An Interview with Eric Elfman

April 4, 2015

ericcoverBloggers Note: Eric Elfman will be speaking on the topic of How to Hook Them From The First Page  at the April 11th meeting of the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.  The meeting will be at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant at 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.  Cost is $20 members and $25 for guests.  Sign-in is at 11:15 am–12 pm, luncheon at 12–12:45, and program at 1:00 –2:00 pm.  Reservations required: Reservations are required, and must be received no later than noon on Wednesday, April 8. Contact Barbara Bentley at, or by phone at (925) 212-4727.

1. Can you give us some highlights from your new book: Edison Alley?

Neal Shusterman and I are having a lot of fun writing this series of novels about Nick and his friends trying to retrieve the last inventions of Nikola Tesla, which our protagonist inadvertently sold at a garage sale in Tesla’s Attic (the first book of our series). Each of Tesla’s objects has a power that, in the wrong hands, could destroy the world. And, as it happens, the wrong hands are trying to get ahold of the inventions: the Accelerati, a secret society of sinister scientists founded a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison.

Our goal was to fill the books with laughter along with the fantasy and fast-paced action. One of my favorite moments in the second novel, Edison’s Alley, is the scene illustrated on the cover. A small team of Accelerati agents, led by Dr. Jorgenson, raids Nick’s house to steal the objects he has recovered so far. To stop them, Nick grabs something that looks like an ordinary household fan—but actually has the power to generate an ice storm. Nick points the fan at Dr. Jorgenson and shouts “Freeze!” But the scientist doesn’t listen to him because he doesn’t know that Nick means it literally!

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a writing partner?

As every writer knows, writing can be a solitary pursuit—many hours spent alone in a room with nothing but the blank page (or screen) and your thoughts. So the first advantage: it’s simply more fun to write with a partner! (Of course, it has to be the right partner!) Neal and I have a similar sense of story, and a similar sense of humor, too. We will toss ideas and lines back and forth, trying to make each other laugh, and sometimes at the end of the day it feels like we’ve just spent six hours goofing off, then we look down and twelve pages have been written.

Another advantage is being able to find out right away if something is funny or not. When I’m working on a project alone and I write something that I think is funny, well, it might only be me who thinks it’s funny! But if I say something that makes Neal laugh, I can extrapolate outward that if one other person laughed then it’s likely many other people will find it funny too!

Unlike some writing partners who exchange and edit each other’s chapters, Neal and I usually try to get in the same room together to write. And that’s another advantage: it keeps us working! If one of us doesn’t feel like writing that day, but the other has made the effort to get there, we feel a powerful obligation to write.

As far as potential disadvantages, one thing I’m often asked is what happens when we disagree. This can be a major downside in a writing partnership, and is the reason many dissolve. Neal and I sidestep this problem because each of us has total veto power over any idea or element the other comes up with, and so we never argue. If I come up with an idea that I love and Neal hates it, or vice versa, we don’t argue. We simply let that idea go, and say, “Let’s come up with something better.” And we always do!

3. What are the biggest mistakes you see in an author’s first pages?

Many new authors don’t appreciate the importance of the first page. As a writing coach, I have read manuscripts by good writers that begin with lengthy scenic description, or obscure backstory, or a random conversation that leads nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that these writers are, in effect, treading water before their story begins.
By the bottom of the first page the reader should have a sense of where the story is going, and the tension that comes from knowing that something is about to happen or be revealed. Many first pages simply provide information when the opening page needs to be compelling. There has to be a reason for the reader to turn the page. Put another way, the author has one page to grab the reader by creating a living, breathing, three-dimensional character we care about, with a hint of the story to come, and a narrative voice the reader connects to. That’s all!

4. Do you think a social media presence is necessary for authors?

While a social media presence seems, increasingly, to be a requirement for an established writer (and I have to admit that my own is woefully inadequate!), I don’t feel it’s as important for writers at or near the beginning of their careers.
While a “platform” of some kind can’t hurt a writer hoping to sell their first book to a publisher (and having tens of thousands of followers will certainly help!), the one thing a new writer needs more than anything is an incredibly good, page-turner of a manuscript. The advice I heard an agent at a conference give to a room full of first time writers still rings true: instead of spending time on Twitter or Facebook or your website, devote that time to polishing your manuscript.

