The Rumpus Book Club Chat with Melissa Broder

I did more than ten rounds of edits, between my own, the ones I did with my husband (my best editor), my agent, and my editors. Eva Woods: I’ve never had a dog and the Dominic arc still killed me beyond all reason. Melissa Broder: None. So her disappointments are with men. Melissa Broder: But romantic obsession, projection, and disappointment pervade relationships across the rainbow! What do you do when the love has already been “earned”? 🙂
Marisa: Was there any discussion about the timing release of the book and the release of The Shape of Water? Melissa Broder: Depends which conversation? Does her addiction stem from that pain, do you think? (And can you tell us your weirdest writing rituals and quirks, please?)
Melissa Broder: Yes, my writing process differs for poetry vs. If Lucy were a mechanical engineer, she might be less likely to see a merman. The other is a love story between two women—one a voluptuous Orthodox Jew and the other a Reform Jew with an eating disorder—who meet at a frozen yogurt shop. Nancy: Running is a savior. My first round of edits after I’ve finished the first draft is just trying to figure out what I was saying! The relationship between him and Lucy was such a cool counterpoint to the human relationships in the book. Less dressing up in costumes and peddling. Marisa: I’ve been thinking about the absent mother character, and Lucy’s grief which seeps out of the story in bits and pieces. Then I moved to LA, almost five years ago, and started dictating in my car to Siri. This was a big question for me in writing the book, and part of the inspiration: Why does unconditional love, easy love sometimes feel not as “real” as difficult, distant, bad for you love? And your future work. Eva Woods: I would read that tbh, especially if it was from the merman’s point of view. Theo did well. Melissa Broder: Oh, you mean Garrett, not Theo! The description is dope. That’s just the way the story was born to me. Lucy just happens to fuck men. Pickle is like, “Okay assholes, do as I say.” And stamps his little paw. Marisa: You mention your own dog, Pickle, in your acknowledgements for The Pisces. Eva Woods: At least Garrett was cute, though. Feelings are the same, now and then. That’s how the So Sad Today essays were born. Melissa Broder: Lucy fears that if she expresses needs to other women, they will reject her. Learn more about The Rumpus Book Club here. The geography literally shaped the form. I mean, if you eat the ass then lube not as necessary? Eva Woods: I was wondering about the gender reversal in this book. Also, people have been fucking mer-creatures forevs! Melissa Broder: I’ve always loved Sappho. It’s timeless. Melissa Broder: Writing a novel is lonelier. And for a moment Venice became Greece. Melissa Broder: I think we shouldn’t! Theo handled it great. Melissa Broder: I also want to read Samantha Irby’s re-released book. Eva Woods: Melissa, will you do that as a question or is that too stupid? I viewed Theo as the quintessential unavailable man and wondered if you thought if that, Melissa? Meaty is the re-released one right? Melissa Broder: I think same, actually. Marisa: It also felt to me that while yes, you do describe the logistics of merman genitalia, sex is still sex at the end of the day, you know? Nancy: I have dealt with depression and anxiety forever and I just love your honesty. But I don’t fix anything until I’ve dictated the entire thing. Eva Woods: They definitely do. The ability for women to save your life. Siri never gets my words right. Eva Woods: Oh, YES! Melissa, thanks for joining us. Nancy: I look forward to reading your essays, Melissa. Melissa Broder: Imagine having to hear about Bukowski the rest of your life. I’m very “what’s the point?” right now. I’ve also come to realize that the mourning feeling we experience at the end of an affair, addict or no addict, is often just as much about old pain as it is that relationship. Meaty is great, but I especially love We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Cheesecake helps, too. Like what are their political opinions about humans? Melissa Broder: On a sexual level, the book is a more hetero text than I am. So I was like, Cool. I want it to be as sloppy as possible. Nancy: Your view is much deeper 🙂
Melissa Broder: I’ve spent more time with him! Thank you! Definitely adding Outline to my list. Eva Woods: Are you working on anything right now? That amphibian thing in The Shape of Water? Melissa Broder: He’s definitely cat-like. And I thought, what if it was a woman and a merman? Marisa: I loved how Lucy was almost scared of Dominic’s willingness to love and be loved. A+ Theo. Marisa: Okay, we have just a few minutes left so last chance to ask Melissa any burning questions! Marisa: Yes, so true. Marisa: Pickle sounds a lot like my cat. Eva Woods: if only it were possible to run and eat three miniature cheesecakes every ten minutes forever. Also, Sappho’s insatiable longing—both spiritual and romantic—mirrors Lucy’s. Melissa Broder: (just kidding)
