Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Sagrada"--A Documentary Film

Of all the posts on this blog site, the one that has garnered far and away the most views is my Nov. 13, 2010 reflection, “Sagrada Familia: Favorite Church Comes Alive” ( People from every part of the globe have entered the halls of this site to share their interest and devotion to this basilica-in-progress. Since my second visit to Barcelona and this amazing work of faith and perseverance in 2009, the main body of the church has been completed. On July 11, 2010, Pope Benedict XI traveled to the site for its opening Mass and dedication (

Now, I’d like to call your attention to a masterful documentary, Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation, directed by Stefan Haupt and released in 2012 by Fontana Film. The film chronicles the life and career of prime architect and driving force, Antoni Gaudi, who died in a tram accident in 1926 at the age of 74.  Also highlighted are some of the architects and craftsman who have dedicated their professional lives to seeing Gaudi’s vision through to its finishing touches (expected in the 2030s).

My favorite interview features Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who has created many of the scenes over the doors of the basilica. One is dedicated to the infancy of Jesus, another to the passion of Christ (depicted in the “Stations of the Cross”). Sotoo tells the interviewer, “I was married to Buddhism. I was deeply into Zen. It is said that if you are looking for faith, don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. But I couldn’t forget one thing: the desire to cut stone.” He says he had to study Gaudi, “touch” him. And when he did he found Catholicism. Then, he makes the statement about sculpting that has caused to stop and reflect on my own life as a writer. As he strikes the stone, he says, “It’s a conversation with the stone . . . . Without the stone’s permission, I can’t do anything. So, hitting it, I’m listening to see whether I can or if I can’t . . . . I’m asking the stone if I am allowed to hit it or not. I am not the sculptor. Without permission of this stone, this master, I can’t do anything.” 

Is Sotoo's message for me as a writer that I need to ask the blank (MS Word) page for permission to begin--and continue? Something for all of us creative types to think about, each within his or her special medium.

Sagrada is available for viewing on Netflix (in Spanish with English subtitles). 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review--"The Soul of a Pilgrim"

The Soul of a Pilgrim:
Eight Practices for the Journey Within
by Christine Valters Paintner
Sorin Books

[This review appeared in US Catholic Magazine, September 2015 Issue]

Through a confluence of grace and timing, Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim arrived amid a series of reflections on the meaning of pilgrimage in a Christian’s life. The daily Mass readings of Ordinary Time invited the Church into the story of Yahweh’s call to Abraham (Genesis 12): “Leave your country, your father’s house, for the land that I will show you….Abraham went as Yahweh had told him.” I was also preparing to moderate a showing of Emilio Estevez’s film, The Way, starring his father Martin Sheen. The Soul of a Pilgrim became a grace-sent compass, offering enhanced direction and meaning to what might otherwise have been a shallow reading of Genesis and a superficial viewing of the film. 

Each chapter of Paintner’s book focuses on one of eight aspects that transform a pedestrian view of life into an intentional, life-altering pilgrimage: 
1) hearing the call and responding; 
2) deciding what to take with us—and what to leave behind; 
3) arriving at and passing through multiple thresholds along the way; 
4) walking—persistently putting one foot in front of the other; 
5) living with the inevitable discomforts that come from being a stranger and wayfarer; 
6) having the courage to keep starting over, when tempted to quit the journey; 
7) accepting the mystery of it all—the deeper, elusive meaning of pilgrimage; and, 
8) arriving back “home,” transformed by an enhanced understanding of a faith-filled life. 

Adding to the wisdom and insight of each chapter are John Valters Paintner’s reflections, in lectio divina format, on each of the eight pilgrimage themes. It is hard to imagine putting this book down at the end without experiencing a sense of exhilarated exhaustion, as if coming home at the end of a physical camino. 

