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Crimson Street Magazine Contracts Short Horror Story “It Dances Now” By Justin Alcala

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. 

http://www.crimsonstreets.com

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“Dim Fairy Tales”Contracted by AllThingsThatMatterPress

Umm…this is awesome. AllThingsThatMatterPress has officially contracted Dim Fairy Tales for publication. This will be my third novel, and second within the Plenty Dreadful Universe. I’m very proud to partner with AllThingsThatMatterPress, who has brought the world great books for over ten years. More to come!

https://www.allthingsthatmatterpress.com

https://twitter.com/ATTMPress

The Crowned Maiden: A Christmas Fairytale

Long ago, during the dreaming dawn of history, there lived a young maiden within the hollow of the Harvest Woods. Born on a day when the sun and moon rose as one, it was said that she was destined for greatness, if only she could survive her early hardships. For the girl’s mother passed shortly after giving birth, and soon after, her father was lost to war. Alone amongst the trees and stags, the girl grew up unaided, pitied by the villagers whose fate was far too meager to offer charity. There, within a cottage made of stone and thatch she cared for herself, surviving through the seasons with little more than resolve. 

Yet the maiden never despised her circumstances. Because for her, everything she thought she’d needed was bequeathed to her by the Harvest Woods. It fed her when she hungered, bathed her when she was filthy, and hummed her to sleep under the twinkle of the stars. It gave her friendship in the wildlife, family in the trees, and wisdom in seasons. How she adorned her forest, and in return, the forest adored her. 

Soon though, the young maiden came to understand that although the woods were very dear to her, they could not always offer what she required. For curatives, tools and proper clothing, she was forced to travel to the markets where she traded the forest’s bounty in exchange for the necessities she so desperately needed. And though her fire licked hair and grass colored eyes drew the heads of the young boys, the maiden always returned home to her true love, the forest.   

But time has a way of changing what doesn’t wish to do so. Soon the young maiden grew to be even more beautiful, and although she only desired the woods for the rest of her days, rumors in the village whispered that she would make a fine wife for anyone cunning enough to tame her. So, it was no surprise that once summer began, all the young villagers trudged through the woodlands in search of their bride. Day after day they arrived with offerings of coin, cattle and jewelry, and day after day the maiden declined.

“I owe my hand to the autumn harvest that feeds me,” she’d reply, “and the harboring oaks that keep me safe.”

But the will of men is strong, and their yearnings even stronger. Soon affluent suitors from faraway lands received the maiden’s reputation as a challenge, and came crooning with great promises. They offered feasts fit for kings, castles built for armies, and riches suited for cities. Yet no matter how musical the musician or noble the nobleman, her answer always remained the same. With a gracious smile she’d reply-

“I owe my hand to the autumn harvest that feeds me, and the harboring oaks that keep me safe.”

Then one snowy autumn night, on a week that had three Sundays, fate stepped in. The young maiden had just snuggled into her blanket by the hearth when a wrapping came at her cottage door. It was near the witching hour, and the young maiden answered with warranted trepidation. To her surprise, waiting at her entrance was not some monstrous monster, nor another suitor in silks or admiral in armors. Instead stood a stranger like she’d never seen before. He was tall and regal, stitched together by arcadian beauty. His hair flowed like wheat and his skin colored like honey. He wore a cloak weaved from the fall brush and a tunic of blood red. The stranger bowed when his eyes met the maiden.

“Good evening my Lady,” he greeted. 

“Apologies young Sir,” replied the maiden as she clung to her cottage’s door, “but I’m afraid that I’ll be hearing no more offers this evening.” 

The young man lingered, a simple smile spread across his sharp face. The maiden had seen such persistence before. It would not be long now before the stranger proposed his dowry. She gave a short curtsy and then wished a good night. But as she thrust her arm to secure the cottage door, a fierce breeze whistled from the forest, disputing her intentions. 

“My lady,” said the stranger over the dying wind, “I apologize for my daftness, but allow me to make amends. I am in search of my bride and have finally come to claim you. I adore you and wish to be yours forever.” But to this, the maiden only answered as she had done so many times before. 

“Your words are sweet like plum wine and promising like the morning sun, but I must insist that you go. For I owe my hand to the autumn harvest that feeds me, and the harboring oaks that keep me safe. My loyalty is in the flowers and grass I walk on. I love that only for the rest of my days.”

