Good Juicy Gossip: The Root of Storytelling?

When my niece was in kindergarten, her teacher explained to the class that gossip wasn’t nice. Elizabeth asked – quite perceptively – “What will we talk about, then?”

Gardner Dozois, one of the more brilliant editors of our time, once said, “Soap opera has been the literature of the past fifty years.” Another very perceptive comment. After all, think about the novels, movies, even “news” stories that have been most popular. As different as they have been from each other, the one abiding commonality Read More

Haunting Questions

Why?
How?
Why not?
I am haunted by questions.
So much I don’t understand.

When I was a child, perhaps my questions were simpler.

Why did that boy pull my hair?
How does the moon stay in the sky?
What if I don’t eat my spinach?

When my mother didn’t have ready answers, she would make up stories. And I never wondered at that ability. After all, she read such enchanting stories to me from books. Why shouldn’t she have tales ready at hand to answer any question I might have?

As I grew up, conventional wisdom says I should have put aside childish things.

Mother taught me quite a lot. I don’t remember any of it having to do with being conventional.Read More

My WorldCon Schedule

I don’t often go to conferences that require flying, unless I’m a headliner for the conference. But WorldCon is in San Jose, California, which means I can double-duty the trip by seeing some old associates and friends in Silicon Valley. In particular, I’ll be spending a day at Adobe (which I’ve been covering since Photoshop 1.0); their headquarters is walking distance from the convention center and the hotel where I’ll be staying. So I’ll be flying to California two days before the conference starts.

Of course, I’m also very much looking forward to being at WorldCon, where the whole point (for me) is seeing friends and making new ones. I’m scheduled to participate on two panels, one group reading and will have an autograph session at the SFWA table. If you’ll be at the con, please come by and say hello.

Here’s my Worldcon schedule:

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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 we have no records of any interaction between them and the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

Tell Me Your Story

According to rumor, Mr. Rogers carried this quote from the author Mary Lou Kownacki in his wallet: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love, once you’ve heard their story.” Whether or not he did, it’s a lovely thought that reflects an important pillar of my life’s work.

We all judge strangers based on our initial impression of them. Their physical appearance. Their smile or frown or vacant stare. What they are wearing. How they carry themselves or the sound of their voice. It’s a natural instinctive reaction to new stimuli that I suppose helped our ancestors when we were hunter/gatherers, when new encounters could lead to life or death decisions.

Though we have evolved since then, modern life is Read More

Adventures at Readercon 2018

This past weekend at Readercon was filled with great conversations, superb author readings, interesting panels and the inevitable hijinx. I’m still going through pictures that folks have sent me of my readings, panels and friendly gatherings. Here are a few.

For my solo reading, I shared a portion of a recently completed novelette "Beyond Our Hidden Stars" (photo by David Stokes)
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My Readercon Schedule

I’m very much looking forward to attending Readercon this week. The drive up to Quincy, Massachusetts will be great — with Samuel R. Delany and Dennis Rickett. However, we’ll miss Tom Purdom who won’t be joining us this year, and especially Gardner Dozois who has left this earth. Then, we’ll have a weekend dedicated hanging with friends (old and new) as well as interesting conversations, panels, author readings and opportunities to learn from each other.  

If you’ll be in Quincy, Massachusetts for the conference, here’s my schedule:

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In the Beginning…

 

The Storyteller by Sally Wiener Grotta
The Storyteller (c) by Sally Wiener Grotta

 

In the beginning…. How many tales start with those three words? In all languages, from every people who have ever walked this earth. Here is mine – or at least, my latest.

In the beginning, there was Story. Before Story, all was amorphous, unfathomable. Mysteries too profound and daunting to ever be knowable. Yet the human mind needs shape and form. We struggle to create it even in a dense, nebulous fog. We look up at the night sky with its chaotic multitude of stars and see creatures and gods staring down at us, maybe even watching us.

We are so small and insignificant, mere pebbles in the surf, tossed here and there by forces beyond our ken. Why? Who made it so? Questions formed in our minds and gave birth to Story. And with Story, we stepped up one more evolutionary level, becoming human. Read More

The Novelist as Poet or Philosopher; Meditation Inspired by Samuel Delany’s The Atheist in the Attic

"The Atheist in the Attic" by Samuel R. DelanyMy short essay “Novelist as Poet or Philosopher; Meditation Inspired by Samuel Delany‘s The Atheist in the Attic” was recently published on the SFWA blog (Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors of America). 

The Atheist in the Attic is a “fictive reconstruction” of a meeting between the philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Baruch de Spinoza, told from Leibniz’s point of view. An intriguing read, it sent my mind in a variety of different direction. At one point, I took a discussion of the differences between a poet and a philosopher and considered how it might apply to different kinds of novelists. I’ve decided that I’m essentially a philosopher; no surprise there. As I wrote in the essay, “I write to understand. My characters and plots are formed in a subconscious that churns with confusion or concern about how the world functions (or fails to function). As I write the story my characters tell me, I find myself posing questions that [as Delany wrote in The Atheist in the Attic] “reflect and even explain the differences and forces that relate them all… hold them together… or tear them apart.” 

Please read the essay here, and let me know what you think. What kinds of authors do you prefer to read — poets or philosophers, as defined by Delany’s book? And if you’re a writer, are you a poet or philosopher… or something else?

Nothing is Linear! (On the Fallacy of Time Management)

Nothing is linear by Sally Wiener GrottaHave you ever tried to organize just one part of a closet?

  • Step 1: Remove everything from a single shelf
  • Step 2: Pile it all together onto the bed
  • Step 3: Organize the stuff into logical piles all over the bedroom, putting like with like: scarves with scarves, purses with purses, etc.
  • Step 4: Go through each pile. Try on clothes to make sure they still fit, look good, are in style, etc. Make liberal use of trash cans.
  • Step 5: Create another pile for things to give away (or several piles, if you have different people or organizations who should get the stuff.)
  • Step 6: Put it all away, neatly and fully organized.

Sounds so logical, so linear. Simply go from Step 1 to Step 6, and achieve your goal for the day. But it doesn’t quite work out that way.

First, you have to make the bed, and clear other spaces in the room to hold the piles. That means going through all those papers on the bureau that you really need to file, though some are letters. In particular one letter should have been responded to last week. It won’t take that long, why was I putting it off? So, you head downstairs to your office to organize the papers in your hands, and write one or two letters or emails. Of course, some emails have come in that you really should answer. (And Facebook beckons.)

A couple of hours later, Read More