5. Describe your most memorable moment as an author.

The thing I get the most joy from, on an on-going basis, is speaking at schools. When I appear in front of a group of youngsters—whether a small gathering or several classes in an auditorium—and I get to see their enthusiasm about reading and writing, and they get to see that writers are real people, it helps remind me why I am doing this. And kids are honest, too—they will ask you anything and really tell you what they think! I occasionally lead writing workshops for small groups of students at the schools I visit, and I feel privileged to see the passion and energy and talent they bring to their work.

But the single moment from my career that meant the most to me came shortly after my first book was published — The Very Scary Almanac, an offbeat almanac from Random House. I can still vividly remember the first time I walked into a bookstore and there it was, my book, on the shelf, where anyone could buy it. That’s a a feeling I will never forget.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Eric Elfman. To learn more visit his website:


An Interview with Jordan Rosenfeld

February 20, 2015

1. Can you give us some highlights from your book: Making a Scene?

I consider the scene the “essential DNA” of any good story—if you learn how to balance and wield the ingredients of a scene, you have the most fundamental pieces of story. My forthcoming book with Martha Alderson, Writing Deep Scenes” will go further and show you how to stack your scenes, and what kinds, to build a strong plot.

2. What do you think is the best technique to create tension?

The greatest technique may be uncertainty; creating a“push-pull” energy in every scene. That means nothing comes easy—dialogue is never flat or simple, the reader is always wondering what is coming next. You never “give” the reader exactly what s/he wants, but keep something up in the air, keep yearning alive. This also means paying attention to your language.

3. What authors have most influenced your writing?

I just wrote a piece about the “awkward female heroines” of my youth for DAME [] and I’d have to say that I was strongly influenced as a child by writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Louisa May Alcott, and when I grew up I gravitated to Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Donna Tartt. I like strong female writers with a propensity toward darkness.

4. Describe your path to publication.

I often call it my “stumble and bumble” path to success. I have a BA in Liberal Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing—not exactly highly employable degrees. I’ve always just thrown myself in the path of what I loved. Did a lot of volunteer gigs that put me close to writers: led a literary salon, hosted and recorded a literary radio show (in which I got to interview some of my literary heroes like Louise Erdrich and TC Boyle). I tend to ignore advice that says “you should” or “you can’t” and go my own way. When I sold Make a Scene to Writer’s Digest Books, I had no platform, not much name for myself and no agent. If I listened to the advice I should not have been able to do that. My motto is “practice, polish, persist.” And also: “Say yes to new opportunities even if they scare you.”

5. What are the biggest mistakes you see in the manuscripts that you edit?

Lack of craft. People rush their stories out and don’t take the time to care about their sentences, their character development, grounding a reader in a scene, working on dialogue. To me, this is the one downside of the speed by which self-publishing moves—people have begun to sacrifice the work needed to revise and get feedback.

6. Do you think a social media presence is necessary to get a book deal?

In this day and age, it certainly helps. I don’t know if it’s necessary as much for fiction, but for non-fiction, yes.

7. If you were to describe yourself as a breed of cat what would it be?

Siamese. Because they are alternately graceful and annoying. They are the “snobs” of the cat world, but when you actually get to know them, they’re quite cuddly.

8. What is your greatest writing weakness?

Over-writing. I have to work on my own wordiness, over-use of adjectives, and imagery.

9. In this changing industry, do you think self-publication is a good career path for an author?

If by “career” you mean is self-publishing a good way to make money, the answer is: sometimes. But I can’t, in good faith say: quit your day job. Amazon, which is in many ways the overlord of self-publishing, no matter what service you use, since they do everything better, faster and cheaper, and ultimately control the price points, and the search algorithms, is making it harder for self-publishers to make as much money as they did when it all blew up several years ago. But like any aspect of publishing, if you find a niche and you’re good at it, sure, you can make some income off of it.

10. How do you handle rejection and what advice do you have for authors facing their 10th, 20th, 50th rejection?

The very basis of my forthcoming book A Writer’s Guide to Persistence is that you must find the joy and the meaning in your work so that you can weather the rejection and discouragement. It has to matter to you beyond approval, publication and praise or you will fall prey to discouragement. I also say that if you’re facing more rejection than anything else, it’s probably a good idea to revisit the work and go deeper into it. Otherwise, maybe look at the places you’re choosing to submit, and rethink them, as well. I’ve been pursuing a writing career for twenty years and most of my biggest success has come in the last year. There has been plenty of small success along the way, but this year, something shifted. So, above all: persist!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jordan Rosenfeld. To learn more visit her website):