Eva Woods: I GOT SO EXCITED FOR A SECOND
Marisa: ME, TOO! 😉
Eva Woods: Who are you reading right now that you like? Eva Woods: The worst thing a man can be. He is a street rat but thinks he’s a prince. They say that what is hysterical is historical. Marisa: Although my love for my child is unconditional, and also the most terrifying love ever. Yeah, Garrett is a nightmare all around. It’s very much the “any club that would have me as a member” etc. Melissa Broder: Yeah, Adam the wolfmonkey. After this chat, I’m going to go running and then eat three miniature cheesecakes. Melissa Broder: You’re welcome! Melissa Broder: I’m currently writing two more novels. Nine months later I had my first draft. To become a member of the Rumpus Book Club,   click here. &laquo Previous post like this

The Rumpus Book Club Chat with Melissa Broder

By The Rumpus Book Club
May 16th, 2018

The Rumpus Book Club chats with Melissa Broder about her debut novel,   The Pisces   (Hogarth, May 2018), the importance of love between women, and mermaid sex. Marisa: Yup! But I thought: why is it always a younger mermaid and an older man? So in writing So Sad Today, part of me was like, what do I have to say, really? Like “let me just allude to this fuck.” I mean, if you’re going to fuck a merman, fuck a merman. Eva Woods: I haven’t heard of these! Do you think the story would have worked the other way? Eva Woods: Were there any big changes from that first draft? It’s merman season. Sound okay?”
Melissa Broder: Eat the Ass: In Conversation with Melissa Broder
Eva Woods: I mean this could totally derail the conversation but like, offer to eat the ass as its own activity, esp. The whole thing underwent major surgery. Marisa: Have a good night, all! Upcoming writers include Amy Fusselman, Nicole Chung, Idra Novey, Tom Barbash, Esmé Weijun Wang, and more. Melissa Broder: Hahaha! Melissa Broder: One novel I’m working on is set in Venice Beach again and is the story of a married couple from New York who get their asses kicked by the California dream (and become obsessed with their upstairs neighbor). Nancy: Before this book, I wasn’t familiar with your work but after reading a bio and interview, I learned about the So Sad Today Twitter account (and recognized it) and now want to read your collection of essays. Eva Woods: You wrote Venice so perfectly, I knew you had to have lived here. Eva Woods: The way Lucy viewed the other women in group therapy was really interesting to me, especially how she became more compassionate as the book went on. I finished it in a day. Melissa Broder: Yes. But I see where you’re coming from 🙂
Eva Woods: It’s still good manners to HAVE some, just in case. Eva Woods: This is so much more fun than manic pixie dream girls were. Melissa Broder: One is called Sagittarius: Son of Theo! Melissa Broder: It’s absolutely a major factor. Also, New Directions just sent me a bunch of Yoko Tawada books, because I loved The Bridegroom Was a Dog, so I’m excited to tuck into those. Eva Woods: Thank you! You are a poet with four poetry collections under your belt—were you already a reader of Sappho or did you do research around the fragments for this book? Eva Woods: I have a question about marketing the book, which you might not even really know the answer to. When I decided to write this book I was like, “Can I actually write a novel?” I figured I would try the dictation again and decided to dictate three paragraphs a day, as an experiment. Do you still use So Sad Today on Twitter the same now that you’re not anonymous? Eva Woods: I do have one more! Eva Woods: What was the emotional process like writing this one compared to the So Sad Today essays? Eva Woods: Marisa make that quote the subhead; I am BEGGING you! Lucy is pretty straight. Melissa Broder: He is snoozing by my foot right now. Marisa: I think I read an interview where you say the story of this book came to you in a flash, all at once. Marisa: Lucy’s relationship with her sister, Annika, also struck me more as I think about the book. This book was one I wouldn’t have picked up but I liked it, especially the relationship issues and therapy group. Melissa Broder: Yes. I kept shells on my altar. After I finished writing So Sad Today, I wanted to continue exploring the intersection between love and addiction. But my publisher was like, Oh yeah, definitely. Nancy: I have to say, about The Pisces, that I’ve never read any type of “erotica” before. She came into the picture pretty shortly after I got the idea for Lucy and Theo the merman (they were born to me together). Channing Tatum as a merman is… wow. But her fear of asking for help, and her rejection of the group for the vulnerable parts of themselves that they show (which she fears echoes her own vulnerability), is something I can identify with. I haven’t even seen the movie. It was a woman and a younger (at least, aesthetically younger) merman. Melissa Broder: Yay! But a woman steeped in classical Greek poetry? (Also, I’m more scandalized by the lack of lube in the anal scene than any merfucking.)
