When someone asks to profile Emily Gould these days, she knows exactly what the formula will be.
First there’s the obligatory wind-up about the “old” Emily Gould, the rehashing of past controversies: her high-profile career as a Gawker attack dog, that infamous “Larry King Live” interview where Jimmy Kimmel berated her over Gawker’s celebrity coverage, the New York Times Magazine cover story about her blogging career accompanied by a close-up of Gould lounging on an unmade bed.
And then comes the reliable nut graf — about how she’s changed, chastened by her stint as the poster girl of confessional culture and eager to slough off any lingering notoriety.
Gould gets it, of course. She’s been in media long enough to understand the lure of the redemption narrative, and why she seems to make the perfect internet-age cautionary tale. But the thing is, she says, she hasn’t changed as much as people seem to want to think. After the writer Ed Champion published an 11,000 word essay in which Gould was described as a “minx whose head is … deeply deposited up her own slimy passage” and compared to a “mangy dog about to be gassed at the pound,” Gould took to Twitter to defend herself. “ICYMI: there’s a lot of evil in the world,” she wrote. When Champion, overcome by the angry response to his essay, tweeted an apparent suicide note, Gould didn’t retreat. “Bring it sad sick dudes.” she tweeted. “My dragons and I are going to fucking rule Westeros.”
Shortly after the Times wrote that she’d “found emotional sustenance in [its] steady routine and reliable income,” Gould lost her job as creative director of 29th Street Publishing. Now, she’s focusing on Emily Books, the e-book company she founded with her best friend, Ruth Curry. Her first novel, “Friendship,” is about another pair of best friends enduring their uncertain early thirties — one of whom works at a website, is trailed by her past as an internet firebrand, and looks exactly like Gould.
Well, we’re just getting back to the city, we were at Keith’s — my fiance’s — family’s place in Cape Cod.
As you probably have heard, I did get laid off the Friday before my book came out. So I was like, ‘Okay! I hate this!’
How did you first hear that you’d been laid off?
I don’t know if I should really talk about that because I haven’t finalized the details of my separation from them yet. So, my lawyer would probably tell me not to mention that anymore. I mean, clearly I’ve left.
And you had your first reading for “Friendship” a few days ago.
Yeah, it was an event with Emma Straub, and we did a little Q&A also.
How did that go?
I thought it was fun. I mean, more people showed up than I anticipated. I’m always really thrilled when anyone comes to my reading.
Actually the Q&A was better than — you know how usually in every Q&A of any moderated panel discussion, there’s one person who raises his or her hand and is like, “Well, I really question this kind of work” and then speaks for 20 minutes about Israel or something.
That person was conspicuously absent, thank god.
Who was there?
They did have to hire security, which I have never experienced before. That was really weird. There was a giant guy named Kent who … I think his name was Kent. I can fact-check it for you, because he gave me his card and I have it in my wallet. In case I ever need to hire him for, I guess, just to hang out in my apartment or something. I mean, I’m joking about this, and I’m laughing about this, but you can understand why they hired him, right?
For sure. What was Kent doing? Was he frisking people?
No, he just sort of stood there and looked imposing.
Yeah, it kind of made me feel like I was Beyoncé for 15 minutes.
Have you spent a lot of the past few weeks feeling scared?
I wasn’t expecting to at all, but I definitely felt scared when I started getting emails being like, “Oh, have you read this crazy thing?”
So then when I came back into Manhattan for the reading, I was walking over to my friend’s house just in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and a jogger came up behind me … you know, when joggers come up behind you and they’re breathing heavily, and they’re right on your tail, and I was like ‘AHH!’ And I’ve lived in New York for years, I’ve been mugged, I know how to deal in my neighborhood, but I hadn’t felt that unsafe in a while, I think since I lived in Bushwick in 2002.
But this was just a run-of-the-mill jogger?
Just a totally non-threatening woman in yoga pants getting some exercise.
At this point, have you read Ed Champion’s piece?
No, I have not. Keith read it. I don’t plan to. I also told my family not to, although my mom said she was probably going to, and I was like “Mom, no. Don’t do it.” Just because I know from experience, I’ve read a lot of really, really nasty shit that’s been written about me on the Internet over the course of the last decade, and even if you’re dismissing it consciously, it gets in your head.
