The Next Best Thing author Jennifer Weiner to headline Women’s Day 2012

28 Oct

Jennifer WeinerThe Federation is thrilled that New York Times Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner will be the featured speaker for its annual Women’s Day program.  An interview with Jennifer ran on the front page of The Jewish News of Sarasota-Manatee’s November 2012 issue to promote her appearance.  Click HERE to read the interview.  Our guest writer, Sandy Chase of WordMasters, did such an incredible job with the interview, but because of space limitations, we were unable to run the piece in its entirety in the paper.  Therefore, you will find the remaining Q&A below for your reading pleasure.

SC: As a vocal critic of what you see as the male bias in the publishing industry, what ideas do you have about achieving equality?

JW: In two words, regime change.

Stephen King was once asked how he made the transition from pulpy, schlocky horror-meister to a guy who’s published in The New Yorker and reviewed in The New York Times. He explained that a lot of the critics who reflexively dismissed his work as crap had either retired or died….and that they’d been replaced with a generation of writers and critics who’d grown up reading, and respecting, his work.

Now, I am not wishing death on anyone, but I do think that there’s going to be a generational shift, and that the Sam Tanenhauses of the world, who think that reviewing the occasional book by Meg Wolitzer or Catherine Schine – essentially female versions of men like them, who live in the right neighborhoods and write the right kind of books – is enough to say that women’s work is getting a fair shake – are going to go quietly into that good night.

My hope is that when they do, they’ll be replaced by editors and writers who are much less disdainful of women’s work, and who believe that commercial fiction by women deserves the same attention as commercial fiction by men. It may not happen in my lifetime, and the double standards run deep – look at what’s being read in high school, and I guarantee it’s still mostly male authors — but I hope it will happen someday.

SC: Have you ever considered writing a nonfiction book tracing the advancement of women’s equality?

JW: I’m actually working on a non-fiction book that covers some of that, along with funny stories from my own life. I’m not an academic, and I wouldn’t feel qualified to do that kind of social history, but I do feel qualified to write about what I know, and what I’ve seen, in the eleven years I’ve been a published author.

SC: How do you think a ‘trifecta, consisting of two New York Times book reviews and a profile,’ would enhance your reputation as a credible author, given that you already have sold over 11 million copies circulating in 36 countries?

JW: I actually don’t want the “trifecta” for myself…although it seems like many of my critics think I’m hard on The New York Times because they’ve ignored me. (Which makes no sense – if I wanted them to like me, wouldn’t I be showering them with praise, instead of criticism?).

Truth is, when the Times sent a reporter from the magazine to write a profile of me, back in 2005, I sent her away, after realizing that what she had in mind was more of a hit piece than anything that would bring new readers to my work. (When a reporter asks about your shoe collection, your mother coming out, whether you feel like a bad mom for abandoning your kids for a ten-day book tour, and if you write your blog “because you want people to like you,” and not a single word about your books and where they come from, it’s not hard to figure out which way her story will be slanted).

I want The New York Times to play fair, to give the triple-play to as many women as men, not just one lucky lady and ten dudes. I want the sections to start talking to each other, to drop the silly excuse of “The Sunday Book Review doesn’t know what the daily paper is doing or who they are reviewing, because we don’t talk.”

Start talking. Let’s end the ridiculousness of thousands of words lavished on this year’s Jon-Jon Goulian or whatever Brooklyn guy-of-the-moment writes a book that will sell less than a thousand copies in its first month out, and start acknowledging what people are really reading. Let’s stop ignoring that women are readers – they read literary fiction, and quote-unquote women’s fiction, and—gasp—romance.

This summer, in its seasonal round-up, The Washington Post did a piece on “if you’re interested in romance, here is where to start,” and had me write a piece on books that included pieces on disastrous vacations. That, right there, is change in action – an editor, Ron Charles, realizing that a paper becomes irrelevant if it ignores a huge chunk of its readers and the books they’re reading.

As for me, all I want – all I’ve ever wanted – is to be treated the same way men who write commercial fiction/airplane books/page turners/beach books/insert-your-own-pejorative are treated. The Lee Childs and Michael Connellys and Jonathan Kellermans of the world – the men who write books that other men read to relax – are included in roundups, and occasionally reviewed. That is all I want for myself. (I still think if The New York Times ever did profile me, it would be disastrous…and, given that I grew up reading the paper, I’d probably never get over it).

SC: When do your characters start talking to you? How do you keep the conversation going?

JW: I walk a lot (living in a city, that’s how you get places), and I run a lot (very, very slowly), and I find that movement helps – I can get into a rhythm, and just let my mind go. After that, it’s a question of being quiet and listening, of letting the story take me where it wants to go. I generally work from an outline, but there’s always a point in the story where the characters veer, or change their minds…and I always try to let myself be open to that moment, where something changes, or someone does or says something unexpected.

SC: At the same time you’re writing, are you also visualizing a screen play?

