Social Media Sensation & Comedy Author James Breakwell
James Breakwell is a comedy writer and father of four girls, best known for his humorous Twitter account @XplodingUnicorn, which has over one million followers and became a viral internet sensation. Buzzfeed dubbed him “The Funniest Dad on Twitter.” Breakwell also writes a parenting column for the IndyStar, where he antagonizes overachieving parents everywhere. His first book, Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, provides practical advice on how to raise happy, healthy children in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Breakwell followed up with Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child, a slacker's guide to raising slackers. Forthcoming from Breakwell is a duology of interactive/guided journals, Prance Like Nobody’s Watching: How to Live Like an Exploding Unicorn (Little Bee Books), containing a mix of his signature tweets and webcomics. Also forthcoming is How to Save Your Child from Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else that Might Happen on an Average Tuesday (BenBella Books), moving beyond reanimated corpses to tackle roughly 100 survival challenges parents encounter in their everyday lives, an essential guide for anyone who has children, might have children someday, or is vaguely aware children exist.
Were you already a writer by the time you had four daughters to raise, or was it the insanity of being a dad of four girls that drove you to the madness of becoming an author?
I’ve always been a writer. But like most writers, I wasn’t being paid for it. I blogged for years before I had kids, but never found much of an audience. I blogged after kids, too, but was met with the same level of indifference from the internet. It was only when I took my kid jokes to Twitter that things really took off. I used those tweets to springboard into books, which is where I had always hoped blogging would take me. Three hundredth try is the charm, right?
“...kids aren’t any better today than they were before the parenting book craze.”
You’re now an author of several "anti-parenting" manifestos, in having written anti-What to Expect When You’re Expecting books. What is it about the "What to Expect" brand of books that can be harmful to parents and kids living by them?
Every book out there tries to teach you how to be a better parent and raise better children, but the bottom line is parents and kids aren’t any better today than they were before the parenting book craze. We’re stressing ourselves out for no reason. Parental angst is the ultimate exercise in futility. There are so many other real things in the world to worry about without making them up. It sounds like there are so many reasons not to have kids. Can you tell me any reasons to justify having kids?
Natural selection. Narcissism. A never-ending supply of tweets.
We’ve heard of helicopter parents and lawnmower parents, like Grendel’s mother in Beowulf. Is there a "worst kind of parent" in your eyes and how can parents avoid such pitfalls? I dread overbearing sports parents the most. They think their kids are going to get a full-ride scholarship to college and then go pro. Things never work out that way. That’s the origin story for half the stoners in college.
What’s your image of the perfect parent or what do you consider to be the most successful parenting techniques? What are some of the benefits of your parenting messages in your books?
A perfect parent is a parent who realizes there’s no such thing as perfect, either for parents or kids, and they don’t rub other parent’s noses in that fact. The message from my books is realistic. It’s more about coming to terms with the limits of what you can do as a parent than about changing your behavior or the behavior of those around you. If you learn to tune out the pressure coming from parents who think they’re perfect, your life will be much easier. That’s what I strive for.
What might society look like if they followed some of your relaxed parenting techniques? For instance, is there any way we might escape the zombie apocalypse? A bare minimum parent is supposed to raise a kid who can support themselves, isn’t a social deviant, and doesn’t blame you for all the problems in their life. All of those qualities will come in handy in the zombie apocalypse. They won’t prevent the end of the world, but they’ll at least stop your kid from adding a level of personal drama on top of it. That should allow the whole family to focus on dealing with the zombie threat.
How did you go about finding your literary agent and then how did you on on to get published? When I went viral on Twitter, a total of five literary agents got in touch with me. You were the first. We had a Skype meeting, and my kids interrupted us about a hundred times. For some reason, you took me on anyway. I turned down the other four literary agents, which was a surreal experience after spending years unsuccessfully trying to get anyone to pay attention to me.
After you agreed to represent me, publishers wanted me to write a book of tweets. Instead, I wrote a parenting guide for the zombie apocalypse. Somehow, you sold it to a publisher anyway, and the rest is history. Just the unimportant kind of history nobody ever reads about.
“A huge part of my audience...consists of non-parents.”
Liz Climo, artist for The Simpsons said of your book Only Dead on the Inside: “This guide to parenting through the apocalypse is so darkly hilarious, you don't even need to be a parent or have experienced an apocalypse to enjoy it.” Can folks that are not planning to have kids still find enjoyment, perhaps even affirmation, from you humorous parenting books?
A huge part of my audience, both for my online content and for my books, consists of non-parents. You don’t have to raise a kid to laugh at how funny kids are. And non-parents tell me all the time that my parenting jokes are the best birth control around. I’m single-handedly keeping the population of America in check. Go me. Do you have any advice for writers aspiring to become published authors? What have you learned from the book publishing experience? Start building up an audience online, especially if you want to write non-fiction humor. There’s no other way to break into that field—except witchcraft. Witchcraft always works.
“It’s about finding the humor in everyday situations and also answering weird questions about yourself.”
Can you give us a sense of what’s to come from your forthcoming funny parenting titles with your book publishers, Little Bee Books and BenBella Books?
I have a guided journal coming out with Little Bee Books sometime this year. It’s tentatively titled Prance Like Nobody’s Watching: How to Live Like an Exploding Unicorn, and it’s a guided journal for kids. It’s about finding the humor in everyday situations and also answering weird questions about yourself. If there’s one thing I’m good at finding, it’s weird. My kids are an infinite source of it.
In the fall, I have another parenting guide coming out. This one is titled How to Save Your Child from Ostrich Attacks, Accidental Time Travel, and Anything Else that Might Happen on an Average Tuesday. It will be similar to Only Dead on the Inside, with comics, graphs, charts, and many, many words. The ostriches don’t stand a chance.