Category Archives: Books

Need a Scare: Check Out My latest Ghost Story

Who doesn’t love to be scared? Check out my latest short ghost story, “A Lantern Quietly Screams” in the 101 Proof Horror anthology by Czykmate Productions/Haunted MTL. There’s so many talented authors in this book of horror, it’s scary. 

“A Lantern Quietly Screams”

When four history students researching the Underground Railroad can’t find records on the old network near the Blue Ridge Mountains, they put out an ad in the paper. Luckily, an archivist, and descendent of a former slave-gone-guide, agrees to drive up to tell her grandmother’s tale. However, as the group waits along the base of the dark mountain, ghostly lanter lights flicker in the wood line. Will their source arrive before anything happens? Only time will tell.


https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1989225306?pf_rd_r=8C6DPNBRE1QRXN6T59Z2&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee

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My Side of the Tracks: A Call For Understanding

Like a lot of you, I have a simple rule with people. If  they anger, baffle or discourage me, I try to spin the table, flip the coin, walk a mile in their shoes. I try to justify actions I might not understand by thinking about the world from their perspective. A fool will say this is foolish and a wise person will say it’s wise. Whatever you want to call it, at this point it’s instinctive. 

So when people took to the streets after the recent string of police murders, it was easy to understand. Now I’m half Mexican, so maybe it’s because I saw the struggles of my father. It’s easy to see the pain when you’ve watched it on the faces of people you love. Yet, everywhere online, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, there seemed to be this static, a genuine confusion amongst people. Not just any people, but specifically White America. Now, before you react, before you think, Here we go again with another lecture, read a little further. This isn’t a speech of criticism. 

See, most of the White America confusion that I saw wasn’t hateful. It’s just that the questions seemed to lack insight from the other side. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” So I thought I’d reach out to an old friend of mine. A person from another lifetime, when I still lived in Chicago. I wanted to ask him questions for myself, and for others. I wanted to ask what’s it like being black during these unrestful times, and what is it that most of White America is getting wrong. 

Now let me introduce you to Anthony. He’s a proud new dad, a musician at MoneyTeam Music Group, and a man who grew up on the streets. He’s tall, brawny and has a fierce look in his eyes. Some people might not admit that they lock their car door when he passes by. Yet, for the brief time that I knew him, all I’ve ever seen was a smart, kind and open-minded man, a guy vocal about erasing hate and getting everyone on the same page. In his opinion, the problem can’t be solved unless you first understand. You have to see things from his side of the tracks.   

Anthony, thanks for taking the time to talk. Can you tell us who you are and why you may have some insight on current racial issues?

My name is Anthony Alexander Avila. I’m a mixed raced male, Black & Mexican, from Chicago.

I grew up in Englewood one of the more urban areas in the city. I’ve survived for thirty years in that environment, so I think my opinions hold some validity.

Seeing what you have from the African American and Latino community, what’s one thing that White America gets wrong?

I think there’s this sense of criminality associated with black and Latino communities. This is a false. It’s a  narrative derived from film and media. They show urban areas as some war zone. There’s some truth to the violence, but that’s not all there is We have neighborhood clubs and block parties. My uncles host cookouts where everyone is invited regardless of race and class. Everyone can eat and coexist. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for these people. I had neighbors that would watch out for me and my sister when my mom was working. You know the whole It takes a village to raise a child?. That was us. Not everything about the “Hood” is kill or be killed. We are people too. And that’s who you see in the streets. A community of tired people trying to find a voice against the violence we’ve been trudging through since the day we were born. 

If you could reach out to White America and make one thing clear, what would it be? 

Simple. Don’t judge a book by its cover.. Don’t let that fear of the unknown be what continues to run a divide between us as Human beings. We are not some alien race. We are you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you may not understand. As long as you’re humble about it, asking questions is the beginning. It’s what will help you understand why we feel slighted as a race. 

Why do you think White America is now vocal about protests and looting, but they weren’t vocal when George Floyd was originally killed? 

Honestly, I think once a fire burns hot enough no matter where you are you’re going to feel it. It’s scary to see angry ethnicities marching together on the streets where you walk. But it’s this same fire my people and our communities have been smoldering in for years —  the fear, anxiety, confusion. As much as I think social media is a curse to humanity, I’m thankful for it because these atrocities that were normal in black and brown communities and starting to land right in the palms of White America. 

