Here it is. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Our talented artists at Parliament House Press have put together a fantastic book cover. This enticing book calls to me as a reader and I hope it does to you too. There’s lots of information packed into the art that gives you small clues about what our story, and our chief character, is all about. I can’t wait to hear what people think, and thanks again to the publisher for months of hard work creating this masterpiece. Readers, get your limited discounted preorder of “A Dead End Job” now on #amazonkindle #booknook and .#kobobooks. A DEAD END JOB HITS SHELVES OCTOBER 5th, 2021 in digital book, paperback and audio book. www.justinalcala.com
You hear it all the time. Goodbye 2020. What a year. Can’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today’s Blog is Sponsored By: Add an Eye Editing Services
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Ask any best-selling author where they were before their first book became a New York Times bestseller or before their big million dollar publishing deal and their answer is the same. They were struggling. They were getting rejected. They were climbing the hill like everyone else. Most of these acclaimed authors will also admit that the struggle is part of the process. It’s a measure of development. It inspires the mind and soul. Just stick with it and the cream rises to the top.
So if the struggle is just part of the development, then what can a budding or intermediate writer hope for? If the pain is part of the pleasure, what do writers need to continue towards their aspirations of creating that next great American Novel, winning that Pulitzer Prize or becoming one of the most respected authors of all time? Well, if you found a literary genie, and they gave out three wishes, here’s what they should be. Writers need to be one with rejection, grow with their work and never lose the swagger. Confused? No worries. We will walk through it together.
The first piece sounds simple enough. Be one with rejection. Don’t let the man get you down. Keep trudging along and not taking no for an answer. A writer needs to understand that most submission-rejections and uninterested replies stem from time tables, undisclosed publishing goals and reviewer preference. You could write a perfectly good story, better than most, and still not make that anthology or get that novel accepted. It’s literally not you, it’s them. Rejection is like bad weather. You can’t avoid it, and occasionally, when an agent or publisher is superb at telling you why they’re passing, you can even grow from it.
For example, I’ve had agents tell me that my writing is great, but the genre I chose just isn’t selling. Some publishers let me know they’re just tiring of first-person narratives, even if the manuscript is seamless. These bits of commentary remind a storyteller that there is progress, but today is just isn’t the day. Even the common This just doesn’t work for us reply given by many publishers is an indicator to how subjective the industry is. Your work could fit perfectly with other distributer.
The second wish is that a writer grows with their work. All too often, starting authors try to perfect one topic, one idea, one concept, and drive it into the ground. This is a great method for starting out. You can’t be a good writer until your work speaks for itself and focusing on a horror genre or type of dialogue is the perfect way of getting your name out there. As you grow though, and as you master more writing tools, it’s vital to challenge your work. Go out of your comfort zone, write new types of stories and learn to write in first, second and third person perspective. Most importantly, challenge how you look at everything that you write about.
Long ago when animals could talk, I was an overworked writer living in downtown Chicago with barely a penny to spare. My characters were gritty. My scenery was destitute. My point of view leaned on a survivor’s demeanor. As I grew, advanced my career and had a family, I became happier. I started to understand that not everything needs to bleed noir. You can have genuinely kind characters. You could build honest scenes instead of glum gutters. You could tell a story that makes the reader think about the merits of life, love and everything in between. Challenge your writing in order to broaden your perspective and challenge your perspective in order to improve your writing.
Finally, never lose your swagger. It’s easy to be confident in a character, plot or manuscript for a short while, but the gods cursed writers to question everything, including themselves. Doubt tethers itself to artists before dropping its anchor in the ocean. Most writers don’t last more than three years before throwing their work in the air and going back to their normal lives. Whether it’s bravado, confidence or just an understanding that you have stories that demand to be told, a part of you has to find that thing that makes you a special writer and run with it.
Just remember, confidence is the ability to meet life’s hurdles and know that you’ll succeed. An author, someone who typically works alone, gets all the pains of being alone, but none of the encouragement that other careers provide. An author must be self motivating. If they can learn to continue to believe in their work, even when it’s not paying the bills, even when it’s getting dumped on by editors or isn’t meeting personal expectations, they will succeed.
So the next time you’re digging in your backyard and find a rare lamp with a genie’s initials, think about what you will wish for. Success comes with time and dedication. The struggle is part of the process. Still, there’s three major elements that can help you become a master of writing in that span. They are the foundation for anyone who aspires to create greatness in their work. Why not work on making those wishes come true?
(Quick Read: 4 minutes)
There once was a bard and king that decided to trade places. The bard wanted a royal audience to help make him the most celebrated artist in the kingdom. The king yearned for freedom, and dreamed of strolling freely through the plebeian lands. So the pair traded cap and crown, lute and scepter, then went on their way. It took less than twenty-four hours, followed by three magical texts and two Uber carriages to return everything to normal. Both the king and bard decided that this was the dumbest idea ever, and agreed to never talk about it again.
