Living the Creative Life: Embracing Reciprocity Failure

On the razor-edged border between the possible and the impossible, creativity flourishes.

When I was a young photographer, I enjoyed experimenting with reciprocity failure.

While it may sound like a philosophical or psychological concept, reciprocity failure relates to the chemical limitations of film. Back in the 20th century, photographers quickly learned that each type of color film (known as the its emulsion) was rated for certain light parameters. Push an emulsion beyond its rating by using a longer than acceptable shutter speed (to capture a picture in low light situations), and you’d end up with false colors. Those were the barriers inherent in the technology that pro photographers just didn’t overstep.

But… well… I never did color within the lines.

When I toyed with reciprocity failure, I purposely pushed beyond what was “correct” to seek new creative visions. I remember one moonless night Read More

Reading at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sally Wiener Grotta reading her award-winning short story "One Widow's Healing" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Click to view the flyer

What a thrill and an honor it was to be invited to read one of my science fiction short stories at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday, December 22nd. The event was hosted by Lawrence M. Schoen, and also featured a reading by David Walton. And it was in conjunction with the museum’s fascinating Designs for Different Futures exhibit which combines art, sculpture, science and futurism. 

 

“Sally and David read two very thought-filled stories about an all-too-believable woman who’d won the Nobel-prize in medicine (Sally Wiener Grotta) and the problems inherent in a new type of ‘drive-by’ accident (David Walton)”
~ Samuel R. Delany

 

David read the first chapter of his novel Three Laws Lethal, which is a thriller about how self-driving cars and AI are rewriting our futures. It’s been getting all kinds of raves, including being listed first on “The Wall Street Journal’s” Best Science Fiction of 2019.

I read an excerpt my story One Widow’s Healing, a Health Odyssey award winner which explores the personal and ethical issues of technology-driven health care.

And Lawrence provided an interesting intro regarding science fiction predictive “what if” nature, and how mass media has taken over part of that role. 

The art museum’s staff made us feel very welcome, and what a great audience! I’m still riding high on the entire experience. Thank you everyone.

photos by Carol Gyzander and Sally Wiener Grotta

Awards Eligibility Post

2019 has been a busy year for me, mostly because I decided to live outside my comfort zone creatively. (See my essay The Creative Life: Embracing Reciprocity Failure on the subject.) In other words, I pushed myself to try new perspectives, styles, genres, etc. to see where they would take me. It’s been quite an adventure, flexing my muscles to write works unlike anything I’ve written before. And it resulted in a number of publications. I’m rather pleased with three: two short stories and a novelette. One was in a relatively new Hope Punk magazine, and the other two are in anthologies that you may not have noticed. That’s why I’ve collected them here in this post to share with you. 

This whole process of putting out the word about my award eligible work is, in itself, also outside my comfort zone. In fact, in many ways, it’s more difficult than the decision to push myself forward into new kinds of work. (It’s the difference between challenging myself privately and sticking my neck out publicly.) But I’ve been encouraged (read “prodded”) by friends and fellow authors. So here they areRead More

Please come. I’ll be reading at the Philadelphia Museum of Art!

I’m thrilled that I’ve been invited to read some of my science fiction at the Philadelphia Museum Art on December 22nd. David Walton will also be reading. Below are the details from the flyer: (Or if you prefer, here’s a flyer that you can share, in PDF or JPEG.)

Lawrence M. Schoen
presents a special Galactic Philadelphia event

GLANCES INTO OUR POSSIBLE FUTURE

Science fiction readings by authors David Walton & Sally Wiener Grotta
in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s
Designs for Different Futures Exhibit

David Walton, author
David Walton
Sally Wiener Grotta, author & speaker
Sally Wiener Grotta

Sunday, December 22nd, 2:00 to 3:00 PM

(in the exhibit’s Future Therapy Lab, free with museum admission)

 

DAVID WALTON‘s latest book is Three Laws Lethal, a thriller about how self-driving cars and AI are rewriting our futures. He is the recipient of the Philip K. Dick Award for distinguished science fiction and the John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel. The Wall Street Journal wrote that David Walton “has brought hard sci-fi roaring back to life.” He lives a double life as an aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin by day and mild-mannered father of eight children by night. 

SALLY WIENER GROTTA will read from her short story “One Widow’s Healing” (a Health Odyssey award winner), which explores the personal and ethical issues of future technology-driven health care. Her books include The Winter Boy (a Locus Magazine’s 2015 Recommended Read) and Jo Joe (a Jewish Book Council Network selected book). Her far-ranging experiences as a journalist covering all corners of the world flavor her tales with a sense of wonder, otherliness and common sense. A popular speaker, Sally has a reputation for stimulating meaningful discussions and workshops on creativity, storytelling, and on crossing our tribal divides. 

Lawrence M. Schoen, author
Lawrence M. Schoen

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, is a past Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula, nominee, and twice won the Cóyotl award for best novel. His science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. Other works take a very different tone, exploring aspects of determinism and free will, generally redefining the continua between life and death. Sometimes he blurs the funny and the serious.

John, Paul, Ringo & George as we never knew them

Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles

edited by Michael A. Ventrella & Randee Dawn

 

"Across the Universe" alternative Beatles Anthology cover

"Across the Universe" back cover

Across the Universe is the Beatles tour you never thought you’d get a front row seat for, with speculative fiction stories examining other galaxies, worlds, professions and existences John, Paul, George and Ringo might have experienced
… or maybe they did ….

 

Join us for the book launch party & readings December 3rd in Brooklyn
(details below)

 

Coming out next month from Fantastic Books, this short story anthology reprints two classic alternate takes on the Fab Four: Spider Robinson’s “Rubber Soul” and Gregory Benford’s “Doing Lennon.” Plus it features new stories by Matthew F. Amati, Eric Avedissian, Patrick Barb, Charles Barouch, Pat Cadigan, Brenda W. Clough, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Gregory Frost, David Gerrold, Alan Goldsher, Carol Gyzander, Gordon Linzner, Gail Z. Martin, R. Jean Mathieu, Jody Lynn Nye, Beth W. Patterson, Cat Rambo, Kenneth Schneyer, Christian H. Smith, Allen M. Steele, Bev Vincent, Lawrence Watt-Evans… and me!

My story “The Truth Within” explores the unexpected repercussions when George Harrison  follows through on his plan for World Peace that involves teaching transcendental meditation to Richard Nixon. 

The anthology got raves from both Library Journal and Publishers Weekly (See the attached back cover.) The PW  review included a mention of my “The Truth Within.”

 

Preorder the Book

You can preorder the trade paperback or the hardcover from Amazon or Barnes & Noble! (Links aren’t up yet for the eBook editions, nor are any links up yet on Indie Bound or Kobo.)

 

Party with Us & Enjoy the Readings

On December 3rd. Doors open at 6:30 PM. Readings start at 7:00 PM

New York Review of Science Fiction Readings, Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217

I’ll be joining several other contributors in reading portions of our stories. You’ll also meet Randee Dawn, one of our editors, and Ian Randal Strock, our publisher. Randee has been hinting that we may have cake. A group of us got together for pre-launch readings to a packed-room audience at Philcon a few weeks ago; it was a blast. (See the picture below.) This one promises to be at least as much fun, if not more so.

"Across the Universe" authors at Philcon 2019

“The Winter Boy” Honored: One of 12 Unique Works of Fantasy That Are Hard To Put Down

"The Winter Boy" by Sally Wiener Grotta

I received an email tonight, suggesting that I take a look at a website. To my surprise, it contains a video that features my novel The Winter Boy, as one of the “12 Unique Works of Fantasy That Are Hard to Put Down.”

As the webpage states, “Not all fantasy novels are hero’s journeys set in medieval times. Some creative authors put their own spin on the genre and produce unique works that revitalize old tropes. Whether they have a fascinating new type of lore or make unusual decisions in terms of structure, the books listed here all tackle this beloved genre in a different way.”

While the video shows Rishana as a skinny 20-something rather than a curvaceous middle-aged woman, it’s a delight to receive this honor out of the blue.

 

Our Memories as Personal Mythology

My sister and I must have had different parents. I have come to that dubious conclusion not based on genealogy or DNA, but on anecdotal experience. Of course, it isn’t true. Heck, look at our pictures, listen to our identical laughs. Unquestionably, my mother and father were Amy’s parents, too. But when I hear her stories about growing up in the same house as I did, with the same neighbors and the same influences, I often don’t recognize the people, places or events that are so vivid in her memory. And when I tell her my recollections, she helps me out by correcting my errors. After all, she’s the older sister, and knows the truth of our past.

This isn’t a rant on my sister, whom I admire and love. Instead, it’s my acceptance of something I came to realize when I was a young journalist interviewing various subjects. Everybody’s memories are personal mythologies, our creation stories about how we came to be who we are today. So, naturally Amy and I would remember our lives together quite differently. Perhaps if we combined our memories, we would be able to create a mosaic that might come a bit closer to understanding who we are in relationship to each other. And, yes, if we could talk to the dead, to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and to others who once shared our lives, we could probably paint a more complete picture of our past. But I don’t believe we can ever know with absolute certainty the fine details – the facts – of what happened on a certain day, whether it was 25 years ago or just last month.