How does reading nasty shit about yourself now feel different than it did in your early Gawker days?
I really don’t care about it now. I know what I’m doing, and I know who I’m speaking to, and those people are really receptive to what I have to say. The people who want to dismiss me for reasons having to do with the way I look or the way I act or the way I talk or one thing that I said in passing several years ago, I’m never gonna be able to win them over because those people are just crazy or wrong, or. … Sorry, “crazy” is a really charged word, but they’re not my audience and they never will be. There just artistically frustrated middle-aged white men, those aren’t my people.
Since Keith was the one who read the piece, what were his words of advice to you as all this was happening?
I asked him if I should read it, and he said no. And I asked him if it seemed like Ed Champion had read my book, and he said he couldn’t tell.
Then he left, because his hockey team was in the playoffs. So he went back to New York for 24 hours.
And I smoked a half a pack of cigarettes, which I feel really bad about. But they’re a lot cheaper in Massachusetts.
What was it like, without having read that essay, to follow the social media backlash and see that very troubling series of tweets?
I was trying to really not be on the Internet. I mean obviously I was a little bit, as you can tell.
Right, I noticed you tweeted a few things that day. … For instance: “Bring it sad sick dudes, my dragons and I are going to fucking rule Westeros.”
Wait, what was that last part? What did I say?
You said “My dragons and I are going to fucking rule Westeros.”
[Laughs] Oh, yes. I guess I did.
So a few months ago I was finishing my novel and I was living upstate and, you know, purposefully driving myself a little bit insane. I wasn’t going on the Internet, I was trying to finish my book, and the only stimulus that I brought was the Game of Thrones book series. And I guess I see Daenarys Targaryen as kind of a feminine icon. When I had a moment of weakness or doubt, I would try to imagine myself as Daenarys, Mother of Dragons, leader of an army.
I’m sure this sounds really, really, really ridiculous.
I like it. Like a Daenarys of the Internet.
It was helpful for me at that time!
How did you feel when you read that suicide message, in particular?
I know that I get made fun of for my explaining things away with astrology. But I was really searching at that point. I was like, oh, something horrible has to be happening in my chart right now that all these things would be coinciding.
The stars were not aligning the way they should be. But I will say that I woke up the next week, when Mercury went direct, and there had a zero balance in my bank account for a week. Two checks for stuff that I did hit my account that morning. I got responses to so many emails that I had sent the previous week. And my book came out! Everything was just going much better. Thanks, planets! You really came through for me.
Immediately after it I was trying to ride a bike to the beach, and look at the water. But also, in a kind of a twisted way, fortunately for me, I have this other stuff with [losing my job] to deal with, which has been taking up a lot of my time. Besides actually promoting the book, and not only that, I’m now a freelance writer, which means I have to figure out how I’m going to support myself and my household for the foreseeable future.
Five years ago, I would have had my nose glued to the screen about this.
And how would you have responded to it, back then?
With every available gun blazing. Because I was just used to having my baseline impulsivity rewarded on a daily basis, and it was kind of my job. I do have an inborn talent for being very quick and sharp and mean, and I had to figure out how to fight that back and channel it. And not do it in a way that ended up hurting me. So I either have it blowing up in my face or alienating people who could be converted to Team Emily.
I think a lot of people probably watched what was happening on Twitter that day and were surprised you jumped into the fray at all.
For better or worse, this is kind of sad to say, but I’m really used to this! And in a way, it is cheering and positive because the last time I had an experience of this kind of thing, there wasn’t really anyone who was stepping in on my behalf to say, ‘Look, this is not OK.’
What was the last time?
I think the response to the Times Magazine cover story was really gendered. It was not really replying to the content of the piece. It was more replying to the photos.
I was sort of a convenient target for people’s confusion and fear and sort of free-flowing rage. And I felt really alone in that. Even my friends at the time who were still in jobs where they were writing for the Internet all day … There was no one who was really gonna write an impassioned defense of Emily Gould. And then I think a lot has changed in our culture.
It’s less uncommon for women to have a voice and to be unapologetic and open about things, from their sexuality and just their positions. It’s a little better. I don’t wanna give it too much credit.
