On Writing: A Complex Web of Inspirations Behind My Novel “Jo Joe”

Sally Wiener Grotta, author of the novel "Jo Joe"

For the BookGoodies.com spotlight on my novel Jo Joe, I was asked “What inspired you to write your book?” Here’s the answer I gave them:

“To some extent … [Jo Joe is]… about a boy I once knew, who worked for us part-time after school, doing odd jobs around the house — when it wasn’t football season. Bob wasn’t very bright, at least not in those things I had been taught to measure intelligence. But once I explained to him what I needed or wanted, with clear step by step instructions, he would absorb those directions within himself. And even though Bob was taciturn — apparently not trusting in his ability to form the words to explain himself — after he thought a while about what I had said, he would tell me his ideas about how to make the work easier, better. Then, he did whatever it was I needed. Quite well.

“As long as it was something physical that needed doing, something he could see in his mind as involving his hands and body, Bob was quite competent. That’s why, while he did poorly in school, barely passing, he was the high school’s star halfback.

“Bob dreamed of avoiding the rut of a life that loomed before him. Read More

What Is Your Writing Routine?

Winter Boy and Jo Joe, novels by Sally Wiener Grotta

In an interview for Ivory Owl Reviews, the first question Rhiannon asked was about my writing routine. Here’s the answer I gave her:

“Whenever possible, I try to devote my mornings to writing, though life often intervenes.

“The first draft of any novel or short story is me telling myself a story, listening carefully to the characters who become my constant companions. I am often surprised by a plot twist or sudden veering within the dialog, but I hold tight and enjoy the ride.

“In the second draft, I start to take control over the story and the characters. Often, this is when I introduce sharper, more delineated tension, and fill out the details that give depth.

“In the third draft – well, I usually lose count of the number of rewrites; it’s often in the dozens, if not scores. I work and rework the prose and plot, sculpting the personalities and histories, refining and polishing the story, while making sure every word I use is the one I really meant.

Writers are often divided into two camps:Read More

Michelle Bowles asked Sally “What inspired you to become a writer?”

Sally Wiener Grotta by Daniel GrottaIn an interview for her blog What is that Book About, Michelle Bowles asked Sally, “You have a very distinguished writing portfolio, what inspired you to become a writer?”

Here’s Sally’s answer:

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love stories – both listening and creating. I wouldn’t go to bed unless my mother told me a story first. Often, I would fall asleep in the middle, and continue the tale in my dreams.

“When I was about 12 years old, my older sister gave me a notebook and told me that I should keep all my poems and stories in one place. I filled up that notebook rather quickly, and she bought me another. Over the years, the poetry got better, the stories more intricate and fully developed, and the notebooks piled up though I’m not sure where they are at this point.

“I began writing professionally Read More

Spreading My Petals Wide

Spreading My Petals Wide by Sally Wiener Grotta

Our field is peppered with wildflowers, poking their heads through the grass and weeds, pushing upward and outward. Seeking. As buds, they are merely promises of what might be. Only when they spread wide their petals, so that they might attract and absorb sun, rain, the caress of a breeze, the attention of bees; only when they have every pore open to receive, do they become their full selves. A glory of colors, synthesizing all that comes their way into something that is uniquely their own.

Sometimes, I feel a bit like a vampire, because I take bites of everything I see and feel, of every person I meet, and mash them up into ideas that are new, or at least in new forms, and spew them out as story. But recently, I’ve been feeling like a wildflower.

The more I open myself to stimulation, to others’ ideas and laughter, to being touched by tears or a loving caress; the more I taste through the pores of my skin or inhale divergent currents, the richer my work becomes….

Please click here to read the rest of this essay which was recently published in When Women Waken, a Journal of Poetry, Prose and Images.

Dining with a Newly Discovered Amazon Jungle Clan

 

Lawrence M. Schoen
Lawrence M. Schoen

 

When Lawrence Schoen asked me to write about my most memorable meal for his Eating Authors feature on his blog, I could have chosen any number of spectacular culinary experiences I’ve had. That’s because one of the things that I share with Lawrence’s fictional character the Amazing Conroy is a love of experiencing new, wondrous foods wherever I travel. (Okay, Conroy’s travels are intergalactic; mine have been limited — so far — to our small birth world, Earth.)

Daniel and I have traveled on assignment for various glossy magazine and other clients to all seven continents (including Antarctica three times) and many exotic islands (such as Papua New Guinea). Along the way, our research always included discovering the local delicacies and great chefs. So, in answer to Lawrence’s question, I could have written about the finest vegetarian meal I ever had in at a Buddhist monastery on a Hong Kong out-island, or the Kobe beef dinner with a couple of drunk Toyko business executives, or maybe the 6-star midnight catered supper in Paris. But they all pale in my memories to a weekend that Daniel and I spent in the Amazon Jungle. (We titled the resulting story , which was syndicated to numerous regional/city magazines and newspapers, A Weekend in the Stone Age.)

To read the story of my most memorable meal with a newly discovered Amazon Indian clan, click here.

