Ex-priest critique of my book


This is a critique of my political-religious thriller, BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA, by an ex-priest and a person I know and respect. His perspective:

Subject: pure fiction

The whole thesis of your “betrayal” is that if the more than 400
“Christian” denominations “discovered” the teachings of Jesus Christ they
would all unite as one church. I regard this thesis as an incredible
dream. Why? The major denominations all have two things in common
and neither of the two things is Christian. First, they all are willing
and, sometimes, eager to get money. They use lots of excuses for the
use of the money– a bigger church, a TV network, professional musicians
for their “worship romp and stomp”, publications that show
support for certain political strains, executive salaries for their leaders,
etc. The multiplicity of denominations means that many more
buildings and leaders. To get all this money they have to “adjust”
their message to suit the wants of the rich.

The second factor is the quest for power. You hit the nail on the head
when you singled out Constantine as the guy who wrecked the Christian message. Ever since that day the leadership of the Catholic Church has
stood hand in hand with the political leaders. For several centuries
the Church was the political leader. It is no accident that whenever a
preacher said something the king or duke or local bishop didn’t like
there was heresy trial. After Luther the leaders of the “split offs”
copied the success story of the Catholics. They had to justify a lot of
unsavory practices that the political leaders wanted. So they
“evangelized” the Indians in South America (Catholic), they
internationalized banking (Catholic, Calvinists), they sanctioned
slavery of any people of color and any people who were debtors. The list
of grievances goes on and on. The point is that if these similarities
in their human rights violations did not bring them together, a call to
live Christ’s message would not. St. Francis of Assisi preached the
message. So did Vincent DePaul. Each was responsible for a movement
within the Catholic Church that was outstandingly good, but it never
took over. The current Pope, Francis, tries to deal with the dichotomy
in the Catholic Church and he is admired for it. But most of the rank
and file won’t change.

For your next book have a fictional leader of a truly good movement and
the fate he or she faces because of stepping on sensitive toes. Take
some simple things like a priest pastor who tries to remove the statues
from his church. And then the Pastor prohibits worship of Mary (no May
festival, no rosary).

CHECK OUT LIBBY; new at the party

Feel like I’m always late to the party; or don’t get invited; or don’t care: I’m talking about technology. But this time, I knew something about tech that my daughter didn’t.


Available as an app through the Stockton public library. If you have a library card, you can borrow audio books for free for up to 21 days; no fines or late fees. It just electronically disappears.

What’s good—the free audio books go to your hard drive on your iPhone (I now have an iPhone, having turned in my 10 yo flip phone), or computer, or Ipad. No need to use those internet “minutes” or stay connected.

Right now, I have on my audio LIBBY bookshelf:
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry ( by Neil DeGrasse Tyson)
A Man Called Ove (by Fredrik Backman–I thought it would be by a guy named “Ove”?)
The Late Show ( by Michael Connelly)

What also works well for me, is they have 5-minute audio samples– lets me listen to various literary styles/techniques/tones to keep the boys in the basement sharp (that’s a literary reference to the “writing subconscious”).

Tyson let me down though, last night. I was using him to put me to sleep at 3 a.m. Instead, my head filled up with photons, and electrons, and leptons which interfered with my neurons.

Write On!

Critique Groups

I second H’s motion.
The harsh, unremitting, blistering, flaying, take-no-prisoners, in-your-face, critiques of my work–sensitively, kindly, and thoughtfully delivered have been invaluable to me. [Sunglasses]
We also need to meet to remind ourselves that we’re not crazy–we’re writers!

writing as Ben Leiter


I hope no one gets distressed by the occasional cancellation. Summer can be difficult. This group is too effective not to thrive. It has been enormously helpful in my writing. I will have a new manuscript in progress next week and will look forward to a great critique.



On Jul 31, 2018,  Ben Leiter wrote:

Hi folks,
Based on response, I am canceling the meeting for tonite.
Only had 1 fer-sure; and two maybes.
We’ll try for next week.

Write On!

SCREENWRITING–advice to a cousin

E-mail response to a request:

Hey, cousin, here’s a response to your question about screenwriting technique-books, courtesy of Harlan Hague. Harlan is an award-winning writer of westerns. I’ve read his stuff and like it, especially IF I SHOULD DIE.