Self-Publishing Tips from Smashword’s Jim Azevedo

January 31, 2015

1. In one paragraph, summarize the services of Smashwords.

Smashwords provides free ebook publishing and distribution services for self-published authors. When you click “Publish” at the Smashwords site, you’ll be asked to upload your original document as either an epub file or a Microsoft Word .doc file (we recommend a Word .doc file). Once your book is uploaded, it’s converted into every important ebook file type (e.g. mobi, epub, pdf, etc.) and then checked for any formatting errors. This process takes about 5 minutes, after which your book is available for immediate sale and sampling at If no formatting errors are detected, the book is ready for distribution through our global retail network–including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster and more–as well as to libraries through our partnerships with OverDrive and Baker & Taylor. I should point out that Smashwords is free to join, free to publish, free to distribute, and the ebook conversion is also free. Authors can also make unlimited changes to their books at no charge. Smashwords only makes money if our authors’ books sell. We take a 10% commission, and the author earns 60-80% of their ebook’s list price as their royalty.

2. Besides writing a super awesome book, what is the most important thing a self-published author can do to promote their books?

Besides writing a super-awesome book, the most important thing an author can do to promote their books is to make their books as findable as possible. To make your books as findable as possible, distribute all of your books to all the places where readers go to find books. This means a reader should be able to find your books at any of the major online ebook retailers, subscription services and at libraries. On your website, blog or favorite social media platform, if you’re only providing a link to one retail store, you’re missing out on all the readers who prefer to shop elsewhere. So, don’t just link to one store where your book is for sale–link to all of them. Make your books as accessible and affordable as possible. Remember, within every ebook you have the opportunity to promote your other titles, link to your website, etc. Think of every book that you write and every hyperlink that you provide as paths that lead the reader back to you, the author, and to your other books.

3. What is the most important “lessons learned” that Smashwords has discovered since it started in 2008?

I’ll answer this from a Smashwords business perspective first, which I believe also applies to the business of being an author. The most important lesson learned is that everything is changing all the time. You can ill afford to rest on your laurels or stop innovating or stop learning. In the same vein, you also can’t afford to be paralyzed by fear, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your style or your marketing, and don’t be afraid to fail. From an author perspective, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that finding time to write must be your number one priority. This isn’t just my advice, but advice culled from dozens of bestselling authors I’ve either met or who I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak at conferences.

4. You trained to public speak through Toastmasters, what other advice would you give to writers faced with giving talks to promote their books?

Boy, this could be the topic of a completely separate interview. I’ll boil it down to three key pieces of advice. First, jump into the fire. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way and proactively seek out more. I know it’s scary, but nothing alleviates fear more than experience. When I started public speaking, I transitioned from 5-7 minute Toastmaster speeches to presentations that were at least 45 minutes long. But two years later, I’ve spoken at 40 different events and presented about 60 hours worth of material. To gain experience, seek out opportunities to speak at CWC meetings, at work, at school, at Toastmasters, and even at writers’ conferences. Consider submitting a speaking proposal for a panel session at a writers’ conference with some of your fellow author friends sitting on the panel with you. That way, you’re exposed to a live audience but you have backup if needed.

Second, rehearse as early and as often as you can. Most of our nervousness derives from some internal lack of confidence. However, the more prepared you are the more confident you’ll be. While different speakers have developed different techniques to help prepare, what works for me is reading through my slides several times out loud, so I can get used to the sound of my voice. I’ll also project the slides onto a wall and pretend like I’m speaking to an audience. Audiences appreciate a prepared and knowledgeable speaker. Remember that your presentation isn’t about perfection. It’s about providing information to an audience that’s on your side and eager to hear what you have to say.

Third, show up early and chat with the attendees and the other presenters. When I first started publicly speaking, I convinced myself that everyone in the audience was smarter than me and that I would be exposed as a fraud. Talk about pressure! However, whenever I found the time to meet the other presenters or members of the audience, I learned that they were normal, very friendly people who weren’t out to get me. Another advantage you’ll have by chatting with others before you start, is that you’ll find you have friends in the audience when you begin. They will be the people who are smiling brightly at you as you cover your key points.

