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Interview: Jennifer Weiner takes on new genres with kids' book, memoir

Author Jennifer Weiner switched gears this year and published her first book for kids.
Published Oct. 25, 2016

When bestselling author Jennifer Weiner appears Wednesday at the Schaarai Zedek luncheon in Tampa, she'll be talking about her new books — both of them.

Since 2001, Weiner has published 12 novels for adult readers, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes and Who Do You Love? Several of them have climbed to the top of bestseller lists, and In Her Shoes became a movie with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette.

Weiner might be even better known for her social media presence and her outspokenness on such subjects as the differential between coverage of books written by men and by women — she's credited with coining the term "Franzenfreude" as part of her feud with Jonathan Franzen — although her most recent Twitter target has been another female author, Glennon Doyle Melton, whose book is an Oprah pick. Weiner's avid tweeting (more than 27,000 since 2009) is a topic she takes up in one of her new books.

This year, Weiner switched gears from writing novels. In September she published her first book for kids, The Littlest Bigfoot, and in October her first nonfiction collection, Hungry Heart.

"If I had it to do over," Weiner says with a laugh, "I wouldn't do them so close together. But it seemed like a really good idea at the time."

Speaking by phone from her home in Philadelphia, Weiner says there were "many things I didn't understand about doing a book tour for a children's book." Adults, she says, "aren't going to act bored in front of you." With kids, "you have to be very entertaining or you're dead in the water."

Writing in different genres "wasn't part of some big 20-year plan," Weiner says. She has two young daughters, and the children's book was sparked when the younger one was 6. "She was watching Finding Bigfoot on Discovery, and she got really interested in Bigfoot. So the three of us started talking about, what if Bigfoot were real? Would he be online? Would he shop on Amazon? What about Etsy?"

The book is about two girls and a boy, "all misfits. It's about finding a friend, finding yourself."

Hungry Heart came about, she says, because her publisher had long urged her to put together a collection of the essays she had published in newspapers and magazines and the stories she often tells at readings. The result is a sort of memoir in essays, some hilarious (such as "Twitter Reconsidered," about her tweets on everything from The Bachelor to the death of Antonin Scalia), some harrowing.

Her novels have often had autobiographical elements, Weiner says, but writing nonfiction is different. "You can't gild the lily. In fiction, you can clean things up, make yourself more heroic, and funnier.

"You can't, or you shouldn't, do that in nonfiction."

The craft involved is different, she says: "You can't fall back on making things up. You have to figure out how to frame the story, control the pacing. It's challenging in a different way, but after 12 novels, I was ready for a challenge."

One essay that exemplifies the differences is "One Good Thing," about Weiner's very difficult father.

"The father in Good in Bed was exactly like my dad," she says. "I used real-life events. My editor gave it back to me and said, 'This doesn't feel real.' Just because something happened doesn't mean it will feel true on the page." When she wrote the novel at age 28, Weiner says, "I saw things in a black-and-white way. My father was a villain."

With the distance of 20 years, she says, her sense of him is "more nuanced. It has more to do with addiction and mental illness.

"He did tremendously harmful things, but he wasn't a mustache-twirling bad guy tying the heroine to the railroad tracks. He had his own demons."

Weiner says that she gives her books to her family members to read before they're published, and they have veto power. "Fortunately, they all have a great sense of humor."

Her mother told her, "Jennifer, memoir is a fiction of memory."

Whether in her daughter's fiction or nonfiction, Weiner's mother has always seen their lives as a source of art. It's an attitude, Weiner says, that has long inspired her.

"My mother always says, 'It's all material.'

"Whatever crappy thing was going on, it's all material."

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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