Marcy Dermansky, HURRICANE GIRL: A Novel

Marcy Dermansky, HURRICANE GIRL: A Novel

Zibby speaks to Marcy Dermansky about Hurricane Girl, a wildly original and quirky new novel that combines humor and horror to tell the story of Allison Brody, whose East Coast escape from an LA boyfriend goes completely awry… Marcy talks about her love of swimming (hence the recurring pool element!), her frustration with her own writing process, the autobiographical details she sprinkles in her books, and her stunning cover art. (Zibby loved this book so much she included it in her favorites of the year!!)


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Marcy. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Hurricane Girl.

Marcy Dermansky: Thanks, Zibby. I’m so happy to be here, or…

Zibby: You’re here. We’re here.

Marcy: I’m here in spirit.

Zibby: We’re all happy. It’s perfect. As you know, when I finished reading this book in the middle of the night because I could not put it down, I posted about it right away. I was like, oh, my gosh. I wasn’t expecting the ending. I felt like I had just watched this totally gripping movie and left the theater and wanting to find people around me to talk to. Luckily, I got some on Instagram.

Marcy: It was so exciting to read it. I’m always so thrilled when people have such a reaction to my books. It’s like, oh, my god, this is amazing. Thank you.

Zibby: Of course. It was great. Why don’t you tell listeners what Hurricane Girl is about?

Marcy: Oh, my gosh, I had to prepare this. Hurricane Girl is about a woman who is at a crossroads in her life. She’s only thirty-two years old. She really impulsively buys a beach house on foreclosure, moves there, eats turkey sandwiches, goes swimming in the ocean. A week later, a hurricane blows it down. Boom, she’s got to replan her whole life. From there, the problem, I have to say, about telling about this book is it’s all spoilers. The next thing that happens to her, it’s supposed to be shocking. She does fall in love with a man. We don’t know if it’s because she loves him or because he has a swimming pool. There’s lots of little quirky elements that I loaded this book with because I was just having fun while I was writing, like pools and cats and turkey sandwiches.

Zibby: Your last book, Very Nice, was one of the coolest covers in that it looked just like a swimming pool. I still have my Very Nice hat, which I wear in the summer.

Marcy: That’s awesome. I would wear it sometimes still.

Zibby: It’s so cool. I was kind of chuckling to myself. I’m like, okay, we’re back at a pool again here. Tell me about how much you love pools, why pools are an important thing, or why you like to write about them so much.

Marcy: I’ll just tell you one thing. There’s a writer that I love, a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. There’s actually a Haruki Murakami bingo game. It’s like, drink if he puts in somebody drinking whiskey. Drink if somebody is listening to jazz. He repeats himself constantly. As I write more and more books, I find myself just repeating certain elements, like swimming pools and sandwiches. I have sea lions in two books. I just thought, if he can do it, I can do it. I don’t know if that really worked, but it works for me. About swimming pools and swimming — I went swimming yesterday, which was the last official day of summer in the East Coast. There’s something to me about being underwater and being weightless and how good it makes me feel. I’ve just started putting it into my books. I feel like when I meet other swimmers, that they’re kindred spirits for me. Not everybody likes to swim, so I have to start being more respectful of people who don’t. If you want an instant happiness pill, I feel like going underwater. If I have to take a shower or a bath, that can even suffice. Pools are so pretty. They’re just so different and interesting. I have real pool envy. I compare them. It’s a thing.

Zibby: I do agree. In fact, I tell my kids this. Sometimes when they’re inconsolable or something’s happening to one of my teenagers or whatever, I’m like, “Taking a shower will change your mood faster than anything else.” Reading also, picking up a good book, if you are the type who can throw yourself in and get immersed immediately, which I am, which is great. A shower is fresh start. Something resets. It’s so elemental. Where do you swim?

Marcy: Where do I swim? Unfortunately, right now I don’t have anywhere to swim because . I have friends. I belong to a public pool in Montclair, New Jersey, which is where I live. I’m pretty happy with things not fancy. I have fancy friends with fancy pools. I put them into my books. I love the ocean. I used to belong to the YMCA. Right now with COVID, and I really prefer to swim outdoors anyway, I kind of take a break between the fall and the winter. Then I have a friend in spring who lets me swim in her backyard pool. I’m hooked up for next year.

Zibby: Did you like to swim as a girl too? Is this a lifelong passion?

Marcy: It is a lifelong passion. I was a lifeguard in high school. That’s really what started me with laps and just really loving it, was getting that job. Until then, I was actually the kid, I always used to look at adults and think, wow, they’re so boring. They just go back and forth. I was really disdainful of them. Then once I started swimming laps — that wasn’t my temperament as a kid, but I’ve always swam. I had a pool in my backyard growing up. It’s always been part of my existence. My daughter, right now, is taking a swim class. I’m trying to put her on the lifeguard track. I’m like, you’re going to want a job one day.