Melissa Broder: He uses spit! Melissa Broder: Yes, half of what I dictate is wrong. That will help the depression for ten minutes. Marisa: And let’s also talk about Dominic, please! The little baby stoner boy was also the worst. When I lived in New York, I wrote poetry on my phone on the subway. Lucy talks a lot about the masks people wear through the book, and I kept thinking, dogs don’t really play that game, so she can’t write off Dominic’s love and needs as another mask. Theo being a merman was part of the publicity and on the dust jacket—what was the discussion like around whether or not to tell people that Theo is a merman from the start or let them find out as they read the book? Eva Woods: It also wouldn’t have fit Lucy’s personality to have thought about it or remembered it coyly. Melissa Broder: With difficult, even deadly love, you never stay close enough for long to even ask, “Is that all there is?” With easy, unconditional love, it’s an, “Is that all there is?” factory because it’s right there. Eva Woods: I’m so pumped to chat about this one. Marisa: HAHAHA
Melissa Broder: Later I met someone who had worked for him and she was like, “Yeah, that was just a drunken idea one night.” And I was like, “Okay, because I was depressed and lost a week of my life on that.”
Marisa: Having written poetry, an essay collection, and now a novel—does your writing process differ for different genres? (Unless monkey people are your thing.)
Melissa Broder: He’s just too into Bukowski. We are pretty much taught that love should be difficult, so we allow it to be. Garrett, another story. Melissa Broder: It’s hard to get high on someone for whom you buy toilet paper. I was on the beach in Venice reading a book called The Professor and the Siren by Giussepe di Tomasi Lampedusa and it dawned on me just how much the human/siren relationship has always embodies that paradox. Melissa Broder: I feel you, Nancy. Marisa: I think that’s the only sane option, really. And I was like, “Well, guess I’m screwed.”
Eva Woods: OH MY GOD. The whole thing was deeply connected to the fact that we never know where we will end up in life or how that will impact us. Melissa Broder: I always make fun of memoirs and essays written by people who aren’t, like, sixty. When all you have to do is “be you”? And I like to get high. Because I actually wasn’t surprised and was like, well, she’s got a character lusting after a merman so yeah, fish sex. Eva Woods: Melissa, how do you feel about the conversation around the sex in the book? Haha. And what if it happened now? Melissa Broder: I wasn’t sure whether we would make that known. Is Dominic (and Annika’s so true-to-life and excruciating love for him) partly based on Pickle? I kept wondering what kind of mother Lucy would be, or whether she’d never want that in the first place (which is really normal for a lot of women, though we’re not supposed to say so). Melissa Broder: Yes, I lived in Venice for four years. The place where the love/sex drive and the death drive intersect. So thank you. Melissa Broder: “I don’t have any lube, but how about I eat the ass as a substitute? The fact that much of Sappho’s work has been erased also gave me an opportunity to explore absences, voids, places where there was once something and now there is nothing. Marisa: How do you feel about the book being out in the hands of readers? This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Marisa: Garrett was the actual worst. But Theo I would definitely get with. Today has been a rough day for me. Eva Woods: Dude the group and the dog relationships *gutted* me at parts! More from this author → on a first date, is my take… Fictional kids these days. thing. Dominic in the book is much more unconditionally loving. No way would I have sex with that. Like, what do you have to say, really? Melissa, the breakup at the beginning—was it inspired by real life? I’m just really gay tbh. I never imagined I would live in Los Angeles or on the beach. But the day it came out, I felt sad, because I was like, Oh it’s no longer mine now. I like when people say they got turned on and had to stop to masturbate. Marisa: I’m wondering if Siri made any errors in transcription that ended up leading you somewhere interesting? Melissa Broder: Yes, I use the So Sad Today Twitter account all the time because I’m addicted to the dopamine. Nancy: Hi, sorry I’m late to the chat. This Rumpus Book Club interview was edited by Marisa Siegel. Speaking of the breakup in the beginning, it was *so* realistically written! It was wonderful to have her with me for my first foray into fiction. Eva Woods: Those both sound fantastic. Melissa Broder: Much more relaxed than I did when So Sad Today (and my vomit fetish) was in my aunt’s hands! Also wondering if we’re going to get a The Pisces movie? Marisa: Are you surprised that people are surprised you “went there” about the fish sex? It felt like a gift. Melissa Broder: This was the only way I could tell the story. Eva Woods: Can we talk about the end of the book or is that too much of a spoiler? Melissa Broder: Well, I mean he is half-man. Eva Woods: He missed that Emily Post article. Every month The Rumpus Book Club hosts a discussion online with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. He is my favorite character of all, and his story arc is amazing. And existentially, there are less distractions. 🙂
Eva Woods: I’ve read so many people say, “It really does not pull any punches on the fish sex” and then when I read it, I was like, “how else would you describe fish sex?!”
