When Bad is Good

When Bad is Good

​Ernest Hemingway put it best once when he said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” I often stumble onto author websites and find myself awed by their unique beginnings. Some struggled while trying to pay the rent while others devoted themselves to studying at major universities. Some began writing in order to bleed their souls while others simply chased their dreams. In fact, the more I read up on writers’ backgrounds, the more I learned there was only one real factor that every writer had in common- ironically, they all sucked at one point.

Yes, believe it or not, some of your favorite authors were awful writers starting off. Louis L’Amour received two-hundred rejections for his works, Margaret Miller was told that her stories would never sell, and according to Simon Kernick, “Every last publisher in England rejected my first two books.” That’s right, almost every author stunk. Their writing just wasn’t good enough. So then, naturally it begs the question, how did they turn it all around?

While the answer might be considered a bit cliché, it doesn’t make it any less true. It seems that every author I’ve researched always did the same thing right. No matter how difficult writing became for them, no matter how difficult their circumstances, every one of them refused to quit. Yes, it’s true, elbow grease and stamina are the foundation for good writing. If you doubt me, I dare you to research three of your favorite authors, and I guarantee that at least one of them will have a point in their career where their struggles were only overcome by endurance, fortitude and grit. That’s because while they were learning to grin and bear it, they were also constantly learning ways to better their trade.

It’s no question that the literary world has its own customs and protocols. It’s no secret that some of the best writers were also some of the busiest readers. There’s no doubt that some of the most stylized writers of all times started off simplistic and boring. But in the end, there’s only one difference between a washed up writer and a successful one. The good ones learned patience and determination.

Are you struggling to write? Do you think that you don’t have what it takes to be a columnist, journalist, or author? Have people told you that your writing leaves something to be desired? Well guess what? Your not the first one nor will you be the last. What matters is that you gather the courage to continue blogging, penning poetry or writing that next great novel.

People often sacrifice happiness in order to avoid embarrassment. No one wants to be the fool with their head in the clouds. But unlike being a nuclear physicist or professional athlete, much of what makes authors great has little to do with natural talent. So long as a writer immerses themselves in their own creativity, much of the rest is simply  hard work, applying oneself, and stamina. In the words of Richard Bach, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Justin Alcala Blog to Return Shortly

Hello all my fellow bloggers, readers and writers! With my latest novel, “The Devil in the Wide City,” in it’s editing phase, a third novel in the works, and plenty of other-bookly activities being had, I am very late with my January post. My apologies. However, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, etc. until then. My hope is to connect with all of you wonderful WordPress members shortly to discuss more books, writing techniques and publisher’s secrets soon.

Warm Regards,

Justin Alcala

Review Request for Readers

Hello readers,
Whether you loved it or hated it, all reviews for “Consumed” on Amazon and B&N are greatly appreciated. Thanks ahead of time for any review you can provide.

Your weirdest of the weird author,

Justin Alcala

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Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin-Alcala-ebook/dp/B00NJ5CGM8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Amazon Hardback: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415553566&sr=8-2&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/consumed-justin-a/1120694383?ean=9781937365585

Great Marketing Versus Great Writing, There is a Difference

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Have you ever bought a book because the display was beautifully crafted, there was a neat gift that came with your purchase or because it greeted you at the entrance of the bookstore? Have you ever purchased a book online because a search engine recommended it, perhaps a powerful description drew you in or a respected newspaper positively reviewed it? Now, have you ever picked up a lesser-known book by chance, and after reading it wondered why you haven’t heard more about it? If so, than like many readers, you’ve probably succumbed to the lure of business marketing at its finest.

Advertising, marketing, media promotions- believe it or not, every moment of our lives is affected by it. Commercials, online banners and product placement are all around us, covertly influencing your purchasing decisions. The writing world is no different. The best publishers are those who have the most influence over these favoring elements. Many people give into the beautiful cover or trending genre only to find that the pages between the bindings leave something to be desired. It’s how the world has been working for decades and you shouldn’t feel victimized if you were ever drawn into it. However, for book people, there is one service that we can do for readers and writers everywhere, and it is to not forget that there is epic plot, masterfully architected characters and brilliantly designed worlds waiting behind unheralded books as well.