[In the case of this essay about me,] I didn’t want to not completely tune out and pretend like it wasn’t happening because I felt a responsibility to not seem scared and not seem silenced, and be vocal about it on behalf of other people who have been silenced and have been too scared to mentioned they’ve been harassed by him or another person like him, because that’s something that happens, and you probably have experienced this firsthand because you’ve written things on the Internet for a long time.
If you write things on the Internet and you’re a woman, you will get harassed in various ways. It’s completely inevitable and it has been for years. And I think the most disappointing aspect of this whole thing to me was that it hasn’t changed that much.
When you say it hasn’t changed that much, what do you mean?
The contortions that people will put themselves through to excuse the behavior of men who harass women online. And who write completely inappropriate things about women online. They will always make it be your fault. You provoked it. You got in a fight. You fed into it by responding to it. You wanted attention.
I’m here saying no one wants that kind of attention. Like, you would have to be so deranged to want this kind of thing in your life, because the whole goal of it was to take something that should have been positive.
My book … should have been a happy moment for me, and I wasn’t going to let them steal that by making the focus be about this thing that happened.
You’ve said you’re excited to focus on Emily Books now. What do you think makes this project a particularly good fit for you?
I was told by a startup guy once that I had a “founder’s spirit.” I don’t really know what that means.
What was the context?
Just talking about my job prospects and my future … I mean, I’m very hard-working and I give a hundred percent to everything that I do but I think there are ways in which my being super-opinionated about how things should work makes me sometime less than a hundred percent ideal employee. I probably would not say that at a job interview.
What’s it like starting a business with your best friend?
It’s great mostly. We do have a scheduled date night once a week where don’t talk about the business.
What do you do on that date night?
Usually, one or the other of us will make the other one dinner and we’ll watch whatever TV show we’re watching at the time. I was telling somebody recently that we’re like a lesbian couple that’s been together for a really long time that doesn’t have sex anymore. And the business is like our baby in that we have to keep the spark in our marriage by going out without it sometimes.
You’ve said that very little about “Friendship” is autobiographical, but it’s pretty hard to imagine writing a novel about a thirty-year-old internet journalist in Brooklyn and not pulling in huge amounts from your own life.
I definitely wanted to take the details of my life, to bring them to life and make them as true as possible. But in terms of the actual characters and the action of the plot, I wanted that to be as made-up as possible. It’s hard to create a whole character out of a whole cloth. I mean, I don’t think I’m going to ever be a person who does that.
How do you feel knowing that everyone who reads the book imagines your face on Amy?
I mean, they should. I made her look like me. I don’t know why I did that, it was just the thing to do. However, confusingly, she is not me. I have not worked at Yidster.
I guess Jewcy is close enough.
Right. But Yidster isn’t Jewcy. Yidster is a wonderful hodgepodge of every single place I have worked at.
The book had a draft where every chapter was Amy and nothing really happened. And I wrote a whole book like that and it was super, super boring.
You’ve said that Amy is basically aspects of you that you’re trying to exorcise. What do you mean by that?
She doesn’t really change. Well, she starts to by the end, but she doesn’t really.
I relate to her a lot. I understand why she made the decisions she made at every turn. But I’m no longer in a place in my life where if I was about to get evicted from my apartment and someone was like, “Well, there is this job that you could go back to,” I could turn that down with a misplaced emphasis on something that I consider to be my dignity. I would be like, Okay, yeah, that sounds great. Give me the job.
So what would it take to get you to go back to Gawker right now?
Oh, like an ownership stake in the company and a salary of at least a million dollars a year. Something like that. Just the basics.
And maybe a chauffeured unicorn to take me to the…actually no. I would not go to the office.
Maybe if bouncer Kent accompanied you.
Ha, I do love hanging out with Kent.
Were there different endings you considered for “Friendship”?
There was a whole alternate, not even ending but, latter half of the book in the first draft where Bev has the abortion and that was sort of the draft where all of the characters were still Amy and nothing really happened.
The whole book was thrown off by that. It didn’t work at all.
There’s this one line I remember when Amy thinks, “Things were happening to her–they were bad things, but at least they were happening.” Is that a feeling you identify with?
Ha, I can definitely relate to that feeling. I would rather have drama than be bored, unfortunately.
What do you want young women to take away from your book?
