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Turn the Page by Justin Alcala

You hear it all the time. Goodbye 2020. What a yearCan’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. 

Preorder “A Dead End Job” Today and Dive Into the Absurd

One of my favorite parts of “A Dead End Job” was taking a classically ominous figure like Death and making him into a funny, likable guy. Early readers seem to love it too. Preorder “A Dead End Job” on Amazon today to guarantee your copy. It’s a wild ride through the absurd.

Death needs a vacation. Badly. But there’s a catch: There are certain people who just seem to cheat the system, always falling through the cracks and not ending up dead like they’re supposed to—who’s going to take care of them while he’s out?

The answer is simple. He needs an intern. So, with the help of his I.T. guy, Jumbo, he starts scanning through a list of potential candidates.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that one prospect—Buck Palasinksi, a bankrupt hitman with a roleplaying addiction—could have what it takes. After he’s drilled in the forehead by a bullet while scoping out his next target, he falls right into Death and Jumbo’s laps.

If they shove him back into his body, he’ll have a few weeks to prove that he has what it takes to be Death’s right-hand man…That is, if he can take out Public Enemy Number one, John Dillinger, while he’s got a werewolf sidekick and tries to quit smoking.

A Dead End Job https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08LQXMY5C/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_D-E6FbZQJ0SMQ

“A Dead End Job” Releases to Bookshelves October 2021

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Get your FREE Amazon Kindle copy today through Saturday, October 10th. Join Ned, his miniature hellhounds, nerd-minions, and book-witch girlfriend, Chelsea, as they try to save Chicago from the corporate warlock. Hilarious, fun and supernatural adventure just in time for Halloween.

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June Updates

Consumed faced off against fifty other BLKDOG Publishing titles to win Next Best in the 2020 Book of the Year Awards, losing by a mere three-percent for first place. It was a lot of fun, and thank you to everyone for the support. 

Check out my appearance on Marsha Cook’s “Michigan Avenue Media” podcast where we talk shop about writing during Covid, genres and my upcoming short story, A Forest Only Whispers.”

Finally, writers, if you’re looking for a talented set of eyes to edit your work, look no further. I’ve used Add an Eye Editorial Services for the last year, and have had four short stories published, plus one award earned, because of it. Add an Eye knows what they’re talking about and can clean up any manuscript, report or document flawlessly. Rates are extremely fair and the staff is the friendliest on the planet.
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As I Sit in the Hall: A Call for Honest Writing

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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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

“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

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..