Hope you liked the last author interview - because I got ANOTHER one for you! Pixel Hall Press's own Sally Wiener Grotta very kindly stopped by to do a little interview and tell us about her new book The Winter Boy - and she even provided a little except of it! Let's not waste any more time and get down to the interview. Enjoy!
Thank you for taking the time to appear on my blog. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself?
Thank you for inviting me, Dan.
I’ve made my living as a freelance writer and photographer for my decades-spanning career. (I’ve never been on staff anywhere, though I’ve been a Contributing Editor at a number of magazines.) What that means is that I’ve covered a wide range of topics for quite a diverse readership.
If you were to ask me what one word would most fully describe me, I would say “storyteller.” I use words and my camera to explore what I want to understand and what I need to communicate. It’s the conduit I use to connect with others and attempt to make that connection meaningful.
The specifics? I’ve been on assignment for many major publications to all seven continents. I’ve interviewed and photographed hundreds of fascinating or famous (or both) people. And, I’ve been honored that my work has received numerous awards, grants and accolades. But mostly, I’m happy that I’ve been able to make a living at what I love doing most. (For more traditional bios, please go to http://www.grotta.net/events.htm and http://www.amhands.com/AboutSally.)
What first inspired you to get into writing?
I’ve always been a writer… or at least lived for story.
I suppose I could say that my inspiration started with bedtime tales that my mother read to me. Or perhaps it was my grandmother’s stories about her childhood and the years before I came on the scene. What always fascinated me were the people in the stories. How they felt, what they did, why they did it.
As soon as I could string words together onto a page, I was creating stories. As I grew older the stories became more complex, and eventually more refined and meaningful. But only after I learned that writing is more than story and inspiration – that it requires craft, professional acumen and discipline – did I begin to earn a living at it.
Who are your favourite authors?
Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood, Daniel Grotta, Viktor Frankl, Shakespeare, Michael Swanwick, Mary Doria Stewart, so many others.
I love discovering new authors. Recently, I read a wonderful book by Delia Sherman that transported me to the days before the American Civil War, and allowed me to see the South through a very different perspective than I ever had. That sense of experiencing something/someone new is part of the adventure of reading.
Do you have any other hobbies other than writing or is that your whole world?
I have no real hobbies. When I’m not doing assignment writing or managing my career, I’m working on my fiction, creating photographic portraits, mounting exhibits, etc. I’m not really a workaholic. I simply love my work and would rather create stories and pictures than do anything else.
My leisure activities include taking walks along the stream behind our house with my husband, the author Daniel Grotta, and Watson, our Golden Retriever, swimming occasionally, and of course, reading. While Daniel and I walk, we often discuss and brainstorm our stories.
Do you have a particular favourite genre to write in?
I don’t consider genre when I’m writing. I simply create the story that needs to be told. That’s why my novels and short stories tend to not fit neatly into the zeroes and ones of digital marketing. In terms of character-driven plots, I have literary tendencies. But I also enjoy exploring otherliness and imagined worlds, which are tropes usually found in science fiction and fantasy. A number of reviewers and readers have called my most recent book “The Winter Boy” literary speculative fiction, though others see elements of a political thriller and coming of age story.
Not all my fiction has speculative elements. My last novel “Jo Joe” was set in a Pennsylvania mountain village and dealt with the very real world issues of prejudice, the ethnic/racial divide and family misunderstandings.
I like the designation “interstitial” – art that exists in the between spaces (http://www.interstitialarts.org). The image I have of interstitial is a hallway of doors that open up onto a number of categories, taking from each what is necessary to create the story as it should be rather than trying to fit it to a template of something that has already been done.
Without giving away too many spoilers, can you tell the nice people us a little bit about your new/upcoming book?
My newest novel is “The Winter Boy,” which was just published (November 6th) by Pixel Hall Press (check out an exerpt HERE)
Here’s the basic blurb: 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.
Where did you get the inspirations for this?
My answer to this question could wander the compass, taking us in any direction you want. That’s because my influences come from just about everything and everyone I have encountered, read, or experienced.
I could say that it starts with people. Characters pop into my mind, fully formed, with histories, names, and a very specific problem. At the same time, I usually know the first sentence of their story and how that story will end. (All the rest is negotiation with the characters in my head, which can take years to fulfil.)
