Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Q&A with Marcy Dermansky

Marcy Dermansky, photo by Michael Lionstar
Marcy Dermansky is the author of the new novel Very Nice. Her other books include The Red Car and Bad Marie. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Very Nice, and for your cast of characters?

A: Very Nice started out as a short story. The college student and her professor and his standard poodle. I wrote it quickly, in two sittings, and when it was done, I felt at a loss. I was done.

And so I wrote a new chapter, from the point of view of the girl’s number. And then when that was done, it was only natural that I write from the professor’s POV. The plot started moving. I was surprised when I wrote from the point of view of the professor’s subletter, but I decided to trust myself. Then the father came in, too. I had no idea, when I started out, that this would be my next novel.

Q: You tell the story from various characters' perspectives. Did you need to focus more on one character at a time, or did you write the novel in the order in which it appears?

A: The great thing about writing from so many different point of views is that your book has an instant structure. An order to it, even. I already began answering this question, didn’t it?

This is how the writing went:

Rachel, Becca, Zahid, Khloe. Rachel, Becca, Zahid, Khloe. Repeat.

Of course, I broke this pattern – twice, with the father, Jonathan – but otherwise, I always knew what I had to do. I loved that. And because all of these lives were so deeply interconnected, what one character did affected what would happen in the next chapter. This is the second time I have written with multiple points of view and I highly recommend it.

Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: Very Nice was the title of the original short story. And then, it continued to work for the entire book. For one thing, it sounds good. It also has some irony. This is something that is frequently said (I can’t tell you how many very nice jokes I am getting) but is everything really and truly very nice? Can we trust the word very? My second novel was called Bad Marie, and honesty, it sort of meant Good Marie to me.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the novel says, "There are many funny writer jokes in this book, among them the commentary on Rachel's parents' marriage provided by her short stories; in a way the whole book is a writer joke." What do you think of that assessment?

A: It’s interesting. What I love about reviews is that they point out things about your work that you were not aware of when writing the book. Of course, I knew that I was writing about writers while I was writing. And I know that is dangerous. This is the second book (including The Red Car) where I write about writers. There is that saying, write what you know. I honestly wish I knew more. I am reluctant to do research.

But to directly answer your question, I don’t think this book is a writer joke. That feels off to me. I love writers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on some short stories, playing with ideas. It is a big commitment, beginning the next novel, and I always want to make sure that I pick the right story to go with. I put a lot of pressure on myself.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: So much.

But I am just going to take this opportunity to share a blurb that a bookseller in Washington, D.C., wrote about Very Nice. Because I love it and it is what I hope other reads might take away from reading my book. Very Nice is being marketed as a summer book and it is one but it is also more than that, but there is some actual substance to it to. You know? Anyway, here goes:

“Thank you, Marcy Dermansky, for this very nice book. It's cutting, hilarious, timely, and addicting. Set in the immediate aftermath of Trump's election, this is the story of the Connecticut suburbs, Wall Street wealth, literary prizes, MFA prestige, and how all those very nice things cannot inoculate us from our own human needs and bad decisions. Let's be real: if this had "Jonathan Franzen" on the cover, it would already be hailed as the next great American novel, which it is... but it could only have been written by Marcy Dermansky.” -Emilie Sommer, East City Bookshop / Washington D.C.

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