All posts by justinalcala

GHOSTS OF THE PAST 4 Days Ago Have you ever opened up some of your long forgotten poems, short stories or novels? Painful right? The document is probably littered with vague pronoun references, unnecessary shifts in tense and fused sentences. Even worse, there are sections of the story that don’t contribute to the plot, insignificant characters and mawkishly sentimental underlying messages. If you’re like me, the first thing you do is plant your face in your hands (a.k.a. the “Face-palm”) and try not to cry. Afterwards, you stare at the Delete button, tempted to obliterate all proof that this story or poem was once yours. Finally, after waging a war with your conscience, you decide to live and let live, leaving the document alone, but lamenting about how terrible your writing once was. But wait, that’s not fair. Your old work shouldn’t be some dark secret that needs to be hidden from the world. It should be a testimony of what you’ve accomplished. Not only did the “old you” put a lot of effort into that story, but the work is a reminder of who you as a writer once inspired to be. It’s a roadmap of your writing life. Sometimes, we as writers are very hard on ourselves. We have to be because we’re constantly pursuing perfection. However, we forget that we didn’t just learn how to write overnight. There wasn’t some magical gift bestowed upon us by a divine being. No, we had to start somewhere and work at it, and those old documents are a symbol of that. For me, once the shock wears off of how bad my writing once was, I realize how beautiful these works really are. Because behind the jungle of grammatical errors and turbulent plot hooks is a vision I once had. I see Justin Alcala, the writer who wanted to give readers a little scare with his horror stories. I see Justin Alcala, the yarn spinner who wanted to give a fresh perspective on legends and folklore. I see Justin Alcala, the young man who wanted to make people happy by telling great stories. All too often, we authors get swept away by the power that comes with having your works published. I know I get a real kick out of talking to my publisher about cover art or sending new ideas to my editor. It’s fun to put your work onto bookshelves. But we can’t forget about the fundamentals. We need to remind ourselves why we started writing in the first place, and those old tales are just the thing. So the next time your dusting off an old manuscript, remember what those pages really mean. The words may tell a bad story, but the history of its creation is its own sort of autobiography.

You Get Three Wishes

Ask any best-selling author where they were before their first book became a New York Times bestseller or before their big million dollar publishing deal and their answer is the same. They were struggling. They were getting rejected. They were climbing the hill like everyone else. Most of these acclaimed authors will also admit that the struggle is part of the process. It’s a measure of development. It inspires the mind and soul. Just stick with it and the cream rises to the top. 

So if the struggle is just part of the development, then what can a budding or intermediate writer hope for? If the pain is part of the pleasure, what do writers need to continue towards their aspirations of creating that next great American Novel, winning that Pulitzer Prize or becoming one of the most respected authors of all time? Well, if you found a literary genie, and they gave out three wishes, here’s what they should be.  Writers need to be one with rejection, grow with their work and never lose the swagger. Confused? No worries. We will walk through it together. 

The first piece sounds simple enough. Be one with rejection. Don’t let the man get you down. Keep trudging along and not taking no for an answer. A writer needs to understand that most submission-rejections and uninterested replies stem from time tables, undisclosed publishing goals and reviewer preference. You could write a perfectly good story, better than most, and still not make that anthology or get that novel accepted. It’s literally not you, it’s them. Rejection is like bad weather. You can’t avoid it, and occasionally, when an agent or publisher is superb at telling you why they’re passing, you can even grow from it. 

For example, I’ve had agents tell me that my writing is great, but the genre I chose just isn’t selling. Some publishers let me know they’re just tiring of first-person narratives, even if the manuscript is seamless. These bits of commentary remind a storyteller that there is progress, but today is just isn’t the day. Even the common This just doesn’t work for us reply given by many publishers is an indicator to how subjective the industry is. Your work could fit perfectly with other distributer.

The second wish is that a writer grows with their work. All too often, starting authors try to perfect one topic, one idea, one concept, and drive it into the ground. This is a great method for starting out. You can’t be a good writer until your work speaks for itself and focusing on a horror genre or type of dialogue is the perfect way of getting your name out there. As you grow though, and as you master more writing tools, it’s vital to challenge your work. Go out of your comfort zone, write new types of stories and learn to write in first, second and third person perspective. Most importantly, challenge how you look at everything that you write about. 

Long ago when animals could talk, I was an overworked writer living in downtown Chicago with barely a penny to spare. My characters were gritty. My scenery was destitute. My point of view leaned on a survivor’s demeanor. As I grew, advanced my career and had a family, I became happier. I started to understand that not everything needs to bleed noir. You can have genuinely kind characters. You could build honest scenes instead of glum gutters. You could tell a story that makes the reader think about the merits of life, love and everything in between. Challenge your writing in order to broaden your perspective and challenge your perspective in order to improve your writing.  

Finally, never lose your swagger. It’s easy to be confident in a character, plot or manuscript for a short while, but the gods cursed writers to question everything, including themselves. Doubt tethers itself to artists before dropping its anchor in the ocean. Most writers don’t last more than three years before throwing their work in the air and going back to their normal lives. Whether it’s bravado, confidence or just an understanding that you have stories that demand to be told, a part of you has to find that thing that makes you a special writer and run with it. 

