MARLA K. MORRIS – Combines True Crime and Fiction

Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.

What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month.  My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss.  While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.

What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.

Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist.  Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.

My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.

I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.

Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.

What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity.  I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.

What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing.  Two, set aside time to work on your craft.  There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.

How do our readers contact you?

Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj

TikTok: marlamorris3

Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR

4 Comments

  1. DONNARAE MENARD

    I’m thinking true crime might be in my future as a more serious reader. I don’t think I could stay the course as far as a sprinkling of fiction, I’d be dropping it in by the cupful. You took some hard subjects, and I heartfully wish you the best.

    Reply
  2. Katherine brinston

    I have read both of your books and enjoyed ever bit of them keep writing waiting on the new one to come out what a amazing writer and story teller

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Wow, for such a nice lady, you certainly write about gruesome subjects, but I think that’s great. Your writing advice is certainly solid and right on the mark. Best of luck to you. Keep those pages coming.

    Reply

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  HEATHER WEIDNER – Virginia is for Mysteries

Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband). Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches in January 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Virginia is for Mysteries Volume III Virginia may be for lovers, but to fifteen authors, it’s more sinister. This anthology of sixteen short stories, set in the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as the Church Hill Tunnel, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, the Historic Cavalier Hotel, St. Luke’s Historic Church, historic Ashland, and the Assateague Channel, to name a few. Be transported across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape filled with murder and mayhem.

 

Authors: Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Kristin Kisska, Yvonne Saxon, Frances Aylor, Jayne Ormerod, Michael Rigg, Maggie King, Smita Harish Jain, Sheryl Jordan, Vivian Lawry, Maria Hudgins, Rosemary Shomaker, Max Jason Peterson, Judith Fowler

 

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I usually write in my office on my computer. We moved to a house in the woods, so I have a great view of the treetops. My two crazy Jack Russell terriers hang out with me and help me plot.

I get distracted by the internet. I pop on to research something, and then I find that I’ve been watching dog videos for an hour. I try to stay focused when I’m writing, but sometimes, it’s hard. I always have music playing in the background. Classical, spa, or jazz for writing. Louder music for revisions.

Tell us about your writing process. It took me about five years to write the first book and about another two until it was finally published. I am a lot faster now. At the pandemic’s start, I decided to use my normal commuting time for writing, and I was much more productive when I wrote every day.

I usually come up with the book ideas and title drafts first. Then I plot out an outline. I found that the plan for the book helps me to stay on track, and I don’t get lost or stuck. I draft the book. If I stick to my daily word counts, I usually finish the first draft in three months. Then I do several rounds of editing and revising. Then I send it to my critique group. Then it’s off to the editor, and I do lots of revisions. The manuscript goes to my agent and my publisher’s editors.

What are you currently working on? I write the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries. I just finished the third book in the Mermaid Bay series, and I’m working on books four-six for the Glamping mysteries.

My short story, “Derailed,” is part of the Virginia is for Mysteries Anthology that launched this February. It’s full of stories about locations in Virginia. Mine takes place at the site of the infamous Church Hill Tunnel disaster, where a cave-in blocked the exits and trapped railroad workers and a train deep under the city of Richmond. The search and rescue quickly became a recovery mission—not all the victims were found. The railroad filled and sealed the tunnel with the train and some of the victims inside. The spooky site has been the center of local lore and legend about ghosts and even a vampire. I used the site and its history in my story, and there may be one more body than expected inside the tunnel.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Writing is a solitary task, and you need your crew. I am so lucky to be a part of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and International Thriller Writers. These offer networking and learning opportunities. I treasure the contacts I’ve made, and I am so grateful to all the talented authors who share their time and advice.

 We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave? None of my characters behave. My sleuths are strong-willed, determined, and sassy females who get into way more trouble than I do. I plot the mysteries and have an idea where the story is going, but they often have a will of their own.

One minor character in the first Delanie book was supposed to just make an appearance as a sleazy strip club owner. He was so much fun to write that he joined the cast full time, and he shows up (warts and all) in all the books.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I get a lot of my material and ideas from those around me. No conversation or story is safe. I take notes and use names, places, and fun anecdotes. Usually, the characters are an amalgamation of several different people and traits. I use names of real people and places from time to time, and if you look closely, you’ll see some character names from pop culture.

What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research for my mysteries. Readers want to learn about new things, and I want the story to be as accurate as possible. For my WIP (work in progress), I’m researching haunted places in Virginia, ghost hunting technology, tiny houses, and glamping.

