Interview: September 17, 2004
September 17, 2004
Bookreporter.com Co-Founder Carol Fitzgerald interviews Jennifer Weiner, author of LITTLE EARTHQUAKES. Weiner explores the meaning of the book's title and how the friendships she formed in her prenatal yoga classes served as inspiration for her characters. She also talks about motherhood's impact on her writing, the joys of fine dining, how she keeps in touch with her fans and upcoming projects.
Bookreporter.com: Becky, Kelly and Ayinde are such different characters. Their worlds collide at yoga class and the story unfolds. Often moms find themselves bonding with women who they may never have met, chatted with or befriended in their pre-baby days once they have children. Were these sorts of meetings in your own life the catalyst for creating these characters?
Jennifer Weiner: Yes. As I say in the acknowledgments, LITTLE EARTHQUAKES is a work of fiction, but I was lucky enough to make amazing friends in my prenatal yoga class. While we're not quite as different as the characters in the book, I don't think we would have necessarily become friends outside of the circumstances. But, as it turned out, almost all of us were married to men who were Philadelphia natives, and all of us had moved here from somewhere else --- which meant, of course, that none of us had a mother or sister in town, but all of us had a mother-in-law nearby. Our due dates were spread out over a month but, due to a combination of babies coming late and babies arriving early, we all gave birth within something like ten days of each other, and during those first crazy days and weeks, I swear that our emails and phone conversations and lunches were the only things keeping me sane. We'd write about the troubles we were having breast-feeding or getting the babies to sleep, fights with husbands or mothers-in-law, and we really became each other's support system.
BRC: LITTLE EARTHQUAKES is such a great title. In the book these words refer to a feeling Lia has the day she leaves her son alone. To me, they describe what happens when children arrive in your world as your world gets shaken up in tiny ways every day. Did you have the title before you started the book? What is your explanation of its meaning?
JW: I think the title came to me as I started writing the book, and it means pretty much what you said: I wanted to talk about both the actual earthquake the day Lia leaves her son, and the more figurative ways that new babies shake the foundations and test the strength of relationships, friendships and marriages. I'm also a Tori Amos fan, and LITTLE EARTHQUAKES is the title of one of her albums, so there's a nod to her there, too.
BRC: Becky is a chef and the book is filled with great menu ideas, many of which sent me to my cookbook shelf or opening the fridge. Are you a culinary queen --- ie, do you cook for pleasure --- or are you better at dialing for takeout? If the latter, how did you come up with the dishes at Mas? How did you learn about nouveau-Latino cuisine?
JW: Thanks for the compliment! I'm a good cook, but my true talent is the appreciation of the good cooking of others. I love fine dining and fancy restaurants, and I'm lucky enough to live in a city with some of the best restaurants in the world (and even luckier to count the newspaper's food critic as one of my friends)! And I also read cookbooks and recipes not necessarily because I want to make the dishes, but for relaxation and inspiration.
The dishes at Mas were inspired by the food at a few different Philadelphia restaurants --- Pasion and Azafran. It was wonderful fun to be able to say to my husband, "We need to go out to dinner again! It's research!"
I also read a number of biographies and novels by chefs about life in the kitchen, and drew on some of my own experiences as a waitress years ago for the scenes at Mas.
BRC: Lia lurks as a tragic character in the opening chapters. She haunts Becky as she sees her and wonders about her. Lia then becomes a part of her world and we see her in a whole new way. Can you share with us your thoughts as you were writing Lia?
JW: All of my novels have an aspect of "What's the worst thing that could happen?" In GOOD IN BED, the worst thing is having an ex-boyfriend write about your body, and your sex life, in a national magazine. In IN HER SHOES, it's having a sister betray your trust. In LITTLE EARTHQUAKES, the worst thing I could think of actually happened to a friend of mine, whose baby died of SIDS.
I wanted to write about how a woman --- and how a marriage --- can survive such a tragedy, and set that discussion in the larger context of current thoughts on motherhood. We see so many movie stars on the covers of magazines toting their newborns like the latest chic handbag, all of the baby fat vanished, looking completely blissful…and new motherhood isn't always blissful (and the baby fat doesn't always just vanish). So, with Lia, I was thinking about the darker side of motherhood, both in terms of what it's like to lose a child and what it's like to be ambivalent about the whole notion of children in the first place.
BRC: Was there one character in LITTLE EARTHQUAKES that you had the most fun writing?
JW: Mimi. Hands down Mimi. Not even a contest! Villains are always the most fun, and I had a ball with Mimi, the mother-in-law from hell.
BRC: We have to ask. Are these characters based on women who you have met?
