Self-Taught Novelist Patricia Marx Advises Newcomers to Tap Their Inner Voices

July 31, 2007
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Him Her Him Again

Him Her Him Again The End of Him
(Simon & Schuster Trade)

by Patricia Marx
Buy this book
via Amazon.com

An exclusive Authorlink interview with Patricia Marx
Author of Him Her Him Again The End of Him (Simon & Schuster Trade) 

by Ellen Birkett Morris

August 2007

 

As editor of her high school yearbook, the first girl elected to the Harvard Lampoon, a writer with Saturday Night Live and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Patricia Marx has always been a writer, but writing a novel was an entirely different animal all together.

“I’d always wanted to write something that was mine, something that no producer or editor could change,” said Marx.

Her push came when friend photographer Richard Avedon advised her to focus on a comic novel rather than the array of magazine pieces that filled her writing life.

She spent the next year and two months penning HIM HER HIM AGAIN THE END OF HIM. The novel centers on the romantic entanglement of the unnamed narrator with the fabulously narcissistic philosopher Eugene Obello. Told in a fast moving, funny first person narration, the novel takes the reader along for the wild ups and downs of romantic obsession.

 

“I’d always wanted to write something that was mine. . .”
—MARX

Marx is also the author of humor books, including YOU CAN NEVER GO WRONG BY LYING, and children’s books, including MEET MY STAFF.

“I am not a structured writer.”
—MARX

When writing HIM HER HIM AGAIN THE END OF HIM, Marx would go out at night and come home around midnight to work until three or four in the morning. “I am not a structured writer. I didn’t set out to write a specific number of words or hours a night,” said Marx.

"I wrote what I wanted to read . . ."
—MARX

 

 

 

 

“I wrote what I wanted to read,” she noted. She also followed the advice of a friend, author, teacher and editor Gordon Lish, who suggested she “write a book only she could write.” Her work was helped along by the discovery of a batch of “repellant” letters that she had written to her parents while she was studying at Cambridge. Thus, began the wry-voiced saga of the protagonist, who begins as a PhD candidate at Cambridge, where she first encounters Eugene. The books follows her through her life as a single comedy writer in New York.

“It was a voice that got easier and easier to write.”
—MARX

“It was a voice that got easier and easier to write. My goal was to make it conversational, appealing, honest and intimate. I wanted there to be a rapport with the reader,” said Marx. Her choice not to name the main character came from Marx’s frustration with the “contrivance” of novels. “When reading a novel I can’t stop thinking of the author puzzling out a name.”

Her main challenge in writing the book came from its form – the comic novel.

“ I focused on character and developing someone that the reader would want to stay with . . .”
—MARX

“Comedy is meant to be very short. You get the joke and you’ve got it. You don’t want to hear it again. I had to make it not entirely comic or there would be nothing that made you want to turn the page. I focused on character and developing someone that the reader would want to stay with throughout the book,” said Marx.

Her favorite writers include Woody Allen, James Thurber and Robert Benchley. She also admires Nicholson Baker, who illustrates that “you can do whatever you want (when writing),” said Marx.

She describes herself as a self-taught, careful writer, who tweaks her work a lot as she is going along.

While writing the portions of the book set in the UK, Marx relied on the Internet for access to street names and images of Cambridge. She incorporated much of this material into the novel before deciding to take it out in the interest of a more timeless, universal story.

Marx’s agent for the book and other projects is Esther Newberg of International Creative Management. There were several offers on the book. Marx decided to go with Scribner and worked with editors Sarah McGrath, now of Riverhead Books, and Nan Graham.

“You can teach someone . . . a more efficient writer, but you can’t teach them to have a voice . . . ”
—MARX

Marx said that Graham was a smart editor and great help in keeping the cultural references in the book current and up-to-date.

After a lifetime of making her living writing, Marx is thrilled to have added the novel to her repertoire.

She cautions beginning novelists to focus on tapping into their unique voice. “You can teach someone to be a good editor and a more efficient writer, but you can’t teach them to have a voice,” she noted.

For those writers interested in breaking to the writing business, she says that those who can afford to should take any job they can get in the field, intern or assistant, and begin by getting their name in print.

“You have to have a gigantic ego to write and no ego at all to listen to what people have to say about your writing . . .”
—MARX

Her advice to young writers is to be dedicated, be prepared to be rejected and realize that when you are rejected it is the opinion of a single person.

“You have to have a gigantic ego to write and no ego at all to listen to what people have to say about your writing,” observed Marx.

Patricia Marx is a former writer for Saturday Night Live whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Time Magazine, and The New York Times. She is currently at work on her second novel, which will be told in third person.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists. 

 

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This post was written by Ellen Birkett Morris