“CONSUMED” Blog Tour

Hi All,

I’m very excited to say that the dates for my blog tour have finally been released. If you’d like to be a stop on the blog tour, please follow Zharmae Publishing’s official link. 

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1mMv98astynZ4wSCQK1DwnKQB8X9v7k-SgqepHefvg9c/viewform

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Getting Back to the Basics

When was the last time that you wrote without worry? I mean really wrote without hearing the naysayers, critics and self doubt in your head. If you’re an everyday writer, then it’s probably been a while. But why is that? Regrettably, a big part of it almost certainly has to do with the writing world today, and the emphasis it puts on book ratings, author critiques and reader reviews. It’s become so bad that for some writers, doing what they love also means having a nervous breakdown. But allow me to send out a plea to all of the bloggers, novelists and poets out there. This isn’t how it should be. We should be thrilled to write. We should be hungry to start our next piece, thinking about it while cooking breakfast or trying to get some sleep. Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time for us… to get back to the basics.

I first started writing when I was just a boy, no older than nine or ten. I was one of those weird kids who was obsessed with comic books and spooky monsters, and decided that it was about time for someone to combine the two. I constantly wrote short stories and drew pictures about the misadventures of my favorite ghouls and ghosts as they tried to save the world while dealing with the pain of being a misunderstood. Back then it was simple. Someday, I’d give my homemade penny dreadfuls to Stan Lee or R.L. Stein, and they’d shake my hand and say, “Justin, I want you to write for me. When can you start?”

As time passed and high school struck, I continued to follow my favorite horror authors, getting into classics like Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. But this was a confusing era, and my writing had been put on a brief hold for more “palpable” desires. After the girl craze passed, I delved back into writing, this time for my friends. I started to pen roleplaying campaigns for the guys, telling tales of eerie dungeons and nightmarish crypts for their roleplaying pleasure. The joy it brought both them, and myself, was enough for me to decide that someday I’d write professionally.

Then college came. I majored in English, concentrating in Creative Writing at a downtown university. I’d write whenever I could find time, mostly after night shifts or on the early train to school. While my professors mostly enjoyed my work, it was the first time I’d begun receiving critiques. I don’t recall ever being offended, but it was confusing to hear teachers occasionally suggest toning down the weirdness. What I also didn’t foresee was that these opinions were only the first steps towards the inevitable…self-doubt.

Cue my mid-twenties. I was in love. My fingers wouldn’t stop typing sentimental poetry and short stories involving the woman of my dreams (who would one day become my wife, score!). Later, with her encouragement, I’d convinced myself to take a serious stab at becoming an author. After several months, and with the connection of a family member, I handed my manuscript to an editor. The results, well, were not so much what I’d been hoping for.

But as tough as the criticism was, I needed it. After taking a few months off, I jumped back on the horse with new fervor and tales to tell- one of those being Consumed. For years I concentrated on the book, bleeding over my computer. I’d share my work with respected family and friends. Their assessments were constructive, but as expected, sometimes tough to swallow. Finally though, after several serious edits, the manuscript was complete. After sending it off to dozens of publishers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had several takers, and in early 2014, signed with Zharmae Publishing. My first novel was born.

But getting your manuscript published opens you up to another world, one that involves marketing and promoting. I began doing my research, and found that sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads had some real tough critics. I read unnecessarily harsh reviews about my favorite books, some of the best of all time, and it scared the hell out of me. Who was I to think that I wouldn’t receive similar disapproval? No one wants to read a horror novel about a drug-addicted detective investigating a mysterious murder. Come October, it would be the end of my writing career. I was doomed.

Then it hit me. Call it a bitch slap from God or life’s cup of morning coffee, but I’d finally awoken from the anxiety driven stupor I’d put myself through. I’d been so crushed by the weight of what people might think, that I’d completely forgotten why I started doing it in the first place. It wasn’t to become the most popular author of all time or make tons of money. No way. I didn’t want to be trendy. I wanted to write bizarre and interesting stories as I’d done as a kid. I wanted to honor the horror novels I loved in high school. I wanted to make people happy like I did when I wrote for my friends. I wanted to be myself again, free of any worry.

Perhaps it was Paulo Coelho who put it best when he said, “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.”

