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
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
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
They called us Team Grotta.
I’m not sure which editor first gave Daniel and me that nickname. When we were long-time Contributing Editors at PC Magazine, I remember being pleasantly surprised when various people started referring to us as Team Grotta. It came so naturally to their lips that we felt that they had been using the term for a while. Perhaps it had developed organically, put forward in staff meetings and in office discussions. “Why don’t we put Team Grotta on that project?” or “Ask Team Grotta, they’ll figure it out.”
Not that it was exclusively a PC Magazine thing. Other editors and clients took it up, as did conference and workshop organizers and, eventually, readers.
When I look back, I sometimes feel that Daniel and I were the last to hear the sobriquet. But we were delighted when we realized what a nice compliment it was to who we were professionally and personally, how well we worked together and how others had learned to depend on us.
Team Grotta. I’ll never know if it spread out virally from one person’s dubbing of the two of us as a single well-tuned entity. Or was it an outgrowth of the nature of our relationship which was evident to anyone who saw us together? Heck, a number of years ago, a young couple with whom we used to square dance told us that their toddler son thought that “DanielSally” was one name. Read More
During 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
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
In an interview for Ivory Owl Reviews, the first question Rhiannon asked was about my writing routine. Here’s the answer I gave her:
“Whenever possible, I try to devote my mornings to writing, though life often intervenes.
“The first draft of any novel or short story is me telling myself a story, listening carefully to the characters who become my constant companions. I am often surprised by a plot twist or sudden veering within the dialog, but I hold tight and enjoy the ride.
“In the second draft, I start to take control over the story and the characters. Often, this is when I introduce sharper, more delineated tension, and fill out the details that give depth.
“In the third draft – well, I usually lose count of the number of rewrites; it’s often in the dozens, if not scores. I work and rework the prose and plot, sculpting the personalities and histories, refining and polishing the story, while making sure every word I use is the one I really meant.
Writers are often divided into two camps:Read More
Memories and dreams
What we hold
In our minds
In our hearts
As we stand Janus-like
At the cusp of the year.
Life lived back to back
To beyond the now
Remembering the past
Stepping into the future
To whatever comes
Poem (c) by Sally Wiener Grotta
How appropriate that the symbol of the new year is Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and endings, of time past and to come. We imagine that he will stand at once more at the stroke of midnight as 2013 ends and 2014 begins, with one face gazing into what has come before, while the other focuses, dreamy eyed, onto the future.
Looking back on the past twelve months of our lives, the view is so very different from what it was as we experienced it. Sally likes to say that the defining aspect of our personal and professional world is creative chaos. She has that right. Every morning we’re awaken by Watson, our Golden Retriever, to a new adventure, never knowing what will happen that day, or how much of our ever-growing ToDo list will get done. At night, as we fall into our bed, we are certain that we got very little done.
Yet, as we gaze Janus-like at 2013, we are surprised at all that has happened in the long run, as we simply did our best to live each day fully. Here are some of the highlights of 2013 in the Wiener Grotta household.
One of our proudest moments of the year was when our Dad, Noel J. Wiener, was honored for his service in WWII, as the last remaining officer of SHAEFheadquarters. That was General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Europe.Read More
This week, I was invited by Chrissy at Every Free Chance to recount how Daniel and I create and work in our shared fantasy world of Black Bear, Pennsylvania, where we both are setting novels and stories.
“Welcome to Black Bear, Pennsylvania. Similar to so many small towns you’ve known, driven through or possibly even lived in, Black Bear has a Main Street dotted with local businesses (active and defunct). Marge at Good Taste whips up the best hot fudge sundae you’ll ever have. Buck’s has been spruced up and modernized in recent years, and is now a franchised supermarket (though not as super as those you’d find in big city or suburban shopping centers). Grampa Schmoyer’s drugstore was driven out of business by the Rite-Aid that opened up in nearby Hamlin, about fifteen years ago. It’s now a charity consignment shop, run by the two local churches and the tiny new synagogue. And the old elementary school, where “everyone’s” grandparents went, is a boarded up derelict building where kids are warned not to venture. Schoolchildren are now bussed out of town….”
To read the rest of this essay about Daniel’s and my creative relationship and our personal writing processes, click here: The Grottas’ Literary Folie aux Deux .
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