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A new Nanny tale

Seven years after 'Diaries' became a hit, its authors revisit their best-loved heroine.

December 25, 2009|Mark Kennedy | Kennedy writes for the Associated Press.

NEW YORK — When we last saw Nanny, she was screaming into a spy camera hidden in a teddy bear.

The put-upon heroine of 2002's "The Nanny Diaries" had unleashed a rebuke to her pampered and clueless employers before marching out of their lives and restarting her own.

It was a cathartic end to a novel that would go on to sell more than 2 million copies, inspire a movie and launch the careers of its young co-authors, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus.

What happened to Nanny is a question that has gone unanswered for seven years. The writing duo penned three additional books before deciding to finally revisit their best-loved heroine. It wasn't something they did lightly. "We were terrified," says McLaughlin. "We've all loved books and then read a sequel to something that we loved and just wished the story had been left off where it had been. As consumers, as readers, we know what that is and I didn't want to do that to someone else."

The result is "Nanny Returns," which picks up 12 years later. After years abroad, Nan is 33, back in Manhattan and married to Ryan (a.k.a. Harvard Hotie) when she gets a drunken, late-night visit from 16-year-old Grayer, her former charge.

"It was emotional -- very emotional -- to go back to them," says McLaughlin, adding that she cried when she co-wrote the opening passages. "We knew them."

During a recent interview, the authors, including a very pregnant Kraus, detail their sudden rise, how they write and why it took so long to find out what happened to Nanny.

The duo, who met at New York University and had worked as nannies for more than 30 New York City families, spent two years writing "The Nanny Diaries" and had few expectations when it came out.

"We thought our parents would buy it and we would go on to our lives," McLaughlin says. "We were humbly blessed to catch the zeitgeist and step into a media cycle."

Somewhat lost in the hubbub -- including endless attempts to unmask the villain of the book, known only as Mrs. X, who was based on a composite -- was what the authors were trying to do: expose a social system that outsources parenting to an ever-changing phalanx of caregivers, producing unhappy children.

"When we wrote 'Nanny Diaries,' there were many things that we considered red flags waving. That didn't get through the hullabaloo about 'Nanny.' So we were like, 'We need to go back and underscore that if you let these kids grow up like this, they will someday be in charge of your healthcare,' " McLaughlin says.

"And they won't care," adds Kraus.

Publishing houses had specific visions for a sequel: Either Nanny becomes a mother herself and hires her own nanny, only to learn how wrong she was to be so critical, or Nanny opens nanny agencies across the country and learns how wrong she was to be so critical. McLaughlin and Kraus, both now 35, rejected both approaches.

"Chick lit had just been born, and I think no one quite knew what the ingredients were that were making women suddenly show up in the bookstores in these numbers," says McLaughlin. "So they [publishers] were really conservative about what they wanted to put back out there. It's understandable, but it wasn't necessarily the material that we wanted to explore."

Instead, they went on to write about feminism in the workplace in "Citizen Girl," a book their publisher, St. Martin's Press, passed on because it wasn't a Nanny sequel.

The writers then got a reported $2-million deal at Random House but, feeling uncomfortable there, paid it back and landed at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, which published "Citizen Girl," "Dedication," a novel about a woman who must confront a high school love, and a young adult novel, "The Real Real."

"I think they were very smart to wait to do this book," says their editor, Greer Hendricks, adding that 150,000 copies of the new novel have been printed. "There was a demand immediately after the first book came out, and they just weren't ready to tell that story."

Though the authors live in the same city -- Kraus in Brooklyn, McLaughlin on the Upper West Side -- they mostly connect in cyberspace.

After outlining plots together at a cafe or at one of their apartments, they each write and edit in separate chunks -- Kraus starting out first thing in the morning and McLaughlin getting her best creative bursts at the end of the day. They say they've never thought of going solo.

"Which one of us wants to be Gwen Stefani?" asks Kraus. "Neither of us. Well, at least I can speak for myself."

"Neither of us," McLaughlin agrees.

"This works so well, and we get so much out of it," Kraus says.

"I now pretty much write for Niki," says McLaughlin, turning to her friend: "That's how I know I'm done with a scene, if it works for you."

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