Contrary to the maiden’s anticipation, the stranger did not grow crestfallen. Instead, he beamed with delight, placing his hand over his heart. With a bold step forward he moved to one knee, digging into his cloak and removing a crown made of branches. The young maiden watched as the bachelor offered a diadem of wood and vine. As the young maiden studied the offering, her own heart began to flutter. Gazing into the young man’s eyes, she felt her very soul stirring and drawing open. For the feeling she had was the same she felt when she stroked a doe or drank from the brook. 

Reaching her arms out, she removed the wood crown from the young man’s hands and placed it over her fiery head of hair. The stranger arose, striding backwards into the trees. As he did, his boots rooted into the frosted soils and his cloak faded into leaves. And as the winds took him up and the earth brought him down, with a whisper and tender smile he bid her farewell.

 “And I will always love you,” he confessed.  

So it went, her and her love together. He fed her when she hungered, bathed her when she was filthy, and hummed her to sleep under the twinkle of the stars. He gave her friendship in the wildlife, family in the trees, and wisdom in seasons. How she adorned her husband, and in return, he adored her.

You Can Never Be Too Sure

You Can Never Be Too Sure CoverOh, to be part of the writing world. You dream up stories, then muster the courage to share them with readers. The tales you tell are one part of your DNA, one part experiences and a third part, well, magic or possibly even The Force. If you do manage to submit it to agents/publishers, chances are you’ve bottled a little bit of lightning. Well, now that all of that’s done with, what else do you do? Is it now in the hands of the Literary Gods? No way! There’s so much love that you’ve put into your work. It’s time to ensure that your manuscript survives the test of time. 

When my first book was published, I was on top of the world. I’d bled to get the manuscript out to the world, and for a long time was fearful that it would never get that spark to jolt it to life. So when I received an offer letter I thought, “Finally, I’ve made it.” No matter how small the publisher was, I felt vindicated, recognized and valued. To me, it was all going to be okay from here. Oh Justin, you fool. You’re as naive as you are devilishly handsome. 

The truth is that getting your book published is just the beginning. Beyond the cover choices, editorial changes and marketing strategy is the manuscript’s legacy. No, I don’t mean its reputation or future movie rights. I mean keeping your book safe. You see, publishers are awesome. Agents are amazing. But your book is timeless and eventually you’ll likely part ways with both. Once you do, hopefully you’ve developed its legacy well enough that readers five, ten or fifty years from now can still enjoy your story. Cue my reasoning.

You see, in some ways selling a book is harder for publishers than writing the book is for the author. According to scottberkun.com, approximately three-hundred-thousand books are published in the United States alone each year. Now, add the fact that in 2014 only thirty-percent of Americans read one to five books, and suddenly you can see the issue. Only the trendiest books make money, the market is flooded, and the customer market is diminutive. So often when your book is published, the time table is limited. You only have so long to build consistent sales before your publisher lets the story go or the publisher goes under themselves.

It’s now up to the writer to pick up the pieces and get their story back in motion. How do you do that? Well, there’s many different ways, but the first includes protecting your title’s rights. A lot of first time writers sell off all of the rights to their publisher because they were excited to receive a contract. Some publishers can keep the rights for your book long after taking it off shelves. Please be sure that your contract is written so that you get all of your rights back once the book is discontinued.

Next, don’t just move on. Keep book one, book two, etc. active, no matter how many other projects you’re working on. Submit promotions and marketing to readers, social networks and podcasts. Write small spin offs and post them to popular writing sites. Join book clubs and share your book, while reading other author’s old novels as well. Finally, hunt down the old electronic manuscript and get ready to resubmit it. Though there only a select few publishers or agents that republish old work, they are out there. Be sure not to give up on your story. 

If you are a writer, you’re one in a million. You’ve managed to dream up a fantastic manuscript. You’ve survived all the trials from finding a publisher to the grueling editorial process. You’ve sold your book, and if all goes right, it will stay on shelves for a very long time. However, just in case it doesn’t, take the correct measures in order to protect your manuscript. You can never be too sure. 

Changes

People argue that we don’t change, but let’s face it, we do. We change in the small ways- what we choose to eat, our fashion sense, what we read. We change in the big ways- our approach to resolving problems, faith and how we perceive the world. It’s a never ending cycle. And, while our loud and stubborn habits tend to steal the spotlight, there are dozens of small and wonderful changes that happen to us daily.