Whether your’e a painter, performer or poet, chances are that if you’re trying to make a living off of your art, you’re struggling to find balance. You’re probably trying to find balance in the time spent on building your royal audience. You’re likely trying to find balance in creating new works. Most importantly, you’re most certainly trying to find balance in the inner recesses of your conscience, struggling to decide whether or not your betraying your craft for profit.
In the art community, you talk to, well…artists. I’ve spoken to photographers, woodworkers and writers. Their thoughts on balance are always the same. Sometimes, I feel more like a sales person than an (insert craft here). I’m a total sellout. So why do creative minds feel like sellouts? Often, it’s because modest Indy Artists don’t have well-heeled sponsors to handle the business end while they focus on their trade. So, they end up becoming the marketer, salesperson and visionary. Needless to say, that’s a tall order that makes most artists to feel icky. So what do they do? They follow their principles and stick to creating, hoping their work will speak for itself. Authors Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler joked about the idea during a Q&A recently.
Gaiman laughed, “Don Marquis once said that having poetry published was like throwing flower petals over the Grand Canyon and waiting for the boom.”
Handler added, “I’ve heard it (writing) was like wetting yourself in dark pants – you get a feeling, but no one notices.”
While it’s in jest, the sentiment is clear. If you’re a budding artist, it’s time to get to work, and being a businessperson is just part of it. You can’t afford to draw lines in the sand. The catch to not selling out is drawing soft borders. Set goals and decide how often you’re going to market weekly. Make time for creating new projects, and understand the first hurdle is often the worst. I’ve added a list of links at the bottom that might help you the process, from reasons why you aren’t selling art to techniques that’ll help you deal with the stress of being an artist.
No one wants to be a sellout. We’d all like a royal court to instantly give us patrons. We don’t want to be salespeople. We want to be artists. The truth of it is though, that if you’re doing it right, you’ll likely need to be a little of both. It’s the best shot of living happily ever after.
Oh the magic of books. What would life be without them? More importantly, where would we be without their authors? We take for granted all of the dreamed up stories on our bookshelves and iPads. We forget about all of the work, love and struggles that goes into each word.
Today on the Justin Alcala blog, I’m excited to interview Solstice Publishing author, Henry Anderson. Henry Anderson is a former news reporter who has written for national UK newspapers. He spent time as a farmhand in Australia before working in publishing and journalism. His current novels, “Cape Misfortune” and “The Mouth” are fantastic tales available on amazon. But before you pick them up, let’s learn a little bit about the man behind the stories. Let’s learn about the talented Henry Anderson.
Thanks for joining us Henry. I wanted to start out by asking about the great journeys you’ve taken to get where you are. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I suppose in the old days pilgrimages involved seeing sacred relics like a piece of a saint’s finger. It made things seem much more real. Similarly an artefact like a book or the page of a handwritten manuscript makes the writer seem less remote. Seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace was amazing. I was lucky enough to study at the same college at Oxford University as Oscar Wilde. I visited his grave in Paris. We used to wear green carnations in his honour on exam days.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Take a step back and think about whether other people will find your writing relevant or important!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Self-doubt is the enemy of most art. On a bad day the words look terrible.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You have the ability to get something published. Stop procrastinating and get on with it.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I wrote a play once and stood at the back of the audience on the nights it was performed. It was incredible to watch people being so involved with the story.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Nothing, unless you are writing autobiography. I suppose if you admire someone you might try and do justice to them. If you feel someone has mistreated you there is always the villain.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I have a screenplay, several short stories and two unfinished novels kicking about. I hope to return to them one day.
What did you edit out of this book?”
Anything that didn’t advance the story. I find if I stray off the path, description or dialogue loses meaning or relevance.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I suffer from a chronic illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis. There are a few hidden references to that. They don’t make any difference to the story but they add a bit of depth for me. I suppose the trick is not to be too self-indulgent.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There is a scene in the book where the characters are travelling astrally, out of the body, over the Pacific. That was difficult. It was the first part of the story that was out-and-out fantasy. There is a devil sitting on my shoulder that is scornful about straying from realism. It’s now one of my favourite scenes.
Henry, what advice do you have for unpublished writers?
The Internet has changed the literary landscape. There is less stigma about self-publishing now. I haven’t self-published yet but would do so in the future rather than hang on to a manuscript for years. You have to roll with the punches and move on.
Henry, thanks so much for joining us on the blog. You can learn more about Henry on his website. All links are provided below. And please be sure to pick up Henry’s latest novel, “Cape Misfortune” available on amazon.
“Welcome to beautiful Cape Misfortune. Come for the rugged coastline and unspoiled beaches. Stay for the quaint customs and friendly welcome.”
Just don’t ask about the people who are going missing.
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.