You were able to WATCH Philando Castile be murdered in front of his child while unarmed. You were able to watch Eric Garner cry out, he can’t breathe eleven times while multiple officers restrained him. The entire world watched an officer put his knee in the neck of an unarmed black man for 9 MINUTES! It’s almost inhuman to not want to act or do something. Now, some people are acting out of love and some just don’t want to be burned again, but hopefully these recent events will be the tipping point and we can start moving towards REAL change. 

What’s one thing you’d like African Americans and Latinos to think about? 

Think about your place in the world. Think about the significance of your existence and what it means. Once we understand who we are as individuals then and only then can we come together and make change as a collective whole. Think about our children. Think about the future they will inherit. What are we leaving behind? Let’s fight to change the way history is taught in the school system. Let’s get the people who are confused to understand. The Latin and African American communities have made our nation what it is today. We have to teach our youth that there is no knowledge of self. That’s why so many kids view life as insignificant. They’re told they aren’t as important as others. That’s why they are able to take life so easily. The real change starts with us. 

What do you think it’ll take to make the world right? 

I think if we can look past things like race and wealth and focus more on the things that make us all human, then we will really see how significant ALL lives are. We are all more the same than we are different. We should spend our time trying to be the best human beings we possibly can. I feel like that’s the only way to find true peace, and I thank everyone who decides that today, they’ll be part of that change. 

Anthony, thanks for answering these questions. I know they might sound simple, but sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that confusion doesn’t mean ignorance and differences don’t mean hate.

No worries. If we can get one person to say, yeah, you know what, this is a problem, then it’s all worth it. Black, latino, white — we are so much more the same than we are different. White America, can you help? Can you look past your fears and see that this gets fixed when we all come together. 

Reading the Reader: A Guide to Figuring Out the Messy Literary Market

Open up any author’s web browser and you’ll find one heck of a history. Everything from how to kill someone with a pool noodle to how many hours would it take to ride a bicycle to Mars might show up. What you’ll also find are a dozen literary pages complete with market research and suggestive trends. That’s because, like it or not, authors do not understand what readers want. They can cater to a preferred group, take shots in the dark or be all lone wolf about it, but the truth stands on its own. Writers are at a loss to global reading habits.

In writers’ defense, not even the experts seem to know. According to Global English Editing’s The Ultimate Guide to Global Reading Habits,publishers and agents seem to be at a loss on how to follow data. For starters, the top three most literate countries, Finland, Norway and Iceland only account for approximately eleven million combined people. Even if every citizen was a reader, they’d only make up around twelve percent of ebook readers alone. Meanwhile, although twenty-six percent of Vietnam’s population don’t identify as regular readers, Asia is by far one of the top continents for book sales. In America, seventy-four percent of people have read a book in the last twelve months, yet twenty-seven percent of American adults haven’t read this year. Confused, yet?

In genres, the leader, Romance/Erotica, makes up 1.44 billion dollars per year, followed by Crime/Mystery at 728.2 million. Religious Inspiration, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Horror finish the top five genres with a combined 1.389 billion dollars. Yet, the global yearly earnings for books is near 20 billion dollars. So, what’s selling that makes up the other eighty percent of books? How does an author find out where their audience is? And why is all of the information so conflicting? 

The truth of the matter is that data is hard to rope up. For literary producers, guessing what audiences want is more alchemy than science. They follow trends rather than raw data. And trends are an ever undulating affair, like waves in an upside-down ocean. Now, before you knock book creators for being hacks that chase people rather than art, know that true artists, the lone wolves that write what they want, only sell on average two-hundred-and-fifty copies within their lifetime. That’s not nearly enough to keep any business flowing. Like it or not, there’s something to be said for understanding what’s in demand. 

So, what does this mean for writers? It means that there’s really no way to understand what a reader wants. Yes, there are trends that authors can try to chase, but they’re fickle and ever changing. Yes, you can look at last year’s sales and try to make predictions for the upcoming quarters, but the numbers are constantly contradicting themselves. No agent, publisher or researcher can guarantee an author will earn enough money to feed their family, let alone become a New York Best Seller. 

