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
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.”
Unfading Daydream Magazine presents for their October digital and paperback issue, “Time Will Tell.” When Jasper, a corporate chairman with a guilty conscience, works until midnight, he finds himself starving for a late night meal. Unfortunately for him, protestors have been demonstrating outside of his company’s megaplex because of Jasper’s decision to raise prescription costs. Desperate, he scampers to a local diner, but finds that he’s being followed by a middle aged stranger. Jasper takes refuge within the restaurant, and nearly forgets about his pursuer because of a newscast about linear particle reversal. That is until the stranger enters the diner, confirming Jasper’s worst fears.
Your hero enters the dungeon, exploring every twisting corridor for dangerous traps, valuable clues and endless treasure. Each corner of the crooked stone ceiling is covered in cobwebs. The walls seem to swell as if they’re breathing. Your hero holds up their torch, lighting the otherwise dark path as they approach the main doorway of the mad wizard’s lab. Written in ancient runes are the words “Office, Keep Out.” The hero grabs the doorknob, takes one last deep breath, then pushes forward, sword raised as they rush inside. To the hero’s horror, the study is empty except for a single desk. On top of the workspace, a laptop glows an eerie white. It appears the evil wizard had been working on something. As the hero approaches, they see that Microsoft Word has been opened. Upon its first lines reads a message. Chapter 1: The Hero’s Demise.
Oh, role-playing, what a weird and wacky world. Technically, role-playing has been around since man can communicate, but in contemporary terms, the world of tabletop role-playing is less than fifty years old. For non-nerds, tabletop role-playing is when you get together with a few friend to create characters that help tell a story in an imaginary world. In most circumstances, participants describe their characters’ actions through speech while a designated person known as “The Game Master” describes what happens in this world based off of the player’s choices. But, what if I told you that tabletop role-playing wasn’t just for fun, but it could also sharpen your writing? What if I told you that playing an imaginary game is just what most authors need to realize the tools within them that can tell a great story.
I started role-playing when I was eleven. My best friend, John Mecha, introduced me to a little game called Dungeons and Dragons by bringing over a hand-me-down Monster Manual he’d received from his neighbor. He carefully explained the rules. There were funny shaped dice, guidelines and confusing processes that were hard for a sixth grader to understand. Once he helped me out with the first hump though, I was hooked. We created these wondrous protagonists that banded together to battle horrific villains for a winner takes all plot to save a mystical realm. Oh, I can still smell the mildew on the old pages now.
We played all night, and planned future sleepovers where our elves, dwarves and mortal knights would clash again with the ancient warlock and his army of orcs. This went on for years, gradually transforming into a weekly occurrence with dozens of our friends. Eventually, I took over as the Game Master, and the role-playing games expanded to different worlds like the Sci-Fi setting of Shadowrun, the macabre thrill of Vampire: The Masquerade and the epic space fantasy of Star Wars. Still, when we weren’t huddled around a dining room table, life went on. While many of our friends came and went, our core group always managed to stick together, through high school and college.
Then one day in a tiny university classroom I decided, Hey, I’m going to be a writer. Almost overnight, I changed my major to English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and went to work. I studied under some of the smartest professors I’d ever met, taking down every vital note they could teach me about being a great writer. I devoured the lessons of greek mythology, learned Chicago Manual style page formatting and focused on the essentials of creating seamless dialogue. By the time I decided to write my first book chapter, I was certain that I could pack everything I’d learned into one book. Well, guess what? My first book was a flop, and it only took one editor to tell me so. I was trying way too hard and it just didn’t come together the way that was enjoyable to readers. So what did I do? I went back to the drawing board.
This time, I promised myself to relax and have fun. I focused on the story, putting the tricks of the trade on the back burner. I created characters that I’d like to play if the novel were a game. I built a world that would give me the creeps if a game master described it to me. I built plot twists that would blow my role-playing buddies minds if we were rolling dice in their basement. In essence, I wrote a novel version of a role-playing game, and guess what? Eight months after completing it, a publisher reached out to me and said that they wanted to make it a book.
You see, for the last twelve years, I’d been developing the tools that I needed for a good book simply by role-playing. I figured out how to create well-developed characters that my friends would love. I cultivated techniques for story arc that would make the perfect adventure. I learned the axiomatics for keeping audiences interested. The only thing that I really needed to learn in college was the expectations of the literary world, which was mostly basic grammar and formatting. Everything else had been assembled just by having fun through tabletop role-playing.
Writers, I’m not saying you have to go out and pick up hundreds of dollars in gaming books. I’m not even saying that you have to join a tabletop campaign, though I highly recommend it. Ultimately, what I’m trying to tell you is that if you’re a writer that’s burning to write a book, chances are that you already have something hidden in you that’s already the perfect tool for telling great stories. Once you realize what that is, then it’s all a matter of complementing it with the rules of writing rudimentary English. And that story will be a critical hit.
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.
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.
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.