We’ve all heard someone say “laughter is the best medicine.” And between preschool germs and cloudy skies, we could sure use a hefty serving of humor. Enter Brooke Preston and Fiona Taylor, two of the four hilarious authors of the new satire book New Erotica for Feminists. Along with Caitlin Kunkel and Carrie Wittmer, Brooke and Fiona bring to life a collection of clever vignettes that’ll give you a belly laugh on your most overwhelming day. The book makes a perfect gift for anyone dreaming of an immortal RBG, equal pay and calorie-free pizza. #MINDRMAMA Sarah Gibbs chatted with Brooke and Fiona to learn more about how New Erotica for Feminists came to be, how digital technology has aided in finding one’s “tribe,” and how parenting is a lot like improv theater.
Your book, New Erotica For Feminists, was born from an incredibly successful piece in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, which went viral. How did you and your co-authors come up with the idea for that initial piece and how did it transform into this new book? Can you describe your journey?
Fiona: Our McSweeney’s piece came into being as the result of a group chat. We were online dealing with matters related to The Belladonna, a comedy site we run, when we began musing about Tom Hardy, equality, and box truck deliveries of La Croix. One of us said that it sounded like erotica, another opened a Google Doc, and voila! The piece came to life.
We were delighted that it went viral on McSweeney’s, one of our favorite humor sites. It really hit a nerve with fed up women everywhere in need of a laugh, and took on a life of its own. Soon after, we got one of the best emails of our lives from Sceptre Books in the UK starting the conversation about expanding the concept into a book. We were extraordinarily fortunate to happen to have hit on the right idea at just the right moment.
Based on the success of the McSweeney's piece, we know there are many women (and men) who are eager to get their hands on your book. Why do you think this type of satire is so well-received and needed at this moment in history?
Brooke: The events of the last couple of years surrounding the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March and so much more, have brought about important, watershed awareness and conversations that continue today. But at a time when a lot feels weighty and complex, people crave laughter and release and validation.
I read a review of our book that said something along the lines of “this book won’t change the world, but it is good to be reminded that other people feel the way you do and you’re not alone.” If we can make people who read the book feel an hour’s release of laughter and solidarity in this ongoing struggle for equality, and refuel them with a bit of energy to get back out there, we’ve done our job.
At Mindr we believe in the power of a community and finding your tribe. How did you and your co-authors first find each other? What were the benefits and challenges of working together on this book?
Fiona: We were all part of a much larger online comedy group for female satire writers. There was a thread bemoaning the fact there weren’t as many comedy outlets as we’d like, and Carrie posted there asking if anyone wanted to start something with her. Caitlin and I answered, and Caitlin looped in Brooke because they knew each other in real life. We started The Belladonna and we figured it out as we went along.
We have a great working relationship, which carried over to the book creation. Since we had so much experience editing together, that kind of in-sync thinking really helped the book. If you had an idea for a vignette that wasn’t quite gelling, you could write it down and someone else could come along and punch it up. With four people, you’re not really fighting writer’s block on your own. The only real disadvantage is that sometimes, it’s great to work on things together in person - but the digital page comes close!
Brooke: I echo everything Fiona said, and add that I am the only one of the four who doesn’t live in NYC. I’m based in Columbus, Ohio. In fact, although we’d spoken nearly every day (constantly, really - it’s quite the epic Google Chat) for 18 months, I didn’t meet Carrie in person until the four of us got together in June to finalize the manuscript. That was the first time all four of us were together under one roof. Digital and cloud technology has made it possible to expand one’s “tribe” geographically, and to manage big projects together and stay close from anywhere.
We love (and laugh-cried) that the subtitle to your "parenting" chapter is: "Parents have needs too, even if those needs are mostly just naps." This is so true. How has becoming a parent changed or impacted the way that you approach your career? And more importantly, are you getting in your naps?
