This past weekend, I joined fellow authors Sarah Kozloff, Stephanie Ann Smith, and Robert V. S. Redick, as we read excerpts from our recent works of fiction for the autumn virtual ICFA (International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts).
The VICFA was on Zoom, so naturally, when I read from my my new short story “Anywhere But Here,” Shayna and her cousin dog Maggie made an appearance, too. Well, Maggie’s tail did, and they were both in good voice, barking in the background. (Apparently, the neighbor’s cat was teasing them through the patio glass doors by walking on “their” property.)
In a few weeks, I’ll be attending one of my favorite conferences — World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon — in one of my favorite cities — Chicago. (This iteration of Worldcon is also known as Chicon 8.) The Worldcon annual gathering of science fiction writers, fans, artists, publishers, editors, filmmakers, and costumers is a smorgasbord of intellectual stimulation, great storytelling, fascinating folk, and great fun.
I’m honored to once again be speaking on various Worldcon panels, doing a reading of my fiction, and giving a presentation. But the one big change from my traditional subjects is that I’ll be conducting a workshop called “Mining Our Matriarchs.” The workshop will be my first public appearance connected to the new direction I’m headed in both my writing and my speaking career — specifically, exploring the relevance of the stories of the women in the Hebrew Bible to our lives today.
Here’s my schedule for Chicon 8 (barring last minute changes):
Ask a CoverArtist, a panel that I’m moderating: “What are the elements of a great book or magazine cover? What color trends or styles are related to historical illustration, and how do you make something futuristic? For artists and enthusiasts alike, this is your chance to learn more about the art of cover-making. Which images are iconic from the past, groundbreaking in the present, and will capture our imaginations in the future? Let’s find out together.” Panelists: Alyssa Winans, Dex Greenbright, Eric Wilkerson and Ruth Sanderson. Thursday, September 1, 2022, 4:00 PM CDT.
Work/Life Balance for Artists, a panel on a topic that I struggle with (as I expect every artist does): “It’s easy for artists to overwork themselves when the world constantly reminds them that their work is other people’s leisure. Defining and enforcing boundaries to allow for rest and recuperation are vital for avoiding burnout. It is impossible to get a one-size-fits-all solution to this struggle though. Our panelists will discuss their own practices and others they’ve come across in exploration of the wide-span of ways to address these tensions in order to provide a wide array of practices.” Fellow panelists: Tabitha Lord (moderator), Alyssa Winans, Gideon Marcus, and Lorelei Esther. Friday, September 2, 2022, 10:00 AM CDT.
Grants & Residencies, a presentation based on my experience with applying for and winning a number of grants (I haven’t pursued residencies until recently): “Trying to find the right grants and residencies welcoming your kind of art and writing, and providing room for your desired growth, is a dense and tedious task full of details and red tape. Attend this presentation offered by Sally Wiener Grotta, who will provide you with some expectations and guidance in this complicated landscape.” Friday, September 2, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT.
Mining Our Biblical Matriarchs, a workshop based on my research for my two current works-in-progress: “The women of the Bible (Eve, Esther, Miriam, etc.) have been the West’s most enduring female archetypes. As lush and varied as any mythology, their stories have been reinterpreted by every generation’s artists, clerics, and political leaders, according to how they expected women to be. However, these archetypes have been largely overlooked by modern spec fic authors. In this workshop, we’ll have fun challenging and toppling common preconceptions about various women of the Bible, as we mine this rich mother lode for fresh SF&F story ideas.” Friday, September 2, 2022, 4:00 PM CDT.
Judging the Cover, a panel that I’m moderating: “The saying goes ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover,’ but what if you can? As a reader, what can you tell about the story inside from the cover? How are covers reflective of artistic and marketing trends? Join us as we explore everything that goes into cover art, and how to use cover art to successfully pick your next favorite read.” Panelists: A.L.DeLeon, Maurizio Manzieri, and Pat Robinson. Saturday, September 3, 2022, 1:00 PM CDT.
