Discover more from Mad Woman
On the Quiet First Book
And a slightly louder second one
My first full-length book came out right around the time I gave birth to my first child. I knew some writers (mostly men) who had traveled across the country promoting their books, sleeping on couches in multiple states. As a new mother, I scoffed at this idea. In the mid-2010s, when both my book and baby came out, this implausible image of itinerant writers, plus the occasional book trailer on YouTube, made up the extent of my knowledge of book promotion. I posted about the book a few times on Facebook and called it a day.
The release of that book was anticlimactic, made no less confusing by the fact that I was also adjusting to my new identity as a mother, which set me further apart from public life. But I don’t remember feeling distinctly let down by the publishing experience, because I had never expected, really, any sort of bang.
In today’s publishing landscape, I cannot help but notice the immense pressure on “debut” authors to set the tone for their entire career with their first book. Setting the tone usually means BIG SALES, which is such a disservice to creative possibility, because what sells big is not always complex or challenging or risky or weird (though sometimes). Whenever I hear the term “debut,” I cannot help but think of how first books demand a kind of literary cotillion for their debutante authors, who are being presented to high society. This pressure is a disservice to authors as well, who cannot help but measure their worth and work according to rankings and reviews.
Because Touched Out is not my debut, I didn’t really grapple with the weight of those expectations in the months leading up to its publication. In some ways, yes, publishing my first book with a small indie press did make me feel like I had to prove myself this time around, to level up, and I certainly worried and hoped about lots of things. But writing a quiet first book before social media had completely swallowed authorship also insulated me somewhat from some of the pressure of the breakout. I had already not fulfilled those expectations once.
In case you missed it, Touched Out came out last week. Excerpts and essays based on the book have since appeared at The New York Times, The Guardian, Elle, and TIME. I have interviews and other coverage up at The Cut, LA Review of Books, Write or Die, The Boston Globe, and a bunch of Substack newsletters, some at the bottom of this post. The coverage has been surreal, and I’ve received many notes from readers—notes of gratitude, recognition, relief. It’s all been much more than I ever expected.
But there are some ways in which publishing a quiet first book cannot prepare an author for a slightly louder second one.
Last week the conservative commentator Matt Walsh shared an excerpt of my book on Twitter. If you don’t know Walsh by name, lucky you. He hates Chelsea Handler, publicly shames people for changing their pronouns, worked on a film called “What is a Woman?” that I understand is an anti-trans diatribe released by the conservative website The Daily Wire, oh and he wrote an anti-trans children’s book. Walsh’s post on Twitter about my work incited a flood of baseless mentions about me, my writing, my motherhood, my personhood.
This is not the first time I’ve received notes that tell me, in much harsher terms, to be quiet/ to disappear/ that I am awful. Years ago, I wrote a piece for Ms. about anti-abortion displays on college campuses. Some guy at a conservative blog wrote a rant in which he repeatedly referred to me as the “so-called Amanda Montei” (even before AI, he still couldn’t believe I was a human?), accompanied by a hand-drawn picture of a hysterical woman yelling.
I remain eternally astonished, however, (not actually surprised, but, like, seriously?) that people will read 1,000 words on the internet and immediately feel entitled to a take not only on a book a person has spent years writing—which is made up of many pages and ideas beyond what’s been published on the internet!—but also to provide a hot take on an author’s entire life.
I am admittedly also exhausted by Twitter, which really is the bad place now, but also by this American idea that to attack a mother publicly (or commit state violence against a pregnant person) somehow makes one morally good or superior, because it’s done in service of the children. These alt-Right commentators are of course especially uninterested in any sort of nuanced, critical thought about a woman, much less a mother—they simply cannot fathom the idea that mothers have complex emotions, sexual lives, and (wait for it!) memories of living as a girl or woman (!) that sometimes intersect with the work of caring for children (!!).
Online harassment, though, of this sort is more than evidence of people’s inability to engage with complex ideas. It’s always a disciplinary tactic meant to dissuade people from speaking and appearing in public life with any sort of complexity— or, you know, at all. In this case, it’s both an embodiment of knee-jerk misogyny, and a deliberate effort to enforce various elements of compulsory femininity.
