“SHUT THE FUCK UP! OH!! MY!! GAWD!!”
That, my friends, is how you get greeted by Nicole Knepper when she is psyched to meet you. You also get a big hug too. A really big hug. She’s a good hugger, that one. Maybe an even better hugger than a swear-er … and that’s saying something since Knepper, the writer behind the phenomenally popular blog Moms Who Drink And Swear and the book of the same title, proudly wears the moniker, Queen Of Cussin’ — which, coincidentally, is also her Twitter handle. If Erma Bombeck and Lewis Black had a love child, DNA tests would undoubtedly reveal it to be Nicole Knepper.
But back to that hug. I had just finished reading the book Moms Who Drink And Swear, Knepper’s audacious memoir of growing up, getting married and raising her own two kiddos — the affectionately dubbed “crotch fruit,” as they’re known to regular readers of her blog. I’d laughed through every profanity-laced chapter about her mom, her dad, her grandmother, her mishaps with meatloaf, Black Friday shopping and trying to keep her kids from blowing their faces off with fireworks. Giggling still, I had pulled on my big girl panties and nervously emailed her to see if she’d blurb my own still-in-progress memoir. Unbelievably Knepper said, I’m happy to! If David Sedaris had offered to say nice things about my still unfinished manuscript, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
So when I’d spotted Knepper across a not-so-crowded hotel bar — where else? — at a blogging conference last summer, I jumped on the chance to thank her. Whereupon she jumped all over me. If it was possible to adore Knepper more, her Fuck! sealed the deal. (And to be clear, no bodily fluids were exchanged in the process. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Readers always wonder if the writer they fall head-over-Kindle for is anything like the persona they’ve come to love on the blog or in the book. And I’m here to tell you that Knepper is exactly as she writes herself. To read her is to know that girlfriend does not pussyfoot around — her homepage greeting is Welcome F*&kers! — and to adore her all the more for calling bullshit on so much of the crapola that goes with marriage, family, parenthood, and, well, life in general. If you somehow missed Moms Who Drink And Swear when it came out in April, go ahead and gift it to yourself. (Or be a holiday hero and give it to a friend.) Meanwhile, pull up a cocktail, or a box o’ wine (no judgment), as Nicole takes us back to how it all began.
Norine Dworkin-McDaniel: Did your blog really grow out of a need to stay in contact with your girlfriends? How does that happen? How you go from staying in touch with your pals to a blog phenom and a book deal with Penguin?
Nicole Knepper (laughing): I don’t know. My sister-in law recently texted that I’d hit the half-million mark on Facebook. I was like GET OUT! I grabbed my phone to look, and I’ll be a rat’s ass! Look at that. Who’da thunk it? It’s just too crazy. There is this very weird disconnect between the fact that I wrote this stuff and the reality of my life. It’s so easy to separate the bigness of the social media with the smallness of my daily life. But every so often as I’m going around doing regular life stuff, I get reminded that I have this public persona too.
I just checked again and you’re well over 600,000 on Facebook. So, well done! Take me back. How did this all start?
My girlfriends were using Facebook to plan our 20-year high-school reunion, and while it’s hard to believe, at the time, I was not on Facebook. This was 2008. I was busy with kids and grad school. But my friend Amy thought I’d get a kick out of Facebook because of my snarky personality and need to be social. Smart girl. She also knew I was struggling with the isolation of being a stay-at-home-mom. That gig was so much harder than I imagined. So Amy set me up and made me a profile. Once I was on Facebook, I went looking for groups to join. I found Tell Someone They’re A Great Mom. I was like, Nooooo. All of my mom friends are shitty moms like me. So I started my own Facebook group and called it Moms Who Drink And Swear. It was tongue-in-cheek and silly and fun. Initially, I invited friends from high school and college. Then they invited friends. Within a month we had thousands in the group. At one point there were 40,000 people and 800 discussion topics going. That’s the power of the “share.”
Wow. Okay, so you’ve got a ton of people interested in your group. Then what?
Well, whenever I would write something — these blunt, silly, angry, adoring rants, like I do on Facebook now — people would say You’re so funny, you should write a blog. And I thought, I don’t have time for that! But when one of my grad school professors said You are so funny. You have to blog, that reinforced that I really should write more.
Women have always shared about their experiences. That’s how we connect. I’m sure if you dug back far enough, you’d find that cave mamas gathered ‘round the fire pit to bitch about getting their cave kiddos to eat the damn mammoth and stop asking for a special meal because they’re not running a damn buffet. But, along with bloggers, like Dooce, you may have been one of the early pioneers of what I like to call the Mommy Rant. You are not afraid to say stuff that I’m sure many women think and feel, but perhaps hesitate to admit. There’s so much Be The Perfect Mom out there still. So much of the “Did your kid get into the nursery school that will lead to the elementary school that will lead to the high school that leads to Harvard?” To hear someone call their kids Crotch Fruit and use fuck like punctuation is really a breath of fresh air.
Using fuck like punctuation! It’s true. Totally true. But it never occurred to me that it would not be okay to be silly and vent about this stuff. When the blog started, I was so surprised that people would message and email, saying OMG I’ve been wanting to say this. And I’d say, You have no one to say this to? You feel guilty about this? I couldn’t believe the grief and the heartache and the difficulty people have talking frankly about their frustrations. I didn’t realize that “honest” was in such short supply. I’ll post something and the thread blows up and I’ll have 400 comments. And that’s because people are like YAHHH! They want to vent too.
