badmarie-rick-250Marcy Dermansky is the author of Bad Marie (just released) and Twins (2005). Her short stories have been published in numerous literary journals, including McSweeney’s, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, and Indiana Review.  A former MacDowell fellow, Marcy is the winner of the Smallmouth Press Andre Dubus Novella Award and Story Magazine’s Carson McCullers short story prize. Marcy also serves on the Fictionaut Board of Advisors.

You can read the first chapter of Bad Marie, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick for the Fall of 2010, on Fictionaut.

Q (Meg Pokrass): How has being a film critic influenced your work?

I watch movies differently when I am going to review them. Instead of enjoying — or not enjoying– the film, I also think: shit, how am I going to write about this. Writing movie reviews for the last ten years has to have influenced my work. When I am write, I think like a filmmaker. I end a scene and my brain thinks: cut. The next scene almost usually happens in a different place.

If my characters are sitting around talking, I want them talking some place interesting. It can be the bedroom or a diner, even a living room is fine, but it’s even better if the conversation is taking place on a boat in Paris.

When Marie and Benoit and Caitlin take their boat ride down the Seine, I had a scene from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in mind, when Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke go down the Seine, talking talking talking. The light was beautiful in Julie Delpy’s hair. In Bad Marie, Marie gets to stare at Notre Dame and reflect about how she once learned about flying buttresses in an art history class, back in college.

Which films in the last few years have made the biggest impact on you and in what way?

I should hold a contest: how many movie references are in Bad Marie. Many of my film references were unintentional; some, of course, were. Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise is one of my favorite films of all time. I name a character Ruby in Bad Marie. Ruby works in an industrial laundry — which also happens in the film. Marie says the name Benoit Doniel out loud to herself, repeatedly, and that comes directly from Francois Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses. I borrowed the name Ludivine for my sick cat in the novel from French actress Ludivine Sagnier. Etc.

At different points, have you had mentors? Do you mentor?

All my life, I have been learning how to write through reading. When I was much younger, reading and rereading Jane Eyre and Little Women and A Little Princess, curled up in bed and eating chocolate, I was already in training. Studying structure and character development and story telling. Learning. I am a compulsive reader. That hasn’t changed, even with all this emphasis on film.

I learned a lot at graduate school studying with Frederick Barthelme and Mary Robison. I learned from Rick that it’s not too soon to start your story in the first sentence — which seems so basic, but isn’t. Mary taught me how to end a scene — which is usually at least a sentence, and sometimes more, before you’d think the scene should end. You are still in it when you cut.

And yes, I have also mentored, working with writers chapter by chapter as they complete their books, and also editing manuscripts. It’s work that I do for pay and it’s also work that I love to do.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

Sitting down to write is the biggest trick. Telling myself, right now, I am going to sit down and write. And do nothing else. I often think that I am hopelessly stuck, but when I do that, insist that I had better work, I inevitably get something done. Maybe not a lot. Always something. And then, I feel like an idiot for not having started sooner. I am feeling like an idiot right now, wondering why I don’t listen to my advice.

So excited about Bad Marie, your new novel. How did the idea for this novel come to you? Tell us about Bad Marie

I started this book with an image of that first scene in the bath tub, Marie, her large breasts, a glass of whiskey, that little girl. I sat down to type and there came that first sentence (which has never changed in all of the drafts and revision) Sometimes, Marie got a little drunk at work. I honestly don’t know where this idea came from. I throw away a lot of ideas, but this one I kept. Clung to.

Can you talk about writing short fiction versus the novel? What do you notice working in the different forms that surprised you/surprises you?

I prefer working long these days. What I love most about a novel, in part, is the length of the process, opening your document and already being in the middle of something; knowing my characters, taking them to the next place. I hate starting from scratch, hate the empty page. With short stories, the process of beginning again comes much too soon for me. I have finished only two novels but both times, I remember feeling sad when I came to the end. A sense of loss, even.

How do you juggle everything: family/writing/life…. ? Any suggestions on this juggling act?

I haven’t figured this out yet, Meg, but I wish I knew how to juggle. I can ride a unicycle. Jurgen (founder of Fictionaut and also my husband) can juggle and he has juggled Clementines for our baby Nina, which entertained her enormously. I try always to eat food that pleases me. I often remind myself that if I have a terrible waste of a day, that the next day I have a chance to start again. Clean.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. stacy muszynski

    Excellent to read your comments here, Ms. Dermansky.

    About halfway into BAD MARIE. Always able to sink teeth in deep–paying the book back for the favor, I suppose. I have to admit, it’s hard leaving it–even when my eyes keep shutting on me at 3am.

    The homage(?) to *Morvern Callar* struck me deeply. The dead loved one, the stealing of the dead loved-one’s manuscript by-line. Killer stuff. Must watch that film again.

  2. stacy muszynski

    Correct url for the above comment. (Should be instead of


  3. Marcy

    Thanks, Stacy, that’s a good get about Morvern Callar. I love that movie.

  4. Bob Eckstein

    Thanks, ladies for the interview.

  1. 1 Fictionaut Five and Bad Marie Excerpt « Marcy Dermansky

    […] was interviewed by Meg Pokrass for the blog of the literary community Fictionaut.  From the interview: I should hold a contest: how many movie references are in Bad Marie. Many of my film references […]

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