As you probably know, I’ve been looking for a writer or three to help produce This is True. I had announced that I was thinking about retiring the publication so I could concentrate more on another project.
I said that True would continue for years to come, if only with reruns, since the vast majority of the stories are timeless, but readers were clear in their feedback: they’d much rather see True continue with new stories by a different writer than get reruns. Huh, ok! So I started looking for writers.
Finding a Fit is Hard!
The first test of the writers who applied was quite promising, and from there I have now hired the first writer who will regularly contribute stories: Jennifer Weiner.
When I first announced I would be looking for several writers to help with True, she caught my attention with an email with the wonderful subject line: “Pick me Pick me Pick me!”, which reminded me of a hilarious routine by Ron White on the Tonight Show:
After she did well in the first round, I gave Jennifer a challenge: to write all the stories in this week’s (24 October 2010) issue.
She rose to that challenge: it was a very nice issue.
I asked JW for two things: to let me know if I can use her real name, and would she sit for an interview I could publish here. She said yes to both. I told her that if I got too personal at any point, it was fine for her to ignore any question she wished. She answered them all. Here’s the interview.
Meet Jennifer Weiner
Randy Cassingham: Do you have a “day job”? Does it have anything to do with writing?
Jennifer Weiner: Not exactly to the first part, and no to the second part.
RC: I’ll follow up on that in a minute, but meanwhile, Jennifer Weiner is a reasonably successful 40-year-old novelist in Philly. I take it you’re not her. Is it weird to have another writer using “your name”?
JW: I know about her mostly because my mother gets a kick out of sending me her books, like Good in Bed. Perhaps because of the title and my name plastered there, it’s just soooo funny. I don’t think enough people know her name, so I don’t get confused with her. My maiden name is Garland — now that was a pain. Constantly: “Garland … as in JUDY??”
And I wouldn’t say that I’m a “writer,” but I would say that I write, which isn’t quite the same thing, in my opinion. You are a “writer.”
RC: You’re well on your way to the title. How long have you been reading True, and do you remember how you heard of it?
JW: I think it was toward the end of the run of my radio show, doing research online for stories, it would come up when I searched for “stupid criminal” or “dumb news,” etc. That must have been approx. 2006-ish? I’m bad with dates.
RC: What’s your favorite kind of True story?
JW: The stupider the better. And once you have slugged and tagged it, well if it wasn’t funny before, it sure is then. You really do that well.
RC: Thanks. And your least favorite?
JW: Not big on those based on sexual improprieties or people demonstrating very bad taste.
RC: There is a lot of that going around.
In some circles, your husband is fairly famous: “pirate” radio broadcaster Allan Weiner, who now owns some “legitimate” stations, so you presumably have some experience and interest in reaching out to a large audience. What’s your role at the stations?
JW: No he’s not my husband in some circles, he really is my husband anywhere we go (that gets a smiley-face thing). Yes, that’s Allan. We have WBCQ international shortwave, WBCQ-fm and WXME-am in Monticello, ME, and I think we are the only ones licensed in all three ‘modes’ in the U.S., perhaps anywhere. (The FCC wouldn’t let us have the call letters WBCQ on all three, who knows why not. When I asked, they didn’t, either).
RC: What was your role there?
JW: I was a board operator for a few years, and if we’re really undermanned do still fill in, but that’s not necessary very often nowadays. I produce a radio show on our AM station which is politically-based talk radio. It runs six days, which is a lot. It’s what would be considered “conservative.” The guys that do the show are so talented I don’t have to do much for them, but I do handle some background technical stuff for them.
And I am responsible for all the station’s several computers, which doesn’t require much time to do. Many functions have been successfully made remote by Allan and not by buying already written stuff that does it for you, he designs it all. He is, I think, the most talented radioelectronic and broadcast engineer ever. And he has an excellent sense of humor. He’s also great on the air (whereas I am not).
RC: What do you like about writing in general, and how will True fit in to that?
JW: I love to write, it just comes naturally to me (thus the pick me !! pick me !! thing), and if I do it well it’s only because of the great things I’ve read. Years ago, before i even knew about True, I did a weekly radio show on the shortwave station called “Duh News” which basically covered the same kind of stories, but this was the audio version. Big difference was I had to find the stories myself. And, I made my own rules!! (another face there).
Then, as I recall, I relied heavily on this guy named Shepard, can’t remember the first name, but he used to publish (online) those kinds of stories. I got his permission to use them on my show, and that worked out well. Anything that expresses stupid people doing their stupid deeds — that, to me, is the epitome of funny. True is obviously right up my alley. Allan laughs at them too.
RC: You’re referring to Chuck Shepherd, of News of the Weird fame.
Are you a “dog person” or a “cat person”?
JW: Dog — but NOT yappy little ones that ought to be drop-kicked out of the room when they start barking.
RC: What things other than work do you enjoy?
JW: I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to work (Allan does it all). Reading, flying (private plane), scuba diving, a licensed ham radio operator, I like to read about/drive fast cars, I like shooting (yes, handguns), I like to ride horses (have 2) and I like my dog Fritzie (German Shepherd). I love jokes (JumboJoke is excellent). I like ‘politically incorrect’ ones the most. I like to do so much more than there could ever be time to do.
RC: What sort of reading do you enjoy?
JW: PJ O’Rourke gets a huge ’10’ for writing skill and funny, both. Another favorite is “the Onion.” If you’re not familiar with them, they kind of spoof newspaper articles. It’s hard to explain that but it’s worth the read if you don’t know them. If something is very funny, I’ll probably like it. Also spend much time reading the Bible, and trying to learn how to do that well. And, of course, you, Randy !
RC: Yes, I’m definitely familiar with the Onion, which is more satire than real newspaper items like True. I generally find their concepts fantastic, but they go on with it too long. Sometimes a headline is all you need….
JW: No kids, have a pretty interesting life for which I’m very grateful. I’m 56 and told I don’t look it (then, who isn’t), but I don’t! I grew up Cape Cod, MA. Original profession was back when mainframe computers & IBM ruled, was a programmer then contract software engineer. Contrary to the name implications, we are not Jewish, both Christians!
RC: A guy named “Slaughter” once told me that “Your name doesn’t have to be your destiny.” Sounds reasonable. Thanks, Jennifer!
JW: You’re welcome. Thank you.
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Jennifer later went out on sick leave for surgery, and decided to spend her energy on getting and keeping well, and didn’t return as a This is True contributor. Shill always have the title of First Outside Contributor, at least!