Mary Jean Murphy - Writer
Blog, Interview

Interview in Epiphany: A Literary Journal

Thank you to the kind editors at Epiphany: A Literary Journal for hosting this short-answer interview session with me.

Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder?  In other words, do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?

Mary Jean Murphy: I’m definitely methodical and imagine the metaphor as building paper mâché. I have these delicate sentences that layer atop each other until there’s something solid. I’ll write a paragraph, decide it doesn’t have that solid feel, then delete it and try again. When it’s working well, it’s a great feeling—when it’s not, it can be pretty frustrating and probably limiting. If I could choose, I’d be a chipper, but maybe that’s a case of “grass is greener.”

What was your first publication? 

When I was in the 10th grade, I had a poem published in Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing of 2006. It was an anthology of selected winners from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and it was the first “real” contest that my writing won.

CONTINUE READING the full interview on Epiphany’s website.

(Image credit: Lydia Conklin)


Thank You Epiphany Magazine

Last night I read from my winning nonfiction piece in the Spring 2016 issue of Epiphany Magazine! Their launch party was at Strand Books, and it was an amazing experience. Not only did the editorial staff at Epiphany throw a supremely well organized launch party, I also can’t say enough great things in general about working with Moss, their Managing Editor. Having been Managing Editor at the Columbia Journal, I know what a tough job it is. Moss gave great edits, always responded quickly to emails, and was great at keeping me in the loop about what was going on. Oh, and he was patient with the speed at which I sent things back 😉

Getting to meet Kathryn Harrison, the nonfiction judge for the contest, was a surreal experience. Two years ago, when reading The Kiss, if you’d told me she would be selecting my work… Well, I would’ve been pretty stoked.

So thank you to everyone who was involved in this process. It was really an honor. If you’d like to purchase a copy, you can save 20% with the friends and family discount. And be sure to like Epiphany Magazine on facebook!

Epiphany: A Literary Journal Spring Reading and Discussion

May 23 Reading at Strand Books

Epiphany Magazine Spring Reading

Monday, May 23 at 7pm

Strand Books (828 Broadway at 12th St, 3rd Floor Rare Books Room)

Join me at Strand Books in NYC on May 23rd, where I will be reading, along with the other contest winners, for Epiphany’s spring issue launch!

Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Vijay Seshadri, New York Times bestselling author Kathryn Harrison, pioneering literary agent Vicky Bijur – judges of the Epiphany magazine annual writing contest – will discuss what they look for in new writing and how it reflects the literary world today. Contest winners, who are published Epiphany’s spring issue, will read from their selected work.

Food and wine by Fresco Gelateria.

Purchase a copy of the issue or a $10 Strand gift card for entry.

Friends & Family 20% discount on the issue

Buy tickets online or at the door

Save the date on Facebook


Life After Loss: Week One

I PRACTICED DOING kegels in the back seat as Mark drove our mother and me to the crematorium to identify our older brother’s body. I’d still never had an orgasm.  At twenty-two it was embarrassing to tell people, and a week earlier, in a Vegas hotel room, one of my coworkers had said it came down to kegels.  I took my clothes off quickly as he explained that kegels made his girlfriend come easier and maybe I’d just never fucked a man who knew how to use what he’d been given.  He took it as a point of pride that he could make any girl come—except me—and it was all I could think about.

Continue Reading


Step One: Admission

There are no steps. Being an addict is flying in circles like a goose looking for its lost mate. Days will pass, but she won’t remember them. By choice, by design, Jane drinks so she can stop asking questions. Addicted to what? The feeling of sunlight in fistfuls on her back, his voice in her ear like a ghost, the weightlessness of soaring on something unseen. Even here, she’s scared to tell you what it tastes like. To quit–everywhere Jane looks there are clouds, clouds, clouds and the bottom has always been a faraway place, waiting beneath.


Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of the Washington Square Review.


Help Me Attend This Portuguese Writing Workshop

Last month I was named a semi-finalist for nonfiction in the Disquiet International Literary Prize, which brings some of the world’s most talented young writers together in Lisbon, Portugal each year to work with local Portuguese and world-famous writers. Being a semi-finalist gave me a $500 scholarship to attend, but once accounting for airfare, accommodations, and program fees, that still left a considerable gap and I immediately told myself going was out of the question.


