The Penmen Profile: Literary Fiction Writer Marcy Dermansky

by Rebecca LeBoeuf

The paperback edition of “The Red Car,” a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick written by author Marcy Dermansky, was released on Sept. 12. After the sudden death of a friend, Leah, the novel’s main character, inherits a red sports car. Getting away from her unhappy life in Queens, Leah revisits her past in San Francisco in search of herself and to claim her inheritance.

Have you always written?
I started writing as a child, stories about elephants and goldfish. Yes, I always wanted to be a writer. There was a sort of romantic idea to me about it, this idea of what it meant to be a writer. It is funny, because I realize that I am sort of the person that I wanted to be. Only it is slightly less romantic.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
I don’t have an official process. I write on blind faith, trusting that if something clicks in my brain, that my characters will tell me what to do. In writing “The Red Car,” the structure of the novel helped me. I realized early on that I was going to make large jumps in time. In doing that, I had to imagine where Leah was in one place in her life and where she would be in 10 years. That helped a lot. Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write next, I think: What element of the story have I left behind? With this book, I realized that a character – Jonathan Beene – had not been around for a long time and so I figured out a way to bring him back. By bringing him back, interesting things happened in the plot and I learned more about Leah. It is always interesting to watch someone interact with an old lover.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
The greatest challenge is carving out time – and then actually using it. Sometimes, I not only want time, I want time in the perfect circumstances (which is ridiculous, I know, a way of creating too many obstacles for me to begin). I have many clients and so I have a lot of work to do. I help authors edit their novels, which is satisfying work and uses one of my obvious skill sets. But when I sit down to write, I find that I worry about wasting time writing when I could be earning money. Of course, writing isn’t wasting time, but on a bad day, that is what it feels like.

I am also a single parent and this ties directly to the time thing as well. My work day is much shorter than 9 to 5 (Does that exist anymore?) because I operate on school hours. I often blame the lack of time for not writing, but then, when I do have the time, I find that I might rather watch a show on Netflix or do some sketching, clean my apartment. Cleaning is a definite obstacle, a choice to make. Ignore the mess and write. Or not be able to write because the mess is too disturbing. Use writing time to clean up, have no writing time. It is circular.

What has the road to publication been like for you?
I was lucky in that it was easy for me to find my agent – Alex Glass. He discovered one of my short stories in a literary journal (The Indiana Review) and reached out to me. So, when I finished my first novel, “Twins,” I sent it to him and he was able to sell it.  Onward. This makes the publication process seem easy, which is not entirely true. I worked office jobs for many years after graduating from college before realizing that I had to do something more meaningful for myself.  I went to graduate school to study creative writing and when I graduated, I started sending out my work regularly. I had so many short stories rejected.

Of course, now that I am a published author, I still sometimes struggle with self-doubt with the writing. You think that would be all over…

How do you market your work?
Lots of ways. I am with a wonderful publisher (Norton/Liveright) that got my novel, “The Red Car,” out to all the right places, newspapers and magazines and literary websites. I also work with an independent publicist, Lauren Cerand, who is able to make magic happen. I work hard to stay visible. I am active on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, which is a private account but I accept friend requests from readers. I frequently read at popular reading series and have been on panels at literary festivals, like the LA Festival of Books and The Virginia Book Festival, and more recently festivals in my area, like the Montclair Literary Festival and the Maplewood-South Orange Book Festival.  I also publish non-fiction pieces. I wrote an essay about painting flowers for the Paris Review and an essay about writing as a single parent on Lit Hub. These essays introduce my voice to readers who might not have otherwise discovered me. My essay, Marcy Blanche Murakami: American Novelist, ran on Powell’s Books blog.

What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I wish that I had trusted myself to get serious sooner. I never got to be one of those super hip young writers and win awards for writers under a certain age. I am kidding, but I am also not kidding. There is a chance that I might not have had anything to write about. But I really and truly wish that I had started sooner.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
There are so many. Haruki Murakami has been an enormous influence. After reading his work for so many years, I took the jump and tried to write a novel inspired by him. He is the inspiration for writing “The Red Car.”

I studied with Mary Robison and Frederick Barthelme in graduate school and I learned so much from both about them. Mary taught me how to end a short story. Rick taught me how to start the story faster, start the action on page one. I would go back to childhood favorite authors: Frances Hodges Burnett and Louisa May Alcott. I think that if I hadn’t love their books passionately as I child, that I would have wanted to write them.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
It’s weird how I am hesitant to answer this question. I walked over to my bookshelf and realized that I don’t have the first three books that came into my head. My bookshelf is currently a weird hodgepodge of books recently given to me, new books I have bought on a whim and finally, some books I have retrieved from my parents’ basement. To explain, I made a big move a while ago, years ago, and lot of my books ended up in boxes, and I am back now, and I have been slowly retrieving the important books, but it is a mess down there and I need to find and open my W box and get an important classic Antonia White novel called “Frost in May.”

To inquire about Dermansky’s editing services or to learn more about her books, visit her website.