Perfect for fans of Juno and Jennifer E. Smith, Unpregnant is a heartfelt and hysterically funny YA debut about fierce friendship, reproductive rights, and the wild road to adulthood.
We had the pleasure of chatting to Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan about their new novel, Unpregnant, which is described as “Thelma and Louise with abortion”. The pair discuss how it came to be, co-authoring a book, what’s next for them, and book recommendations!
Hi Jenni and Ted! Tell us a little about yourselves!
Well, we’ve been writing together for almost twelve years now. Both of us went to the same film school (shout out to Loyola Marymount University) and met there. While we had written separately, we found that having someone to yell at in frustration or do the work for you is so much easier. And luckily we have similar taste, though Jenni is really into show tunes and cosplay and Ted is more of a brooding, pretentious-type. While we were toiling away on Unpregnant, Jenni wrote on How I Met Your Mother and Ted spent a lot of time as a music editor/supervisor for a handful of movies (Deadpool 1 and 2, Logan, The Hate U Give).
Unpregnant is set to release on September 10th. If you could only use five words to describe it, what would they be?
Thelma and Louise with abortion.
Now let’s hear a little more! What can readers expect?
The book is about the thousand mile trek Veronica, a seventeen year-old girl from Missouri, has to make to get a legal abortion in New Mexico. Unfortunately, she needs a ride and the only person she knows with a car that she doesn’t think will judge her is her high school’s infamous black cloud of anger and snark—and Veronica’s ex-best friend—Bailey Butler.
What should be a simple Slurpee-powered road trip through the American Southwest quickly turns into three days of stolen cars, shotguns, ferretnapping, kind-hearted truck stop strippers, crazed ex-boyfriends, and aliens. Plus the pain and betrayal of a broken friendship that can’t be outrun. There’s also a taser.
How did this collaboration come to be?
The initial idea for Unpregnant came way back in 2012 while Jenni was driving home from work and listening to NPR. There was a report on a proposed law that would create a seventy-two hour waiting period to get an abortion in South Dakota. She began thinking about how hard it was to access abortion in many parts of this country, how lonely and difficult making that journey might be, and who you would bring with you on that trip. Once she got home, she texted Ted, “I know what our next project is: abortion road trip” and he texted back something like, “Um, that sounds sad…” and she was like, “No, don’t worry. We’ll make it funny.” And then we wrote for, like, five years.
What’s the process like when co-authoring a book?
In a lot of ways, it’s much easier than working alone. Bouncing ideas off each other is a great way to stay inspired and not get too stuck. And there’s nothing better than having someone kill a bad idea before it’s eaten up your week. We are also big outliners and spend a lot of time getting the structure, characters, scenes and dialogue where we like it before any prose is written. Most of this is done face to face, often over a bowl of rustic tomato soup at Panera.
Were there any particular aspects of the book that were more challenging to write?
Finding the right tone was going to be the key right from the start. There’s a reason why people look at us weird when we say we wrote a funny book about a girl getting an abortion. We never wanted to belittle the issue or the choices the characters were making. At the same time, we really didn’t want the book be a preachy downer. After a few months of trial and error, we finally wrote one scene that seemed to balance the two and from there it was downhill.
You’re working together on another upcoming project! Any teasers that you’re allowed to share?
We are working on a second book for HarperTeen. This one will also revolve around teenage friendships but this time it’s about two boys. It has all the elements people love in a story — sharks, bees, a lot of bodily fluids and cancer. It’s funny, we swear. (Which maybe should be our tagline on all our books.)
What was it like when you found out that Unpregnant would be adapted into a movie?
It was bonkers as you can imagine. Funny thing was, we actually envisioned it as a movie first. We wrote the script back in 2012 and tried to get it made it but apparently it wasn’t the right time. People liked it, but because Obama was president, abortion rights didn’t seem as endangered. Still, we really believed in Unpregnant and didn’t want to give up. It took many years, a novelization (our first time writing prose) and a catastrophic presidential election for the story to seem viable and urgent. And now that they are actually about to shoot, we have to hold ourselves back from bragging to everyone in line at Panera.
Lastly, do you have any book recommendations for us?
Ted recommends The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I’ve never read anything like it. It’s absurdly hilarious, thought provoking and will mess with your head pretty bad.
Jenni likes Laura Sibson’s The Art of Breaking Things. While our stories are a little heightened, Sibon’s are so real it hurts. It’s a beautiful, somber look at sexual assault and the complcated road to healing.
Jenni Hendriks’s mom often complained she was “a real smart**s,” so she decided to make a career out of it. She moved to Hollywood and worked her way from coffee-fetcher to writer for the television series How I Met Your Mother. She is also a cartoonist whose feminist-inspired works have been published in Ms. magazine. A film school graduate, she knows how to rack focus and wrangle a cable and can tell you what a best boy does.
Ted Caplan has been working in the film industry for over twenty years as a writer, sound designer, and music editor. He has helped craft the soundtracks to many high-profile projects, such as The Maze Runner, Logan, both Deadpool films, and The Hate U Give. He is also the screenwriter of Love Sonia, a feature film about international sex trafficking from the producers of Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire.