Interview: Marcy Dermansky, Author of Hurricane Girl

Marcy Dermansky, author of Hurricane Girl
Hurricane Girl author Marcy Dermansky / photo by Michael Lionstar

In her fifth novel, Hurricane Girl, Marcy Dermansky invites the reader into the life of Allison Brody, as she leaves her movie producer ex-boyfriend and buys a beach house in North Carolina. A hurricane is only the first disruption in Allison’s attempt to start a new life in this story of personal exploration, violence, love, and revenge.

The New York Times says Hurricane Girl “surprises us by blending visceral horror with laugh-out-loud humor.” Hurricane Girl can be found on several recommended summer reading lists from the likes of the Los Angeles Times, Literary Hub, and Vulture.

Marcy Dermansky is the author of four previously published novels including Very Nice and The Red Car.

L.A. Sklba: This is your fifth novel to be published. How are you feeling ahead of your publication date?

Marcy Dermansky: I’m feeling really good. Every time a book comes out, what I’ve learned is it’s changed so much since my first book. Social media almost didn’t exist when Twins started. I had a Myspace page—I was one of the first. This book got a New York Times review in advance of its publication. For Hurricane Girl? That’s never happened to me before, so I feel like that has to be an indicator of good things to come.

LAS: Was there anything besides that review, or including that review, if you want to say more about that, that has been surprising this time around?

MD: It’s such cherished space. I feel like people always say, “Oh, you deserve this so much.” Like, when everyone says to somebody else, “Oh, you won an award. You deserve it,” I feel like everybody deserves awards but just some people get them. You just always want it. There are certain things writers just always want to get. And maybe it will make a big difference in the success of the book or not. But for some reason the New York Times book review is something you always want to get, and you want to get it early. I once got—it was amazing—I got a rave review for The Red Car by Daniel Handler. It was so great. And it came out like a month after the book came out, so it wasn’t as helpful as it could’ve been. I don’t want to go on too much about it or give it too much importance. It just feels good. It feels like, “Ooo, I’m getting that kind of particular recognition in advance.”

LAS: This book was really fun to read. So it makes sense, in my opinion, that we’re seeing this for Hurricane Girl, ahead of publication. As far as writing this book, where did this come from for you? Was there a moment or an experience or an idea that sparked the writing process?

MD: I think at first it was really just the idea: I’ve always wanted a beach house. And I don’t think I’ll ever get one. I think those are mainly unattainable. But I just had this idea, like what happened if you got a beach house and you lost it right away? Boom. There’s a novel. I guess that’s what happened.

LAS: That’s interesting because that’s exactly what happens. She attains it and then it’s gone. And we kind of watch that happen throughout the book where she achieves something, and then it’s taken away. And as I’ve watched some of the pre-pub press around Hurricane Girl, LitHub called the book an “ode to escape and reinvention.” Which I found interesting because we see a lot of the escape and reinvention be pretty rocky. So I was curious how that description sat with you, as far as a description for this book?

MD: Reinvention. I mean, it’s great. I don’t think she’s reinventing herself. I think she’s just taking herself where she goes. I love the idea of reinvention. I think when people are taught how to write novels there’s this whole idea that there needs to be an epiphany. And then that’s the end of the book, if a character has an epiphany and changes. I’m not sure. I think you could totally write the case that Allison totally changes and is a new person at the end. But I also think she’s exactly the same but doing what she wants to do.

LAS: Tell me a bit more about the character of Allison. Where did she come from for you, and to what extent did she exist before you were writing?

MD: She absolutely didn’t exist before I wrote. She kind of grew as I wrote. What sort of happened is I kind of focused on the plot first and then I figured, “Oh, this is who she is.” And then I went back. There’s this annoying thing that your characters always need to have jobs. And I made too many characters writers, so I was like, “Oh my god. This time I made her a screen writer.” I know. It’s so cheating. It’s the exact same thing. But then once she was a screen writer, then the horror element came in. I was really generous with her. I gave her lots of stuff from my own life to work with. I did that more in this book than other books, so when people start talking about how much they don’t like Allison, they’re insulting me. So that’s a warning. But she definitely just grew and changed. That’s kind of how I write. I start not knowing and just keep moving forward. And when I figure something out, I go back into the book and I layer it.

LAS: Speaking of writing processes, I noticed that you have a relatively small window between your last book that came out, Very Nice in 2019, and then this one coming out this year. That’s just under three years.

MD: Yeah, that’s my quickest, I think.

LAS: Did you write Hurricane Girl mostly in the pandemic?

MD: That’s a great question. And you know what, mostly I didn’t. I wrote most of this book maybe in less than a year, right before the pandemic hit. And then the ending, the last two chapters—I don’t want to do spoilers—I had a much milder, kind of like, “La, la, la, boring, let’s eat turkey sandwiches” kind of ending. And my agent suggested I go a different path. So I wrote the last chapter, which is kind of violent—there’s my spoiler—during the pandemic. And I didn’t really write during the pandemic. That’s an interesting thing about books coming out is I’ve written it a while ago, it feels like. I had a really hard time writing during the pandemic because I was home alone with my daughter, and she was at school online. It wasn’t conducive for work. But I’m trying to go quickly. One thing with books, though I haven’t started my next book, is I never got a proper job, so I just have to keep on writing.