I have SAVE THE CAT. It is considered a classic. Easy to read for you, but unfortunately, the only cartoon is on the cover. [Stuck out tongue winking eye]

My suggestions:
*Go to Amazon and buy all three books used. The cost of the book can be less than the postage.
*Start watching/listening to you-tube videos on screenwriting while you are doing your daily pumping-iron routines.
*Get Neil Simon screenplays from the library.
*Check out to see if you can get LIBBY. It’s a free audiobook download (bestsellers, etc.) available through some libraries if you have a library card. Once downloaded, you do not need the internet to listen. You have the audiobook for a set time and it automatically expires. No fines.
*Since you are Irish and may have screenwriting interests, it is a mandatory requirement that you master ULYSSES by James Joyce and memorize the first 100 lines. There will be a test. A representative from the Irish Republic will schedule you when you are ready.

Actually, I think you might do well. Screenplays, in my opinion, are more action and dialogue-oriented/dependent than my stuff which explores the nature of man and the cosmos. Lots of exploring–no answers. Also, I think your stuff would sell.
[Thanks for the followup on the books, Harlan. I would like to borrow the books and look through them. I already have SAVE THE CAT.]

Write On!


Recommended screenwriting books from Harlan Hague:

Here are some standards on screenwriting basics:

Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
Screenwriting, by Richard Walter
Screenplay, by Syd Field




“Mr. President, The-Donald! Welcome to Mother Russia. Excuse me …Finland. Not Russia, yet.

“Vladimir, my man. Good to see you again. Just call me ‘Donald.’”

“‘Just-Donald?’ No, not as good name as ‘The-Donald,’ like they call you back in America. I give everyone nickname, like your George W. do. Dubya, his name. Sit down. Sit down.” 


“Thank you for meeting privately, The-Donald. No press. No interpreters. No pesky staff who always interfere. We don’t need no stinkin’ staff. We know what we want, right?”

“Yes, sir, we do. I want a deal.”

“Da. Da. We need deal. I know you are expert in these matters. I read your book. Well, my people read your book, Fire and Fury.


“Hmm? Oh, no, no. I meant Put Art in the Deal. I would suggest rename it Putin’ Art in the Deal.”

“Sir, I think you mean The Art of the Deal.”

“Yes! Yes. That. You are great writer.”

“Thank you. I wrote every word myself. I am a master writer.”

“Well, I propose deal for you, but I know you will have huger hand.”

“‘Huger hand’? Oh, ‘upper hand.’ Well, sir, not with you. I have too much respect for you to take advantage. So impressed with what you have done with your fabulous country. Folks don’t mess with you. No special prosecutors, no nosy press. I should follow your example and annex Western Canada—you know, the White parts. Probably need to include Quebec. Cool city and Melania loves French. I like the Canadians, so polite, so friendly like my supporters in the middle of my country. Canadians—no trouble; of course, they’d have to give up their health care.”

“The-Donald, since we talk real estate, I mean to ask what would you take for Alaska? We sold it to you for $7.2 million in 1867. You had very good return on that investment. We think now is time to reclaim our property . . . for the right price, of course.”

“$7.2 million? That much? Is that the deal they called Seward’s Folly?”

“Yes, you understand real estate. Think of Mother Russia as the original owner of Alaska, the landlord, and we allow you sublet for 151 years. Maybe like your Monopoly game. You trade Alaska, I give you exclusive franchise for all new six star hotels in entire territory of Soviet Union.”

“Hmmm. How would that work? Well, I mean you are Russia now, much smaller than the former USSR.”

“The-Donald, no matter. Wait. New borders are coming. Soon . . . trust me.”

“Oh, I do. Our President Reagan agreed. ‘Trust, but verify,’ he said. I already trust you. No need to worry about “verify” details. That’s for staff. Did you know I have the best staff in the history of the United States? Maybe the world?”

“Nooo, The-Donald. I did not know this. I am not surprised. Your moves—so bold, shutting down that money-draining NATO and creating tariffs. Giving tax breaks to the rich so that they create more jobs. The proletariat cannot create jobs. And, bringing back cheap coal and all those high paying jobs underground. Brilliant.”

“Vlad, we should talk. I don’t like Alaska. Cold weather, no place for golf courses, can’t work on my tan. But I need a package deal.”

“Package? What in package?”

“You know. The tape from my little Moscow escapades. There’s only one copy, right? You promised.”

“Of course, only one tape. I have back in desk drawer in my KGB—I mean—Moscow office. We can do deal.”

“Great, Vlad. If you ever think about retiring, I can fix you up with great property management jobs.”

