Interview with Sally Wiener Grotta, author of The Winter Boy

author interviews

Today, I have Sally Wiener Grotta stopping by to talk about her book, THE WINTER BOY (which my best bookish friend, Rhiannon @ Ivory Owl Reviews just LOVED!)

Sally is here to talk about characters, next books and much more. But enough from me- here’s Sally!

Sally, can you tell the readers of Traveling With T a bit about THE WINTER BOY?

THE WINTER BOY is a set in the politically charged atmosphere of a literate, but non-technical society in which a group of widows (called the Alleshi) have taken charge, forging peace out of chaos by mentoring the young men who will one day become the leaders of their villages. The protagonist, Rishana, has just joined the Alleshi, and the narrative follows the winter season she spends training Ryl, her first boy. Rishana starts out believing in all the lofty ideals the Alleshi stand for, but no sooner does her first season commence than the Peace is challenged by a violent enemy and inner conflicts. What’s more, the young Allesha begins to suspect that not all of the people she loves are worthy of her trust– including her Winter Boy, Ryl.

I am honored that THE WINTER BOY is being compared to fiction by Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin, for (among other reasons) its genre-crossing style of storytelling that has relevance to real-world concerns and crises.


Where did you draw inspiration for your characters in THE WINTER BOY?

As PD James said, “Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.”

My inspirations come from everything and everybody I have ever known, read, seen or imagined to be. In other words, my fictional characters spring from the simmering caldron that is my mind. A piece of conversation here, a personality tick there…  A run-in with a disagreeable man in a supermarket might find a home in the heart of a kind stranger who helped me at a gas station pump.

Who is Rishana, the protagonist of THE WINTER BOY? I recognize parts of her that must have come from women I have known and women I might have been had I lived another life. But when all the bits and pieces were put together, she became her own self, someone whom I enjoyed getting to know. The same is true of all my fictional characters.

You might be interested in a blog post ( I recently wrote about the characters who live in my head, telling me the stories I write.


How do you balance your work/writing schedule?

Writing is my work. I’ve made my living as a freelance writer and photographer for my entire career. That isn’t to say that I can write my fiction all day, every day. My articles, essays and other non-fiction writing help pay the bills.

However, when I’m not working on my fiction, I lose an important part of myself.  I need to write my novels and short stories as much as I need to eat or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. In other words, it isn’t really a balance but a compulsion that keeps me going.

Having said that, I do try (and often fail) to time manage my days. In the morning, I schedule when I will work on the various tasks that need to be accomplished: dealing with email, working on any current article assignment(s), creating my fine art photography for the next exhibit, preparing for personal appearances — even when I’ll participate on Facebook and Twitter. Most importantly, I slot a specific time when I will work on my fiction. The problem is that life can and does intervene. So, I seldom get everything done in a day that I planned that morning. In fact, I often lament that my To Do list appears to be inevitably longer in the evening, no matter how hard I work. But I do try to write every day even if for only a half hour. (A great day is when I can give three to five hours to writing and editing my fiction.)


Do you have a favorite type of character that you prefer to write about?

I need to understand the full-textured personality of a character. Everybody has a wide range of layers to their personalities, which involves their histories, relationships, experiences and perspectives. More importantly, no real individual exists who doesn’t have inherent contradictions, being drawn to act one way in response to certain circumstances and in an entirely different manner at another time though the circumstances may seem nearly identical. Even my so-called villains aren’t completely evil, but real people whose passions or misunderstandings or personal flaws drive them to do bad things. Those are the kind of people who fascinate me.

In other words, I try to not write “types of characters.” Instead, I explore the relationships between characters and how those relationships develop and alter over time and experience – and how they affect and change each person.

How involved were you, Sally, in the process of picking out the book cover for THE WINTER BOY?

Over the years that I developed and wrote THE WINTER BOY, I had in mind the image of a woman’s hands offering a flower with a pearl hidden among the petals.  It captures the greeting gesture of the Alleshi, with its sense of a gift being offered – and of course, the sexual and sensual overtones inherent in such symbolism. However, I was surprised and delighted to see how it all came together from that original idea to the final cover from Pixel Hall Press.

My bookish buddy, Rhiannon @ Ivory Owl Reviews has been raving about THE WINTER BOY for weeks. How does such praise feel to you as the author of the book?

It means the world to me.

I sometimes describe the experience of having your book published like that of a mother who has given her heart and soul to raising her daughter, trying to prepare her for the world. Then suddenly, the girl is all grown up and headed to her first prom. As she watches her child leave for the party, the mother knows (as any mother world) that her daughter is beautiful and brilliant, dressed in the gown that she spent so much time creating just for that moment, and she prays, “Please let someone ask her to dance!”

To have Rhiannon and others love my books gives substance to my dream of connecting with readers through my stories. I hope they will perhaps see things a bit differently through their experience with the characters and tales I’ve created. And maybe, just maybe, they will enjoy the dance with me.

By the way, I love hearing from readers, and whenever possible, I’m always happy to try to coordinate my schedule to chat with book discussion groups (sometimes in person, but also via Skype or Google Hangout). Hearing how my novels affected others – that they made a lasting impact at all – is a delight. What’s more, their questions and insights can be thought-provoking and energizing. That kind of feedback (like the enthusiasm that Rhiannon has shown for THE WINTER BOY) helps me keep going through the difficult times (what writer doesn’t have difficult times?), as I continue to write new stories.


Have you begun working on your next book? If so, can you reveal anything about it?

Currently, I have about six novels in various stages of development. I believe that the first one that will be finished is “Dream A Little World” which is a young adult speculative novel. It’s about a girl who is convinced she can create entire worlds by imagining them into being, though only men are supposed to have that talent.

Another is “Woof. A Love Story” a literary novel set in the same Pennsylvania mountain village as my novel “Jo Joe” ( “Woof” is about a recent widow who must deal with the unruly puppy her husband adopted against her wishes.

“Sex Witch” will carry the story of “The Winter Boy” further, though I plan to make it a stand alone book, so that readers can delve into each novel without having to read the other first. “Sex Witch” will include another side of the story from the point of view of the Mwertik Zalogs (the murdering raiders who are intent on destroying the Alleshine society), plus others who were just touched on in “The Winter Boy”, such as Ryl’s girlfriend Lilla.

Other stories are simmering. I often awaken in the middle of the night by yet another new character clamoring for me to write his or her tale. My fictional friends plan to keep me busy for years to come.


the winter boy

Provided by author

Like Sally’s interview? Find her out on the world wide web: Twitter, website and Goodreads.

Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,

T @ Traveling With T

T Traveling With T pic sign off


2 thoughts on “Interview with Sally Wiener Grotta, author of The Winter Boy

  1. writerrhiannon says:

    Love this post so much!! I really loved this book and am so looking forward to Sally’s next releases. I felt transported to another world that was not exactly dystopian but so difficult to put my finger on and describe other than to say I enjoyed it so much.

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