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The life of a working class college girl in the fancy pants part of Manhattan is put under the spotlight by Emma McLaughlin and Nikola Kraus, authors of The Nanny Diaries and Citizen Girl,and the wattage powers on in their latest, Nanny Returns (September 10).


Clearly, the hardship is not without humor and their healthy take on doing what you can with what life dishes out prevails, as evident in what these self-described sassy, sarcastic, slightly screwed-up brunettes with good intentions girls convey in their delightful replies to PopMatters 20 Questions.


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
When The Time Traveler’s Wife came out last winter, Nicki ran out and bought the book and Emma saw the adaptation in the theatres – and we both bawled our eyes out. It’s such a gripping, sexy, sad story. It makes us so happy when quirky narratives like that are hugely successful. 


cover art

Nanny Returns

Emma McLaughlin, Nikola Kraus

(Simon & Schuster; US: Sep 2010)

2. The fictional character most like you?
Well, our own five heroines are probably most like us—sassy, sarcastic, slightly screwed-up brunettes with good intentions. We also identify with Kermit the Frog. That little guy loves to entertain, dreams big and will not take no for an answer. 


3. The greatest album, ever?
So hard to narrow down! Well, we’ll tell you the only album we loved so thoroughly that the only way for the affair to end was to throw it out – the brilliant Jagged Little Pill. It came out the summer we graduated from college and Alanis Morrisette captured a certain rage and intensity that seemed to define our lives at the time.  It became the soundtrack to our days and nights.  We listened to it overandoverandover until, all at once, we grew up a bit.


Our first exhausting jobs had burned out our rage, and left us with no more time for dating assholes and we were ready to be soothed.  The mere sound of the opening guitar rifts sent us back to the too-recent past. The CD was yanked of the machine, snapped in half and thrown into the trash.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars! Love it, love it, love it. Nicki even gave Emma an R2D2 chair for her first son. (Of course we are not talking about Parts 1-3, just 4-6).


5. Your ideal brain food?
We are obsessed with great television writing. Weeds. West Wing. Nurse JackieHow I Met Your MotherMad Men. We can talk about certain scenes for hours, the structure, the dialogue, the performances. Nothing feeds us like that. Unlike theatre, our other passion, we can enjoy TV in our pajamas with face masques and snacks. 


6.You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Writing a second book. Nothing has been scarier than that. You go from having nothing to prove or lose to having everything to prove and everything to lose (you know, if you care about public opinion—if not, it’s probably less painful). 


With Citizen Girl we desperately wanted to find a funny way to talk about third wave feminism and the pornographication of our culture.  It was crazy hard. And to go back a question, we ate about a million Oreos, but we did it.


7. You want to be remembered for…?  
Never giving up. Anyone can start something, it’s how you finish that measures you. And we hope to be remembered as women who met their deadlines, read the bedtime stories with voices, got some kind of dinner on the table every night, and still found time to put on the cute underwear. We’ll see… But it’s a good hope.


cover art

Citizen Girl

Emma McLaughlin, Nikola Kraus

(Simon & Schuster; US: Oct 2005)

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Edith Wharton, Doris Lessing, Nora Ephron, Kathryn Bigalow, Jenji Kohan. The women who worked crazy hard to stake out shares of marketplaces dominated by the big boys—and who did so by cultivating the uniqueness of their voice and “take” on things.  We are so inspired by artists at the top of their entertainment crafts who prove us girls can do it, too.


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Age of Innocence just rocks our world.  Sexy, biting, deeply opinionated, Edith Wharton’s masterpiece feels thrillingly contemporary.  We would be over the moon to author a social satire that still holds up almost a hundred years later.  (Not saying much for the evolution of the behavior and mores of Manhattan’s elite, huh?) 


Nora Ephron’s Heartburn is such a deceptively complex work that reads fast and light, while taking the reader through a carefully calibrated journey to consciousness.  We crown Nora the true grand dame of Chic Lit. 


