Q & A with author Sally Wiener Grotta

You have a very distinguished writing portfolio, what inspired you to become a writer?

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 all are at this point.

I began writing professionally a couple of decades ago, first in dual bylines with my husband Daniel Grotta (who was very well established as an author, critic and journalist long before we met). Then little by little, on my own. With each article, review, feature, column and eventually book, I honed my skills, thanks to some great editors. But that was all non-fiction. My stories remained within me, chomping to get out, waiting for me to be ready to write them.

Once I started writing fiction, I couldn't stop. What inspires me? Questions I have about the human condition. People I have known. Histories I have read, places I have visited, dreams I remember, a future I hope for or dread. In other words, everything is grist for my stories. I absorb all I see, hear and feel, digest it fully, and let it feed me.

On the days I don’t write, I feel that a part of me has shriveled up and become lost. When I write, I am fully alive and never alone.

Your novels have characters that really dive into the human character and psyche so effortlessly. Your latest, The Winter Boy, is no exception. What or who inspired them?

Thank you for that very nice compliment, Michelle. The characters in my novels and short stories are very real to me. They come to me not as ideas but as flesh-and-blood individuals with very human foibles and dreams. They have glaring faults which may prove to be tragic or opportunities for growth – or both. But they also have hearts that feel deeply; they can choose to be kind, generous or angry and hate-filled – or, again, both.

I feel that characters that are pasted into a story to fill a purpose or represent an idea can end up reading like stick figures. But when you live with your characters and listen to them carefully, the story they live and help you create can be honest, heartfelt and entirely human, with all the natural inherent contradictions that people are.

The Winter Boy, is a very different type of story than as we read in Jo Joe.  Do you plan on exploring other genres?

I never think of genre when I’m writing. I simply write the story that needs to be written, without thought of how it might be slotted. I’ve never really learned how to color between the lines. But I’m told that I’m in good company; I’m honored that The Winter Boy has been compared to other genre-blurring writers such as Margaret Atwood.  Some reviewers have called it literary speculative fiction. It definitely has elements of fantasy and science fiction, in particular the imaginary world. Some have said it’s also a bit of a thriller, or a coming of age tale. I’m not sure where it belongs. All I knew was that I needed to write the story.

I have several other books in the works, which fall into other genres. Dream A Little World is a speculative novel from the point of view of a young woman coming of age in a dystopian world, so I guess it might be considered young adult or new adult. Woof, a Love Story is another book set in the same village of Black Bear, Pennsylvania as Jo Joe was. Sex Witch will explore the same imagined world as The Winter Boy. I’m even currently doing the research for The Minyan, about a woman’s Torah study group in Black Bear, but I won’t be ready to start writing that for several years.

And, yes, I am working on all of those (and other stories) somewhat concurrently. I expect Dream A Little World to be the first one finished, but it will be up to my agent and potential publishers what will be published first.

Besides being a talented writer, what seems to be your other love is photography. Do you feel that has strengthened your craft as a writer?

Definitely. I write with a photographer’s eye and photograph with a writer’s soul, seeking the small sensory details that define and highlight a moment, bringing it into fine focus. That’s why my American Hands photo project (www.AmHands.com) is considered narrative portraiture, and readers often comment that reading my fiction is a visual experience.

You might be interested in a short piece I wrote a while back: “What Photography Has Taught Me About Writing… and Vice Versa.”  (http://www.grotta.net/blog.htm?post=907183).

I haven’t come across many writing teams that are married. Working with your husband, do you find that because of that, it enhances the cohesive elements of the characters working so well together?

I will spend a lifetime exploring all that I have learned through my relationship with Daniel on both a personal and professional level. He is my muse and my toughest critic, encouraging me to dig deeper, write stronger, mine a richer vein of ideas.

While other couples might argue over whose turn it is to take out the trash or wash the dishes, our arguments – or at least very heated discussions – are over split infinitives, the Harvard comma and the use of an adverb instead of adjective.  But in the final analysis, ours is the ultimate creative relationship. We synthesize or brainstorm ideas and story twists almost daily. At the end of every writing day, we read aloud to each other. I find that hearing the words I’ve written gives me a completely different perspective. While Daniel may interrupt me with suggestions or tweaks, I often stop myself, to quickly jot down a note or even rush back to my computer to completely rewrite a paragraph or entire section. Then, when a manuscript is ready, Daniel and I edit each other’s work before any of the “official” editors see it.

So, yes, my relationship with Daniel is integral to what, how and who I write. But it might be nearly impossible for me to draw individual lines of causality in a few words.

There are many authors who have seemed to shy away from social media. As someone who seems very active through the different channels, what are your thoughts on how it affects authors?

While I try to keep things professional in my social networking, I find that the benefits are highly personal. I look forward to the daily connections with such a diverse group of thinkers, doers, laughers. In addition, it’s one of the many ways that I enjoy interacting with readers.

Writing is a comparatively solitary experience. It’s very healthy to keep one eye on the world and on real people. Social networking allows me to stay in touch without leaving my studio. So, I can give a half hour to being on Facebook, and still put in a full day of writing.

On the other hand, it’s easy to get lost in social networking, because of the immediate gratification that is otherwise denied authors (and other artists) who must wait months or years to receive validation about their work. So, it is important to be disciplined about how long you’ll allow yourself to wander through the photos and cartoons and pithy posts.

By the way, I welcome your readers to connect with me on social media:

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/SallyWienerGrotta

Twitter: @SallyWGrotta

Google+: google.com/+SallyWienerGrotta

 If you could be the original author of any book, what would it be and why?

I don’t really have an answer for that. While I love so many books, I really don’t wish I had written them. I have enough of my own stories that I need to tackle within one lifetime. I fear not getting all of them written. So my truly honest answer to your question would be my next novel and the next one after that.

For someone who has had accredited success, what advice can you give to those who have moments where they want to give up?

The only secret to writing is to write. Worrying about whether you can do it (or whether your book will ever be read) is something to relegate to late at night, when you’re too tired to do anything else. All other times, ignore those dark thoughts. Or recognize them, accept them, then push through regardless.

Today, on Facebook, I reposted the following from SparksofHope.org: “On particular [sic] rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100% - and that’s pretty good!” (Author unknown.)

When I’m not writing, I can be wracked with doubts. But when I write, when I put my hand on the keyboard and let things rip, I become alive and sure.

If you want to write. Don’t think about writing. Don’t dream about writing. Write.

About the Book

The Valley of the Alleshi is the center of all civilization, the core and foundation of centuries of peace. A cloistered society of widows, the Alleshi, has forged a peace by mentoring young men who will one day become the leaders of the land. Each boy is paired with a single Allesha for a season of intimacy and learning, using time-honored methods that include dialog, reason and sexual intimacy. However, unknown to all but a hidden few, the peace is fracturing from pressures within and beyond, hacking at the very essence of their civilization.

Amidst this gathering political maelstrom, Rishana, a young new idealistic Allesha, takes her First Boy, Ryl, for a winter season of training. But Ryl is a “problem boy” who fights Rishana every step of the way. At the same time, Rishana uncovers a web of conspiracies that could not only destroy Ryl, but threatens to tear their entire society apart. And a winter that should have been a gentle, quiet season becomes one of conflict, anger and danger.

Print Length: 497 pages
Publisher: Pixel Hall Press (November 6, 2014)