The short story, “The Lantern Quiety Screams” by Justin Alcala is due to be published by Castabout Art and Literature just in time for Halloween. Stay tuned so you can get your copy.
(Quick Read: 4 minutes)
There once was a bard and king that decided to trade places. The bard wanted a royal audience to help make him the most celebrated artist in the kingdom. The king yearned for freedom, and dreamed of strolling freely through the plebeian lands. So the pair traded cap and crown, lute and scepter, then went on their way. It took less than twenty-four hours, followed by three magical texts and two Uber carriages to return everything to normal. Both the king and bard decided that this was the dumbest idea ever, and agreed to never talk about it again.
Whether your’e a painter, performer or poet, chances are that if you’re trying to make a living off of your art, you’re struggling to find balance. You’re probably trying to find balance in the time spent on building your royal audience. You’re likely trying to find balance in creating new works. Most importantly, you’re most certainly trying to find balance in the inner recesses of your conscience, struggling to decide whether or not your betraying your craft for profit.
In the art community, you talk to, well…artists. I’ve spoken to photographers, woodworkers and writers. Their thoughts on balance are always the same. Sometimes, I feel more like a sales person than an (insert craft here). I’m a total sellout. So why do creative minds feel like sellouts? Often, it’s because modest Indy Artists don’t have well-heeled sponsors to handle the business end while they focus on their trade. So, they end up becoming the marketer, salesperson and visionary. Needless to say, that’s a tall order that makes most artists to feel icky. So what do they do? They follow their principles and stick to creating, hoping their work will speak for itself. Authors Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler joked about the idea during a Q&A recently.
Gaiman laughed, “Don Marquis once said that having poetry published was like throwing flower petals over the Grand Canyon and waiting for the boom.”
Handler added, “I’ve heard it (writing) was like wetting yourself in dark pants – you get a feeling, but no one notices.”
While it’s in jest, the sentiment is clear. If you’re a budding artist, it’s time to get to work, and being a businessperson is just part of it. You can’t afford to draw lines in the sand. The catch to not selling out is drawing soft borders. Set goals and decide how often you’re going to market weekly. Make time for creating new projects, and understand the first hurdle is often the worst. I’ve added a list of links at the bottom that might help you the process, from reasons why you aren’t selling art to techniques that’ll help you deal with the stress of being an artist.
No one wants to be a sellout. We’d all like a royal court to instantly give us patrons. We don’t want to be salespeople. We want to be artists. The truth of it is though, that if you’re doing it right, you’ll likely need to be a little of both. It’s the best shot of living happily ever after.
Ah, summer, a time when we leave the safety of our cozy homes to brave the great outdoors. We trek near and far to hike, fish and be eaten alive by mosquitos. Then, at night, when our muscles ache, we fill our bellies with hotdogs and marshmallows as we cozy up by the campfire. There’s an anticipation that grows as the moon paints the woods pearl. It’s a readiness so salient, that even the trees inch closer in order to listen. That’s right, it’s time for you to tell a scary campfire tale.
Now that you have everyone’s attention, it’s imperative that you tell the most captivating tale you can muster. It needs to be intoxicating, frightening and use the raw power of your surroundings to horrify listeners’ bone. While some storytellers like to shoot from the hip, a good raconteur knows that a little preparation can help shake your audience to the core. So, before you gather around the fire this summer, let’s go over the fundamentals of what makes the perfect campfire tale. Follow these suggestions and at the end of your eerie story, the audience will be far too reluctant to sleep, but much too terrified to ask for an encore.
So first thing is first, let’s find a medium that matches the landscape. This is dealer’s choice. You can research local lore or make up your own. The most important detail is to find a subject that makes sense for your strongest ally, the wild backdrop. Don’t challenge the listener’s imagination with stretches. If you’re having a backyard outing, you may want to stay away from Bigfoot. If you’re camping in the desert, the ghoul living in an apartment basement may not be as scary as the witch of the barren wasteland. Your real life setting is your best friend, and will build tension before the story even starts.
