Jennifer Weiner On Her New Book "Who Do You Love" and Why Women's Fiction Matters
By Liz Egan
You've been watching "The Bachelor" together for years — her tweets about the show are better than the actual show — but hopefully you're already aware that Jennifer Weiner is a novelist first and a 140-character raconteur second. This month Weiner publishes her twelfth book, "Who Do You Love." Glamour's verdict? She just keeps getting better.
Glamour: Since you're basically the President of Twitter, can you describe "Who Do You Love" for us in 140 characters or less?
Jennifer Weiner: Boy meets girl. Girl loses boy. Rinse. Repeat. Will they ever get it right? (And I think of myself more as the mayor of Twitter. Rob Delaney's the president!)
Glamour: What was the germ of the idea that inspired Rachel and Andy's story?
JW: Some of it had to do with finishing a book about addiction and wanting to do something fun and lighter — a book about love! (Of course, once I started diving into Andy and Rachel's lives things got dark again fast).
Some of it was my own story, too. When my marriage ended I reconnected with an old beau who was still single — someone I'd dated in my twenties, and might have married if things had worked out differently and if we’d been on the same page then in terms of what we wanted. It got me thinking about time, and the nature of love, and how it changes as people change.
Glamour: How is "Who Do You Love" different from your other books? How is it similar?
JW: I hope it has the same sense of humor, and the same sense of the world, as my previous books. Rachel Blum will feel familiar to readers — she is flawed, realistic, imperfect, and always trying to do better. Many of my other books always included an element of romance, but often the central relationship would be somewhere else — between two sisters, or two best friends, or a mother and a daughter. "With Who Do You Love," I wanted to center the love story, to talk about how people fall in love, and why, and how love changes as people grow up. I wanted to write about first love, and young love, and the love you have once life’s kicked you around a little bit.
Glamour: What’s the one question you hope interviewers will ask, but never hear? We’d love to hear both the question and its answer.
JW: I am having a hard time thinking of anything that I’ve never been asked — I'm such an open book (pun intended!) on social media, and at this point I’ve been asked about a lot of stuff, including "Is Jennifer Weiner your real name?" (After I stopped laughing, I explained that, sadly, this is my real name….and that if I was going to pick a pen name I could have done a lot better than this!)
There's not much I wish I’d been asked. I do wish, however, that reporters would be a little more rigorous about fact-checking people who take shots at me. When Jonathan Franzen starts waving his cane and insisting that there's "no room for popular fiction” at the New York Times, it takes five seconds on Google to show how wrong he is. There's Stephen King, reviewed and reviewing and Marilyn Stasio's column on mysteries. John Grisham and Dan Brown get reviewed, and Harlan Coben and Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman, and on and on and on. It isn’t popular fiction that’s the problem, it’s "popular fiction that isn’t read by men."
I wish, too, that people would understand that when I say "the New Yorker should publish more fiction by women" that does not mean "the New Yorker should publish my fiction." That's a deliberate obfuscation, and it’s intended to reduce what I'm saying to delusional self-interest — "Oh, she only cares about getting attention for herself!" I understand the difference between the stuff I write and what the New Yorker publishes — I promise! I really do! I'm not playing in the same league as Zadie Smith or the Jonathans ... but that doesn't mean there’s not a lot of thought and care that goes into my work, or that it isn't worth any attention at all.
Glamour: Without giving too much away, can you tell us whether/what kind of research you did into the world of Olympic runners?
JW: I've always been interested in second acts — the life you get after you're done living the life you wanted (or that life is done with you). Professional athletes have always fascinated me. Here are people who've had to be tremendously focused and disciplined and driven to get to the point that they can do what they love for a living…but there's a tension, because, as hard as they work and train, essentially, they're being paid — and sometimes paid outlandishly — for playing a game.
Then, when they're 30, or maybe 35, that world is done with them…and a lot of ex-athletes don't do a great job of managing the transition, because the world hasn’t prepared them to do anything but the one thing that they did. In many cases, they've been shamefully underprepared and undereducated — they are recruited to colleges essentially as paid entertainers, who are there to bring in the alumni dollars, and maybe, if they're lucky, get some kind of education on the side. So there they are, 30 years old, not much of an education, maybe so used to being famous that they can't handle whatever comes next — real estate or personal training or running a restaurant or whatever.
I read just about everything I could get my hands on about Lance Armstrong. His rise and fall is especially fascinating, and, I think, especially American (starting with the comic-book-superhero-name). I read a lot of runners' biographies and memoirs — books by and about Alberto Salazah, Meb, and, of course, "Once a Runner," which is Andy's favorite book. My assistant interviewed college runners and coaches, and spent a ton of time in Runners magazine’s databases, so I could get the details of Andy’s training schedule and diet right. I also spent a lot of time talking to my boyfriend and fellow author Bill Syken, who wrote and edited for Sports Illustrated for many years, and is both a sports fan, in a way that I'm not, and someone who's thoughtful and critical about the way the world chews up athletes and spits them out (his first novel, Hangman's Game, is set in the NFL, and deals with some of the same questions as "Who Do You Love").
Glamour: When you're finished with a book, do you miss the characters in it? Are you already thinking about your next story?
JW: I do miss the characters — how can you not miss people you’ve spent a year of your life with? But I hope I’ve left Rachel and Andy in a good place. Of course the best cure for missing a work-in-progress is to dive headlong into the next thing, and that's what I've done. My next book is going to be the first thing I've written for children, a Roald Dahl-influenced stories about outsiders figuring out their place in the world. I'm having a great time with it so far!
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