What Women Want: Questions for Sara Marchant about her debut novel


Sara Marchant, author of “Haunted” in Volume 70.2 of Shenandoah, published her debut full-length novel, Becoming Delilah, on August 15, 2023. Here, she speaks with nonfiction editor DW McKinney about the book and writing about early girlhood and womanhood.


What was your inspiration for Becoming Delilah?


It’s based on my 2018 novella The Driveway Has Two Sides. I had no intention of turning the novella into a novel. Fairlight asked me to. I was not really feeling that because I was teaching, I was taking care of everybody, and I was working on another book. Then the pandemic happened. I didn’t have a job anymore. I was still taking care of everybody, but they were contained at that point. So I had a lot of time at home, and I was trying to avoid everybody. I thought, “Let’s just write that book they want.” So I wrote it. That’s where Becoming Delilah came from.


I’m fascinated with Delilah as a character and her genesis. How did you create her character?


She was Delilah to me first. Then I thought, “What would make a person like this?” In the book, there’s that whole thing where she pops up, and she says to Anton, “Is that your real name? Because that’s not my real name.” I don’t remember writing that. It just appeared. But I thought, “Okay, well, that’s fun. Let’s play with that.” When I was writing the novel I needed a B-story, so her backstory became the B-story.


I always love books that talk about girlhood and womanhood, but particularly the reality that when we’re girls, men try to prey on us. You don’t shy away from that.


How can you, really? If you write any type of life, as a woman, you have to talk about that. The thing with the man in the rusty truck [in the novel]….well, I think maybe I was 12, but I was walking to school, and I had to pass between the junior high and the high school to get to the elementary school. For some reason there were very few people around. I guess the high school and middle school had already started. But I was walking down the sidewalk, and a man in a car pulled over. He was like, “Oh, hey, I’ll give you a ride to school.” I said, “No, thank you.” He slowed down and followed me along. And he was like, “No, I’ll give you a ride to school.”


Up ahead were three teenage boys. I didn’t know them—teenage boys are dangerous, too. They were walking. The guy in the car, all he would have to do is reach out, grab me, and throw me in the car. So I ran so fast, and I stood right behind the teenage boys. Then the guy in the car took off. One teenage boy, I guess he knew my older brother because I didn’t recognize him. He was like, “Oh, you’re Marvin’s sister. Was that guy trying to get you in the car?” I said yes. And he’s like, Well, we’re cutting class so we can walk you.” So they walked me across the major street, and then it was like a block to the school. That wasn’t even the first time [that a man did that]. It was just the first time that I was by myself. The first time I was like 10 and I was with two other girls.


It’d be interesting to see how many people are shocked by that scene in the novel and how many women resonate with it.


It has been going on forever. That’s the thing. At my reading it was all women, except for two men. We were talking about that. Like every single woman, either that had happened to her or she knew someone directly who grew up with those stories. That just happens.


Tell me about your thought process in pairing Delilah with older men.


That’s who has the money! She even has that thought when she first meets Anton. “Oh, he’s not old enough. He’s only 10 years older than me. That’s not enough.” That’s not enough time to make some money and be settled in life and have like an extra house, ya know? It’s not really a daddy issues complex. It’s all straight up financial. And also, [the older men] are more delusional. Oh, she’s listening to me because I’m so stable. I’m so handsome. I’m so wise. No, they’re the ones with the money.


What surprised you most about this publishing process?


It took a really long time because of the pandemic. Instead of the usual year or two, it took three years. I wrote it during a really stressful time. A lot of it was escapism, so that was nice. I love Fairlight because they have this really, really rigorous editing process. They not only did a lot of developmental edits they did three or four rounds of copy edits.


What was your favorite part to write?


I liked writing Anton. I think he only got one chapter from his point of view. It was just fun writing from a man’s perspective. He’s super isolated, surrounded by people he can’t really have any contact with for his own safety. Then he develops this weird obsession with his neighbor.


I love that scene towards the end in the kitchen with Anton and Delilah.


I had a really hard time not making that pure smut.


Tell me more about your latest book project. You said earlier that it was a bit of a monster.


This novel came out of nowhere. It wasn’t what I was planning on writing. I’ve been writing this haunted house novel for two years. Then I had this weird dream, and I woke up with this question in my head: what if in order to pay your student loan debt you became a sex worker? Not me, of course, because I am 48 years old, and they would pay me to put my clothes back on. If I was young, if I was like my niece’s age, and I look like my niece right now, what would I do? That’s the premise. I wrote that over the last four months. Every day, I got up, took a walk, sat down at my desk, and I wrote for four hours, and I finished this book. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written.