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Monday, July 16, 2012

Jennifer Weiner Goes Hollywood

Jennifer Weiner at Barnes & Noble
I've been to three book signings for Jennifer Weiner over the past few years, including this one for Best Friends Forever, and I enjoyed her keynote speech very much at this year's Book Blogger Conference during the BEA. This week, I attended a book signing for her novel The Next Best Thing, where she wore very hip hair extensions and gorgeous metallic espadrilles with a cute bow.

After writing nine best-selling novels, Jennifer was given a development deal with ABC to produce a TV series for their ABC Family channel. She was excited to work with Jeff Greenstein who wrote for Desperate Housewives, and they wrote a pilot called The Great State of Georgia, about a bigger girl who moves to New York with her science-geek best friend to live with her sassy aunt and conquer the world.

That was the plan. First, the network had a deal with actress Raven-Symone, and wanted her to star in the pilot, now called The State of Georgia. That meant that now, as Weiner put it, "I guess she's not Jewish anymore", to which the audience chuckled. That was just the first of many compromises Weiner  had to make in order to get her series made.

But Weiner was excited about Symone, whom she described as a good actress and a curvy girl. She tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with her new star to talk over the show, but was rebuffed with "she's on vacation". Weiner wondered from what Symone was vacationing, but when she was finally allowed to see her star just a few days before shooting started, it wasn't good.

She waited at a restaurant, and in swept Symone "swaddled in a pashmina sleeping bag". Weiner, being a producing novice said she didn't know that she could ask Symone to take off her wrap to see what she looked like.

The next day at 'chemistry reads', where the actors are put together to see how they fit, Weiner said that Symone was "a teeny thing". She had lost a significant amount of weight, and Weiner said that "no one said anything. It was like the Emperor's New Clothes."

When Weiner brought this to the attention of the network, that their star who needed to be a big girl in order for the whole premise of the show to work, they replied that she was "Philadelphia-thin, not Hollywood-thin" and that everything would be alright.

Weiner also told a funny story about casting a goat for one episode. The casting people brought her head shots for the goats and told her that they even have "reels and resumes", which Weiner found preposterous. She said she told them she was "looking for goatishness" and finally after spending too much time on this nonsense, she just said "F-it, let's go Hollywood and cast the thinnest goat".

The show ran for eleven episodes and Weiner found out that the show was cancelled by seeing it on the website Deadline. After all this, she decided that she had to "write about it- it's too funny", and so her experiences went into her tenth novel, The Next Best Thing.

All of the above incidents are in the book, along with lots of other great stuff. The talk covered a few more topics, including Weiner's recent public comments about discrimination against female fiction writers by such austere book review publications as The New York Times Book Review. 

Weiner is angry that the The New York Times Book Review regularly runs a Crime Fiction Wrap-up, but never a Romance Round-up, even though romance novels are the largest selling genre of books by far. She says "they are ignoring my readers, and saying that you don't matter to us." I'm glad that Weiner and Jodi Picoult have started this discussion and I think the attention they have brought has created some changes.

Other topics covered included the movie adaptation of her book "In Her Shoes", in which she told a hilarious story about being an extra in a scene with her agent,  and her mother coming out to her grandmother during a family Thanksgiving celebration.

She described her grandmother's Florida retirement home, Century Village, as a "place where ambulances just drive around waiting for someone to call them", and where there are "20,000 Jews waiting for death or their grandkids to visit, whichever comes first." Another funny line- "J-Date- you know, for the unchosen chosen people."

After mentioning that she finds it difficult to know whether someone is a lesbian or from New England, "they both have short hair and wear lots of LL Bean", it was time to end the evening.

Weiner has been very supportive of new writers, and at the table display of her books near the event were not only her books, but books she has been talking up, such as Sarah Pekkanen's The Opposite of Me, and Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Strauss, and I think that is a great thing to do, to help promote other writers.

She also is a big tweeter and she said on Twitter that anyone who wore a vest to the signing as part of her brilliant marketing promotion (poking fun at Jonathan Franzen's Times Square billboard for his last book) would get a prize and I got a very cool tote bag that I have been using all week.

My cool Jennifer Weiner tote
My review of The Next Best Thing from the Citizen newspaper website, auburnpub.com.

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