Readings. I’m sharing the hour with fellow authors LP Kindred and Michael Haynes. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll be reading. Saturday, September 3, 2022, 2:30 PM CDT.
I’m thrilled to announce that I recently signed a contract with the playwright David Zarko, giving him the rights to produce a play based on Honor, a novella by Daniel Grotta. I can’t imagine any other contract feeling so right to me, helping to firm up Daniel’s legacy.
Honor is a story about the fragility and power of the human heart. It explores the terrible toll paid when patriotism, personal ethics and the deep bond of friendship collide.
Next step on the road to production: a staged reading in New York City, hopefully later this year.
I subscribe to a number of email lists whose content challenge my mind and set me thinking in directions I might never have traveled without their stimulation. For instance, I enjoy receiving twice weekly emails of Maria Popova’s The Marginalian (formerly called BrainPickings) essays for their poetic and insightful curation of the writings of great thinkers, writers and artists.
I initially subscribed to MyJewishLearning‘s daily Talmudic interpretations as part of my research for a current work-in-progress, a new novel (Women of a New Moon). As a secular Jew, I’ve never really studied Torah or Talmud or any of the sacred texts beyond the cursory attention I gave to lessons at Sunday school. (Nor do I remember much Hebrew from then.) But I find myself intrigued by these emails, not necessarily for the Talmudic interpretations (which I often find irrelevant and boring). but more for the thought processes behind them. Those processes — the instinct to question and probe rather than just accept whatever is stated — is key to what I cherish about my Jewish heritage, and what has defined my life of intellectual and creative restlessness.Read More
All my life, the turning of the year has seemed to be something that would sneak up on me. Existing outside of everyday, it was beyond the reality that shaped my life, a pause imposed on the “real” world. One day I’d be playing with other kids on the jungle gym, or studying for an exam, or working on a story deadline. Then suddenly, the new year would appear on the calendar, and the clock reset to the beginning. Incrementally, life changed over time, almost unnoticed, unmarked except by momentous highlights: weddings and births, bar/bat mitzvahs and anniversaries, deadlines and book launches, and deaths.
This year is different.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days, time seems to be slowing down, giving me the luxury to wonder and wander, touching places in my mind and heart that I haven’t visited before.
That isn’t to say that deadlines aren’t looming, laying on the pressure professionally. Nor is the world any less hectic or demanding. But something in me was broken this past year of isolation and fear. Broken then healed, broken and healed… over and over again. In some ways, I feel like a piece of Kintsugi, a Japanese work of art created by using gold dust to rejoin the pieces of something that’s been damaged, creating beauty out of pain. But instead of gold, it’s light and lightness that is shining through the cracks in my universe. Shining on the stories within me, because stories are the gold, the light that keeps me together, and creates a new me with each character born and plot woven.Read More
This Saturday afternoon was an event that I have been looking forward to for a long time, and it was years in the making: a Zoom reading of David Zarko’s play based on Daniel Grotta’s novella Honor.
I wasn’t the only audience member with tears in my eyes throughout the performance, and that wasn’t unexpected. Readers of Daniel’s small book have long reported how soulful and emotional the story is. Hardened, street-wise individuals have written me (and when he was alive, Daniel) that Honor made them openly cry, even in public.
Honor is the story of Jeff Smith who, as his bully of a brother-in-law Gene Engelhardt is fond of retelling, is “what the cat dragged in.” He’s a scruffy, bearded hippie who Gene’s sister Bonnie fell in love with decades ago, after meeting at a Washington peace rally against the Vietnam War. Even shaved and doing whatever the Engelhardts wanted, his in-laws never accepted or approved of Jeff. Now, Jeff is saddled with a family, a dead-end job, and, after Bonnie died of cancer, a mountain of debt. Read More
When I was growing up, the colors of the Passover seder plate were primarily dull and dark. A shank bone, a roasted egg, horseradish, salt, and the delicious but yucky looking charoises (minced apples, nuts and dried fruit soaked in red wine). The one relieving color (and the dullest flavor) was that of the fresh parsley.