Fiona: We’re so glad you enjoyed our parenting section! Parenting, coupled with my mother’s death when my daughter was a toddler, really served as an impetus for me to explore my writing. Plus, as every mother knows, becoming a parent really pushes you to be more efficient when you’re working on a project - because your attention may be called away and your time is limited! My daughter was a TERRIBLE sleeper (who knew babies got acid reflux?) and while times have changed now that she’s 11, I still enjoy a good nap when I can get one!
Brooke: While I have been a lifelong comedy nerd and always dreamed of finding a way to do so professionally, becoming pregnant with my daughter (now 5) was like the comedy career version of someone hearing their biological clock ticking. Whereas some people may feel that beginning a chapter as a mother means turning away from one’s own passions, I felt more determined than ever not to let my own dreams die in service of motherhood. I also wanted to be able to be an example for my daughter someday so that she didn’t have to choose between her own goals or career and a family.
Parenthood makes you more efficient - when you get those pockets of time to write or do the thing you love, you are ultra-focused! My daughter also was a god-awful sleeper and a constant nurser, so I tapped out a lot of pieces at three AM on my phone with one eye open while I nursed or rocked her. And almost 20 percent of them made sense the next morning!
The struggle of parenthood is real. How do you feel your background in comedy has helped you navigate the stresses of being a parent?
Fiona: I guess parenting is a lot like improv, at least in the beginning when you’re figuring things out. No matter what happens, you just have to keep saying “Yes, and…” even when you’d love to yell “No!” (Unfortunately, that’s not an option, as I discovered.) Out of chaos springs comedy.
Brooke: Being a humor writer protects me from my tendency toward perfectionism. In this industry, you might get 15 no’s for every yes (and be doing pretty well for getting that one yes). So I went into parenting without too much fear about failure. I knew I would fail (as we all do, occasionally) but that if you love something, you’ll figure out how to get better. Also, humor writing relies a lot on observation - mixing different inspirations and advice and schools of thinking with your own experiences. I find my finest parenting moments follow that same recipe - when my husband and I give ourselves the space to observe and heed certain advice but also do things in the way that works for us.
What is something you think needs to change about the way our culture treats parenthood?
Fiona: So many things! Parenthood needs to be valued within society. There’s a lot of lip service about parenting (and especially motherhood), but very little legislation that makes life easier for mothers or fathers. When you’re paying as much for daycare as you’d pay for tuition at a state university, something’s definitely wrong. And don’t even get me started on paid parental leave….
Brooke: Oh wow, welcome to my TED talk… From longer, paid parental leave to great focus on post-natal care for mothers to better, more affordable childcare for parents who need or choose to work, the whole system desperately needs an overhaul. But also we need to alter our thinking that in order to be a “good” mother we’re giving up any semblance of our own identity apart from wife or partner and mother. Those are sacred, important roles, roles I cherish so highly, but certainly not all I am as a person. We need to carve out sufficient time to nurture our passions and also to give ourselves permission to rest. We can’t have it all at once. But we can find little pockets of time to make sure we’re investing in the other pursuits and people who matter to us, including ourselves.
What's next for Brooke, Caitlin, Carrie and Fiona? Can we expect a second installation of even New(er) Erotica for Feminists? (Feel free to use that title, by the way.)
Fiona: We’d absolutely love that! What surprised us writing this book is that the ideas kept flowing! Granted, it’s way easier to come up with ideas when you have four co-authors, as opposed to one lonely author, but still - we had no shortage of ideas. We’d be thrilled to create a sequel, even if it turns out to be on another topic.
Brooke Preston and Fiona Taylor are two of the four co-authors of New Erotica for Feminists, out now in the US and UK. Brooke and Fiona, along with Caitlin Kunkel and Carrie Wittmer are comedy writers and satirists whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, McSweeney's, and many other outlets. Together, they co-founded and edit the website The Belladonna, which responds to today's culture, news, and politics with comedy and satire written by women and non-binary authors, for everyone.