The same can be said for writing. Countless authors’ styles, subjects and inspirations have leapt around like jackrabbits. Iain (M.) Banks moved from mainstream fiction to science fiction and back again. Ian Fleming transitioned from spy novels to classic children’s picture books. Some authors’ changes have even revolutionized literature. Hemingway modernized today’s approach to book description by emphasizing direct, unadorned prose while William Faulkner shook the Earth by transitioning classic suggestive introspection into a stream-of-consciousness approach that we see today.

There’s nothing wrong with changing your approach to writing. Novice writers tend to lean on lengthy descriptions, repeating adjectives and a heavy dose of those wicked adverbs. They confuse grammar and sentence structure, and are addicted to the all enticing commas when they don’t belong. It’s a rite of passage that takes numerous wags of the finger from a proofreader or editor to understand. One that when amended, can draw new insight on what your writing potential is.

But it’s not just genres, grammar and inspiration that we can change when writing. It’s our perspective as well. When I was young I called myself an aspiring writer. When I was published, I became an author. Now, after ten years of experience, I see myself as a story enthusiast. Our outlook and relationship with the writing world is what makes us who we are.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” This year, keep in mind that whether it seems like it or not, you are constantly in a state of change. You’ve worked very hard to get where you are, be it that first published poem, completed manuscript or contracted novel. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not keeping your author-mind open and your literary-heart honest.  After all, it should be your writing aspirations that reflect your choices, not your fears.

The Sleeper

“It comes at night and perches upon your chest as you sleep. There it drinks your health like wine.” 

-Old Wives Tale

The mishmash of cultures in the Colonies leads to different folk tales and stories. Perhaps one of the most frightening comes from a German tale about “The Sleeper,” a demon-like creature that creeps in one’s bed at night in order to steal your breath. Much like an incubus, The Sleeper doesn’t just finish off its victims in one sitting. Instead, it comes and feeds on dozens of occasions, weakening its victim’s health. Those who are visited complain of poor constitution, exhaustion and mood swings. The only way to rid yourself of the creature is to smudge your house with white sage, cover your mirrors with blankets and roll an egg over your body as to absorb the dark energy. 

But is this creature really a spawn of Satan? Some speculate that it isn’t. The Sleeper seems to need life to sustain itself on Earth, which leads many to believe that it’s not from this realm. It is repulsed by certain bans and respects the laws of physics. Some parazoology experts theorize that the creature is merely a macabre spirit, while still others say that it is a monster from the depths of hell. No matter what the creature is, there’s been a sudden spike in its presence along New England, giving clues that this monster has traveled from the mother land in order to take advantage of the U.S.. 

The Tale of Private Thomas

“And I tell you this, the tale of Private Thomas is no silly ghost story. If you doubt what I say is true, walk his road tonight and see for yourself.”

-William Tassel during the annual Halloween feast 

It’s not an easy task securing the roadside, and for Private Talfryn Thomas, it was no different. Charged with patrolling the unruly New England highways, Private Thomas did so with the company of his horse and lantern. Any signs of restlessness were to be reported to the nearest British fort. But during a mundane patrol on a Halloween night, Talfryn exposed a secret rebel meeting. He was shot and thrown off of Hangman’s Bridge while attempting to report. But Talfyrn’s corpse wouldn’t rest. 

It’s said that on certain nights when lonely travelers take to the road, they can see Private Talfryn Thomas’s lantern flickering from afar. Stranger still, some folks claim to have passed a ragged British soldier on horseback. Upon examining him, they see that his face is rotted and his eyes are aglow. And if you’re a rebel that walks Thomas’s patrol, it’s guaranteed that he’ll drag you from his black horse through the highway, and then throw you from Hangman’s Bridge. And this legend would be just that if not for the several bodies that have been found in the river below Hangman’s Bridge over the years. 

Halloween Treats

Here it comes again, my favorite time of year. There’s a special place in my heart when the moon grows ominous, and the trees go naked. They’re signs of Autumn, and more importantly, they’re harbingers of Halloween. As for little old Justin Alcala, it means research for some of my darker projects. This year I’m cataloging some lesser known European and American folklore and tales. And how selfish it would be of me to not share them with you. So, until the children scream for Halloween, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite monsters and specters with you in order to lure you into the mood.