I’m Cop’s Kid. My dad is my best law enforcement resource. He’s retired from forty-six years on the force and is always willing to answer my weird questions. There are just some things you don’t want to Google, like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “what caliber of bullet would make this kind of wound.”

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I write where I know. I grew up in Virginia Beach. I now live outside of Richmond. I use a lot of Virginia locales in my stories. The Commonwealth has so much to offer: mountains, beaches, a central, East Coast location, historic sites, and fantastic restaurants.

If I have a scene where there is a gruesome crime, I make up the location.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like one. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You need to be persistent. Hone your craft, network with other authors, and build your author platform. There is no feeling like opening that box of books and seeing your name on the cover.

How do our readers contact you or purchase the books? 

Book Link: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GGBFWT5

 

5 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Great meeting you, Heather. You sound disciplined and thorough! Two traits I could definitely use more off! Continued success!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Heather, your disciplined approach is very good advice and will surely take you far in the writing business. Good luck with your series watch out for those vampires. 😉

    Reply
  3. Heather Weidner

    Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog on Valentine’s Day and talk about books, mysteries, and glamping!

    Reply

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JUDY LUSSIE – AUTHOR OF BOUGHT DAUGHTER

Judy Lussie uses her cultural background to write stories about Asian-American women. Her latest novella, Bought Daughter, is based on her grandparents’ immigration to America.

 

Judy writes women’s contemporary novels. Lake Biwa Wishes and the sequel Second Time Around were her first two novels. Her short stories have been included in several anthologies. Her most recent novel is titled Bought Daughter.

The original Moy sisters and their mother. The baby is Judy.

Bought Daughter: When she was a child, Mei-Ling’s poverty-stricken father sold her to a wealthy family. Despite her status as a Bought Daughter, she was determined to go to America. When the Chinese missionary Ah Pu proposed marriage and travel to the New World, she jumped at the chance, even though she did not believe in his God. Could a Christian and an atheist succeed in marriage? Would her past forever haunt her?

What brought you to writing? While on the Board of Directors of Presbyterian publishing Corporation, I was asked to write a week’s worth of devotions for These Days Magazine. At the time, I was the Technical Information Director of Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. This was my first experience in paid non-technical writing. As a result, I received many letters from old friends and compliments from new readers. One man wrote that his wife suffered the same disease I had–polymyositis. The following year he wrote that his wife had died. I offered my prayers. Then later he wrote that he met a widow whom he asked to marry and thanked me for supporting him with my letters. Until then, I never realized how writing could help another person.

Has association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch (of which I was Program Chair), San Francisco Writers Conference (5-year volunteer), and several writing classes. I met many New York Times best-selling authors and learned more about the art of writing, publishing, and marketing.

Who is your favorite author? I have many, but Lisa See, Erica Jong, and Catherine Coulter are at the top of my list. Each one writes in a different sub-genre, but all are great writers. Lisa See writes historical novels, Erica Jong writes women’s novels, and Catherine Coulter writes crime fiction.

Do you base your characters on real people? Yes. The characters in Bought Daughter are based on my grandparents, aunts, and uncle. The character Kyoko in Second Time Around is based on my granddaughter (when she was 3). I tried making up characters, but they seemed phony.

What kind of research do you do? The research for Bought Daughter fell into my lap. While visiting Angel Island Immigration Station, I was told I could find more information in NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). Previously, as a technical information manager, I was required to send NARA information with strict requirements. Finally, I became a user instead of a contributor. When I entered the facility, I showed them my grandparents’ travel info and signed up as a researcher. The attendant wheeled a cart full of papers in both Chinese and English, which they photocopied for me. With all that information, I knew I had to share it with others. I also use online resources. Taryn Edwards provided a comprehensive list of historical resources.

Where do you place your settings –real or fictional locations? I feel my story is more accurate in the locations I visited. For my first two books, I lived in Japan for two years and skied in many ski resorts around the world. For Bought Daughter, I lived in Chicago Chinatown as a child. I visited China as an adult.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Write, write, write. Even if you just put the manuscript on a shelf. Read, read, read. Highlight passages that move your heart and soul.

Thank you, George Cramer, for inviting me to be a guest blogger.

I can be contacted by email at Sursum Corda Press, LLC. I welcome your comments and questions.

 

9 Comments

  1. Karen Pidduck Vied

    Enjoyed reading your interview Judy.
    Thanks George for sharing this. Really enjoyed reading a bit of your blog! HHS ‘62

    Reply
    • Judy Lussie

      Thank you. Hope you and George renewed a friendship.

