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Bestselling author Weiner draws on personal experience for 'All Fall Down'

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TORONTO - Jennifer Weiner delves into the dark topic of addiction in her new novel All Fall Down, a story born of painful first-hand experience.

Seven years ago, police called the bestselling author to report that her estranged father had been found dead. The cause, was a drug overdose.

"He'd been out of my life for a really long time," Weiner recalled in a recent interview. "When he divorced my mom (he) sort of decided he didn't want to be a father anymore ... (I) hadn't seen him for seven or eight years when he died. I had no idea. Like a lot of people, I had a preconception of what addicts looked like and they did not look like my father, who was a psychiatrist who had lived in a really nice suburb, had a house with a pool. I just never in a million years (thought he was an addict) ... and it was shocking."

The author drew on the harrowing ordeal for "All Fall Down," which tells the story of successful mommy blogger Allison Weiss, whose seemingly perfect life (big house, precocious child, handsome husband) begins to spiral out of control as she becomes increasingly reliant on prescription pills.

As usual, Weiner — a former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer — used her journalistic background to research the tale.

"I talked to lots of people. I went to meetings. I talked to addiction counsellors and I sort of learned (that) this is the geography of the story. There are people who can take pain medication and it's like you take it when you need it and when you don't, you're done ... and then there are people (who) take their first Vicodin or their first Percocet and they say that they felt the way they were 'supposed' to feel, they finally felt normal. So certain people are just wired to react differently."

Weiner has developed a rabid fan following since publishing her first novel "Good in Bed" in 2001. Other titles include "In Her Shoes" (which was made into a 2005 movie starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette) and 2010's "Fly Away Home." "All Fall Down" is darker than her earlier outings and is being touted by some critics as Weiner's best yet.

Allison's struggle evolves gradually as she increases her pill intake while dealing with the stress of a failing marriage and her father's descent into Alzheimer's. When her daughter is put at risk, she reluctantly agrees to rehab. On her current book tour, Weiner has had positive reaction from readers with similar experiences.

"It's great on the one hand because people say: 'You really nailed it.' Of course on the other hand you don't ever want to hear about people having an experience like Allison's, especially with mothers putting kids at risk when they were in active addiction."

Although the author says she relishes the chance to engage with her devoted followers, she jokes that their voracious appetite for her work also has a downside: "It's always weird when you spend two years writing something and editing it and rewriting it and editing it some more and then it gets published on a Tuesday and that night, someone's like 'I FINISHED!' and you're like, 'Argh!' It's like when you make the Thanksgiving dinner and slave over the stove and then it's gone in 10 minutes!"

No doubt part of why readers feel such a kinship with Weiner is her avid use of social media. She live tweets "The Bachelor" and has become somewhat of a lightning rod for controversy with her outspoken campaign to legitimize "commercial fiction," and her push to have publications review more books by women.

"All Fall Down" explores the dark side of the web, when Allison is mocked after a negative media profile. Weiner, too, is keenly aware of her detractors.

"Like Allison says in the book, like they don't really think I'm a person, I'm their idea of feminism or women today .... you're a symbol and people feel like they can say whatever they want,'" she said of social media. "People say horrible, horrible things. However I think that I'm pointing to real quantifiable problems and when I say women aren't getting the attention that men get and here are a boatload of statistics to prove it, I think that's kind of undeniable."

"All Fall Down" marks a milestone in Weiner's campaign to have more female authors reviewed in the New York Times Review of Books. The mother of two recently got her first notice there, and it was glowing.

Said the author: "I got a heads up a week ago where, I was in a hotel room and my editor emailed me and she was just like: 'It's going to be in this Sunday's Times and it's a really great review.' And was like: 'Are you kidding me?' I couldn't believe it. I was really, really just so happy, like pinch me. I never, ever thought I'd see the day."

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