“You are too good to me, The-Donald. But, first I must count my fingers, after shaking your hand. You are so deal-maker.”



This is a guest blog/short story which I believe you will enjoy and remember. I do.

                                Should I Trust My Heart?

by John D. Britto

Just home from Hong Kong, my well-worn suitcases were barely unpacked as I settled in to check my email account. A bit jet-lagged, I dreaded the process. 

Despite my spam guard, crafty marketers always found a weakness in my defenses. They would send me information I didn’t need, didn’t want and didn’t like. Get-rich-quick-schemes, diet pitches, miracle pills and urgent announcements telling me I had inherited riches beyond my wildest dreams traveled through cyberspace into my quiet condo.

My tired eyes quickly reviewed the two-dozen message lines. Without mercy, my finger deleted everything that didn’t have a familiar From or Subject line. I settled into a comfortable rhythm, clicking at a reasonable pace making short-work of the irksome meddlers.

Then, like a burst of fireworks in the night sky, I saw a brief, cryptic subject line. It could only be one person; an extraordinary person who was an influential part of my life many years ago. My eyes popped open, my heart pumped a little quicker and I was suddenly wide-awake.  

But it couldn’t be, I reasoned. Why would she want to contact me after all these years? We had grown from the closest of companions, to the best of friends, and then almost inseparable. She was my first love. But that was a quarter of a century ago. Our parting was, well, unusual. In fact, much about those final days still remained unclear to me. 

We had each left for college right after high school. In my senior year, my parents wrote and told me she had married on the East Coast. After college, I got married on the West Coast–and then almost predictably, unmarried in Texas a few years later. As time passed, she became a fond memory. Certain songs or movies stirred long-lost feelings, but our lives were separated by three-thousand miles and twenty-five years. I wondered why she would contact me now.

Then it hit me like a punch in the gut, there was a possible worst-case scenario here. A hacker or identity thief might be on the other end of this message. I might be a target. I might be at risk if I opened this message. Was this a deceitful ploy playing on my emotions, luring me with the promise of rediscovering a long-lost love? I had to decide what to do: Be cynical—or trust my heart?

My wavering hand was poised over the mouse. My burning eyes were fixed like a laser on that cryptic subject line. As my breathing quickened, I faintly recalled listening to a college professor lecturing on the phenomenon of human indecision. But here I was, in real-time, trying to choose: Is it a former love—or perhaps a ruthless thief? I needed a moment to think.   

I pushed away from the desk and leaned back into my chair. Crossing my arms, I began reflecting on my life: Where did all that precious time go? I marveled at the incredible sights I had been privileged to see, my world travels and most of all, the many wonderful people who enriched my life and enabled me to enjoy all that I had.

Slowly, without effort, vivid images of my childhood sprang into my mind’s eye: My supportive parents, my boyhood home in rural Iowa and my neighbors, Pastor and Mrs. Dugan. My father was the editor of the local newspaper and my mother taught Sunday school. We lived in modest two-story home in an older part of town. Century-old oak trees stood like sentinels along our quiet street where lush lawns spilled out to the sidewalk. That is, when there wasn’t snow. 

There weren’t any children my age near-by so Pastor Dugan and his wife filled-in as my good friends and extended family whenever I was not in school. But that was before Ella May Dugan entered my life.

Ella moved into her grandparents’ home—the Dugan’s–on a Tuesday afternoon during an unusually warm spring. She and her parents had been involved in a horrific car accident near their farm in Duluth, Minnesota. Her parents died instantly. Ella lost an eye and badly damaged the other. She was rendered physically weak, even after months of physical therapy.

My parents and the Dugan’s encouraged me to befriend her, to show her around school and introduce her to my friends. I was more than happy to do so. I finally had someone my age close by. Neither of us had siblings and we lived right next door to one another, so we already had much in common. As it turned out, there was much more we shared.

Ella was special from the start. I expected her to be depressed, sad, even detached. But she wasn’t. She had an incredible philosophy that practically embarrassed the rest of us. Ella possessed a wisdom borne of true tragedy. We got along famously from the first time we met. We were destined to be best friends.

Our eighth-grade year and well into the ninth, kept us together studying, talking about life, our fears and our yet-to-be-finalized aspirations.  Sometimes I would work at my father’s newspaper, or Ella would help out at her grandfather’s church. We frequently discussed the worldly issues we learned from our loved ones. It was a marvelous period of discovery in many ways for each of us. Our youthful transformation was as exciting as it was challenging.

