Hillary Moses Mohaupt is a listmaker: she’s a writer, social media strategist, communications consultant, museum enthusiast, baker, traveler, and francophile.
She’s also a writer, podcaster, and very recently a new parent.
Not long after my spouse and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, I found myself sitting on the couch with a week-old baby in one arm and my laptop balanced on my free knee. I opened a program called Audacity and — with my free hand — I tinkered with the audio files of my voice and my writing partner’s Emilie’s voice, the two of us discussing the 1961 movie The Defiant Ones.
For the last five years, Emilie and I have co-hosted a monthly podcast, the Screen Sirens, about women and social justice in classic Hollywood films. Neither of us is a film historian in any formal sense, and neither of us considers film studies as part of our writing repertoire — Emilie is an essayist and memoirist and I’m a fiction writer and essayist — but it’s partly that disconnect from our serious writing practices that has made our podcast a success.
This success, as we define it, has nothing to do with monthly download stats (relatively tiny) and our social media presence (small but mighty). Rather, the podcast has been a winning strategy for us because it’s kept us connected creatively for all these years when it would have been easier to end our writing partnership and sideline our individual writing projects. For the last five years, producing and promoting the podcast has kept us both in pursuit of inventive, artistic endeavors, even when major life events (like newborn children) distracted us from other creative commitments.
Emilie and I met while working at a non-profit organization in Philadelphia. Our start dates at the organization were close enough for us to attend orientation trainings together. Our work teams were separate but interrelated and it didn’t take long for us to start looking for opportunities to collaborate on work projects.
It took longer, however, for us to connect over writing. I think we were both wary of being open to each other about our writing lives. After all, what if one person wasn’t as committed to the craft as the other? Then Emilie had the brilliant idea to invite some of us at the office to join her in a daily writing practice during National Novel Writing Month. A few other colleagues joined us in the stuffy conference room or in a nearby park for lunchtime writing, but it was soon clear that Emilie and I were the die-hards.
Once November was over we both knew the other was serious about sticking with it. We kept up a twice-weekly writing date for months after that, taking our journals or laptops to coffee shops near our office building and splurging on matcha lattes and premium pourovers. The writing dates kept us both on task, and sometimes we put down our pens or looked up from the screen to talk through a story idea or share a pitch. Meanwhile, we peppered our office Instant Messaging app with links to calls for pitches or ideas that one of us thought would be a good fit for the other. Our writing partnership was, and remains, a commitment to supporting each other’s writing, to serving as a sounding board for each other’s ideas, dreams, and goals.
In the meantime we learned we shared another passion: classic Hollywood movies.
I don’t remember which of us suggested that we start a podcast about old movies, but I’m certain Emilie was the brains of the venture when we were first exploring the possibility. In workshopping the idea, we laid out several ground rules: the movies we discussed on the podcast had to explore women and/or social justice topics in some way, and they had to have been made prior to 1962. Above all, the podcast had to be fun. We both had enough stressors in our lives; the podcast had to fuel our creativity and our friendship, not become just another obligation that kept us from artistic work.
And so in July 2016 we released the first three episodes of the Screen Sirens podcast. Back then we recorded the episodes twice each month in a conference room down the hall from our offices. As other commitments and opportunities emerged and we each moved on to other jobs, we began recording the podcast monthly and remotely in the evenings after our kids’ bedtimes.
Ours is a partnership that’s based on mutual support and encouragement, rather than on collaborative writing projects a la Rodgers and Hammerstein. The podcast’s regular schedule has reinforced our original intentions to support each other’s writing life. We continue to share calls for pitches, hold each other accountable for deadlines, celebrate submissions, commiserate over rejections, and report when we’re having a breakthrough on a particularly difficult piece or element of craft. We exchange texts and emails, but we also talk about writing — our struggles, plans, and goals — before we hit the record button during on our monthly podcast recording calls.
Preparing for and producing content for the podcast has given us both the opportunity to engage with storytelling techniques outside of our usual genres and forms, and promoting it forces us to practice balancing deadlines and flexibility.
Treating the podcast as a purely joyous joint venture has helped us both see it as an act of self-expression for its own sake. Except for our own loose parameters, there’s no one telling us which movies we should watch and discuss, and so we enjoy the act of researching, watching, and creating. We also enjoy the end product.
Most importantly, the podcast keeps us accountable to each other. In each episode, Emilie’s role is to keep us moving through the basic script and my goal is to make Emilie laugh. Together, we produce something succinct and fun every month, giving us a sense of accomplishment in having completed something together.
This spring, we switched podcast platforms (no small feat for a couple of amateurs!). I found myself one Saturday morning double-checking all the new connections and feeds to make sure everything was working correctly, and I was struck with a feeling of pride. Despite job changes, moves, and new babies — not to mention a global pandemic and its many long-lasting consequences — Emilie and I have stuck with our joint project for five seasons, and at this rate we’re not likely to give up any time soon. The podcast and our partnership might shift and change to accommodate future life changes, but the Sirens, like the movies, are forever.