I can still recall as a boy driving with my father in his rusty blue truck, a truck that I’m starting to believe that all eccentric fathers once owned, navigating through the streets of Chicago in order to pick up a new ironworking tool from some unknown manufacturer or the latest in entertainment technology (remember laser disks?). He wasn’t very vocal about it, but I strongly suspected that my dad always supported the under dog (side note: this made getting Nike shoes or the newest bike model a difficult chore). Eventually, as I grew older, I began to understand why he did what he did. You see, somewhere along the way, my father had learned…The Great Secret- the one that makes advertising firms and promotional companies shutter. He’d learned that just because something was popular, didn’t mean it was always the best.

Now before you start to build an image of me as a jaded small time author who is writing this article in hemp clothing with a computer made only from foraged scrap metal, let it be known that I’m neither speaking about myself nor am I a “down with the system” rebel. Personally, I write to write, and understand that I am to the book world what a monkey with symbols is to professional comedians. More importantly than that though, I understand why we go with popular books. It’s the same reason we rely on prevalent companies or products. Often, they’re tried and tested with dependable consumer satisfaction. Readers don’t want to spend twenty dollars and hours of their time reading a book that collapses at the end. They want something worthwhile that they can discuss with friends and family. All that I’m asking is for us to try to remain aware that when we are making book purchases, we aren’t letting publishers and sales teams blur the line between well-written and well-marketed works.

Consider this. In 1965, American writer John Williams wrote a modest novel called Stoner. The book received little praise during William’s life, and was out of print only shortly after its publication. Williams would die never knowing that he had created one of the most prolific and expertly composed novels of all time. That is until July 5th, 2013 when renowned British novelist Ian McEwan appealed to the public on the Today program hosted by Sarah Montague. After McEwan’s petition to readers, Stoner captured the imaginations of people everywhere, going on to become the 2013 novel of the year. Several other quieted authors and books have had similar late recognitions of greatness, from the revival of all of Irène Némirovsky’s works to William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, Nightmare Alley. These books and authors, some of the most excellent literary specimens of the century, were drowned out or forgotten during initial production.

Now consider this. Within the last decade several major publishers including Bantam and Random House have heavily marketed several of their books, using advanced copies and advertisement to push success. The titans of the publishing world forecasted that these novels would be the latest to break book-selling records across the world. Books like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, and Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra not only failed to live up to their expectations, but also were unable to recoup millions of dollars that were invested in promotional advertisement and initial prints.

So, as you can see, not all big name books are brilliant, nor are all unknown authors deserving of their fortune. Most books, be they magnificent or not, are partially a product of circumstances. While it’s true that many top selling books deserve to be celebrated, we must also remember that sometimes it’s not always about great writing as much as it is about great marketing. Once in a while, we need to take a chance with the little guys, who can every so often be just as good as top sellers. Finally, in the spirit of supporting the smaller, but possibly just as well written books, I leave you with the wise words of contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Happy Holiday!

Justin Alcala

http://www.justinalcala.com

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GREAT BOOKS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT

Noir

Nightmare Alley

By William Lindsay Gresham

http://www.amazon.com/Nightmare-Alley-Review-Books-Classics-ebook/dp/B004FYZJQC/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Weird West

Merkabah Rider Tales of a High Planes Drifter

By Edward Erdelac

http://www.amazon.com/Merkabah-Rider-Tales-Planes-Drifter-ebook/dp/B002ZG8FPY/ref=sr_1_10?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1417474353&sr=1-10&keywords=Edward+Erdelac

Classic

Oblomov

By Ivan Goncharov

http://www.amazon.com/Oblomov-Ivan-Aleksandrovich-Goncharov-ebook/dp/B004N62H9O/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1417474572&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=Oblomov%2C+Ivan+Goncharov%2C+1859

GIGI’S PLAYHOUSE

As some of you might know, I am also a volunteer grant writer and program assistant for a wonderful organization called GiGi’s Playhouse, a group that assists communities with Down syndrome. If you can, please donate by using the link below.

http://gigisplayhouse.org/donate-monthly

Day of the Dead Book Signing Goes Horridly Well

The “Days of the Dead” horror convention is officially over and  I can’t say enough about my experience. Besides rubbing                        elbows with werewolves and vampires, I was also able to sign books for readers and partake in some wonderful interviews, costume contests and ghoul bashes. Though I had to limit my visit to the first two days, they were a pair of days I’ll never forget. A special thanks to Aaron Tucker, John Mecha and  the Sanchez Family. Please take a look at the fun interview I did with John Wroblewski on Day 2. 

