Author Marcy Dermansky on being a writer and single mum

What’s it like to raise a seven-year-old daughter singlehandedly while writing and editing novels? We talk to Marcy Dermansky, author of critically acclaimed The Red Car, about writing, motherhood and being a single parent…

Marcy Dermansky, 47, lives in Montclair, New Jersey – in America – with her daughter, Nina, who is seven, and their two cats, Ginger and Sunshine.

What was your childhood like?
I thought it was wonderful. I lived up in a nice suburb where there was a neighborhood group of kids and we were left alone to run around on our own. My family had a standard poodle named Claude. I am the youngest of three kids.

Do you remember the first piece of writing you were proud of?
I wrote little books in the third grade, they are handwritten and bound. One was about an elephant, the other a gold fish.

When did you decide to write for a living?
I got an MA in fiction when I was thirty. I think the idea by going to graduate school, actually quitting a well-paying job to go to school, was when I made a conscious decision. I sometimes wish I had decided earlier.

What was your journey to getting there; did you study at university, take creative writing classes, or just get stuck in?
After I got the MA, I had to go back to work, another office job, but I also made sure to keep writing. I quit a full-time job, went back to part time, and used the extra hours to write. It is a good way to do it, always earning money so as not to put too much pressure on the writing. But I always felt pressure. I still do. Also, I have always been a big reader. I feel like that is a huge part of being a writer, taking in other people’s books. It is a way to absorb knowledge about how to write – and it also feels great, reading.

Before becoming a mother, how did you imagine it would be to juggle motherhood and a career as a novelist?
I didn’t think that much about it, which is a probably good thing. Actually, I wrote my first two books before I had a baby. I was focused on the career and the writing, and then, I thought, wow, my maternal clock is running out. I better have a baby. I was forty when my daughter was born. Lucky, really. But I didn’t really consider what would happen. I would have the baby anyway. It’s just hard, writing and having a baby. And that is okay, isn’t it?

I am lucky in that I am able to work from home. I edit novels. I sneak in time to do my own writing. Some women are going to need to get a job out of the house

How similar or different has the reality been?
Sure, it has been hard. There is always the problem of finding the time to write. And, when you have a book out, there is the reality that someone is going to have to watch your child if you want to go to a reading. Even if it your own reading.

At what stage did you break up with your daughter’s father, and what impact did this have on you and your writing/work?
My daughter was three when I divorced. Everything is that much harder when you are a single parent. It’s just a reality, but I wrote and then published my novel The Red Car. I have paid for babysitters to attend my own events. I have turned down some readings, because I did not want to be out too many nights in a week.

I also believe that if you have to write, you will write. I don’t believe this guarantees traditional success – or getting published, unfortunately. Having children makes writing harder but not impossible.

Your daughter is now at school. What difference has this made to your work life?
She is in second grade and her going to school is incredible. She is then in after school activities that extend her day. And then there are days when the nurse calls and she is sent home sick, and it feels like my world is going to collapse.

Do you have any advice for other single mums who write for a living (or would like to)?
I know it is different for every woman. I am lucky in that I am able to work from home. I edit novels. I sneak in time to do my own writing. Some women are going to need to get a job out of the house. I know that Toni Morrison wrote in the morning before her job in publishing to finish her first novel The Bluest Eye. One piece of advice. I would give to single mothers to ask and accept more help – if it is out there. I know that I don’t ask for enough. I have this pride thing.

What is your greatest work-related achievement?
It is my new novel, The Red Car, which I wrote as a single mother, while my daughter was in kindergarten. I had written my other novels before she was born, but this book felt almost like a miracle.

And at home, what are you most proud of?
Nina. My girl. It doesn’t seem worth having so much time to write and not having a child. That is not an ideal trade off either.

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky was published in October 2016 by Liveright