James Breakwell, the voice (fingers?) behind the hit Twitter account XplodingUnicorn, is a funny guy. He has nearly a million followers on the social media platform, plus, I assume, several friends in real life. Personally, Breakwell and I go way back, to 2016, when both of us made some list together on some “news” website featuring “humorous” dads, him cracking wise while I padded the contrast. That’s a long time in Twitter years.
His continuing adventures as a father of four daughters, all under the age of 8, plus the ownership of one terrific (also radiant, humble) pig, have led to the explosion of unicorns all over the internet, and a growing demand for Breakwell’s obvious talents. The result of which is a hilarious new book, Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, and the result of that is laughter. It’s a vicious circle.
I recently chatted with James about his book, parenting, and the future of social media. Then I published it here, for you, the reader.
Whit Honea: The title of your book, Only Dead on the Inside, is pretty intriguing, and not something that immediately makes one think, “Oh, this must be a parenting book.” How did you convince your publisher to let you use it?
James Breakwell: I originally called the book A Dad’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. That was a bad title for two reasons: 1) It doesn’t roll off the tongue. 2) Moms buy books, too. After some reflection, I decided that cutting my potential audience in half wasn’t the best way to kick off my writing career. I renamed the book Only Dead on the Inside because parenting crushes us all, regardless of gender.
As for my publisher, Benbella Books, they never questioned the title. They knew what they were getting into when they gave me a contract. You have to be dead on the inside to deal with me.
WH: Your introduction really sets the scene, a dystopian tomorrow (or perhaps later this afternoon), and immediately establishes the audience as tired, busy parents, all of it with strong, constant humor. It has a real Mel Brooks meets Max Brooks vibe, except they already know each other. Who were your influences while writing the book?
JB: I loved Max Brooks’ book [World War Z], but I got tired of his general assumption that the reader had pre-existing survival skills. I don’t have abilities, just liabilities. Namely my children. I’m also a big fan of The Walking Dead, but that show glosses over the challenges children pose. A realistic kid would get that group killed 100 percent of the time. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote my survival guide. I had to destroy the myth of competent children.
WH: Is incompetence considered a pre-existing condition? I bet zombie insurance is expensive. In the event of an attack, do you recommend helping kids first, like an oxygen mask in the pre-flight spiel, or should parents double-down on Darwin?
JB: You’ve got to help your kids first. The survival of the human race literally depends on it. Plus it takes forever to make new kids. You might as well protect the ones you’ve already got.
No expertise required
WH: Where did you get your inspiration?
JB: I wanted to write a funny book about kids, but I didn’t want to do any research or tell the truth. Zombies solved both of those problems—but then caused hundreds of new and different problems. I spent 200 pages solving them.
WH: So you have hundreds of problems, but research ain’t one. Do you consider yourself a parenting expert?
JB: There’s no such thing as a parenting expert. Raising kids isn’t something you get better at. It’s just something you survive.
WH: How would you rather be addressed?
JB: I don’t have relevant specialties, so you might as well just address me by my name. “James” works. So does Sexiest Man Alive.
The family weighs in
WH: What do your wife and kids think about the book? Are they excited? Supportive? Sufficiently impressed?
JB: My kids didn’t think the book was anything out of the ordinary. It’s just one scheme in a long line of my schemes that peripherally involve them. I enlisted their help to test my zombie fighting tactics, which they sometimes loved and sometimes hated depending on their moods, which changed by the second. They’re all too young to read the guide, so I doubt they’ll be impressed by the finished product. To really wow them, I’d have to write a pop-up book.
As for my wife, I gave her a draft of the book last November and she still hasn’t finished reading it. At this point, it’s too late to change the book, and she’s scared to find out what I wrote about our family. I think she’d rather just not know.
WH: On the bright side, when it all goes down you’re going to have an awesome “I told you so” moment to post on your wife’s Facebook page. Do you think social media will survive the zombie apocalypse?
JB: The internet and all social media will immediately collapse once the world ends. Honestly, it could be kind of nice. I’ll have a lot more free time in the apocalypse.
WH: Hypothetically speaking, if a unicorn explodes, can it still become a zombie?
JB: An exploding unicorn can be anything it wants to be. Except a zombie. That’s impossible.
From XplodingUnicorn to book deal
WH: How did a parenting book come out of your (very funny) XplodingUnicorn Twitter account?
JB: After my account went viral, several agents and publishers got in touch with me. They all wanted me to write a book that was basically just a compilation of tweets. There were dozens of reasons I didn’t want to do that, but they all boiled down to the fact that I make bad choices. I believed in my ability to write something longer than 140 characters. I might be the only one.
WH: That’s hard to do, saying “no” to the instant gratification of getting a book out there just to capitalize on one’s 15 minutes of fame. Were you ever afraid that you might miss the opportunity while clinging to your integrity?
JB: I’m afraid of everything. Missed opportunities. Failing to live up to my full potential. Ghosts. But I didn’t want to be the guy who can only do one thing. I want to be the guy who does two different things poorly.
WH: There are more zombies in your book than in most parenting guides. Are the undead a metaphor, or is this really going to happen?
JB: My publisher classified this book as nonfiction, and not one person in the book industry has questioned that. Apparently the literary crowd knows something about zombies the rest of us don’t. Now is a good time to panic.
WH: If you could give our reader(s) just one piece of really solid advice, what would it be?
JB: Don’t get eaten by zombies. It’s kind of a buzzkill.
“Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” is available October 10.