Web Exclusives:Features
a PAW web exclusive column

June 6 , 2001:
From bad boyfriend to boisterous book
Jennifer Weiner '91 pens her first novel, Good in Bed

By Louis Jacobson '92

Jennifer 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.

But 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.