JW: Sort of. A little bit. To a certain extent. But nobody's an exact duplicate of a real person…it's more like I'll take someone's quirk, or a funny thing she said, and use it in the book. All four of the women got bits and pieces of my own experience, and bits and pieces of my friends'.
That being said, my friend Alexa, who spends large portions of her life at the return counter, and is the most consistently bubbly person I know, was a major influence on Kelly.
BRC: You have a quote from THE VELVETEEN RABBIT at the front of the book. What made you select that particular quote to open the book?
JW: THE VELVETEEN RABBIT was one of the books I loved best as a young reader, and that quote --- about how pain is just a part of being real --- always stuck with me. It seemed particularly appropriate to the subject matter of parenthood, which I've heard described as living with your heart on the outside of your body for the rest of your life. Parenthood is wonderful, but it's also about accepting pain, accepting loss, accepting that things don't always go the way you've planned, and then moving forward anyhow.
BRC: What books do you cherish most as you read them to your daughter? JW: Well, right now we're in the picture book stage. I am a devotee of Sandra Boynton. We love FUZZY FUZZY FUZZY and HIPPOS GO BERSERK. And GOODNIGHT MOON, of course! BRC: How has your writing schedule changed since the arrival of Lucy?
JW: Schedule. Heh.
What's happened is that having a child has necessarily shortened the time I can spend surfing around on the Internet and reading summaries of shows I've already seen on Televisionwithoutpity.com. I have a nanny for four hours a day, four days a week, and that's when I write. And writing is all I do during those four hours (although the coffee shop where I work just became a wireless hot spot --- oh, the temptation!)
BRC: We have to ask. Did Lucy get a t-shirt with the word "Hottie" on it?
JW: No, but I know a baby girl who has one! It's "HOTTIE," spelled out in pink sequins! Yikes!
BRC: What can you share with us about the "Good in Bed" series being developed for HBO and the movie, In Her Shoes starring Cameron Diaz? Also, is there a film deal for LITTLE EARTHQUAKES yet?
JW: In order…GOOD IN BED is still in development at HBO. Please keep all appropriate digits crossed! In Her Shoes, the movie, starring Cameron Diaz (or, as my Nana calls her, Carmen), Toni Collette and Shirley MacLaine, is in the can, awaiting only a release date --- December '04 or January '05 looks likely. LITTLE EARTHQUAKES has been optioned by Universal Pictures, and the producers who did Pulp Fiction and Out of Sight. Last I heard, they were looking for a writer to adapt the book.
BRC: So many reviews, jacket blurbs and catalog copy for books now say, "this is written in the style of Jennifer Weiner," or "reminiscent of GOOD IN BED" or "read like IN HER SHOES." How does it feel to have you and your work referred to like this? Pressure or not when you write?
JW: In a word, bizarre. I just can't get over the fact that somebody out there thinks I'm enough of an establishment to say "in the tradition of Jennifer Weiner." Also, given my goofy last name, it's insane to think anyone would want to! Of course it's extremely flattering, but mostly just very, very strange. And no, I don't think I'm feeling any pressure because of it. I feel pressure and anxiety over a great many things (number one on the list right now --- my sixteen-month-old daughter is still not quite walking), but not about writing in my own voice!
BRC: The blog on your website, JenniferWeiner.com, always is such fun to read. I have dubbed it "Jennifer Weiner Doing Standup About Her Life." What made you start the blog? What do you enjoy most about writing it?
JW: I'm so glad to hear you like it…I worry sometimes that the only people reading it are my Mom and my Nana (who actually calls to complain when I get lazy about updating. "You haven't written anything on the computer!" she'll say.)
The weblog grew out of a series of tour diaries I kept when I was a working journalist and GOOD IN BED was first published. I enjoyed writing them, people seemed to like reading them, and I thought they'd be useful for aspiring writers to get a sense of what it's really like out there.
Now that I'm an ex-reporter, with no other immediate outlet for my opinions about things, and because I have lots of opinions about things, I have a blog, which is a wonderful way to share what I'm thinking about immediately (as opposed to waiting a year until my next book comes out), and stay connected to my readers in between books.
What I love most about it is the feedback I get from people who say, "Hey, that happened to me," or "thanks for recommending that book," or "here's how to not lose every single pair of baby socks you own."
BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?
JW: Right now I'm writing a social satire/murder mystery set in the suburbs of Connecticut, starring a mother of triplets who solves crimes while her kids are in nursery school. I wanted to call it "Momicide," but everyone I've said "Momicide" to has the same response: "Ugh." So I'm guessing it will have a new title by the time it's published, which, God willing, will be some time next fall.