We sat down with Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin to talk about their new novel, How To Be A Grown-Up (out July 28), which explores the life of a 40-something mother thrust back into the workforce while juggling the life of a single parent and a disintegrating marriage with a touch of wit and humor.
SheKnows: What inspired you to write How To Be A Grown-Up?
Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin: It’s a great moment in our culture to be over 40! From Patricia Arquette winning the Oscar to Amy Schumer’s LFD sketch, we are saying, “Hey, we are sexy and funny and done trying to fit into your idea of what a grown-up looks like.”
SK: How did you become a writer?
NK & EM: We’re both storytellers. By combining forces, we gave each other the courage to do it on paper — and slip our story in America’s mail slot.
SK: What’s the biggest challenge you faced in your career as a writer?
NK & EM: Social media! As two people, we had a hard time figuring out how to create one online identity. Eventually we split them up — and next year Nicola will be taking them all over in advance of her first solo book.
SK: How different is it getting into the publishing world now versus when you first started?
NK & EM: The industry has changed so much! We sold our first novel in 2001, back when lunching was a verb and publishers made acquisitions based on a few chapters and robust outline. Even though it feels a bit like the Wild West, getting your book published now can be an infinitely more democratic process. Writers are not nearly as dependent on gatekeepers to connect them with their readership.
SK: Did you ever get writer’s block — if so, how did you overcome it?
NK & EM: We call each other and read what we have so far. We recommend finding a trusted person you can talk an idea through with. Just being forced to verbalize your vision will get different parts of your brain churning.
SK: Do you have any strange writing habits or routines when you write?
NK & EM: We are both fueled on flavor — chips, cookies, tea and, on a sad day, flavor water.
SK: What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
NK & EM: “Just see where the story takes you.” We respect that this works for some folks, but we’ve generated 10 novels (intermixed with writing for stage, screen and TV) in 15 years because we’ve outlined each project before putting fingers to keyboards. It was a necessity born of being two writers who can’t read each other’s minds, but it enabled us to write with momentum and confidence. Every single time we tried to skip this essential step, we paid for it with cumbersome rewrites.
SK: Which authors and/or books inspire your writing most?
NK & EM: Our books are inspired by conversations had — and overheard. By things we read in the papers that we want to see the “behind-the-scenes” of — so we imagine them.
SK: Tell us about the main character in your book?
NK & EM: Rory is a 40-something mom stunned when her husband, former child star Blake Turner, starts backing out of their marriage — and family. She ends up taking a job working for a monstrous 23-year-old and going Converse-to-Manolo to save her job and her dignity.
SK: Describe your book in three words?
NK & EM: So f***ing funny.
SK: If How To Be A Grown-Up were made into a movie, who would you like to play your main character(s) — and why?
NK & EM: Jennifer Anniston and Taylor Swift. They are both incredibly comedic actresses and watching them go head-to-head would be amazing.
SK: If you could be any one of your characters, who would it be — and why?
NK & EM: Rory, because she’s cute and gets to have hot sex with a dashing venture capitalist. (A mom can dream.)
SK: Is there any particular scene in How To Be A Grown-Up that stands out to you or has special meaning — and why?
NK & EM: The scene that we replay when we’re standing on line at Trader Joe’s is… well, let’s just say our heroine ends up falling into center ring at the Big Apple Circus.
SK: In your opinion, what are the book’s most important themes?
NK & EM: It’s a 40-something coming-of-age story and we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how writing a book is a lot like building a life. You feel very uncomfortable until you start filling in the “bricks” — the partner, the school district, the house, the couch, the friends, the pets, all those question marks getting filled. But we’ve learned that a great story — yours — sometimes can only be achieved by changing things up. That we should keep questioning, otherwise our foundation becomes a wall — between us and the innovation that makes for richness and complexity. Maybe you’re just going to repaint your bedroom even though it doesn’t “need” it; maybe you’re going to full-on move or decide to make a new friend this year or let one go. But swapping out even one of the elements that you think makes you “you” can have a beautiful ripple effect through your whole life. And it’s never too late.
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SK: What is the best thing about writing?
NK & EM: We love writing women’s fiction because our readers work hard and love hard, and we firmly believe in their right to be en-ter-tained. As two working moms, we write the stories that we ourselves want to escape into.
SK: What will you be reading this summer? What are you currently reading?
NK & EM: We just finished The Girl On The Train, which was soooo good. And we’re taking What Pretty Girls Are Made Of to the beach!
SK: When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
NK & EM: Well, first we get the writing done, then we pick our kids up and make sure they are nourished and wearing something clean to bed and that their teeth aren’t going to fall out of their heads. Then we try to keep our homes from looking like we raise feral dogs. Then we try to find some time to grunt at our husbands. Then we watch Odd Mom Out and UnREAL. No one has asked us what we “like” to do in years.
SK: What projects will you be working on next?
NK & EM: Our next novel, So Close, a juicy tale of love and betrayal. It comes out next year!