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?

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

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.

Carving a Sacred Place

Nate Favors from The American Hands Project by Sally Wiener GrottaToday, I will write.

Because it is time.

I’m not sure when I last wrote. At least a year. No, it was more like a year and a half, except maybe for a couple of essays and one or two very short poems. I’m not talking about the reviews and features that currently represent the bulk of my livelihood, but my core writing. The novels, stories, poems and essays that reach through my throat into my gut and haul out my voice through my heart.

I write because pouring myself out onto the keyboard is how I have always tried to make sense of a senseless world. I don’t understand the pain we cause each other, the hate, the distortion of love. War and tribalism. Walls between individuals, between tribes and nations, that are built up brick by brick over years of preconceptions and propaganda. So I create stories to try to help me find the right questions to ask that might yet explain the inexplicable. Perhaps, I can also use it to try to navigate my way through the morass of this new world that now envelops me.

I write because through words, through Story, I have long discovered myself. So I shall write with the hope of rediscovery, not of the woman I am or have been, but this new woman I am now forced to become. Without my compass, without the living breathing other soul who lived within me, by my side, facing each morning as a new adventure to be shared.

Where do I start? At the end? That’s one simple sentence. Three words. Daniel is dead. In my novel The Winter Boy, I wrote, “How people die shapes our world.” Read More

Porous Memory

The shape and taste on my lips, a poem by Sally Wiener GrottaI sit at a blank screen, knowing it’s time to write. That’s what Daniel would tell me to do with the jumble of emotion, pain, emptiness that has consumed me.

Some years ago, I saw a man attack another with a broken bottle. We were in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, a normally high decibel neighborhood, with sidewalk traffic as dense as the streets. Families with scampering children and couples arguing or holding hands and business folk, tourists, conventioneers, and yes, the always present hungry homeless folded in on themselves. Crowds of people walking too fast, or strolling and reading window menus, or juggling large grocery packages festooned with pictographic Chinese words. And somewhere behind the neon signs and fatty aromas, a verve of hidden life, mysterious, almost alien, yet so very familiar.

However, that wasn’t the Chinatown we saw that night. The hour was so late that the tiny corner restaurant we chose was an island of unresolved energies on a nearly darkened street. (Or at least as dark as any street in Chinatown gets.) I saw no pedestrians through the large plate glass windows during our entire meal. Just the incessant rain and the puddling reflections of a sleeping city. While we waited for our check, Daniel went into the men’s room. That’s when it happened. A sudden, vicious eruption of fists and blood, of glass gouging and slashing, unintelligible screams and flung furniture. Read More

Inside the Mind of a Writer

Sally Wiener Grotta by Daniel GrottaDuring the blog tour for The Winter Boy, Sally appeared on numerous websites, answering questions about her writing, her characters, what inspires her, and so forth. For each interview, she gave fresh, new responses that provide interesting insights into how she works and thinks.

In addition to posting links to some of the many fabulous reviews her novels have been receiving, periodically I will post some of these interviews.

Here’s an excerpt from her interview on the Book Goodies website:

“What inspires you to write?”

“I write to try to understand, to attempt to make some sense of our human condition. I weave tales that put characters I learn to love into difficult, if not impossible situations, and then I try to tease out answers, or — at least hope to instigate ideas that might lead to – if not solutions, then maybe some better understanding of the problems.

“I often picture a hospital newborn nursery, filled with tiny bundles of unshaped humanity. Which one will be the philanthropist or artist or teacher? Which one the corrupt politician or drug dealer? What is it that can take an infant — so full of hope and potential — and make him or her hate? Read More

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

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.

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