a PAW web exclusive column
6 , 2001:
From bad boyfriend to boisterous book
Weiner '91 pens her first novel, Good in Bed
By Louis Jacobson '92
Weiner '91 has been in journalism ever since she graduated from
Princeton, but it took her a while to find her groove. As a cub
reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania,
Weiner covered education, but she acknowledges being "horrible"
as a news reporter. "I would get numbers wrong in budget stories,
or say snotty things in a straightforward school-board profile,"
she recalls. "I never wanted to be either Woodward or Bernstein.
I wanted to be Nora Ephron, writing funny things about funny places."
Things started to change
as the public became fascinated with Generation X -- Weiner's demographic
cohort -- in the mid-1990s. While still in State College, she began
writing a twice-monthly, nationally syndicated column about youth
culture for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. That caught the eye
of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and then the Philadelphia Inquirer,
which hired her as a feature writer in 1995. At the Inquirer, she
chronicled everything from the Pillsbury Bake-Off and the Miss America
pageant to Wrestlemania. Six years later, she's still at the Inquirer,
writing pop-culture features and a Wednesday column.
the Nora Ephronization of Jennifer Weiner culminated in May, when
Pocket Books published Good in Bed, her first novel. Right off the
bat, Publisher's Weekly gave it a coveted "starred" review,
gushing that "Weiner's witty, original, fast-moving debut features
a lovable heroine, a solid cast, snappy dialogue and a poignant
take on life's priorities." Within weeks, the book went into
its second printing.
"The novel started
when I got dumped," Weiner recalls. "I had gone out with
a guy for a very long period of time, and I was so sure we would
spend our lives together. Obviously he had other plans. I had been
the one who said we needed to take a break, but then -- moving with
a speed I had never glimpsed in our years together -- he got another
girlfriend. I was moping around, sounding like a bad Britney Spears
song. I wanted to write a novel in the voice of a girl who had been
dumped like that."
In the novel, Weiner
created an alter ego, Candace Shapiro -- a Philadelphia Examiner
reporter who goes by "Cannie" so that people won't be
tempted to make fun of her weight by calling her "Candy."
The action begins as her ex-boyfriend, Bruce Guberman, philosophizes
about Cannie's physique in a magazine sex column titled "Loving
a Larger Woman." The idea for this episode came from an incident
in which a casual boyfriend of Weiner's began writing a sex column
that sometimes covered their experiences together.
Other elements of Weiner's
life served as grist for the novel -- especially her time at Princeton.
At one point, Cannie considers opening a muffin shop before fretting
about her classmates' reactions upon reading about it in PAW. But
the real-life parallels, she cautions, are suggestive, not rigid.
"Cannie did not have a good time at Princeton," Weiner
says. "She was miserable, and in some ways I was, too, but
I was also doing lots of writing and activism. She didn't do any
of that. I made her this invisible girl on campus who envies everybody."
Initially, Weiner faced
some obstacles on the marketing front. "For a while, I was
loosely attached to an agent on the West Coast -- a horrible woman,
who wanted to make a publishing and film deal at the same time,"
she says. "She sent it to these middle-aged, white, film guys
in Hollywood, who would say things like, 'This is a lonely fat girl's
wish-fulfillment.' Apparently there's still no interest yet in a
movie because no actress is the right size, and no one would want
to gain enough weight for the part." After finding a new agent
in early 2000, Weiner sold the manuscript to Pocket Books, just
a week after circulating a draft.
Weiner revels in sarcasm.
Rather than posting a basic bio on her website, www.jenniferweiner.com,
Weiner drew up a cheeky resume that mocks herself, her mother and
Wendell, her "small, spotted, anxious rat terrier." She
says the root of her ironic tone is her parents' divorce and her
father's disappearance from her life at the end of high school.
"I'm one of those children of divorce who develop a prickly
sense of humor, and journalism has only encouraged that tendency,"
she says. "When my Dad left, he abandoned the family. When
you go through that, it's like the emotional rug is yanked out from
under you. Your parents can tell you 'til the cows come home that
the divorce is not about the children -- but children, and especially
teens, feel that way."
Weiner has signed a contract
for a second novel, which she says will include some of the same
characters. She plans to keep a hand in journalism, but with a wedding
coming up in October, she's keeping her options open. "I think
there will probably be a time when I'm home doing fiction and caring
for a baby," she says, "but I love the immediacy of newspapers
and the energy of the newsroom." One thing seems certain: Weiner
wants to stay in the city of brotherly love. "I always got
overwhelmed by New York and Washington," she says. "Philadelphia
is livable and manageable and affordable -- all the things you'd
want in a big city."
Louis Jacobson is a staff
correspondent at National Journal magazine in Washington.