Jennifer Weiner (no, not weener), is a best-selling novelist whose works have been published 9 million times over and translated in 36 countries. In 2005, Hollywood turned the second book she ever wrote, In Her Shoes, into a major motion picture and cast Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette and Shirley Maclaine to portray Weiner's characters.
But at home, Weiner isn't really a big deal.
In fact, at her Philadelphia synagogue, it is her 4-year old daughter, Lucy, who garners more attention.
"I'm more known as the mother of the girl with fabulous [curly] hair," she laughs.
Those familiar with Weiner's plotlines can understand her humility. Her characters have all been, not unlike herself, Jewish women with body image issues and flawed love lives. She describes them as outsiders looking in.
Novelist Jennifer Weiner.
"It comes from writing what you know," says Weiner. "I know what it's like to be a Jewish girl growing up in America. My characters are…trying to find their place in the world and being Jewish encompasses that…a history of persecution and making sense of the world you are never going to fit into perfectly."
Her first novel, Good In Bed, introduced chick lit fans to Cannie Shapiro, a staff writer at a Philadelphia newspaper who is publicly humiliated when her ex-boyfriend, Bruce Guberman, begins to chronicle their sex life in a national magazine.
"Loving a larger woman," Bruce had written, "is an act of courage in our world..I never thought of myself as a chubby chaser…But when I met C., I fell for her wit, her laugh, her sparkling eyes. Her body, I decided, was something I could learn to live with."
Cannie, was instantly a character with whom young women could symapthize. Inspired by her own devastating break-up in 1998, Weiner had no trouble telling the story of a full-figured, desperately single, Jewish 20-something with divorced parents.
Raised in Simsbury, Connecticut in the 1970s and 80s, Weiner's family was one of the only houses in town without Christmas lights. Together with four siblings, she attended Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation where she became bat mitzvah. At 15, she traveled to Israel. A year later, her parents split.
Weiner went on to graduate summa cum laude with a degree in English from Princeton University. The talented writer then headed to State College, Pennsylvania for her first job as the education reporter at Centre Daily Times. In her spare time, she continued to write stories, columns and op-ed pieces, some of which were distributed by the Knight-Ridder news service and published in Seventeen and Redbook.
Good In Bed was an immediate New York Times-best seller when it was finally published in 2001. A few months later, Weiner landed her own happy ending in a real life wedding to a Jewish lawyer. Today, they are the parents of two girls, a 4-year old and 4-month old, both of whom had Jewish baby naming ceremonies.
Since Good In Bed was released seven years ago, Weiner has penned several more best-sellers including Little Earthquakes, Goodnight Nobody and a collection of short stories called The Guy Not Taken. But, Weiner says she always knew she'd come back for Cannie.
Just last week, Cannie Shapiro returned to bookstore shelves in the sequel Certain Girls.
Picking up 13 years later, Cannie is now married (not to Bruce Guberman) with a teenage daughter (courtesy of Bruce Guberman). The fact that the book's first scene is set at a lavish b'nai mitzvah, proves Weiner's Jewishness is still very present in her writing.
"It probably helps that my agent is Jewish," says Weiner. "I've never had to explain a 'shiva call' or 'fasting' in my books. The references are either understood or considered 'exotic' by non-Jewish readers."
When it comes to naming characters, Weiner is inspired by her mother's friends and the Jewish names inscribed in various places of prominence. Sydell, Maggie and Rose's mother-in-law in In Her Shoes, was named after a donor at the Jewish Community Center of Metro Detroit.
"I was taking notice of all the names on the gym lockers," says Weiner. "I saw Sydell and wrote it down."
For now, Weiner can't quite imagine Cannie Shapiro on the big screen because, "there isn't an actor who could play her. I suppose you could staple the Olsen twins together and then glue Nicole Ritchie to them."
With two young children and a teenage rat terrier (Wendell appears under various pseudonyms in her books) at home, Weiner says she has less time for writing (3-4 hours a day) but is more focused when she does sit down to work. She remained tight-lipped about future plotlines, saying only that she "working on several projects."
Certain Girls is now available in hardcover.
Visit www.JenniferWeiner.com for more information about the author.