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“What a lame day to die. It was Friday, possibly the best time of the week for any seventh grader, it was ruined. People should die on Mondays. That sounds right.”
-Morrigan, The Last Stop
Morrigan’s family needs out of the city. So they move to suburbia where her special needs brother, Asher, is closer to his treatments. Life in a little town though isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and soon Morrigan grows tired of discourteous classmates, quiet streets and strange neighbors. What’s worse, she and her tag along brother are the last ones dropped off every day on the school bus, dragging out her drab existence. The none day a new bus arrives and Morrigan’s life gets deader than she could have ever imagined.
There’s never been stranger urban fantasy than with “A Dead End Job” presented by Parliament House Press. Buck was just a lowlife Hitman trying to make his way through this miserable world when the gun was flipped on him. Now he’s interning for the Grim Reaper in an attempt to dodge eternal damnation. His new job entails taking out “Unmentionables,” those who cheat death. The only problem? When you know how to dodge your final demise it’s usually because you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Poor Buck.
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Well, there’s always a silver lining to any adversity, and 2020 was no different. While it’s globally unanimous that 2020 was like skidding down a razor bladed playground slide, there were some benefits. Beyond the zenith of all joys, the birth of my son, Ronan, I could also get a lot of writing projects ready for their 2021 debut. So, strap on your helmet, squeeze into your short shorts, and grease those rollerblades, because we’re skating through 2021 with conviction. Here’s a look at the Justin Alcala schedule for the upcoming year.
- Final edits for “A Dead End Job” were put together by Parliament House Press and myself
- Production Meetings began for the future graphic novel, “Apollyon” with talented producers/creators James Rock and Alex Gomez
- “Taming of the Cthulhu” 1st proof reaches 30,000 words.
- “A Dead End Job” cover artist completes project for acceptance
- “A Dead End Job” cover reveal on February 25th
- “Magic of Motivational Quotes” by Wingless Dreamer publishing is released, featuring a Justin Alcala excerpt
- Cover reveal for the new anthology, “Citizen Survivors: The Red Book” released by BLK DOG Publishing. This historical fiction piece about the world had Nazi Germany been victorious features a short story by Justin Alcala titled “The Entrepreneur”
- Proofreading for the Middle Grade book, “The Last Stop” begins. This young reader horror story follows seventh grader, Morrigan, and her little brother, Asher, as they explore the frightful history of their new town, and the connection with their eerie new bus driver.
- “Taming of the Cthulhu” manuscript should reach the halfway point for creation
- Two new short stories will begin for Halloween distribution
- “Citizen Survivors: The Red Book” hits shelves
- “The Last Stop” will sent off to agents and publishers
- Short Horror Stories “A Horse for Us All” and “Buried in the Rain” hit anthology and literary magazine shelves
- Finishing touches for the first proof of “Taming of the Cthulhu” complete and sent out to editors
- “The Last Stop” proposed to agents and publishers
- “Apollyon” finishes proofreads and illustrators begin early sketches
- Early reviewers get their “looking-balls” on “A Dead End Job”
- Interviews on podcasts, radio stations and literary journals for the premiere of “A Dead End Job”
- Early announcement about “The Last Stop” publication
- Short Horror Story Projects Cut Off for Submission
- We will take part in the “2021 Charity Drive for the Extra Life for Kids” program
- We will start the countdown for “A Dead End Job” with great giveaways, including e-books, t-shirts and other great
- “The Last Stop” continued publication announcements
- “Taming of the Cthulhu” hits submission phase
- “A Dead End Job” preorders completed
- “A Dead End Job” released (Woo hoo!). Parliament House PRess will release physical copies and ebooks starting October 5th, 2021.
- Podcast interviews to continue in promotion of Parliament House Press in conjunction with “A Dead End Job”
- Halloween Short Stories hit publication
- “The Last Stop” begins editorial phase with new publisher
- “Taming of the Cthulhu” early publication announcements
- Justin Alcala short story and novel contest results announced
- Christmas Giveaways for “A Dead End Job” gifted for select readers
- “Apollyon” publication announcement updates
You hear it all the time. Goodbye 2020. What a year. Can’t wait for 2021. We yearn to move on. We ache for a better tomorrow. And in the literary world, the uncertainty from the last twelve months drives a similar desire.
According to Guardian journalist, Alex Clark, 2020 was a mixed year for the publishing life. While bookshops closed, literary festivals cancelled and hardback sales shrunk, digital books surged in the face of the pandemic. Lockdowns and work-from-home environments gave readers more time for books. Racism, COVID-19 and a divided nation drove authors to their keyboards, congesting the market. As a result, many established writers, such as novelist and screenwriter David Nicholls, are bowing out, focusing on other projects.
But is stepping down the answer? Is it time for career writers to walk away in the face of a flooded environment? Unless you’re well established, even the best rising stars in the literary world will face a noisy market. Getting your voice heard and your book in front of an audience will be more difficult than ever. Should budding authors, columnists and screenwriters retire?
The answer is a simple sentence word. No. Writers run a parallel struggle with the rest of the world. Confusion, mistrust and disorientation fog the future. There are new hurdles. But one thing is for certain in these turbulent times. They will change. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
The fingerprint of the literary world will never be the same. Digital books, who were already on the rise, have clinched a large part of reading retail. Bookstores and libraries will need to change the way they do business, focusing on alternative ways to sell physical copies. Top tier publishers will have to be more selective on how they sift through thousands of authors, and independent writers will need to get creative with getting books in readers’ hands. What doesn’t change though is a writer’s desire to create.
Storytellers are storytellers. Journalists need to report. Artists can’t cease the call for expression. Fresh stories, no matter what the temperature of the market, need writing. An author shouldn’t ever compromise their work because of business complications. Once the book is ready, then one can worry about market strategies, sales profits, and whether they need to find other ways to help establish income. It won’t be easy, but there’s no wisdom in trying to take the fire from a dragon.
We may want to move on from the past. The future may be confusing. But in the literary world, one thing is for certain. Readers need books. There will always be a desire to read insightful columns, inspiring stories, and other forms of written art. Authors are going to need to think of novel ways to get their work into readers’ hands, but it can never deny the call to write.
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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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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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.