“Delicate Condition”: A Unique Blend of Horror and Pregnancy
The Truth About Pregnancy
At some point, every pregnancy is a horror story. That’s the truth laid bare in author Danielle Valentine’s book “Delicate Condition,” the first-ever novel to be adapted into a season of the long-running anthology series “American Horror Story.”
A Feminist Twist on “Rosemary’s Baby”
Currently airing on FX, “AHS: Delicate” stars Emma Roberts as Victoria, a former child actor who’s navigating sudden stardom and awards attention as she’s also trying to conceive a baby with her husband (Matt Czuchry). The show has been praised as a feminist update of “Rosemary’s Baby,” and has given reality star Kim Kardashian a role dreams are made of, playing a ruthless publicist who will stop at nothing to get her client an Oscar. But Hollywood trappings aside, “AHS: Delicate” is a body horror play.
A Visceral and Gruesome Experience
“There’s a very specific discomfort, symptoms and horror of what a typical pregnancy can be,” Valentine tells Haber Tusba. “I’d been a body horror novelist for 10 years. I got my start writing teen exorcism books, so I have history with that. I thought, if I can do one thing, I can describe this very visceral, painful, oftentimes gruesome experience in a way that other people who’ve tackled this subject couldn’t.”
Unpacking the Phenomena of Medical Gaslighting
Valentine is the author of “The Merciless” series, which is described as “Mean Girls” meets “The Exorcist,” as well as standalone works like “How to Survive Your Murder.” In a roving conversation with Haber Tusba, she unpacks phenomena like the “medical gaslighting” women are subjected to in society, as well as some A-list inspiration behind the characters we’re presently seeing on-screen.
The Balance Between Career and Motherhood
It’s interesting that this show comes in the same year as “Dead Ringers,” and both seem to tap into a larger crisis of how pregnant women are mistreated and ignored by the medical establishment. In the case of this material, a person who has trouble conceiving.
One of the most frustrating and poignant parts of the book is watching people tell this woman about her own body, and completely tune her out. In some of these situations, especially with doctors, she’s just bearing it because she feels like she’s somehow broken or not enough. That in and of itself is truly terrifying and frustrating.
“I didn’t know at first that I was writing about medical gaslighting, I was just putting down my experience with my own doctors. I grew up in the Midwest, and I’m very much a people pleaser. I don’t want people to think I’m a bitch, or to talk too loud or be too aggressive. All of these things that we tell women that they are.
The Struggle Between Career and Motherhood
The show sets up really interesting stakes for Emma Roberts’ character, who is forced to choose between the most pivotal moment in her career and doing everything she can to conceive.
This was the conversation at every prenatal class I went to. People asking, “How much is this going to take me away from the thing I’ve been working at for so long?” You’re surrounded by people who are so passionate about their work, and make that a big part of their identity. But we’re told our whole lives, “You know, it’s going to be really hard to balance these two things.”
A lot of parents wonder, do I really get to have both of these things?
The Isolation of Celebrity
To be a successful actor is also such a rare thing, and time is of the essence. There’s an isolation that comes with that kind of celebrity that seems a perfect fit for the horror genre.
That was really fun for me to explore. When you’re writing, you want to put characters in the worst possible situations. You want to give all the trouble to the person who is going to handle it worst. I thought, who is the character I can give this specific pregnancy to? I’ve never written about actresses or that world before. So the idea was somebody who had to do it in public, and be highly visible during the process.
I was inspired by Shay Mitchell. She posted something on Instagram after she had been through a miscarriage. She and I were pregnant at the exact same time. I thought it was so surreal — we were both going through some of the same things, and she had to share it with an audience. It inspired me to write about somebody who had to go through a really gruesome pregnancy in the same situation.
The Intricacies of Awards Campaigning
Your book and the series are also full of really delicious, accurate detail about modern awards campaigning. Emma’s character is gunning hard for a Best Actress Oscar. How did you get inside that process?
My understanding of the Oscar process is nothing. I researched it for months, and read everything I could about actors who’ve been through this, about what the campaigns are like. There’s a saying in writing, “plausible, even if it’s not probable.” It had to at least feel realistic, because most readers don’t have an intimate understanding of how the Oscars process works. I remember I read an article about George Clooney and the various hoops he had to jump through during these campaigns, all while dodging the paparazzi.
The Hamptons: A Terrifying Setting
I also thank you for setting part of this book in one of the most terrifying places in the world: The Hamptons during off-season.
And on-season! That setting helped mirror everything as glittering and perfect and beautiful. I’m from Nebraska, and I had only seen the Hamptons on television a few times. Having gone, you have this experience of, “Oh my god, this place isn’t real.” It was a really interesting setting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.