5. What is the most common formatting error that you see?

The most common formatting error continues to be a hodgepodge of different paragraph styles within the same document, prior to ebook conversion. If writing in Microsoft Word, the author might have Normal Style for one paragraph, Body Text in another paragraph, and possibly even multiple Heading styles. Often, in Microsoft Word, the author may not even realize they have multiple conflicting paragraph styles. Once converted into an ebook, this formatting error can cause the ebook to have inconsistent font sizes from one paragraph to the next. As you can imagine, this can make for an annoying read. Fortunately, the fix is easy. Simply by unifying the entire document under a single paragraph style (e.g. Normal) can take care of the issue. The author can still create custom sections to enhance the appearance of their book. For more detailed advice, be sure to download our free formatting guide, the Smashwords Style Guide, here:

6. When not working at Smashwords, you are a drummer in a band called Rivals, if you were to describe yourself as a famous musician who would that be?

I don’t know that I can describe myself as Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, but I’ve admired his career for years. Dave reached celebrity status as the drummer for Nirvana, the gritty punk rock band widely credited for launching the so-called “grunge” movement of the 1990s while simultaneously destroying the “hair metal” scene of the 1980s. Nirvana’s raw, authentic sound was refreshing to music fans that had grown tired of a manufactured look and sound. After the demise of Nirvana, Dave founded the Foo Fighters, now recognized as one of the most successful bands in history. More recently, his passion for music led to his producing and directing of two critically acclaimed films, Sound City in 2013 and the HBO series Sonic Highways in 2014. My drumming style is similar to Dave’s, but what I admire about the man is how he’s stayed true to his passion throughout his life. I think there’s a lesson there, whether you’re a musician, an author or a bricklayer. If you love what you do, keep doing it no matter what.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jim Azevedo. To learn more about Smashwords visit or follow their blog at

An Interview with Andrew Benzie of Andrew Benzie Books

November 28, 2014

1. How did you get involved in the self publishing business? Did you take classes? Was there a part of your educational background that helped you pursue this career?

My art degree from UC Santa Cruz combined with 25 years’ experience in the design/print industry has prepared me well for the self publishing revolution. I first became involved in self publishing when I designed, published and marketed my father’s first novel The Elusive Immigrant in 2008—since then I have published over 20 books for local Bay Area authors.

2. Have you written a book? If not, what would you write about if you had all the time in the world to do so?

I have written bits and pieces here and there, but haven’t managed to complete a book just yet. If I had unlimited time, I might explore creating an interactive animated children’s ebook.

3. What is the most common problem you’ve encountered with manuscripts submitted to you, i.e. formatting? What do your clients do that makes Andrew nuts?

After I enter a client’s manuscript into one of my templates, I always go through the text and check for things like the number of spaces between sentences, indents instead of tabs, make sure the use of em and en dashes is consistent, do a final spell check, etc., so I really don’t run across anything that drives me nuts formatting wise. I tell my clients not to worry about the formatting—that’s my job, just focus on the writing.

4. What is your favorite color and why? How many walls in your home are painted your favorite color? Is your car that color?

Blue, because my wife’s eyes are blue. Yes, she told me to say that. Sorry, I have no blue walls or cars.

5. Who is your favorite author?

That’s a tough one, it changes all the time I suppose . . . but I recently enjoyed plowing through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.

6. Other than Curious George, what is your favorite book? How many times have you read it? (Not Curious George but your favorite book.)

I have probably read the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than any other book as it was the first book I really enjoyed reading as a child. And that was way before the movies came out!

7. You play the drums. Which rock star would you like to be?

There are a lot of drummers out there who I admire, but I think I’ll just stick with being me. Even if that means I still have to lug my own drums around. One of these days I’ll hire a roadie.

8. What is your favorite food?

Pizza. It’s the whole food pyramid served in the shape of a food pyramid.

9. What advice would you give someone who is considering self publishing, other than seeking the expert services of Andrew Benzie?

I would suggest anyone considering self-publishing do as much research as they can about the many options available to them, and to learn as much as they can from others who have been through the process before. And don’t forget to have fun, it can be a very rewarding process!

10. From your point of view, what is the most challenging or difficult thing about self-publishing?

Often its the marketing side that’s most challenging for my clients. To offer assistance, I offer marketing consultation services to help authors find ways to promote and market their books.

To learn more about Andrew Benzie Books, visit

An Interview with IPPY Winner: Dina Colman

November 19, 2014

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  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life.

