Storytellers: Author Mary Glickman on Marching to Zion

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Mary Glickman, author of Marching to Zion

Every once in a while you come across a writer whose stories continue to reside in your imagination long after the final words of the characters have been spoken and weeks after the novel has been moved from your night table to your bookshelf.

Such is the talent of Mary Glickman, a very fine storyteller with an exceptional gift for bringing us into the struggles, passions and challenges that must be faced by the vibrant souls who inhabit her novels. Her use of language and depth of spirit resonates truth in all that she has to tell.

3Glickman_MarchingToZionwebMary Glickman’s newest book, Marching to Zion, published by Open Road Integrated  Media, presents a complicated love story but gives the reader so much more.

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.

Marching to Zion is being launched today to critical acclaim:

“Mary Glickman’s novels embrace complexity of the Jewish South.” -Southern Jewish Life

“This moving novel . . . handled with credibility by the talented Glickman . . . is sustained by the rich period detail and by strong and fully realized characters.” —Booklist

“Coincidence or not, the publication of Marching to Zion on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of The March on Washington is a powerful reminder of the discrimination and unspeakable hardships African Americans suffered. . . . Marching to Zion is a memorable story, with a very clear message that the journey is not over.” —Jewish Book Council

“Readers who are interested in Southern historical novels examining black-white relationships and those who enjoy good storytelling are the natural audience here.” —Library Journal

homeinthemorning_coverMary’s themes in all three of her novels are broadly concerned with how people manage in the face of adversity, loss and discrimination. She writes of the American South in times gone by, and shines a light on the experience of Jews, of blacks, of tolerance and of intolerance, all the while taking us into places and conflicts and sometimes even into the heart of shame in a way that is as complex as it is direct.

Her first novel, Home in the Morning is being made into a film. Open Road president/co-founder JeffreySharp will executive produce Home In The Morning for Open Road with Luke Parker Bowles and Peter Riva.

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.

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I first discovered Mary at the Jewish Book Council. I had traveled to New York to present my novel Ravenscraig the same year Mary was listed with her second novel, One More River,  a follow up to her outstanding debut novel, Home in the Morning.  As I read through the catalogue searching for appealing summer reads, I decided that Mary Glickman would be the most interesting person to meet during my visit to New York. Unfortunately we were not scheduled to present on the same day, but social media later took care of all necessary introductions and we began a regular correspondence as a friendship naturally took hold.

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:

Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman is a literary triumph, and easily the best novel I have read this year. Starting in 1916 in racially tense St. Louis, the story twines the lives and heartaches of a beautiful Jewish immigrant and a forbidden black “fancy man”.  The complexity of their love is wrought with a depth of understanding of human frailty that lingers long after the back cover is closed. 

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.

Glickman Alternate Author PhotoThere 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.

Glickman_OneMoreRiver-lowres (1)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?

Unknown (6)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.

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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.

Readers Review Ravenscraig

Perhaps the greatest enjoyment in writing a book is getting notes from readers who are touched by the book.  This weekend I received two special notes that I would like to share.

The first is from Heidi, a friend from my early days in radio in Winnipeg.

“I lent my book to my 82-year old father who just returned it today. He’s a German immigrant who was a Wpg transit bus driver his entire working life in Canada and spent many a year driving in the north end. He LOVED your book, and that’s high praise from someone who doesn’t have English as his first language.”

The second note is from someone I only know by reputation for her fantastic Deli on Corydon in Winnipeg, Marla Bernstein of Bernstein’s Deli. (I’ve edited the note to be sure there are no spoilers.)

Hello Sandi,

I finished your wonderful book this evening on the way home from the lake . As  a Jewish Winnipegger I knew that I would love RAVENSCRAIG from the first time I heard about it…(I actually do not remember if it was a review in the Jewish Post, or Free Press, or CBC Radio).

Having Grandparents who immigrated here from Eastern Europe about  20 years after your Ravenscraig  characters came to the Golden Land I can appreciate the Jews who were the first and how horrible it was for them at the beginning. By the time my Family arrived here I would think  that a lot of groundwork must have been done and although poverty stricken they must have had more of a support system in place than your immigrants did.

I love the story of the allotment of acreage for those willing to farm. I love the story of the Zigman Family.

Ravenscraig is a wonderful saga. It even prompted me to take a slow joy ride through Armstrong’s Point, which I have never paid much attention to in the past.

Thank you Sandi for providing me with such a good story.

Thanks for hearing me out ! Enjoy life ! When you are back in Winnipeg and you get hungry during the day I would love to invite you to my Deli for a sandwich and a bowl of soup,(another reason I love the Zigman family)>

Sincerely,

Marla Bernstein

Celebrating Winnipeg’s Past

Ravenscraig,  The Blog

This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.

Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America.  The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig.  I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions.  Email me at:  sandi.altner@gmail.com

Boomtown Winnipeg:

The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.

Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.

Dufferin, corner of King c. 1904 N7962 Courtesy Manitoba Archives

But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.

On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.

To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.

You will also find that I indulge in some nostalgic remembrances of my childhood  on Gallagher Avenue and at Principal Sparling School, and share stories about my family history.  I am very proud to have descended from the first group of Ukrainian settlers in Manitoba.  The first 27 families  arrived in the summer of 1896 and settled in the southeastern corner of the province.  My family farmed near Vita.

Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.

I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank.  I was horrified, and instantly hooked.

Years later, the Fortune family and Winnipeg’s connection to the Titanic came to occupy a significant part of my imagination, and the Fortunes found their way into my novel, Ravenscraig, which has recently been published in Canada by Heartland Associates.

Thanks for visiting.

About the name Ravenscraig:

Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.

About the novel:

Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.

Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.