Writing: The Secret of the Secret

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Secrets to Writing books. It’s not that I’m feeling uninspired. It’s that I’m curious as to what established authors recommend when it comes to good writing. First off, if you’re ever going to rely on someone’s opinion when it comes to success, don’t let it be a person who makes up imaginary stories in their head. We are untrustworthy sources. 

 On that note, let me give you my capricious input, which was thought up between conceptualizing plots for fairies and leprechauns. Actually, it’s not so much my input per se, as much as it is the input of several self-help books. Step one- understand that every writer has their own methods. Not all authors come out and openly say this, as much as they tell you why their approach is best. I had to glue this one together myself. If you’re doing something and it’s working, stick with it. Writing can be a sloppy process, and it doesn’t matter if you take a car, bus or polar bear to get there, so long as you reach the destination.

 Next, read. Every author with an opinion (and all of them seem to have one) agrees that you can’t learn to write betterer…betterest…better unless you’re constantly exposed to the work of others. Reading also gets you to understand the rhythm of a good book. You begin to develop cognizance for plot structure, concepts and dialogue. Plus, if you don’t like reading, why should you expect someone to want to read your book? It’s as contradicting as it gets.    

 Finally, stop reading self-help books. Allowing yourself to be influenced by opinions is the perfect way to go mad when your first round of edits or reviews rolls in. You have a story you want to tell. Somewhere out there, someone wants to read it. Get it on paper and don’t look back. People are like bad weather. They’re going to rain down on you whether you want it or not. Stop concerning yourself with how the professionals do it and just write. You’re you– not Mr. John Newbery Medal. 

 So that’s my spiel. Take it or leave it. In fact, if you’re a writer, leave it. You shouldn’t trust my opinion, just as much as you shouldn’t trust the opinion of some fancy big shot author. The best authors target what they want and much like a literary-grenade, throw their work out in the field and hope for the best. 

 Justin Alcala

Author of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City” (Zharmae Publishing Press)

www.justinalcala.com

Hashtag no filter and all that jazz

It’s Christmas Time- Roll With It

 

I must confess, at one time in my life I was a naysayer, a bah-humbugger, a downright Grinch when it came to Christmas. It was my first years of college- a time when being uniquely tetchy was in, and all of the dark clothed art students along Michigan Avenue groaned at the sight of bows and stringed lights. I use to sit inside the Artist’s Diner between classes, hovering over my notebook and coffee as shoppers passed by- wishing they’d wake up from their commercialized delusion. Luckily, as time went on, I became less of a…well, dumbass. After a few lumps of coal, I realized that Christmas wasn’t some object of ridicule. It was a window of opportunity. As Fred from A Christmas Carol once said “[it’s] the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

 

But it wasn’t just my attitude that needed adjusting. It was my writing style as well. Early on, I’d refused to let my work be tainted by the feelings invoked from Christmas. No sir, I was a writer. I was focused and poised- immune to the unabated atmosphere of sparkling trees and jingling bells. If it were a noir piece I was working on, then damn it, I’d commit to my grim mood.

 

Unfortunately for young Justin, it would take a lot of life lessons to understand that being unyielding was not what a good writer does. A good writer understands how to adapt to new inspirations. They know how to hone creative stimulus and orchestrate it into something innovative. It might not necessary be a chapter that forces a Christmas-peg into a square hole, but it could be a provoked theme or emotion that’s woven into one’s work. It’s a simple formula. Take inspiration and apply it to your craft in order to create a great act, character or story.

 

Hundreds of well-known authors have honed this technique. Some, like author Jean Shepherd, wrote an entire book based on his cherished Christmas memories as a child in Hohman, Indiana, while others like J.K. Rowling, gave a simple tip of the cap by adding short scenes that celebrated the holidays. But it doesn’t even have to be that direct. Are you feeling a bit of cheer this holiday? Why not return to that optimistic character in Chapter 5 to see if any of it rubs off in the dialogue. Are you mesmerized by the snowy weather? Time to go back to that mountaintop section and see if you can strengthen the description.

