Interview with Mary Glickman (Part II)
Mary Glickman is a writer, public relations professional, and fundraiser who has worked with Jewish charities and organizations. Glickman writes about the Southern-Jewish experience in her bestselling, debut novel Home in the Morning, as well as in her latest book, One More River, which earned her the 2011 National Jewish Book Award Finalist in Fiction. Welcome to Part II of the interview.You can read Part I here.
Q: You mention in your acknowledgement page that Home in the Morning is your “seventh novel and the first one published after more than thirty years of effort.” What joys and challenges did you face during the writing process for Home in the Morning?
A: I began working on Morning during a time when I’d given up hope of ever being published. I’d written six novels before, and only one of them was really terrible. The rest were pretty good! I acknowledged that after 38 years of hitting my head against the publishing wall, I might never be published. But by that time it was too late to change. You know, you are what you do, and rejection only really hurts the first decade or two. What distinguished my work on Morning was that I’d stopped focusing on publishing. I wrote the story to entertain myself. I wrote the story I wanted to read, not the one I thought editors expected.
And never had I written so fluidly. There were no extended periods of wrestling with the text. It just flowed. So I knew I was on to something.
I have to say the process of writing of One More River was similar, and (knock wood) my current work is bubbling away now. I get up every morning, sit down at my desk, read the news online, answer a few emails, and then write until I’m written out. The next day, I start all over. I am Shomer Shabbos about writing. I might do a lot of forbidden things on Shabbos, but I will not write. That to me is the definition of work.
Q: Do you have any advice to share with young or neophyte writers about the craft or the business of writing?
A: There’s only one piece of writing advice I’ve ever received that was completely useful: Listen to the voice. The voice never lies.
The voice. That ineffable internal rhythm that distinguishes one writer from another. The most honest guide a writer’s got. Listen to the voice, and you’ll know when you’ve gone wrong. You don’t have to know why. If it sounds wrong, it is wrong. If it’s dissonant, bloated, over the moon, you’ll hear it. Develop your ear to the sound of your voice and every false note will scream. Then go back to where the voice flowed and start over from there.
Q: Describe your journey of converting to Judaism.
A: Mythographer Joseph Campbell once wrote that religion is the poetry that speaks to a man’s soul. He proposes a mystical element to our religious impulse, suggesting that one’s choice of religion goes deeper than cultural and familial training; it goes to the bone. That was the case with my conversion. Judaism was my soul’s symphony.
When I was a child, the good sisters who taught me answered doubts about Christian mysteries with this statement: Faith is a gift. By adolescence I realized I had not received the gift. The divinity of Jesus was a stumbling block I could not leap over. I gravitated towards the Tanakh. Later on, I discovered the great Jewish writers, among them Sholom Aleichem, I.F. Peretz, Chiam Potok, Saul Bellow, and of course I.B. Singer--writers who struck a sympathetic chord inside me. So the beauty of Talmudic logic and metaphor was first put to me by writers of fiction. The first time I heard Ashkenazic liturgical music, my chest filled up. I had tears. If that was not the pull of poetry on my soul, I don’t know what is.
I wanted to convert years before I married, but held back until my husband proposed. I was afraid he’d interpret my conversion as “too much pressure” and take for the hills. When the time was ripe, I took instruction from an Orthodox rabbi. After six months of study, I went before a bet din, visited the mikvah, and swore an oath on the bimah. It was a joyous goal eagerly pursued.
As time went by, I became more secular. Thirty-five years later, I’m a High Holiday Jew who keeps kosher only during Pesach, who bench lichts and observes Shabbat in my fashion. But my identity is rock solid that of a Jew. Sometimes, I muse that some poor soul whose life was cut short during the Holocaust needed to be reborn and as there were not so many Jewish wombs around, I was given the body of an Irish Catholic woman, a wonderful woman I might add, to be born through. Later, my soul took me where it needed to go.
Q: Describe your discovery of and love affair with the South.
A: Twenty five years ago, my husband and I sought a warm place to live with a strong cultural life. Boston winters can wear pretty thin. We discovered Charleston, South Carolina. Sophisticated Charleston is clearly the most beautiful city in the United States, with its antebellum architecture, its gardens, and its stunning coastline. Our first night there we attended a performance of Strauss’ Salome and afterwards shared a romantic dinner on Market Street. We stayed that week on one of the exotically beautiful sea marsh islands and fell in love with everything Charleston.
A few years later, after a seven month sabbatical in Spain, we rented a house on Seabrook Island. I took a part-time job mucking stalls at the island’s equestrian center. I learned to ride and made some of the best friends of my life, including a very stubborn Appaloosa named King of Harts whom I later purchased and who is with me still today. By the end of that year, I’d learned so much about the South--about its manners and ways, its natural beauty, its language and history--that I became a 100% reconstructed Yankee.
Maybe I’m like the old lady in Candide. I’m easily assimilated. From Irish/Polish Catholic Yankee to Jewish Southerner – it’s been a great adventure, one for which I have no regrets. Zip. Nada. Bupkis.
Q: Any other stories in the creative pipeline?
A: G-d willing! I hope to finish my new novel this spring. Next, I’d like to rework a biblical novel I wrote in the ‘80s. (It was the best of the good ones!) It’s about King Solomon at the end of his reign when he fell to pagan worship after being corrupted by his l,000 wives and concubines. After that, I think I’d like a rest!
Q: Do you have any questions for your readers?
A: I have a request. Let me know how you feel about my work! I waited a long time for you to come along.
You can contact Mary through her website: maryglickman.com
For more on Mary, watch this video.
For more on the relationship between the North and the South during the Civil Rights Era, check out "Wednesdays in Mississippi," which is part of JWA's online curriculum, Living the Legacy.