Emma and Nicola Wrote A Novel About Britney Spears: The Autostraddle Interview

Last February I wrote an article entitled “It’s Not Britney, Bitch,” in which I discussed Britney Spears’s apparent waning enthusiasm for her own career and the fact that her formerly-estranged father had managed to wrangle a court-ordered permanent “conservatorship” over his daughter which granted him complete legal control over her life, indefinitely. “Conservatorships” exist for and are traditionally only granted to caretakers of severely ill individuals who lack the mental capacity to make their own medical decisions, such as elderly people with dementia. Yet somehow the temporary conservatorship that was granted in the wake of Britney’s public meltdown had been extended, and extended again, and eventually made permanent. Essentially, her father is legally able to treat his daughter as a money-making machine indefinitely, which is exactly what he was doing. She had no free will. I felt this was a feminist issue that was being overlooked, and despite my general aversion to and disinterest in the private lives of heterosexual celebrities, Britney Spears has always felt strangely close to my heart. If you didn’t read that article at the time, you should read it now, and then come back here. I’ll wait.

Okay, so — when the publicist for Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss wrote to say that Emma & Nicola had really liked my article and asked if I’d be interested in their new novel which “re-imagined the private journey” of how “Britney Spears, one of the world’s highest grossing celebrities and Mom of two, is legally controlled by her father and future husband,” I was like, OBVIOUSLY! You might know Emma and Nicola from their first novel, The Nanny Diaries, which I really enjoyed because it managed to be entertaining without being stupid (unlike a lot of other women’s fiction that came out at that time).

Here’s the novel’s pitch:

In Between You And Me, twenty-seven-year-old Logan Wade has built a life for herself in New York City, far from her unhappy childhood in Oklahoma. But when she gets the call that her famous cousin needs a new assistant, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. Logan hasn’t seen Kelsey since they were separated as kids; in the meantime, Kelsey Wade has become one of Fortune Magazines most powerful celebrities and carrion for the paparazzi. But the joy at their reunion is overshadowed by the toxic dynamic between Kelsey and her controlling parents. As Kelsey grasps desperately at a “real” life, Logan risks everything to try and give her cousin the one thing she has never known — happiness. But when Kelsey unravels in the most horribly public way Logan finds that she will ultimately have to choose between saving her cousin and saving herself.

All our feelings about celebrities are based on the packaged image we’re sold and all its accumulated meanings. Between You and Me picks one of those packaged stories and digs underneath it to tell a new story that fits right in, even though it’s often quite different than the story it was inspired by.

The thing about privilege is that although it can alter one’s ability to feel sympathy for the privileged person’s situation, it doesn’t alter the fact that the privileged people are human beings with hearts and feelings and stuff too. I mean, they actually are human beings. I think we expect celebrities to be super-human, that somehow wealth should make heartbreak easier. And it does, in some ways (mostly I’m thinking about being able to afford a lot of massages, xanax and whiskey). But hearts all break the same way. Life isn’t just money. Life is also people.

What turns me off about celebrity culture is how cruel it is to women, and how brutal and judgmental people can be about someone they don’t know and will probably never even meet. Between You And Me does a great job of telling the story of what it’s like on the other side in a really authentic humanizing way. The novel is fun and engaging and both slightly indulgent and surprisingly smart — it’s the epitome of a perfect beach read.

The week before their book debuted (June 12th!), I talked to Emma and Nicola for over an hour about the novel, Britney Spears in general, the chick lit thing, The Nanny Diaries, the slings & arrows of being a young woman in a big city in your twenties, their writing relationship, writers they admire, and so much more! I couldn’t include the entire interview here because it would be longer than the novel, but I did include most of it. So let’s go!

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

First of all, I really like the book a lot. I read it in like two days.

Both: Oh my G-d.

Yeah, I know. I wasn’t expecting to finish it in one weekend, but I did. I even read it during a concert.

Emma: It must’ve been a terrible concert.

Well, it was an orchestra concert, so.

Nicola: It must’ve made for dramatic reading.

Yeah, it was definitely a different kind of score to the story than I imagine you had anticipated. So when did you guys decide to write about this? When did you decide this was a story that you wanted to tell?