 

Listen, I’m not saying that just because it’s Christmas, we should all write about elves, candy canes and mistletoe. No way. I’m just reminding fellow writers that inspiration is not an enemy. It’s a tool. It could be a book you’ve read, deep thought you’ve pondered or an event in your life that conjures the same emotions. It’s mulishness that’s your nemesis, and it will keep you from strengthening your trade if you allow it.

 

Happy Holidays to all,

Justin Alcala

 

 

 

Radio Z Interview w/ Justin Alcala

Check out the Halloween interview that I was on recently. We talk about all my favorite creepy things!

 

From Radio Z Site:

We talk to authors J A Ironside and Justin Alcala about all things Halloween and spooky and hear about their latest booooooks! <<< see what I did there. Call in 4PM PST – 7PM EST (347) 996-3900. Make sure to stay tuned for a very cool and special guest! This will be the inaugural Tom and Emma show!

 

 

 

Happy Halloween to Fans!

I want to wish fans of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City” a Happy Halloween! Thanks for joining my blog and take it easy on the blood tonight.

Consumed DEV

Justin Alcala

Author of “Consumed” and the 1st installment of the upcoming Plenty Dreadful Series, “The Devil in the Wide City”

http://www.justinalcala.com

Hashtag no filter and all that jazz

Why Zombies Will Never Stop Coming

Originally posted on Blog-Z @ Zharmae.com

First vampires, now this: Justin Alcala joins us to look at why we love zombies. Could it get any better?

Take it away, Justin!

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Welcome to Part 2 of my Halloween blog, where we’ve been dissecting everyone’s favorite ghouls and ghosts. In Part 1, we talked about vampires and their relationship with our history. In Part 2, we’re unearthing a different eerie nemesis—one that just refuses to go away. Yes, it’s time to dig up old skeletons and investigate Why Zombies Will Never Stop Coming.

When I was a boy, my mom introduced me to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and my world changed. The entire movie, from Johnny’s “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” speech to the undead’s attack on the quiet little farmhouse, terrified the hell out of me. To this day I have no idea why my mom showed me that movie at such a young age (although it’s probably why I am the horror nerd I am today). Regardless, from that night, and many years after, I’d suffer through the same reoccurring nightmare. Shambling zombies were at my door, ready to eat me alive if I didn’t escape. Little did I know that my zombie problem wouldn’t go away anytime soon. Yes, it seems that every few years, an entire slew of zombie movies and books spread through the media, giving life to the dead once more. 

So, why do zombies keep clawing their way out from the grave? Just when you think the horror fad has come and gone, a new wave of novels, television series and movies surface. In their very short time, zombies have gone from dormant sub-genre to commercial monstrosity. But why? Does society secretly like blood and guts or is it just that we feel as if we’re on the edge of the apocalypse already? Well, I think it’s time that we bite into the matter.

zombie-945622_1920First, let’s look the current affairs of the day. It’s no secret that conflicts in the Middle East, Ebola in Africa, and other global catastrophes have stirred up people’s anxieties. With record-breaking travel nowadays, it’s easy to imagine these issues landing at your doorstep. Zombies embody our contemporary concerns. Globally, millions of people are fearful that one day they’ll wake up to an incurable epidemic in their neighborhood or an unwinnable war on the streets. What better analogy than a zombie infestation to help construe our angst? Zombies spread their contagion quickly and are unbeatable in great numbers. They’re the perfect metaphor.

Another reason why we love to fantasize about the undead is because of what they mean to us subliminally. Ever feel like you’re overwhelmed with problems at work? Do you constantly feel like you’re fighting a battle that you just can’t win at home? Well my friend, sounds like you’re describing a great zombie plot. Zombies are the ultimate depiction of our ordinary struggles. They’re vicious, unrelenting, and put us on edge at every turn.

Yet another reason why zombies have surged in popularity comes from increased coverage of vague present-day issues. Problems such as global warming and financial meltdowns can sometimes be hard to imagine. Zombies are a perfect way to put these matters into perspective.