Just remember, confidence is the ability to meet life’s hurdles and know that you’ll succeed. An author, someone who typically works alone, gets all the pains of being alone, but none of the encouragement that other careers provide. An author must be self motivating. If they can learn to continue to believe in their work, even when it’s not paying the bills, even when it’s getting dumped on by editors or isn’t meeting personal expectations, they will succeed.

So the next time you’re digging in your backyard and find a rare lamp with a genie’s initials, think about what you will wish for. Success comes with time and dedication. The struggle is part of the process. Still, there’s three major elements that can help you become a master of writing in that span. They are the foundation for anyone who aspires to create greatness in their work. Why not work on making those wishes come true?

"The Dilemma of Old Furnaces" To be Added to University of British Columbia Archives

Delighted, ecstatic, thrilled- I can’t say it enough how happy I am to have a short story of mine, “The Dilemma of Old Furnaces,” published in “cIRcle,” a digital library for research, theses and dissertations at the University of British Columbia. Check out this future work and others at the link below.

https://www.justincalcala.com/theplentydreadfulseries

When Eden, a handicapped boy with a brain that’s as sharp as his insecurities, goes to his offbeat Grandmother Irena’s cottage one frigid winter morning, he begrudgingly thinks back to all the tall tales she once told him about fairies and monsters. However, as revisits her old home, Eden looks back on all the adventures the pair used to enjoy, and wonders if he’s being too hard on his strange but loving Grandmother Irena. Then a dragon tries to eat Grandmother Irena’s cat, and the only one that can stop it is Eden. 

Support the ArTs: It’s a David Versus Goliath Thing

Well, it’s a bummer to have to share this, but for those of you that aren’t in the know, amazon rules the world. You pay to play, and those with the most money, connections and marketing often somehow mysteriously make it to the top of all amazon’s author lists. Those who speak Pig Latin would say, “isthay uckssay orfay uddingbay authorsyay.” As a mid-career author, I not only feel the pain, but talk to a lot of other talented writers who do as well. So, we reach out to you, the wonderful reader. The person who spends their few pennies on making our wonderful works come to life by enjoying our little stories. Thank you.

Now I ask one other favor. Please, instead of checking out a mainstream book this month, instead, buy a budding author’s work. Let me tell you, I’ve made it a personal quest to do the same (a sort of put your money where your mouth mission) and I’ve been so surprised by how little attention some of these great books have received. Many of them are just as good as the market giants if not better. So, along with the shameless promotion for my recently released books, I’m also adding some recent reads that have blown me away. All of them are from incipient writers who need your help to take down the amazon Goliath by buying their books and leaving reviews where ever you can. 

Justin Alcala Recent Releases:

Scarlet Leaf Review (Article): “Urban Fantasy: The Modern Fairy Tale”

https://www.scarletleafreview.com/short-stories15/category/justin-alcala

Unfading Daydream Anthology, Issue 9: “Time Will Tell”

Castabout Literature Anthology, October 2019: “The Lantern Quietly Screams”

All Things That Matter Publishing: “Dim Fairy Tales”

Other Great Authors

Tonja Drecker, Young Adult Supernatural Novel: “Music Boxes”

Jeannie Sharpe, Faith and Romance Novel: The Baker’s Husband: A Second Chances Book

Edward M. Erdelac, Historical Scifi Series Continuance: Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel

halloween short stories that will scare your pants off!

Looking for a frightening short story? It’s been a busy October, but I’m overjoyed to be featured in these scary story publications just in time for Halloween. Please help support all of the great authors by picking up some of the following books/magazines and leaving a review. 

Castabout October Magazine: “The Lantern Quietly Screams” by Justin Alcala

Hard Copy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1702629465/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=castabout+literature+October&qid=1572270678&sr=8-2

E-Magazine: https://www.amazon.com/Castabout-Literature-October-Nathan-Dantoin-ebook/dp/B07ZLLH63J/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=castabout+literature+October&qid=1572270678&sr=8-1

Drunken Pen Writing Podcast & Literature: “A Blind and Terrible Thing” by Justin Alcala

E-Release: https://drunkenpenwriting.com/2019/10/26/a-blind-and-terrible-thing/3/

Inlandia Journal: “Time Will Tell” by Justin Alcala

E-Release: https://inlandiajournal.com/justin-alcala/

book nominations

Two great pieces of news. First, “A Dead End Job”(future work) was a finalist for Speculative Literature Foundation’s 2019 Diverse Writers Award. Second, “Consumed” has been nominated for the H.W.A. 2019 Bram Stoker Award. Pretty cool.

A Speculative Literature Foundation juror had this to say about “A Dead End Job”…

This reads like a neo-noir mixed with a hefty dose of dark humor, and I’m loving it. The story grabbed me initially, and I liked the personification of Death and the little, nerdy details that make the author (and the characters) genuine. There is a strong hook here, and will grab the right reader, and the positioning is unique.”