Zibby: I was in Montclair, New Jersey, last year for the Montclair Literary Festival.

Marcy: Oh, right. You were in the morning. I didn’t get to come see you.

Zibby: I’m not trying to shame you or anything.

Marcy: It’s a nice little community.

Zibby: It is. It’s really nice. It was pouring rain, which it also is today, coincidentally. That’s my memory of Montclair, New Jersey.

Marcy: I know. It was so unfortunate because it’s such a nice outdoor festival in tents.

Zibby: Next time. Tell me about what happened after Very Nice came out. Was this book in the works when that was coming out already? When did you start this? It feels like you sat down and just did it, but I’m sure that is not true.

Marcy: No, that’s not true at all. Part of my process — I hate my process as a writer. You’re doing so many projects right now. Unfortunately, I have to finish a book, and not only finish a book, but the book comes out, and then I don’t start a new book. I want to be a writer that’s always writing. I’m not. I’m always writing when I’m working on a novel. When I’m not working on a novel, I’m just really unhappy because I’m not working on a novel. I know I should learn from that. Right now, by the way, I’ve been writing this whole past year, but nothing has clicked. I feel like a novel at least, it’s such important material. It’s over a year of your life, just the first draft. It doesn’t have to be. Kevin Wilson writes books fast. It takes a lot of time. I started working on a book I didn’t like, and so I just put that aside. It’s just coincidentally about how Hurricane Girl feels like an extension of Very Nice. It’s nice how that happened. What some people have said to me is that Hurricane Girl seems a little bit more like some of my previous books. It’s being compared to The Red Car or to Bad Marie. I think it’s as simple as that’s because it’s a female narrator and it’s just one voice. Very Nice was a really fun, fun, fun book for me to write because it had five different points of view. They actually had some male points of view. I tend to write a lot more about women. That was almost like going back to what I’m known for. I don’t plan things when I write. Nothing’s planned. That these elements overlap is not surprising but also not planned.

Zibby: Tell me what a day or a year looks like when you’re working on a book that’s not working. What does that workday look like for you?

Marcy: It’s the same as a book that is working, I guess. It’s the same process. Yesterday, by the way — I’m just segueing — I went to the beach. Here’s one of the things I love about working for myself. Things aren’t working for me creatively right now, so I’m like, instead of struggling, I’m just going to take a day off. I’m going to really enjoy myself. I love that about my life, my lifestyle, and having that flexibility. In general, I’ve always made it so that — my daughter has school hours. Her school hours are my working hours, which is pretty tight because we’re saying eight to three thirty. If you want to also buy groceries and do all the other things that working parents do, it’s a lot. I tend to like to write first thing in the morning. On a good day when I’m really going, which is going to start — it’s going to start. My good days are going to start in three days. I just made that up. I get her off to school. I make a second pot of coffee. I make coffee when she wakes up. Then I make coffee again. I love to write first thing in the day. Then by eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, you’re virtuous. It’s just like, oh, my god, I’ve written. I’m happy when I’m writing. I’m happy when I have written. I feel like it’s a really enjoyable place to be. I love writing. I love making things up. If I do that early in the day, then I don’t have to worry all day long that I haven’t written. That’s my preferred way to be.

Zibby: Interesting. I went to dinner with a few women authors. I was at the Toronto Film Festival. They really sold me hard on this idea of waking up and, in your still-dreamlike, half-awake state, getting going then. The next morning, I was like, all right, fine. Why don’t I just try this?

Marcy: How did it go?

Zibby: I was in a hotel room with my husband. I was like, I don’t want to wake him up, so let me try to do this in the dark. I take my computer. I try to open it up. I accidentally knock over the glass that the hotel’s put there. Next thing you know, there’s shattering glass everywhere. Of course, he’s like, “What’s going on?” I’m like, “I’m trying to write. I don’t know. I heard this might be helpful,” which it wasn’t. I personally need to wake up a little more first. I need coffee and time before I can do anything.

Marcy: Broken glass is just the worst, by the way.

Zibby: It is.

Marcy: It is. It’s impossible to get rid of. I’ve cut my foot so many times on broken glass that I’ve broken. You have to live alone, I think, to have that be your writing method. What are you going to do with your kids? You have to wake up before they go to school.

Zibby: That’s what they were saying. They said wake up at five.

Marcy: Forget that. No.