Pointing My Compass Toward Home

Pointing My Compass Toward Home by Sally Wiener GrottaIn early August, a yellow jacket hitched a ride on our windshield. I’m sure it was entirely by accident. He had landed on the glass, as a rest stop in his flight to and fro (from and to where, I’ll never know). Of course, we were parked at the time – at the vet’s picking up medicine for our dog Watson as the last stop in an afternoon of errands. So, you can imagine the wasp’s disconcertion when his resting place suddenly growled to life and started moving at the speed of wind. He hugged the glass, splaying his six legs as wide as possible, maximizing contact with the surface, holding on for dear life. (Why he didn’t just let go and fly away is another mystery to me.) We didn’t stop again, until we arrived home, about 15 miles over the mountain from where he first touched down. He remained on the windshield, while we unloaded the car. I didn’t see when he flew away.

I’ve been wondering ever since about that yellow jacket. Did he ever get back to his home turf? Could he survive away from his nest? Was he so traumatized by the experience that he no longer could function as a normal everyday, workaday wasp? Or do modern wasps take such disruptions in their routine in stride? (Or, should I say, in flight?) After all, our yard, cemeteries, field and stream are rich hunting grounds for wasps, bees, birds and all kinds of critters. Was the trip on our windshield therefore an easy relocation for him? If so, did he ever find a new nest, a new family, new friends, to help him redefine his sense of self within a place?Read More

Bill Gates & the Digital Lady (Me)

Sally Wiener Grotta, photographer, by Lori RyanWay back in the day, when most people had never heard of or seen a digital camera, I was on assignment at Comdex (the big daddy of computer trade shows) in Atlanta. And, there, walking through the halls, surrounded by his entourage was Bill Gates. So, I went up to him and asked if I could take his picture without film.

He smiled and said, “That’s okay, I’ll wait until you load.”

Paul Allen who was with Bill leaned over to him and explained what I was holding in my hands (one of the very first Kodak DCS cameras — a 200). They both laughed, and I took my pictures of him. For the rest of the week, whenever Bill saw me, he called me “the Digital Lady.”

Sometime between then and now, he has obviously gotten more skittish about cameras. Here’s a story from our friend Dan Rosenbaum:

“Bill Gates was awarded a patent recently for a device that detects cameras near you and keeps them from taking a clear picture of you. Used to be that only The Shadow has the power to cloud men’s minds.” Please click to read Dan’s piece.

What Authors Do You Read?

In an interview for “Book Reader Magazine,” Sally was asked, “Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who inspires you in your writings?”

Here is her answer:

“My favorite authors span such a wide range: Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Swanwick, Margaret Atwood, William Shakespeare, Daniel Grotta, Viktor Frankl, William Faulkner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel Delany, Gabriel Garcí a Márquez, Charles Kuralt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams — so many others.

“Regardless of the genre, I love being swept upRead More

Memories & Dreams: Looking Back, Stepping into the Future

Janus by Sally Wiener GrottaMemories and dreams
Life intangible
Life imagined
What we hold
In our minds
In our hearts
As we stand Janus-like
At the cusp of the year.

Life lived back to back
Supportive, protective
Opening ourselves
To beyond the now
Remembering the past
Stepping into the future
To whatever comes
Together.

Poem (c) by Sally Wiener Grotta


How appropriate that the symbol of the new year is Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and endings, of time past and to come. We imagine that he will stand at once more at the stroke of midnight as 2013 ends and 2014 begins, with one face gazing into what has come before, while the other focuses, dreamy eyed, onto the future.

Looking back on the past twelve months of our lives, the view is so very different from what it was as we experienced it. Sally likes to say that the defining aspect of our personal and professional world is creative chaos. She has that right. Every morning we’re awaken by Watson, our Golden Retriever, to a new adventure, never knowing what will happen that day, or how much of our ever-growing ToDo list will get done. At night, as we fall into our bed, we are certain that we got very little done.

Yet, as we gaze Janus-like at 2013, we are surprised at all that has happened in the long run, as we simply did our best to live each day fully. Here are some of the highlights of 2013 in the Wiener Grotta household.

OUR HERO

One of our proudest moments of the year was when our Dad, Noel J. Wiener, was honored for his service in WWII, as the last remaining officer of SHAEFheadquarters. That was General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Europe.Read More

Writers Don’t Really Need to Be Paid

Last week, the head of our village library called, to inform us that they were putting together a display of local authors’ work and would love to include Daniel and me as part of it. Of course, I was very pleased. Then came the kicker; although she didn’t come right out and say it, for the privilege of participating, they expected us to donate a number of our books to the library.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We fully support our small local library, and have donated (and will continue to do so) time, money and other goods to them through the years. But I have been told by a board member that the Friends of the Library had recently raised a nice chunk of change to acquire new books. However, it appears that they had also decided that local authors should donate their books rather than having the library buy them. After all, we’re only *local* authors. (At least, that’s what I heard in my mind, when she said she would like us to donate copies of all our books for their display.)

I offered toRead More