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Wendy Marcus


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Wendy Marcus was a reporter for the Seattle Times, Vancouver, Columbian and University of Washington Daily. She co-founded with Rabbi James Mirel, the Northwest’s first Klezmer band - the beloved Mazeltones - in 1983. After a successful run of 16 years, the band spawned many Klezmer ensembles and Marcus went on to build the music program at Temple Beth Am in Seattle’s North End, where she serves as Music Director and editor of Drash: Northwest Mosaic, a literary journal.

Short Story Collections

Polyglot: Stories from the West's Wet Edge
Beth Am Press, 2009

Winner, 2009 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award

Reviewed by David Woodruff

 Interview with Wendy Marcus

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Wendy Marcus: The stories in Polyglot were written over the course of five years, 2004-2009.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

WM: I had no clue that the final result would be a collection. In 2002, I had opened up a dicey door to the past when my oldest daughter left the West Coast to attend college back East in the town where my first great love lived. The emotional tidal wave of memories, acknowledgment of opportunities lost and giddy reunification gave me material for my first story and a lawful way to deal with all my angst. I thought I was just using the story to process the wash of emotions that welled up from "releasing" my first-born and becoming reacquainted with my first love. Ha! It ended up being so well accepted that I tentatively wrote a second story and realized how much I love tangling with words and missed it from my former newspapering days.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

WM: The stories in Polyglot are placed with an eye to mixing up those that have been published and those that have not. Also, I wanted to lead off with something that clearly placed the collection in the Northwest. The first story, Shutterbug, takes place in Vancouver, Washington (NOT BC!) and has gloomy, wet weather and green, green landscape in and around it.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

WM:  The word "story" means discovery and conviction presented in the most succulent language possible.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

WM:  I do not have a reader in mind when I write stories. Instead, my characters compete for my attention and I start talking to them and thinking about their responses to what I've written…I continue to engage (in my head) with some of these characters long after a story is written.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

WM: I'd like to ask readers if and how my stories make them feel happy, inspired, entertained. I'd love to know what parts made them laugh and/or what parts were thudding and too pedantic.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

WM: I feel humbled and righteously justified that people are buying my collection (it's actualy doing quite well out in the Northwest!) Here’s why: (I'll probably have literary tomatoes flung at me) too many contemporary short stories glorify dysfunction. I think most short story readers don't think about sex 24-hours a day or drink alcohol or use drugs to excess or beat their kids or engage in horrific and illegal behavior. That "your worst situations make for your best stories" is such a nihilistic view, it's a caving in to all the worst aspects of being human. Why waste your (and my ) time wallowing in dreck, even well-written dreck? I would much rather glorify persistence, ingenuity, creativity, humor, outside-the-envelope thinking. Sentient beings can transcend their finite selves in glorious and amusing ways. I am no ostrich -- my life-cycle work brings me smack up against some pretty sad and nasty stuff. But, we can choose to adopt a destructive or constructive attitude about anything that comes our way. I would like to think that I'm giving readers a refreshing and wry break from all the dark material most publishers disseminate these days.

TSR: What are you working on now?

WM: I've just written a new story, Landsman, about an old man and midle-aged woman who learn of their unique connection, and am pitching it to the universe. Every couple of months I tinker with a novel I've been writing since forever and when I stop enjoying the sharp stick in the eye feeling of that, I go back to polishing or messing around with more short story ideas. I'm having to bat back short story ideas to make room for the ones I've already staked out. Someday soon I will accept that it is okay to NOT be a novelist and JUST be a short story writer.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

WM: Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women and Annnie Proulx's Heart Songs.