Sometimes she’d watch as I shoveled snow, raked leaves or mow the grass. Other times we’d just sit in the park. On warm sunny days we might visit the civil war monument next to the Skunk River and talk about where it originated, where it went before it joined an ocean: We each wanted to see an ocean, any ocean. Our yearning for travel was another desire we shared.

We would sit day-dreaming about our future as we watched the peaceful river head south. What direction, we wondered, would our paths take us? Living in Iowa, all points of the compass looked exotic to us.

That second winter, Ella lost almost all sight in her remaining eye. She now required stronger glasses, an eye patch, a cane—and a helper. As a result of this decline to her eyesight, Ella now required someone to read to her. Softly, and with a depth of sincerity I had not heard before, she asked me if I would be her eyes; if I would see for her, tell her all that I saw. I immediately promised that I would. From that moment, I made it my mission to see for Ella.

I am sure we made a comical pair as we walked together. Me, the tall gangly attire-challenged youth next to the gal with thick glasses and one patched eye like a petite pirate. Neither of us, of course, saw anything but our deep friendship for one another.

I would read anything she asked me to. School books, newspapers, catalogs, magazines, or comic books, just anything she wanted to hear about. We would camp-out on her porch on most warm days and I would describe, in the greatest detail, everything I saw. The irregular twisted curves of the bark on the tree trunks, the shapes of twigs and branches as they bent and reached for the sky, the way leaves shimmered in the breeze as the wind shifted directions, the changes in their colors as light passed through them—or bounced off, depending on the time of day. 

Winter brought new sights to see and share. The random way snow would fall and pile up along the bushes and fences, its array of colors and density, the glow of the ice refracting the sun’s rays and the way our breath would crystallize as we chatted endlessly. 

On occasion, Ella would ask me to retell what I saw and insist that I provide greater clarity. She said she wanted to see in her mind what I saw with my eyes. She would gently coax me to provide the slightest nuances of what was in my world but not in hers— shapes, light, colors and movement. 

Once she blurted, “Paul, look closely, white clouds aren’t just white, there is everything from ghost-white to dark silver-white—and many shades in between. Which white is it now?” She required that I be accurate with my word choice and descriptions.

The kids at school began calling Ella Annie because of her contagious positive attitude. “There’s always tomorrow,” she’d frequently say. Her cheery laugh would fill an entire room. Her smile could make even a hardened cynic forget his troubles.

Along with a few other classmates, we worked on the yearbook together. She was a budding Barbara Walters when it came to interviewing. She just had a gift that encouraged people to open up to her. She could disarm anyone and make them feel comfortable. She interviewed custodians, cafeteria workers, faculty, counselors and most of the students at our bustling school: Being around her was a lesson in living. 

During our senior year, Ella and I went to the Winter Ball together. With hard work by the decorating committee, our aging gym went from smelling like wax and socks to a winter wonderland complete with the pleasant aroma of fresh-cut pine. I carefully described the glimmering five-pointed tinfoil stars, the billowing cotton clouds that hung from the ceiling and the large bowl of crimson punch. I took my time explaining the details of her soft blue gown that made her look like a princess. 

As she pinned on my boutonniere and felt my jacket, she asked me what color coat I was wearing. I altered the truth to see what she would do. Of course she caught me and we laughed a long time about that. She said it was the slightest change in my voice that told her what she could not see. 

Like every other couple, we forced a weak grin into the box camera—the camera that Ella could not see—as we stood in front of the Styrofoam ice castle pretending to be somewhere out of Iowa. 

Our last semester was filled with a blur of activity. We lost track of the days rushing through seemingly endless demands in preparation for the approaching move away from home. There were final exams and projects to complete and lists to review as we began the transition for college. 

Ella spent as much time with her aging grandparents as she could, and I worked extra hours to make money for school. Secretly, I think we each didn’t want to face the certain reality of parting after so many wonderful years together.

It was a warm Thursday afternoon in late May when I received a telephone call from Pastor Dugan. “Paul, could you stop by a little later if you have time?” 

Naturally, I asked if everything was alright and he assured me that it was. He said he just needed to speak with me for a moment.

A little concerned about the mysterious call, I ambled next door and gently knocked on the old screen door, just as I had a thousand times before. Mrs. Dugan called out for me to come in. When I entered the room and took my seat at the lace-covered dining room table, I knew from the looks on their faces they had something important to tell me. Pastor Dugan handed me a large, tan envelope and said Ella wanted me to have what was inside. I tensed up not understanding what was happening.

