Today I'd like to welcome Daniel Grotta to Pure Jonel.
Let's have a chat with him.
A - I have been a fulltime freelance writer for over 40 years. During that time, I've worn many hats -- photojournalist, war correspondent, investigative reporter, biographer, feature writer, columnist, editor, travel writer, music critic, book reviewer, and technology journalist. And most recently, a novelist. My literary evolution has reflected both changing markets and my own personal predilections and interests. Having spent most of my professional life writing and reflecting the thoughts and actions of others, I now want to explore my own ideas and imagination, hence my desire to tell tales and spin stories that originate from inside my head.
Q ~ What are your biggest influences in life? Who are your biggest supporters?
A - I'm influenced by the people I know, the environment I live in, the experiences I have had, and the great and small issues of the day that enthrall or frighten this country. My wife, the author Sally Wiener Grotta, is my biggest supporter, of course, as well as professional collaborator in all by my non-fiction writing.
Q ~ What prompted or inspired you to write these stories? Are any of them rooted in some sort of truth?
A - Actually, I wrote these stories about fifteen years ago in one creative spurt. We had recently purchased an old Masonic lodge which we converted into our home and studio. Between our building and Wallenpaupack Creek are two small cemeteries. The historic flood of '55 knocked down all the tombstones and scattered many of the bodies; it was later reconstructed by memory (all records of who was actually buried where were lost). One day, walking through the cemeteries, I wondered if the inhabitants would remain disturbed by having their eternal rest so violently uprooted. This led to my writing "Dead and Buried." Then, over the next two months, I wrote other stories set in the fantastical village of Haven (long before the TV series by the same name), with the chief protagonist being, not any individual, but the village itself - a place that takes care of its own.
Q ~ Do you believe in ghosts? If yes, do you have any theories as to why they became ghosts?
A - No, I do not. To paraphrase William James' famous axiom - "the existence of one white crow proves that no all crows are black" - I have yet to see a white crow, or a ghost. It may be comforting to believe in ghosts, but without verifiable, empirical evidence, it's an intellectually impossible endeavor. As to why people become ghosts, the most popular theory is that the departed left something undone that must have resolution before moving on.
Q ~ Where is the line between the fantastic and reality? Is it a solid line or a grey area?
A - All life is grey. I don't think there is a demarcation between fantasy and reality. It's more like lines between different realities. Fantasy is our wistful - or fearful - interpretation and extrapolation of reality. It's always precluded by 'what if," which is the beginning of any story.
Q ~ Seven From Haven has been described as gentle, literary paranormal. How does this compare to more traditional, popular ghost or horror stories?
A - I don't like horror stories, and am especially turned off by that popular trio of non-existent adversaries -- vampires, werewolves and zombies. Their focus on blood, gore, and extreme fear - all negative responses and results of forces beyond or control and imagination – are the antithesis of my style of storytelling. But good ghost stories that make you think, and even hope, that there is something beyond the grave, some hope of survival and somehow gives us a second chance at life, an opportunity to set things right, to be good, appeal to me. I wrote these "what if" stories to reflect a certain abstract, benevolent power that can somehow intercede for us to put things right. In Haven, that power is the village itself.
Q ~ You have an extensive professional background as a war correspondent, investigative reporter and journalist. Is there anything in your experiences as a reporter that influences your fiction? Any anecdotes you’d care to share with us?
A - Oddly, none of my stories are directly influenced by my real life experiences, though indirectly, everything I am and think and do are reflections of where I came from. So far, I've never published anything that reflects where I've been or what I've done. I have never set any stories in Biafra or Bangladesh, Northern Ireland or the Middle East, where in my youth I experienced the worst humanity has foisted upon itself. Nor have I incorporated any of my features articles on so-called paranormal activity - séances, fortune tellers, psychics, mind control, UFOlogy, and so on. My Haven tales come completely from my imagination, and maybe, a little whistful thinking, which I am sure is subconsciously influenced by all that I have seen and reported.
Q ~ As the first biographer of J.R.R. Tolkien, are you influenced by him in your writing? If so, in what way?
A - I am inspired rather than influenced by Tolkien. As C.S. Lewis once said to Tolkien, after a particularly spirited (contentious) session of their literary group, the Inklings, in which Tolkien continued to read his latest portion of The Lord of the Rings while ignoring the sometimes raucous interruptions and comments of his fellow writers - "Tolkien - you're uninfluenceable!" Tolkien’s storytelling ability is one of those touchstones that all writers (whether or not they are involved in fantasy or the fantastical) would aspire to. However, I have full belief in the value of the editing process which Tolkien resisted. Over the years, I have had and continue to have some very capable, helpful editors who have helped me fine-tune and publish my work.
Q ~ What are you working on now?
A – I’ve just finished a YA novel – “Adam V” (http://www.pixelhallpress.com/adamv.html), which is in the hands of my editor, who is preparing it for publication. (In fact, it will be ready for beta readers in about another month.) While I await feedback from my editor on “Adam V”, I am writing my second novel set in the fictional town of Black Bear, Pennsylvania, an environment that my wife Sally and I co-created as a literary “folie et deux.”(We share the town and its characters, but are writing very different stories set with the village.) Called “Black Bear One,” it's about a subject for which I have extensive first-hand experience - a small town volunteer ambulance corps. While the story is fiction, many of the issues raised - recruiting and training volunteers, competition with for-profit ambulance companies, frictions and romance among the volunteers, what happens on typical and exceptional ambulance calls - I've adapted from my own experience. “Black Bear One” will be published in 2014.
Q ~ Do you have any advice for those who would like to begin writing professionally?
A - Don't give up your day job. But seriously, if you want to write… write. Don’t just talk about it, do it every day. And read everything you can, to learn from the authors who have come before you. Be influenceable.
And now, let's take a look at one of Daniel's works, which is perfect for Halloween.
Title: Seven from Haven
Author: Daniel Grotta
Published: October 31st 2012 by Pixel Hall Press
Page Count: 167
Shelf: Review Copy
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set in a small Pennsylvania mountain village, where strange and wondrous things happen, Seven from Haven are quirky, fantastical short stories which prove what they say about this town: ”Haven takes care of its own.”
You get to know the characters of these various stories quite well considering the short length of each story. Grotta only provides you with the details necessary for their role while focusing on the story in question as a whole.
This novel is definitely perfect for Halloween, especially for those who enjoy the holiday without the scariness. Grotta has created the perfect balance between spooky and funny.