I am so excited to feature Mary Glickman as my author of the month. I came across Mary’s first novel, Home in the Morning (Open Road Media, 2010) over five years ago and have been hooked ever since. Mary’s first three novels have taken place in the South, whereas her latest, An Undisturbed Peace (Open Road Media, 2016) is set also in the plain states.
Her books are special not only for their fascinating historical settings, but for me mainly for the cross-cultural relationships that feature strongly in all of them. Mary has been so grateful to discuss her books and writing habits with me here.
Susan Blumberg-Kason: Your novels all involve unlikely romantic relationships, usually between Jewish men and African-American women, or in the case of your latest, A Undisturbed Peace, a Jewish man and Native American woman. How did you come to write about cross-cultural relationships?
Mary Glickman: First off, Susan, I’m not sure how unlikely they are. Men and women have been falling in love with the “wrong” person forever! Overall, I’m very concerned with race in my novels, particularly as I set them in the deep South, and you can’t write about the South without writing about race. I’m not sure you can write about America without writing about race. It has long seemed to me that the ultimate answer to our racial problems is not to be found in social programs but in the blending of families and communities. Cross-cultural relationships are the seeds of racial harmony. This is not to say I believe people should sacrifice their cultural origins for the sake of another’s whom they love. That’s an entirely different matter. To be stripped of your culture – as Native Americans were during the mid 19th century and beyond – has tragic consequences always. But the idea that love will find a way, while a romantic one, has fueled human activity since our beginnings.
SBK: Your books are all historical fiction, which take place either in the small-town American South or the plain states. You are from Boston and now live in Charleston, SC, which are both internationally renowned. Why small-town America?
MG: I grew up in a small town outside of Boston and only moved to the urban area when I was an adult. Charleston, though sophisticated, retains a Southern gentility that captures a small town flair, and in any event I live in a sea marsh island outside of Charleston, not in the city itself. So the ethos of small town America is well known to me and I prefer it to an urban one. I like to write about deep passions and strong friendships played out against defining historical moments. Small town America lends itself to quiet, thoughtful moments and bold outlines. This makes them hospitable to my themes in a way metropoli are not. Big cities nearly always compete with protagonists in fiction. They beg to become characters themselves. I prefer mine on two legs and with beating hearts.
SBK: How long does it usually take you to research the history for each of your books? Does it take longer to conduct research or actually write your books?
MG: Usually I have an introductory research phase that may last a couple of months. Even then, I steal away from research texts to begin a narrative as what I learn will spark images if not defined plot. Once I have enough of those, I can begin to imagine a story. At that point, the crafting of fiction and the absorption of fact work in tandem. While I write my story, I’m constantly learning more and more about the era and events that initially intrigued me, so the writing and research go hand in hand. I try to learn only what I need to know to put my characters through their paces. To over-research can cripple the imagination. Naturally, this means I might have to backtrack in the manuscript and tweak what historical details I’ve found later to be incorrect, but that happens less often than you’d expect. Sometimes, I intuit an attitude or event while writing and then have the felicitous experience of having it substantiated by research later on. That’s always a thrilling moment. It gives me confidence that I’ve tapped into the zeitgeist of the times I’m writing about.
SBK: What do you think about being known as the author who writes Southern historical fiction? I’ve heard other authors say they don’t want to be pigeonholed into a certain topic or setting. But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Branding is more important than ever in publishing. What are your thoughts about this?
MG: I’ve been realizing lately that historical fiction is my métier. I’m not much of a modernist. I’m finding that my themes and characters are more easily placed in times gone by than the present. I hope to continue to write Southern historical fiction, because the South is my home and its literary conventions are comfortable and inspiring to me. I will write them with a Jewish eye, because that’s who I am. If it so happens that this appeases the gods of branding, than it’s a happy accident.
SBK: What is next? Will you have more books set in the plain states, or are you heading back to the South?
MG: I’ve been encouraged lately to continue the life of Dark Water, my Cherokee heroine in An Undisturbed Peace, as she’s a strong and attractive persona, an icon of sorts. That would take me out West where she’s been relocated after the Trail of Tears. I have to say I loved writing her so it’s very tempting to think about! Maybe I’ll find a way to bring Southern Jews into it. On the other hand, maybe I’ll write something completely different. I’ve launched four novels in five and a half years. I need to pull back and think a little. Just not sure yet!
I’ve an old unpublished manuscript sitting in a drawer for nearly forty years. It’s a biblical novel and it’s very good. I often think about bringing that one out. It would need reworking, but not too much. Only, I don’t know if my agent or publisher would go for it! They like what I’ve been doing very much. They’d like to see me continue. They’ve been so kind and supportive of me. . .I probably owe them what they want! I wouldn’t consider doing so being pigeonholed. My mind can embrace a hundred worlds without feeling compromised. But we’ll see, we’ll see.
Thank you so much, Mary! For more about Mary and her novels, please check out her website here.