Guest Author Interview with Alfred J. Garrotto

Al GarrottoAl Garrotto is an example of a prolific writer who has experienced both traditional and self-publishing. His genres are as varied as his publishing experiences.

What inspired you to write your first book? I had just changed careers in midlife when the writing bug bit me. They say, “Write what you know,” so I did. For twenty years, I had been a teacher of adult learners and had amassed a pile of workshop and retreat materials aimed at guiding adults on a path of personal/spiritual growth. By the time I finished assembling all the pieces, I had a three-volume set under the series title, Adult-to-Adult. It wasn’t long before Winston Press in Minneapolis purchased the publishing rights. It was almost too easy for a first-time author. There was no looking back. I turned my focus to fiction and over the next few years sold five novels that enjoyed modest success (not enough to quit my day job). To date, I have seven novels and four nonfiction books in varying degrees of “in print.” I’m not counting two e-books for five-and-unders, My Very Own Star and 1 White Horse, available free on Smashwords.

There's MoreHow did you come up with the title of your most recent novel, There’s More? For the sake of truth in advertising, it’s a novella (about 40,000 words). Fr. Brian T. Joyce, retired pastor of my parish church, is wonderful at conducting funerals (and a whole lot more). At the end of every funeral, he would place his hand on the casket or gesture toward the deceased’s cremains and say, “We believe that there’s more, there’s more.” I’ve heard those words so many times that they’re branded on my spirit. There’s More is about a young pitcher, Jack Thorne, who, fresh off winning the College World Series, was a first round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs. Instead, he followed a calling to enter the seminary and become a Catholic priest. Following a traumatic event—the suicide of a coed in his confessional room—Jack takes a sabbatical from the ministry and signs a pro contract with a big league team. During the final game of that season’s World Series, he’s struck by a batted ball and dies instantly. What follows is my imagining of what might happen in that instant of death and crossing over from Life to Afterlife.

How much is realistic? Are the experiences based on someone you know or events of your own life? I strive for realism, in the sense that I want the reader to accept the plausibility of my premise and the various twists and turns in the story. Did I mention that Jack is both accidentally killed and murdered at the same instant? (Gotta read the book to check that one out.) This story is semi-inspired by a true story. My good friend, Fr. John Thom was only thirty-two when he was murdered in Los Angeles. John had been a star pitcher at St. Anthony’s High School in Long Beach. He could have played pro ball, but chose instead to become a priest. I always had it in the back of my mind to write his story. Protagonist Jack Thorne is John Thom reincarnated in fiction.

Which writer would you consider a mentor? What is it that strikes you about that author’s work? It may seem pretentious, but the answer to that question is Victor Hugo. His masterpiece, Les Miserables, gave the literary world a set of bigger-than-life characters—especially Jean Valjean, Bishop Charles Francois Myriel, and the infamous Inspector Javert. What I’ve learned from Hugo is to write with passion while making my characters believable to the reader. There’s also a poetic quality to the great master’s use of language that I do my best to infuse into my writing. Here’s another angle. Hugo was a man like the rest of us—deeply flawed and scratching to figure out the meaning of life and how to live it. In Les Miserables, he dug into his psyche in search of the saintly man (Jean Valjean) that he himself wanted to be, but wasn’t. At the same time, he soared beyond his limits to create a world populated by timeless characters who cannot die because they are humanity itself.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your novella? The biggest challenge was finding a way to make it “work.” I was writing two books at the time. One was a novel about a baseball player (Jack Thorne). The other was an effort to fictionalize the compassionate Les Mis character, Bishop Charles Myriel. Neither book was working toward a satisfactory conclusion. One day I got a crazy idea. What might happen if I introduced Jack and Bishop Charles to each other? I did and they hit it off right away. Their combined stories took off. I decided not to worry about the length of the book. I wrote the story and typed The End when it was finished.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Don’t let the reader get to the bottom of page one and say, “This is the work of an amateur.” To avoid that embarrassing result, learn the English language; pay close attention to correct punctuation and grammar; know the difference between weak verb forms and power verbs. Also, read your manuscript aloud to yourself as a kind of out-of-body experience: you the reader vs. you the author. Make that author create a product that satisfies you.

Name one entity that supported you, outside of your family. When my first novel, A Love Forbidden (now a free e-book on Amazon), was published in 1996, I joined the Mt. Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club. Membership in the club has been my support, my educator, my inspiration for these past 19 years. Nowhere else in my life am I with people who understand the highs and lows of the writing life. They are my “homies.”

Where can we find you on the Web? You can begin at my primary site, but I invite you also to check out my blog, The Wisdom of Les Miserables.

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