Hard to believe, but a decade has passed since Jennifer Weiner broke onto the literary scene with Good in Bed, employing her abundant wisdom and unflagging wit to tackle modern women’s issues head on. Nine bestselling novels later, Atria celebrates that momentous occasion with the 10th-anniversary release of that book featuring the beloved and beleaguered Cannie Shapiro.
Read more new and notable fiction for July.
Weiner’s latest novel, Then Came You, features a quartet of female protagonists exploring the many sides of surrogacy with great insight and the author’s trademark humor. We caught up with Weiner in L.A., where she’s co-writing and executive producing the new sitcom, State of Georgia.
The last time we talked was in 2008, when Certain Girls was about to come out. What have you been up to?
Since Certain Girls, Best Friends Forever  came out, which was my first No. 1 New York Times bestseller, and here we are in 2011, and I have a television show—State of Georgia—that I co-created, which is premiering on the ABC Family network on June 29, and then Then Came You coming out in July.
So you sleep?
[Laughs] No, the sleep doesn’t suffer. It’s the housework and parenting that sort of go to hell. It’s interesting because I wrote my first book when I was working full-time and didn’t have kids, and there was something about just having a couple hours—snatching time in the morning or after a workday—that really worked for me for that book.
And now I’ve just started writing something new, and again it’s working nine to five or six on the show and then coming home or getting up early, and it’s kind of the same energy. After basically 10 years of being a full-time novelist, where I had about four or five hours a day to sit with the computer, having one, two or three tops is an interesting experience. I don’t know if I recommend it to anyone else, but it seems to be working for me so far.
Tell me your impressions of L.A. You’re an East Coast girl…
Yeah, I’m an East Coaster. It’s sort of what everyone says is true—t he weather is fantastic and the traffic is awful, but the thing I love most is being in a writers’ room. I’d never done that before. When you’re a journalist, you’re doing stories by yourself. When you’re a novelist, you’re doing books by yourself. But when you’re writing a sitcom, you’re in a room where seven people are pitching their best jokes, and I love that. When I go home to write fiction and get to the point where I need something funny, it’s like OK, where’s my writers’ room? Where are my jokes? Where are you people?!
The other thing about L.A. is that it’s the best place to people watch and eavesdrop in the entire world.
Even better than New York?
Better! Because you get actress horror stories. You’ll just be sitting there, having a coffee and guaranteed somewhere else in the coffee shop there’s going to be a screenwriter who very ostentatiously has Final Draft® up on a laptop and is working on a movie. Or it’s an actor talking about a bad audition, or something that happened at a party or Chateau Marmont. It’s great to be there and just sit around and listen to and look at people. I kind of love that, I have to say. In Philadelphia, the eavesdropping is just not as great.
Your humor often comes across in your descriptions—a couple examples from the new book: “Scott-the-doctor, who had the good looks and personality of a dried booger…my mother’s place looked like a Cracker Barrel had thrown up in her living room.” How do you translate that kind of comedy into a sitcom?
[Laughs] You put it like that, and I wonder why I haven’t won any writing awards! Well, it’s all in the language. It’s all about writing dialogue that’s vivid and descriptive, and definitely you can do so much with props and wardrobe—you don’t have to spend a paragraph describing how a girl looks and what she’s wearing—you just put her in an outfit and put her on camera.
That’s very refreshing, but basically one of the only arrows left in your quiver is dialogue and the words that people say. I’ve had a lot of fun writing jokes, but just how the characters talk is vital—the words they use and how they say them. You use your words as they say.
What made you decide to take on surrogacy in Then Came You?
There was a big article in the Times a couple years ago about a woman around my age who had been struggling to maintain a pregnancy—she could get pregnant, but she couldn’t stay pregnant—and she and her husband hired a gestational surrogate. I think everybody who read the piece probably remembers the pictures. There was a shot of the woman and the baby and a sort of uniformed nanny, I don’t know if she was African-American, a dark-skinned woman in a uniform and a fancy white lady in her estate in the Hamptons.
And then there was a picture of the gestational surrogate who was literally barefoot and pregnant, sitting on the porch of her non-Hamptons house in Pennsylvania. I remember thinking: This is amazing: there’s so much going on in terms of gender, in terms of class, in terms of one woman hiring another woman to do a physical bit of business she can’t perform, and how easily that could slide into one woman hiring another woman to do something that she just doesn’t want to do.
The article talked about how the woman agonized over not being able to stay pregnant, but once she had the surrogate, she was like: This is kind of fantastic: I can go skiing, I can go to wine tastings, I can go to the Super Bowl. And I thought, Oh man, slippery slope.
Eventually we’re going to get to the point where there are women with whom it’s not that they can’t get pregnant, but that they just don’t want to. They don’t want to spend the summer in a maternity bathing suit; they don’t want to deal with stretch marks—they’re just going to hire somebody else to do it just like they would hire someone to do their floors. That fascinated me, and that’s why I wanted to write the book.
It’s been 10 years since your first novel. What for you is most memorable about Good in Bed?
I remember wanting to write about a woman having the experience of opening up a magazine and seeing a story about her body, and just that feeling of her punched-in-the-gut devastation. I think that these days you’d probably come across something like that on the internet as opposed to a magazine, but I remember just really wanting to capture physically what that kind of heartbreak felt like.
Because it’s not just the appearance of it or the humiliation of knowing that everyone you know is going to see this, but the fact that the guy writing it was someone who used to love you and who you used to love, and just knowing with complete, ineradicable certainty that the article’s publication meant the relationship was dead. I worked really, really hard on that piece to put the reader in that girl’s body at that moment, and I think it worked.
And then you have the body-shape stuff, which I think has only gotten worse in 10 years on the internet, where it’s just sort of common sport to be looking at pictures on line and critiquing people and holding women up to impossible standards—whether it’s how fit you look, or how quickly you’ve lost the baby weight, or how good you look in your wedding gown.
You know—all of that and the air brushing and photoshopping that goes on. I’m always telling my daughters, who, at ages three and eight could really care less, that she really doesn’t look like that. And I’ll show them un-retouched images and point out how they changed her, and my daughters are like Mom! But I want them to be critical consumers of the culture and to understand that not even the most beautiful 19-year-old model on the most beautiful day of her life wakes up looking like the girl in the Victoria’s Secret ad. It takes a village to get that image of a woman looking like that.
What do you hope readers will take from Then Came You?
I always want my readers to be entertained—that’s the first thing. I want this to be an involving, breathing, vivid book that takes them out of their lives while they’re reading. But if there’s something I want them to think about, it’s the issue of how women treat each other and how we judge one another. Everybody in this book is guilty of judging one another: Bettina instantly makes assumptions about her new stepmother; India instantly makes assumptions about Annie. I think the takeaway would be that people are more than they seem. There it is.