“Consumed” Book Signing: Day 1

A great first day of book signings. I loved talking books with people, signing copies of “Consumed,” seeing the great horror props, and meeting creepy celebrities like Tony Todd (Candyman) and Doug Bradley (Hellraiser). I can’t wait for day 2!photo 2straight

Horror Movie Survival Kit

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, The Evil Dead- as a child, horror movies like these use to keep me shivering in my bed all night, fingers locked on the flashlight I kept hidden under my pillow. The stylized 80’s fear-flicks brought a new atmosphere and mindset to the horror scene. No longer was it enough to simply keep a sharpened stake under your bed or make sure that you knew where mom’s silverware was hidden. The creatures had upgraded. Now, you had to think outside the box to stay alive. That’s why, ironically, I’m thinking inside the box for this next blog. What exactly do I mean? Well, just in time for the holidays, I’ve been asked by Man Crates, a new online company that offers the most creative gifts for men in wooden crates, to put together my horror movie survival kit, and I’m basing my anti-monster arsenal on the horror movies I grew up with in order to try to make it until dawn. Firstly, let’s build the scene…

It’s the witching hour in an overly foggy forest. The moonlight cascades down below, coloring the trees and mist in a graveyard shade of blue. A pack of unsuspecting campers huddles around a fire, telling ghost stories while passing around a flask. Off in the distance, a branch cracks, and then another. Though the overly sexy female campers begin to panic, one of the foolishly brave men amongst them, Ed, decides to investigate. Recklessly, Ed goes deep into the forest line until he’s all but swallowed up by the vapors. He can no longer see the Jack O’ Lantern orange from the campfire behind him, though it doesn’t stop him from continuing his search.  All goes quiet. Then suddenly, unbeknownst to Ed, a dark silhouette begins to grow behind him, taking the shape of a hulking fiend with razor claws and eyes like red traffic lights. Fortunately, as the beast closes in, its lower talons inadvertently crunch onto another branch, snapping it in two. Now alerted, Ed spins around and finds that a Lovecraft-like demon made of ethereal shadow is waiting behind him. The monster opens up its shark-like maw, and a spiral of glowing green begins to fizz in its throat, ready to be spat out onto poor Ed. Luckily, Ed has just the thing in his backpack. Hastily, he digs in a side pouch and quickly draws out a…  But what does Ed draw out? A clove of garlic isn’t going to help him with the shadow terror, nor will a regular old revolver. This isn’t your typical Silver Screen antagonist. No, this creature is far more appallingly advanced, and Ed will have to have something really handy on him in order to escape the creature’s clutches. With that being said, here’s what I would prepare in my survival kit if I were in Ed’s place. They’re not necessarily deadly weapons or foolproof repellants, but they are easily attainable and versatile. Firstly, we need a diversion. The greatest ability of every monster is that they seem to always know how to sneak up on their victims, cornering them so that they have no other choice but to scream in fear until their inevitable demise (there must be a free class offered to registered horror creatures). That is, unless you have something handy which can temporarily take the sight from your stalking abomination. Unfortunately, mace isn’t going to do the trick as most creatures like phantoms and demon either lack physical anatomies or are immune to puny concentrated pepper juice. Plus, if you’re as clumsy as me, there’s a good chance you’re going to mace yourself in the process. The answer- take away their perception with the common 4th of July Smoke Bomb. Now, I’m not talking about those wimpy smoke bombs that come in kids’ fun-packs during the holidays. No, full fledge smoke bombs nowadays have vastly improved since the days of sparklers and charcoal snakes, and are relatively cheap to purchase. These bad boys are near baseball size and create a smoky diversion that when used correctly will help save your skin against any monstrosity closing in on you. Simply plan your running path a second ahead of time, light the smoke bomb, drop it, and run. And the best part is that smoke bombs tend to come in packs so even if the beasty gets past the first cloud, you can continue tossing them over your shoulder as you flee.