Concerned Daydreamer: “Hey dude, isn’t it creepy to think that the icecaps may completely melt in fifteen years?”

Closed-minded Bro: “Honestly, I can’t even really imagine it.”

It’s hard to decapitate melting ice. Shooting a recession in the head isn’t easy. But an ominous undead infestation, now that’s something conceivable.

Finally, while it may be hard to believe, death itself is a perfect reason why zombies have become so popular. It’s unavoidable. We see death every day on the television, hear it on the radio, and read about it online. We sit back and wonder, “When do I go?” Sometimes it comes in the form of a distant relative, other times it’s someone very close, but death is always lurking. The zombie is the embodiment of this. It’s not prejudiced or picky. It will destroy whatever is in front of it, brutally and without mercy.

And those are the facts. Zombies will never stop coming. Why? Because they’re metaphors for global tension. They depict daily life. They help us understand subliminal issues and they’re a constant reminder that none of us are getting out of this alive. We love zombies because they help us make sense of our own existence. In essence, we are zombies. Now…who wants brains?


To learn more about Justin and his works, be sure to check out these websites:

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Why Vampires Will Never Die

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The Monstrous Age, the Gothic Era, The Heroic Period- vampires have had many different roles in culture throughout the ages. They’ve been what scares us, what draws us and what aspires us to be. We fear their power, desire their immortality, and relate with their struggles. Yet, for as many hats as they’ve worn, one thing is for certain. The vampire is here to stay.

Throughout history, monsters have served as a coping mechanism for what terrifies people most. Vampires are no different. For the last millennium, these bloodsuckers have helped justify evil, disease and death. From the Chinese Jiangshi to the Hungarian Izcacus, no matter the culture, records indicate that people have always had a turbulent, but vital relationship with the vampire. But that would all change once pop culture embraced the vampire.

1897- Bram Stoker publishes his novel Dracula, in which an undead Count clashes with a young group of English protagonists. The intriguing story, told through diary entries, ship logs and other epistolary means, is an overnight success. Dracula’s popularity changes the creature. No longer does the vampire simply represent sin and death. Vampires are now linked with contemporary issues, which in the 1890’s included foreign distrust, mental health and sexual repression. While the vampire was still villainous by nature, the seed of transformation had been planted.

Nearly one hundred years later, writers and movie producers use the vampire for different reasons. Mainstream tensions linked to sexual inclination, racial discrimination and harsh corporate enterprise rear their ugly heads. This once again changes the vampire. While still deadly by nature, the vampire develops new symbolic traits related to pressing themes. The creature is now the epitome of seduction, manipulation and exploitation. The origin story also becomes a backbone, giving the creature a tragically unfortunate motive to kill. Audiences begin to sympathize with the monster, abetting in the creation of what we know today.

It’s 2015. Cue the glitter and acoustic guitar. Although the Internet becomes a major social outlet, it also has a way of isolating people worldwide. In addition, recovering economies force millions of college graduates and jobless workers to look elsewhere for employment. Depression in America, Canada and England are on the rise. What this world needs is a hero. Once again, the vampire transforms, changing from gruesome predator to misunderstood do-gooder. Story plots gravitate around a kindhearted mortal transformed by the damned, only to later defy their makers in order to protect the living from the dead.

But why is it that vampires won’t go away? Hundreds of other monsters similar in age and origin like barghests, banshees and genies, had similar early success in cultures. They were outlets in order to explain what people didn’t understand. As the years past however, these monsters slowly faded. So why did vampires outlast their competitors?

Well for starters, one has to look at the key ingredient to a good vampire tale. Vampires were once human. Unlike other monsters, humans can change into vampires. So, while we might fear them, we also fantasize about what it would be like to become one. Immortality, irresistible allure and supernatural powers- traditionally, these are the exchange for condemning one’s soul. Thus, while vampirism may be nightmarish, it also allows us romanticize about what we might do with our dark gifts if given the chance.

