Category Archives: Horror Movies

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

Also, check out “Add an Eye” editing and proofreading for all of your extremely affordable writing needs.

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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.

“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.”

Hotdogs, Marshmallows and Dread

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.