I met Jenni and Ted at this year’s YallWest, and as soon as I heard about their book, UNPREGNANT, I couldn’t wait to read it. The book debuted today, September 10, 2019:
Seventeen-year-old Veronica Clarke never thought she would wish she’d failed a test until she finds herself holding a thick piece of plastic in her hands and staring at two solid pink lines. Even the most consistent use of condoms won’t prevent pregnancy when your boyfriend secretly pokes holes in them to keep you from going out-of-state for college.
Veronica needs an abortion, but the closest place she can legally get one is over nine hundred miles away—and Veronica doesn’t have a car. Too ashamed to ask her friends or family for help, Veronica turns to the one person she believes won’t judge her: Bailey Butler, Jefferson High’s own little black cloud of anger and snark—and Veronica’s ex-best friend. Once on the road, Veronica quickly remembers nothing with Bailey is ever simple and that means two days of stolen cars, shotguns, crazed ex-boyfriends, truck stop strippers with pro-life agendas, and a limo driver named Bob. But the pain and betrayal of their broken friendship can’t be outrun. When their fighting leads to a brutal moment of truth, Bailey abandons Veronica. Now Veronica must risk everything in order to repair the hurt she’s caused…
How did you know you wanted to collaborate on a novel together?
Well, to be honest we didn’t set out to write a novel. We’ve been screenwriting partners for a while and UNPREGNANT started out as a feature length script. We wrote it as spec (a completed screenplay that would be then be shopped to producers) but our agents at the time thought the story would be nearly impossible to sell. For context, this was during the Obama administration, so you know, no one was panicked yet about things like basic human rights. Anyway, Jenni was pregnant at the time, so we put it aside for the time being. But we still loved the story, and more than that we believed it was important — especially after the 2016 election. So we decided to do something crazy, something we’d never imagined we would do, we decided to try to turn the story into a novel. We figured that as a book the story would be a finished product that could stand on its own, unlike a screenplay which would require millions of dollars and lots of different people’s involvement before anyone would see it. Ultimately, we are glad we took this path because it turns out, writing books is super fun. It allowed us to delve much deeper into the story than we could in the limited timeframe allowed in the screenplay.
This is definitely a story that deserves to be covered in depth! I love that UNPREGNANT takes place in the southwest. How did you know that was the right backdrop for Veronica’s story?
The initial idea for the story came to us from an NPR report about abortion access for minors in the middle of the country and the restrictive parental consent laws most states have. From Missouri, the closest two options are New Jersey and New Mexico. We chose to send the girls to New Mexico because there’s something iconic about the southwest. Everything is vast, open and seems to stretch on forever. It’s a great visual metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood, full of possibility and also terrifying. Also, everyone knows there are no aliens in New Jersey.
Definitely not! And I know what you mean–I used to live in New Mexico, and the skies are as wondrous as the wide open spaces. Unpregnant will also become a movie! Congratulations. Where were you when you heard the news?
Jenni: Sadly this is not a very exciting answer though probably indicative of the “glamorous” life of a writer. I was on the way to a coffee shop to work because my desk at home was covered with a Lego project. When I got to the parking lot there was an email asking if I was available for a conference call. I was starving because I’d been running around doing mom stuff all day and hadn’t had lunch yet, so I grabbed a bagel sandwich and sat in my car. I was just shoving the last bit into my mouth when the call came through and they told us they’d found a director and distribution and would be moving ahead to production. The book had been optioned shortly after it had been sold (almost a year previous) and we’d been lucky enough to be hired to write the screenplay ourselves, but we knew from working in the industry that a lot of books get this far, and then get stuck. So it was a huge surprise that things were moving so quickly. I basically let Ted do a lot of the talking and tried not to choke on bagel from shock.
Ted: My memory was that we had been told the producers wanted to “talk” and that’s always terrifying when you don’t know why. Did they want another rewrite, another writer, was it stalled, did they find out that there was another teenage abortion road trip being made by Miley Cyrus?!! Gah!!! So I was laying on the couch of my office taking deep breaths while we took the conference call hoping that it was some good news. And boy was it! Not only did they find a distributor but an amazing female director, something that had always been on our wish list. After the call, we called each other just to make sure we had heard the same thing. We still call each other periodically in case this is all a really long dream sequence.
I’m glad it wasn’t! What are some of your current projects?
How coy are we allowed to be? We have another book coming out from HarperTeen and we are in the process of drafting it. Like Unpregnant, it’s another friendship story, but this time with two guys. There are lots of feelings and messy emotions, but also dick jokes and a shark.