Thrive: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Marie Brenner: Daydream! I used to fight this and think I should be out running the reservoir. Now I welcome  all daydreams and plot how I can cancel out of every plan I have made. Then, I berate myself for making those plans. Next, I tell myself to get on it with it.  And so the day begins.

Thrive: What gives you energy?

MB: Chasing a story. I love what I do. The thrill of penetrating an unknown world – incomparable.  

What’s your secret life hack?    

MB: To be Julia Child. Those knife skills!  

Thrive: Name a book that changed your life. 

MB: Kay Thompson’s Eloise at the Plaza. The life lessons were indelible. Pouring water down the mail chute?  Skibbling down the halls with sticks waking everyone up? Eloise gave me permission to rebel.

Thrive: Tell us about your relationship with  your phone – does it sleep with you?

MB: No, I break up with my phone every night and make it sleep in my office.  But in the morning we have a moving reconciliation. There are tears.

Thrive: How do you deal with e mail ?   

MB:  I love e-mail – reach out any time.

Thrive: You expectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

MB: Oh, that’s a good one. How many writers do you know?  All we have are unending  15 minute gaps  that we are trying to fill..  

Thrive: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

MB: This is a chronic condition. I always feel that whatever I have done, it could have been better. 

Thrive: Share a quote that you love that gives you strength and peace:

MB: Anais Nin:  “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  I know that is true, but no one is going to get me to scuba dive.      

Thrive: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress:

MB: It might be best to embrace it – welcome it.  Stress – and as well anger – can be enormously empowering. It can be a rocket to propel forward and achieve the miraculous. 

Thrive: What was the last photo you have taken?  

MB: My grandson at 2 ½  doing a drum solo. Joy!  

Thrive: What brings you optimism?     

MB: I am lucky! I am one of those annoying people that seems to have optimism in my DNA.  

Thrive: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life? 

MB: The extraordinary doctors and front line workers at New York-Presbyterian  I have gotten to know over the last two years – they are mission driven to save lives.  Spending time with them has been a master class in humanity.   

Thrive: How do you reframe negative thinking?   

MB: One of the doctors I met during my reporting  ended all of his conversations with, “What can I do to be helpful?”  It’s magical how posing or thinking that simple question, changes the molecules. Try it. It really works. 

Marie Brenner is the author of THE DESPERATE HOURS Copyright © 2022 from Flatiron Books.


  • Marie Brenner is the author of over half a dozen books and is a writer at large for Vanity Fair. She has been a staff writer at The New Yorker, a contributing editor at New York, and has won numerous awards for her reporting around the world. Her exposé of the tobacco industry was the basis for the 1999 movie The Insider, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards®, including Best Picture. She is also a producer of the 2019 documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn?