A novelist in Brooklyn with two babies? Emma Straub is pretty much living our dream life.
This year marks Pregnancy & Newborn’s fifth annual feature profiling five fascinating moms. The list is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a humble nod to the impressive talent, inspiring outlooks and important work of mothers. We hope you find their stories refreshing, encouraging and most of all relatable because, although the details may be different, our journeys all share a common thread.
Growing up to be a successful writer who lives in New York City might seem like a romantic pipe dream to most, but for Emma Straub, it’s a very normal job, no different from being a teacher or doctor or garbage man. “I grew up with a novelist parent, so I guess I never thought of it as romantic at all,” she says. “It was a profession like anything else.”
Straub was aware of the pros (setting her own hours, writing in her pj’s) and the cons (buying her own health insurance, a lack of office friends), the solitary nature of the work and the rejection that is part and parcel with the job. “I think I’ve always had a pretty thick skin,” she says. “I’m very good at letting things roll off my back, and it certainly comes in handy … especially now, with [two children]. I truly don’t have the time to worry about if other people think my work is good enough—I’m too busy trying to find time to actually do it.”
Of course, there are perks and successes to enjoy, too. Straub’s second novel, The Vacationers, which came out in 2014, is set in Mallorca. The author was pregnant with her first baby, River, while writing it, so she and her husband took a babymoon to the Balearic island—for research purposes, of course.
The extra effort paid off, it seems, as The Vacationers became a New York Times best-seller. “That was enormous and life-changing for sure, just in terms of validation of my work,” says Straub. “I still can’t quite believe it.”
A year later, her newest work, Modern Lovers, is about to hit shelves. (Look for it at the end of the month!) How did writing a novel as a mom compare to writing one sans children? “If anything, it’s made me more streamlined and more focused in terms of my time,” Straub says. “I’m just better at getting things done now. There’s no time to waste.”
Thanks to the built-in flexibility of her job and her supportive, hands-on husband, Michael Fusco, Straub has achieved (as much as one ever does) a balance of career and family. When she’s working on a book, she’s writing as much as possible, she says—“maybe four hours a day if I’m really, truly lucky.” Ideally, she’s at home in perfect silence, though she’s abandoned any too-precious rituals since becoming a mother. “If I have pages that need to be written, I will write them wherever I am”—the subway, the sofa … she’s highly adaptable.
Straub found herself expecting again while working on Modern Lovers, but she didn’t manage to finagle a babymoon this time around (though she admits to fantasizing about Aruba and the Bahamas). Nonetheless, she expects her family, which now includes a new baby, Miles, will be joining her on the road for certain legs of her book tour. “I’m not sure how it’s all going to work,” she confesses. “There might be some breastfeeding at podiums.”
When she’s not writing a best-seller or signing books for fans, Straub is focused on hanging out with her sons. “Most of the time I’m making quesadillas and smoothies and reading books to very small children,” she says. “Because I’ve done 10,000 readings, I feel pretty confident that I’m really good at reading stories.”
The bookworm is determined to pass along her passion to her sons, but she doubts she’ll ever write a children’s book of her own. “It seems so hard,” she laments. “The fewer words you get, the better you have to be.”
Even if she hasn’t authored them, Straub does take creative liberties with the stories as she reads them. “There are some old books that I have where I have to change the words around, so it doesn’t sound like mommies just stay home and daddies go to work,” explains Straub. She wants to depict a more progressive picture for her boys—both in what they read and what they observe. “I think they will see … that [their dad and I] both work and we are both responsible for their care and we are equal in all ways—and hopefully that’ll be enough of a start.”
EMMA STRAUB, novelist
Home: Brooklyn, New York
Mom role model: Her mom
Favorite books: George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Jane Austen’s Emma
First thing she does in the morning: Breastfeeds her baby