With chapter headings like “If Your Friends and Family Start Acting Like Dramatic Weirdos” and “How to Eat All the Stuff You Aren’t Supposed To,” there’s no mistaking Tracy Moore’s Oops! How to Rock the Mother of All Surprises for a garden-variety pregnancy guide. Instead it’s an off-the-charts irreverent, hilarious look at modern breeding from the perspective of a work-hard-party-harder writer who had no plans to get pregnant—and then did.
Moore’s clever, comic voice will ring familiar to readers of the Nashville Scene: Moore was a writer and editor for the paper from 2005 until 2011, when she moved to Los Angeles. That year she began entertaining and edifying a much larger band of followers with “Motherload,” a column for Gawker Media’s popular site, Jezebel. In “Motherload,” Moore shares not only choice bits from her own life but also commentary on weird or annoying news related to parenting. (Care to keep that placenta attached, anyone?)
Now “Motherload” has birthed its own offspring, a nonstop-funny, zinger-packed, and yet truly useful pregnancy primer that stands in bold contrast to pretty much any other advice manual. It is, Moore writes, “the book I longed for when I was pregnant.” Moore kindly answered questions from Chapter 16 via email.
Chapter 16: How did the Jezebel gig come about? Any tips for saucy, salty women who dream of writing for the site?
Tracy Moore: Jezebel is a dream writing destination for me, as I imagine it is for all saucy, salty ladies with a hankering for writing. I had loved the site since its inception, and after leaving a full-time writing and editing gig, I finally had time to craft a solid angle for stuff to beg them to let me opine about. My pitch was a first-person take on motherhood from the perspective of someone who found a lot of uneasy intersections in trying to be a person with goals but also have a baby. The editor, Jessica Coen, really liked the idea and gave me a shot. So my advice would be to do the same thing: figure out a perspective you can pitch that you can really own with some expertise and voice.
Chapter 16: Were they running much content about parenting at that time, or were you a trailblazer? I wonder if the site has grown up with its audience.
Moore: They covered reproductive rights in depth and motherhood in general in a newsier way, but not so much in personal essays from a first-person perspective. I don’t know if trailblazing is the right word—certainly mommy blogging was a thing, but I was offering a counter to that, a more critical take on the expectations of how women could write about motherhood without that ever-present fear that every complaint must begin with irrefutable proof that you really do love your children.
Chapter 16: Does writing “Motherload” feel like a release for you—a way to work through the anxieties and angst and nonstop cultural blather of modern motherhood?
Moore: Absolutely. And it’s also a way to be a voice for women who don’t always find motherhood an automatically simple/easy role. When I was pregnant and learning my way around a newborn, I felt like I was supposed to telegraph pure, beaming light about even the most soul-numbing aspects of the job, lest I bring shame on myself, my gender, and my family for not feeling correctly. I’m exaggerating a little, but if you read pretty much anything a mother writes on the Internet that dares to complain about how hard parenting is, you’ll see that people are pretty quick to accuse her of gargoyle-level crimes against humanity. We’re just not comfortable with women who don’t convey grace and beauty and gratefulness in every endeavor of their lives, especially motherhood. So if this is all a beauty contest over who can best satisfy cultural expectations of femininity and motherhood, I’m extremely proud to represent Team Ill-Fitting Burlap Sack.
Chapter 16: Um, the Jezebel commenters, the comments. I feel like I’m missing some necessary field guide or something.
Moore: The comments are definitely a mixed bag. Often they can be a treasure trove of hilarious jokes and smart criticism. Sometimes they are confusingly personal attacks or weirdly (and hilariously) mean-spirited insults. But, you know, this is true on some level at most sites with a comments section.
Where Jezebel is somewhat different is that it has a longstanding, loyal base who’ve weathered a lot of changes as the site has grown, and perhaps they feel, if I had to guess, that they’ve earned the right to remain provincial about it. I don’t really take issue with that. I do take issue when comments demonstrate an utter disregard for what was actually written, or when the criticism seems bafflingly entrenched in this unrealistic expectation that anything that doesn’t speak directly to the commenter’s personal, exact experience is somehow wrong, or egregious, or offensive.
This is all to say that I rarely read the comments on my own stuff anymore. I just can’t. My husband sometimes reads them and kindly skips to the useful criticism and parlays it. It’s not that I don’t want feedback; I just want considered feedback, and diving in indiscriminately is akin to being alternately kissed and punched, which I happen to not find to be a particularly thrilling use of what little free time I have.
Chapter 16: The blog came first, then the book—and that’s the now-common model. Did you debate other ideas for a book-length work derived from “Motherload”?
Moore: I can’t stress enough how great a platform Jezebel is. If you get it right on Jezebel, you’ll bask in the warm glow of digital love. If you get it wrong, you’ll never hear the end of it, and it definitely stings more. I’d heard that the fastest way to a book deal, incidentally, is to get published in the New York Times column “Modern Love,” but the Gawker family visibility is not exactly a shabby backup plan. Within a few months of writing for Jezebel I fielded interest from agents.
Initially, there was some discussion of a memoir, but this was right as the market for mommy memoirs—momoirs?—had gotten pretty saturated, and, frankly, I did not feel that was the best vehicle for my story and voice. I’m much more partial to telling it straight in the service-journalism style. In the end, we decided that a tongue-in-cheek how-to guide to unexpected pregnancy written for adult women with jobs, mortgages, even husbands (or other children already) was the way to go. I was surprised to find that this subject—the oops baby—had not really been fully addressed in the secular publishing world outside of memoir. A lot of unplanned pregnancy books are geared at very young women and are rooted in religion and focus on the horror/tragedy of it all. Some forty-nine percent of pregnancies are unplanned, so clearly a lot of women find themselves where I did.