That’s why I question shelving memoirs into the non-fiction section of a library or book store. Apparently, David Black, the author of An Impossible Life, agrees with me. Why else would he have given that piece of magical realism the subtitle a bobeh myseh, which is a Yiddish phrase that translates as an old wives’ tale, an untrue story or something of little consequence?

"An Impossible LIfe" by David BlackAn Impossible Life is a brilliant pastiche of Black’s family history, based on his memories, relatives’ oft repeated tales, Jewish heritage and folklore, a touch of Kabbalah, and references to the Torah, with the holes filled in by his imagination. The most prominent figment is his dead father, with whom Black has an ongoing conversation throughout the book. The novel weaves these various threads into a colorful tapestry that extends from modern times back through the Holocaust, to the shtetl, all the way to the biblical Patriarch and Matriarch, Abraham and Sarah (and Hagar). But it’s Black’s hard-nosed, sometimes angry, other times grudgingly tender perspectives that cut through it all, making his fictional accounts closer to truth – or at least, his personal truth – than most fact-anchored non-fiction could.

I understand that Black is currently developing a theatrical play based on An Impossible Life. Given his track record as an author and scriptwriter, whose career has been peppered with accolades, including Emmy and Pultizer Prize nominations, he certainly has the chops for it. And I look forward to seeing the story made flesh on the stage. However, a part of me would rather this fascinating cast of characters remained sequestered in my mind, where they might gestate and grow, until they and their impossible lives become part of my personal mythology.

 

[Note: My short story The Broken Bottle explores how personal mythology (especially related to a traumatic experience) can change over time.]

My Short Story “One Widow’s Healing” Honored by Jefferson Hospital

Helath Odyssey Award winners

 

I received the email while I was at the International Conference for Fantastic in the Arts this past March. 

Thank you for participating in 2100: A Health Odyssey! This has truly been an exciting and fun competition… The quality and diversity  of the entries we received were outstanding. We are pleased to announce that your story has been selected as one of our six winners! Congratulations!  (And, yes, the bold font was part of the email. I suppose it was just in case I missed the point.)

I had to read the email six or seven times. Was it really saying that my story One Widow’s Healing would be honored on May 7th at a gala celebration of six writers? Even after reading and rereading, I was sure it was a mistake. It wasn’t until I received a follow-up email asking me to fill in a W-9 IRS form so they could arrange for my prize money, that it began to sink in.

I don’t normally enter short story or other fiction contests. But this one was intriguing. The writing prompt was to write a science fiction story that would illustrate the future of health care, specifically in the year 2100. What was most interesting is that the competition was sponsored by Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, one of the highest rated health care facilities in the country. Specifically, they wanted a positive, hopeful story that could potentially influence how health care will actually develop in the future. In the words of Dr. Stephen Klasko, the CEO of Jefferson, “Almost anything you can dream can happen, if you do it in science fiction.”

Here’s Dr. Klasko’s visionary description of what they were seeking:

 

Watching that video, how could I not want to participate?

To say that I’m thrilled that the judges felt my story gave them hope about a possible health care future is to put it mildly. No, I didn’t win the grand prize of $10,000. But my prize money is enough to pay for several weeks this summer during which I can put aside everything and just write fiction. That’s quite a present to receive. And what an honor!

Many thanks to Dr. Klasko, the impressive panel of judges and Jefferson Hospital.

Click here — One Widow’s Healing to read my short story. Then, please let me know what you think. 

Calling All Dreamers

A new popular theme is emerging in the arts – one of unabashed, unapologetic hope. While partially a reaction to society’s current divisiveness and anger, it also has a lot to do with faith in humankind and our future – and a very large dose of the courage to speak out, to try to lead the way.

The first issue of DreamForge Magazine

Yes, human beings can be cruel, violent and selfish, but we can also be kind, generous and open to learning to be better. What’s more, I believe that the latter tendencies are the stronger, more prevalent. So it is that my own art has long explored the questions we need to keep asking ourselves if we wish to reach toward a wider, richer future.

As John Lennon sang, “You can say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” A case in point is the launch of a new science fiction and fantasy magazine DreamForge, whose motto is “Connecting Dreamers – Past and Present. Imagine. Engage. Inspire.”

What a leap of faith – to start a new magazine in this era of so many publications failing to survive the digital transition. Yet, it’s fitting that Scot Noel (Editor and Publisher) and his wife Jane Noel (Designer) have jumped in, with all their heart and, I’m sure, a large portion of their savings. How else could they, as Scot wrote, “make a noise in favor of hope”?