LAS: Kind of a need-based writing.

MD: I really feel that way. Sometimes people say, “You’re so prolific,” as if that’s a bad thing. And I’m like, “Well, for me, that’s the best way to earn money, for me, is to write another book.” I know that doesn’t work for a lot of writers because you can’t always sell them. But I’m doing well, so that’s great. I hope I didn’t jinx myself.

Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky book cover

LAS: I wanted to talk about the ending, as loosely and specifically as possible, without giving away any spoilers. As I was reading, I found myself completely surprised by those final pages.

MD: Oh, I’m so glad. Surprise is just so good.

LAS: It was an interesting process as a reader, because I found myself grieving the storyline that I had built in my head. Because you threw it away.

MD: Oh, sorry. I wonder what you had. I’d be interested to hear that.

LAS: I know you mentioned that you were asked to essentially find a new one. Was what you ultimately came up with a surprise to you as well as the writer?

MD: It was such a surprise to me. Yeah. This whole book was a surprise to me. That Allison is attacked early on in the book is almost on the back cover. It’s just sort of known. But when that happened, I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is happening!” I was just really surprising myself all the way through writing. And I think when I wrote a first ending, where she never seeks revenge—there’s a spoiler—I just didn’t want to confront that. I was going to have this character pretend that nothing happened to her and just move on. That’s really unsatisfying, I think, for a reader, and I think I was just kind of scared to touch it. That’s always a cliché they tell writers: “If you don’t want to do it, you probably should do it.”

LAS: You mentioned that element of surprise on your side as a writer. Is that something that you’ve experienced throughout your process of writing fiction, or was that unique to dealing with Allison?

MD: No, that’s my process. I don’t write with an outline. And that’s just what I actually love about writing is surprise. I’m hoping that’s why I surprise other readers, because I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it. I think that’s what I just love about writing. Sometimes I think writing is so fun. It just comes to you, and you’re like, “Oh!” And you just type it, and you didn’t know when you sat down that that was what you were going to write. My book before, I don’t know if you’ve read it or not, it’s called Very Nice, and there is an affair between…This writer comes and moves into his student’s house and suddenly he has a crush on her mother. And all of a sudden the mother’s going after him, and I’m like, “What is going on!” Didn’t plan it. And it seems so basic because it happens in the first few chapters of the book. But I didn’t know what I was going to do until I did it. And that’s why I love to write.

LAS: That is very delightful to hear from you. And it comes across, I feel like, as I was reading this book that there are those pieces of surprise and the pieces of delight on your end in the story.

MD: I just reread this book, by the way, because I needed to reread it to talk to you. It had been a while. And I got really nervous. I’m like, “What are you doing? Don’t do that!” I was reading it as if I hadn’t written it. Sometimes you forget things, and I was really surprised too.

LAS: Did you have any other reflections about it that were new to you upon rereading it?

MD: I don’t think so. But there were little, tiny moments that I was like, “Oh! I used that?” Like I didn’t remember using it. Sometimes I take a detail from my life that’s just so tiny. It’s not even noticeable. I just put it in, and they’re just kind of nice to see.

LAS: Like a stamp of you in time, marked throughout your writing.

MD: Yeah, I’m sort of like documenting parts of myself in every book, so that’s very personal…It’s nice.

LAS: I want to circle back to the beginning of the book. So much happens in a really short amount of time. And then the story settles into following Allison as she works to contend with both her physical and her emotional trauma on the backside of some events and some decisions. What drew you, if you’re able to pinpoint anything, to write so specifically about the concept and the experiences of trauma?

MD: That’s so interesting to me because that doesn’t seem like anything I would write about at all. I wasn’t intending to, and that’s what happened. Somebody actually wrote about this book, and they tagged it, “What would happen after a TMI (traumatic brain injury)?” It’s really interesting. And I didn’t actually know that I was doing that. There must be…I must’ve known. I feel like I always know. But I honestly wasn’t thinking in this those terms. And I guess that’s why a lot of this book is funny, because I was just sort of glossing over things because that’s maybe what I do in life. I don’t know. I didn’t think, “Oh, I’m going to write a book about a woman who recovers from trauma.” I don’t really think about it at all. I just write them. It’s not luck, but I sort of do get lucky. And then it gets shaped. And then I fix them. But I don’t know what I’m doing while I’m doing it.

LAS: Was Allison’s attack hard for you to write about at all?

MD: No, I guess it wasn’t. I’m trying to think…I’ve never written a rape scene, for instance. I don’t think I could do that. There are certain things I couldn’t touch, like I don’t want to touch. And I didn’t do that. And I don’t even use the word. But I have her, in one scene, I have her wake up the next day, and she’s like, “Oh, that didn’t happen,” and she’s relieved. But otherwise, it was more…I guess it was pretty interesting or challenging. Or I could see shards of green glass. But it actually wasn’t hard to write.

