The following is an essay I wrote for my old website a few years ago. In the wake of the horrific shooting at Pittsburgh’s L’Simcha Tree of Life one month ago — and the the current political atmosphere that has given permission for such hate to come out of hiding and act on it — I find this piece a poignant reflection of the innocence I was once privileged to feel. While the essay is about the Jewishness of my writing, it’s also a declaration of who I am, and reinforces my determination to not be cowed by the haters. And, yes, I still believe that most people are good and kind, and that we can find our way out of this current climate of hate and divisiveness — if we work together.
As I wrote that title, I hesitated. While the statement “I am a Jew” has a proud heritage of defiance and strength, I can almost hear my grandmother warning me, “Be careful, sweetheart, what details you ask others to focus on about you.” But then, she came from a time when being Jewish was a double-edged sword that gave us the protection of belonging to a rich tradition and community, while separating us out for ostracization and exclusion from society as a whole. I’m lucky to not be living in the era of her youth.
Or am I being naïve and foolish? Given the ghettoizing of women writers which implies that somehow our work is not as significant as that of our male counterparts, am I taking a chance by saying that not only I am a woman, I am a Jew? Will I now be relegated to second, or even third-class status in the literary hierarchy? Will I now be considered only as a Jewish female writer? Was William Faulkner “merely” a Southern male writer? Or, Thoreau nothing more than a New Englander tree-hugger? Why is it necessary for me to publicly dismiss my roots, out of fear of having my art and writing less respected?
Being Jewish is Read More
I often wonder if all writers are borderline schizophrenics who have simply learned to channel the voices in our heads into a creative outlet, thereby saving our sanity. Because, yes, we have people constantly talking to us, telling us stories, insisting that we devote our undivided attention to committing their tales to paper (or computer screen). I am curious how “normal” people go through their lives, day in and day out, all alone in their heads, with no one telling them stories and transporting them elsewhere. How boring that must be.
I first started listening to these voices as a very young child though they initially spoke in my mother’s particular storytelling timber and tone. A warm, mellifluous sound that I would ride into dreams, as she would read me to sleep. I’d inevitably continue the story in that dark, fluid world I created as I slumbered. And I would be surprised when Mom would later read to me the author’s version which hardly ever gelled with the ending my subconscious had invented.
I don’t remember when that multitude of voices escaped into the real world of daylight hours and day-to-day responsibilities. Perhaps, it was a Read More
The other day, a woman described another woman to me as a bitch. Bitch is one of those words that can convey a world of ideas. But what does it really mean? And, more to the point for any fiction writer working to create flesh and blood characters, what are the undercurrents and coloration of using such a “power” word in our prose?
As powerful as the word bitch is, it could pull us into a political, feminist discussion about how it has been used to delineate and limit women. But, for now, I’m more interested in the process of creating fictional women who resonate with readers’ imagination, becoming believable, real.
The storyteller in me wants to pose the so-called bitch and her describer into a wide range of scenes, to see how they change.
Does the description change in meaning for us when the woman saying it is a daughter talking about her mother? What if the mother is Read More
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
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
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:
My 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?
Memory is malleable.
In my short story The Broken Bottle, I refer to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal movie Rashomon, in which each witness to a murder tells a different story of the crime – including the ghost of the victim. While Rashomon paints a scenario in which individuals may or may not be lying to us about their memory, I propose that our own memories lie to us. Often they tell us the stories we want to hear about ourselves. And what we want to hear changes as we move further and further away from the truth of the event. (Of course, “want” may be debatable. But I’ll leave that psychological discussion to another time.)
Johanna, the protagonist of The Broken Bottle says, “It’s as though the young woman I was back on that wet July night stands in the middle of a polygonal mirrored room. Though she is surrounded by the facts of the moment, all she can see are the distorted reflections, refracting through time.”
When I look back on my childhood, which I shared with my sister and my parents and an assortment of friends, family and pets, it’s an ethereal landscape. Sometimes shrouded in dense fog. Periodically illuminated, so that specific places or people stand out so clearly that I can taste the air, smell their perfume, feel the emotions in the pit of my stomach – especially the shock of embarrassment or great hurt or ecstasy. But mostly, everything and everyone in my past are Read More
When Sally’s Locus Award-nominated novel The Winter Boy was honored by being selected for SWFA‘s first ever fantasy StoryBundle, fellow author Erika Satifka interviewed Sally to discuss writing processes, inspirations, and some of the inside stories behind the creation of The Winter Boy.
This interview is from last November, and the StoryBundle is no longer available. However, The Winter Boy is available from most bookstores in paperback, hardbound and all e-book formats, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and an independent bookstore near you.
Thank you Sala Wyman for another very nice review of my novel Jo Joe and a fun interview session….
“Set in a fictional village in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Sally Wiener Grotta takes on the inner shards of racism with her novel Jo Joe, a Black Bear, Pennsylvania Story.
“There are always a couple of ways to deal with the topic of racism and its effects on the victims. One is to just document the facts about oppressors and victims. Another is to take a higher road: the healing of victims, families, and communities. Ms. Grotta beautifully and skillfully takes the high road.Read More