The latest round of author photos are in! These shots were created for marketing purposes, and intended to mirror the upcoming manuscript about a half fairy in the modern world. Do you see any sprites or redcaps in the background?
Write what you know; write what you love– chances are that if you’re a poet, blogger or novelist, you’ve heard this all too often. That’s not to say that it isn’t true. In fact, just look at your favorite author’s latest titles and I’m sure you’ll note a repeating theme. It’s what works for them, and to be honest, I’m no different. After Consumed hit shelves, it was time for me to decide what I wanted to write about next. It was obvious that if I wanted to really enjoy myself through the creation process, the book(s) would have to be playful, supernatural and dripping in weirdness. Cue The Plenty Dreadful series.
The Plenty Dreadful collection didn’t initially start off as a series as much as a single story. It began with the absurdist fictional piece, The Devil in the Wide City, but quickly grew into something that was out of my control. I felt like an arsonist with a leaky gas can. Once the world I’d been creating lit up, ideas spilled all over, and I quickly realized that things were out of my control. Concepts like supernatural factions, magical principles and legendary characters came to life all on their own, giving birth to an amalgamation of demons, fairy folk and undead that I couldn’t peel myself away from. I had fallen in love with the setting, and halfway through writing The Devil in the Wide City, I decided that there needed to be more books. So began the series.
Book one, The Devil in the Wide City, takes place in the perfect place for an Urban Fiction piece, Chicago. The metropolis’s history, blend of folklore and massive cityscape makes for the perfect home for a fallen angel who just can’t get things right. The city had all of the requirements I was looking for, including a hilarious detail that can be discerned from the title alone- Chicago’s weight problem. But Ned, the lonely devil, couldn’t just exist by himself. Soon, there was a need to create witches, fairies and undead. This gave birth to the second novel in the series (currently in the editing phase), putting a new twist on fairy lore, society and rules within the modern era, while blending a plot with the existing world introduced in book one. Finally, with both a bumbling devil and a new-age fairy in the works, there was need for a third musketeer. This was a great chance to bring in an antihero I’d been brewing up for sometime- Death’s personal hitman.
Now, with a trio of unusual central characters at my disposal, there was only one thing left to do- give them conflict. Readers following the series will enjoy a rising conflict that initially rears its ugly head in The Devil in the Wide City. This engagement will clearly take center stage in book two, when our ill guided fairy friend finds himself trapped in a scheme that he can’t seem to dig his way out of. Circumstances will only worsen in book three when Death takes his first vacation in centuries, and by book four, the reality of what is at hand will force all three leading heroes to reluctantly join forces in order to put a stop to their enemies in what will become the final novel.
Readers can look forward to plenty of strange plot devices through the books from Cthulhu monsters with sex toy appendages to Jon Dillinger the bloodthirsty vampire. There’ll be transvestite elves and bear breasted trolls. Main characters will burn down cities, befriend museum exhibits and fall for women with a thing for witchcraft. There’ll be historical celebrities, corporate warlocks and gallons of nerdy references. It’s good fun for the entire family.
So stay tuned if you are a fan of oddities, eccentricity and bizarreness. Book one of the series, The Devil in the Wide City, is due October 2015, while book two is scheduled for late 2016. And remember Consumed is available on bookshelves through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Finally, for those of you who’ve sent kindly emails, rated my work on Amazon/B&N, and/or follow me on Goodreads, WordPress and Twitter, thank you. I love connecting with readers, like myself, who understand that books aren’t just for reading. They’re for connecting.
Author of Consumed, The Devil in the Wide City and The Plenty Dreadful Series
Zharmae Publishing Press
Ernest Hemingway put it best once when he said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.” I often stumble onto author websites and find myself awed by their unique beginnings. Some struggled while trying to pay the rent while others devoted themselves to studying at major universities. Some began writing in order to bleed their souls while others simply chased their dreams. In fact, the more I read up on writers’ backgrounds, the more I learned there was only one real factor that every writer had in common- ironically, they all sucked at one point.
Yes, believe it or not, some of your favorite authors were awful writers starting off. Louis L’Amour received two-hundred rejections for his works, Margaret Miller was told that her stories would never sell, and according to Simon Kernick, “Every last publisher in England rejected my first two books.” That’s right, almost every author stunk. Their writing just wasn’t good enough. So then, naturally it begs the question, how did they turn it all around?
