Marcy, why did you write a book about an unsympathetic character?

Is she? I love Marie. I did not not love her for a second. Yes, I am well aware of all the bad things she does. Passing out, drunk, in a bathtub with the two-year-old girl she is supposedly taking care of. Having sex with the girl’s father. Running off to Paris with him and little girl, subsequently trashing the life of her former best friend — mother of said girl, wife of the philandering French novelist husband. Marie does bad things.

But to be fair, there are extenuating circumstances. Climb into Marie’s head and everything she does makes sense, seems reasonable. At least to me. I was always on her side.

I know that there are readers who will have problems with Marie and this makes sense to me. But a lot of these same readers come around to care about and root for Marie, despite themselves.  Recently, I was asked this question at a Q&A after a reading, and a friend later told me that she was confused. Like me, my friend found Marie to be a wholly sympathetic, likable character. I felt such relief, gratitude even. Reassured that maybe I am not that twisted.  It is important to have friends.


Why do you write books at all?

I have asked myself that question, more than once, especially in the long stretch of time between TWINS and BAD MARIE. I guess I can’t think of anything I love to do more than write. I love to swim. I love to eat.  But I require breaks in my leisure activity. I need to feel, somehow, that I am getting work done. I have a work ethic. I love to work — when it is work that I love to do. In a workshop during graduate school, Mary Robison once said that there is no drug better than actual writing. I never forgot that, because I had never experienced such a creative high. But I agree with her now.


What is your next book about?

I have a mandatory downtime in between writing projects. For the official record: I don’t have a coherent answer for that question. I will try to heed the writing advice of my father who says: “More sex.” But I might disregard that advice, too. In general, I don’t like to discuss my writing as I am writing. Maybe that is superstitious. But I worry about writers who announce their self-imposed deadlines and post daily word counts. I do believe you can jinx yourself.


Marie loves escargot. How do you feel about them?

I also love them. I ate escargot for the first time, not surprisingly, in Paris  on a weekend trip many years ago. Ten years ago. A long time. It thrills me how I can take this brief snippet of a memory — the joy I had eating a new food for the very first time — and put it into my fiction. Because I had no idea at the time that I would use it. Which reminds me that I should travel more. Not just for the sake of pleasure, but because the more places I go, the bigger a reservoir of seemingly insignificant details I will have to choose from.

I’d like to add that I am always writing about food. In Bad Marie, I catalog in great detail the foods that Marie eats and what she hopes to eat next. In my own life, too, I am constantly thinking about my next meal. I have to restrain myself from posting details about my meals on Twitter. Occasionally, I do.


Marie calls Caitlin,  her young charge, Caty Bean, and sometimes, affectionately, Silly Bean. Where does that come from?

Bean is actually a term on endearment that gets passed along freely in the Dermansky family. My sister refers to me as My Beanhead Sister. To be clear: I wrote this book first, about a woman who kidnaps a baby. Then I had a baby. I realize now that there are so many more variations of  the nickname Marie could have taken advantage of. Beanhead, Baby Bean, Clean Bean, Smart Bean, Sweet Bean, Lima Bean, Bean Bean, Cutie Bean, Beanzer, Little Bean. I could go on.


How do you feel about this interview with yourself?

It’s been fine. I have felt the need to censor myself; I have censored myself. I have revealed no secrets that I feel uncomfortable with.  I sort of wish I had asked myself about my theory that this country would be a better place if we built more swimming pools. There would be more jobs (contractors, lifeguards, swim teachers) and a much happier population at large.

Also, I had a fresh pot of French Press coffee on my desk while working on this, oatmeal and dark chocolate cookies to go with the coffee, good music playing, my husband out of the apartment with the baby. They are watching the World Cup in a bar. Germany is losing. The air conditioning is turned on high. I will save this document and set out to meet them.

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MARCY DERMANSKY is a novelist, film critic, and avid swimmer.

Her second novel BAD MARIE (Harper Perennial) is out now, released this July. Hailed by the Nervous Breakdown’s own Gina Frangello as “genuinely sexy, dark and subversive but also freaking weirdly hilarious,” BAD MARIE has been selected as a Barnes and Noble Fall 2010 Discover Great New Writers pick.

Marcy’s first novel TWINS (2005) was a New York Times Editors Choice Pick: “A brainy, emotionally sophisticated bildungsroman-for-two.” Years later, readers continue to write Marcy about the ending, wanting to know if Chloe made the basket.

Marcy’s short fiction has been published widely, including McSweeney’s, Indiana Review, Mississippi Review and Fifty-Two Stories.

She serves as a board member of the online literary community Fictionaut and is a film critic for About.com. She lives in Astoria, NY with her husband, writer Jürgen Fauth, and their daughter Nina.

9 responses to “Marcy Dermansky: The TNB 

  1. jonathan evison says:

    . . .hooray, marcy!!! . . . count me in with the snail lovers! yummy! . . . my wife devoured bad marie last week (liked it even better than twins, which is saying a lot), and as is the custom in our household, it’s on deck for me . . .

  2. hooray, jonathan, i love that your wife loves all of my books! thanks! hope you like it, too.

  3. […] The Nervous Breakdown, Marcy interviewed herself about unsympathetic characters, escargot, and her favorite baby […]

  4. Gloria says:

    This was a really fun interview. Congratulations on the accolades and on being selected by Barnes and Noble as a must read writer. There are people who think that about but I share her DNA and call her mom.

    I totally won’t talk about my writing while I’m writing it either. It feels like it’s going to disempower the story or something. I don’t know. It’s weird.

    I look forward to reading this.

  5. Thanks, Gloria!

    I also hope I did not offend the many writers that DO talk about their writing. It’s hard to predict just what I say when I interview myself.


  6. Marcy, such a delight to see you here! Yeah, you know after My Sister’s Continent, I got so many questions about my “unsympathetic” characters–but I didn’t just sympathize with those characters, I loved them way more than most people I had ever met in my life. Their demons were part of what enriched them for me and made me feel bonded to them. As you know from my review, I feel like there is such a shortage of characters in contemporary fiction who are not conventionally “sympathetic,” and I think this is especially such an issue when it comes to fiction by women writers. I do believe that male writers seem (to my happiness that at least SOMEONE can!) able to write about more contradictory, selfish, wrong-doing characters and still get published, but that (with the onslaught of chick-lit especially) women writers are often really expected/demanded to write about these plucky, spunky heroines who “triumph over adversity” and other book-club-bullshit. I see so few characters like Marie in books from the big houses that it just rocked my world to meet her. I am choosing to believe that the very fact that your book is meeting with such deserved success may be an indication that some of the weird Puritanism that’s been plaguing publishing since the time of 9/11 and Bush may be starting to wane, despite the ongoing financial crisis in the industry. That would be such a fucking great thing. Thanks for contributing to it!

  7. Gina!

    I think you are right, about women characters not allowing to be “unsympathetic.” And the end of weird Puritanism, too. I wish I had set out to accomplish this in the actual writing of BAD MARIE, but maybe, probably, in my unconscious mind, I knew just what I was doing. More simply, I am thrilled — as a writer –to have been able to rock your world.


  8. […] Joining me on the docket will be Marcy Dermansky, author of the fantastic Bad Marie (I read it. It really is fantastic.  I’m not saying that just […]

  9. […] MARCY DERMANSKY on Marcy Dermansky […]

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