smoke bomb 2 Next, let’s discuss the hard facts. Chances are you’re not looking to make a stand, but rather hurry to safety. This is not a bar brawl with Biff the college bully you’re in. These are supernatural forces that bend the rules of nature and physics. You want to fight? Goodnight. Plan to run? Survival has begun. With that in mind, let’s talk about a universal tool that will help any fleeing victim escape a horror movie attack. The modern crowbar comes in handy sizes as short as ten inches, made typically of reliable carbon steel. Though it can be used as a weapon, its most valuable asset is its versatility. Is a locked up farmhouse your only chance of surviving the animated scarecrow giving chase? A crowbar will make easy work of a door lock, buying you time to find a phone and call authorities. Did you discover that you’ve locked your keys in the car again just as the loup-garou caught your scent? A crowbar through that car window will do the trick. Plus, the crowbar makes a great crude hammer, extended arm or climbing hook (as well as a pry bar when you’re opening your Man Crate). crowbar Finally, while you might have dodged the monster’s initial ambush and survived the creature’s last pursuit, if your circumstances are in true horror movie fashion, then the beast(s) is still out there, waiting for you to lower your guard. Adrenaline may have helped you through your first encounter, but you’ll soon learn that it comes with consequences, The Crash. Your muscles are fatigued, your senses dulled, and that temporary cabin you’ve decided to take refuge in suddenly feels a bit more cozy. Not so fast. The sun isn’t up yet. It’s time for…An Energy Drink! Yes, the classic marketing beverage that relies on people’s addiction to caffeine is back again to save the day. Chances are, if you try to get some rest, the lurking specter will slip into your nightmares or the machete wielding revenant will pin you to the bed like a prom corsage. You need a boost to keep you going until dawn. Once the sun is up, you can easily navigate your way to the main road in order to get to the police station. And because America is so hooked on Energy Drinks, they now come in ungodly inappropriate sizes to keep you going throughout the midnight hours. energy So remember the next time you’re being hunted by a Golgothan or spirit of a vengeful ex-girlfriend, keep in mind that horror movie survival isn’t about how tough you are, but how clever you are. The brave ones die first. And as a reminder, if you’re looking for a great gift for that special Horror Movie Hero, check out Man Crates on the web, because true survivalists deserve better Christmas gifts than just a tie or cheap cologne.

Print Justin Alcala: Check Out More Blogs, See Future Work & Pick Up My Horror Novel @: www.justinalcala.com https://twitter.com/JustinAlcala Man Crates @: http://www.mancrates.com/?gclid=CKbU_LPZ-sECFc1AMgodSGQAJw small_logo_tinted_1413251026__91038

Horror Hard Copies Available!

I just received my copy. Do you have yours?

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Horror lovers, mystery nerds, supernatural geeks, get your copy via the links below.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/consumed-justin-a/1120694383?ean=9781937365585

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November

Revolution, transformation, reform- for some, these words can sound sharp and lethal. But why? Well, for starters, their definition suggests change- perhaps unwanted depending on your circle. The words also insinuate that what you once depended on is no more. Nevertheless, like it or not, change is in the air.

Now I’m not talking about a change in government, religion or anything else so grand. I’m talking about a change in publishing. It’s a reworking of procedure. It’s a change in how manuscripts are published, books are reviewed, and new authors become popular. While classic publishers might tell you that the latest makeover is the beginning of the end, other, more modern thinkers would argue that its just the adjustment that the book world needs.

For years, the publishing world went something like this- a writer labors over a story. They then pitch it to an agent. If an agent agrees to represent them, they propose the manuscript to a publisher. If the agent is talented enough, the publisher agrees to publish it, and depending on the book’s popularity, eventually a newspaper or radio show might review it, helping the book earn additional readers. The cycle repeated itself for decades, and only the strongest survived.

With modern technology, and a little something called the “internet”, things have changed. Authors can now submit their work to certain publishers without representation, or elect to publish it themselves. If a pitched publisher decides they like the manuscript, they contract the work, with an emphasis on sales instead of advances. Bloggers and other readers then write reviews for the work on social media sites and if enough followers and fans enjoy the book, an author can expect a better chance at publishing their next manuscript.

Where once a writer was forced to depend on the system, the ball is now in their court. It’s no longer about crossing your fingers as much as it is effort and determination. If you want to publish a book, you obviously need to still be a great writer (some would argue even more so now), but you can also take hold of the business side if you’d like. And while many classical publishers would argue these new methods have helped destroy the publishing world, the final numbers don’t favor their mentality.