While the answer might be considered a bit cliché, it doesn’t make it any less true. It seems that every author I’ve researched always did the same thing right. No matter how difficult writing became for them, no matter how difficult their circumstances, every one of them refused to quit. Yes, it’s true, elbow grease and stamina are the foundation for good writing. If you doubt me, I dare you to research three of your favorite authors, and I guarantee that at least one of them will have a point in their career where their struggles were only overcome by endurance, fortitude and grit. That’s because while they were learning to grin and bear it, they were also constantly learning ways to better their trade.
It’s no question that the literary world has its own customs and protocols. It’s no secret that some of the best writers were also some of the busiest readers. There’s no doubt that some of the most stylized writers of all times started off simplistic and boring. But in the end, there’s only one difference between a washed up writer and a successful one. The good ones learned patience and determination.
Are you struggling to write? Do you think that you don’t have what it takes to be a columnist, journalist, or author? Have people told you that your writing leaves something to be desired? Well guess what? Your not the first one nor will you be the last. What matters is that you gather the courage to continue blogging, penning poetry or writing that next great novel.
People often sacrifice happiness in order to avoid embarrassment. No one wants to be the fool with their head in the clouds. But unlike being a nuclear physicist or professional athlete, much of what makes authors great has little to do with natural talent. So long as a writer immerses themselves in their own creativity, much of the rest is simply hard work, applying oneself, and stamina. In the words of Richard Bach, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Hello all my fellow bloggers, readers and writers! With my latest novel, “The Devil in the Wide City,” in it’s editing phase, a third novel in the works, and plenty of other-bookly activities being had, I am very late with my January post. My apologies. However, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, etc. until then. My hope is to connect with all of you wonderful WordPress members shortly to discuss more books, writing techniques and publisher’s secrets soon.
Have you ever bought a book because the display was beautifully crafted, there was a neat gift that came with your purchase or because it greeted you at the entrance of the bookstore? Have you ever purchased a book online because a search engine recommended it, perhaps a powerful description drew you in or a respected newspaper positively reviewed it? Now, have you ever picked up a lesser-known book by chance, and after reading it wondered why you haven’t heard more about it? If so, than like many readers, you’ve probably succumbed to the lure of business marketing at its finest.
Advertising, marketing, media promotions- believe it or not, every moment of our lives is affected by it. Commercials, online banners and product placement are all around us, covertly influencing your purchasing decisions. The writing world is no different. The best publishers are those who have the most influence over these favoring elements. Many people give into the beautiful cover or trending genre only to find that the pages between the bindings leave something to be desired. It’s how the world has been working for decades and you shouldn’t feel victimized if you were ever drawn into it. However, for book people, there is one service that we can do for readers and writers everywhere, and it is to not forget that there is epic plot, masterfully architected characters and brilliantly designed worlds waiting behind unheralded books as well.
I can still recall as a boy driving with my father in his rusty blue truck, a truck that I’m starting to believe that all eccentric fathers once owned, navigating through the streets of Chicago in order to pick up a new ironworking tool from some unknown manufacturer or the latest in entertainment technology (remember laser disks?). He wasn’t very vocal about it, but I strongly suspected that my dad always supported the under dog (side note: this made getting Nike shoes or the newest bike model a difficult chore). Eventually, as I grew older, I began to understand why he did what he did. You see, somewhere along the way, my father had learned…The Great Secret– the one that makes advertising firms and promotional companies shutter. He’d learned that just because something was popular, didn’t mean it was always the best.
Now before you start to build an image of me as a jaded small time author who is writing this article in hemp clothing with a computer made only from foraged scrap metal, let it be known that I’m neither speaking about myself nor am I a “down with the system” rebel. Personally, I write to write, and understand that I am to the book world what a monkey with symbols is to professional comedians. More importantly than that though, I understand why we go with popular books. It’s the same reason we rely on prevalent companies or products. Often, they’re tried and tested with dependable consumer satisfaction. Readers don’t want to spend twenty dollars and hours of their time reading a book that collapses at the end. They want something worthwhile that they can discuss with friends and family. All that I’m asking is for us to try to remain aware that when we are making book purchases, we aren’t letting publishers and sales teams blur the line between well-written and well-marketed works.
