This week’s installment of Ten Questions features Mia Mercado, whose collection She’s Nice Though: Essays on Being Bad at Being Good is out today from HarperOne. In these intimate and sharp explorations, Mercado interrogates the origins and edges of her own affability, probing the ways in which gender, race, geography, and other identity markers can shape—or warp—human personality. She finds her inclination to people-please tested when “well-meaning” white acquaintances apologize to her, a mixed-race Asian woman, after incidents of anti-Asian violence, which has spiked in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Those apology messages felt indicative of a much larger social tendency...to perform kindness rather than actually figure out what it means to be ‘good,’” she writes. Meanwhile Mercado finds that her “social stamina is at zero” after the isolation of the pandemic years, her depression descending like a “damp malaise.” Her sense of humor, however, is undaunted, and she deploys it here to lampoon all manner of cultural norms and preoccupations: She offers tongue-in-cheek replies to a New York Times questionnaire meant to help readers find love, invents a not-very-nice new character for the Little Miss series of children’s books by Roger Hargreaves, and narrates her awkward encounter with James Van Der Beek from the 1990s teen drama Dawson’s Creek, among other send-ups. Kirkus praises Mercado for her “lively style, and...appealingly irreverent sensibility.” The author of the essay collection Weird but Normal, Mia Mercado is the morning blogger for the Cut. Her work has also been featured in Bustle, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and elsewhere.
1. How long did it take you to write She’s Nice Though?
About six months. I did the bulk of my writing in the first half of 2021. In those six months I spent an equal amount of time not writing, thinking about writing, telling myself I should be writing but taking a nap instead, and trying to find synonyms for “good” on thesaurus.com.
2. What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
The most challenging part of writing any book is fighting the urge to stop every few moments to applaud yourself for writing a book. The second most challenging part is not panicking at the idea of your book being read by no one—or worse, by everyone.
3. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I write pretty much every day, mostly because it is my full-time job. I’ll try to respond to e-mails first thing in the morning. Having simple tasks to complete early in the day makes me feel accomplished, and I can spend the next one to six hours celebrating what a productive little worm I am. Then I do most of my writing (e.g. the weekly column I write for the Cut, called “I Can’t Shut Up About”) in the afternoon. I’ve been writing more later at night—zoomie hour for words! I’ve found that’s a perfect time to write things I find funny and will absolutely delete the next morning. I almost exclusively write from home, usually from my desk (a twin mattress on the floor in my attic) or the couch. I believe in comfort over good posture.
4. What are you reading right now?
The captions on every episode of the British game show Love Island. I’m also listening to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Does that make me interesting?
5. What is one thing that surprised you during the writing of She’s Nice Though?
That I was having fun and enjoying it. Ha ha, just kidding! It was miserable. Just kidding again! It was both fun and miserable, which is probably unsurprising to anyone who has tried to write even one essay. The biggest surprise was how much I liked writing the couple of short fictional pieces in the book. I haven’t written a straight-up short story since college because every fictional piece I wrote was essentially like, “This is a story about a girl named...Nia.” Hopefully I’ve gotten a little better since then.
6. What trait do you most value in your editor or agent?
Mutual trust, a good sense of humor, and beautiful hair. I know this asked for just one trait, but it’s important for everyone to know that my editor, Sydney Rogers, and agent, Monica Odom, have the range!
7. What is one thing that your agent or editor told you during the process of publishing this book that stuck with you?
To be confident about my choices, opinions, ideas, etcetera. I never want someone to feel like my writing is scolding them or implying that they are small and dumb and I am big and smart. I’m still trying to figure out the right balance betwen being considerate of others’ thoughts and feelings while also feeling self-assured. Maybe one day I’ll be able to have a full thought without reflexively vomiting the words, “No offense though!!!”
8. What forms of work, other than writing, did you have to do to complete this book?
Working part-time for places like the Cut; Googling “Mary-Kate and Ashley” a bunch; watching the episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation about Manny’s blue thong; going to therapy; taking lots of naps and little walks; asking my dog if she is so small (she is!); thinking about embarrassing things I did in my adolescence (brave); taking mental breaks to play games on my phone that are like,“Can you put all the purple goop in the purple tube?” (I can!); and drinking a constant stream of sparkling water.
9. What, if anything, will you miss most about working on the book?
I will miss getting to beg my husband for little snacks because I am so, so tired from the strenuous work of tippy-tapping on a computer to write a book. Now I must tell him the truth: I require little snacks regardless of my occupation.
10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
It was something like, “The goal is to stay.” It helped shift my mind-set from focusing on trying to hit some big, “career-making” writing achievement; I recognize that, if I want to continue writing as a job for the foreseeable future, having steady, consistent, sustainable work is crucial. It’s also a helpful ego-check/reminder that no one is “too good” for any kind of work. The second best piece of advice is to stop Googling the ages of people you think are more successful than you.