Nancy: Is The Pisces even considered erotica? xoxo
Eva Woods: Thanks so much Melissa! Marisa: Neighbor obsessions are wonderful. Eva Woods: I love that. Can you talk a little bit about those characters and how you feel about their interactions with Lucy? Nancy: Rachel Cusk has been in my TBR pile, must move her to the top. Eva Woods: I agree! ***
Marisa: Hi, and welcome to The Rumpus Book Club chat with Melissa Broder about The Pisces! I actually appreciated the detail. Melissa Broder: Hahaha. And as I looked around at the Santa Monica mountains, I could have just as easily been in ancient Greece. That’s my fav! Melissa Broder: Thanks for having me! It’s such a marathon. Highest highs, lowest lows. And without this city/my proximity to the ocean, this book would never have been born. Melissa Broder: The love between women is an important part of this book, be it group therapy or Lucy’s sister. Fuck Garrett, marry Theo, kill Adam. I need that permission to make a mess. But now he is the world’s so he is however you see him! It’s all the same. Melissa Broder: No, there will be no Pisces sequel
Eva Woods: Can you tell us anything about the two novels? She is the best, and perfect for making a bad day better. But thinks he is. The line breaks disappeared and my tone became more conversational. Melissa Broder: Actually, the first media thing that terrified me was a few years ago, when we were getting ready to shop the manuscript to publishers, there was an announcement that the dude from Magic Mike (I forget his name) was going to remake Splash with him as a merman. Melissa Broder: Outline is incredible. Melissa Broder: For the most part, yes. Marisa: In the interest of letting Melissa go eat her cheesecake, Melissa, thank you again for joining us and for creating this wonderful novel! Today I was feeling really depressed (post-tour low, I guess) and so I was tweeting a bunch. It was sexy because, well, sex. Melissa Broder: I guess it is considered erotica to those who consider it erotica! I trust them. Melissa Broder: Totally. Melissa Broder: I’m obsessed with my pickle. It seemed less important while I was reading, but now feels like a crucial center for Lucy. Eva Woods: Agreed. And so she tries not to have those needs. Melissa Broder: No amount of ass-eating makes Garrett okay. Eva Woods: Like Fuck Marry Kill, I’d go Garrett/ Theo/ Adam. But I also felt really spiritually connected to this book. Melissa Broder: To me, Theo is the desire to be annihilated in a moment of narcotic limerence. Eva Woods: The book is obviously super different! Eva Woods: Lol now I keep thinking, “What if your kink was domesticity?”
Melissa Broder: Unconditional love makes me nervous, because I’m like, “Well something must be wrong with you then.” It feels realer to me to have to be performing, working to earn love. Melissa Broder: When I found out it was coming out I was like “Oh fuck.” And then when it won an Oscar I texted my agent and was like, “Well I guess it’s all over for me.” And she was like, “No, it’s good, it’s in the zeitgeist now.”
Marisa: Magical sea creature love story is the new manic pixie dream girl love story. Eva Woods: I definitely yelled “Lucy date GIRLS” at one point after her breakup! Is that accurate? Not as smart. Melissa Broder: <3

Marisa: How did you decide to incorporate Lucy’s thesis on Sappho into the book? Thanks for having me! Melissa Broder: I can’t not go there! Melissa Broder: Rachel Cusk—I just started Transit, the sequel to Outline, which I loved. Melissa Broder: A million. Eva Woods: Also unconditional love is so much scarier, but we act like it’s the opposite. Marisa: Omg yes, read Sam’s book STAT. prose.