Consider this. In 1965, American writer John Williams wrote a modest novel called Stoner. The book received little praise during William’s life, and was out of print only shortly after its publication. Williams would die never knowing that he had created one of the most prolific and expertly composed novels of all time. That is until July 5th, 2013 when renowned British novelist Ian McEwan appealed to the public on the Today program hosted by Sarah Montague. After McEwan’s petition to readers, Stoner captured the imaginations of people everywhere, going on to become the 2013 novel of the year. Several other quieted authors and books have had similar late recognitions of greatness, from the revival of all of Irène Némirovsky’s works to William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, Nightmare Alley. These books and authors, some of the most excellent literary specimens of the century, were drowned out or forgotten during initial production.
Now consider this. Within the last decade several major publishers including Bantam and Random House have heavily marketed several of their books, using advanced copies and advertisement to push success. The titans of the publishing world forecasted that these novels would be the latest to break book-selling records across the world. Books like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, and Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra not only failed to live up to their expectations, but also were unable to recoup millions of dollars that were invested in promotional advertisement and initial prints.
So, as you can see, not all big name books are brilliant, nor are all unknown authors deserving of their fortune. Most books, be they magnificent or not, are partially a product of circumstances. While it’s true that many top selling books deserve to be celebrated, we must also remember that sometimes it’s not always about great writing as much as it is about great marketing. Once in a while, we need to take a chance with the little guys, who can every so often be just as good as top sellers. Finally, in the spirit of supporting the smaller, but possibly just as well written books, I leave you with the wise words of contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
GREAT BOOKS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT
By William Lindsay Gresham
Merkabah Rider Tales of a High Planes Drifter
By Edward Erdelac
By Ivan Goncharov
As some of you might know, I am also a volunteer grant writer and program assistant for a wonderful organization called GiGi’s Playhouse, a group that assists communities with Down syndrome. If you can, please donate by using the link below.
The “Days of the Dead” horror convention is officially over and I can’t say enough about my experience. Besides rubbing elbows with werewolves and vampires, I was also able to sign books for readers and partake in some wonderful interviews, costume contests and ghoul bashes. Though I had to limit my visit to the first two days, they were a pair of days I’ll never forget. A special thanks to Aaron Tucker, John Mecha and the Sanchez Family. Please take a look at the fun interview I did with John Wroblewski on Day 2.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, The Evil Dead– as a child, horror movies like these use to keep me shivering in my bed all night, fingers locked on the flashlight I kept hidden under my pillow. The stylized 80’s fear-flicks brought a new atmosphere and mindset to the horror scene. No longer was it enough to simply keep a sharpened stake under your bed or make sure that you knew where mom’s silverware was hidden. The creatures had upgraded. Now, you had to think outside the box to stay alive. That’s why, ironically, I’m thinking inside the box for this next blog. What exactly do I mean? Well, just in time for the holidays, I’ve been asked by Man Crates, a new online company that offers the most creative gifts for men in wooden crates, to put together my horror movie survival kit, and I’m basing my anti-monster arsenal on the horror movies I grew up with in order to try to make it until dawn. Firstly, let’s build the scene…
It’s the witching hour in an overly foggy forest. The moonlight cascades down below, coloring the trees and mist in a graveyard shade of blue. A pack of unsuspecting campers huddles around a fire, telling ghost stories while passing around a flask. Off in the distance, a branch cracks, and then another. Though the overly sexy female campers begin to panic, one of the foolishly brave men amongst them, Ed, decides to investigate. Recklessly, Ed goes deep into the forest line until he’s all but swallowed up by the vapors. He can no longer see the Jack O’ Lantern orange from the campfire behind him, though it doesn’t stop him from continuing his search. All goes quiet. Then suddenly, unbeknownst to Ed, a dark silhouette begins to grow behind him, taking the shape of a hulking fiend with razor claws and eyes like red traffic lights. Fortunately, as the beast closes in, its lower talons