JW: Never. I am a terrible visual thinker, and I usually know how my characters sound well before I know how they look (in fact, I’ll usually turn in an early draft where every single woman is blond, and my agent will gently point out that, once again, every single woman is blond, and probably I should change that).

The truth is, if I was writing for the movies, I’d never include a plus-size woman in a book…because, outside of Melissa McCarthy, who do you cast? My hope is that my books become books, that they live long, happy lives in people’s imaginations. If they turn into movies, that’s icing on the cake…but it’s really not what I think about when I’m working.

SC: You distinguish author as one who’s published from writer as one who’s passionate about that art. In today’s world of self-publishing, can you be one without the other?

JW: Good question. I think that anyone who’s completed a novel-length piece of work and put it out for the world to see, and read, and judge, gets to call himself or herself an author.

As I say on my website, self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma it once did…and, in fact, it’s a rare day you don’t read on Publishers Weekly that some big house has spent big money to acquire a self-published success. I’m a little dismayed – as a lot of writers are – about the success of Fifty Shades of Grey (FSOG), given that it starts its life as fan fiction and that its characters started their lives in another writer’s imagination, a writer who’s reaped none of the financial benefits of the books’ success – but I think self-publishing has become a perfectly viable way to break into the business.

However, that doesn’t mean you get to publish stuff that hasn’t been worked over, read through, re-written and re-written again (another one of my FSOG problems – nobody took the time to point out that it’s crazy to have a 21-year-old American protagonist who doesn’t have an email address and is constantly, constantly biting her lip and offering people cups of tea).

You know the old saying about how your right to swing your fist ends where my nose starts? I believe that your right to put just anything out on the Internet ends when you ask people to pay for it. When you put stuff up for sale, you owe it to your readers to give them your absolute best effort – and that means proofreading (no gaffes like “put the pedal to the medal,”) and rewriting, and a lot of hard work. I’m sure a lot of hard work went into the FSOG trilogy, but it so desperately needed an editor – my fingers were itching the entire time I read it, and not because I wanted to beat someone, but because I wanted a red pen!

And – final note on those books – it drove me crazy that Knopf bought them and published them essentially as-is, while saying, “We’ll be issuing a cleaned-up, proofread version at some point in the future.” To me, that translated as, “this is all you silly, porn-addled ladies deserve, and we don’t intend on losing a single cent of your money by waiting even the few days it would take to correct the obvious gaffes in geography and phraseology.”

SC: Most of your novels focus on mother-daughter relationships, except for Diana and Milo in Fly Away Home. Are we going to see more of those?

JW: Hmm. I think I’ve written about mothers and daughters in all of my books, but I’m not sure it’s been the main relationship – there are husbands, friends, sisters, other relationships, too…but, as the mother of two girls, of course the mother/daughter thing will always interest me. So yes, expect more of that (I also love it when mothers and daughters tell me they read my books together!)

SC: Have you thought about any more murder mysteries since the publication of Goodnight Nobody?

JW: That book almost killed me. Turns out, I’m good with characters, good with dialogue, terrible with plotting mysteries (I learned that all over again with a few of my television pilot attempts). So again, maybe when the girls are grown up and I’ve got nothing but time, I’ll try my hand at another book with elements of mystery…but for now, no plans.

SC: Have you been collaborating with Jeff Greenstein on another ABC Family sitcom, since The State of Georgia?

JW: No. My development deal with ABC studios is up, and I’m happy to just be back home in Philadelphia with my family, writing books, and reading them, snuggled up with my dog.

SC: Your website is chock full of information for writers. Have you considered conducting webinars for aspiring writers/authors? If not a webinar, perhaps a retreat, for example, on Cape Cod? What would such a retreat look like?

JW: Webinars, no (I’m not entirely sure what they are!) But yes, I would love to host a retreat. It feels like there are so many opportunities for literary writers, and absolutely none for commercial writers – no place for us to go and be encouraged, to spend time with our peers, to be told that our work has worth. So we’re in the very early planning stages of figuring out what that would look like, and what people need. Is it just quiet time to write? Is it information from editors and publishers, about how to craft a query, or build a social-media presence? Once we figure out what people need, we’ll start work on how to give it to them.

I’m glad that people have found the website useful. I remember wishing there’d been something like that when I was just starting out – practical this-is-how-you-do-it stuff mixed in with a writer’s personal journey – so I was happy to be able to provide it, to take some of the mystery away. There are still writers who believe that if you don’t live in New York, if you don’t know the right people, or have an MFA, you don’t have any chance of ever being published…and while an MFA or living in the right part of Brooklyn might help, it’s not a necessity. I have no MFA, I live in Philadelphia, I had no connections to the publishing world when I got started. I’m living proof that it can happen.

If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, click HERE to purchase them today…Women’s Day is ALWAYS a sell-out.

Sandy Chase is president of WordMasters, a writing-editing company, which creates powerful business images, compelling communications, and successful fiction and nonfiction.  Contact her at www.thewordmaster.net.

 

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