The only element the author can control is writing well. Write that perfect piece, and when you’re done, then try to take the best shot at how best to publish your work. Some of the best writers have created perfection, only to realize that their work needs to be placed into a drawer temporarily or adjusted to fit the times. Things like global pandemics, flooded markets and overdone genres all have a way of affecting the success of your latest work. 

So, if you’re writing the next great novel, and are drowning in angst because you don’t know how to sell it, let’s remember these simple steps. First, finish your story. Once you have a strong piece of work, you can decide what’s trending, who might be the best representation to support your work, and anything else that changes how you’ll present it to the world. The future is not ours to see, but having a strong piece of writing is the most vital step in reading your reader. 

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Looking for cover art? Do you want to nail online or printed advertisements for your book, short story or novel? Look no further. Ana Cruz is the master of creating the perfect book cover, marketing art or any other contracted art you need. This talented artist works at incredibly competitive prices, and contracts all rights to the payer. How do I know? I’ve used her for both “Dim Fairy Tales” and “Consumed 2nd edition.” Get your art on the right page today!

Talk Nerdy to Me

Join me on the Webcomics Podcast where I speak with the host Jamais Jochim about comics, writing and all things dorky. 

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/interview-with-justin-alcala/id1479051116?i=1000472255917

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“It Snows Here” Available in the new Power Loss Anthology

The day the lights went out is remembered as Day Zero.

It wasn’t just the lights, it was the phones, the computers and just about everything else that makes modern society what it is.

Power Loss tells the story of eight individuals, by eight different authors, each trying to come to terms with the black out and survive in a world that has changed forever. 

“Power Loss” is a BLK Dog Publishing Anthology with my short story, “It Snows Here.” Check out all of the talented authors April 21st, 2020. 

As I Sit in the Hall: A Call for Honest Writing

As I Sit in the Hall: A Call for Honest Writing

It’s late. In a few hours, we’ll wake up and leave for the hospital. It scares my wife. It scares me too. Our son is due in the morning. 

There’s something about creation and death that keeps a person honest. My wife’s latest pregnancy framed a lot for me about my shortcomings, from my terse patience to my all too often bleak perspective of the world. At this moment though, it’s irrelevant. And yet, for as trivial as every issue in the world feels, a whisper tells me to mend my past to honor the future. It’s time to adjust my approach to everything I thought I once knew, including something that’s bothered me for a while… my writing. 

Writers are a funny sort. We begin our literary pilgrimage replicating our favorite authors. Everything starts as a photocopy. At some point though, writers reach a precipice and have to take a leap of faith. We need to bare our souls. It’s frightening to expose yourself in your works. It’s far safer to cloak yourself in the safety of familiar literary voices. Once you strip away that shield though, that’s when authors create the most brilliant, unadulterated works. 

We’re in the delivery room. There are complications. I’m asked to go in the hall while the anesthesiologist works to dull my wife’s pain. It’s quiet, sterile and bare. I want to be composed, but gravity has left my belly. I’m exposed, and it shows. Staff stare as they walk past, studying me like some car accident on the side of the road. 

I’m a strange guy. I laugh when I should cry. I think the house I grew up in was haunted. My dad died when I was a teenager and I never fully dealt with it. I pretend I’m an elf with my friends on weekends. I prefer Shelley to Austen. I’m sure there’s undiagnosed mental illnesses in my family. I don’t want this to bleed any of this onto the pages. Strange stories don’t get published. Weird people don’t sell books.

Now though, after all of this, I’m not so sure. Who we are, both at our strongest and weakest, aren’t blemishes. They’re merits. These little aspects of our lives transforms a story from good to great. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. If I were reading this article a few days ago, I’d roll my eyes. All it takes though is a quick look on any bookshelf and soon you’re reminded.

Sylvia Plath, best known for The Bell Jar, wrote some of her most beautiful works under the weight of depression after her husband’s affair. She used this horrible event to create masterpieces. The battle ultimately caused her to commit suicide. To this day her poems and manuscripts are considered some of the most admired all over the world. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead was inspired by a reoccurring dream he had about zombies when he wrote Zone One. The Princeton teacher’s early work was labeled as scholarly and a prominent voice against racism. So when he was compelled to write about undead, Whitehead was naturally reluctant. He ultimately followed his creative passion, and while there were skeptics, it remains one of his best-selling novels.  