Take for example the latest column in Yahoo News’s The Exchange. According to columnist, Aaron Pressman, while certain publishers and bookstores are on the ropes, the sales of ebooks are at an all time high. Take for example a consumer report that studied electronic book sales throughout the last decade. While ebooks started as a 68 million dollar industry, in 2012, it improved to an all time high of 3 billion dollars- the most that the publishing market has ever seen. In addition, this study is only focusing on published ebooks. It does not include the countless self-published works that consumer reports have difficulty tracking.

Now take in to consideration that in 2012, hard and electronic copies made a combined total of over15 billion dollars. This sales milestone is not only record breaking, but also a forecast in the rising numbers we can expect to see in the future. When added up, you quickly realize that while the procedures for producing books may have changed, the publishing world is by no means at an end. So why the bad blood?

Well, for every action, this also an equal or greater reaction, and the latest practices are no different. Publishers fear the change in publishing procedures gives way to monopolies like Amazon cornering the market. Publishers also fear that they’ll be held prisoner by ebook sales, which eventually may have more demand, but will sell for much cheaper. Most importantly, small publishers, self-publishing, and online book websites take the power out of the publisher’s hands. Major publishers can no longer dictate the rules of what is and isn’t a good book, and what they’d like to push onto the market. It gives a bit more power, perhaps only temporarily, back to the writer and reader.

Now to add the final piece…my half-witted opinion. Paradoxically, though I might sound like I’m siding with the change in atmosphere, I’m not. I’ve always been a firm believer in hybrid solutions, and the recent publishing change is no different. Do I think that the classic method of publishing is outdated? Of course. Do I want the domination of the book market to simply change hands to companies like Amazon on Kobo? Heck no. The truth of it is though, while I’d personally love for mid sized publishers to regain power and start signing authors due to talent and promise, I know that there’s a lot of work in order to get it to that point. In the end, what I’m actually trying to say is that like it or not, the publishing world is changing.

So, this Fifth of November, when some of us celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, a commemoration that celebrates the failed attempt to blow up British Parliament, why not ask yourself if change is really so bad? In the publishing world, it seems to be inevitable. Let’s hope that with a little bit of care and effort, readers and writers alike can take back the publishing world. If we can embrace the change, then we can use it in order to make sure that publication is no longer an activity that one is powerless to control. It can be change that we use to our advantage- a change that we remember.

Review: One Hundred Sideways Miles

I typically don’t do book reviews, but this was a must…

100 Sideways Miles is a creative plot about an epileptic boy’s teenage life as he struggles to find out who he really is in a world that seems to be prewritten. In typical Andrew Smith fashion, the characters are well developed, and as the book progresses, you become lost in the relationship between the main character, Finn, and his best friend Cade. Throughout the story, Finn has to fight through hurdles such as his condition’s seizures, the conflicting, but charming relationship with his father, and his sheltered existence. Now add the fact that he is a teenage boy and must deal with constant sexual impulses, raw emotion and his imminent future, and you get “100 Sideways Miles.”

The storyline is simple and captivating. Finn, the ever-introspective protagonist that can charm you with his raw innocence, is struggling to understand who he really is, especially once he meets Julia. Julia, the Chicago transplant (Woohoo Windy City!), is an enchanting, but mysterious young woman who comes into Finn’s life at a very puzzling time. As the pair’s relationship grows, Finn begins to understand that much like him, Julia is a wounded and confused. Later, once an uncontrollable wedge is placed between Julia and Finn, the boy becomes confused and inconsolable. However, luckily with the help of his hilarious friend Cade, Finn teeters on the edge of breaking out from his shielded life as a boy with epilepsy. Finally, during a road trip, Finn stumbles along a powerful incident that helps him decide what is actually important in this thing we call life.

I enjoyed “100 Sideways Miles” the way I feel generations before me enjoyed Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” I have to honestly disagree with anyone who criticizes that this is a book about nothing, as that’s the farthest thing from the truth. The book’s pace, much like a teenage boy’s life, is slow moving, but intense. Every page is packed with young ambition and insight, which was thoroughly refreshing. If you’re looking for a great book to relax over with coffee or a beer (“These are a few of my favorite things”), then this is the book for you. Once gain, well-done Mr. Smith.

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