      Reply
  2. Alyce M Gee

    Your interview gave me an insight in how you became such an accomplished author. The book also gave me information regarding the struggles of what your grandparents had to overcome. Being the ‘baby’ of that large family, I thank you for passing this history to all the younger ones in our clan.

    Reply
    • Judy Lussie

      Thank you and you’re welcome.
      Peace

      Reply
  3. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    Thanks, Judy! Interesting to read how you started writing fiction and how you base your characters and settings!

    Reply
    • Judy Lussie

      Thank you.

      Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Interesting interview, Judy. I live in Chicago as well and always enjoyed visiting Chinatown and see the Big decorative gate there. Your story is fascinating and your tenacity is inspiring. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Judy Lussie

      Thank you. My uncle designed the gate.

      Reply
    • Brian Gee

      That big decorative gate was designed by Judy’s and my uncle Peter. Judy is my cousin.

      Reply

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LISA E. BETZ – Engineer Turned Award-Winning Author

Lisa E. Betz infuses her novels with authentic characters who thrive on solving tricky problems. Her debut novel, Death and a Crocodile, won several awards, including Golden Scroll Novel of the Year (2021). Lisa combines her love of research with her quirky imagination to bring the world of the early church to life. She and her husband reside outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with Scallywag, their rambunctious cat—the inspiration for Nemesis, resident mischief maker in the Livia Aemilia Mysteries.

Tell us about your new release, Fountains, and Secrets, Book 2 in the Livia Aemilia Mysteries. Imagine a world where Nancy Drew meets ancient Rome. In first-century Roman culture, few women challenged the status quo, but spunky, headstrong Livia dives right into a swamp of danger after learning that her new husband’s mentor has been murdered.

As Livia chases clues in secret, she discovers injustice toward multiple victims and the nasty web of affluent men behind it all. But when her husband, Avitus, learns what Livia is up to, they go head-to-head. Avitus doesn’t want his wife to be in danger, and Livia wants to prove to her husband that she’s capable of solving crimes. Their lack of mutual trust and respect turns into a bitter test of wills—can they learn to trust each other, or will they continue at cross purposes until someone gets hurt?

For readers who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction with a touch of humor, Fountains and Secrets is an engaging tale of identity, purpose, and hope.

What brought you into writing? I’ve followed an unconventional path to becoming an author. I started my career as a mechanical engineer working in a manufacturing plant. That led to fifteen years as a substitute teacher specializing in math and science. And that lead to an opportunity to direct a high school play.

The first play was so much fun that I directed school plays for ten years. I even wrote one. By then, I’d discovered that I really enjoyed writing and toyed with writing a novel, but I kept putting it off.

Then my youngest son went off to college, and I faced a choice: should I return to engineering or follow the new dream of being a writer? I chose writing. I spent the next ten years honing my craft, attending conferences, and writing practice novels. All the work paid off, and my first published novel has won several awards.

Your main character’s adventures take place in Rome. What prompted you to write about this time period? My interest in the Roman Empire stems primarily from many years teaching Bible studies. I have tried to absorb as much as possible about the culture and history of first-century Rome so I can bring the ancient world to life and make the New Testament more relevant to modern Christians.

Also, I favor books set in unusual eras or settings, so Roman times seemed an interesting choice. I particularly like the fact that women in the Roman Empire had more rights and freedom than in many other eras and cultures. For example, they could own and run businesses, like Lydia, who’s mentioned in Acts. So, it’s a reasonable choice for a female sleuth.

How do you come up with character names? As much as possible, I try to use actual Roman or Greek names. I like using NovaRoma.org’s Choose a Roman Name page. Unfortunately, Greek and Roman names can be unwieldy and hard to pronounce, so I sometimes give a character a nickname to make it easier on readers. For example, I gave Asyncritus (mentioned in Romans 16) the nickname Brother Titus. I also try to assign characters names that begin with different letters to help readers keep everyone straight.

How do you decide when to use Latin terms and when to translate terms into English? This is an issue that all writers of foreign settings must face. My decision has been to use English whenever possible to make it easier for readers. I reserve Latin for key place names or for concepts that don’t translate well into modern usage. For example, I use the Latin word dignitas, which encompasses a whole list of qualities, including honor, status, reputation, influence, moral standing, and even physical appearance.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters who are different from you? I’m an introverted, non-emotional, non-assertive, analytical thinker, but I wanted a heroine that was spunky, nosy, headstrong, extroverted, intuitive, and a little reckless. I must frequently stop and remind myself that my instinctual reaction to any situation is likely to be quite different from how Livia would respond. I have found the enneagram personality type information very helpful in guiding me to more realistic responses for my characters.