“Paul,” Mrs. Dugan said, “Ella had to leave for college early because of her limited sight. She needed additional time to learn the campus and the location of her dorm and classes. The early arrival was necessary for her safety. It was best for her to learn when there were fewer students on campus.” 

  Pastor Dugan began to talk, but I was too numb to hear, to fathom what I had just heard. When he finished, I thanked them and drifted home in a daze.

The next thing I knew I was sitting in my room holding a large, tan envelope. My mind raced. I was hurt, confused and sad all at once. Ella and I didn’t ever discuss saying good bye to one another. The topic never came up. I didn’t have a plan for our last visit together, but what just happened sure wasn’t an option I had considered.

Soon, there was a welling in my eyes. Without thinking, I automatically lifted my hand to wipe away the tears and I felt the envelope brush my face. When I looked down I saw Ella’s familiar child-like handwriting on the outside of the envelope. The simple one-word inscription said, Paul.   

Inside was a single piece of pink, lined paper and a large photograph: Our Winter Ball photograph. The brief memo must have been difficult for her to write. It was a beautiful expression of farewell, appreciation, and good luck. She apologized for leaving suddenly and hoped I would understand. She promised that if ever she needed to see something very important in her life, she would contact me. 

Her letter ended with encouragement. She asked me to continue seeing the world for her, that I would forever be her eyes.

I stared at the photograph of us standing together at the Winter Ball. The fond memories of that special night rushed over me. I sat in a fog wondering what I should do next. After a short time, I turned the photograph over. In large block letters Ella had written: PaulUC4ME.  

Soon, the spring of separation brought a summer of sorrow. Then, a cool fall turned into a life blurred by living. My fond memories of Ella and her inspiration proved invaluable for me. As a photojournalist I have been fortunate to travel the world to capture colorful images and write vivid descriptions of my adventures. 

Faintly, somewhere off in a distance, I heard a soft musical chime from my computer and I was forced back into the present. I blinked my moist eyes and stared at the screen. The bright message lines of text caught my attention as they returned to focus. But the one message I kept looking at, starring at, in large block letters called to me: PAULUC4ME.

As if in a dream, my finger fell slowly, softly onto the mouse; the familiar clicking sound shattered the silence. As I read the two short sentences I felt like Alice in Wonderland, being pulled into another world, another time.    

“Paul, I can see again—not much and not clearly, at least not now, but I can see—and, I want to see you. Love, Ella”


John D. Britto

July 2018

[John retired after almost 30 years of teaching; he lives and writes in northern California–but continues to travel, visiting 28 countries and 49 states to date. ]

THE FORCE– by Don Winslow—book report, part 2

Okay, I ventured back into this book two days later, at the mid-point, after taking a break to catch my literary breath. Just too much coming at me. Winslow doesn’t stop.

The famous writer, Tom Wolfe said, “The goal is to penetrate into the central nervous system of the characters.”

Winslow receives a straight A report card on character development. I still love Detective Sergeant Denny Malone, despite his breaking the law, keeping money and dope, and having a Black mistress on the side. I don’t object to the “Black” part, but the “mistress” part.

Denny knows it’ a jungle because he thinks —And we didn’t become kings because our daddies were—we took our crowns the hard way, like the old warriors who fought their way to the throne with nicked swords and dented armor and wounds and scars. We started on these streets with guns and nightsticks and fists and nerve and guts and brains and balls . . . If the world played fair, he’d play fair.

Editors advise thriller writers to throw their protagonists into deep doo-doo, and then make it worse. Let them work their way out, and then toss them into really deep doo-doo. 
 Well, Winslow excels. Denny Malone has more trouble than even an Irish hero-cop can handle.

“Which certain people?” Malone asks. “Who’s coming after me?”
“Everyone,” Chandler says.
Right, Malone thinks—Castillo, the Ciminos, Torres’s team, Sykes, IAB, the feds . . . City Hall.
Yeah, that’s about everyone.

Our beloved Malone—I can’t see any way out for him—then, there’s a little light. Let’s just say the body count climbs pretty high. If you want to keep a totally accurate count, buy a calculator, and then look into your own soul, if you find yourself judging Denny.  I know he’s wrong, but . . .

Maybe you wouldn’t make the same choices, but then maybe you wouldn’t be the king of Northern Manhattan.

I think I’ll leave the moral verdicts to someone else on this.