Tag Archives: novels

A Request to All Amazonians!

I’m not sure about the intelligence of Amazon’s suggestion-engine, but it what cool to see the below e-mail this morning (see attached picture). On that note, if you haven’t already, I’d greatly appreciate it if you went to my book on amazon and reviewed it if possible. This will be my only shameless blog-post about the subject, but unfortunately, amazon reviews tend to have strong influence in our modern day publishing world. 

My thanks!

Justin Alcala

http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin-Alcala-ebook/dp/B00NJ5CGM8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413381655&sr=8-1&keywords=justin+alcala+Consumed

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The Well of Inspiration

Well of Inspiration

Ah, October, the best month in Chicago by far. Why might you ask? Well, that’s easy. Not only does it bring forth the most beautiful of seasons, autumn, and not only is it the month that my wonderful wife and I were married, but for thirty-one days we prepare ourselves for one of the best holidays in the world, Halloween. Every year, just about the time when the scary decorations are put on store shelves, a certain spark erupts in my belly, waking me from my slumber like some revenant crawling out of its grave. Sugared thoughts of frightening costumes, spooky lawn decorations and haunted attractions stir in my mind as I watch ghost shows, drink Octoberfest brews, and reread the classics such as Poe, Stoker and Shelley.

It’s also a peak time for me as an author. It’s as if my fingers are starved to devour the keyboard in order to spin tales that make blood curdle and spines tingle. Countless monsters are born, and even more victims slain across the pages of my works during this wonderful season. Yet, for as much as I could spend countless hours talking about my relationship with the holiday, babbling about the fire that Halloween lights under my cauldron, the excitement of it all also begs another question, one more so related to writing. What is it that makes writers tick?

Some writers are just always on. For them it’s a gift. They have this endless well of ideas and inspiration that allows them to constantly create at anytime, anywhere. For the rest of us however, creativity takes energy, stimulation and motivation. Even the most prolific writers of all time had habits that helped them create their best works. For T.S. Elliot, not only did he sneak away to a quiet porter’s lodge to write, but he also did so while wearing green ghoulish makeup that made him feel like a cadaver. For Faulkner, he wrote his bet works only after a glass or six of whiskey- the good stuff mind you. And as for H.P. Lovecraft, the man of weird fiction could only pen during the darkest hours of night in order to invent his Cthulhu mythos or legends of the Necronomicon.

So what is it that makes you excited to write? Perhaps it’s being somewhere special or reading a book that encouraged you to write in the first place? Being a writer, be it poetry, journalism, fiction, nonfiction, blogging, can be extremely challenging. What takes most people seconds to read may have cost you hours to write, and in those hours, you probably had to drive yourself to stay motivated. Sometimes it’s easy, but often, we must dig down deep and sip from that inspirational well that keeps us excited to create.

Recently, I read an article that had surefire ways to keep a writer motivated. In the column, there were tricks like creating tight deadlines, removing distractions, and forcing yourself to pen even when you were exhausted. While I agreed with what the author was trying to express, their suggestions sounded more like punishment than inspiration. Writers shouldn’t have to physically or mentally abuse themselves in order to create a great story, poem or blog- it’s quite the opposite.

Ultimately, all that we have to do is remember that writing is different for everyone. Simply know yourself, know what keeps you ticking, and use it to your advantage. Anything else is subjective.

So writers, the next time you are having trouble finishing a story, completing a blog or finding that last line of a poem that would really make your work feel complete, remember what makes you want to write. Go back and read your favorite book, visit that place that makes you feel alive, or in my case, listen to Halloween music in the middle of April. I think that you’ll find it truly works. Because so long as you find what makes you tick and continue to feed it, you’ll also find that you’re often writing your best works.

FUN FOR WRITER’S (Contests and Grants)

NEW VISIONS AWARD

https://www.leeandlow.com/writers-illustrators/new-visions-award

NO ENTRY FEE.

STORIES OF RESILIENCE CONTEST

http://ourstoryproject.herokuapp.com/pages/contest

NO ENTRY FEE

THE FEMINIST WIRE GRANT

http://thefeministwire.com/2014/06/feminist-wires-1st-annual-poetry-contest/

$10 ENTRY FEE.
The winner will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $200. The 1st runner up will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $100. Deadline October 1, 2014. Submit up to 3 poems (no more than a total of 5 pages).

