Marcus was a reporter for the Seattle
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,
Beth Am Press, 2009
Stories from the West's Wet Edge
2009 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award
with Wendy Marcus
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,
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.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
word "story" means discovery and conviction presented in the most
succulent language possible.
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
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
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.