Spotlight: Jo Joe by Sally Wiener Grotta (spotlight, guest post, giveaway)

Jo Joe coverJo Joe
written by Sally Wiener Grotta
published by Pixel Hall Press

find it here: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Book Depository, Goodreads

About the book: Jo Joe is a mystery of the heart about Judith Ormond, a young mixed race Jewish woman. Seventeen years earlier, violence and hatred drove Judith away from the small Pennsylvania village where she was raised by her white Christian grandparents. Only with the death of her beloved grandmother and the need to settle the family estate does she reluctantly break her vow to never return. During the one week visit, she’s forced to deal with her first love who cruelly broke her heart and is menaced by an old enemy who threatens new brutalities. But when she uncovers a long-hidden secret, Judith is forced to look anew at the bigotry and betrayal that scarred her childhood.

Every Free Chance Book Reviews is pleased to welcome Sally Wiener Grotta, author of Jo Joe, to the blog today. She has prepared the following guest post for all of you about the world she and her husband have created for two separate series.

Welcome to Black Bear, Pennsylvania. Similar to so many small towns you’ve known, driven through or possibly even lived in, Black Bear has a Main Street dotted with local businesses (active and defunct). Marge at Good Taste whips up the best hot fudge sundae you’ll ever have. Buck’s has been spruced up and modernized in recent years, and is now a franchised supermarket (though not as super as those you’d find in big city or suburban shopping centers). Grampa Schmoyer’s drugstore was driven out of business by the Rite-Aid that opened up in nearby Hamlin, about fifteen years ago. It’s now a charity consignment shop, run by the two local churches and the tiny new synagogue. And the old elementary school, where “everyone’s” grandparents went, is a boarded up derelict building where kids are warned not to venture. Schoolchildren are now bussed out of town.

The people of Black Bear will be familiar to you, too. Folks like the Schmoyers and Ehrhardts whose families have been here since pioneer days, form the backbone of the town. Newcomers, such as Judith Ormand and Jeff Smith, could live here for decades and would still be considered outsiders by many. While some families, such as the Andersons, are known for their “bad blood,” the people of Black Bear are like the rest of us, neither good nor bad. On some days, in certain situations, they do all the wrong things, hurt people they love, are cruel to strangers. Other times, they are shining examples of kindness, generosity, and neighborliness.

Black Bear, Pennsylvania is a great village to visit. But the only way you’ll ever get there is in your mind, while reading the stories that my husband Daniel Grotta and I are writing.

Black Bear is Daniel’s and my literary folie aux deux – a shared fantasy – that we are creating through our books. No, we are not writing our stories together. In fact, we have very different styles and perspectives. But we are dipping into the same pool of invented locale and characters to write a series of separate stories and novels that will eventually paint a full picture of the diversity of life and relationships in a small mountain village.

Here’s how it works. Once either of us has taken over a character or place for one of our stories, the other has no say in what will happen to her/him/it. The only rules are that the characters must remain true to who they are, with consistent pasts, relationships, and physical attributes. And while we can add to the geography of the town, with new buildings or road names, we can’t change what has already been described (unless that’s part of the plot, such as a catastrophic fire). I believe this is a unique relationship for two authors.

That we happen to be married and live together 24/7 spices things up a bit, personally and professionally. Most of our friends and fans wonder how it is we don’t kill each other. But for Daniel and me, living as close to each other as we do, sharing not only our daily lives but our imaginations, is a rich, fascinating experience. When I first met Daniel, I told him that the one thing I truly hate is being bored. It’s been decades, during which we have written eight non-fiction books together, plus collaborated on well over a 1,000 articles. (If you’re curious about some of the guidelines for a successful collaboration we’ve developed over the years, you might want to read a light-hearted blog we wrote called “Marriage & Collaboration: Strange Bedfellows.” No, I have never been bored. Angry sometimes, sure. It’s a marriage, which by definition will never be perfect. But always energized, inspired, challenged. I’m happiest when I’m creating, and Daniel is a perfect foil to my creativity, as we build on each other’s visions.

