I Can Do That! (Does Everyone Have the Creative Gene?)

Carol HIll sewing her quilt square by Sally Wiener Grotta“I just take hundreds of photos and then fix the best one in the computer,” the woman bragged.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard similar statements. But this particular occasion was during my gallery talk at one of my American Hands exhibit. The woman beamed with pride, identifying with my artistic endeavors and wanting to share something of her accomplishments with me.

One of my friends, a highly respected writer, has been known to answer these kinds of statements with the Infinite Monkey Theorem: “If an infinite number of monkeys bang on an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite number of years, eventually they’ll produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Does that make those chimps genius playwrights?”

I have a very different attitude about these accidental artists. I’m delighted when people explore their creativity, and identify with me as a photographer or writer. When someone is inspired by my presentations, pictures or stories, it makes the effort I put into them so very worthwhile. As I explain in my American Hands mission statementRead More

Staring into the Mirror

Reflections, a self-portrait by Sally Wiener Grotta

(Essay by Sally Wiener Grotta, republished from Anisfield Wolf website)

In Karen R. Long’s essay What Biases Are You Carrying?,  which was posted on the Anisfield Wolf blog, Attorney Louise P. Dempsey was described as having used the following riddle as part of a lunch talk.

A man and his son were in a car accident. The critically injured man had to be helicoptered to the hospital. His son was rushed by ambulance to the same hospital. When the boy was wheeled into emergency surgery, the surgeon looked at him and said, “I can’t operate. This is my son.” The blog then asked the question, “How is this possible?”

If you haven’t heard that anecdotal test before, consider your answer for a few moments before continuing to read.Read More

Burning Our Bridges. What is the Future of Our Libraries?

Books Burning by Sally Wiener GrottaDid you know that the Library of Alexandria wasn’t destroyed by fire in 40 CE, but by budget cuts?* That’s what I was recently reminded by an article on io9.com by Annalee Newitz (Editor-in-Chief of io9), which then led me to a fascinating essay about The Great Library by Heather Phillips (an Assistant Branch Librarian of the US Courts Library).

Yes, Julius Caesar set fire to the Library of Alexandria, but it continued to function as a library for centuries afterwards. (Not all fires completely destroy targets.) Yet, the loss of the Library of Alexandria, while not as dramatic as Hollywood would have us believe, was still a tragedy. That’s because it was unique in the ancient world as not only the greatest repository of knowledge, with hundreds of thousands of scrolls (books), but because it was a truly open (i.e. free) library. According to Phillips, “It served all literate people who could physically access the precincts of the library.” Read More

Being Alien: An Essay in Progress

Today, while doing my morning exercises, I clicked through Netflix and ended up watching “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” It’s a fascinating documentary about an anthropologist’s first interaction with one of the isolated tribes of the region. But my interest wasn’t only intellectual. I was curious about how the tribe Daniel and I had once met might have fared. (To read a bit about our experience in the Amazon, please go to a lighthearted piece I did for Lawrence Schoen’s Eating Authors.)

According to “First Contact,” an Amazon region of about 30,000 square miles (spread across the border between Brazil and Peru) is home to the majority of “uncontacted” people in the planet. Uncontacted means that they have had no recorded interaction with the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

Ursula K. Le Guin No Longer Walks this Earth

Ursula K. Le Guin and Sally Wiener Grotta at the Canon Beach Writers Workshop

This morning I learned of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death. I’m still not quite ready to process the fact that she no longer walks this earth.

Early in my fiction career, I was privileged to study with Ursula at a small Canon Beach workshop, just a walk along the ocean edge from her home. Each day was an awakening… and sometimes a terror. She was a tough taskmaster with so much to share and teach. I’ve no doubt that she was just as tough (if not more so) on herself. But she was also so very supportive and encouraging. In many ways, it’s because of her that I didn’t give up on my fiction, my idealism and my dreams.

I am finding it difficult to work today in the wake of learning of that she is gone. And yet, I can hear her voice in my head, as I long have and I expect I will for as long as I live. Today, she is chastising me to write, to work, to find my voice and use it. 

Thank you, Ursula, for all you have given to all of us. Not only one of the great writers of our time, but a great inspiration.

Let Sleeping Crocodiles Lie. Cautionary Tales from a Freelance Life

Crocodile by Sally Wiener GrottaDaniel and I enjoyed strolling. Wherever we were, whether near home or on some other continent, we’d go for rambling walks. Often with no destination in mind, turning where our feet and curiosity pulled us, stopping when something demanded our full attention, or to simply sit and absorb. It was our way of connecting. With our surroundings, whether it were nature or a cityscape. With the rhythm of life and culture. With each other. Every walk was an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience. And fun.