Chapter 16: Yes, they do. In fact, just the other day my neighbor completely caught me off guard by telling me she was pregnant. Total oops. Needless to say, I have recommended your book to her.
Moore: I’ve said this a lot in talking about the book, but even a planned pregnancy can throw you for a loop. Even knowing you’ve always wanted children doesn’t somehow exempt you from fears, or worry, or doubts, or postpartum depression, or even temporary buyer’s remorse. My book is certainly framed through what it’s like to roll with unintended pregnancy, but on some level it’s just a book about the rollercoaster ride of pregnancy for any woman who is surprised by how it hits her, and how that fits within the cultural expectations of how she feels she can present herself to the world.
Chapter 16: There’s a certain glamour to being a blogger for a top-tier culture site. Can you give us the scoop on this life of glamour? What’s the day-in-the-life pic? And what five beauty products can you not live without right now?
Moore: Fortunately, Jezebel remains gloriously immune to beauty-product reviews, but if I had to pitch my very own top beauty products roundup, it would be vitamin D, coffee, kale juice, almonds, and pageviews.
Oh yes, the glamour of the New York blog world: I am inundated with what appears to be all these top-tier press invites to cool new openings for art, booze, celebrities, and fashion in the coolest venues in New York City. Except I live in Los Angeles.
And as for a day in the life: On Jezebel pitch days, I wake up, get my daughter to school in Santa Monica, lasso coffee, and head back home to start trawling the web for ideas, though this is kind of something I’m always doing as a reader. In fact, it’s a lot like when you don’t really sleep when you first have a kid, you’re always “listening” while sleeping, in case they wake up. Then I pitch to my editor over G-chat, and we hash out if it makes any sense or has been covered. Jezebel does more front-editing than I’d done previously in writing gigs, as these are opinion pieces and not reported stories where you need to stay impartial until you arrive at the story. You shape the piece before it ever gets written. And I turn it around in a few hours.
Chapter 16: So your columns are conceived and written in a day? That’s a quick turnaround!
Moore: Blogging is a notorious grind, but if you lean into it, it can really put you through the paces as a writer, often for the better. I won’t deny some pieces could be extraordinarily better if I’d spent a week on them instead of an hour, but time spent is often the least reliable indicator of how well received something will be on the site.
Chapter 16: Let’s get writing-wonky for a sec. Do you feel like reading Jezebel has helped shape your voice, or did you start reading Jezebel and think, “Hey, I write just like this. They must have me”?
Moore: Definitely both. Jezebel’s conversational parsing of pop culture through a feminist lens was where my brain already lived, and it was something that was already in my writing for the Scene, just in a more toned-down way. But it took seeing that this tone/voice was something with a sustainable national audience to give me the courage to keep developing my voice while still at the Scene, away from a bigger spotlight. I think many writers can probably corroborate this moment—the moment you realize the thing you do easiest and best could actually find its way out into the world to live somewhere decent. It’s enormously encouraging.
Chapter 16: Your book is hilarious. I almost want to get pregnant again so I can read it as the intended audience—and eat as much Jeni’s ice cream as I want. Anyway, did you read other pregnancy guides and think, This really doesn’t cut it? I mean, we all love to hate on What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but were there others that you wanted to throw across the room?
Moore: I very jokingly recommend unplanned pregnancy to all well-meaning but directionless adults who need a reason to grow up. I did read a ton of pregnancy books, so many books. And I have to say, they were all really informative and useful on some level. None of them were worth throwing across the room. Not even What to Expect, though it grates for me because it’s so relentlessly chirpy where you want it to just get really real with you. It has a way of reminding you of all the untold horrors that can happen with pregnancy while never giving you the emotional release of just wallowing for a minute in the absurdity of it all. Additionally, there were no books about the logistics of scrambling to bring a baby into the world in nine short months, especially focused on finances, time off, insurance, bare-bones baby gear, and how an unexpected pregnancy could change your relationships and identity in this context.
But largely I craved something that would address my trek up Feelings Mountain. A friend of mine who had a baby years before told me that she’d absolutely wanted a kid but was surprised to find out how much she had to mourn the loss of herself while pregnant. Most books tend to skip past this unpleasant reality and urge you to focus on you how happy you will be to hold your baby. The truth is, you will be happy, maybe happier than you’ve ever been, when you hold that baby, but it’s also gonna burn like hell when you pee. And don’t get me started on the size of the postpartum pads.
Chapter 16: Is there another book in the works right now?
Moore: I’ve gotten into some TV co-writing, and I’m working on another nonfiction idea with a former 30 Rock writer about what at this stage I can refer to as a book about lady problems.
Chapter 16: May we touch upon the curious problem of hanging out with parent friends and hanging out with non-parent friends? With the former, it seems, no fifteen-minute chat is complete without a discussion of THE SCHOOLS, THE SCHOOLS, THE SCHOOLS.
Moore: There’s a reason, when you’re drying out, that you stay away from other boozehounds, and breeding is kind of the same thing, especially first-time breeders. Continuing to hang around bars with non-breeders would be as helpful to getting your act together for a kid as moving back into a dorm room with your weed dealer.
Having a baby gives you an instant pool of new friends to choose from, except often the only thing you have in common is that they chose to breed, too. It’ll get you through a play date once a month but not so much as a single other conversation that isn’t about children. Meanwhile, your single friends who love the same bands you do are understandably not capable of listening to you bitch for more than thirty-eight seconds about how you feel about charter schools. It’s an unsolvable problem until everyone in the room caves in and breeds.
I admit, I too can go and on about THE SCHOOLS. In fact, I’m available to give anyone interested an angry three-minute presentation on the scourge of the Los Angeles charter-school founding-parents loophole if you’re not feeling disheartened enough about your own child’s education. Free of charge.