In a cover squib for the book, Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, author of Pilgrimage—The Sacred Art, refers to The Soul of a Pilgrim as “a guidebook and an inspiration.” It is all of that and more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Favorite Reads of 2014

Among the three dozen or so books I read during 2014, the following rank as my favorites:

Fiction = The Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and Edge of Eternity (Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett

General Nonfiction = Les Miserables (for musical and movie lovers) by Steve Antinoff

Religious Nonfiction = Under the Influence of Jesus by Joe Paprocki; Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser

Poetry = Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey by Aline Soules

I'm interested in hearing about your 2014 favorites--also share what you think of my personal picks.

For your reading pleasure:
There's More: A Novella of Life and Afterlife by Alfred J. Garrotto

-- on Amazon 
-- on Barnes & Noble
-- on Kobo

Connect with Alfred J. Garrotto:

(c) 2014 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Monday, December 15, 2014

Senior But Not Retired: Editor Carol Smallwood Interview

Carol Smallwood, co-editor of the anthology, Writing After Retirement: Tips from Successful Retired Writers, recently interviewed me about my career as a senior--but not retired--writer.

Carol Smallwood: Please describe your website and your duties as editor/writer.
AJG: I currently maintain three personal websites. My primary personal page is This site features and promotes my published writing (six novels and a novella, plus four nonfiction works). My favorite and most active site is The Wisdom of Les Miserables: In Search of Practical Wisdom for Everyday Living. This site is inspired by Victor Hugo’s classic 19th Century novel. I also maintain a dedicated site for my sixth novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story.

Carol Smallwood:  Tell us about your career.
AJGI did not write professionally (for pay and publication) during the 18 years of my ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. However, I had collected tons of material from workshops and seminars I conducted. I organized some of this material into a three-volume nonfiction series (Adult to Adult) and sold them immediately to Winston Press, Minneapolis, MN. Buoyed by my early success, I launched into long fiction with a romantic tale titled A Love Forbidden. A sobering eight years later, it was finally published in Canada as a mass market paperback novel. I followed that dim success with six more novels and a nonfiction work of personal reflections on life and everyday wisdom, inspired by my passion for Les Miserables and its main protagonist (The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean). My most recent book (2014), There’s More: A Novella of Life and Afterlife, has been well received (to date, all 5-star reviews on

Carol Smallwood: Which recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?
AJGI am not a New York Times bestselling author. Nor have my books won any awards. For encouragement, I rely on readers and reviewers who report that my stories are well told, my characters real enough to jump off the page, and my style of writing such that the pages keep turning. Less or more important (I’m not sure which) is my sense that I am getting better at my craft with each new book I publish.

Carol Smallwood:  What writers have influenced you the most?
AJGVictor Hugo has had the greatest influence on my writing. Not that I can ever come close to his brilliance and spiritual insight. My “patron saints” are Jean Valjean and Bishop Charles Francois Myriel, Bishop of Digne. In many ways, they inhabit my writing, even to the point of taking over, as they did in both The Wisdom of Les Miserables (nonfiction) and There’s More (a novella). In this latter work, the bishop made it clear to me that he wanted to narrate the story about a big league pitcher who dies when struck by a batted ball during the World Series. -- I admire Ann Patchett (Bel Canto is a novel I wish I had written). I like Ken Follett’s ability to write in epic form and style, which I cannot. I recently  read all three volumes of his 20th Century Trilogy (3,000 pages). Other favorite novelists include Jussi Adler-Olson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Carol Smallwood:  How has the Internet benefited you?
AJGBeing primarily an Indie author for the last 10 years, I rely on the Internet as my chief marketing tool. Amazon is my most productive marketing site, with nearly worldwide distribution. My e-books are also on Smashwords (with expanded distribution). With my blog and two other personal websites to maintain, I feel maxed out, because I still have a full-time day/night job.

Carol Smallwood:  What classes have helped you the most?
AJGI must confess that I have very little formal training in the literary arts. My most helpful instruction in the craft of writing over the last 18 years has come from workshop leaders and speakers sponsored by the historic California Writers Club. Added to this, I have soaked up the wisdom of fellow CWC members, who collectively possess an abundance of experience and expertise in every aspect of publication. After 11 books, I am still learning and looking for ways to become more proficient in my craft.