When I started, I didn’t have an agenda. I was just leaking. I was leaking thoughts, leaking feelings, trying to find a way to connect because the isolation of being a stay-at-home-mom was making me crazy. I couldn’t believe how difficult and frustrating it was. I wanted to share so that someone else would go OMG! I needed to read that. I didn’t know this and now things are different. To me that’s money in the bank. I believe the generosity is currency, and I believe most successful bloggers understand that generosity is currency. And when the world is a better place, it’s a better place for my kids.
And how did you go from a wildly popular blog to I gotta write a book?
I was asked to contribute a story to an anthology. The anthology was submitted to a literary agent who decided she wasn’t interested in anthologies but she was interested in me. She read my blog and contacted me about writing a book. I really did want to write a book, but at that time my mom had just been hit by a car. She’d been walking in a grocery store parking lot crosswalk, and a teenager, who was texting, hit her, sent her flying and she broke her back. My mom was my first priority. I was doing a lot of caregiving. I couldn’t get a book proposal together. So the literary agent said, I’ll keep up with your blog. As you write stuff, send it to me. And over a year, I put together an idea of how I’d like a book to be set up. My agent and I were totally on the same page with the book concept. She said to me, It’s not going to be for everyone, but for those it’s for, it’s really going to resonate.
Amen to that! One of the things that’s so entertaining about your work — and it’s gotta be freeing to write as well — is that you can say My kids are being little assholes today and I’m over it. How do you look at this as mom and author and know that while you want/need to write this stuff, your kids, your husband are also gonna read it?
My husband approved everything for the book. He thought it was funny. But that’s different from everyday blogging, and I rarely write about him on my blog. Except for this time. But he deserved it. When I write about the kids, a lot of it is very general, it’s not like I’m spilling their super-intimate secrets. My son, he’s 13, is super-laid back. He’s read the book, and he thinks it’s all just very funny. His friends think it’s funny. My daughter, she’s 9, doesn’t really care. I’m sure how I write about them will evolve as they get older. But I think I have good instincts about what will fly and what won’t.
One of my favorite quotations about writing is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s: Easy reading is damn hard writing. I have that over my desk as a reminder that I’m not the only writer who suffers. Every writer suffers, even the greats. So I’m always fascinated with how other writers “make the sausage” as it were. What’s your writing process?
I try to write in the morning around the same time. I make myself sit down to write, and if I don’t have any thing on my mind, I’ll just write something random, like stream of consciousness. I don’t over-think it. I write and type so fast, I can crank a post out in 20 minutes, edit it and have it posted within half an hour. I think that’s why I’m such a prolific blogger. It’s just verbal vomit. I’m just Blaaaah.
I certainly have some insecurities about writing and being as good as people who have a traditional journalism background. I feel a little bit intimidated because I don’t have that and all of a sudden I’m a writer? What the hell is that? But I got a crash course in creative writing and journalism while I was writing my book. My literary agent would say MORE! MORE! Don’t blog. Write. Show, don’t tell. I know you can do this! My agent is a badass. She’s phenomenal. But even she said to me, If you say one more time that you’re not a real writer, I’m going to bitch slap you through the phone. You wouldn’t know comma placement if it smacked you in the face, but you’re a writer!
I think the biggest A-Ha Moment I had in this whole process was when I learned I was getting my book deal. I was squealing, I was so excited. I couldn’t fucking believe it. We decided since I was getting a book deal, we’d go to Red Lobster, which is big shit for us. And then my agent called. I’m like Can’t talk; we just got to Red Lobster. And she said WHAT? I said Red Lobster! We’re celebrating! She’s like, And you’re celebrating at … RED LOBSTER? Because she’s a famous agent, she didn’t realize that I was this person Red Lobster was a big deal for. I realized she was seeing me so differently. She’s certainly given me more credit as a writer.
Oh hell yeah. You’re incredibly funny. I get the biggest kick from seeing your Facebook updates and blog posts.
You know, otherwise, I’m incredibly confident. I don’t have issues about the things I now know some people are so damn insecure about. It pains me to know that people are suffering.
Mothering is lonely business sometimes.
And it shouldn’t be. I think if there’s one gift I could give to moms it would be to help them calm the fuck down and be okay. Do your best. That’s good enough. I’m not saying lower our standards, but we should increase our tolerance for ourselves.
Maybe it’s just because kids are blissfully unaware of what parents go through, but I don’t remember my mom getting as completely bent out of shape over the stuff that twists so many women up these days: spending enough time at school, baking from scratch, being super involved. In fact, I remember wanting my mom to get involved in some event when I was on the high school drill team, and she was like, Yeah, I’m not doing that. And she was fine with not doing it. Perhaps that’s why I don’t make myself crazy with PTO politics today. I have embraced the culture of No, don’t bother me!
SLOTH! You’ve embraced the culture of parental sloth! I love it.
I’ve embraced the culture of I also have a life and mine didn’t stop just because I had a child, and I’ll fit stuff in as I can but I won’t drive myself nuts over it.
It’s about balance. You know that book Good-Enough Mother by Rene Syler? It’s great. The whole idea that good enough is good enough. No one gets a better ticket to heaven because they worked every fucking kid party at school. Or sorted more construction paper.
I’m with you on that one!