I want people in general to read it to feel less alone. That’s, in general, my goal for everything that I write.
How have you felt about the reception to the book so far?
Oh I think it’s been great! I mean, I have been spending lots of time reading reviews that seem to really get what I was trying to do with the characters and with the absence of men and I think it’s very good.
Who are your favorite Gawker bloggers right now?
Ah, I don’t think I even read it enough, sorry! I feel like I’m going to inadvertently offend someone.
What do you think makes a good “Internet writer”?
A certain carelessness always helps. And actually, inexperience is probably really helpful too. Just having no sense that the stuff you write is going to have any consequences whatsoever, and not having developed any personal loyalties. I mean, I’m basically quoting from the Nick Denton playbook at this point, so that can be really helpful. He fired people when they quote-unquote “went native.”
What would you tell a 22-year-old starting at Gawker right now?
Just read your content, have a lawyer. Try and negotiate for as much money and as good of benefits and as much ownership of your stuff that you create as humanly possible. And if you’re not confident that you’re not getting fucked over, don’t take that job.
How do you think confessional writing on the Internet has changed since you were doing it in the early days?
You know how the first cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” was really good because it was campy but you didn’t really understand exactly how campy and ridiculous it was? And then by the second cycle you knew? And it was still okay sort of knowing and that made it extra funny? And by the third cycle, they knew that they knew and then that was too much? And then there was nothing good anymore.
So now that you’re focusing on Emily Books, taking on the publishing industry … Does Amazon make you angry, or are you just not engaged in that fight?
I used to take it more personally when I was really focused on being a bookseller. I mean, I still am a bookseller but I’ve sort of moved into the idea of ourselves as being something that’s more analogous to traditional publishers. And also the more I read about, and the more I researched it — it’s really, really bad but it’s a battle that has already been lost. There’s no sense in refighting it, we kind of can’t go back from this point, we just have to try to work within the system.
You’ve said before that what drives you is not a love of attention but a love of “being social on the internet.” I thought that was an interesting distinction —
I think it’s about the word “sharing.” Like, just the actual meaning of the word “sharing.” I want to share stuff because I want someone else to vicariously experience what I have experienced. To see that cherry that looks like it has a butthole, you know? To give that experience to someone else.
Ha, very generous of you.
I don’t know why I want that, but I do. If you’re just sort of looking for the momentary high of getting likes or getting more followers, that’s so meaningless. It’s also that I love how conversational this stuff is. If someone would respond to my photo of the cherry that looks like it has a butthole with a photo of a peach that looks like it has a butthole — that would be the highlight of my day.
Do you think there’s some alternate version of you who writes about your own life without being quite so controversial?
I used to think that was a real possibility. But then I sort of resigned myself to the fact that whatever it is that’s good about me also is what makes some small portion of the population recoil in horror. So I don’t think I’m ever going to get to that point. But I mean, I don’t know. Life is long.
How have you felt about all the comparisons to Lena Dunham?
I love the show but it doesn’t remind me of my own work at all. And I think her sense of humor is completely different and I also think what we sort of value about human beings is a little bit different. I think my characters are caught up in a struggle to be, not fully functional, but figuring out how to be a decent human being and they don’t always seem like that, but they’re trying. And that’s not really part of “Girls,” as far as I know. At least what I’ve seen in the first few seasons. If they had a sort of awakening later, I’m not aware of it.
Why do you think people find you so controversial?
I think it’s because I have had a lot of opportunities over the years to evolve and change, and that’s sort of the narrative that easiest for people to force on me. But I just won’t [change], and I never will. That’s just not in my nature. I don’t think I have anything to really apologize for.
You know, no one ever asks me why people like my work. Obviously people do. And I think it’s probably the same answer. I think a lot of people probably would like to be as outspoken as I am.
I can be a voice for them, and I’m happy to be a voice for them. That’s kind of my job, in a weird way.
What did you think about the Times profile of you?
I really liked talking to Ruth [la Ferla]. I think she’s a fascinating lady. I think it got kind of Times-ified, you know?
The stuff about my regret, that wasn’t really something that — it didn’t jive with the way that I think of myself.
So that narrative that’s been foisted on you so much these days — the whole “confessional blogger repents” thing — that’s not really you?
[Laughs] I mean, they wish.