inadvertently crunch onto another branch, snapping it in two. Now alerted, Ed spins around and finds that a Lovecraft-like demon made of ethereal shadow is waiting behind him. The monster opens up its shark-like maw, and a spiral of glowing green begins to fizz in its throat, ready to be spat out onto poor Ed. Luckily, Ed has just the thing in his backpack. Hastily, he digs in a side pouch and quickly draws out a… But what does Ed draw out? A clove of garlic isn’t going to help him with the shadow terror, nor will a regular old revolver. This isn’t your typical Silver Screen antagonist. No, this creature is far more appallingly advanced, and Ed will have to have something really handy on him in order to escape the creature’s clutches. With that being said, here’s what I would prepare in my survival kit if I were in Ed’s place. They’re not necessarily deadly weapons or foolproof repellants, but they are easily attainable and versatile. Firstly, we need a diversion. The greatest ability of every monster is that they seem to always know how to sneak up on their victims, cornering them so that they have no other choice but to scream in fear until their inevitable demise (there must be a free class offered to registered horror creatures). That is, unless you have something handy which can temporarily take the sight from your stalking abomination. Unfortunately, mace isn’t going to do the trick as most creatures like phantoms and demon either lack physical anatomies or are immune to puny concentrated pepper juice. Plus, if you’re as clumsy as me, there’s a good chance you’re going to mace yourself in the process. The answer- take away their perception with the common 4th of July Smoke Bomb. Now, I’m not talking about those wimpy smoke bombs that come in kids’ fun-packs during the holidays. No, full fledge smoke bombs nowadays have vastly improved since the days of sparklers and charcoal snakes, and are relatively cheap to purchase. These bad boys are near baseball size and create a smoky diversion that when used correctly will help save your skin against any monstrosity closing in on you. Simply plan your running path a second ahead of time, light the smoke bomb, drop it, and run. And the best part is that smoke bombs tend to come in packs so even if the beasty gets past the first cloud, you can continue tossing them over your shoulder as you flee.
Next, let’s discuss the hard facts. Chances are you’re not looking to make a stand, but rather hurry to safety. This is not a bar brawl with Biff the college bully you’re in. These are supernatural forces that bend the rules of nature and physics. You want to fight? Goodnight. Plan to run? Survival has begun. With that in mind, let’s talk about a universal tool that will help any fleeing victim escape a horror movie attack. The modern crowbar comes in handy sizes as short as ten inches, made typically of reliable carbon steel. Though it can be used as a weapon, its most valuable asset is its versatility. Is a locked up farmhouse your only chance of surviving the animated scarecrow giving chase? A crowbar will make easy work of a door lock, buying you time to find a phone and call authorities. Did you discover that you’ve locked your keys in the car again just as the loup-garou caught your scent? A crowbar through that car window will do the trick. Plus, the crowbar makes a great crude hammer, extended arm or climbing hook (as well as a pry bar when you’re opening your Man Crate). Finally, while you might have dodged the monster’s initial ambush and survived the creature’s last pursuit, if your circumstances are in true horror movie fashion, then the beast(s) is still out there, waiting for you to lower your guard. Adrenaline may have helped you through your first encounter, but you’ll soon learn that it comes with consequences, The Crash. Your muscles are fatigued, your senses dulled, and that temporary cabin you’ve decided to take refuge in suddenly feels a bit more cozy. Not so fast. The sun isn’t up yet. It’s time for…An Energy Drink! Yes, the classic marketing beverage that relies on people’s addiction to caffeine is back again to save the day. Chances are, if you try to get some rest, the lurking specter will slip into your nightmares or the machete wielding revenant will pin you to the bed like a prom corsage. You need a boost to keep you going until dawn. Once the sun is up, you can easily navigate your way to the main road in order to get to the police station. And because America is so hooked on Energy Drinks, they now come in ungodly inappropriate sizes to keep you going throughout the midnight hours. So remember the next time you’re being hunted by a Golgothan or spirit of a vengeful ex-girlfriend, keep in mind that horror movie survival isn’t about how tough you are, but how clever you are. The brave ones die first. And as a reminder, if you’re looking for a great gift for that special Horror Movie Hero, check out Man Crates on the web, because true survivalists deserve better Christmas gifts than just a tie or cheap cologne.