Nicola: It started a couple of years ago. We talk every morning at eleven to check in and make a plan for the day — what we wanna accomplish that day, anything we’ve read — and we’re lucky enough to do it in person. We kept coming back to this conservatorship, and once we started researching what the legal requirements for conservatorship was, it really blew our minds! It didn’t seem like Britney [Spears] fit the criteria in any shape or form. We got curious and started doing research. The more we delved into her family history, the more it seemed like her father was the last person who should be in charge of her indefinitely. We thought, “that’d be a great book.”

There’s a scene where somebody looks up “conservatorshipwp_postson Wikipedia and I felt like I’d been through that same scene when I was doing research for an article I did on Britney‘s conservatorship. I was just stunned. And the article I wrote about it for our website ended up being like our most popular article of the year. And I was surprised that nobody knew about it. 

Nicola: Yes! You wrote that article!?

Yes, it was me. [laughs] I was so surprised by the response to the article, that nobody seemed to know that this was happening.

Emma: It was spectacular. It was the only article we came across ever that addressed those issues. I think you really kept to it. It was the only piece looking at it through a feminist lens.

Nicola: Boys go through this kind of breakdown, like, Charlie Sheen was getting custody during that whole thing. We forgive the boys, and we let them get on with it, and we vilify girls. We just want to tear them apart and beat them until there’s nothing left!

Emma: As a culture, we’re so conflicted about female sexuality, period.

Nicola: Yeah, and we’re particularly conflicted about adolescent female sexuality, like the moment of becoming a woman — so when there are conference tables of people packaging that moment, it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire. It sells a lot, but it conditions the person at the heart of it to be receiving these conflicted, unresolved, strong emotions from a lot of the community! And it’s such a set-up, and so that’s something we’ve been wanting to write about for a long time.

We were also pulled into this idea when we found out that a lot of these young women have close family members as their assistants. It seems that when they have this unfortunately inevitable break of some kind as they struggle for their independence, however graciously, frequently their cousins have been their assistants. So, what would it really be like to be completely wrapped up in this — it wasn’t just something you were reading about, it was your own family? To have a deep understanding of what was going down, but no way to talk or do anything about it?

So how did you decide to tell the story through Logan [Kelsey’s cousin and newly-crowned assistant], that that was the voice you wanted?

Emma: When we started outlining we discovered that to tell the story first person from Kelsey’s perspective would be unbearable. She’s going through these changes, she’s not a reliable narrator for her own life anymore. What would that be like for somebody who is just slightly outside of it — but can look at Andy and Michelle in an unvarnished way? She’d be a much better tour guide for the reader than Kelsey herself. It was challenging to have the protagonist just slightly outside the story, but we loved exploring this relationship and the idea that Kelsey would have an ally that would stand by her through this, no matter what.

Nicola: A huge part of the story that had really captivated us but was not being told was the story of a girl having her children taken from her. We felt this preceded her perceived breakdown, and it was so bizarre. It was really presented in the media that her children being taken away would resolve all her behavior. When we really looked at the timeline of what had happened, our theory strongly is that the breakdown that occurred was much more a response of a mother, and, we felt — a completely justified one — to having your children taken from you. She couldn’t be alone with her children for more than a few hours without someone observing them the entire time, and it’s so interesting that the world was so ready to see her as a crappy mom. She lost her children! She lost her son at a very young age!

Kelsey comes off as really sympathetic, that worked really well. Obviously, Britney Spears’ experience is pretty singular in terms of how much attention is paid to her, how she’s followed around — it’s not an experience any of us sort of spent much time thinking about or tried to sympathize with. Well, I have, because I’m obsessed with Britney Spears. Anyhow, when you wrote the outline how did you decide what parts of the story to make up and what truth to draw out, and were you concerned about being too close to the truth?

Nicola: The challenge is that some of the things that happened to Britney were SO dark and upsetting that we tried to find a balance between those stories, and also moments when she’d been unfairly portrayed or portrayed in a one-sided fashion — for example, when Britney performed at the VMAs, and she was so eviscerated for that performance, Justin [Timberlake] had come backstage right before the performance and she was really nervous and started to drink.

What if this was your best friend who just handled the moment were everything was on the line very badly as people do in all walks of life? People blow job interviews, people blow first dates. Sometimes you’re not your best ally. And so moments like that where we thought there was another side to the narrative, that’s what made us choose some of the moments and not others.