Zibby: I don’t mind the early wakeups. I do already wake up early, but it’s usually with them.

Marcy: If I wake up at five, I’m dead by three o’clock in the afternoon. I’m glad it works for them.

Zibby: I’m glad it works for them. I’m always willing to try something.

Marcy: You tried it hard, but you failed in a good way.

Zibby: I did. They were like, “Try again when you’re not at a hotel.” I was like, okay, fine, but no, not for me. I’ll find something better, maybe.

Marcy: I give my permission not to try.

Zibby: I have to say, since I’ve been trying to write this novel that I’m doing that’s due in March, I have gotten so much other stuff done in procrastination. I have never been so efficient. I’ve ordered all my holidays cards, holiday gifts. I’ve cleaned out — to not do that, I’ve started companies.

Marcy: You just started a magazine. I was just dumbfounded. I was like, how did you do that?

Zibby: You have to write for us.

Marcy: I would love to write for you, honestly.

Zibby: Please do. That would be amazing. I would love it.

Marcy: That’s exciting to me, a new opportunity.

Zibby: There you go.

Marcy: I think the best thing to do when I’m in a novel is — it’s easier for me not to procrastinate when I’m really in a project. Rather than buy things and clean up, what I like to do is I like to open the file and go backwards. I like to go back and read what I’ve done the day before or even the week before because it’s always easy to fix things. Then it’s easy to move forward. I feel like with a novel, I’m never starting on the blank page. I used to write short stories. Now everything I do just goes longer. That’s one of the great things. To me, it’s heartbreaking to finish a novel because then I’m like, now what do I do? I love novel writing. Here, I’m giving you advice. You didn’t ask for it. You’re in the best place. It’s really fun to write. It’s really fun to hear characters talk to you. You’re in something, so you don’t have to start from complete scratch. It’s pretty good.

Zibby: That’s true. Okay, I like that.

Marcy: Good. I’m glad.

Zibby: I like it. It’s like envisioning that every time I work in it, I’m opening the gate to another playground as opposed to .

Marcy: No, you’re already in the playground. You totally are.

Zibby: Thank you for that. I don’t know why we’re talking about this and not your book.

Marcy: That’s okay. This book, by the way — you didn’t ask this. I never know when something’s going to happen until it happens. In this book, going back to the plot that I didn’t describe adequately, I wanted to make a book about somebody that wasn’t a writer, and I failed. She writes screenplays, but I’m like, this is different because she’s a screenplay writer.

Zibby: Different enough. It counts.

Marcy: So different. I have her write horror films. Here’s a good thing. Once you put a detail in a book, then you have it. I didn’t have anything planned, but once I knew that she was writing horror films, it just became so fun that all of a sudden, I’m like, this feels like a horror movie in my book. That wasn’t planned. Once I knew that that was there, I had it. There’s a moment where Allison walks back into a house that she shouldn’t walk back into. Rereading it, I felt like the audience saying, no, don’t go in there. Don’t go in there. That’s what happens in a horror film. Once you put something in a book, you get to use it again. I enjoy that. This was the first work I ever did that had a horror element in it. I liked that very much. I like surprising myself. Once I had horror in it, I took it pretty far, I feel like.

Zibby: I don’t want horror to scare people away because I never read horror. It’s domestic terror. I don’t know. There’s a better word for it. Anyway, it’s great. I feel like it’s also really interesting about what it’s like to be in a relationship and also what it’s like to be in a relationship with your adult mom. Coming home again when you’re older, what is that like? Seeing your mom age, as Allison does, what does that do to you? Mourning the loss of her own father and having to retread some of those steps, that’s all really relatable for so many people.

Marcy: This book has a really quiet middle to it that gets talked about less. What surprised me, again, about writing this is that that quiet middle, there’s so many small, little autobiographical elements that I lace through the book. I just did. You don’t plan it. I went back to New Jersey. I used to deny my New Jersey-ness for a long time. Now I actually live in New Jersey. I thought after college — I moved to San Francisco. I thought I would never be back here. I don’t regret it. I put a scene in this book — the dad in the hospital room, I put him in the hospital room that he really was once in. When you look out the window and she sees her elementary school, that’s real. That’s one of the joys of writing, though, is just taking all these little things. You don’t even know what’s floating in your brain. Suddenly, you put it on the page. I think it made the book more meaningful for me using so many real things but having it be fiction. You wrote a — I don’t ever want to write a memoir because I don’t want to expose myself. At the same time, I expose myself like crazy, but you don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. You just know that Marcy likes to swim. True.

Zibby: It is a layer of protection in there. How long ago did your dad pass away?

Marcy: About five years ago.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Marcy: Thanks.