Carol Smallwood:  What advice would you give others?
AJGSince writing book-length fiction is a daunting writing adventure, I’d like to address first-time novelists. Often, writers must make a choice—write what’s in your heart, chase what is currently hot, or try to divine what might be the “next hot thing,” by the time you finish writing your book. Make whatever choice you wish, then give it everything you’ve got. Set your imagination free and sit your bottom in a chair. Work as long as it takes to get the book written, edited, proofed, and published. Most of all, enjoy the process of story building. Have fun watching your characters blossom and grow. Sit back in awe when they take over and surprise you in ways that are nothing short of mystical.

Carol Smallwood: What is your favorite quotation?
AJGBishop Charles Francois Myriel to Jean Valjean: “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man . . . . Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, Fantine, Book Second: The Fall, Chapter XII: The Bishop at Work

*  *  *

Connect with Alfred J. Garrotto:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"There's More": Amazon Readers' Reviews

FEATURED BOOK, US Catholic Magazine, November 2014

5.0 out of 5 stars
A Fabulous Read ..... 
Format: Paperback

To say I enjoyed "There's More" by Alfred J. Garrotto is putting it mildly. It is gripping and hard to put down. The characters come alive on every page. Each personality is very distinct (especially the deeply troubled Mattie Logan). Having Bishop Myriel from 
"Les Miserables" narrate the story is such a creative and effective touch. The story line expands one's imagination in profound ways about what happens when we die-or rather, "transform" to Life. This has to be a movie!
Kathryn Davi-Cardinale, author "Joseph, My Son-My guide"

5.0 out of 5 stars
A Delightful Tale of Intrigue
By G. Murphy 
Format: Paperback

Alfred J.Garrotto's 'There's More - A Novella of Life and Afterlife' belies definitive categorization. Yes, it has storyline development, credible characterization, and a satisfying denouement; but here is an author who knows how to take artistic license and have fun with it! I mean where else would you find a Spirit Guide / Narrator (Bishop Charles Francois Myriel, from Victor Hugo's classic, "Les Miserables"), a priest turned major league baseball pro (John Thorne), and an orthopedic surgeon (Dr. William Everett) with a questionable past, converge in a tale about the greatest mystery of all: the hereafter? Nowhere else but in the fertile imagination and fluid prose of a great storyteller. As per the author's expansive imagination, the narrative is peppered with delightful vignettes of 'life after life' - all of which are intriguing, consoling, and comforting. I recommend this 'gem' for your upliftment and thoughtful reflection. You won't be disappointed!

5.0 out of 5 stars
A five star rating for "There's More..., A Novella of Life and Afterlife

Format: Kindle Edition

Life dealt a blow to Jack Thorne that left him powerless to continue his priestly ministry. It seemed an act of mercy and relief when he was mortally wounded playing baseball in the big league. Jack Thorne's story continues first in the transition of the afterlife, when he is ministered by Bishop Myriel, a French bishop from the 19th Century, who leads Thorne to face past experiences, some with crisis' to be solved. I thank and praise Alfred Garrotto's creativeness in writing this story.

Format: Paperback

When I turned the last page of 'There's More' and closed the cover, I thought I had finished the book. The truth is that 'There's More' is not finished with me. I find myself playing the scenes over and over in my head. The possibilities of judgment and afterlife keep sparking my imagination. Alfred Garrotto's writes with an immediacy that held me hostage until the end. This book is a keeper to be reread, certainly when I am facing the last pitch of life.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Loved this book 
By Katie Q
Format: Kindle Edition
Loved this book. My interested was held from the first to the last page. I wanted "more." I can't wait for his next novel.

Available at: 


E-book: $1.99
Paperback: $8.55 (on Amazon)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Release--There's More . . . : A Novella of Life and Afterlife

I am very happy--"relieved" is more like it--to announce that my latest book, There's More . . . : A Novella of Life and Afterlife, is now available in broad distribution via (worldwide) and (It may take a few days to filter down into the Apple Store, Nook, Sony, etc.)