Many people worry about getting cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or heart disease because it “runs in our family.” Four Quadrant Living is about nourishing the four quadrants of our lives – Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment – to create our new health destiny. Four Quadrant Living shows us how to take responsibility for our health and make healthy living a part of our daily routine. Everyday we make choices that impact our health—the foods we eat, the products we use, the exercise we do (or don’t do), the stress we allow, the people we surround ourselves with, and the environment we live in. Four Quadrant Living offers practical suggestions for nourishing the four quadrants of our lives, including ways to reduce stress, live mindfully, eat well, exercise more, sleep better, engage in healthy relationships, and detoxify our environment.

  1. What advice do you have for nonfiction writers?

Write about your passion. Bring your personality into your writing. Share your story as to why you are writing about your topic. Use examples to help illustrate your point. Believe in yourself. Don’t try to please everyone, write your truth.

  1. How important do you think social media is to a book’s success?

Social media was critical to my book’s success in several ways. First, it helped me get really powerful endorsements such as Dick Bolles, John Robbins, Ken Wilber, Sarah Susanka, Guy Kawasaki, and more. I used every way possible to contact people – LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Second, it helped me hit Amazon Top 100 at book launch. I had a 24-hour promotional campaign on the day the book was published. My book actually hit #2 in its category! You can see what readers received if they bought my book in the first 24 hours on my website at I have changed the marketing of the page to have it be an ongoing offer, but you can see what I gave away. Readers actually sent me their Amazon receipt to get their free book extras. Social media worked!

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

As a new writer, every step of the way felt like a challenge. It felt like I was constantly at the bottom of a new learning curve with each new step of the way – getting a publisher, getting endorsements, editing, designing the cover, launch, and so on. It was a hard road, but so worth it. My book has won 11 awards. The biggest reward is hearing from readers on what chapters or ideas resonate the most with them and how the book has inspired them to live a healthier life.

  1. Do you write organically or do you outline? If you outline, how close is the finished product to your outline?

I write organically. I did have a Table of Contents that was in the book proposal so I did know most of the 48 chapters ahead of time. Most of that stayed true in the final book. I didn’t have any sort of order for writing the chapters. My book is organized into four sections: Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. I did not have a plan for how I chose which chapter to write. For example, I could have written one chapter in Mind, then Body, then Relationships and then Environment, and then repeat. Or I could have written all Mind chapters, then Body, and so on. I just looked at my table of contents and wrote what I felt inspired to write on any given day.

  1. If you were to give any one of your four quadrants more priority, what would it be?

That’s like being asked to choose your favorite child! The essence of Four Quadrant Living is that all four quadrants are integral for our health and happiness. In this country, we tend to focus on the Body quadrant when we think of health, but this only tells us one-fourth of the story. We may be eating well and exercising, but we cannot truly be healthy if at the same time our mind is stressed, our relationships are toxic, and our world is sick.

  1. What is your greatest writing weakness?

My biggest writing weakness is just to make the time for it and not let life get in the way. I love to write and I love to edit my work. I have fond memories of spending hour upon hour sitting on my couch with pen and paper editing my book. I write at the computer and edit with pen and paper. Perhaps because I wrote my book as a new writer, I didn’t have expectations or know to follow any specific way of doing it (either the process or the content). I just wrote my book as I wanted to without any preconceived notions of how it should be done.

  1. Do you think owning a dog affects your health? What about another pet (cat, bird, etc.) that doesn’t require exercise?

Yes! There is a chapter in my book entitled “Four-Legged Therapy” about the health benefits our pets give us. It’s not just about the exercise a dog can give us, it’s about the love and nourishment any pet can give us. As I write in my book, “Is there a prescription drug that can make us feel as good as a puppy licking our face or a kitten cuddling in our arms?” Spending time with our pets has physiological and psychological health benefits including lower resting heart rate, improved mood, lower anxiety, and less loneliness. The chapter goes on to explain some studies with other shown health benefits including higher survival rates after heart surgery and fewer doctor visits. I will always have a four-legged animal in my household. I can’t imagine life without my furry friends.

  1. Writing is a sedentary pursuit. How do you balance writing with a healthy lifestyle?

What a great question as I type the answers to these questions as I’m walking on a treadmill! I have a treadmill desk so I can walk and type at the same time. I found myself spending so much time at my computer that when I heard about a treadmill desk, I knew it was for me! I’ve walked over 80 miles on my treadmill desk. Some people wonder how you can type and walk at the same time, but it is pretty easy. You walk at a much slower pace than you do if you were walking for true exercise, but in an hour of work I can walk 1.5 miles. Even if you can’t have a treadmill desk, there are ways to balance writing with a healthy lifestyle. I had a timer that I would set and after an hour of writing or editing, I would be sure to get up and stretch. You can do five minutes of jumping jacks, jumping rope, lifting weights, squats. I have a very active lifestyle so I’m pretty motivated to get out and exercise. Running is my exercise of choice, especially outside on the many local trails with my pup Kora.

