November 6th 2014 sees the book release of The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta, a beautiful speculative fiction book I read in September of this year from Netgalley. Sally Wiener Grotta’s writing has been described as “reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin.” (Bookwatch Reviewer’s Choice)
This is the first time I have been asked to participate in a book launch and I loved this book so much I couldn’t be happier to spotlight it today. I hope you will also give this book a chance to enchant your imagination. Regular readers of my blog know that I do not indulge much in fantasy books, but The Winter Boy goes beyond fantasy as a genre, asking provocative questions about society and I was absorbed by this emotionally involving read.
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.
Author Interview with Sally Wiener Grotta.
How did you get the idea for the premise for “The Winter Boy”?
All speculative fiction – well, I guess all fiction – begins with the question “What if?” I often add “Why?” and “How?” I have difficulties understanding our world. For instance: Why is there hate and war? What if I could wipe the earth of all our past, and start over, creating a new culture and economy designed to foment peace rather than war? Would it make a difference if such a civilization were founded, defined and developed by women rather than men? What would that world look like? How would it function? What would be its weakness and strengths?
However, while those are some of the underlying concerns and questions that compelled me to write “The Winter Boy,” like all my stories, it started with the people who populate this world. I’ve been living with Rishana/Tayar and Ryl/Dov for so very long that I don’t really remember the first time they entered my consciousness. But I know that, like all my fictional characters, they were born in my mind as full-blown flesh-and-blood individuals. I knew who they are and what the central problems were that drove them to tell me their stories.
So “The Winter Boy” started with Rishana. A comparatively young widow who has led a safe, privileged life until the day that her husband’s frozen brutalized body was carried home to her on a slab of wood.
That was the beginning: An idealistic woman who believes with all her soul in the righteousness and surety of the Alleshine civilization – a centuries-old society that works to bring the benefits of a war-free existence (with all the prosperity it offers) to an ever-increasing circle of peace. She makes a commitment to her vision of everything that is right in her world. But can any society, any person ever live up to the perfectionism that we can build in our minds about them? People – and cultures – are human. As such, we’re frail, make mistakes, have our good points and bad, with lots of grey in between. What happens when such a woman has to confront the reality, the clay feet of the people she has blindly, whole-heartedly believed in?
Then there’s Ryl. In many ways, he’s the complete opposite of Rishana. A troubled youth, Ryl has a knack for getting into trouble, for being unruly and undisciplined. He’s never felt at home anywhere, and had learned at an early age that he was more comfortable “being alone to feeling so alone in the middle of everything.”
Naturally, I had to get the two of them together, and see what sparks would fly – and how each would be changed by their season together.
I found reading “The Winter Boy” equivalent to an emotional ride reminding me of elements of my coming of age. Was it equally affecting to write?
As Red Smith said (though sometimes Hemingway is given the credit), “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Writing a book like “The Winter Boy” requires cutting to the quick, reaching deep into your soul, and flaying it open. So yes, it was an emotional ride to write it. What’s more, when it isn’t as fully consuming, when it doesn’t involve pouring my soul into the narrative, I know that what I have written doesn’t ring true, isn’t the honest expression that it needs to be… and that means yet another rewrite until I am laughing and crying with my characters, and feeling deep within myself whatever they are feeling.
The characters of my world live within me, affecting what I feel and think, how I see the world around me. As bereft as any reader might feel after turning the last page of a good book, I can actually feel something akin to postpartum depression when I finish writing a story that has been my constant companion. That’s why I always need to have another story ready and waiting to be told so it might fill the void.
I found it very hard to define “The Winter Boy” in terms of genre. Where do you place it and why?
I didn’t think of genre while creating “The Winter Boy.” I wrote the story that needed to be told, crafting it to be the best I could make of it with no regard for reader expectations based on genre.
It is definitely speculative fiction; many are calling it literary speculative fiction. While it isn’t fantasy or pure science fiction, it uses tropes from both, such as an imaginary world/society that is unlike anything in our real world. Some reviewers have mentioned that it has elements of a thriller, too. It’s definitely political in nature, with references to some important social, economic and political issues that will be familiar to readers from our daily newspaper headlines.
I’m honored that “The Winter Boy” has been compared to work by Margaret Atwood, who tends to blurs the lines between genres, too.
Will there be another book in the series?
Yes. The next one will be called “Sex Witch,” and it will include action (and point of view) from the Mwertik Zalogs (the perceived enemies in “The Winter Boy”), plus give Lilla (Ryl’s estranged fiancé) a voice, though much of the narrative will continue to focus on Rishana/Tayar and Ryl/Dov.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot out of me to write such an all-encompassing novel; so “Sex Witch” won’t be published for a couple of years. In the meantime, I am finishing up a new YA speculative fiction novel, “Dream A Little World,” as well as working on others. (I usually have several stories in the works at any one time.)
I would like to thank Sally for taking the time to answer my questions and wish her the very best for this book launch. There is also a Rafflecopter giveaway of a signed copy of The Winter Boy. Please enter to win this wonderful book.
Sally Wiener Grotta (author, editor, photographer & storyteller) has written 1,000s of articles, columns, essays and reviews for scores of glossy magazines, newspapers, journals and online publications, plus numerous books. Her fiction includes the critically acclaimed novel “Jo Joe” & the just-published “The Winter Boy.” Her “American Hands” photo project has received about 40 grants. An American Society of Journalists & Authors member & former chapter president of American Society of Media Photographers, Sally is a frequent speaker at conferences, schools and other organizations on storytelling, creativity, photography, writing and the publishing industry. She is also an advocate for author’s rights and speaks often on the business of writing and how to manage a successful freelance career. (http://www.Grotta.net http://www.AmHands.com) Sally welcomes invitations to participate in discussions with book clubs (occasionally in person, more often via Skype, Google Hangout, or phone), and to do occasional readings.
Readers are quite welcome to connect directly with Sally, who really enjoys chatting about books, reading, art and all manner of things with other bibliophiles. Here are her links:
Click here to read my Advance Book Review of The Winter Boy