"Relief pitcher Jack Thorne stares at his catcher’s target. His single focus is to get this batter out. If he does, a coveted World Series ring will be his. But the Universe has a different plan for this Catholic priest-turned-ballplayer. There’s More is a creative imagining of the ultimate human mysteries—death and Afterlife. This gripping story invites readers to expand their existing concepts and consider broader cosmic possibilities in answer to the universal question, 'What’s next?'"

Available at: 


E-book: $1.99
Paperback:$ 8.55 (on Amazon)

I'd love to hear your reaction to this unusual story.

PS: Honest reviews always welcome.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Evening Sun: A Widow's Journey

Recently, I had the privilege of reading and reviewing a stunning new book by poet and essayist Aline Soules. As a professional grief counselor, I recommend it to women who have lost a beloved husband or partner. As a male reader/reviewer, I am certain it would touch the hearts of widowers, as well. 

The review is below, followed by an enlightening interview with the author.
“The 29 poems in Aline Soules’s chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, are a gripping plunge into one woman’s emptiness, after sudden death deprived her of physical companionship and romance. This is not a philosophical search for meaning in a life bereft of aliveness. It is the poet’s clear-sighted recounting of everyday moments no longer shared in intimacy and joy. If this sounds depressing, it is far from that. Evening Sun is a celebration of two lovers caught in the act of wholehearted loving. It is the story of a woman’s ongoing struggle to fuel her future with the energy of stored recollections.” – Reviewed by Alfred J. Garrotto, author of TheWisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean

WLM:  Would you share with us the time span during with these 29 poems were written?

Aline Soules:  I began writing these poems about six months after my husband died.  Because he died suddenly, I was in shock for a long time and, for the first time in my life, didn’t write very much.  As I came out of that shock, I began to write again on a couple of projects, both of which turned into published works.  The poems in this work came intermittently over the next four to five years, as ideas and experiences presented themselves and as my grieving process moved from stage to stage.  As Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey emerged as a chapbook, I wanted to document various stages of grief, but not unrelieved grief.  I also wanted to share memories of our life together and reflect on the path through the grief to acceptance and the discovery or re-discovery of joy in the world.

WLM:  Your book is subtitled, “A Widow’s Journey.” As you have engaged in public readings of this work, what kinds of response have you received from other widows (and widowers)?

Aline: My book is new enough that I haven’t given many readings yet; however, some of these poems have appeared previously and one of them was published in a book called The Widow’s Handbook.  That anthology includes about thirty women authors who have experienced the loss of a partner.  While those women are around the country, several are in the Bay Area and we have given a couple of readings to audiences of widows and widowers and bonded in the process.  Audience responses often depend on the stage of the listener’s grief.  A close friend was widowed about a year ago and told me that she couldn’t come to my reading because she would just sit there and sob.  At the other end of the spectrum, one widower in the audience had been widowed the week before and sat stony-faced through the entire reading. Between those extremes, we have had only praise and appreciation for a reflection of the emotions of widowhood we so rarely discuss.  

The other thing I notice—and I’ve noticed it with all my work, not just this one—is that each person resonates to different poems, whether listening at a reading or reading the work and emailing me afterwards.  For those who have experience with transplantation, “Apart” is the poem that draws them in.  A married man I know read the book and responded to “I’ve changed my mind,” where I reflect on irritating habits that are now completely inconsequential and would be a joy to see again.  Another person responded to “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  Who knows what will speak to others?  The gratitude comes in knowing that somewhere, someone finds value in each one of them.

WLM:  How would describe your purpose or intent in writing these poems?
Aline: As I emerged from shock, I began with the simple need to write my own experiences as a way to work through the various grief stages. As the poems formed and as I worked to edit them into finished work, I began to see them as a “whole” and wanted to craft not only the poems, but also a composite work that turned into this chapbook.  My evolving intentions reflect the emotional changes I experienced over the years and also my general desire to share my work.  I have never been a person to want to shove my poems or any of my writing in a closet.  Ultimately, when I think it’s ready and good enough, I want it “out there.” 