Emma: But, also at the moment that we started planning, there were a lot of young women going through this in public — like, say, Christina Aguilera – again, these women all have something in common: they all have their parents and families organized around their careers as children. Their parents live large as their kids become adults. It’s kind of really remarkable that Beyoncé has respectfully fired her father as her manager. It was quietly done, and she was very clear in the public and vocal about saying where the decision was coming from and what it was about and that it was necessary for her to mature as a person, as a woman and as an artist. It’s an interesting contrast. Again she wasn’t a Disney girl. Separating from your parents while you’re growing up is hard for everybody, and of course Britney is the worst case scenario of that: You can’t [separate.] Ever.

Obviously, it all seemed really authentic, your descriptions of everything behind the scenes. What kind of research did you do for that?

Nicola: We have some friends who were personal assistants in their early 20s who told us some great stories. We also watched some documentary footage of various tours, and we read articles from Rolling Stone, and then some of it was just from our own experiences, what it’s like to be in a different city every day, constantly flying, just imagining all of the logistical things that someone like Logan would have to be responsible for. That part was really, really fun to write.

So are you basically embracing the fact that it’s based on Britney Spears? I read a review that snarkily was like, “well, this is obviously based on Britney Spears,” like they had just discovered it and were calling you out.

Emma: What we’re saying is that it’s our imagining of how she changes, of the journey, of how one can get to this point in their career where they’re literally owned by her father.

Nicola: To even have this kind of thing in place in this country…

Emma: Well, it’s set up for people who are invalids! It’s a sensible thing for people who need feeding tubes, but it’s not a sensible thing for people who are performing by themselves on a stage in front of 28,000 people. It doesn’t make sense.

Next: “The heroine’s ‘likability’ became almost one of the the number one things we would be edited for during that time… it just didn’t feel like Jonathan Safran Foer was grappling with likability. Or ANY of our male contemporaries at that time.”

I feel like lately, especially in feminist communities, the idea of privilege comes up a lot, there’s the ‘white people problems’ meme, everybody calling out Girls for being too privileged. You too, with The Nanny Diaries and then here, talk about people who do have a lot of privilege — how do you make a sympathetic and relateable story about such incredible privilege?

Emma: Going all the way back to The Nanny Diaries and going all the way back to being nannies in our early 20s, we were endlessly fascinated with situations that should work perfectly. When you look at them from the outside, everyone here should be so happy. They have everything! But everyone is so miserable. That, to us, is the making of great drama. If you look at people in a situation where, oh look, they’re all sitting in a bucket, of course they’re unhappy —

They’re all sitting in a bucket? 

Emma: It’s good drama. It’s the disconnect that makes for an exciting story for us. So whenever there is privilege squandered, we’ll be there.

Do you ever imagine what would happen if Britney ever read your book?

Emma: I hope she would like it.


Emma: Yeah we have hashed into it. We think she would like it.

When you were working on it did you think about things like what people from her camp might think about it? Or did you just…not?

Nicola: We didn’t want to get paralyzed. We wrote it from such a place of love and admiration and then we tried to tell the best story that we could.

Emma: And it’s a story. There isn’t a Logan in real life, which we know. We did the work up front to follow the essence and spirit of the journey but it is our imagining, it is different, there are lots of differences… and the kind of strength it would take to survive this journey is kind of mind blowing. And, no, it’s not serious. It’s not the projects. It’s its own unique thing, but I look at someone like that and think — “They’re not happy. Why aren’t you happy?” I’m curious about that. And if you’re not curious about it and extreme privilege then this may not be your book.

The voice ends up being really consistent — the dialogue. You could tell who was talking based on how they talked. That’s always so hard for me, how do you do that? 

Emma: This was the hardest book for us, which is saying a lot. Creatively, I think, we were so anxious about doing justice to the story, it was so much thinking, structurally, to tell the essence of the story and have it be a strong story. And I think… just, logistically, to have scenes or so many pages where there are always four or five people in the room so it was SO hard. I mean Nanny Diaries was essentially about a child and two women in an elevator vestibule. So essentially this was a real learning curve for us, but one of the great things that we do a lot is we’ll read everything aloud. And that’s really helpful for dialogue to just keep reading it until we’re like “oh, no, that’s how you would say that.wp_postsWe voice check almost all of it.