Dina Colman, MA, MBA is an award-winning author, healthy living coach, and founder of Four Quadrant Living. Dina has a private practice helping clients live healthier and happier lives. Her Amazon Top 100 book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, guides readers to make healthy living a part of their daily lives, leading to greater health, vitality, and happiness. Contact Dina at

An Interview with Melanie Denman – 2014 IPPY Award Winner

November 15, 2014

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1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book.

Set in the Bible Belt of Deep East Texas, Visiting the Sins is the story of three generations of women whose lofty social aspirations are exceeded only by their unfortunate taste in men and a seemingly boundless capacity for holding grudges. A legacy of feuding and scandal lurches from one generation to the next with tragic consequences that threaten to destroy everything these feisty but perennially dissatisfied women have sacrificed their souls to build.

2. Tell us about the signature drink that was developed for your book.

The “Pokeyteeny” is a drink named in honor of one of my main characters Pokey, the love-starved, pistol-packing matriarch of the Wheeler clan. Like its namesake character, the “Pokeyteeny” is nicely aged, a little dirty, and packing heat! It’s made with tequila and will liven up a book club discussion, for sure.

3. Who are your favorite authors? 

William Faulkner, Larry McMurtry, Leon Uris, Paul Bowles, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I like Katherine Anne Porter’s short stories. All of Mary Karr’s memoirs. And mysteries by James Lee Burke.

4. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication?

Learning to appreciate criticism.

5. Where did you come up with the idea about your devil painting? 

I grew up with a big painting of the devil hanging on the wall in our living room.

6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of southern food, what would you be?

My favorite southern food is Mexican food, so maybe I would be an enchilada with mole sauce.

7. What did you think the major advantages to doing a professional program like the Stanford Writing Program as compared to being involved in a critique group?

Actually the writing program and my critique group were both instrumental in the development of my book, just in different ways. In the Stanford novel program, we dissected a lot of novels and worked on improving specific aspects of our own novels, such as character development, dialogue, point of view, setting, and plot arc. It sort of forces you through a process that refines all aspects of your novel. Within a critique group, the writer chooses what to submit for critique, so you can really drill down and work on whatever aspect of your novel you think needs the most work.

8. How did growing up in east Texas influence your writing? 

It probably infused me with the joy of storytelling. Humor, suspense, cadence, irony, the element of surprise.

9. Since you are writing about an East Texas family, do you fear any repercussions? Will anyone write you out of their will? Will you ever be able to go “home” for Thanksgiving after your book is released without someone trying to poison your turkey?

No, all my characters are fictional. But I think all my female family and friends harbor a secret wish that I will write a book about them that gets turned into a movie so they can play themselves and have a kissing scene with George Clooney.

10. What have you done (will you do) to broaden the appeal of your book since it reflects a specific area in Texas? Are there common themes or threads with which people in other States can identify?

In my experience, people enjoy reading about settings and cultures different from their own. Most people can relate to personal struggles with ambition, forgiveness, and self-destruction. And some things about human nature are universal, such as the ability of mothers and daughters to make each other homicidal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Melanie Denman. Learn more about the book and purchase Visiting the Sins at

An Interview with Alfred J. Garrotto

November 9, 2014


Blogger’s Note:  Please join Al Garrotto at the December 12, 2015 Mt. Diablo California Writer’s Club Holiday meeting.  Al will be speaking on the Perfection aspect of the Three Ps of Publishing.  We have a seated meal for this event and you can choose from: pasta primavera, salmon, chicken parmesan, or NY steak.  Costs are $20 members and $25 nonmembers. Reservations required, contact Robin Gigoux at , leave a message at 925-933-9670, or sign up via PayPal: Click “buy now” on the Mt. Diablo website, . Add the $2 transaction fee.  In all cases, please let Robin know your meal choice so the restaurant can plan. Sign-in starts at 11:15 am. Luncheon 12 – 12:45 pm. Speakers 1- 2 pm at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant: 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill. $25 members, $30 guests Reservation deadline: noon, Wednesday, December 9th.  If you need to cancel, you must do so before noon on Friday, Dec 11 to avoid forfeiting the cost of the meeting.

