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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