On May 7, best-selling author Jennifer Weiner led a program on Zoom as part of the MJCCA Virtual Book Festival in Your Living Room LIVE series. The event was arranged by Pam Morton, director of author and events for the Book Festival of the MJCCA. During the program, Weiner quipped with CNN’s Holly Firfer, then took questions from a few of the 350 participants.
In her own convivial style, the author related the character in her new book “Big Summer,” who is figuring out her life as an “influencer,” to herself sorting through “Jen, the person versus Jen, the ‘thing.’” She said, “Is anyone real? I may feel unfamous, but still be a social media celebrity ‘avatar.’”
Weiner recalled that she fell into writing because she “certainly was not going to be a ballerina.”
She said, “Books were my life raft. I was a lonely, weird kid and voracious reader looking at Dad’s medical books of nude bodies. Skipping from the second to fourth grade was also a mistake.”
Since some of Weiner’s characters are women dealing with body image and weight issues, singer Adele surfaced in discussion as someone who that very day went online with her new svelt body. “Weight changes everything. Instead of being noticed for her comment about a poignant COVID-19 death, social media made it about Adele’s weight loss. We have to be careful to not allow our daughters to give in to self-loathing with a mom pulling and pinching her clothing in the mirror [to appear thinner].”
Firfer posed the ever-present author question about the process of creating a novel. Weiner mused, “I suppose some books ‘poof’ right into the head and are downloaded fully formed, but most are out there waiting to be discovered. “Mrs. Everything” took three years to complete. I let the characters grow in my brain first, then outline a road map to what the last page will look like.” She referred to her background as a newspaper reporter in Lexington, Ky. – where she dated “all two Jewish men” – and the discipline of that training.
Whether Zooming from her laundry room or closet, Weiner is genuine and one you’d want as a “bestie.” She concluded, “During the pandemic, be kind to yourself. I now have no cleaning lady. I mop the floor and kids walk right over it. They leave towels all over. I am not living the glamorous life of a best-selling author. It’s hard to work now when things are stressful and uncertain.” Her next projects are her young teen trilogy “The Littlest Bigfoot” and maybe a book about two women and their mistaken identity with the same name, which is now happening to Weiner.
Hints were dropped about a potential movie deal in the offing and finding funny “plus size” girls to play the lead. Amy Schumer’s name was tossed out. Firfer suggested Mindy Kaling. “She has the sense of humor but is not Jewish!”
I spoke with Jennifer two days prior to the MJCCA session. She noted that Atlanta was one of her favorite places “because of the fantastic Jewish community. I think I’ve been there for every book.” She spoke of the cancelation of her 12-city book tour now being conducted virtually. “Amid barking dogs and alarms going off, we may be finding that it’s more economical to do it this way” – using her kids’ web cam while hiding in her closet.
Prior to the pandemic, she was planning a women’s writers retreat on Cape Cod to share ideas about the business of publishing and other nuggets learned along the way. “I had my 50th birthday in March in quarantine, which has got me thinking: Next year I would like to give back, teach and share my good fortune.”
Weiner’s current book recommendations:
“Docile,” by K.M. Szpara – a dystopian future of the wealthy class.
“The Farm” by Joanne Ramos – High-end surrogacy as a business.
“If I Had Your Face” by Francis Cha – South Korean culture and its obsession with plastic surgery.
“If It Bleeds” by Stephen King – a collection of four novellas that leads to frightening places.
If she could take one book to a deserted island:
Susan Isaacs’ “Almost Paradise.”
Weiner herself is a reader’s paradise. One of this journalist’s all-time faves was the unabridged CD of Weiner dishing her own life story in “Hungry Heart.”