Exciting stuff for this horror writer, as Zharmae Publishing Press has finally released the cover to my book, “Consumed.” Detective Nathaniel Brannick (the protagonist) appears boldly standing before London with his trusty revolver. I hope you all like it, and don’t forget that “Consumed” is due on shelves 9/11/14.
Hello everyone out there! Please take a look at the new website and let me know what you think?
Also, below are some concept art pictures of the main characters in the book.
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.
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?
Eureka! You’ve just finished your first book and are now thinking, “How do I get published?” After months of blood, sweat, and tears, you go online and begin investigating. Sadly, after researching a slew of websites, not only are you utterly confused, but also feeling as if you’re at step one all over again. Some experts say you should self publish. Others suggest that you find a company to push your book. They warn about shady agents, introductory no-no’s, and coordinating the perfect pitch letter. With so much information out there, who should you trust? Well, its times like these when the only thing to do is go directly to the source. Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with an experienced author in order to find out how a new writer can best get published.
William J. Wagner is a sports journalist and author of Wrigley Blues. The Herald and Review praised him as, “A veteran sportswriter,” while Sporting News described his acclaimed work as, “A wonderful book.” He has over thirty years of writing experience and has been published in numerous sports journals and magazines. William was kind enough to take the time to answer some frequent questions that upcoming writers typically have. He touched on everything from the publishing market to industry standards.
Firstly, William warns that just like anything, if you’re not passionate about writing, it’s not worth it. Most published authors are never truly compensated for the amount of time and effort that they put into their work, so writing to earn your fortunate tends to only end in disappointment. In fact, with traditional publishing companies scaling back, and an overabundance of new writers flooding the market, the chances of turning your manuscript into a profitable best seller is ever shrinking. However, if you genuinely just love to write, William suggests keeping at it. It may sound cliché, but somewhere out there, people want to read your book.
Next, Wagner suggests striving to sign with a publishing agent before trying to get your book out to readers electronically. While eBooks are the future, the chances of your first manuscript becoming successful in this way are remote. And though some people like to bring up the few thriving independent eBooks such as Fifty Shades of Grey, the majority of readers support established household names over “Indy” writers any day. According to William, the best way to get your manuscript picked up is to hire a literary agent. Literary agents, the good ones at least, can be found online and should never ask for payment up front or editing fees. Those who do, tend to be profit mongers, and want nothing more than to take your money, but not before possibly tarnishing your good name. If you insist on trying to get your manuscript out yourself, William suggests that you at least employ an agent to submit your work to major publishers (who usually refuse to look at a piece without the sponsorship of a literary agent), while promoting your manuscript to smaller publishers within your genre (who generally don’t demand representation).
Finally, William highly urges writers to perfect their pitch letter. Most publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a day, and only choose to delve further depending on the strength of the pitch letter. Wagner suggests a clean and concise letter that summarizes your story. He also recommends giving examples of popular books that are similar to your work. Most publishers are looking for something they can market. While your manuscript may be looked over a dozen times or so, continue believe in your work. More often than not, if you have a great pitch letter and a well polished story, there’s a publisher out there who will eventually be interested.
William also makes mention that inspiring writers today have far more challenges than writers ever have in years past. With so many more self publishing opportunities, a surplus of competitors, and a manifold of schemes that prey on unsuspecting penmen, it’s no wonder that so many struggling writers throw in the towel before they ever become established authors. High hopes quickly become lowly and deflated. However, if you can follow the delicate process suggested for first time writers, and are both patient and optimistic, your chances of signing that first contract will significantly increase. So, while it may be humbling, new writers need to remember that from small beginnings come great things.
(William J. Wagner’s highly acclaimed book, “Wrigley Blues”)
I use to romanticize that when a person became an author, some fantastical character similar to Santa Clause came down to the artist’s home, bequeathing them with a gloomy black suit as well as a life supply of whiskey and cigarettes. Now I know this wasn’t spot on, but it helped me make sense of my favorite classical authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Walter de la Mare and Oscar Wilde, who were some of the more melancholy novelists of their time. And yes, while it’s true that not every gothic author was an alcoholic, solitary introvert or ex-convict (Mary Shelly and Robert L. Stevenson to name a few), there does seem to be a slew of these social deviants throughout literature’s timeline.
However, as much as one might fantasize about emulating the lifestyle of their favorite unusual authors, may I suggest that you reconsider? Because while it might seem exciting to live in the footsteps of some of the more bizarre penmen, I’m a firm believer that good writing comes from good living. Yes, sometimes, we as writers might feel the need to wallow in self pity, tiptoe along the darkest alleyways or drink until our livers turn green, but it doesn’t necessarily make us more creative. No, being a good writer comes from within. It’s constant practice, well thought ideas and an unwavering spirit. It’s the ability to reside in, cope with and adapt to the modern writing world. To quote the Sage of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, “nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”
I’ve been known to “indulge” in the occasional drink…or ten, and to be honest, sometimes Hemmingway’s philosophy, “write drunk; edit sober”, does help get the words on paper. Then again, I’ve written the majority of my best works while just being content and clear minded. Get me in my favorite chair next to the window with a steaming cup of coffee after eating my wife’s quesadilla casserole and I’m ready to go. Now put my snoozing dog at my feet, add a rainstorm with some Tom Waits gently playing in the background and prepare for a masterpiece.
