Jennifer Weiner's experiences as a television sitcom writer and her short story Swim inspired her latest novel, The Next Best Thing. Read on to find out more about Jennifer's story behind the story in my interview with the author and make a mental note to check out the wonderful contests mentioned below. You can enter for a chance to win some awesome prizes!
Q & A With Jennifer Weiner
In The Next Best Thing, Ruth Saunders moves from her home town of Massachusetts to chase her dream of making it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. What experiences did you draw from to help you write this novel?
Last year I was lucky enough to have a pilot I co-wrote with Jeff Greenstein picked up—and, eventually, aired for nine episodes—on the ABC Family network. Like Ruth, I left my hometown and moved to the strange and wondrous land of Los Angeles, where I spent eight months dealing with actors, executives, casting directors and line producers and everyone whose job it is to put a television show together. It was one of the most amazing and frustrating experiences of my life, and one I’ll be grateful to have had forever – who, at forty-one, gets to have a brand-new job?
Your novel In Her Shoes was turned into a motion picture. Is it hard to write a novel without this prospect reeling in the back of your mind?
It’s funny, but I never write thinking, “Ooh, maybe this could be a movie some day!” As you mentioned, I’ve been through the experience of having a book made into a movie, and one of my brothers is a film producer in Hollywood. Between what I hear from him and my experience with “In Her Shoes,” I know what a rare and wonderful thing it is for the stars to line up just right, so that a book that gets optioned actually gets made. I was beyond thrilled that it happened with “In Her Shoes.” I think the studio and the screenwriter, the director and the producer all did a wonderful job with it, and I think it’s one of Cameron Diaz’s best performances ever.
In addition, if I genuinely wanted my books to be movies, there would never be another plus-size character in anything I wrote. With the exceptions of Melissa McCarthy and Gabourey Sidibe, there simply aren’t plus-size actresses with big enough “names” to attract investors or audiences. I don’t want to constrain myself that way. I don’t ever want to write thinking, “oh, no, she needs to be younger, or prettier, or thinner, if Hollywood’s ever going to bite.” The way I look at it is that it’s my job to tell the best story I can on the page, to create characters who feel real and identifiable, funny and flawed. What happens to them once the book is published is none of my business, so I try not to let it occupy any real-estate in my mind.
Why do you think your stories and characters speak to so many women? What are your thoughts on your novels being included in the chick lit category?
One of the things I hear a lot at readings is, “You write the things I’m thinking, but would never be brave enough to say!” I’m not entirely sure that’s a compliment, but I think it speaks to the women in my books feeling familiar and funny and broken and brave—like they could be your best friend or your big sister or you yourself.
As far as the chick lit label, no, I’m not in love with it. There’s an implied dismissiveness that goes along with the word “chick,” and I’ve thought for years that there’s a vicious double standard: when men write coming-of-age stories about young men and their jobs and families and romances, it’s capital-L Literature, and when women do the same thing, it’s just silly, frothy, forgettable chick lit.
However, the label hasn’t stopped readers from finding my books, or for reading them the way I hoped they’d be read. So I can’t get too chuffed (did I use that right? Chuffed?) about the label. My books find their audience. Many, many other books don’t. Given that fact, it seems churlish to complain about labels, or to fret about things I can’t control.
You state, "This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Just between you and me (and my readers), are any of the characters in The Next Best Thing based on anyone you know in real life?
Hee. Well, as anyone who followed the saga of “State of Georgia” knows, we started off with an actress who was famous (and beloved) for not being a size zero, like it seems every other young actress in Hollywood is…and by the time we started filming, she’d gotten teeny-tiny. I don’t blame her for doing it – the brutal truth is, it’s a lot easier to find work in Hollywood if you’re a size two than a twelve…but it was frustrating to have packed up my whole life with the idea that I was going to L.A. to make a show about a big girl who gets her happy ending without letting the world change her, only to find that I’d be making a show with a girl who looked like every other girl out there. (In the Department of the Irony, the pilot revolved around Georgia auditioning for the lead in a Broadway show, only to be told that she’s way too big to play the ingénue. After “Georgia” was canceled, the next job Raven-Symone got was as the star of a Broadway show. Ouch).
So yes, I did use the weight issue in THE NEXT BEST THING…and one of the Daves of Two Daves Productions is very loosely based on Jeff Greenstein, my co-writer on “Georgia,” who is six foot nine and likes to refer to himself as the largest comedy writer in captivity. But other than that, it’s all fiction. Fiction! I swear!
You include the song title "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" performed by The Smiths. Why did this song resonate with you? Dick Clark coined the phrase "Music is the soundtrack of our lives". Does music play a big role in your writing?
Having spent ten years in various newsrooms before my first novel was published, and then another ten working in coffee shops so I wouldn’t be home alone and tempted by messy rooms and unfolded laundry and the many fine offerings of daytime TV, I’m used to background noise – conversation, police scanners, even music. But I wouldn’t say that music plays a huge role in my writing. I have favorite artists, I love to listen to the radio while I’m driving, I adore taking my kids to musicals and I am a vigorous shower-singer…but my work is never tied to any particular piece of music as much as it is the lyrics. My favorite artists are the ones whose words read like poetry, or miniature essays, and the Morrissey quote that serves as THE NEXT BEST THING’s epigraph encompasses all of Ruth’s futile longing (and a lot of her self-pity)…the idea that if only, if only, she gets this one thing, then her life will be perfect. Of course, it doesn’t work that way.
My Twitter book club #YMBC read Fly Away Home and Then Came You and we're looking forward to reading The Next Best Thing. What novels or projects can we look forward to in the future?
First of all, thank you! That is lovely to hear!
I wish I had a very specific answer for your question, but the truth is, I’ve got about a dozen things competing in my head right now for the title of “What Will Jen Write Next,” so I can’t tell you for sure who’s going to come out on top. There’s a spooky Halloween short story that I’m dying to dive back into – it’s about a woman who’s been a not-very-successful writer for years, and is catapulted into fame and fortune when the memoir she writes about her dead husband becomes a huge best-seller. Her search for what to write next morphs, with surprising speed and ease, into a search for who to kill next…because, she reasons, if a book about a dead spouse is a book-club favorite, won’t those same readers just love a book about another tragedy?
I’ve got a YA project I’m just starting to play with, and a set-in-the-future dystopic novel where grown women are infertile and young girls are having babies…and then this opera libretto…(just kidding!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SIMON & SCHUSTER CANADA SWEEPSTAKES
YUMMY MUMMY BOOK CLUB
The #YMBC will be reading The Next Best Thing
and discussing it in our virtual book club Twitter chat. Let's cross our fingers and hope that Jennifer can find the time in her crazy busy schedule to join our book club chat! Save the date Wednesday, August 8th for what promises to be a terrific discussion. Use the hashtag #TheNextBestThing and follow the #YMBC Twitter chat updates on Bookalicious.ca
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Photo credit: Andrea Cipriani Mecchi