Jennifer Weiner: 'Best Thing' Would Be Equality
Jennifer Weiner writes what is often referred to as women's fiction. But that term is imperfect for many reasons — so we'll just refer to her as the author of multiple best-sellers.
Weiner's written a bookshelf's worth of hits, like Good in Bed, and In Her Shoes, which became a hit movie starring Cameron Diaz. She also created and ran the ABC Family television series State of Georgia. And in her copious free time? She live tweets The Bachelorette.
Her latest novel, The Next Best Thing, draws on that TV experience: It's about a young woman who moves to Los Angeles and creates her own vaguely autobiographical sitcom. Weiner tells NPR's David Greene that Ruth, her heroine, was deeply influenced by The Golden Girls — which comes through in her sitcom idea.
"It's about a girl and her grandmother who move to Miami. The girl wants to become a chef, and the grandmother, who has sort of had many, many husbands, wants to sort of see if she can stand on her own two feet," Weiner says. "It's a coming of age story where the women are of very different ages."
Without spoiling the book too much, we can say that Ruth gets the coveted green light for her show, but things go downhill from there. "She wants to write a show about an imperfect woman who gets great things ... who isn't the babe, but who gets the guy, who gets the job, who wears the great clothes, who makes the great jokes," Weiner says. But Ruth's vision ends up getting a little watered down in the execution.
Weiner writes bitingly about the experience of women in Hollywood writers' rooms, though she says her own experiences were often positive. "I was working for female executives, I had a wonderfully great co-show runner who had absolutely no objections when I said, like, look, we're telling a story about women, I want this room at least half female," she says. "I think that with humor, especially, you hire the people you're comfortable with ... if you're a guy, probably you're hiring guys, and it's not deliberate necessarily, but the way things work is that there are just very few women writing shows or in writers' rooms."
Weiner is on the front line of gender conflict in literature as well — she's been very outspoken about what she calls a double standard in criticism: When men write about relationships and family, it's literature, but when a woman does the same thing it's dismissed as "chick lit." "If a man writes about a family, it's like, oh, he's really writing about America," Weiner says. "If a woman writes about a family, it's just assumed that she's writing about herself."
"I'd love it, sure, if The [New York] Times sort of treated my books with respect," she says. "I think The Times should make space for commercial women's fiction the same way they make space for commercial men's fiction." Weiner points out that while The Times runs roundups of crime novels, it completely overlooks romance. And, she says, even women considered to be literary fiction authors have a hard time getting recognized.
"I think I went through a year's worth of The New York Times and found that of the people who hit the trifecta, which is two reviews and a profile, which is sort of the most love they can give you, it was 10 guys and one woman," she says. "And the women are still showing up in the style section, and they're still showing up in profiles that talk about their hair. ... I don't know if it's on purpose, I would hate to think that it is, but I just, I so truly and deeply believe that it's something that needs to change."
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