Do you consider your work “chick lit”?  Do you hate that term?

Emma: That term has been phased out, but that is a question we’ve had a lot over the years.

Nicola: Before The Nanny Diaries had come out in either country, I was over in London because my grandmother had died and I went to see our editor and she said “oh, these are our new Chick Lit titles.wp_postsI had never heard the term before and I was like, “Oh, that’s so cute! That’s so clever. There’s this adorable thing in England called “Chick Lit,” what a cute idea!”

Then it came over here and became this huge thing! Suddenly everyone’s covers were pink and everyone’s covers had shoes on them. And it really limited what women could suddenly write about. Thankfully that phase seems to be over. But there was such a hunger for a very limited window of female experience in commercial publishing. And I had no idea when I first heard of “chick lit” that it was going to end up being these fluffy pink shackles for awhile. It seems to be over. There was market saturation on fluffy pink shackles.

The literary agent that I used to work for always harped on the importance of making readers want to turn the page, and you definitely did that. 

Emma: That’s the hardest part.

Nicola: Great!

How did you do that so well?

Nicola: We are obsessed with that. We always say when we are lecturing to creative writing students: Step One is just vomiting the story down and not editing yourself and not judging yourself because until you have created a mold, you won’t be able to move forward, so at least give yourself something to work with. And the second step is to edit it to make sure the vision you had in your head actually made it onto the page. Will people know the gender of your protagonist? What country is it set? Sometimes we’re picturing whole stories that don’t really come through great at all!

And the third stage is “why should anyone give a shit?” You can tell when you’ve worked with
someone who’s completely skipped that step. We cut a lot, a lot. We cut 75 pages off this book because we’re like “Oh, that lovely description doesn’t need to be there.” So I’m so gratified to hear that that works for you because we really tried to pay attention to making sure that there is always something you are dying to find out next and that we don’t slow you down with stuff that you don’t need to be paying any attention to. Even when it means sacrificing pretty packages.

When I read The Gossip Girl books, I was working on a similar project at the time and thinking a lot about how, like strategically, she kept me glued to the page. I noticed those times when I’d be compulsively turning the page would be when something bad had just happened to a character I wanted good things for. I had to keep reading until something good happened to that person! When I’m writing, I struggle with that, ’cause I don’t like making bad things happen to my beloved characters, but when I’m reading I just keep reading.  Do you ever feel you have to sort of do things to your characters that makes you sad for them in order to keep the suspense high?

Emma: We noticed in this particular book, which is true of all of our books, is that when were are outlining we always want to do this thing around the third act or right before the third act, where things are getting really bad then we want to have this “false good.” When you’re outlining it structurally or cinematically, [the false good is] when you’re out there going: “Oh, no. Things aren’t better. You’re totally making the wrong choice. You think things are better but they’re not and you’re happy but it’s gonna be so much worse!”

When we’re writing, every fucking time we go back to edit we have to overhaul that section because it can’t get any better in that section. It has to be what we call “a straight shoot.” It has to be every metaphor for everything bad: a train shooting into the station, a snowball barrelling down the hill and so on. It’s so hard because as a writer you’ve been writing about things getting worse FOREVER, for 200 pages! You’ve been writing almost since page one about things getting worse, so you feel like, “come on, don’t you want a little bit of good?” 

This last round we took each other by the shoulders and I’m like “Let’s not do this again.” Let’s not have things seem to get better because that just makes it boring and makes everybody like, “Is it ending? Does this end? What do I still care about? She’s fine.” We have to cut that out. That’s been a huge learning curve for us. Straight shoot into speeding train, the rolling snowball, nobody gets a drink, nobody gets to the bathroom, nobody gets to have the sex. Just keep going.

Nicola: The hardest thing…even harder than that, and always a challenge for us, is something that we think Lena Dunham does brilliantly and part of the reason that [Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls] is such a success is letting your character make mistakes. Letting them do the wrong thing is challenging because I think a lot of people in the blogosphere get annoyed when a character makes a mistake vital to the story being moved forward. If Nan was a 31-year-old she’d walk out on day two. She’s 21 and she doesn’t know any better. She doesn’t know any better until she’s gone through this journey and that’s true of all our characters. They’ll do it better the next time, but you’re on this journey to watch them make mistakes and that’s even harder than doing something horrible to them.