A writer for the conservative online magazine Evie also picked up Walsh’s tweet about my work for an article—Evie is, apparently, an alt-right women’s magazine that is concerned about the “LGBT agenda,” the politics of girl dinner, and “diversity reboots,” and which cites Libs of TikTok as a reputable source. The article alleges that my work is part of a “growing body of online content that makes motherhood sound oppressive,” and opens with a dismayed reflection on the declining birth rate and the loss of traditional values. Per usual, though, feminism is to blame, something we also see circulate in tradwife content.
Evie is slick and isn’t strictly prairie-chic in its aesthetic. The editorial stance seems to be to try to make regressive gender roles sound sexy to young women, while underlining how lonely and unhappy unmarried, childfree women (and men) really are, sprinkling in various alt-Right politics about IVF, marriage, and motherhood along the way. And yet the article on my work claims that exploring the subjects of sexual politics anywhere near maternal politics “highlights a mental sickness that can only be present in feminism,” echoing Walsh’s claim that I am why “people hate feminism” (lol). Never mind that the magazine itself features articles on why women have higher sex appeal when ovulating and highly sexualized images of “natural” mothering.
Had I explored the trials of motherhood as a “universal experience” (rather than a cultural and political one), the writer claims, I may have had a point because motherhood is UNIVERSALLY hard. But it’s also “humanizing” and beautiful, something the article alleges feminists don’t get.
This is all annoying and uncareful, yes, but it also illustrates just how crucial it is to distinguish between the cultural and political conditions of motherhood, and the radical possibilities contained in care work. Equating any critique of the institution of motherhood or patriarchal culture with a devaluation of what the feminist bell hooks called the “humanizing” work of care is one way in which the Right demonizes feminism as anti-mother and anti-child.
This is all, in other words, a clear backlash to the increasingly nuanced discourse on parenthood that has been slamming into the mainstream since the pandemic. It shows that distinguishing between a mother’s love and the labor of care is high stakes stuff, but also that conservative propaganda relies on fuzzing any distinction between the conditions in which we parent and the more radical possibilities of caring for each other.
I’ve spent the last few years emphasizing that I do not think caring for and loving children is inherently terrible, violating, or demoralizing, arguing that we should actively resist that characterization, tracing what’s hard back to the systems that fail us, and to inequality, while at the same time resisting the romanticism of motherhood as the ultimate form of power for women. I have argued that the idea that moms need wine to cope with the terrors of living with children and are destined to be frazzled messes with mental health issues are cultural images rooted in the hysterical woman/mother trope and a normalization of women’s suffering (i.e. what’s hard is just a universal experience!). I have also argued that, at the same time, we need to be equally vigilant about painting mothers as “the strongest athletes.” This is why.
Touched Out takes women’s feelings seriously. It also takes the subject of loving children seriously. I don’t think we have to choose between these two points of focus. In many respects, the book is an account of seeking out a form of parental love that is less strained by the faulty definitions of intimacy we inherit.
But whatever. I deactivated my Twitter account because I don’t have the energy right now for whathas referred to so accurately as the X frat party. I’m skeptical that anyone without Musky politics can build a meaningful platform over there if they don’t already have a robust one established and Twitter hasn’t meant to me what I know it has meant to other writers who spent more time there. I don’t know if I’ll go back, but it’s sort of irrelevant at the moment. I’m more of the mindset now that I’m moving further away from social media in general.
AND YET the conversations I’ve had with folks over the past few weeks have also reminded me that some virtual spaces—this one in particular—do remain important to me. I’m grateful for my work here, and the work I read by others here, because it’s a place where conversation—public discourse if you will!— is still happening. It’s a place where complex, nuanced people and ideas still circulate. Where explorations of affect and experience mingle with critical thought about power.
With that in mind, links!
Here are just some recent mentions of Touched Out at other Substack publications.
All of these newsletters are themselves fucking fantastic corners of the internet and you should subscribe to them all, and again, thank you to every writer, even those note listed here, who took the time to say something meaningful about my book:
- wrote about my New York Times piece at .
- interviewed me about caring and creating for her wonderful newsletter .
Holly Whitaker wrote about Touched Out in this haunting and important essay on books men should read.
- at on touch and temporal boundaries.
- asks THE BEST questions at .
Plus some things not by or about me that I enjoyed over the last weekish:
- ’s book Raising Hell, Living Well, about resisting the age of influence, landed in my lap at the exact right time.
- & what a pairing
This interview at’s newsletter on extremists, harassment, and doing the right thing