Secondly, vampires in all of their petty immortality, also represent what’s wrong with contemporary society. Yes, it’s the social predator’s duty to adapt to the times in order hunt their prey, keeping up to date with fads, culture and current affairs. This makes it easy for storytellers to sculpt vampires into the perfect modern-day metaphors. They’ve gone from plague spreaders during periods of disease to unruly deviants during phases of social reform. They are in essence, the ultimate plot devices.

Finally, and most importantly, vampires represent what we fear about ourselves. They are the monsters inside each of us. We use these creatures to work out our own angst, anxiety and desires. They’re tools in order for us to make sense of who we are. In essence, vampires are a form of introspection.

So there you have it. Our link to vampires is far greater than we ever imagined. They rationalize otherwise uncontrollable events, allow us to fantasize about who we’d like to be, keep us aware of society’s flaws and help us express what we fear most about ourselves. Though their roles may have changed throughout time, their purpose is always essential. And that’s why vampires will never die.

On the tracks

Justin Alcala, Author of “Consumed” and the upcoming “Plenty Dreadful Series”.

Check out Part 1, “The Devil in the Wide City” when it hits shelves October 2015. 

Get your copy of Consumed on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440553280&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+justin+alcala

Check Out “The Devil in the Wide City” on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city

Zharmae Publishing Presents: “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

“Regardless, for that night, and every night thereafter, I’d make sure to fasten each lock, secure each window, and sleep with my revolver nearby. This lad was a harbinger, but for whom, I did not know.”

-Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick

1f1c2-consumed_cover_final

Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439237542&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Coming in October 2015…

“Believe it or not, most of hell has never actually experienced Earth first hand, and assume that it’s all one big Full House episode. Demons love David Coulier.”

-Ned, Fallen Angel

dev

Check it out on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city

Zharmae Publishing Presents: “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

“Regardless, for that night, and every night thereafter, I’d make sure to fasten each lock, secure each window, and sleep with my revolver nearby. This lad was a harbinger, but for whom, I did not know.”

-Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick

1f1c2-consumed_cover_final

Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439237542&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Coming in October 2015…

“Believe it or not, most of hell has never actually experienced Earth first hand, and assume that it’s all one big Full House episode. Demons love David Coulier.”

-Ned, Fallen Angel

dev

Check it out on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city

Pay Attention to Details

Are you pitching your manuscript? If so, then you already know that there are dozens of different guidelines. Some publishers/agents require the first fifteen pages of your book while others ask for a detailed synopsis.  Regardless of demands, if there’s one thing that I highly recommend to all you poets, journalists or novelists out there, it’s follow the guidelines flawlessly. Doing so instantly gives your work the consideration it deserves.

Six years ago, I pitched my first manuscript. Agentless, I went fishing on dozens of publisher’s site, sending my full work to be reviewed. The only problem was, I ignored each and every publisher’s guidelines. After the first three rejection letters, I asked myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Luckily, a friend of mine, and well established writer, was kind enough to guide me in the right direction. He gently popped my bubble by reminding me that every part of a submission is an assessment. You wouldn’t go into an interview and ignore the employer’s questions would you? So why do it with your submission?

Sure enough, once I got with the program, I received four letters of interest. My book wasn’t any better or worse than any other, but I followed direction. I’ve read editor and agent blogs that moan about queries all the time. While I admit they can be tough on writers, it’s still good to err on the side of caution. If you gamble on guidelines, you’re not just risking your manuscript, you’re risking future submissions.

John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” If you’re uncertain about query requests, there are hundreds of online aids that can help. Just make sure that you’re  meticulousness in your submission. It’s all about paying attention to detail, a creative pitch and a great story. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.

“Consumed” Giveaway

Have a Goodreads account? Then stay tuned for the “Consumed” giveaway starting on July 3rd. Five lucky winners will get a paperback copy sent to their homes so long as they…

A) Love horror-fantasy

B) Are unwilling to press charges due to nightmares

C) Be into vampires, and willing to donate blood.

More to come at the link below come July 3rd.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7862799.Justin_Alcala

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