Emma: It’s very loaded for that to be the case for young female characters, which is why not only are we in awe of Lena Dunham for her ability to do that and her fearlessness, but also about doing that with showing how up our own asses we are, which I think is one of our biggest faults and it’s an inevitable, impossible not to be, part of being in your 20s, to be so far up your own ass. The problem is getting so much crap from the outside. It becomes true of all our characters, and watching Kelsey go through it — it’s like you’re getting so much conflicting, paradoxical information about who you are supposed to be and what’s wanted from you. You’re supposed to be happy or you’re supposed to be critical, but not too much. You’re supposed to have an opinion but have it go along with everyone else’s but don’t just blend in. Just on and on and on. There’s so many contradictions, the paradox of being in the room. It’s kind of the strangest place.

Going back to what Nicci said about chick lit and the commercial publishing restrictions that came in as to what popular fiction could be about women in such a manner — and for the heroine, there were a lot of conversations about likability. And likability became almost one of the the number one things we would be edited for during that time that we had to grapple with. It just didn’t feel like Jonathan Safran Foer was grappling with likability. Or ANY of our male contemporaries at that time.

I think right now Nicci and I are personally, artistically are still stumbling out of that hangover of there being so much pressure for them to be likeable. And what happened in Chick Lit, psychotically, as the result is that most of these narrators were shipwrecks.

They were goofballs. They wore two different shoes out of the house. They were zany. They were falling into cakes. They were very uncoordinated. They were making zany, goofy mistakes all the time. And it was kind of, I think, it was a weird way to make them be fallible but utterly endearing in a conventional perspective.

Nicola: The characters didn’t reflect real life at all and I think that’s why the genre ate itself.


Next: “You can only take so much time standing around dressed up with your legs crossed on the red carpet smiling politely. How many years of that before you’re allowed to say to the press “I think I’d like to be in charge of myself, please”?”

Do you ever have disagreements about where you want the story to go?

Emma: Definitely.

Nicola: Oh yeah. But we know that those conversations always produce the answer to get going in the right direction. So that conflict is very creatively fruitful and after 12 years of doing this together we trust that.

Do you ever feel that it puts pressure on your personal relationship that you have this entrenched professional relationship?

Emma: It’s hard for us to separate the two, it’s really one relationship we’re in. It’s profound and so much more than a friendship or business partners. We really refer to each other as our professional wives. Or just our wives. We’re both married to other people, but we’ve been through life and death together. We’ve been through life and death of books together. We’ve learned over the years that this is something you have to work at, this relationship. It’s not a fixture, it’s not the computer. We really want to check in with each other, communicate constantly, check in on our vision for what we want, where we’re going, check in on each other’s personal vision… monitor each other’s cholesterol. [laughs] It really is a marriage.

What writers inspire you?

Nicola: We’re obsessed with David Sedaris — The Santaland Diaries, Holidays on Ice — was sort of a turning point “Aha” moment in our early 20s. We though “Oh, this would be an interesting way to start talking about this really crazy experience we had as nannies.” He’s just so good at blending “skewering people” with “heart and compassion” and it showed us the way forward. It was a template that inspired us.

Emma: He has a real sense of how to calibrate the heart and compassion as well as poignancy and humor. I’m also a huge fan of Nora Ephron, her essay work. I think the general public thinks [essay-writing] is just slashing down some thoughts. To be a female writer, it takes so much to talk about things that can be uncomfortable and to do it so well and we’re really inspired by [how Nora did it]. And then, of course, much more sweeping authors that Nikki could rattle off now —

Nicola: It’s not necessarily someone who we’d say “Oh, my gosh. I read their entire oeuvre.” For example, I just finished reading, like every mom in America, 50 Shades of Grey. And the protagonist in that book is 21. And [the author] is in her late 30s / early 40s /mid 40s / late 40s… she writes 21 really well. And I had forgotten what it’s like to read someone grappling with those romantic emotions that are excruciating to go through, and that it’s very hard to relate that in a way that doesn’t come across as sophomoric or annoying. And so it made me realize that what I’ve written thus far in the next book wasn’t up to snuff. That I needed to go back and really remember what it was like to be 21.