And finally, to bow down for just a moment before the guys, Ian McEwan’s Atonement – gorgeous and so psychologically interesting.  And of course, our number one inspiration’s number one story: David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries


10. Your hidden talents…?
Emma could have been a decorator. She can walk into any space and tell you what needs to be re-pained, re-finished, re-upholstered and in what colors.  Nicki could be a dog groomer come the revolution. She can get even the squirmiest dog to relax and let her get to work.


11.The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Honestly, the call was coming from inside the house on this one.  The best instinct we ever followed was to transfer from our respective initial colleges to New York University.  Emma moved from Connecticut College and Nicki from Brown University, despite the fact that the advice we received was to “just stick it out”. 


We didn’t know each other at the time, but we both woke up on mornings (Emma at a miserable internship in Northampton, Massachusetts and Nicki Christmas morning in New York City) and knew we simply couldn’t go back.  It is no small thing to shift gears mid-stream, just when everyone else is settling into college life—especially when we didn’t know where it was we were “supposed” to transfer to. 


And then, after much up-hill transitioning, there we both were—sitting in a Women’s Studies class in a building on Mercer Street, both nanny-ing to offset the incredible expense of going to school in New York City.  To this day we feel it was fate.  That was definitely the best advice we didn’t follow.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Oh, hands-down our dogs. Nicki’s Maltese sisters, Lulu and Nora, were bought.  Their stepsister Jack Russell terrier, Billie, was added by Nicki’s husband. And Emma’s bearded collie, Birdie, was borrowed from the breeder’s son. 


Other than a writing partner, dogs are a writer’s bestest companion.  They keep you company, remind you to take pee and water breaks, and get you out into the fresh air when your imagination is flat-lining. 


cover art

The Nanny Diaries

Emma McLaughlin, Nikola Kraus

(St. Martin’s Press; US: Mar 2003)

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?  
If we never had to leave the house and if our husbands developed cataracts you’d have a hard time getting us out of our sweatpants ever again. But we try to force ourselves to dress like functional people at least every other day.  The funny thing is when we meet to work inevitably we’ll be wearing the same thing – ex., both in navy turtlenecks and black pants; we are so twins-from-a-former-life.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Angelina Jolie. We want to hear it all.  Tell us about Cambodia. Tell us about piloting a plane. Tell us about limo sex with Billy Bob. Tell us about breast feeding twins. We will hang on your every word.


15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Oooh, the Mad Men era, please!  It would be so cheerful to walk down the street with your skirt swaying and see all the men in hats . . . Of course this would probably require gas masques to breathe with all the smoke, but imagine needing only one lipstick, one eyeliner, one mascara! It was a simpler time, an elegant time ... a time when child abuse and alcoholism had yet to be clearly defined. 


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?  
Um, all of the above?


A little snuggle time with our babes or pups goes a long way with us.  In a pinch, taking a quick breather to watch Beyonce shake what her mamma gave her or Pink swinging fearlessly on Youtube always buys us a moment to reset.  But overall, in this post-Morrisette era of our lives, we rely on pretty boring tools—deep breaths, brisk walks, low sugar diets, positive thoughts and daily meditation— and, of course, talking each other’s ears off to find the funny.


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Chocolate! Daily! We both talk about food to an extent that most people would find weird for people not paid to eat. We talk about what we ate for lunch, what we’re going to cook for dinner, what we’re going to eat tomorrow.  When we travel we try to find the local delicacies. We had beignets in New Orleans when we spoke at Tulane that we still talk about.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
We both love the beach. Nothing relaxes us so much. From the Agean to the Rockaways, we’re not picky, we just love the rhythm of the surf and the sight of small children running with shovels.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Get a grip! The Democrats have to get fierce! We can’t be the Ewoks. And don’t allow fracking.


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Our next YA novel, Over You, due out in 2011!

Karen Zarker, Managing Editor at PopMatters, works with a talented array of writers throughout the magazine. She manages the PopMatters Books Series, and also holds many behind-the-scenes operational responsibilities. She can be reached at zarker(at)popmatters.com.


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