Then one year, a big, bright orange appeared on the seder plate. The story I was told back then was that it was in response to some rabbi who once said, “There will be a female rabbi when there’s an orange on the Pesach seder plate.” In other words, he considered both to be not only unlikely but impossible. Naturally, as the story goes, feminists started to put an orange on their seder plates, and the practice spread like wildfire.
Beyond any metaphorical meaning, I was delighted to see that orange on the seder plate. It felt like a fresh bit of life among the dull, dark artifacts of our history. As such it helped to make the history feel more modern and relevant. At the same time, it was a recognition of the long line of women who came before me, stretching back through my mother and grandmothers through the generations to the matriarchs of ancient times.
Besides, oranges have been one of my favorite treats for as long as I can remember. What fun it is to use my nails and fingertips to pierce and peel away the tough, pebbly skin, to get to the crisp sweet-tart pulpy juices that play on my tongue. And as a writer, I get a kick out of the fact that even the sound of the word is unique; no word in the English language rhymes holistically with orange. (Botanists will point to “sporange” which is a part of ferns, fungi, algae, or mosses. But really, how many of us will ever use sporange in a poem?)
All these years, I have identified with that orange on the seder plate. Read More
If you could be magically transported into Eve’s body before she reached for the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, would you pick and eat it, knowing what you know of life?
As I research the stories of Eve and Lilith for my novel Women of a New Moon, I return often to the original Garden of Eden tales in Genesis. The story of humanity’s exile from paradise has a bittersweet allure. Who doesn’t dream of being welcomed back to the original utopia where illness and hunger didn’t exist, where death was unknown, and life was gentle.
All of Creation was the embodiment of goodness, as God proclaimed. But did Adam and Eve experience Good? Could they understand what goodness was when they had known nothing else?
However if you were in Eve’s body in the Garden of Eden, with all that you know, you would have a soul-deep understanding of the tradeoffs inherent in the decision to eat the apple from that one forbidden tree. To not eat would mean to be immortal, protected, and forever innocent. To eat would mean Read More
During this past November’s virtual Philcon, I went back and forth what piece of fiction I should read. For much of the past year, I’ve been pouring all my passion into a new mainstream novel Women of a New Moon, and that’s what I really wanted to share with my friends and fans. However, Philcon is a science fiction conference, and I worried that my audience would expect me to read one of my recently published science fiction short stories or a new not-yet-published speculative novel. Uncertain what to do, I asked a number of people who had mentioned they’d be logging into my online reading, and they all wanted to hear Women of a New Moon, even though it is still in its first draft. Decision made.
Women of a New Moon centers on a woman’s Torah study group. We learn about the six modern women of the group – their personalities, histories, crises and story arcs – through the filter of their monthly discussions of women of the Bible (such as Eve & Lilith, Sarah & Hagar, Miriam, and so forth). At the beginning of the book, they are what I call “intimate strangers,” because they know each other only through frequent but superficial schmoozing at synagogue events. They meet once a month, taking turns hosting in their homes, and each chapter is from the host’s point of view as she leads the group for that month. I read portions of Chapter 2 in which Jen (a retired war correspondent and secular humanist) is leading a discussion of Sarah and Hagar.
Unfortunately, the recording of my reading failed. Again, I listened to my friends and fans, and a number who hadn’t been able to join me for my Philcon reading asked me to do another recording of it, and to let them know when it was posted. Of course — how could I resist? So, here it is.
For years now, whenever I’ve spoken at book clubs, I’ve told my audiences, “The book you read is not the book I wrote.” That’s because reading is a participatory experience. We bring our personal histories, prejudices, expectations, hopes and concerns to our interpretations of what we see on the page. That, in turn, can color the narrative and dialog, often making our reading of a book uniquely our own.
I’ve understood that concept for so long that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was blindsided by a friend’s adverse reaction to a word I had written. I consider the word in and of itself a neutral description. But as far as she was concerned, it was a highly charged, derogatory expression.