WLM:  What motivated you to publish these deeply personal verses, sharing them with the world.

Aline: As I wrote over the five-year period, documenting what I felt as time passed, I also began to experience the “invisibility” of widowhood.  There are so many of us and widowhood is not something we discuss in the workplace or at the grocery store or even with many of our friends, especially couples.  Somewhere in that five-year period, I also wrote an essay for a practical anthology on widowhood.  As part of that, I discovered in the U.S. Census that approximately thirteen million people are widowed annually in this country and that two million are men and eleven million are women.  While each of our grief journeys is unique, I thought we had to have something in common and that these poems could resonate with others’ experiences, perhaps helping people to feel less alone in their journeys. 

WLM:  What relationship might you have intended between Evening Sun and your previous book, Meditation on Woman?

Aline:  The first piece I wrote when I began to recover from my initial shock was a piece called “Possessions.”  This is a prose poem about a woman who eats her way through her house from the attic on down.  When she gets to the basement, she finishes her husband’s unfinished projects.  This piece emerged from the process of going through my husband’s things and getting rid of them, a difficult process for any widowed person.  I suddenly thought about how I’d like to absorb all those things to be able to keep him somehow and I ended the piece with the unfinished projects because, of course, partnerships are never truly finished and we want them to go on.  Other pieces in that book are also reflective, such as “Chill” and “Love Book,” although I wanted Meditation on Woman to be about “├╝ber woman /everywoman,” so only some of the pieces involve a partner and only from the woman’s perspective.  When I began to write the pieces for that work, I wanted to reflect personal, emotional, intellectual, societal, and other aspects of a woman and her life experience. 

The poems in Evening Sun are more traditional.  I never intended or didn’t intend a connection between Meditation on Woman and Evening Sun, but it’s there in some of the pieces.  I wrote them in the same general time period, working on both of them at once.  As a result, there’s bound to be connection because I’m the same person and I speak and write with the same unique voice.  Voice is so important in writing. Yes, there are different stories or different poems or different essays, but the voice that threads through them is what makes the writer unique.

WLM:  Is there anything else you would like your readers to know a) about this book or b) your previous work? Or anything else?

Aline:  As the book was going to press, I had an opportunity to add a form of “codicil” to the book.  Books tend to come in certain page lengths, which harks back to the centuries-old concept of folios.  There was an extra leaf, which gave me an opportunity to speak directly to the reader in a practical way.  On the right side of the page, I listed my previous works, but on the left, I explained that my poetry collection focused on my emotional journey and provided a short list of web site links for those who needed practical help and connection to others. 

I hope people find value in my work, whether it’s in the content or the craft or the language—something.  If so, then I’m content.  Short reviews are already appearing on my amazon page and they tell me that I’m reaching out to people with some success.  No writer can ask for more.

WLM:  Thank you, Aline, for sharing so openly about your life experience. Thanks, too, for giving us an opportunity to "read between the lines" of this beautiful book. 

(c) 2014 by Alfred J, Garrotto

Evening Sun: a Widow's Journey (a chapbook)
Meditation on Woman

Aline's blog:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Under the Influence of Jesus" -- A Book Review

Under the Influence of Jesus
by Joe Paprocki, D.Min.
Loyola Press (2014)
168 pages