My friends encouraged me to start a GoFundMe but for almost a month I didn’t because I thought it was too indulgent. And even after I created one, it took me days to muster up the confidence to post it. So with that in mind, I’ll stop yammering and instead humbly ask you to consider donating even just a few dollars to help me attend this writing workshop this summer. You’ll see the link above. Being able to work with author Denis Johnson would be a dream, and if any of you know me well, you’ll know that’s me downplaying my excitement.

The Girl in the Photo

The Girl in the Photo

LAUREN HAD BIG tits, swollen and weighted down with bologna-sized areolas, like she’d been waiting a very long time for someone to milk her. Maybe it was her tits, maybe it was the pink ribbon tied in a bow around her neck, but the sight of her made me want to moo. She stood in the mirror’s reflection with her arms raised to make her body look slim and add some perk to those bags. In one photo she bit her bottom lip and I could see the hint of a double chin. She was framed by a Hollywood mirror atop her purple vanity, and set behind her were purple walls, purple sheets pulling off her bed, a Saw 2 movie poster, a magenta bra on the floor. Her room was just askew enough to look natural, as though she hadn’t cleaned for the pictures. On her stomach, she’d written backward so it could be read in the mirror: Property of Zack Simmons.

I showed the photos to Brett under flickering fluorescents in an NYU dorm. It was the weekend after finals, and except for us, the common room was empty. At a round wooden table, I stretched my head out on my arm and stared into his face as he looked at the photos.

“Is this what girls do?” Brett asked.


“And what does that bitch have around her neck?” he said. “At least dudes have the decency to leave their faces out of dick pics.”

He pushed my computer back to me and I left my head on the table, concentrating on Lauren’s face, searching for acne. Brett opened Grindr on his phone and started showing me pictures of dicks, showed me how guys used their hands to make themselves look bigger.

Brett spent many of his nights on Grindr, seeking anonymous hookups, submerging himself in the BDSM world for a sense of order. Sex felt safer when he didn’t recognize the face above him. A few months earlier, in the summer before we left for college, Brett’s best friend William died in a car crash. From the way he talked about him, I often wondered if they had been more than friends. I thought about what I would do if I lost a lover like that.

“She didn’t even spell his name right. Zach hates when people spell his name with a ‘k’.” I wasn’t done with Lauren.

“How’d you get these pictures?”

Keep reading at Vinyl Poetry and Prose.



The martini’s salty burn still crouched between her teeth, but Jane thought the man in the hotel bar’s bathroom tasted like water.  He was, plainly put, refreshing.  That he had a girlfriend was everything; it didn’t matter who was lying, or was he attractive with his pants around his ankles, or might someone walk in, not even the way her lips sank down when he reminded her they were just having fun.  She wanted to know this girlfriend.  With her stockings rolled down mid-thigh and palms bracing herself against the humming hand dryer, Jane remembered her first boyfriend: a cheater.  Back then, she thought she could draw the boyfriend home with fluttering lids and nails screaming down his chalky back, but when they finished, come slid down her thighs as he kicked her out of his Ford Explorer. All she felt was the rain and a trembling fear that someone, under cover of warped windows, watched her from above.


First appeared in Literary Orphans.


The Art of Holding Yourself Back

Jane never waited for her Jell-O to cool, so she learned to like the taste of red on her tongue, hot and tangy. Made her squint, think about patience as unvirtue, as unbravery: to be praised for holding yourself back. She tried not to think about the most recent man to leave her. Patience as unlove. Instead she thought about how somewhere, there’s a girl biting into an unripe pineapple, born in the sun. See the rocky sand that pricks her feet. See the plastic coke bottles and ripped cereal boxes sucking back on the tide. That girl calls it home. Jane thought about how somewhere else, love is slow-moving and cool like a pillow flipped in the night.


First appeared on Word Riot.


Prayer Song

Jane’s doctor told her to create new routines. She decides she will begin cooking again, laces her boots, zips her coat, winds her scarf, takes the stone steps out of her apartment, slow-like. A seagull flies against the beating snow; the water follows us everywhere. The grocer’s automatic doors zwoop open and she stands in front of the broccoli not knowing how she got here. (Dreaming has lost its positive connotation.) Jane holds a whole chicken in her outstretched hands and cries. It is so heavy, and she has never before realized that so many people walking around her are dying. Every one, Jane knows, is feeling this way, and they have just learned through practice not to cry at poultry in public. Jane reminds herself that even the Bible ends.


First appeared on Word Riot.