Almost all of us have that special place or moment. That perfect hiccup in time when nothing seems imperfect about the world. It comes with good living. Work hard, stay healthy, remain kind to those you love and more of these “perfect hiccups” will arise. Because while dyeing your hair black, skipping through graveyards and drinking like a fish might help you get in the mood for whatever project you may be working on, just being happy with yourself will always prove ten times better. Joy isn’t always something just handed out freely. Often, it comes from the person’s own measures.
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.
How many books does an author need to sell in order to be considered a success? That question has been debated on writer forums, agency websites and author blogs for sometime. All you need to do is type in the question into your internet browser and you’ll find that no one can seem to agree on an exact number. According to Steve Laube of the Steve Laube agency, industry veterans recently deliberated and came up with the number five-thousand. Other sites state that seven-thousand copies mean that you’ve really knocked your book out of the park, though two to four-thousand means that you are a strong seller. Practically no one seems to be able to agree upon a number and here’s why.
Book sales, like movies or music, all depends on whose helping produce it, what category it falls under and who is the target audience. While a major publisher might be disappointed by a reader-friendly mystery novel because it only sold four-thousand copies, a smaller publisher might be ecstatic. The same goes for the genre. A first time science fiction book might expect to have at least two-thousand sales within the first year where as a less popular genre such as literary fiction might only aim for one-thousand. Likewise, a children’s book that targets audiences from age three to twelve is forecasted to drive better results than a children’s book that only targets children from the age of five to seven.
As you can see, there are far too many moving parts to dictate what number is considered a successful in terms of sales. Other factors include if an author is making their debut, where the publisher plans on allowing the book to be purchased and if the book is being sold in hard cover or paperbacks only. Some publishers calculate advertisement fees, traveling costs and taxes into their estimate on a success while others use regional demographics or even the author’s writing style. There’s almost no limit as to how someone can predict the amount of sales needed for a book to be successful.
The question you really have to ask yourself as a writer is WHO thinks it’s successful. While selling three-thousand books in a year might seem amazing to your family and friends, your publisher or agent might think otherwise. My opinion is to ask yourself, “How many books will make my publisher or future publishers happy?” If you’re looking to make this a career, then ensuring that your first book is a success seems to be key. While you never want to stop campaigning for your book, you may be able to relax a little if a publisher decided that five-thousand book sales is enough to offer you a contract for future endeavors. Similarly, if you’re hoping to upgrade to a larger publishing agency in the future, you may aspire to reach a number of sales that they find acceptable for representation.
Now some of you might be saying, “Justin, what’s become of you? Aren’t you the guy that preaches write to write, not to earn money?”
Worry not. I assure you that I have not become some sort of business orientated writer. It’s quite the opposite in fact. The more I deal with manuscript inquiries, agents and advertisement costs, the more I feel that one needs to write because they love it. Let the rest fall in place. Nonetheless, educating yourself on what the publishing world considers successful is a key component to understanding a part of the writing world that you love. So, the next time you feel like putting the pen to paper so that you can spin your next yarn, remember this: the number of sales you might have is what might keep you on the bookshelves, but it’s the number of worlds, plots and character that you create which truly make you a writer.
Have you ever opened up some of your long forgotten poems, short stories or novels? Painful right? The document is probably littered with vague pronoun references, unnecessary shifts in tense and fused sentences. Even worse, there are sections of the story that don’t contribute to the plot, insignificant characters and mawkishly sentimental underlying messages.
If you’re like me, the first thing you do is plant your face in your hands (a.k.a. the “Face-palm”) and try not to cry. Afterwards, you stare at the Delete button, tempted to obliterate all proof that this story or poem was once yours. Finally, after waging a war with your conscience, you decide to live and let live, leaving the document alone, but lamenting about how terrible your writing once was.
But wait, that’s not fair. Your old work shouldn’t be some dark secret that needs to be hidden from the world. It should be a testimony of what you’ve accomplished. Not only did the “old you” put a lot of effort into that story, but the work is a reminder of who you as a writer once inspired to be. It’s a roadmap of your writing life.
Sometimes, we as writers are very hard on ourselves. We have to be because we’re constantly pursuing perfection. However, we forget that we didn’t just learn how to write overnight. There wasn’t some magical gift bestowed upon us by a divine being. No, we had to start somewhere and work at it, and those old documents are a symbol of that.
For me, once the shock wears off of how bad my writing once was, I realize how beautiful these works really are. Because behind the jungle of grammatical errors and turbulent plot hooks is a vision I once had. I see Justin Alcala, the writer who wanted to give readers a little scare with his horror stories. I see Justin Alcala, the yarn spinner who wanted to give a fresh perspective on legends and folklore. I see Justin Alcala, the young man who wanted to make people happy by telling great stories.
All too often, we authors get swept away by the power that comes with having your works published. I know I get a real kick out of talking to my publisher about cover art or sending new ideas to my editor. It’s fun to put your work onto bookshelves. But we can’t forget about the fundamentals. We need to remind ourselves why we started writing in the first place, and those old tales are just the thing. So the next time your dusting off an old manuscript, remember what those pages really mean. The words may tell a bad story, but the history of its creation is its own sort of autobiography.