Wall Street Journal Interview: Jennifer Weiner Talks ‘Good in Bed,’ Chick Lit and Cheating Husbands

May 24th, 2011

Wall Street Journal Speak Easy

Jennifer Weiner Talks ‘Good in Bed,’ Chick Lit and Cheating Husbands

By Julie Steinberg
May 24, 2011, 10:00 AM ET
Read Full Article Here

It’s been ten years since Jennifer Weiner released “Good in Bed,” the book that launched both her career as a novelist and her status as a staunch defender of chick lit. Over the past decade, Weiner has emerged as the conscience of modern fiction, intent on minimizing the disparity between the reception commercial male fiction gets (think Stephen King) and the reception commercial female fiction receives (think Weiner and Jodi Picoult). She also recently got into a bit of tussle with Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Jennifer Egan about the divide between literary and commercial fiction. Speakeasy chatted with Weiner in a phone interview about her career over the past decade, the proper time to critique other writers and powerful men who cheat on their wives.

The Wall Street Journal: You had “Good in Bed” published after you had been working as a journalist for a decade. What was the process like going from newspapers to fiction for you?

Jennifer Weiner: There was a learning curve. Basically you need to spend 10,000 hours before you master a skill. I was an English major in college, took a ton of creative writing courses, and was a newspaper reporter for 10 years. I wasn’t an expert, but I’d been writing all those years so I think I had some grasp of how to tell that kind of story. I wanted a happy ending, because those are the types of books that I like best. I remember the first draft of “Good in Bed” – it was 400 single-spaced pages, which I was sending to agents because I had no idea you weren’t supposed to do that.

I spent three or four months finding an agent who was a good fit. I found my agent in January 2001, we worked on it until April, went out with it in May on a Thursday, and I got an offer on Monday. That’s more a result of my agent being fantastic.

It was definitely different from journalism because I had to make the leap from working with people on daily deadlines to people saying “OK, here’s your contract, see you in a year.” But 10 years of newspapers trained me well – I credit journalism with my work habits, with being open to revision and criticism.

How do you think “Good in Bed” contributed to the formation of chick-lit as a viable genre?

In the introduction, I look back at writing this book at a moment where there wasn’t this thing called chick lit. It was a book about a woman concerned about her life, what she was going to do, where she was going to live, who she was going to love, etc. Back then it was different – there wasn’t this instantaneous “ick” factor to something falling under that category.

You recently took to Twitter to lambaste Jennifer Egan for calling some chick lit “derivative” and “banal.”

I don’t want to turn this into a big thing between me and Egan. She was gracious in her apology, but like she said, there’s a time and place for to have a conversation about what’s a worthy book for a woman to be writing. It’s no big secret that there are books that aren’t her personal favorites. It’s not like chick lit being shallow is some unspeakable sentiment in this world. Of course, women writers can have opinions, of course they can talk about what they like and don’t like. But there’s a time and place for that critique. I had a hard time finding a male author who took the occasion of “I have won a big prize and I’m going to take this platform to talk about work I don’t like.” What if Phillip Roth won a prize and said it, “Suck it, James Patterson”?

But the thing that worries me more is I see this on a continuum. There are gatekeepers who say chick lit doesn’t deserve attention but then they review Stephen King.

So the real problem is a gender one.

We’re getting to a point where people are realizing there’s a problem. People say Jonathan Franzen is a great American novelist, but Jennifer Egan is a good novelist. Then they say, “Let’s talk about it in the Style section and let’s be sure to mention their hairstyles and their shoes.”

There was there that Slate article that talked about the percentage of male writers who get reviews compared to the percentage of women. It’s pathetic. That’s something that should concern all women writers. But it was so satisfying to see Egan sweep the awards and the narrative without the fawning Times review, without the Time cover, without being on Oprah. She took all the prizes.

You’re currently working on an ABC family show called “State of Georgia.” Do you prefer writing for TV over writing novels?

Character is character and voice is voice, which translates nicely from writing novels to writing TV. But the process is different. You have a writer’s room, people pitch you jokes and you collaborate. The flip side is it’s not a singular vision – it’s just your version of the character. It’s more of a mediated thing but I’m loving it. There’s something really nice about writing something on Wednesday and watching it being performed live for a studio audience on Tuesday. You never really get that with novels.

What demographic is the show aiming for?

Teens, tweens and their moms. We want a show that’s going to engage and speak to 14-year-old girls but one that their moms are going to dig. It’s written for adults – the humor is grown-up. It’s not a Disney show. It’s more like “Laverne and Shirley” meeting “Sex and the City.”

Your most recent book, “Fly Away Home,” is nicely timed to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger fiascoes. Having written about a politician who finds himself in a Spitzer-esque mess, do you have any insight into these thought processes?

I think the genetic and mental makeup that lets you believe you’re smart enough to govern people is the same piece that says “I can sleep with whomever I want.” You think, “I can lead a state, I can lead a nation, I’m bigger than convention.” What I really don’t understand is how their wives stand by them. If my husband did that to me, I’d say, you got yourself into this, I’m going to the spa.

Weiner’s next book, “Then Came You,” will be released July 12.