books, so the idea that I could grow up and write them felt really magical to me.

Q. How did it feel to see your characters come to life on screen in “In Her Shoes”?

A. I think “surreal” is the word that every writer will give you because it’s strange to be sitting there looking at the big screen and see things that only existed in your imagination. It’s like someone reaching into your brain and scooping the characters out. I’m very lucky. There are authors that have their books adapted and then spend a portion of their careers going “Well, the book was really different” and have to apologize for what happened. In my case, I don’t have to apologize at all. I thought they did a wonderful job adapting it.

Q. What motivates you?

A. Obviously, making the bestseller list is always a thrill, but for me, I told myself when I was writing my very first book: If someone actually publishes this book, and if I get to walk into a bookstore and see my name on the cover of a book that people who are not related to me are going to pay money to read, that will be the pinnacle of my dream. Still to this day, walking into a bookstore and seeing my name is kind of amazing. As far as motivation, I always want to push myself and never want to tell the same story over and over. I want to have more layers and nuance and more depth and richness in the stories that I’m telling, and also have them be timely. Have something to say about women and the world and the way we’re living now.

Q. Many of your books have some tie to your own life experience. How do you decide what part of your personal life to incorporate?

A. If it’s funny or embarrassing, or if it’s tragic and I can make it funny or embarrassing. I remember my mother used to say to me, “It’s all material.” Whenever I would complain about my parents’ horrible divorce or someone dumped me, she would tell me that it was all material and I would use it all someday. I maintained that attitude as I got older. Anything that feels like it’s funny or poignant or can illustrate the way women are in the world right now, that’s material.

Q. As a reporter turned fiction writer, do you still use your reporting skills?

A. There’s no better training you can have to be a novelist than to be a reporter. You have to develop a good eye for detail, you have to know which details to include to draw a picture, you have to be succinct, you have to be quick and get to the point. The most important thing is that you have to be comfortable being edited. If your editor tells you to cut six inches, you have to do that. The phrase that you hear a lot in the writing world is “kill your darlings.” If there’s something that you love but it’s just not serving the plot or building the character, you have to cut it.

Q. What’s your advice to other writers when it comes to finding inspiration?

A. What I would say is the most important thing, especially true for women, is to not wait for someone to give you permission. Don’t wait until you have earned a degree or until you publish something in a magazine. I think that if you can tell yourself that you’re a writer and find the courage to get the words on the page, that’s the important thing and you don’t need a degree and you don’t need to have published something.

Sophie Cannon can be reached at sophie.cannon@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @the_grandCannon

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