This post is part of a series titled, Artist Tree. In these posts, I’ll discuss an artist that has influenced me. I’ll share what their work has taught me, how I put into practice what I’ve learned from them, and what I’d do if I ever got the chance to meet them. The story behind the Artist Tree is here. Leave me a comment if you’re building one, too. Note that I do not receive compensation for any of the reviews or links I provide.
I’ve read the following works by Jennifer Weiner:
I discovered Jennifer Weiner one summer day as I was browsing the book store for my upcoming vacation. After attending our ten-year high school reunion, my best friend Rebekah and I were treating ourselves to an all-inclusive resort stay on a serene beach in Mexico. Which is why I needed a beach read. I perused the aisles for a bit and finally saw a light teal spine. I pulled it from the shelf and read the title, The Guy Not Taken. Scanning the back cover, I was hooked. 10 books later, I’m still going strong with my interest in Jennifer Weiner. Here is what reading her as taught me:
Use your senses.
The writing I do to pay the bills requires concision and a focus on tasks. In other words, you leave the description to a minimum. And then there’s that time I went to a writer’s talk and an author recommended going sparse on the description. So imagine my surprise when I open a Jennifer Weiner book and she’s describing, well, everything. For a long time I couldn’t figure out how she was doing it. She didn’t lose me on her description, but it was very detailed. Finally, Oz pulled back the curtain: Jennifer Weiner is using all five senses in her description. This technique makes her settings and characters vibrant. Consider this description from Good in Bed:
“I was stationed in the corner of the living room, where I had a good view of the room, plus easy access to the hot artichoke dip. I was doing my imitation of my mother’s life partner Tanya trying to eat an Alaskan king crab leg with her arm in a sling. So the first time I saw Bruce, I had one of my arms jammed against my chest, sling-style, and my mouth wide open and my neck twisted at a particularly grotesque angle as I tried to suck the imaginary meat out of the imaginary claw. I was just getting to the part where I accidentally jammed the crab leg into my right nostril, and I think there might have been hot artichoke dip on my cheek. My friends were pretty much speechless with laughter, when Bruce walked up. He was tall, and tanned, with a goatee and a dirty-blond ponytail, and soft brown eyes.” (Weiner, Good in Bed)
I’ve never had king crab, and I’ve never met a guy named Bruce at a party. But instantly, Weiner transports me to this character, who is reliving a party that seems absolutely real.
Modern fiction is possible.
Speaking of realistic, I’ve always been drawn to fiction set in the real world. I know, I know. There are some amazing science fiction and fantasy works in the world. And I enjoy some of them. But I drift towards fiction set in the world we live in, both now and in the past. So in an era of vampire popularity contests, it’s nice to see Jennifer Weiner hasn’t shape-shifted her heroines into vampire slayers. Albeit a cool read, Weiner has proven that you can take real headlines (egg donor), real settings (Philadelphia) and create rich stories with fictional characters in those spaces. This relieves me because typically the characters who show up on my doorstep are also of the same type.
Stand up for what you believe in.
Even though we’ve never met, I follow Jennifer’s website, blog, and twitter. She often stands up for fellow women writers, especially when she notices a difference in how they are treated versus male writers, or if a fellow woman writer bashes them in any way. Whether I agree or disagree with Weiner on a particular point is inconsequential; however, I have always felt that she takes an honest stand for what she believes in, and she is not afraid to speak up. Being a writer requires a thick skin for many reasons, but she’s also taught me if something is really important to you, let others know!
Write to please yourself.
On her For Writers page, she states, “Tell the story that’s been growing in your heart, the characters you can’t keep out of your head, the tale that speaks to you, that pops into your head during your daily commute, that wakes you up in the morning. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell, or fit into the pigeonhole du jour. Tell the story you want to tell, and worry about how to sell it later…”
This is advice is so liberating. Write the novel I want to read? Yes, please!
Characters can reappear.
I grew up watching One Life to Live with my grandma. As with all soap operas that hit their prime in the ’70s and ’80s, the residents of Llanview had their fair share of characters who went to prison, had multiple personalities, died of terminal illnesses, and suffered a host of other ill-fated woes. Of course, these events always happened on the Friday cliffhanger, and certain key characters died and were revived through the years. A prison sentence would end, a character would become a different personality, a terminal illness would have been a cover for a kidnapping and the victim would suddenly reappear in an episode, full of health and new Botox. The older I got, the cheesier and funnier this became to me. And I decided then and there, if you weren’t writing a fictional series, you needed to retire your characters after one novel. Reappearance was better left to the soaps.
Then I read Weiner. I feel in love with her main character in Good in Bed, Cannie. And lo and behold, several books later, I got to read about Cannie again in Certain Girls. Weiner did the same thing with Ruth, a character she introduced us to in The Guy Not Taken. This year, Weiner expanded on Ruth’s story and the result is her novel, The Next Best Thing. The lesson? If you keep it real, and classy, and you establish a connection between your readers and your characters, you can absolutely write a successful sequel or expand on their storyline.