LAS: Throughout the book, Allison has these moments where she has these very intentional connection points with herself, and we hear her say things like, “Hello, Allison,” or the assurance of, “I have my health.” And I feel like what I experienced as a reader was watching her in those moments teeter between very clear communication with herself and then you’d watch things tip into chaos. And that is, I feel like, the reality of the human experience, no matter what you’ve been through. I wanted to pick your brain about how do you go about crafting a character who is so resilient but also feels realistic?

MD: I love that. Thank you. I think just like checking in with yourself…I think I check in with myself every day. Like, every day, I have to do it again. Like, every day you just have to wake up and get through this day. And it feels like, in that sense, every day is a challenge. I’m kind of like Allison looking in the mirror and saying, “Hi, Allison.” She’s kind of looking at herself and saying, “You’re okay,” or just regrouping. That’s something I do, so she does it. I feel like everybody has to? But I don’t know everybody else’s brains. And I love the line, “She had her health.” To me, that was just a running joke. There she was driving on the highway when her brain...her blood was coming out of her head, and she’s like, “I have my health.” It’s like, “No, you don’t.”

LAS: There were two sentences that stood out to me. They fell just about in the middle of the book. And they read, “Life had brought her here. This was not the worst place.” And I think that sentiment is incredibly relatable. We all find ourselves saying that thing, “Here I am, and I’m doing okay.”

MD: It’s nice, right? Or it’s interesting. Life is so interesting. I don’t know. I’m sitting in a living room in Montclair, New Jersey right now. That’s never what I expected for myself. I mean, I guess some people do exactly what they want, and they end up exactly where they are. But I think to most people it’s a bit of a surprise?

LAS: So much of this conversation comes back to that theme of surprise. You started with the idea: What would it be like if I owned a beach house? And within pages, your dream, and the basis of the plot, is stripped away. It’s a complete surprise where we end up.

MD: It’s kind of cool. It’s called Hurricane Girl, but the hurricane happens right away.

LAS: If there was one thing you could tell readers about this book, what would it be? Or one thing you wanted them to know about it?

MD: That’s a big question. That’s a good question. I just want to give you a jokey answer, like say, “Most people don’t think it’s important enough to go swimming,” which I actually believe is true. But that’s not a takeaway from the book. I feel like people should just be kinder to other people because they just don’t know what’s going on in their head. I don’t know if that comes through in the book, or if that’s part of it, but I really just do believe that.

LAS: I think what is interesting about the comment you just made is so much of this book centers around Allison, so as a reader, I found myself being able to form a really generous view of her as a character. But then at the same time, the characters surrounding her functioned, to me, as plot assistance. So it did feel harder to develop that type of kind assumption about some of these periphery characters.

MD: Maybe I hadn’t thought about it this way, but that maybe in other of my novels there are other more well-developed characters. Is she the only character in this book? It’s possible. I really like Danny Yang. Some people don’t like him. I didn’t think she was settling. I’m like, “Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that be nice to have a rich doctor?” I’m not even being sarcastic. But I think she might be. This might be my most—is “myopic” the right word?—it really is just her. And then this idea of Phoebe. Phoebe’s in there.

LAS: This book is on a handful of recommended summer reading lists from the L.A. Times, N.Y. Post, LitHub. What do you think it is about this book that makes it an ideal summer read?

MD: I mean it’s just so easy to say “summer read” because I have a pool in it, I have the ocean in it. I think that’s really it. It’s so funny that if I can write a book that’s about somebody recovering from trauma, which you said and is true, and then it’s also really funny and you can read it in a day or two. So that makes it a summer read. I do believe people read more in the summer because they slow down. I mean, though sometimes when I go to the beach I can’t read a book. I just want to be there. But I really do believe it’s a great time to read. I’m just so happy to be on so many lists. I think the pool. It’s just so obvious.

LAS: What’s on your summer reading list?

MD: I’m reading a book right now called Fellowship Point and it’s by Alice Elliot Dart. It’s crazy. It’s the first novel she’s put out in 20 years. It’s 600 pages long, and I was really scared of it, and it’s got a whole cast of characters. The two main characters are two elderly women. I was just sort of nervous to read it, and I just love it so much. I’m on page 250 or so now, but I just know it’s going to be good. That comes out in the first week of July. I write short books mainly, but if a long book is good then it’s just such a treat.

LAS: Do you have any other writing projects in the works right now?

MD: I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m in the beginning of a novel. I’m like, “Uh, this is a little too close to personal.” I’ve done this before. I might throw it away. I have a contract for a book. That’s so exciting. That’s the first time I’ve ever had that, and I haven’t written it. I know that this summer I plan to write a lot, but I’m not quite sure what I’m going to work on. I hate that I always wait until I write a book, and then I have to wait for it to get published to really get going, but that seems to be my process.

LAS: Well, it seems to be working.

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