I’m also constantly inspired by Nurse Jackie, because the next line is always unexpected. You never know what the person is going to say next, and it’s done with such humor and consistency over four seasons. I’m endlessly impressed.

Would you ever want to write for television?

Nicola: Yes and no. We love the media. We are obsessed with the media, but we heard that the hours are brutal.

So you decided to write about your experience as nannies and then from that decided that you were going to be writers? It didn’t happen the other way around, right?

Nicola: Five years later. There was a lag time. [laughs] I had gone on to act and I was just deciding that that was not what I wanted to do anymore. And I invited Emma to a reading of a play that I’d done and she e-mailed me the next day and said, “I have this idea about a book about nannies and I’m really looking for a partner.” I was like, “Well, it’s that or med school. Okay.”

For us it was a passion project. We had so many friends coming out of NYU who were “accountants by day / dancers by night.” Everyone was doing something in their “spare time,wp_postsso it was just OUR thing. It never occurred to us that we’d be able to make a career out of writing. As much as we loved it, that just seemed a really unrealistic goal.

So when Nanny Diaries was unbelievably a success, it afforded us the opportunity to just keep writing full time. We’ve been doing it ever since.

There was a lot of backlash over your second book, Citizen Girl. When writing about Kelsey dealing with everybody having opinions about her that she had no control over, did you draw on your experience dealing with that backlash?

Nicola: It’s brutal! We don’t even have to go back to Citizen Girl. Someone called Logan slutty the other day on a blog and I was really… There’s nothing Logan does that I haven’t done twenty times. I guess I’m a little slutty. All women are slutty. The internet is a vortex of cruelty and you have to come to it with a certain amount of Zen and a much thicker skin than I’ve built up yet. I’m working on it.

But certainly when we thought of Kelsey we thought about what it is when suddenly the tide turns against you. There’s this rush. There’s a hunger for blood. And something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is that once you’re called “crazy,” you’re fucked. Sit quietly in the corner, you seem crazy. If you get up and say “fuck all you people,” you seem crazy.

Emma: You can only take so much time standing around dressed up with your legs crossed on the red carpet smiling politely. How many years of that before you’re allowed to say to the press “I think I’d like to be in charge of myself, please”?

Britney Spears was a huge part of the so-called “pornization” of female culture during the third wave, which you grappled with in Citizen Girl. Did Britney’s role in that culture come into play in your writing of this book?

Nicola: That moment where she was saying “Not yet a girl, not just a girl, not yet a woman.wp_postsShe was trying to transition from her child persona to adult persona at the height of the bubble that we were writing about in Citizen Girl, and there was definitely a large hunger for everyone to be extremely naked.

Emma: And young. Naked and sort of sterilized. There wasn’t a lot of space for mature female wisdom in that stage.

And also she was so… well a lot of young female girls are discovering sex and sexuality and learning how much attention you can get when you’re wearing a skimpy bikini. We all went through that, it can be really intoxicating or masquerade as validation. But she went through that in front of everybody instead of privately, like almost everyone I knew did.

Emma: You take a gamble. What’s distressing to us, again, is that there was a team of people in suits participating in that. There were corporations making decisions and making money off of that. There was her Dad helping her pick out this little bikini for the shoot. I mean, that’s the level of it. It really is a machine. Not in a conspiracy way, but it was millions of dollars. It’s one of those conversations that becomes — she wasn’t a seventeen-year-old girl who put on this outfit and sat in front of her computer and recorded it and put it out there on YouTube. This was not an independent decision.

Are you guys your own business together? Like are you guys an LLC?

Nicola: Yes, of course. Wow, we’ve never been asked that before! We have an LLC. It’s called “Italics” because we speak in italics. We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to run a two person business. We have responsibilities and flow charts and projections and calendars. And we try to make sure that no one is doing more than the other, that everything is evenly shared.

Do you feel any particular challenges being women in the business world and publishing world?