In fact, I’ve developed a workshop to show writers how to use the enneagram to create consistent, believable characters.

Many of your characters are misfits in some way. Why is that? My tagline is Quietly Unconventional for a reason. I’ve never been good at fitting molds. That’s why I’m drawn to stories that feature misfits and underdogs. I understand the pain of not being cool or popular, and I respect others (real or fictional) who are brave enough to overcome and succeed despite their underdog status.

My novels feature characters who don’t fit the conventional mold in some shape or form. I show the heroic or honorable qualities hiding inside these people whom others see as flawed or useless.

My heroine, Livia, is a free spirit who flaunts convention more publicly than I would dare. Her sidekick, Roxana, is a streetwise maid who speaks when she should keep her mouth shut and lacks the polish of a traditional lady’s maid. Avitus is an outcast among the aristocrats because he defends lower-class clients against powerful senators.

And then there are the followers of Jesus, who are leading a quietly unconventional revolution, spreading a message of love and forgiveness, and caring for the outcasts and rejects of society.

What else do you write besides mystery novels? I blog weekly on my website about living intentionally—which to me means making daily choices to live according to my deeply held values instead of mindlessly conforming to the mainstream attitudes, behavior, and priorities. When we live intentionally, we live a more authentic and meaningful life. But we also stand out for making unconventional choices. That’s why my tagline is Quietly Unconventional because I try to live and write as authentically as possible, conforming to God’s will and calling rather than conforming to the world.

How can readers contact you?

Visit my website at lisaebetz.com to find more about me and my books.

Go directly to my Live Intentionally blog here.

 

Social media

Facebook author page

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

 

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Your choice of using ancient Rome as the setting for your books is very interesting. You described how you meet the challenges of doing this very well. If I get the chance to teach my Writing in Different Genres class again, I’ll be sure to use your books in the Writing Historicals section. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Lisa Betz

      Thank you. That sounds like a very interesting talk.

      Reply

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ALFRED J. GARROTTO – Former Priest – Novelist / Screenwriter / Manuscript Editor / Author

I’m a native Californian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My life path has included Catholic ministry, marriage, children, and a grandchild. The writing bug bit me somewhere along that path, and I’ve published 16 books ranging from spirituality to romantic drama to a trilogy based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

 

Please tell us about your book and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:

Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell (Book 3 of the Wisdom of Les Misérables Trilogy)

Inspector Javert’s central theme: “What happens in the next instant after the heart beats for the last time.” Javert gazes into the River Seine. What future has he after freeing his enemy Jean Valjean? Rather than face his options, he leaps into the river.

  • Book 1… Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (nonfiction)
  • Book 2… Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words

Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and nonfiction. Topics range from romance/action to the arts and spiritual themes.

What brought you to writing? After a 20-year career in Catholic ministry, the writing bug bit.

Tell us about your writing process: I am gifted with (a) a love for the craft and (b) the ability to focus on the task at hand and stay with it for long stretches of the day. I don’t set goals about page count; I just stay with the process.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Most challenging is never allowing myself to fall in love with the draft I’m working on. Writing Inspector Javert brought that lesson home. At draft 10, I said, “Done!” The final book took 20+ drafts.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Without a doubt, my most important association throughout my career has been with the California Writers Club (Mount Diablo Branch). I tell people, “As a writer, it’s the only place I can go where people know what I’m talking about.”

Who’s your favorite author? If I have to pick one, it is Victor Hugo. He was such a complex human being in his personal life. That very complexity fed his mammoth ability to create the most varied and unforgettable characters.

How long did it take you to write your first book? My first three books came out as a series under the name Adult-to-Adult (Christ in Our Lives, Christians and Prayer, and Christians Reconciling, Winston Press). I drew upon material I developed during my ministry years.

 How do you come up with character names? When writing fiction, names just seem to come to me. This may sound sappy, but the characters tell me their names.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters run the show, whether they behave themselves or misbehave. To me, a novel is boring if everyone “does the right thing” all the time. Characters must behave like real people. They can sin and repent—or not. There must always be a measure of growth as the story arcs to the end.

What’s the most challenging thing when writing characters of the opposite sex? As a male writer, it’s always a challenge to climb inside the mind and body of a woman character. In my trilogy (A Love Forbidden, Finding Isabella, and I’ll Paint a Sun), all the main characters are women. As is the protagonist in The Saint of Florenville. I’ve never heard a complaint from female readers that I “didn’t get it right.”

