It’s totally normal to write a book about a mom who turns into a dog, right? We ask author Rachel Yoder all about her new novel ‘Nightbitch’
How can we possibly encompass the intense feelings and the strange transformation that comes with motherhood? After author Rachel Yoder became a mother, she didn’t write for two years because she was so caught up in the experience of parenthood and so removed from her past artist/creator self.
But then a novel came pouring out of her—”I felt like I was channeling instead of writing,” she said.
And the book is, to put it plainly, pretty weird. Nightbitch is about an unnamed mother who has put aside her dream career to focus on her toddler son—but who has also noticed a few very unsettling things as she settles into parenthood, including some fuzziness on her neck and maybe the nub of a tail on her backside? As her canine transformation evolves, she is shocked, confused, and scared, even as she is also curious, energized, and enamored.
We sat down with Yoder to learn more about how this book came into existence and why it has resonated with so many other mothers and parents, despite its strange and otherworldly inciting incident.
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Scary Mommy: Most books about metamorphosis lean pretty negative. It’s usually terrifying event. This was more balanced. There are bad things that happen when the mom turns into Nightbitch, but there are also really wonderful things that happen.
Rachel Yoder: Transformation comes out of this whole ‘body horror’ tradition, but I think probably there’s also some body joy in the transformation in Nightbitch.
A part of that was me watching how embodied my son was when he was a little kid. How he wouldn’t just watch a train, but he would become a train. There was so much joy and exuberance and release in in doing that. And that’s how he understood the world. So it just seemed like a natural sort of transition then in the book to have the mother experiencing the world and processing the world through her body. At first it’s startling and scary, but when she starts to embrace it and come into relationship with the transformation, she finds that it’s something that really can be really joyful and something that can be really beneficial to her in the end.
You mentioned your son, and I sure you get asked this constantly, but I’m guessing some of this book comes from your experience as a mom?
This book definitely comes from my experience as a mom.
I didn’t write for two years after I had my son, after an entire adulthood of writing every day and getting two master’s degrees and teaching and just being immersed in that world. So it was a really jarring transition for me and I really lost myself in those two years. I wasn’t in touch with the thing that made me me. Even though I was loving being a mom, it couldn’t fulfill everything that I needed.
And so after those two years of silence, this book just sort of poured out of me. It was something that I felt like I was channeling rather than writing. It’s a very personal book, even though I never thought I was turning into a dog. It’s dealing with very real problems that I had in my own life. And it was me really trying to work out this whole problem of ambition and maternal love and marriage and how to take all of that and make it work.
I wrote the book really first for myself to try and work through what I needed to work through, to get back in touch with who I was.
You said you didn’t feel like you were turning into a dog—where then did that idea sprout from?
Well, the whole turning into a dog thing actually started as a joke between me and my husband. He did one morning say you were sort of a nightbitch last night. And I just kind of took that play on words and ran with it.
It seems like a really bad idea to write a book where a mom turns into a dog, but it also seemed like a fun idea if I could make it work. And I really needed that in a project. I needed something that was going to be bonkers and fun to write and sort of this artistic challenge to get me back into the flow of it.
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At the end of the book Nightbitch ends up with this piece of art. And you ended up with a piece of art, too. Do you think art is something that all moms need? Or how can moms reclaim themselves after parenthood?
I don’t think that art is necessarily something that all moms need, but I do think that all moms need to hold fast to something that is their own and to something that makes them them—to have the space and the time to really be in touch with themselves.
My best friend was telling me this story. She was a long distance runner and before she had her first kid, and she said to her husband, I am never going to stop running. I just want you to know that.
And then a few weeks after she had her kid, she’s like, Okay, I’m going for a run. Here’s the baby.
And he called her and said, the baby’s crying. And she said, You’re a dad now have fun!
She just knew that she had to hold fast to running. That was her thing. So I think whatever the thing is, it’s just really important to take that for yourself and to claim that.
What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
My biggest challenge writing this book was probably just thinking, is this too crazy? Because it was so personal and because I really felt like I needed to write it for myself, there was always this question in the back of my mind: Will anyone else connect with this book?
One of the things that struck me about the book the most was Nightbitch is not isolated. There are these other mom-dogs in the neighborhood that she has a complicated relationship with. What what is the book trying to say about moms as they relate to each other?
I’m very solitary person. And I really had a hard time using motherhood as the bond for a new friendship. That’s sort of mirrored in Nightbitch.
But it also became really clear to me in motherhood, how desperately I needed a community and I needed a pack, especially because I didn’t have family close by. And so that old sort of way of communally raising children really started resonating with me when I was feeling isolated and at home. I desperately wanted to connect with other moms, but, but couldn’t quite do it and didn’t know how.
I think that’s something I was trying to work out when I was writing this character of Nightbitch. How do you connect with these moms? And how do you open up to women who are maybe not exactly like you, but you still have this shared experience, shared tasks, you’re all engaging in. How do you build community? How do you build support among women?
The husband in the book is kind of notably, physically absent for a lot of it.
My husband was also absent in real life, working out of town every week. So I wanted to know how that worked in a marriage or how it could work in marriage and then in parenting.
And I think too that it’s just such a common sort of problem, right? When you’re home and your partner is not physically there for so much of the day or even so much of the week, how do you then talk about equitable domestic tasking, how do you talk about division of labor? How do you talk about time and how you value time and whose time is more valuable? How you are going to value each other’s time?
I just wanted to put Nightbitch in the most extreme situation and see how she would get out of it, or how she would try and resolve it. Is it a resolvable situation? Is there a solution? Is there some kind of answer? I was sort of desperate for an answer and I was trying to write my way there through her story.
I feel like we’re all desperate for an answer. We’re told how we’re supposed to be perfect moms, for our whole lives, since we are little girls, and it’s impossible. How do you think we, how do we fix it?
I do not have an answer to that. I do think that there’s a lot of deprogramming we have to do as moms and wives and women in terms of how we think about our own time, how we think about our own value, and how we value domestic work—because it does have a very high value and it’s often overlooked.
What books are you reading right now that you want people to know about?
I’m really enjoying Fair Play by Eve Rodsky. I think it’s great if you’ve read Nightbitch and you feel embattled, empowered, angry, hopeful—but you want to know what to do next. I think she offers some really wonderful tools in her book.”
There’s also a new short story collection out called Prepare Her by Genevieve Plunkett which is about women and wives and mothers and how they’re living in the shadow of the patriarchy. And they’re beautifully written and haunting and really interesting.”
“And then there’s a book coming out next year called The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, which is also looking at this issue of what a good mother is and how we think about mothers in our culture—and the expectations we place on mothers. I highly recommend it. And you can pre-order now.”
One last question: Nightbitch is being made into a movie starring Amy Adams, and you are writing the adaptation. How is that project going?
Adapting your own novel during a pandemic was really hard for a lot of reasons. I’d never adapted my own work. I’ve never written an entire feature like script before. So it was this huge learning curve and also during an incredibly stressful time.
Just finding the time to focus and really go deep into it was, was a challenge. But it was also a wonderful experience to be able to take it and translate it from one form to another form and see what worked on the screen versus what worked in the book. It really was this process of doing a huge revision. And I wish that I could go back to the book and put stuff that I had found in the screenplay back in the book.
We’ll just have to see what happens with it. I think things are picking back up in Hollywood and and restarting. So there’s a lot more to come.
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