I’ll preface this interview by saying that I totally heart Marie Lyn Bernard. Her story “Fucking Around” is worth the price of Dirty Girls alone. I say this as someone who reads so much erotica, almost nothing seems new anymore. I’m always looking for the exquisite gems like hers, the ones that I’ll gladly reread over and over, the ones that teach me and thrill me and make me remember and want and lust. Her words do that.
She has this incredible energy and sense of humor and intelligence that all combine in this unique and wonderful way. That sounds vague, but only because I’m pretty much saying you have to meet her and/or read her work to know exactly what I’m talking about.
It comes through in this interview, and in her piece, “Fucking Around,” which opens Dirty Girls and makes it fitting to have her as my first author interview. Also, you can catch her LIVE on Thursday, April 17th at my reading series In The Flesh where she and Haviland Stillwell will reprise their awesomeness. In the meantime, watch these videos (parts 1 and 2 from the same night) of her reaing with Stephanie Whited at an earlier In The Flesh, parts 1 and 2. She also has her own YouTube page.
Marie Lyn Bernard is a half-Jewish, half-Midwestern farmer’s-daughter freelance aspirant. She blogs regularly at This Girl Called Automatic Win (marielynbernard.blogspot.com), the L Word Online, and OurChart.com. Among other places, her work has appeared in The Bigger the Better, The Tighter the Sweater: 20 Funny Women on Beauty; Body Image & Other Hazards of Being Female; Best American Erotica 2007; Best Women’s Erotica 2005; Marie Claire; nerve.com, CleanSheets, Suspect Thoughts, Fresh Off the Vine, Conversely, Desdmona.com, The Sarah Lawrence Review, and ElitesTV.com. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 with a very handy degree in English literature. She lives in Harlumbia, believes in St. Elmo’s Fire, and occasionally fools around with a website called www.marielynbernard.com.
Tell us a little about yourself, aside from what’s in your official bio.
I’ve been typing words for many years. I used to write novels about time travel, now I write about how I used to write novels about time travel. Every day I promise myself I’m gonna start a “schedule,” sometimes I write it down, when I follow it I’m certain I’ll follow it tomorrow too but then I don’t always do that. My favorite writers right now are Stephen Dunn, Eileen Myles, Jennifer L. Knox, Lorrie Moore, Sam Anderson and Mary Gaitskill. I own approximately 15 hoodies but still do laundry every week. I analyze everything until it barely exists, like Angela Chase. When I grow up, I want to be a big bright shining star, but the kind that can shine brightly without having to go out into public places very often. Cavestar. I have a lot of big ideas about changing the world through literature but when I start to talk about what I want or who I am, insecurity takes over and instead of speaking about ideas, I just shrug a lot and look at my shoes. I could’ve benefited from eating more Fruit by the Foot. As I write this, my friends are saying, “Don’t write anything ridiculous or crazy.” Real friends or imaginary friends? I’ll never tell…
What was the inspiration for your story “Fucking Around” and how long did it take to write?
Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear. (Name that movie!) This is what I remember: I went to an In the Flesh in early ’06 and my friend said, “You should read here.” And so I emailed you (RKB) and said “Can I read here?” and you said, “Yes.” So later that year, my best friend Haviland and I went to another In the Flesh, and afterwards we talked about how we’d like to do something really different, together, for my In the Flesh reading in ’06. About two days before the reading, I realized I had nothing to read. This is typical. And so I wrote a draft of “Fucking Around” in about 3-4 hours. I brought it to Haviland. We read it together⎯it was over ten minutes. We cut and added…eventually we trimmed it down to approximately the proper time. I tweaked it a tiny bit the next day. All in all…it took about 5-6 hours to write. In retrospect, I can’t believe I used to do things so quickly. I wish I could do that again. I think “New York City fucks me,” is something we all think every now and then. Some of the encounters are specific people, imaginary or real.