Next, let’s figure out an ending before we build the framework. Unlike traditional stories, a campfire tale’s success lives and dies with the last five sentences. It needs to be something that causes the listener (or reader) to walk away thinking, “Oh man, I could be next.” The scariest campfire tales make the listener part of your story, a continuance long after the words have left your mouth. So, as a rule of thumb, build this first and never let the conclusion make people feel safe. You want the antagonist to still be lurking, the curse to still exist or the survivors to have lost something dear. This is a scary story, your mission is horror.
Now that we’ve decided that we’ll end with the axe wielding convict still on the loose, we can take it from the top and begin our narrative arc. The opening should draw people in with local color. Listeners will be on the defensive, so let the scenery twist and betray them in order to crack their shells. Each line needs to leave your listeners looking over their shoulder or curling closer together. Some ways to build trust while suffocating your campers’ security includes lines that make them feel as if you, the storyteller, are on their side. Here’s a few examples…
“I read about this before we came here. Feel free to look it up later tonight.”
“I almost didn’t want to tell this story because it’s going to make me scared too, but according to the placard I read when we first entered the park, this place has a dark past.”
See what these lines do? They take a doubter and start breaking down their defenses. If you can add real lore or historic details to the story, all the better. Just don’t let them do any research until they zip up their tent. You can let them play fact checker after the fear has already took hold.
We also need protagonists. It helps if your characters are relatable. Are you chaperoning a girl scout outing? Well, isn’t that funny because the last troupe, Pack 113, came to these woods for their wilderness badge. Try to lean away from characters that are too in depth. You don’t want interest to satellite around the support characters as much as their conflict. As a rule of thumb, give each support character a one or two sentence description of who they are. If you’re narrating, it doesn’t hurt to give people distinct voices, accents or phrases in order to portray them later.
Now that we decided on a backdrop that closely matches your own, built a strong opening, have believable characters and know the ending, it’s time for rising action. Typically, you don’t want the route to be direct. Anticipation and mystery are your mediums. Let the dread leak in a drop at a time. First, the characters hear a few snapping twigs or a coyote yelp. The proof of something frightening or supernatural should slowly gather into the story arc until the weight can’t hold up. Fear of the unknown is the most potent terror there is. That’s when you strike with the climax.
Some of the best climaxes and falling actions are those that leave the audience guessing. It’s a powerful thing to let the listeners come to their own conclusions. After all, no one knows how to scare a person better than themselves. You’re just coloring their imaginations in with creepy details. Fading to black or announcing that no one knows what happened to the victims is ideal. However, if you want to describe the exact details, I’d advise not clinging to the gory as much as the story. Did the last survivors almost make it or did the ghost change the protagonist in a way that’s nearly ineffable? Whatever you decide, be sure that it bridges to the ending you decide on in the beginning. If your last lines aren’t moving, the story may sink. Listeners need to walk away disturbed.
Finally, leave them while they want you to stay. Once you’ve delivered those final lines, don’t indulge the audience with curious questions. They’re trying to reestablish security. Instead, a creepy smirk or telling them you’ll elaborate in the morning should they still be curious will suffice. Try to hand the torch to someone else once you’re done or time it to where it’s time to go to bed. You want your words to reverberate, being told in the back of their minds a hundred more times before they fall asleep.
And there you have it. These suggestions are meant to be tools, invitations to build a terrifying campfire tale. Ultimately, you’re the best measuring tool to deliver a great scare. Remember, even if you mess up a detail or your gathering aren’t convinced, you’ve still done a fantastic job making the backyard bonfire or backpacking trip even better. After all, we make up scary campfire tales in order to remind ourselves of how wondrous nature really can be, from its beauty to its horror.
Have suggestions? I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to share your techniques in order to tell the perfect campfire tale.
When Hell comes to Earth, horrors are born. Check out the Civil War horror mystery, “It Dances Now”, written by yours truly with art by Jon Stubbington. It’s available on Crimson Street Magazine’s May copy.
Just when you thought it was safe, another nightmare leaps onto the pages. Horrified Press (imprint of Rogue Planet Press) has contracted Justin Alcala’s short story, “The Offering” for the Cthulu themed “Candlemas 2020” Anthology. There’s no shortage of talented authors in this book, which hits shelves Christmas of 2020.