More often than not, I’d have a camera in hand. When we were away from home, Daniel usually carried my camera bag, which would be packed with lenses, various camera bodies, model releases and the other paraphernalia that fill such bags, including dozens of rolls of film. (Yes, this was in the pre-digital era.)

On this particular walk, the sun slanted on the arid sub-Sahara of Kenya’s Samburu National Park. Golden light and long shadows mottled the parched landscape, creating unexpected shapes where I had seen only a flat and near featureless expanse in the midday overhead sun. Dotting the far flung vista were occasional groves of trees, indicating probable water sources.

Our only companion was our guide. Unlike the lanky statuesque men of the local Samburu tribe who moved through their domain with the graceful lope of a gazelle, our guide was compact, with a center of gravity that seemed to keep him in constant contact with the earth under his feet. The air was alive with almost subliminal sounds that I couldn’t really identify — probably bird calls, perhaps insects and far off animal calls. The sky above was as wide as any I’ve ever seen, stretching from horizon to far horizon, devoid of any sign of mankind’s imprint on nature. No wires, no buildings, no vehicles or sounds of traffic. Not even the contrail of a high altitude plane.

As we rounded the edge of a comparatively large grove of trees, we saw a small river which had carved a crevasse in the dry soil so that the embankment seemed to tower over the waterway like a tiny cliff. At the bottom of the near embankment slept an enormous crocodile. He was motionless, a stunning sculptural figure composed of dense shadows and pools of light. Read More

“The Winter Boy” — Inspirations, Writing Processes & the Life of a Writer

When Sally’s Locus Award-nominated novel The Winter Boy was honored by being selected for SWFA‘s first ever fantasy StoryBundle, fellow author Erika Satifka interviewed Sally to discuss writing processes, inspirations, and some of the inside stories behind the creation of The Winter Boy

 

This interview is from last November, and the StoryBundle is no longer available. However, The Winter Boy is available from most bookstores in paperback, hardbound and all e-book formats, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and an independent bookstore near you.

Malleable Memory

Memory is malleable.

In my short story The Broken Bottle, I refer to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal movie Rashomon, in which each witness to a murder tells a different story of the crime – including the ghost of the victim. While Rashomon paints a scenario in which individuals may or may not be lying to us about their memory, I propose that our own memories lie to us. Often they tell us the stories we want to hear about ourselves. And what we want to hear changes as we move further and further away from the truth of the event. (Of course, “want” may be debatable. But I’ll leave that psychological discussion to another time.)

Johanna, the protagonist of The Broken Bottle says, “It’s as though the young woman I was back on that wet July night stands in the middle of a polygonal mirrored room. Though she is surrounded by the facts of the moment, all she can see are the distorted reflections, refracting through time.”

When I look back on my childhood, which I shared with my sister and my parents and an assortment of friends, family and pets, it’s an ethereal landscape. Sometimes shrouded in dense fog. Periodically illuminated, so that specific places or people stand out so clearly that I can actually taste the air, smell their perfume, feel the emotions in the pit of my stomach – especially the shock of embarrassment or great hurt or ecstasy. But mostly, everything and everyone in my past are Read More

What a Bitch!

Bitch meme by Sally Wiener GrottaThe other day, a woman described another woman to me as a bitch. Bitch is one of those words that can convey a world of ideas. But what does it really mean? And, more to the point for any fiction writer working to create flesh and blood characters, what are the undercurrents and coloration of using such a “power” word in our prose?

As powerful as the word bitch is, it could pull us into a political, feminist discussion about how it has been used to delineate and limit women. But, for now, I’m more interested in the process of creating fictional women who resonate with readers’ imagination, becoming believable, real.

The storyteller in me wants to pose the so-called bitch and her describer into a wide range of scenes, to see how they change.

Does the description change in meaning for us when the woman saying it is a daughter talking about her mother? What if the mother is Read More

A Literary Evening with Friends

 

from left to right: Randee Dawn, Sally Wiener Grotta, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner

This past week, I went to my first KGB Bar Reading (in NYC). It was a delightful evening, sharing the warm, energetic and inspiring companionship of fellow authors, which included a luminous reading by Theodora Goss.

If you’re visiting New York City (or live there), be sure to check out the KGB Readings calendar. The audience is often as celebrated as the author at the podium.