Zibby: Was this sort of a depiction of your mom after the fact?

Marcy: A little bit. There are little things. Her drinking gin and tonics because her dad liked gin and tonics, all true. I feel like with writing, if I had changed that to a different drink or to vodka — it’s funny how attached you get to details as a writer. If you change it and it’s not real, suddenly, the book doesn’t feel as strong, but nobody else knows. I don’t know why. When people think about who you’re writing for — I once went to an Elizabeth Gilbert reading. She once spoke about how she always was writing for a particular friend. She was writing one book for Darcy. It always stuck with me. Eat Pray Love was written for another writer. I’m always writing for myself. It’s so weird. If I’m pleasing myself, then I know I’m doing a good job. Then I find it so strange that I can publish books because I don’t feel like I’m a great audience for selling things. That’s kind of who I’m writing for. I really have to entertain myself while I’m working. If that feels true, if I’m not forcing things, then it comes out well.

Zibby: Interesting. I also really like how she views her older brother and his wife and their kid and how it feels to be the person who’s not the one with the kid. I actually was the first in my family to have a kid. My brother might have something to say about how prepared I was.

Marcy: It always has to put pressure on the sibling.

Zibby: My schedule and my kids and how you get that very myopic look when you have a child that you’re dealing with.

Marcy: One of my favorites lines in the book is really because she can’t remember the name of her brother’s kid. See, that’s fun. Sometimes when you write, you’re like, oh, I know that’s funny. I know I had a moment where these two people kiss over a baby. They call the baby the wrong name. That, to me, felt like magic. That’s why writing is so great, because you can create these moments.

Zibby: She’s like, where’s Phoebe? He’s like, who? Never mind.

Marcy: That was a big mistake.

Zibby: This is great. This is the whole thing. I love this cover. Tell me about the cover. Was this the first choice?

Marcy: By the way, you appreciated the other cover, so I thought that was really nice. I was lucky to have the same designer. Her name is Janet Hansen. She made both books.

Zibby: She’s so good.

Marcy: I think she’s just a real artist. I think this cover can be interpreted a lot of different ways. Not that it matters, the galley, it was more of a pastel color blend. It came out a little bit darker. I liked the pastel better. It was more like candy .

Zibby: Did you?

Marcy: Yeah. I shouldn’t admit that on Zibby because a lot of people listen to you.

Zibby: Nobody heard.

Marcy: Nobody heard. It’s fine. It’s fine because it works this way too. I kind of think the sun is a bleeding sun. I feel like the blue is the ocean. I feel like for an abstract image, that it really captures the book. I don’t want to have input when a cover’s being designed. I just love what she does. This wasn’t the first cover that she made. The other cover was a little bit darker and more jarring. As an author, by the way, it’s really, really scary to say, oh, this cover doesn’t work for me. She came back with a completely brand-new image. I was really grateful to my publisher and for her and seeing what she could do. I think it sort of stands out. It’s not like other covers.

Zibby: It’s true. This is the shape of a pool.

Marcy: See, that’s so interesting. It totally is. I never thought of that.

Zibby: We’ll see if she meant to do that or not.

Marcy: She probably did. I have no idea. She lives in Montclair, by the way, but we don’t run into each other.

Zibby: What? Oh, my gosh.

Marcy: I know. There are so many people in Montclair in the literary scene. If you’re going to pick a town in New Jersey, to anybody who’s listening, Montclair. The head of Knopf, Reagan Arthur, lives in Montclair. So many agents. So many other writers. I’m going to see Jillian Medoff read tonight at Watchung Booksellers. It’s a good place.

Zibby: Good to know. If real estate prices shoot up after this podcast, then we’ll know we’re really making waves here.

Marcy: I bought a house here last summer, so I’m pretty rooted. I must be interested in houses. My main character lost her house. I got a house. I moved into this house, and Ida came a week later. It wasn’t even a hurricane, but it was a storm. So many houses in my neighborhood, all the basements got flooded. Mine did not. I was like, I did good.

Zibby: I feel like your whole book is sort of an exploration of home. What does it mean to be home? I’ll leave you with that deep thought.

Marcy: It’s so simple. Yeah, I think you’re right.

Zibby: Her house blows away. She has to go home. Now she’s living somewhere else. How do you find that sense of place and home when you’re searching for identity? Well done. I’ll stop my armchair analysis. Marcy, thank you so much. I can’t wait for your next book and, for sure, your essay for us. Make that your short-term assignment.

Marcy: Okay. I love having an assignment. Thank you so much. I’m serious about that. Bye, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye.

HURRICANE GIRL: A Novel by Marcy Dermansky

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