Justin Alcala: Check Out More Blogs, See Future Work & Pick Up My Horror Novel @: www.justinalcala.com https://twitter.com/JustinAlcala Man Crates @: http://www.mancrates.com/?gclid=CKbU_LPZ-sECFc1AMgodSGQAJw
Revolution, transformation, reform- for some, these words can sound sharp and lethal. But why? Well, for starters, their definition suggests change- perhaps unwanted depending on your circle. The words also insinuate that what you once depended on is no more. Nevertheless, like it or not, change is in the air.
Now I’m not talking about a change in government, religion or anything else so grand. I’m talking about a change in publishing. It’s a reworking of procedure. It’s a change in how manuscripts are published, books are reviewed, and new authors become popular. While classic publishers might tell you that the latest makeover is the beginning of the end, other, more modern thinkers would argue that its just the adjustment that the book world needs.
For years, the publishing world went something like this- a writer labors over a story. They then pitch it to an agent. If an agent agrees to represent them, they propose the manuscript to a publisher. If the agent is talented enough, the publisher agrees to publish it, and depending on the book’s popularity, eventually a newspaper or radio show might review it, helping the book earn additional readers. The cycle repeated itself for decades, and only the strongest survived.
With modern technology, and a little something called the “internet”, things have changed. Authors can now submit their work to certain publishers without representation, or elect to publish it themselves. If a pitched publisher decides they like the manuscript, they contract the work, with an emphasis on sales instead of advances. Bloggers and other readers then write reviews for the work on social media sites and if enough followers and fans enjoy the book, an author can expect a better chance at publishing their next manuscript.
Where once a writer was forced to depend on the system, the ball is now in their court. It’s no longer about crossing your fingers as much as it is effort and determination. If you want to publish a book, you obviously need to still be a great writer (some would argue even more so now), but you can also take hold of the business side if you’d like. And while many classical publishers would argue these new methods have helped destroy the publishing world, the final numbers don’t favor their mentality.
Take for example the latest column in Yahoo News’s The Exchange. According to columnist, Aaron Pressman, while certain publishers and bookstores are on the ropes, the sales of ebooks are at an all time high. Take for example a consumer report that studied electronic book sales throughout the last decade. While ebooks started as a 68 million dollar industry, in 2012, it improved to an all time high of 3 billion dollars- the most that the publishing market has ever seen. In addition, this study is only focusing on published ebooks. It does not include the countless self-published works that consumer reports have difficulty tracking.
Now take in to consideration that in 2012, hard and electronic copies made a combined total of over15 billion dollars. This sales milestone is not only record breaking, but also a forecast in the rising numbers we can expect to see in the future. When added up, you quickly realize that while the procedures for producing books may have changed, the publishing world is by no means at an end. So why the bad blood?
Well, for every action, this also an equal or greater reaction, and the latest practices are no different. Publishers fear the change in publishing procedures gives way to monopolies like Amazon cornering the market. Publishers also fear that they’ll be held prisoner by ebook sales, which eventually may have more demand, but will sell for much cheaper. Most importantly, small publishers, self-publishing, and online book websites take the power out of the publisher’s hands. Major publishers can no longer dictate the rules of what is and isn’t a good book, and what they’d like to push onto the market. It gives a bit more power, perhaps only temporarily, back to the writer and reader.
Now to add the final piece…my half-witted opinion. Paradoxically, though I might sound like I’m siding with the change in atmosphere, I’m not. I’ve always been a firm believer in hybrid solutions, and the recent publishing change is no different. Do I think that the classic method of publishing is outdated? Of course. Do I want the domination of the book market to simply change hands to companies like Amazon on Kobo? Heck no. The truth of it is though, while I’d personally love for mid sized publishers to regain power and start signing authors due to talent and promise, I know that there’s a lot of work in order to get it to that point. In the end, what I’m actually trying to say is that like it or not, the publishing world is changing.
So, this Fifth of November, when some of us celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, a commemoration that celebrates the failed attempt to blow up British Parliament, why not ask yourself if change is really so bad? In the publishing world, it seems to be inevitable. Let’s hope that with a little bit of care and effort, readers and writers alike can take back the publishing world. If we can embrace the change, then we can use it in order to make sure that publication is no longer an activity that one is powerless to control. It can be change that we use to our advantage- a change that we remember.
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.
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
NO ENTRY FEE.
STORIES OF RESILIENCE CONTEST
NO ENTRY FEE
THE FEMINIST WIRE GRANT
$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).