Meet the Author: McLaughlin / Kraus
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus met at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where they both graduated with concentrations in Arts in Education. Before teaming up to write The Nanny Diaries, Kraus had continued in the arts and McLaughlin worked as a business consultant within the private and public sectors.
Newsweek declared McLaughlin and Kraus's The Nanny Diaries a 'phenomenon.' It is a number one New York Times bestseller and the longest-running hardcover bestseller of 2002. In 2007 The Nanny Diaries was released as a major motion picture starring Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney and Alicia Keys.
McLaughlin and Kraus have appeared numerous times on CNN, MSNBC, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, and The View. Their work and partnership have been covered in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, TIME, Elle, Town & Country and Harper's Bazaar.
They have contributed to The London Times as well as two short story collections to benefit The War Child Fund: Big Night Out and Girls' Night Out. In addition to writing for television and film, they travel around the country speaking to young women about gender issues in American corporate culture.
Q&A with McLaughlin / Kraus
Q: What inspired you to write as a team and not as individual authors?
A: Our initial idea, writing a novel inspired by our years of service as nannies on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was a collaborative one from the beginning, born out of frequent conversations in the corner at parties rehashing our old jobs and saying, "Someone should write a book about this."
Q: What are your individual strengths and weaknesses as writers?
A: Emma is a macro thinker and Nicki is more micro. Emma can hold the whole novel in her head at any given moment and has a much better sense of how Chapter Two is or isn't setting the pacing for Chapter Three, or even Chapter Ten. Nicki obsesses about diction and detail. We always say that together we have one brain.
Q: Do you take those into account when you're assigning writing responsibilities?
A: We split nearly everything down the middle, outlining, generating, editing, with the exception of cover design, which is Emma's forte, and grammar, which is Nicki's.
Q: You have co-authored several books together. What have been the major conflicts you've encountered along the way?
A: We both think the reason we have been able to nurture and grow our partnership over the last decade, not only creatively, but professionally, is that we've never had a MAJOR conflict. While writing The Nanny Diaries we almost came to blows over the choice of the word 'cream' versus the word 'milk', but ended up cutting the whole paragraph, which was a profound lesson for us. If we don't agree usually that means the whole section has to go or needs to be overhauled. And on the business end of things we have always miraculously been in step in terms of what we want to do next and how we want to budget out time. We have learned the importance of continually checking in with each other about our process and our shared vision statement. If nothing else, we believe in the importance of articulating our dreams and putting them "out there in the universe."
Q: How do you resolve those conflicts?
A: We have infinitely fewer conflicts now than we did when we started. When we first started writing together, neither one of us had written a book before so we had to make our cases very thoroughly whenever we did disagree. After ten years of partnership and five novels under our collective belt, we trust each other so completely that one of us barely utters a syllable before the other says, "Great, I'm in." That said we know it's very important to hear the other person out with an open mind and also to make your case in a way that allows for compromise. Ultimately we both want the same thing-a good book or screenplay. Emma says it's like parenting-you both want the kids out the door in the morning dressed and fed, you may have different styles of getting them there, but the goal is the same.
Q: How did you react when you found out that your first book was going to be published?
A: We sold Nanny on three sample chapters and a twenty six page outline, so we actually found that out before we wrote it, which we think is what enabled us to stay committed, even though Emma was working sixty-hour weeks in Organizational Development. We had a deadline and we took that insanely seriously. More seriously, it turned out, than anyone around us.
Q: Were you intimidated by the success of The Nanny Diaries when you sat down to write Citizen Girl? If so, how did you work through that
A: The pressure was terrifying and certainly could have been paralyzing. The only thing that kept us going was our passion for the story. We were really excited to get it written and share our thoughts on the issue of contemporary sexual politics with our readers. Over the years we've found writing always involves tuning out a fair amount of 'noise.' There is always something you can do a number on yourself about on any given day. The musical "Title of Show" calls that nagging voice of self-doubt 'the Vampires.' Every day we have to tell the Vampires to shut up.
Q: Did you know that you wanted to continue Nan's story (in Nanny Returns) when you finished the first book, or did you find that you missed her character after writing other novels?
A: When we finished The Nanny Diaries the only thing we knew for sure was that there was no sequel-ah, the folly of youth. We couldn't see beyond Nan never nannying again and we certainly didn't want to write a 'comeuppance' story where she hires a bad nanny, which was the predominant interest of publishers. We have always missed her and Grayer and perhaps because of that love we didn't want to look too closely into their futures. But then one day Emma threw out the idea of a teenage Grayer finding the nannycam tape and it gave us both chills and the story quickly unspooled from there (with the accompanying vampires, of course.)
Q: What inspired you to write The Real Reel as a book for teens?
A: We had been asked about writing YA fiction since 2002 but were so intimidated by the long shadows of Judy Blume and Lois Lowry and all the other writers we devoured at that age. We felt we couldn't write for teens until we really had something to say. A satire of MTV's reality television world finally seemed like the perfect fit. Certainly we could have written a slightly darker version with a little saltier language for adults, but we loved writing it for an audience who is grappling with the same issues as our heroine.
Q: Have you found that your writing process differs in any way when you're writing for a teen audience instead of an adult audience?
A: Really the only thing we changed is what they call 'content'. We kept the physical intimacy implied and the swearing to a minimum. Otherwise our process, our way of envisioning the story, the questions we ask ourselves about pacing, structure, and plot were the same.
Q: What is your favorite book and why?
A: We each have a favorite-Nicki's is The Regeneration Trilogy and Emma's is The Age of Innocence, but collectively we love David Sedaris' Christmas On Ice, which contains the story 'The Santaland Diaries.' We read it separately before we started collaborating, but for each of us it was a revelatory way of recounting a story set in the workplace-which is how we conceived The Nanny Diaries. He writes in the first person with the perfect blend of humor and pathos, and knows just when to let a character's horrendous comment hang by itself without observation and when the humor requires the protagonist to volley back in his head. It seems simple because he does it so fluidly, but finding that balance is rocket science.
Q: What does a typical "day off" look like for you?
A: That would be the weekends-the two days a week we don't meet up (if we're editing) or call each other at seven to read the day's pages to each other (for a first draft). What really separates out the "days off" is that we don't have the pressure dangling over our heads all day long. We can do laundry or go for a walk with our husbands and our dogs without watching the clock. When we're generating a first draft and not getting together every day we make movie dates or theater dates because we miss each other ridiculously.
Profile and questions compiled by CMLibrary