The Witch of Newark

“A witch should never be afraid of the darkest forest because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”-Terry Pratchett

Not every monster starts off as such. The Witch of Newark is a legend past down from generation to generation in both the New Jersey and New England area. As the tale goes, she was once just an ordinary Newark settler girl who’d come from Europe with her family. As time passed and the girl grew older, she turned away from God and began to deal in dark magic within the wilds. She then joined a witch’s cult where she fornicated with the devil. Though this gave her special powers, it also cursed her flesh. Her features contorted into a demon’s, and her skin became withered and old. It’s said that she uses powerful magics to disguise herself, though if you look at her from behind, you can make out her horrific form. She now wanders the forests of New Jersey and New England looking for victims. She tempts them with food, money and sexual favors. Those who fall for her ruse have their souls violently ripped from their bodies in order to sustain the Witch of Newark’s unnaturally long life. 

 But just because it’s a legend, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any merit. Though the Witch of Newark’s folktale may be embellished, occultists and witch hunters have claimed to have evidence of the creature. Huts with dead animals and missing children are found every several years, and it’s said that these are the dwellings of the dark mistress. More over, the occasional survivor of her sin-offerings occasionally comes forth to confirm stories of a young woman who offered them silks and honey, only to transform into a deformed hag that tries to eat them. And although much of it can be construed as fear mongering for curious children who wish to play in the forest, it hasn’t stopped several witch hunters from looking into clues. 

 

“The Devil in the Wide City” Hits Amazon

“The Devil in the Wide City” is now available in both ebook and paperback. Get your copy today.

https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Wide-City-Justin-Alcala-ebook/dp/B01E1R504I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465854233&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Devil+in+the+Wide+City

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. 

Book Excerpt 

“It was one hell of a day, and that’s saying a lot where I’m from. It began as cliché as one might expect when living in the nine circles of Satan’s abyss. My girlfriend dumped me, my dogs ran away from home, and work gave me the pink slip. Things were looking dismal. If only I knew then that by this time tomorrow I’d be back on Earth, I might not have been so whiny.”

Justin Alcala, Author of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

On the tracks

 

The Parking Lot Goose

Chicago is no stranger to the goose. Its home to Goose Island, The Mother Goose Parade, and it supports one of the largest Canadian Geese populations in the United States. There’s geese in the Chicago River, geese in Lake Michigan, and geese all over the north and west suburbs. And why not? With fresh grass, large parks and few natural predators, the goose can flourish. That’s why what I’m about to tell you is so interesting. For there’s a goose in Chicago that refuses to be like everyone else. It’s known as The Parking Lot Goose.

 

The Parking Lot Goose is a loner. It lingers along a near vacant parking lot between an electronic store and a furniture depot. There’s no pond to swim in. Food consists of scraps by a nearby dumpster and there’s no other goose to interact with. This is The Parking Lot Goose’s home. But, as dismal as this goose’s existence might seem, the bird refuses to leave. 

 

The first time I drove past the goose, I thought that this was something random and that the bird would surely move on and reunite with other pond geese soon. But one year became two, two became three, and after sometime, I’d come to the realization that The Parking Lot Goose wasn’t going anywhere. This was its kingdom, where it felt most comfortable. Living in the vast gray cement field with scraps as its feast and puddles of water as its wine was what the goose enjoyed. And who was I to judge?

 

Often in writing, we hurry to critique literary Parking Lot Geese. Stephen King’s recent genre exploration has been frowned upon. Andrew Smith’s consistent choice to write about teenage angst is often berated. Even young authors are attacked. Literature websites and blogs demand inspiring writers to get out of their comfort zone. There’s more than one article out in the world that states, “You need to remember that you’re writing to sell books. Target an audience, not yourself.” This is faulty logic. 

 

We live in a consumer’s world, so I get it when someone’s criticism is that a book will not sell. We have these expectations that everyone wants the same thing. And don’t get me wrong, if an author reaches out to a publisher, to a certain extent, they do want people to read their work. But we have to remember that if an author isn’t enjoying writing their book, you’re not going to enjoy reading it. Maybe it’s time to stop castigating writers for creating books that make them happy, and instead come to understand that not everything is made to fit the norm. If we can all learn to appreciate those Parking Lot Geese out there, we may discover that their peculiar way of going about things can be just as great.  

Justin Alcala

Author of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City” by Zharmae Publishing

http://www.justinalcala.com

On the tracks

And Don’t Forget…

“The Devil in the Wide City” is available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle May 26th, 2016

The Devil in the Wide City Zharmae Cover

Come Say Hello at My Book Signings...

I’ll be at Bucket O’ Blood Bookstore in Late June (Date to be announced)

Bucket

3182 N Elston Ave,

Chicago, IL 60618

AND…

Days of the Dead Horror Convention, June 24th-26th, 2016

Days of the Dead copy