Where do these characters come from? I really don’t know. Or maybe I should say, I really don’t want to analyze too closely how they come to me. The process works for me, so I would rather not overthink it.
On the other hand, I can state quite clearly the source of the themes of my fiction and the context of the plot. It starts with questions I have about how the world functions and the way people treat each other. The questions can come from some of my more personal concerns, such as why a friend or stranger might suddenly lash out at a misspoken word. Or it might develop out of my befuddlement about war, terrorism, bigotry, and such.
I write to try to understand, to hope to tease out some solutions – or at least, instigate discussions about why? why not? what if? how? I put characters I learn to love into difficult, if not impossible situations, and sit back to see what I can discover from how they try to dig themselves out of their problems.
Do you have any favourite characters in the story?
That’s like asking which child is your favourite. I love them all.
ME: Good answer ;)
In “The Winter Boy,” Rishana/Tayar is perhaps the closest to me, with her heartbreak when she realizes that her faith in her world and the people she loves is too idealistic, that they are much less and much more than she once believed.
I deeply empathize with Ryl/Dov’s unfocused need to rebel against structure and rules that he doesn’t understand. I ache for his sense of not belonging anywhere and delight in his vitality and charisma.
Impish Kaith, with her ancient knowledge and child-like sense of wonder, flits through my mind, teasing and teaching me.
Dara, Savah, Hester, Kiv and the other women of The Valley fascinate me, with their political intrigues, passions and sharp intellects – as do the men of their circles.
No, I couldn’t choose a favourite; I enjoy the company of all of them, and I miss them now that “The Winter Boy” has left home to go out into the world.
If your book was turned into a film/TV series, who would you get to play the characters? Do you have a favourite director you would choose for this?
I think I’ll pass on this question, and hope that someday it may become an issue. (Not that I would have a say in casting any movie based on my fiction. Still, it’s a fun fantasy.)
Fair enough. Which, in your opinion is more important – story or characters?
Without plot, without a story arc or a framework in which the reader is taken through problems or situations to a hoped-for resolution, a novel has no real reason to exist.
But it’s the characters who create and live the story and make it come alive for the reader (and the author).
What do you look for in a good story?
To be awed and transported by excellent writing, characters I can’t forget, and a plot line that resonates, giving it meaning.
What’s the best advice you can give to authors?
Write and then write some more. Rewrite more than you write. Read aloud what you’ve written to hear the sounds and rhythms of your prose and dialog. Then rewrite again... and again.
When your editor asks you to change something, listen to her/him. Maybe they are correct in what they want you to put in the place of what is there. Maybe it’s simply that what you have in that portion of your story isn’t strong enough to express your vision, so they’re trying to help you fill in the holes. Whichever it is, you need to look closely at that portion, and make sure it is the best you can write.
And read everything you can get your hands on, not just in your own genre, but a full spectrum of styles and textures.
Ok, now for the REAL questions of the interview – and these are real life or death here! The fate of the world rests on this question and could cause a time collapse that will wipe out all life in the Universe. So think carefully before you answer. What DOES the Fox say?
Whatever Fox says, it’s usually twisted. I try to listen, because I believe in hearing opposing views, and it might be grist for my stories. But I almost always end up turning the channel.
Oh wait, you were asking about the fox with the furry tail?
Er, yeah. It was a reference to the song What Does The Fox Say? Never mind. Why did the chicken cross the road?
That depends on what the road is, doesn’t it? Is it a path, a barrier, a portal? I suppose if I were a chicken, I would answer that I have to cross the road to see what adventure lay (yes, lay, it’s a chicken, right?) over the horizon. But given that I have yet to understand chickenish, I can’t say what’s in the bird’s brain.
Now that IS a deep thinking answer to an ancient proverb. How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?
Are you talking metric or English measurements?
ME: Never mind... XD
Thanks to Sally for a very interesting and inspiring interview - especially in the last questions!
If you wish to follow Sally you can do so at the following links.
YouTube: Sally Wiener Grotta
Thanks again to Sally for joining me today. Authors, want to be interviewed or have a guest post? Please get in touch with me.