The novel opens in St. Louis in 1916 as Mags Preacher, a young black woman, arrives in the city to make her future in the beauty business. Circumstances lead her to a job not in a hair salon but in a funeral parlor, owned by a Jewish immigrant. What follows is a broken road of dreams bringing us into the forbidden love between a beautiful young Jewess with a tragic past and a black man who fights his own demons.
What I like most about Mary’s writing is that she carries a delicate touch and deep sense of humanity as she explores the troublesome parts of life that don’t fit into neat and moral solutions.
Mary has had her own complicated journey which she discusses in this video.
I was greatly pleased when Mary asked some months ago if I would like to receive an advance copy of Marching to Zion.
The story immediately captivated me and it is a pleasure to share my thoughts in a five-star review:
As with all of Glickman’s novels, a quiet truth flows with strength and beauty through elegantly written passages that beg to be marked, re-read and quoted aloud. Marching to Zion is an excellent choice for book clubs that crave rich discussion material and an opportunity to learn about America’s less than shiny past. Mary Glickman’s story of hope burns brightly through the darkness, driven by characters fighting to maintain dignity above all else.
Sandi Altner, author of Ravenscraig (Amazon 5 star review)
Mary was kind enough to agree to an interview, facilitated by email
What inspired you to write Marching to Zion?
I don’t know if inspiration is ever one thing entirely and of course, Marching to Zion started out as something very different from the story that emerged. Its working title was “Women Alone”. I’d intended to focus on women from the first two novels, Home in the Morning and One More River, each of whom spent considerable time on their own without the support of a male at various decades of the 20th century. I thought it’d be interesting to investigate the different ways women coped according to their decade, age, class, and race. As a device, I thought I’d use the money-lender, bail bondsman Magnus Bailey as the thread that knit their stories together.
Then one of my readers observed that the earlier novels provided a view of African American and Jewish relations throughout the 20th century and this perception interested me. I considered what I’d left out and realized I’d not included the Eastern European immigrant experience. I came up with Mr. Fishbein and his daughter Minerva. Once I put those two together with Magnus, sparks flew. The whole novel changed. In the end, though, when I look at the characters of Mags, Minerva, and Aurora Mae, there’s a portrait imbedded in Marching to Zion of different kinds of women handling differently the challenges of being alone. The original intent bled through.
There is so much depth and credibility in your characters in all of your novels that I cannot help thinking that you are writing from personal experience. Do you know the people you are writing about?
Only in the sense that they live, fully fleshed, in my mind. I’ve always been interested in people. I like talking to people. I’m the woman that sits next to you in the bus or the train that you find yourself telling your life story to. I’ll probably tell you mine, too. It took me decades to achieve publication. I had a small freelance career. But I was married all the while to a very smart attorney and when we were out together, people I’m afraid treated me as an ornament or an appendage of my husband. It was irritating sometimes. But it also gave me a chance to observe, to investigate, to listen to what made the people around me tick. Sort of like being an undercover psychologist. Maybe that’s where the qualities you describe come from. But all my characters are very definitely fictional. Even when events occur that are inspired by what’s happened to people I’ve known, I go to great efforts to change biographies, down to such defining aspects as gender and race, out of respect for their privacy. Along the way of that process, the characters’ responses will vary from the original persons’ accordingly, sometimes quite radically.
Can you tell us something about your writing habits? Do you outline your story before you start writing?
Oh! I never outline! I think that would cramp my style! Often I have an idea of what I’m starting with and a direction I’d like to go in. But I leave the story lots of space to develop in its own way, to allow the imagination to breathe. I believe character drives plot and, as Heraclites said, character is fate. No character springs from the creator’s mind fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. How then can anyone see ahead and outline what a character is going to do?
Uncertainty gets my juices going, I suppose. I want the story I’m telling to engage me even as I’m designing it. If you can’t feel empathy or suspense for your characters, you’re unlikely to inspire the reader’s empathy or suspense either. The process of discovery enlivens language.
Everyone writes differently. I’m not saying my way is the right way. It’s just the one I’ve got.
What is your writing routine? Do you set word goals? Do you have a specific time of day you like to write?
I like getting up early in the morning and after I’ve caught up on my online newspaper and such, jumping right in. I’ll work three hours or so and then, in the afternoon, the banalities of life interfere. If I’m lucky, I’ll find time to re-read what I’ve done in the morning and refine, refine, refine in the afternoon. Sometimes, I go back to work in the early evening for a while. If I’m on a roll, you can’t stop me. I plow away all day and night long. This doesn’t happen too often, but usually at the end of the story the pressure to complete builds up so forcefully the endgame is like a dam burst. I love that part!
Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get unblocked?
I don’t believe in torturing myself with the very idea of writer’s block! It’s a word with power, that one. I prefer to think I have periods when I’m writing and periods when I’m not. Usually, those periods of not writing occur when I’m between projects, so they might be simply periods of resting the brain circuitry. Eventually, I’ll feel restless and cast about for something new to do. Re-reading my favorite books helps. Music. Films. Walks or bike rides around my island. Then, as Woody Allen says, it’s all just a question of showing up.
How did you become a full-time novelist?
Practice. Practice. And a little help from my friends. I never seriously considered any other career. I did have a small freelance career in educational writing and public relations, fundraising for a time, but I involved myself in that only to (a) make money and (b) to validate myself as a writer. My best friend, i.e. my husband, Stephen, encouraged me to do so. The first writing job I was offered was writing copy for a museum exhibit, I think it was, and I thought: what do I know about that kind of writing? Stephen told me a good writer can write anything and that I should try. So, I did. It went pretty well, and afterwards, I tried every other kind of writing job I could chase down. I never made a mozza of money, but every word I wrote advanced my ability to write novels, simply by teaching me that each writing arena has its own rules and once you learn them, the rest comes.
Eventually, marital life and economics progressed, my husband offered me the opportunity to “just” work on my novels – I was probably on number four by then – and that’s what I did. Success came a few more novels down the line. But I do believe working on seven novels over 35 years without publication had its benefits. It enabled me to discover a unique voice and develop it without interference. And it grounded my identity as an author. I knew I would continue to write with or without success because that’s who I am, that’s what I do. I fully expected to write without reward until I died and I was ready to do so.
Your publisher, Open Road Integrated Media, is a relatively new company that is embracing e-book trends with a heavy focus on bringing out-of-print gems to a new reading audience. At the same time you have become an “e-star” in the company, as a new author with a strong voice, and we see you frequently mentioned in articles about Open Road. How does their business model help new authors?
Where to start? When former CEO of Harper Collins worldwide, Jane Friedman, launched Open Road Media, it was in response to the crisis in publishing that began in 2008. Publishing was in a mess, losing buckets of money, laying off a third of its work force. Jane identified endemic problems in the industry, where it was overspending, what it was neglecting, among them, the high cost of warehousing, returns, distribution, enormous advances for books which basically amounts to casino style gambling. So Jane came up with a new model. She’d focus on ebooks, which require none of the above, with print issues on demand. Instead of grand advances, she’d dedicate power and resources to full-court press marketing, something largely absent in traditional publishing today. And, she’d offer the author a 50/50 split on royalties.
When my agent, Peter Riva, first put Home in the Morning out there, there was interest from traditional publishers and Open Road both. Peter advised me to take the Open Road offer for many reasons but what attracted me most was the marketing budget because that marketing expertise is exactly what a debut author most needs. These days, new authors are required to spend $25,000 or more out of their own pockets on a freelance marketer to make up for what their traditional publisher will not or cannot provide. Or they have to learn how to do it themselves. That’s a full time job plus overtime I wasn’t prepared to take on.
I’ve not been disappointed. ORM’s marketing efforts on my behalf have been stellar and the results remarkable. My sales were ten times that expected from a new author! And that 50-50 royalty split didn’t hurt either!
What advice do you have for authors who dream of being published?
Develop your own voice. Listen to the rhythms and music inside you and let it be reflected on the page. You can have the most fabulous concept in the universe, but unless you tell your story in a powerful voice, it will be neglected. And that takes work.
But most importantly, no matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how great and deserving those novels are, and how depressed you get at continued rejection, don’t let that stop you. Keep going. Never, never give up.
About Mary Glickman:
Born on the south shore of Boston, Mary Glickman studied at the Université de Lyon and Boston University. While she was raised in a strict Irish-Polish Catholic family, from an early age Glickman felt an affinity toward Judaism and converted to the faith when she married. After living in Boston for twenty years, she and her husband traveled to South Carolina and discovered a love for all things Southern. Glickman now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, with her husband, cat, and until recently, her beloved horse, King of Harts, of blessed memory. Home in the Morning is her first novel. Her second novel, One More River, was a 2011 Jewish Book Award Finalist in Fiction. Her third novel, Marching to Zion, is the tempestuous, tragic love story of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a charismatic black man during the early twentieth century.