Unfading Daydream Magazine Presents “Time Will Tell” by Justin Alcala

Unfading Daydream Magazine presents for their October digital and paperback issue, “Time Will Tell.”
When Jasper, a corporate chairman with a guilty conscience, works until midnight, he finds himself starving for a late night meal. Unfortunately for him, protestors have been demonstrating outside of his company’s megaplex because of Jasper’s decision to raise prescription costs. Desperate, he scampers to a local diner, but finds that he’s being followed by a middle aged stranger. Jasper takes refuge within the restaurant, and nearly forgets about his pursuer because of a newscast about linear particle reversal. That is until the stranger enters the diner, confirming Jasper’s worst fears.

Natural Twenty: Why Role Playing Leveled Up My Writing

Your hero enters the dungeon, exploring every twisting corridor for dangerous traps, valuable clues and endless treasure. Each corner of the crooked stone ceiling is covered in cobwebs. The walls seem to swell as if they’re breathing. Your hero holds up their torch, lighting the otherwise dark path as they approach the main doorway of the mad wizard’s lab. Written in ancient runes are the words “Office, Keep Out.” The hero grabs the doorknob, takes one last deep breath, then pushes forward, sword raised as they rush inside. To the hero’s horror, the study is empty except for a single desk. On top of the workspace, a laptop glows an eerie white. It appears the evil wizard had been working on something. As the hero approaches, they see that Microsoft Word has been opened. Upon its first lines reads a message. Chapter 1: The Hero’s Demise. 

Oh, role-playing, what a weird and wacky world. Technically, role-playing has been around since man can communicate, but in contemporary terms, the world of tabletop role-playing is less than fifty years old. For non-nerds, tabletop role-playing is when you get together with a few friend to create characters that help tell a story in an imaginary world. In most circumstances, participants describe their characters’ actions through speech while a designated person known as “The Game Master” describes what happens in this world based off of the player’s choices. But, what if I told you that tabletop role-playing wasn’t just for fun, but it could also sharpen your writing? What if I told you that playing an imaginary game is just what most authors need to realize the tools within them that can tell a great story.

I started role-playing when I was eleven. My best friend, John Mecha, introduced me to a little game called Dungeons and Dragons by bringing over a hand-me-down Monster Manual he’d received from his neighbor. He carefully explained the rules. There were funny shaped dice, guidelines and confusing processes that were hard for a sixth grader to understand. Once he helped me out with the first hump though, I was hooked. We created these wondrous protagonists that banded together to battle horrific villains for a winner takes all plot to save a mystical realm. Oh, I can still smell the mildew on the old pages now. 

We played all night, and planned future sleepovers where our elves, dwarves and mortal knights would clash again with the ancient warlock and his army of orcs. This went on for years, gradually transforming into a weekly occurrence with dozens of our friends. Eventually, I took over as the Game Master, and the role-playing games expanded to different worlds like the Sci-Fi setting of Shadowrun, the macabre thrill of Vampire: The Masquerade and the epic space fantasy of Star Wars. Still, when we weren’t huddled around a dining room table, life went on. While many of our friends came and went, our core group always managed to stick together, through high school and college. 

Then one day in a tiny university classroom I decided, Hey, I’m going to be a writer. Almost overnight, I changed my major to English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and went to work. I studied under some of the smartest professors I’d ever met, taking down every vital note they could teach me about being a great writer. I devoured the lessons of greek mythology, learned Chicago Manual style page formatting and focused on the essentials of creating seamless dialogue. By the time I decided to write my first book chapter, I was certain that I could pack everything I’d learned into one book. Well, guess what? My first book was a flop, and it only took one editor to tell me so. I was trying way too hard and it just didn’t come together the way that was enjoyable to readers. So what did I do? I went back to the drawing board. 

This time, I promised myself to relax and have fun. I focused on the story, putting the tricks of the trade on the back burner. I created characters that I’d like to play if the novel were a game. I built a world that would give me the creeps if a game master described it to me. I built plot twists that would blow my role-playing buddies minds if we were rolling dice in their basement. In essence, I wrote a novel version of a role-playing game, and guess what? Eight months after completing it, a publisher reached out to me and said that they wanted to make it a book. 

You see, for the last twelve years, I’d been developing the tools that I needed for a good book simply by role-playing. I figured out how to create well-developed characters that my friends would love. I cultivated techniques for story arc that would make the perfect adventure. I learned the axiomatics for keeping audiences interested. The only thing that I really needed to learn in college was the expectations of the literary world, which was mostly basic grammar and formatting. Everything else had been assembled just by having fun through tabletop role-playing. 

Writers, I’m not saying you have to go out and pick up hundreds of dollars in gaming books. I’m not even saying that you have to join a tabletop campaign, though I highly recommend it. Ultimately, what I’m trying to tell you is that if you’re a writer that’s burning to write a book, chances are that you already have something hidden in you that’s already the perfect tool for telling great stories. Once you realize what that is, then it’s all a matter of complementing it with the rules of writing rudimentary English. And that story will be a critical hit.