Emma: The publishing company that we are at, Atria, the CEO is a woman and our editor is a woman and her colleagues are women and our publishing team are all women. So we’ve amazingly and luckily landed in a very pro-female environment, which is spectacular. And we know other houses aren’t like that so we feel very lucky.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Nicola: It’s really amazing when you actually see the physical book. You always cry the first time. It’s a really nebulous thing for us for months and months and months and months and then it exists as an actual object. My father is a book seller, my mother is a librarian and it still feels like a mystical moment when it arrives and it’s an actual tangible object. That is incredibly gratifying.

Emma: I think it’s our relationship. At this point in our career we make a decision to really be together, to decide that we didn’t want to do this alone. And I think we’ve been particularly grateful for that opportunity. It’s so delicious to have someone around with you who you can catch eyes with or to be watching some random reality show and be like, “Oh, my G-d, that’s the thing.” And to be able to text Nicci in the middle of the night and say, “Did you see this video and isn’t it bad” and get a text back, “Oh, my G-d, totally,” and “What if we did that?” It’s an amazing gift to have a partner like we have in each other.

Do you have any stories of meaningful interactions with readers or fans of your books that really stuck with you?

Nicola: There was this one woman in San Francisco at a reading of Nanny Diaries who stood up with a sleeping child in her arms and said “I’ve never had anything to point to to explain to people what I love about my job and the pride I take in it. Thank you.” And I’ve never forgotten her.

Emma: After Citizen Girl I had a woman say to me… she’s clutching the book to her chest and she’s like “It IS so hard.” She was the age of the protagonist. It IS. It is hard, you’re not crazy, and she found the book just so helpful. And I think that is probably true in almost all of our… or one of them you know, it isn’t you. It IS this fucked up. It isn’t you.dotted-divider2

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3074 articles for us.


  1. A couple of typos here and there, but this was a fascinating interview to read! I really like that you got them to open up about the writing process and their goals for the story – it’s giving me some things to think over with my own writing.

    Gonna, gotta check this book out.

  2. “You’re supposed to have an opinion but have it go along with everyone else’s but don’t just blend in. Just on and on and on. There’s so many contradictions, the paradox of being in the room. It’s kind of the strangest place.” So true! Really interesting, thorough interview.

  3. oh my god riese i loved this. i was really fixated on the nanny diaries when it came out and i was INCREDIBLY fixated on your britney spears article (like, i still bring it up several times a month and often argue with people about britney spears and her life situation based on things i learned in your article) but i somehow had no idea emma and nicola worked together and were still writing books so this is a very exciting discovery (albeit one i feel a bit silly about because how did i not follow up on the authors of the nanny diaries?!) anyway now i plan to read both citizen girl and between you & me asap.

    also, i LOVE what nicola said about being fucked once someone calls you “crazy,” and about how it’s a trick because no matter what you do you’re “crazy.” it reminds me of the gloss article “lady, you really aren’t ‘crazy'” (http://thegloss.com/sex-and-dating/women-crazy-334/) and the whole thing is so fucking infuriating and true. at least we are acknowledging it. maybe if we all keep pointing it out we can break the machine.

    anyway, wonderful interview. thank you!

  4. I remember when I was about 12, I was spending some time with my Grandma in Ohio and she took me to the store to pick out a book. I picked “The Nanny Diaries”, because I like “The Princess Diaries”. I read it in, like, a day, and I’ve read all of McLaughlin & Kraus’ novels since. All of their main characters are strong, smart women that were great literary role models for me. Thanks for highlighting them!!!

  5. This is an amazing interview!

    Thank you for bringing these women/books to my attention, which would probably never have happened otherwise, because modern book covers seem to be designed to induce extreme nausea in me.

  6. I was thinking to myself the other day, hmmm Riese hasnt posted in a while, bet something good is cooking. I was right :) Great interview, really insightful and interesting – especially the bits about the writing process and obstacles etc. think I’ll buy the book now!

  7. Great interview. I am also weirdly attached to Britney, and I remember that article!

    I’m so glad they’re writing about this – you don’t hear people talking about the whole conservatorship thing at all. Personally I think it’s not just her father/parents that are suspicious though, I find her relationship with her boyfriend/manager to be really sketchy as well.

  8. I’m so interested in reading this book now! I’m pretty much a huge, unashamed Britney fan, so…

    I love the idea of co-writing a book. As a writer, the process is sometimes really isolating, and that’s an interesting way of renegotiating the ideal that writers lock themselves in little sheds for days on end.

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