I have just read the first issue of DreamForge. It’s a beautiful publication, filled with delightful stories. I was so impressed – particularly by Scot Noel’s personal message – that I immediately emailed Scot, and asked for permission to reprint his editorial as the first guest blog on this my new website.

Here it is, an editorial designed to give all of us hope about publishing and about our future as a species.


Which Shall It Be?

by Scot Noel

Scot Noel, Editor & Publisher of DreamForge Magazine

The world has been coming to an end for a long time, for centuries if not for millennia. While the doomsayers wring their hands and point to evidence of moral decay and economic collapse, the reality is – cities grow larger, nations grow richer, and the population of humankind is approaching 7.7 billion people. (It was less than 3 billion at the beginning of the space age in 1957.)

Science, technology, and knowledge itself are advancing so quickly, their growth rate is becoming exponential. Only 476 years ago, Nicholas Copernicus published a blasphemous theory that the earth and planets revolved around the sun. Today, we have charted the shape of the universe itself, and in another 500 years we, as a species, are likely to command godlike powers that any human who has ever lived, including those of us around today, would consider the province of the divine.

Why does it all seem so terrible and doomed to destruction? Are we like Icarus, son of Daedalus, daring to fly too close to the sun?

We are indeed like Icarus and the ancient Greeks, and like our Cro-Magnon ancestors of 35,000 years past: we are human. We are built for an enemy and predator-filled world where spreading bad news and taking violent action were essential to survival. Fierce tribal loyalties and a win-at-all-costs attitude have been our go-to kit since before civilization was conceived.

Times are changing. We are a young species with short memories and a dull sense of what the future really means. A thousand years, ten thousand, a hundred thousand and we will not yet be middle-aged, and by then the stars will be ours. Literally. What will we do with them, I wonder? Before that day arrives, we must mature, and the very forces of our increase will pressure us to do so.

We will grow out of our messy teenage years and clean up our act. We may pollute our planet for centuries to come; we may fight horrendous wars a thousand years from now, but we will also be learning, building, and changing all along the way. We will end suffering, poverty, and sickness at a faster rate than the worst among us can create them. We will heal this world and build new ones. Long before the end, the better angels of our nature shall – as they have been for a thousand years – rise up to overwhelm the destructive impulses of our genesis.

Hope, big dreams, and perseverance will get us there. Hope is not an illusion; it’s simply a perspective backed by engagement with the world, whatever the condition of the world may be. And fiction has its part to play. At DreamForge, we believe words are important; that the stories we tell ourselves affect the present and become the future. It’s been said that the arc by which fiction changes the world is long and subtle, but powerful nonetheless.

One day we will meet new civilizations among the stars but, more importantly, we must learn to respect the aliens among us right now. You know who they are; they’re the people who by circumstance, culture, or choice are different from you.

By our human heritage, we are built to see them as threats, competitors for scarce resources, subversive forces ready to challenge our beliefs and tear apart our communities. In the future, there will be too many different peoples, beliefs, political ideologies, and – eventually – species of human to count. We’re going to have to get over our fears and loathing.

When you find yourself thinking the people on the other side of the ideological divide are too stupid to understand your point, that you can’t empathize with them and their values, that their way of looking at the world is ruining your country, your community, and your life – that’s an ancient evolutionary adaptation the purpose of which is as extinct as the trilobite.

Mere tolerance is unacceptable, extreme diversity inevitable. It’s the only way we can ever begin to embrace the vast gulf between ourselves and the creatures we shall meet among the stars, they who know nothing of the doctrines and dogmas over which we are willing to take life and destroy worlds.

Our only true enemy is entropy, the gradual dissolution of complex systems, the force behind suffering, aging, and decay. Fortunately, life by its very nature fights entropy, and our prowess in understanding and then mastering the intricacies of universal forces appears unbounded.

In a screenplay by H.G. Wells for the Science Fiction Film “Things to Come,” the movie ends with a dramatic monologue that goes in part:

“… And when he (man) has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.  And if we’re no more than animals we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this – or that: all the universe or nothing… Which shall it be?”

Newsletter: Storytelling, Our Humanity Illuminated

 

In my second newsletter, I focus on how our humanity is expressed and supported through storytelling. It includes links to an essay on connecting with strangers through their stories, a video on our Creativity Gene, and a free ebook of my short story The Broken Bottle which was originally published in The North Atlantic Review.

I’d be delighted to have you sign up to receive future newsletters. Of course, I will never share your contact information with anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.