Photo: © Jürgen Fauth
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Marcy Dermansky is the author of the novels Bad Marie and Twins. Bad Marie was a Barnes and Noble Fall 2010 Discover Great New Writers pick and included on numerous best of the year lists, including Esquire magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, and Largehearted Boy. Marcy’s first novel Twins was a New York Times Editors Choice Pick.
Her short fiction has been published widely in literary journals and anthologies, including McSweeney’s, Indiana Review, Mississippi Review, and Fifty-Two Stories. 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 in on the board of the online literary community Fictionaut. She lives in Astoria, NY with her husband, writer Jürgen Fauth, and their daughter, Nina.
Author website www.marcydermansky.com
Film critic at: worldfilm.about.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
I wrote my first short story in elementary school. It was twenty handwritten pages about an African elephant in an American zoo who misses the other elephants. I have always wanted to be a writer.
In a writing class in college, a teacher introduced me to Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories. “What It Was Like Seeing Chris” was about an unhappy teenage girl from New Jersey, going blind, disenchanted with her parents and figuring out the business of sex. And basically, I was three out of those four things—and I have bad eyesight. That story blew my mind. I wanted to have written it.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your
Ok. I don’t make nearly enough room for the creative process in my day-to-day life. I have a nineteen-month-old little girl and I spend an awful lot of my creative energy making sure that she is happy and not breaking things—or hurting herself. And playing the plastic trumpet, talking to stuffed animals.
I also believe that watching Nina is reawakening me to the wonder of the world.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
Possessed. When it’s going well, my characters say things, do things, that I could have never guessed until I have typed the words. With Bad Marie, I never knew that Marie was going to go to France. Or to Mexico. Until she goes. And how did that French actress end up on the plane. That coincidence floored me, too. It’s the best thing—surprising myself. It is why I write.
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
Again, this interview is shaming me. I don’t believe in inspiration. Like a bell dinging. I believe in sitting in front of my computer and forcing myself to work. And then, when I am working, almost always, that is when the inspiration comes. It’s hard work. I get ideas swimming laps.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
Frederick Barthelme once told me that it is never too soon to start the story. To set things up in your first sentence. I love to do that. Bad Marie starts: “Sometimes, Marie got a little drunk at work.”
I like to start my work running. I appreciate that in other people’s work, too.
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
I know a lot more about endurance. I had thought after finishing and publishing Twins that I would know how to do it again. Write the next novel. But somehow, Bad Marie was harder. I felt the strange weight of expectation—and that familiar creeping doubt. After finishing a draft of Bad Marie, I actually shelved the manuscript for more than a year, worked on other things and then went back to it.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect your work?
Every time I do yoga, these days in the form of a DVD in front of the television, I am stunned by how different I feel when I am done. Better. My head cleared. Less anxious. Which has to be good for my work and every other element of my life.
I wish, however, that when I did yoga at home, I was not forced to discover what lies beneath my couch.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
Cheese doodles. The good kinds from health food stores. Smart Puffs or Barbara’s Blue Cheese Cheese Doodles.
I have tried to give them up, failed. Instead, I have introduced Nina to their addictive pull.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson. Because that is the novel I used to turn to, read over and over again. I was and am in love with Ann August, who wanted to be a child actress when she was still a child. Because I still like to reread it. And because there is so much good, almost unnoticeable technique to it: point of view (there are several), passage of time (generations), place as character (Los Angeles and Wisconsin), incredible characters (Ann, her mother, Ted the ice skating instructor).
Anywhere But Here does everything that a big book in supposed to achieve. And it’s wonderful to read.
What is on your nightstand now?
It’s a jumble. I have the anthology The Forgotten Borough: Writers Come To Terms With Queens, Sigrid Nunez’s Salvation City, Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett.
The pause that refreshes! You can find Corinna Barsan’s musings and discoveries on her blog at Shiny White Page.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.