It may sound strange not cater to readers, but you’re honestly doing them a disservice by not writing from the heart. Readers can pick up on someone who is writing scared. I know I can. Instead, write for yourself and let the reader fill in the blanks. I think that you’ll find that far more people appreciate your work (even the critics) when you do it this way. Hell, maybe you can even apply this “apologize to no one” attitude to the rest of your life. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So writers, please, keep doing what you do. I beg of you. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Write those great blogs, short stories and novels, worry free. Keep penning what makes you happy and everything else will fall in place. It’s time that we put away our fears of the critics. It’s time for us to get back to the basics.

 

Consumed: Concept Art, Round 2

Hi all,

Here are some other great conceptual designs created for the upcoming Victorian Thriller,”Consumed.”

www.justinalcala.com

Let us know what you think!?

Detective Sergeant John Davis
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/Davis_zps6018079e.jpg
The protagonist’s unlikely partner, and perhaps most questionable support character.

Marcos “The Great Mago” Biachelli
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/TheGreatMago_zpsb48b54c3.jpg
An ex-criminal, and Nathan’s friend, “The Great Mago” helps Nathan with his research into the supernatural.

Chief Inspector Donald Swanson
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/ChiefInspectorDonaldSwanson_zps4b6c4daf.jpg
One of the only historically “real” characters in the novel, Swanson is not only the protagonist’s direct supervisor, but one of the investigators of the Ripper Case in real life.

“The Soldier”
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/TheSoldier_zpsced7f786.jpg
Timothy Dewhurst, also known as “The Soldier” is an army veteran and obsessive gambler. His lifestyle is less than ideal, but he tries to be a goodman nonetheless.

Vasile Ivanescue
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/Vasile_zpsd632cc20.jpg
Perhaps one of the most frightening characters, Vasile is a witch hunter from Romania, who along with his sister, has traveled to London in order to follow their latest mark. Is he righteous or foul? Nathan can’t be sure.

Review: Grasshopper Jungle

If you ever want to understand the true nature of a teenage boy during a hyper-pubescent time in his life, this is the book for you. Oh, also add the apocalypse into the mix.

For those of you who are thinking about picking up this novel, please do. It’s a coming of age story about a small town Polish lutheran boy named Austin who is uncertain about life, his sexuality, and the future that awaits him. However, in the background, slowly but surely, there is an outbreak that is causing the local town folk to become sick and transform into massive coldblooded mantis-creatures. Together with his girlfriend, Shann, and his best bud, Robby, the group investigates the infestation while also exploring Austin’s internal conflict.

Grasshopper Jungle is not your traditional book. It is a first person account that rarely stays on one subject. The narrator hops back in time, tells short jokes, gives history lessons, and then lets you know his current level of “horny”. The author’s raw and slapstick sense of humor had me laughing throughout the book, and his point of view on historical figures (no one ever shits), adulthood, and growing up was delightfully entertaining. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who isn’t intimidated by a book with edgy subjects, as there are a few hot buttons.

All-in-all, this is a great read if your looking for weird and hilarious.

Creativity, Nature or Nurture?

Is creativity something that we’re born with or is it something we learn? It’s a question that people in art based fields often ask themselves. Studies by major universities show that people who tend to be more creative have different biological characteristics than those who are not. But not everyone is convinced. Some studies argue that creativity is a renewable resource that can be taught, enhanced and fueled, just like any other skill. So, is it nature or nurture? Let’s use myself as an example to delve into the subject and investigate whether the artistic drive inside of you is a gift of evolution or simple upbringing. 

 

My mother was a very talented artist in the late 60’s and early70’s. She had painted canvases spread across her bedroom, sketch pads stored in stacks throughout our basement and framed photographs of her old art studios inside her office. Even as a boy, I remember asking myself, “will I be like mom (or as we say here in Chicago, ‘ma’)?” As I think back, I don’t recall her ever sitting me down and teaching me how to paint or tell stories, yet as I continued to grow, I learned that I had quite the knack for drawing and writing.  Kids in grammar school use to come to me all the time and ask if I could help them sketch a picture or think of a story idea for a school assignment. To be honest, I never gave it much thought until I decided to pursue my career as an author. Now though, I often wonder, did I teach myself to be creative, using my mom as a guide, or was it something innate that helped me become the fairly creative man I am today?

