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 alfredjgarrotto.com. 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.
AJG: I 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 Amazon.com).
Carol Smallwood: Which recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?
AJG: I 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?
AJG: Victor 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?
AJG: Being 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?
AJG: I 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?
AJG: Since 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?
AJG: Bishop 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
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Connect with Alfred J. Garrotto:Twitter: https://twitter.com/algarrotto