Tag Archives: Writing

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.

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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. 

 

Book Signing at Bucket O Blood Bookstore

Hello Chicagoans,

Come to Bucket O Blood Bookstore to get your signed copy of “The Devil in the Wide City” from 5-7pm. I’ll be the guy at the table telling corny jokes.

Book Signing Event Details

3182 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

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“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

 

Zharmae Publishing Presents: “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

“Regardless, for that night, and every night thereafter, I’d make sure to fasten each lock, secure each window, and sleep with my revolver nearby. This lad was a harbinger, but for whom, I did not know.”

-Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick

1f1c2-consumed_cover_final

Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439237542&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Coming in October 2015…

“Believe it or not, most of hell has never actually experienced Earth first hand, and assume that it’s all one big Full House episode. Demons love David Coulier.”

-Ned, Fallen Angel

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Check it out on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city

Zharmae Publishing Presents: “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

“Regardless, for that night, and every night thereafter, I’d make sure to fasten each lock, secure each window, and sleep with my revolver nearby. This lad was a harbinger, but for whom, I did not know.”

-Detective Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick

1f1c2-consumed_cover_final

Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439237542&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+Justin+Alcala

Coming in October 2015…

“Believe it or not, most of hell has never actually experienced Earth first hand, and assume that it’s all one big Full House episode. Demons love David Coulier.”

-Ned, Fallen Angel

dev

Check it out on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city

Pay Attention to Details

Are you pitching your manuscript? If so, then you already know that there are dozens of different guidelines. Some publishers/agents require the first fifteen pages of your book while others ask for a detailed synopsis.  Regardless of demands, if there’s one thing that I highly recommend to all you poets, journalists or novelists out there, it’s follow the guidelines flawlessly. Doing so instantly gives your work the consideration it deserves.

Six years ago, I pitched my first manuscript. Agentless, I went fishing on dozens of publisher’s site, sending my full work to be reviewed. The only problem was, I ignored each and every publisher’s guidelines. After the first three rejection letters, I asked myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Luckily, a friend of mine, and well established writer, was kind enough to guide me in the right direction. He gently popped my bubble by reminding me that every part of a submission is an assessment. You wouldn’t go into an interview and ignore the employer’s questions would you? So why do it with your submission?

Sure enough, once I got with the program, I received four letters of interest. My book wasn’t any better or worse than any other, but I followed direction. I’ve read editor and agent blogs that moan about queries all the time. While I admit they can be tough on writers, it’s still good to err on the side of caution. If you gamble on guidelines, you’re not just risking your manuscript, you’re risking future submissions.

John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” If you’re uncertain about query requests, there are hundreds of online aids that can help. Just make sure that you’re  meticulousness in your submission. It’s all about paying attention to detail, a creative pitch and a great story. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.

Travel…It’s Worth It

Several things happen to someone who writes and travels. Firstly, the stress of deadlines, editing and marketing strategies has a way of evaporating like spilled lemonade on a summer sidewalk. Next, new faces and landscapes give birth to a plethora of unrestrained story ideas. Finally, the world is put into perspective- not just the literary world, but life in general. So in light of this, I’m calling out to all my writing companions and asking them to do whatever it takes in order to plan what I had put off for so long…traveling.

When I began writing Consumed, I took advantage of an opportunity to research the Transylvania region. I’d already conducted countless hours of legwork in the States, but nothing prepared me for the insight I’d gain when I finally arrived in Romania. Elements like culture and atmosphere are something that just can’t be described in books or guides. It’s a “boots on the ground” sort of experience. So it goes without saying that when I recently traveled to Ireland for my current project, Dim Fairy Tales (the second installment in the Plenty Dreadful series), the same held true.

The people of Ireland are welcoming, but not overwhelming. The history of the Emerald Isle is far richer than what’s expressed in social studies classes, and perhaps most importantly, stories in Ireland are cherished by its people beyond anything else. Just go to any coffee shop, lounge or pub and listen to the colorful array of accounts and tall tales. It’s  a type of specialized oratory and written folklore that you can’t find anywhere.

But this is not a story about my travels. No, this is a story about your travels. If you’re a writer, I beg you, explore. I know it’s easier said than done, but I beseech you to do what ever you can in order to journey to new towns, countries and continents. Save those pennies and cut those coupons because travel can help inspire, broaden horizons and give piece of mind.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe was one of the most talented German writers of the 18th and 19th century. His early writings were considered entertaining, but short of groundbreaking. It wasn’t until 1786, when he traveled through the Italian Peninsula that Goethe would find his voice. Not just his voice mind you, but according to his journals, his philosophical outlook on life. So much so that in 1816, his published work, “Italian Journey” took center stage in the literary world. None of it would have been possible without travel.

So writers, I implore you, please find a way to travel. Is it expensive? Often, yes. Do you have the time? Probably not. But, will it help in your writing? I’ll guarantee it.

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(My hike on Diamond Hill in Ireland. Epicness at its lamest.)