It’s good to be Jennifer Weiner. ”Why should skinny girls have all the fun?” the effusive best-selling author says, between bites of edamame ravioli, lobster fried rice, and crispy duck salad at a trendy Philadelphia restaurant.
She has reason to be pleased. Weiner’s novels, 2001’s Good in Bed and 2002’s In Her Shoes, have made her the biggest chick-lit success story since Bridget Jones’s Diary. Not only have her books sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide, Hollywood has embraced her tales faster than a fashionista spotting a Marc Jacobs jacket at a Barneys warehouse sale. Fox 2000 just wrapped the film adaptation of In Her Shoes, due this winter – about a gorgeous, irresponsible party girl and her frumpy older sister – with a dream team of A-listers that includes director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile), screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), and stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as the pretty and plain siblings, respectively. HBO is developing a series based on Good in Bed – chronicling a wisecracking, overweight single journalist in Philadelphia – produced by Sex and the City’s Jenny Bicks, who’s approaching Hairspray’s Marissa Jaret Winokur to star. And though Weiner’s latest book, Little Earthquakes – which follows three women dealing with the challenges of new motherhood – just came out this month, Universal Pictures has already bought the film rights.
Despite the success, Weiner is firm about keeping her characters real on screen: Collette agreed to gain weight to play her role in Shoes. ”I don’t want Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit,” Weiner says. As she chats about her life, you soon realize how much the warm, quick-witted foodie heroines of her novels resemble their creator. Good thing, too, since it’s exactly this conversational, humorous voice that makes her books unique. They feature very un-Hollywood (read: fat) protagonists, who – contrary to what Plum Sykes would have you believe – manage to get through life without glamorous jobs, weekly blowouts, and the latest Chanel tweed jacket.
”The honesty and the humor she brings to the character of Cannie [in Good in Bed] almost hit you over the head,” says Bicks. ”It struck me immediately that I had never seen a character like this, who was seriously overweight but not a pathetic loser. She’s funny, she’s got friends, she has sex, and you want to hang out with her. That to me is groundbreaking.” Adds Weiner’s longtime agent Joanna Pulcini: ”It’s smarter, more literary, more moving than you’d expect something labeled chick lit to be.” Weiner, a 34-year-old Princeton grad and former Philadelphia Inquirer entertainment reporter who lives in Philly with her lawyer husband, Adam, and 1-year-old daughter, Lucy, chafes at the chick-lit tag. ”From a marketing perspective it’s very useful,” she says. ”But from a literary and feminist perspective, it’s awful. Because it lets people speak very dismissively about women’s books and about women’s lives.”