I think it was on the tip of my tongue⎯possibly related to these “city poems” a girl Amalia had written in my high school (I went to a boarding school for the arts where students took Poetry Seriously) that included brilliant lines like: “chapel hill feeds me smushed-up cake with a spoon. she calls all her clothes ‘pajamas’.” and “d.c. molests his children. nobody really says much about it because they’re afraid of him hearing and writing down what they say.” I’d forgotten about these poems until my friend who came to my reading reminded me. I thought, yes⎯THAT is where thoughts come from! Other people’s thoughts! I imagine personifying cities (anthropomorphism) is a popular technique⎯the Mesopotamian gods, Uncle Sam, etc. I guess I just took it and made it sexy, but I think at the time I was also thinking a lot about why we come home to certain places/people again and again despite their obvious glaring drawbacks, and why the rest of the world/population is never enough. Also that week I was moving⎯jobs, friends, apartment (brooklyn to manhattan), goals⎯so probs that was related to my state of mind.
In the story, the narrator is fucking various cities across the United States. In your experience, what city is the best place to have sex in?
I feel obligated to answer “New York City.” ‘Cause the whole world’s spinning outside without you, so you have to start a fire in your room to feel that anything you’re doing is actually important. But really…it’s where your heart is. FYI, I think it’d be funny if I answered “Detroit,” and then gave you several reasons why: 1. The Henry Ford Museum, 2. Eminem. 3. My Mom lives there in case of an emergency. 4. Motown!
I think cities are best; the sensation that there’s a million other things you COULD be doing, but you’re choosing not to ’cause you’d rather be fucking…as opposed to sex by default (nothing else to do). I really have no idea what I’m talking about, I’d like to go back to “where your heart is.” Kansas? That’s not a city. Oh wait, it is! Kansas City! Never been there. I bet it’s full of hotties who like to do it, like Dorothy Gale.
The story has an unusual format, and worked very well as a live piece. Was it challenging to write the story in that way? Do you feel that it works differently on the page vs. live?
I’ve written many plays and screenplays so it wasn’t hard to write as a live piece. If anything, it’s easier ’cause it’s not 100% my responsibility to rock it, I can depend on my co-reader to carry some of the weight. I think it’s much more effective live, but people who’ve read it on the page still feel it’s good, which surprises me, but now I accept that idea. At first I wouldn’t let anyone read it ’cause I was like, “OMG, it’s better live.” But here we go with the book, I’m totally Zen about it, fo’real.
Your story is very humorous, but also sad at times; it goes through a lot of emotions. Was that deliberate?
That’s always how I write, ’cause that’s how my brain works: sad and then funny, funny and then sad. I don’t think I’ve ever been sad sad sad sad without a break of funny or vice versa. My brain, to a disturbing degree, isn’t interested in sticking to one feeling or another. This is refreshing in fiction (I hope), less refreshing in real life/actual friendships/relationships.
Why do you enjoy writing erotica? How is it similar or different from the other kinds of writing you do?
I think it’s easier…’cause the “climax” of the story is already a given⎯whatever conflict you’ve set up between your characters can be confronted/resolved via the sexual encounter. It’s like anything where you’re writing with a theme/topic…it helps. It guides. The kind of writing “I do” lately is a lot of television recaps and blog entries and top tens and to be honest that is not so different, except that speaking explicitly of what actually happens during sex is shocking rather than expected. Now that more people actually read what I write, I don’t write about sex as much unless it’s from a cultural/political perspective or more subtle. I dunno, it makes me feel too exposed I think. But you get to reveal some of your character’s most ingrained fears/passions right away, which is great. Right now I dig writers like Mary Gaitskill and Maggie Estep who don’t shy from explicit sex in their narratives but also aren’t writing with sex at the forefront of their goals for the story. If that makes sense.
What are you working on next?
1. World peace
2. Self peace/esteem
3. My Blog, Obvs.
4. My Book…my…Memoir! ’cause I’m So! Important! It’s about paradox. And the self. Surprise!
5. There’s always another blog to write.
6. Getting the hell out of dodge.
7. Reading (next on the list: The Book of Other People/edited by Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf/Orlando, Kathy Acker/My Mother: A Demonology, Junot Diaz/Drown, the new issue of Marie Claire.
8. Polishing/improving my video editing skills to make more videos
9. Cleaning my room
10. Finishing this interview! Ta-Da!!