 

                According to researcher Kenneth Heilman of the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at Cornell University, I never really had a choice. Kenneth discovered that the brain is divided into two halves that are joined by fibers called the corpus callosum. Writers, artists and musicians tend to have smaller corpus callosums, which allows each side of their brain to communicate better, creating new ideas and associations more easily. Kenneth found that people with this phenomenon benefit through an incubation of ideas that are critical for the divergent-thinking component of creativity. So for Keneth, my brain is just wired that way due to my small corpus callosum (hey, size isn’t everything).

 

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a similar study associated to musical creativity. In their extensive assessment, they found that musical creativity is based on one’s natural ability to judge pitch, as well as the coordination of beat and harmony. It’s the brain’s inherent ability to reorganize information that makes one a great musician. This explains why so many musicians like Mozart had successful careers at early ages. It has always been in their DNA.  

 

On the contrary, according to Tina Seelig, the Executive Director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program, I, like any other creative person, slowly learned how to be as creative as I am. Through her studies, Tina has learned that creativity is a part of the “Innovation Engine”, a set of skills that can be improved by anyone with the right mindset. In Tina’s eyes, creativity is the process of creating new ideas, something that anyone can do if they just learn to think beyond the obvious. There are hundreds of paths, some easier than others, that can help you sharpen your creative skills. Through her studies, Tina has learned that we are all naturally creative, and like any other ability, some people may have more natural talent. However, it doesn’t mean that others can’t be just as creatively proficient. All they need to learn are techniques that help enhance their capacity. Much like speed reading or rollerblading, it’s a skill to be honed.

 

                So which is it? While I want to believe that artists, much like Jedi or Hogwarts wizards, are biologically chosen to become who they are, I have to say that I have a hard time buying into that mindset. People aren’t just packaged in gift wrap and a bow, creative as they’ll ever be at birth.  No, it seems to be something that slowly develops. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I’ve also met some pretty amazing artists within my day that didn’t do anything different from friends and colleagues when it came to improving their talent, yet they somehow managed to be twice as gifted as others when it came to painting, writing music, or sculpting. Maybe they’re just lucky?

 

                Regardless, for me, it’s hard to agree with any blanket statement which states that creativity only has one explanation like genetics or daily practice. In my eyes, creativity is more than just what scientists can put under a microscope. Yes, it’s a combination of biology and skill, and yet it’s still something more. It’s an orchestra of experience, cleverness, inclination, dreams, love and chance. It’s a desire to make people happy with your work and a satisfaction that comes with conceiving something all your own. That’s something that you just can’t put into one from of scientific rationalization. Does that sound mawkishly sentimental? Perhaps. Still, it’s something I live by.

 

                Through this short blog, we’ve studied what some experts have to say about creativity, using me as an example. But what do you think creativity is? When you examine who you are, can you explain it? Were you born with creativity or is it something that you were taught? Is it understandable or unexplainable? We as readers and writers sometimes forget that we live in a pool of creativity each day. Every blog you post or article you read is someone’s creativity put into motion. Maybe it’s time you take a second to ask yourself how you became the creative wonder that you are.

 

               

SEE THE FULL ARTICLE:

The Guardian, “Are Some People Born Creative”: http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/sep/19/born-creative-study-brain-hemingway

Business News Daily, “Who Says Creativity Can’t Be Learned”: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2471-creativity-innovation-learned.html

Everyone Has an Opinion

          Whether your blogging fan fiction or working on the next award-winning novel, chances are that if you’re working on a new literary project, you’re also receiving insight from others. It may be a simple suggestion from a loved one or serious recommendations from your editor. Regardless, opinions can make or break someone’s writing. So how do you know what advice is valuable and what advice should respectfully be declined? Some might say it’s a matter of the author’s style, while others would argue that you need to scrutinize your counselor’s merit. Then there are those who say that if you truly want to write your best work, you shouldn’t take anyone’s opinion at all. So, let’s examine.