The list goes on and on. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender Is the Night while repairing cars and caring for his schizophrenic wife. These hardships helped thread the creative yarns for much of each story’s conflict. Chuck Palahniuk’s award-winning manuscripts put readers in the front seat of self-destructive protagonists marginalized by society. These books are reflections of Palahniuk’s unearthed struggles with homosexuality and proletarianism. Life, death, joy, sadness — these struggles dance on the pages if writers let them. 

There’s a room of doctors surrounding us. My wife is pale. I see blood all over the resident’s rubber gloves. I clench her hand as she screams. I am holding onto the steering wheel with my teeth.     

I’m not saying that authors have to suffer from some debilitating disease or fight a great social war in order to write at their zenith. You just need to be honest. Trust me, I get it. It’s not easy. Often, it’s what makes us most human, most relatable, that we want to hide most. Try it though. Take your experiences and let them flow through characters, settings and worlds. I guarantee you that if you do, you’ll cultivate your greatest works yet. 

My wife is in tears. So am I. Dr. Titus beckons Mallory to push one last time. She does. The Earth stands still. Ronan Frederick Alcala is born. Doctors work on my wife as we embrace our weeping baby. I am standing with one foot on each of our planet’s poles.

I’m weird. I’m at peace with it. In fact, I kind of like it. Maybe I’ll write a story about a man with a toaster for a tail who’s trapped on a planet without fire. Maybe I’ll create a character with a time bomb in her head that sets off a strain of madness in order to hide a secret that could save the world. Maybe I’ll write an adventure about a man who takes his children on a great adventure to achieve their destiny, but instead fulfills his own.  

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Justin Alcala Writer’s Update

Thanks again for all the great support. The recent birth of Ronan has reminded me how storybook life can be. The good news, none of the excitement has halted writing production. Far from it. Below is a list of all the upcoming news for future works and events…

March 2020: I’ll be a guest interview on The Written World Podcast to discuss finding your voice in writing. Stream date to be announced shortly after recording.

April 2020: Running Wild Press will release their Running Wild Anthology of Stories, volume 4 in hard back and ebook. My short story, “A Blind and Terrible Thing” will be featured along with several other talented authors.

May 2020: The Hide & Seek anthology will feature my work, “The Dilemma of Old Furnaces” in their collection, in addition to being featured in the University of British Columbia’s cIRcle digital repository for UBC literary research.

June 2020: DLG Publishing plans to release my ebook short story, “A Forest Only Whispers” on amazon for kindle and kindle unlimited.

July 2020: Czykmate Productions presents their first Haunted MTL anthology, featuring “The Lantern Quietly Screams” along with several other haunting shorts on amazon and kindle. 

September 2020: BLK Dog Publishing projects the release of their Power Loss anthology, including my full length story, “It Snows Here.”

Fall 2020: I’m looking to have updates on my latest novel, “A Dead End Job” as well as publication details.

Winter 2020: I also am looking forward to announcing new details on my latest MG novel, “The Last Stop” for future markets.

“A Forest Only Whispers” to be released by DLG Publishing

Exciting news! DLG Publishing and I have just agreed to contract “A Forest Only Whispers” for e-book release. Future release date to be announced…

When Melissa, a widowed witch who’s as shy as she is brainy, looks to celebrate Mabon with her sisters, she doesn’t expect much more than a night of praise to forget her missing boyfriend, that is until the forest visitor comes and offers a chance at redemption.

            A Forest Only Whispers is a romantic witchcraft story about Melissa, a contemporary witch that lives with her mother and Nanny in a charming New England village. Years ago, her high school boyfriend, Rían, disappeared in the nearby woods, and since then Melissa has never been the same. Now a college student, Melissa spends time with her family, the O’Phelans, her coven sisters and best friend, Hellwise. While the story starts off with a simple family tradition of baking Nine Maidens Pie during the Autumn Equinox, the reader learns that Melissa is sneaking off to join her sisters in praise. As the plot continues, Melissa joins her modern day coven as they go into the legendary Limingdover Woods, where Rían disappeared. 

DLG Publishing

“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