Oh the magic of books. What would life be without them? More importantly, where would we be without their authors? We take for granted all of the dreamed up stories on our bookshelves and iPads. We forget about all of the work, love and struggles that goes into each word.
Today on the Justin Alcala blog, I’m excited to interview Solstice Publishing author, Henry Anderson. Henry Anderson is a former news reporter who has written for national UK newspapers. He spent time as a farmhand in Australia before working in publishing and journalism. His current novels, “Cape Misfortune” and “The Mouth” are fantastic tales available on amazon. But before you pick them up, let’s learn a little bit about the man behind the stories. Let’s learn about the talented Henry Anderson.
Thanks for joining us Henry. I wanted to start out by asking about the great journeys you’ve taken to get where you are. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I suppose in the old days pilgrimages involved seeing sacred relics like a piece of a saint’s finger. It made things seem much more real. Similarly an artefact like a book or the page of a handwritten manuscript makes the writer seem less remote. Seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace was amazing. I was lucky enough to study at the same college at Oxford University as Oscar Wilde. I visited his grave in Paris. We used to wear green carnations in his honour on exam days.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Take a step back and think about whether other people will find your writing relevant or important!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Self-doubt is the enemy of most art. On a bad day the words look terrible.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You have the ability to get something published. Stop procrastinating and get on with it.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I wrote a play once and stood at the back of the audience on the nights it was performed. It was incredible to watch people being so involved with the story.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Nothing, unless you are writing autobiography. I suppose if you admire someone you might try and do justice to them. If you feel someone has mistreated you there is always the villain.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a screenplay, several short stories and two unfinished novels kicking about. I hope to return to them one day.
What did you edit out of this book?”
Anything that didn’t advance the story. I find if I stray off the path, description or dialogue loses meaning or relevance.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I suffer from a chronic illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis. There are a few hidden references to that. They don’t make any difference to the story but they add a bit of depth for me. I suppose the trick is not to be too self-indulgent.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There is a scene in the book where the characters are travelling astrally, out of the body, over the Pacific. That was difficult. It was the first part of the story that was out-and-out fantasy. There is a devil sitting on my shoulder that is scornful about straying from realism. It’s now one of my favourite scenes.
Henry, what advice do you have for unpublished writers?
The Internet has changed the literary landscape. There is less stigma about self-publishing now. I haven’t self-published yet but would do so in the future rather than hang on to a manuscript for years. You have to roll with the punches and move on.
Henry, thanks so much for joining us on the blog. You can learn more about Henry on his website. All links are provided below. And please be sure to pick up Henry’s latest novel, “Cape Misfortune” available on amazon.
“Welcome to beautiful Cape Misfortune. Come for the rugged coastline and unspoiled beaches. Stay for the quaint customs and friendly welcome.”
Just don’t ask about the people who are going missing.
It’s official, @Solsticepublish and I will be teaming up to bring “The Devil in the Wide City” back to the pages. Editors are already busy proof reading so that Ned can prowl the streets of Chicago once more. I am beyond excited. #newbooks#readerslife
When Ned, a fallen angel who’s as suave as he is brainy, accidentally starts the Great Chicago Fire during an assignment, he all but gives up on ever visiting Earth again- that is until his replacement goes missing, and Ned gets a chance at redemption.
When Cecil Gibbs’s mind shatters during the American Civil War, he becomes a battlefield horror. The man slips through the shadows, carving the wounded like art as the war’s first serial killer. However, once word of Cecil’s atrocities hits the ears of Union command, they send in a Pinkerton by the name of Oliver Lamb to investigate. Through his perilous tracking of Cecil, Oliver learns that Cecil might not be alone. Witnesses have glimpsed a shadowy figure dancing along Cecil’s side, whispering instructions to the broken surgeon as he continues his onslaught.
“It Dances Now” is a short horror story contracted by Crimson Street Magazine. It hit shelves in late summer of 2019.
Hello from my underground bunker!
Here’s an update on the upcoming novel. Dim Fairy Tales is currently in the “Queue” for edits with AllThingsThatMatterPress. Time tables depend on demands, but typically take a few months. The book is on schedule to be released by late 2019 (DEC).