And now, we are building a fictional village, brick by brick, one story at a time.

The first Black Bear story was the novella Honor (, written by Daniel. The protagonist of Honor is Jeff Smith, a man so haunted by his past that he is unable to allow anyone to know him fully. Now, he needs to face his traumatic memories from the Vietnam era, in order to help his daughter realize her dream. Honor explores the human cost when patriotism, personal ethics and the deep bond of friendship collide. The theatrical director and scriptwriter David Zarko is currently scripting Honor for a play.

For my novel Jo Joe, I have appropriated Daniel’s characters of Jeff Smith and AH Ehrhardt. To Judith Ormand (the protagonist of Jo Joe), Jeff and AH are not only family, but important touchstones of her childhood and key figures in the book’s plot. Of course, I’ve added people and places. For instance, Black Bear never had a synagogue before, and Rabbi David and his wife Rebecca are very recent newcomers.

Daniel just finished a Y/A novel Adam V ( and has sent it off to his editor; it will be published in early 2014. Adam V is the first-person diary of a spoiled brat of a boy forced to grow up fast, if he is to survive. Twelve-year-old Adam William Mathison V hides out on an isolated farm outside Black Bear, and has very little interaction with the folks of the town, other than Marge at Good Taste (a character and place Daniel added). However, by the end of the book, the tapestry of Black Bear has a stronger weave with new threads that one of us will pick up (or pick at) in future books.

The next two books in the Black Bear series will be Black Bear One by Daniel, an action-packed, character-rich pastiche of life in a small town volunteer ambulance corps, and Woof! a love story by me, about a bitter woman recently widowed and stuck with a foster service puppy. Daniel tells me he has some plans for Rabbi David in Black Bear One that I’m not too happy about, but I can’t object. David is now in Daniel’s realm, to do with as his book’s plot requires – as long as David remains the same man as he is in Jo Joe.

We have other Black Bear stories in the works, which will keep us busy for years to come. However, since we make our living as writers, we naturally have other projects beyond our shared fictional village. My next novel (scheduled to be published in late 2013) is The Winter Boy (, which is as far from Black Bear as you can get.

I hope you enjoy reading Jo Joe and our other Black Bear, Pennsylvania stories. And when/if you do read them, please let us know what you think. We love hearing from readers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout the author:  An award-winning journalist and author, Sally Wiener Grotta is the consummate storyteller. Her work reflects her deep humanism and appreciation for the poignancy of life. Ms. Grotta has written many hundreds of articles, columns and reviews for scores of glossy magazines, newspapers and online publications; plus, she has co-authored numerous non-fiction books. Her short fiction has been published in the North Atlantic Review.

Find Ms. Grotta here: web, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube

About Pixel Hall Press: Pixel Hall Press is a relatively new, old-fashioned small publishing house whose focus is on discovering literary gems and great stories that might otherwise be overlooked. Our mission is to publish books that energize the imagination and intrigue the mind, and to be a conduit between readers and provocative, stimulating, talented authors.

In this era of digital technology, Wall Street involvement and merger mania, many mainstream publishers seem to have lost sight of core principles and the purpose of publishing. At the other end of the spectrum is the veritable avalanche of self-published books that are notoriously uneven in quality. Small boutique imprints like Pixel Hall Press are reclaiming the heart and soul of publishing by reviving the idea that a publisher’s raison d’être is to find and nurture great writers, and to provide readers with beautiful, meaningful, truly enjoyable books.

Determined to stay small and relevant, Pixel Hall Press will be moving forward slowly and deliberately, adding only one or two new authors a year. Pixel Hall Press will also publish one or two single-themed short story anthologies annually; a significant portion of the profits from each anthology will be donated to a charity germane to the subject of the book.


And now for the GIVEAWAY!! Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win 1 of 3 e-book copies of Jo Joe.

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Happy reading wherever you are and whenever you get a free chance!!!