Funny girl Patricia Marx pens her first novel


By Jeff Nishball

After years of writing for various television shows like “Saturday Night Live” and freelancing for magazines such as Time and The New Yorker, Patricia Marx has taken a page from her own life’s story and turned it into fiction. Her humorous debut novel, titled “Him Her Him Again The End of Him” (Scribner), was inspired by an ill-fated, 15-year on-again-off-again relationship with a self-absorbed Brit. Recently, I spoke with the Upper East Sider about the genesis of her comic story of romantic obsession.

What was it like working on “Saturday Night Live”?

I was only there for a year and a half. Dick Ebersol came in as the new producer and he made this grand speech about us all being family and then fired everyone. But I loved the experience. It was like going to writer’s camp.

What motivated you to attempt a novel?

I never thought I could write a novel. I can barely even read a novel. I was getting sick of all the magazine work I was doing and a friend suggested I write something more ambitious. And basically, I’m just a blabbermouth and I like talking without being interrupted and telling the world what I think. But I didn’t know what to write until I asked myself, “What is the story I like telling?”

And what was that story?

Well, I had a boyfriend that I met in England that I was obsessed with. And I liked telling the story a lot, and I thought I’ll just exaggerate it and elaborate it and falsify it and turn it into a book.

How did you go about fictionalizing it?

I just forgot about it. I took the kernel of the story, which was an innocent girl goes to England from America as a graduate student and meets an obnoxious guy and develops a super crush on him. Then I forgot about everything else and made that my story.

You didn’t give your heroine a name. Why not?

For a couple reasons: Since it’s first person, I don’t, and I assume other people don’t, think of themselves as having a name. It’s often jarring to me when I’m called my name because it’s not how I think of myself. I just think of myself as the center of the universe. Whenever I read a name in a book, I’m very aware of how contrived it is. And how the author sat around and thought of a good name.

You also don’t give physical descriptions for any of the characters.

I’m bored by physical descriptions. It also seems very contrived, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to pick a hair color; what hair color am I going to pick?’

At one point the heroine says, “Truth masquerading as joke is always what I strive for.” Might that be your own personal mantra as well?

I’ll let that be the mantra of the character. But it’s a nice thing to achieve sometimes. Because you get credit for being true without hurting anyone’s feelings.

What was the most difficult part of the writing process?

The middle. And the plot was difficult for me. I hate coming up with plots. I like jokes and character, but plot is difficult. Also, keeping people interested is difficult.

What was your early inspiration as a writer?

My parents are both very funny people. My father would have liked to have been a writer, but he sold writing supplies, which I think explains my love for writing. Growing up, we had a constant supply of magic markers and pens and lots of paper. And I wrote children’s books when I was little and illustrated them.

You now have a series of four children’s books with Roz Chast.

Which I’m very proud of. I love writing children’s books. I love a form where every word counts.

To your knowledge, does this old obsession of yours know about the book?

I don’t know and I don’t really care. That chapter of my life was so long ago.

Are there any obsessions that you currently have?

No. I’m too old for that, and too busy. I say that as a joke, but truly, if you are too busy with other things you don’t really have room for obsessions.

I understand that your current boyfriend fell in love with you while reading your book.

That’s what he says. We had already gone out on a couple dates, but it wasn’t until he read the book that he fell in love with me. That’s what he says, anyway.

What’s next?

A second novel.

Patricia Marx will read from her book on Monday, January 15 at the Barnes and Noble on Astor Place at 7:00 p.m.

Editor’s Note: In last week’s interview with Philip Schultz, we misspelled writer Lesley Dormen’s name, and misprinted the correct website of The Writers Studio, which is writerstudio.com. We apologize for the mistakes.