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

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?

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.

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

Nancy Christie Interviews Sally about Writing

I’m often asked about my inspirations and processes in my writing (and my photography). I was recently interviewed by Nancy Christie for her blog One-On-One: Insights into the Writer’s Life. She’s just posted Part I, and will be posting Part II next week.

Part of my answer to Nancy was:

“I don’t remember when I wasn’t a storyteller. When my mother used to read me to sleep, I would continue the stories in my dreams, making up my own endings. All children ask “why?” But it became a driving force that has never let go of me, pushing me to try to understand what perplexes or intrigues me.

“Similarly, I played the ‘what if’ game, starting from a very young age and continuing through to this very morning. What if the sky were green, or I lived in a different time or place, or my best friend suddenly acted as though he hated me?

“Naturally, as I matured, the questions that haunt me have changed, becoming increasingly unanswerable. Why do we hate? Is peace an impossible dream? What is the source of anger, of prejudice? Can we ever truly know each other? I create scenarios and stories to explore these questions, until my mind is filled with other realities and people who demand that I give them voice and form.

“As different narratives lay claim to my imagination, and new characters are born in my mind, the adventure begins yet again. While I may ….”

To read the rest of Part I of this interview, please go to Nancy Christie interviews Sally Wiener Grotta

Spending Time with Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo da Vinci.

It’s a name that stands on its own, separate from all others. A magical name that evokes such strong reactions, especially among artists, writers and other creative thinkers. “He’s my hero” is a frequent refrain whenever I mention Leonardo.

Our friend Alfred Poor has a theory about why he is so fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci (as well as Benjamin Franklin). For him, they were men who “knew about everything there was to know in their world,” an incredible accomplishment in their times, but something that is no longer possible.

While Leonardo da Vinci is an important talisman and touchstone who is rarely far from my thoughts (or, at least, my subconscious), this past week I read two stories that brought him to the forefront.

The first was Michael Kammen’s review of “The Lost Battles” by Jonathan Jones for the Los Angeles Review of Books . The battles referred to in the title are paintings by Leonardo and Michelangelo. As the subtitle says, the book is about “the artistic duel that defined the renaissance.” Kammen’s review gave me just enough of a taste of the intrigues and personalities (and art history) involved in the competition between those two giants that I’m definitely planning on buying and reading “The Lost Battles.”

Then, I came across “Leonardo’s Notebook Digitized in All Its Befuddling Glory” in The Atlantic. What a great opportunity for scholars all around the globe. No longer will this collection of Leonardo’s notebooks be available to only a few who manage to get to the British Library and obtain permission, but to anyone with a computer and access. Given that Leonardo used reversed writing (readable only with a mirror) in his notebooks, I imagine that it will be that much easier to decipher digital copies that can be flipped with the click of a mouse button.

I wonder if Leonardo isn’t one of the most written about individuals in history, and that those two stories caught my eye this week, because I needed some time with him just now.
Spending time with Leonardo. I’m sure my friends will Read More