Once upon a time when princesses sought out fortunes and cranky old women turned out to be witches, a grandmother told her family a fairy tale by the fire. The story, which started like hello and ended in goodbye, warned listeners of roadside dangers. It taught morals and life lessons. Most importantly, for the oppressed peasant class of centuries old, these orations offered escapism from a harsh world of civil unrest, injustice and tyranny. They were part of an early culture, blending magic with current affairs in order to understand the world.
While the fairy tale never truly went away, stories thinned as a rapidly modernized world disavowed its past. Many fairy tale curators sweetened narrations, removed grisly details and commercialized mythical characters. Entertainment conglomerates targeted children only in fairy tale cartoons and storybooks. Before long, fairy tales were institutionalized as colorful toddler stories, deprived of their original complexion. The fairy tale had fallen from grace.
Cue the Twenty-First Century. As people pack on top of each other in metropolitan eras, tensions rise. Political divides stretch across the globe. Debates of inequality infringe upon laws and regulations. The rich rule over the working and impoverished. Contemporary escapism within the literary community is needed, and for many, a blend of magic in their everyday lives is just what the doctor ordered. The only catch, the fairy tale needs a facelift. The answer, a sub-genre of books known as Urban Fantasy.
Many readers have heard of Urban fantasy, narratives that amalgamate the magic from legends of old with modernized landscapes. But it takes a special bookworm to draw back the curtain and see how urban fantasy epitomizes everyday complications with mystical protagonists and eerie plots. Popular authors like Jim Butcher and Maggie Stiefvater borrow magic and lore to expose real problems and solutions for readers to interpret. It’s a resurgence of the classic fairy tale.
So it goes without saying that if urban fantasy is the heir to the fairy tale, then supporting the genre is vital for the literary community. Urban fantasy stretches the imagination to provide escapism, admonition and exploration into the present. It packages unbelievable ideas, laces them in the whimsical, and gifts the reader with real life advice. Like its siblings, urban fiction and speculative fiction, urban fantasy engages through the wondrously relatable. Yet, for as vital as the genre is, urban fantasy is at risk of losing its place in the literary world.
According to bookstr.com, the top three genres are as follows, Romance/Erotica, Crime/Mystery and Religious/Inspirational books. Science Fiction & Fantasy tie for fourth place in the book markets. Urban fantasy is a tiny sliver in that deadlock. In addition, writingcooperative.com notes that of the most popular fiction niches, fantasy fiction books only capture a low thirteen percent of the fictional market behind titans like children’s fiction and modern literary fiction. With low market penetration, lesser known urban fantasy authors are finding it challenging to get new titles out for readers to enjoy.
Additionally, urban fantasy is often clumped together with other genres like dystopian fiction and classic fantasy. This makes it harder for readers looking for enchanting lore blended into contemporary ideas to find legitimate urban fantasy. The clustering also dilutes the borders that define urban fantasy’s nature. Many book retailers flood murky urban fantasy sections with everything from Grimdark fiction to medieval graphic novels. Yes, urban fantasy may have squeaked into the market, but it needs nourishment in order to stay around for decades to come.
So what can be done to help the modern fairy tale make its presence better known in the literary market? Well, it’s simple. For starters, urban fantasy needs demand. Purchasing popular series like Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books is a great way to keep the genre alive. Next, support the lesser known urban fantasy authors like Borrowed Souls by Chelsea Mueller and Dragon’s Gift by Linsey Hall. Finally, get the word out. Blogs, book clubs and book chats focused on urban fantasy help propagate publisher’s marketing and submissions targets. It’s that easy.
Long ago, fairy tales taught lessons in an otherwise confusing world with a little help from magic. Now, urban fantasy books help do the same in the literary world. The genre has grown, but needs the literary community’s help in order to thrive. If we don’t, it could lead to a very dark ending. If we do, then we might just live happily ever after. And so, the dreamer awakes, the shadow goes by, when I tell you a tale, the tale is a lie. But listen to me fair maid and proud youth, though the tale is a lie, what it tells is the truth.