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your book: There’s More . . . : a Novella of Life and Afterlife

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, will this pitch be his last? The Universe might have 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 story invites readers to expand their existing concepts and consider broader cosmic possibilities in answer to the universal question, “What’s next?”

  1. What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

There are two sources of inspiration for There’s More . . . 
First, I am a passionate baseball fan and student of the game. I’ve always wanted to write a baseball story. This particular tale was inspired by a friend I knew well, who gave up a career in baseball to become a Catholic priest. His name was John Thom. At the age of 32, he was murdered “in the line of duty.” My main character, Jack Thorne, is a lot like my priest-friend.

My second source of inspiration came from the catalyst character in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Bishop Charles Francois Myriel. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a novel based on him. Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel first met, when I began writing There’s More. They immediately liked each other, and the story took off from there.

  1. Who are your favorite authors? 

I’ll try to keep my list as short as possible by focusing on fiction writers. Number one is Victor Hugo, primarily as author of Les Miserables, the most amazing novel I’ve ever read and the one that has had the greatest influence my life. I also admire Ann Patchett, and I’ve often said that Bel Canto is a novel I wish I had written myself. (She beat me to it.) I like Ken Follett for being able to write in epic style, which I cannot. My stories are small and tight. I greatly admired his novel, Pillars of the Earth. I have read the first two volumes of his 20th Century Trilogy and found them to be great models of telling an epic story from the point of view of an international cast of ordinary people with real lives and passions. Other favorite novelists include Jussi Adler-Olson and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication? 

Although my earlier novels were published by commercial houses, they were always off the mark from what the current market was looking for. My biggest obstacle to commercial success may have been my inability to write for the “hot market.” I’ve chosen, instead, to write the stories that were in my heart and send them out into the universe.

  1. Was this book easier to write than your previous novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story?

Yes, but only in the sense that I already had a lot of the material that ended up in There’s More. Let me explain. I was writing a baseball novel that just wasn’t going anywhere. At the same time, I was gathering material for a novel about Bishop Myriel of Les Miserables fame. And that wasn’t going anywhere. Reluctant to give up on these two projects, I got the idea to put the two stories together and . . . voila! It worked. The odd couple of Jack Thorne and Bishop Myriel melded quite well, and I’m very happy with the result. I think they are too.

  1. What advice would you give to new writers?

Let me speak to first-time novelists. (Nonfiction is a different animal, usually rising out of an area of the author’s unique experience and expertise.) 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.

  1. If you were to describe yourself as a character in There’s More . . . , who would that be?

I’d be Bishop Myriel. In a way, I’m a lot like Victor Hugo in that respect. His personal life was far different from the lives of his two heroic figures, Jean Valjean and Bishop Myriel. I’ve always thought that Hugo saw in these two characters the best self he truly wanted to be—spiritual, compassionate, forgiving, faithful. Like me, the real Hugo could not bring himself to maintain these desired qualities in his personal life.

  1. What are your writing strengths?

The first is perseverance, the ability to see a project through, from concept to publication. As a novelist, I create characters who act and talk like real people. The best compliment I ever received was from a reader of one of my early novels. She was present at a book signing at a local Barnes & Noble store. She commented that my writing “read like poetry.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do think my writing has a comfortable flow to it.

  1. What do you see as the challenges in adapting a novel to a screenplay?

So far, I’ve adapted one of my novels, The Saint of Florenville, to a screenplay. It has garnered a lot of interest, but so far no option. I will soon begin adaptation of There’s More for the big screen. The challenge is to think visually. In a novel, you can rummage around inside a character’s head—for a long time. Film is visual storytelling and demands that the adapter be able to create memorable images on the page that will later translate to the screen. Learning the technical aspects of screenwriting are not all that difficult, but it helps to have someone “in the business” to offer advice. My advisor is my friend, the Italian director Max Leonida, whose career as a filmmaker in the U.S. is heating up.

    10. How do you balance writing with a full-time job?

Although I’ve passed retirement age, I still work full time. There are weeks when I do not touch my manuscript. Even so, characters and plot are always present and active somewhere in my imagination. Then, at other times I feel so compelled to write that I find cracks in my schedule where I can do that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Alfred J. Garrotto.

To learn more, visit his website

He blogs at (e-mail him at

There’s More . . . is his seventh novel and eleventh book. They are available on at ( and other online booksellers.