Category Archives: Interview

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. 

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

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.”

“The Bard and the King: The Art of Not Selling Out”

(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. 

https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/5-big-reasons-why-your-art-isn-t-selling

https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artists-share-rituals-dealing-stress

Author interview: Henry Anderson

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. 

Cape Misfortune

“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.

https://www.amazon.com/Henry-Anderson/e/B01JAS49AO?ref=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000

Henry Anderson

https://henryandersonbooks.com