           Plato once said, “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” The distinction that he was trying to make is that opinion is subject to error while knowledge is not. There’s nothing wrong with taking someone’s opinion into consideration. Just read the dedication part of a book and you’ll find a whole slew of authors thanking their family, friends and editors for their advice. It’s proactive to ask for different viewpoints, especially ones that come from those of whom you have a great amount of respect for. However, one thing that a writer needs to keep in mind is that one person’s advice, as creative or thought provoking as it might be, may not cater to your readers’ demographics. The fact is, although someone might offer a fun suggestion, like your main character switching sides at the last minute of the book without prior foreshadowing, statistically- people prefer clues for surprise resolution.

            It’s the responsibility of the author to determine whether a suggestion matches the writer’s style. If a writer wants to create something new and fascinating, it might not be a terrible idea to get the opinion of someone who thinks outside the box. Dozens of writers have advisors on standby who are constantly helping them develop their works in new and original ways. However, if a writer already has a steady plot for a specific genre, and an outsider’s opinion conflicts with the outcome, it might be in the author’s best interest to make choices that cater to their fans instead of their counselor. Neither technique is wrong. It’s just a matter of methods, standards, and goals.    

            Another question that a writer needs to ask themselves is, “Who exactly is giving me this advice and why is it wise to listen to them about the direction of this piece?” You might find that although someone is extremely intelligent, they may not be qualified to help with a specific area of your work. You might not want to ask a historical non-fiction writer about whether the dragon in your fantasy novel should be able to transform into a human, nor may you want to ask a comic book fan if the nemesis in your plot should be more behaviorally realistic. They may have great insight, but their background can sometimes be conflicting. So make sure that the advice giver is the right person before making any drastic changes. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of not wanting to turn down their advice. It’s much harder to say no thank you than it actually is to actually identify a bad suggestion, but make no mistake, you’ll eventually have to.  

            Then there are those who think that taking the advice of others can be an error. According to New York Times Best Selling Author, Joseph Finder, “The most successful writers aren’t the most talented. They’re the most stubborn.” If you have a method to your madness, don’t deviate because of a colleague or loved one’s opinion. Let your system be your system until it fails. Suggestions are a great way to get a new perspective or to make decisions about tough choices in your writing. Nevertheless, if you don’t want anyone’s advice, honestly, don’t take it. Keep in mind, I’m not telling you to be an immovable curmudgeon, but some authors are more instinctively in tune with their readers than others, and if you’re one of these lucky individuals, no need to listen to other’s suggestions. 

In the end, writers need to understand that writing is subjective. You’re always going to get conflicting opinions about your subject matter. There’s nothing wrong with that. Often, this can lead to us improving our work. But it’s the duty of the writer to understand which opinions are constructive and which are merely personal preference.  As a rule of thumb, a writer should remember that they’re catering to a broad audience. If there’s an idea that the author is on the fence about, they need to ask themselves, “What would my readers prefer?” On the other hand, if what you’re doing is already working, take those suggestions and throw them right out of the window.

            So, ironically, here I am giving my opinion. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I ask you, do you want to take my advice or do you have a better suggestion?

Get Behind the Mule

One of my favorite songwriters and artists is no doubt Tom Waits. He’s witty, dark, and can write one hell of a melody. No doubt, his lyrics are sometimes cryptic, often with numerous meanings, but the guy really knows how to deliver a catchy tune. Get Behind the Mule, is a song from his “Mule Variations” album that has really stuck with me throughout my writing career. While the entire song is a bit grim, his chorus is something that always stirs in my head whenever I’m having trouble motivating myself to write for the day.

 “Got to get behind the mule-

In the morning and plow.”

 The line repeats itself several times throughout the song, delivering a haunting, but sensible message. Sometimes, you just have to pull your sleeves up and get the job done even if it’s the last thing you want to do. It’s easier said than done I know, but nonetheless, valid. If you’ve entered the book writing world hoping for an easy publishing process with minimal complications and easy, no mess acceptance, you’re probably not being realistic. Publishers are extremely particular, and will ferociously pick apart your manuscript to the last word. That’s because they have to be in order to do their job.

 The trials are exhausting and a bit demoralizing, but you can’t let them break your formula. Read and write every day, send out your manuscript, and continue to stay focused. These are the steps that will eventually get you published. A lot of times we forget this because we don’t want to admit that it’s tougher than we’d thought. It’s okay. Long waits, rejection letters, and criticisms are part of the game. Don’t let it stop you from being productive. Got to get behind the mule in the morning and plow