Do you ever kill a popular character? A protagonist, no. Supporting characters might need to die. Hugo modeled this in Les Misérables. At the barricade, the boy Gavroche dies first. Then his sister, Eponine, dies in Marius’s arms. Enjolras, the rebel leader, dies. Everyone dies except Jean Valjean and Marius.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell offers a good example. Javert’s ordered life turns upside down when he allows doubt to creep into his soul. Could a lifelong criminal be capable of goodness? That crack in Javert’s armor demands recognition. He might have gotten it wrong all his life. In an instant, the entire structure of his life falls apart.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? A hybrid “pantser.” I begin a novel with an idea arc. I don’t create an outline. I count on the characters to surprise me by doing something I didn’t see coming. In my Les Mis trilogy, I had to follow the plotline set by Hugo. E.g., Javert can’t be a warm-hearted, fun-loving cop. Nor could Jean Valjean act out of character. I worked within the parameters of Hugo’s storyline. After Javert’s death, I had complete freedom to do anything I wanted.

What kind of research do you do? Primarily, I focus on getting the historical time, place, weather, etc., as accurate as possible. It helps if I’ve actually visited the places where I set my story. For example, I’ve been to Paris four times over the years and have a feel for the local environment as I experienced it.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? It depends on the story. Inspector Javert bound me to get the time and place right. In another novel, I built my own world. Whether setting a story in San Francisco (I’ll Paint a Sun) or Peru (Circles of Stone and Down a Narrow Alley), I needed to get it as right as possible, though I’ve never been to Peru.

What is the best book you have ever read? Les Misérables. All 1,200 pages of it.

Do you have any advice for new writers? First, stop talking about writing and just do it. Don’t let your first draft be your last draft. Have faith in yourself and do the work.

Second, find a compatible writing community for moral support and learning the craft of writing. Third, have fun. Writing doesn’t have to be torture—if it is, don’t do it

If none of this appeals to you, find something else you like to do.

How do our readers contact you?

13 Comments

  1. Mary Burkhard

    I have read no more if your books, Al, so my former comments will have to stand…
    Stay cool…
    Mary

    Reply
  2. Fr. Gilbert Romero PhD

    The priesthood functions in many ways. If it were a tree, it would have many branches. One branch could be authorship. Good that you turned to writing.

    Reply
  3. Natalie Middleton

    Al, the interview was so well done. My two favorites, “The Saint of Florenville” and “Javert At the Gates of Hell”. I am so proud of you.

    Your loving sister,

    Natalie

    Reply
  4. Thonie Hevron

    Afred, a fascinating interview about your process. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Alfred J. Garrotto

      Thonie, thank you for your kind response to my interview. I’d be interested in knowing if you are a writer and what you write.

      Reply
  5. Judith Ingram

    An interesting and helpful interview for writers of any genre. Al seems to have touched on them all! Good advice about not falling in love with your draft(s). It’s hard to let go of those scintillating paragraphs that add nothing to the story. Congratulations on completing the final book in your beloved trilogy, Al. Much success!

    Reply
  6. Linda H

    This was a fantastic interview with an eloquent man who writes not just with blood, sweat, and tears, but also with full heart. As a prolific author who writes in many genres, researches fully or meanders around the world to place his stories just so, you have just completed an amazing interview that we can all learn so much from! Thank you in a million ways.

    Reply
  7. Rudy De La Cerna

    Good to be in touch since we both have the same seminary and parochial experiences and find anew ministry ! Good job!

    Reply
  8. Sister Alice Marie Daly IHM

    Hello George,
    I am very impressed by the Lenten Series of Alfred Garrotto that I have requested and received here in Philadelphia for the past several years. It is a wonderful series we use for our Faith Sharing groups during Lent. Some groups do continue on a monthly basis after Easter. It has been a wonderful instrument for group sharing and praying together. I am most grateful to Alfred for including us in his wonderful outreach for this opportunity to come closer to God and each other.

    Reply
    • Alfred J. Garrotto

      Sr, Alice:
      Thanks for reading this interview. And for the plug in favor of our Advent and Lenten series.
      I hope you’ll read Inspector Javert.

      Reply
  9. Michael A. Black

    Excellent advice, Al. You have a unique and interesting outlook on the writing process. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Alfred J Garrotto

      Thank you, Michael. Writing offers us a life of amazing adventure and risk. Putting ourselves out there in our writing makes us vulnerable to the slings and arrows of reader response. The truth is we cannot not write, come what may.

      Reply

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