Joe Paprocki’s latest book, Under the Influence of Jesus, models adult faith formation at its best: faith-full, contemporary, and applicable to everyday life. Readers who approach this book  with “same-old, same-old” expectations risk missing both its stirring evangelical passion and its down-to-earth/up-to-heaven spirituality. Paprocki invites his readers to imbibe the Spirit-filled joy that marked the original Pentecost event, as described in Acts 2. After spending days in seclusion, fearing for their lives, Jesus’ reenergized band of followers took to the streets of Jerusalem early on a Sunday morning. Instead of blending into the city’s normal life, they started proclaiming the “good news” that the Jews’ long-awaited Messiah had indeed come and had risen from the dead And they did it with such Spirit-filled enthusiasm that the mocking bystanders’ first reaction was to accuse the noisemakers of being “under the influence” of too much wine. As Paprocki reminds us, “The crowds . . . weren’t ‘wowed’ by miracles or . . . soaring rhetoric. Rather, what captured their imagination was the [disciples’] total lack of inhibition.” Relying heavily throughout the book on examples from familiar movies, literature, and music, the author compares the infectious joy of that first Pentecost to every movie buff’s favorite line from When Harry Met Sally: “I’ll have what she’s having.” Three thousand people joined the Jesus movement in a single day. Paprocki then fastforwards to later periods of Church history (including our own) when Catholics “instituted some kind of ‘prohibition’ against the inebriating influence of the Holy Spirit.” 

Under the Influence of Jesus invites today’s Catholics to indulge in the same intoxicating submission to the mystery of the Risen Christ that sparked the birth of Christianity. This book does more than inspire renewal of the reader’s faith. Chapter upon chapter offers practical methodologies for uninhibited kingdom dwellers. RCIA teams, in particular, will draw inspiration from chapters on the “baskets” of discipleship and the stages of conversion (drawing on St. Paul’s experience in Acts 9). 

“Ultimately,” Paprocki says, “the goal of discipleship is contagion: ‘infecting’ others with the Good News through our words and actions.” 

(Reviewed by Alfred J. Garrotto for the June 2014 Issue of US Catholic Magazine)

Monday, February 17, 2014

There’s More . . .

[ I am 40,000+ words into my current work-in-progress, a novella titled, There's More . . .  Recently, the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch (to which I belong), challenged our members to tell a story, not in thousands of words, but in 100 or less. I accepted the task. The following is my novella from start to finish. ]

A bat. A ball. A swing. A bullet.
A death. A guide. A life.

A bat—black-varnished, rays of setting sun splintering north, south, east, west, until tension-stilled,
at the ready. 

A ball—Virginal white. Never pitched, nor struck. Rocketing from hurler’s hand. 
A swing—fluid, potent contact, ball arrowing moundward. 
A bullet—fired in revenge, racing ball to target. 
A death. Accident? Murder? Projectiles: protagonists in this unplotted drama. The pitcher falls, forehead concaved,
a blackening hole deep at crater ’s base. 

A guide. Heaven-sent to assist at this unexpected crossing-over. 
A life—“There’s more, my son . . . .”

The End

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Valentine--Caring For Your Most Important Relationship

[ My guest blogger is Rev. Charles Ara, married Catholic Priest/Marital Therapist and author of the book, THE GRASS IS GREENER WHERE IT’S WATERED. Charlie and I were schoolmates back in . . . well, let's just say, 'Back in the day.']

On this Valentine’s Day, I offer 10 suggestions on caring for the most important relationship in your life:

1.     Have specific times when the TV, Cell phones and the computer are OFF.
2.     Make dates at least a month in advance and write them own on your mutual calendars.
3.     Take an evening walk at least once a week enjoying the evening air and holding hands.
4.     Get away to a hotel or motel once every three months for two nights and three days.
5.     Go to the beach or park in the early evening and enjoy the sunset.
6.     Exercise together in the morning or in the evening
7.     Take a long auto drive getting out of the car every few miles to take a short walk together.
8.     Have breakfast together at a restaurant on a Saturday morning without the kids.
9.     Have a good strong lock for your bedroom door.
10. Every day, find your partner, look into their eyes and say THANK YOU FOR BEING MY LOVER, MY PARTNER, MY COMPANION IN LIFE, MY PAL AND MY BEST FRIEND.

Some of these activities may cost money, but what better thing to spend your money on than taking care of the most important relationship in your life.

(c) 2014 by Charles Ara
Father Ara can be reached at (562) 865-4075, His e-mail address is