What Makes a Good Book?

bookWhat makes a good book? Is it well-developed characters or a strong story arc? Is it a specific genre or a certain writing style? Don’t Google the question unless you’re prepared to sort through hundreds of slapdash opinions. Everyone has an answer, and none of them are the same. But perhaps that’s exactly what makes a good book? Maybe it’s not poetic hyperboles, dramatic irony or well-placed flashbacks as much as the author’s ability to connect with the reader as a whole- an ability to take them places through alluring and comprehensive thoughts.

            “The Alchemist”, by Portuguese author Paulo Coelho, is an international best seller that has been published in 56 different languages, with over 65 million copies sold. Its captivating plot is about a shepherd boy who experiences mysterious dreams that take him on a journey to fulfill a greater destiny. The story is simple and charming. The writing style is very humble, so humble that it is one of the most translatable novels of all time, and the characters are basic, but captivating. There is no complex storyline, no unexpected ending or hidden agenda. Yet, according to the AFP and Guinness Book of World Records, The Alchemist is one of the best selling books in history. But why?

            It’s easy to comprehend once you understand the author. Believe it or not, it took Paulo Coelho only two weeks to write the book in 1987, and as he explains it, it’s because the story was already written in his soul.

            “When you really want something to happen,” he explains through an old king in the book, “the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.” This core value of the novel is something that all readers can relate to. It’s something that nearly everyone understands and associates with. We all have hopes, dreams and destinies that we chase. Coelho just makes it relatable through a great story.

            So why then do some readers put so much value in cerebral plots or structurally complex stories? Why do they like speculative metaphysics or multiple narrators and storylines? Well, that can be like asking why do people like certain colors or types of food? For some readers, it’s the relationship that they build with the book. Larger, more complicated stories keep readers on their toes, creating a literature-romance that has them constantly thinking about where the story might go next. For others, its not so much a story they’re into, but the addictive characters that they can revisit in books with thousands of pages and multiple sequels (I know that I’m not as worried about what magical creature Harry is chasing in “The Dresden Files “ as much as what will happen to Michael, Murphy, Butters, and the slew of other side characters). Or perhaps, just like anything, some people just want a book that tailors to their lifestyle. Logical thinkers prefer intelligently written books, while dreamers enjoy stories that some might consider a bit unordinary.

Regardless what the reason, more than any other article I’ve read or theory that I can muster, there’s one element that always seems to stand out in every great book. It’s not its complexity, multifaceted worlds or innovative ideas. Then again, its not its straightforwardness or minimalism either. A great book, compared to an average one, knows how to connect with what makes readers human. Well-written settings and descriptions are a perfect compliment to a tale, but they can never take the place of identifiable plots and characters in a story.

According to the NY Times “Best Seller List,” the top three books as of 2014 thus far are “Hopeless” by Colleen Hoover, “All the Light We Can Not See” by Anthony Doerr, and “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. All three books are titans in their genre, yet none of them are excessively intricate. Instead, they deal with human characters and the challenges they have, whether it’s dealing with the devastation of World War II or multigenerational love. They are, for lack of better words, “human-books.”

So the next time you’re looking for a new paperback to take on your flight, or downloadable story to read during your lunch break, remember that no matter what reviews may say, no matter how many copies are sold, books are reflections of what makes us human. Think about what you’d like to get out of a story before making your selection. After all, it’s what you are as a human that makes you like the great books that you do, not the other way around.

“Consumed” Book Signing: Days of the Dead Horror Convention

                                            Days of the Dead Large

Join me November 21st-23rd, 2014, at the Chicago Marriott Convention Hotel for the “Days of the Dead” Horror Convention. I’ll have copies of Consumed, and will be signing them, as well as giving away great prizes. There will be vampire babes and drawings at my booth, “Consumed.” And don’t forget that Consumed is due September 11th, 2014. 

Days of the Dead Convention..

Chicago Marriott Hotel

50 North Martingale Road, Schaumburg IL 60173

Continue reading “Consumed” Book Signing: Days of the Dead Horror Convention

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.

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?