Author Interview: Justin Alcala
1. What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ll tell you what. The glory, fame and fortune you get for writing books. Okay, not really. I grew up in a family of raconteurs and artists, and I always knew somehow that I’d follow in their footsteps. What truly drove me to be a writer was the enjoyment I use to get when I’d tell friends a great story. Even as a grade schooler (R.I.P. St. Victors), friends would come to me on the black top at recess and ask, “Hey Justin, tell us that story again.” Later, in college, I had several encouraging friends who looked over my work, from creative writing projects to tabletop gaming plots, and said that I needed to take myself more seriously as a storyteller. So, I did. Most importantly though were the inspirational ideas I took from other writers. From R.L. Stein as a kid to Stephen King as an adult, I often read their books and came up with my own ideas based on their work that I thought these authors should write about. They never did, so I stepped in and found that I really enjoyed it.
2. What's your favourite book of all time?
That’s not a fair question! Not even kind of. However, if I’m just speaking in the context of the current month (October when I’m answering this), book (Consumed 2nd edition) and creepy mood I’m in, then it has to be a sentimental favorite. My mom had Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” sitting ominously on her bookshelf since I was a kid. I’d try my hardest to read it as a boy, but could never get past the first paragraph. Then in late grammar school I returned to the book. I fell in love with the epistolary novel’s plot, Victorian setting and antagonist. While I’d later learn that Bram Stoker was saying something about the tensions of 19th century immigration, sexual deviance and widespread disease, as a sixth grader, it was just eerie and had me placing a crucifix on my nightstand for months.
3. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Remember that clichés get that way for a reason, they’re often true. Never, ever quit. I’ve built a lot of momentum within the last half decade, but it was ugly in the beginning. I had proofreaders and editors let me know there was a lot of work to be done if I ever stood a chance in the publishing world. So, like Karate Kid, I trained like there was no tomorrow. I took more classes, read more books, listened to tips from well-known authors, and most importantly, I never quit. Cue 2014, when the first edition of “Consumed” was published. I started hearing words like natural talent, knack for writing and specialist in dialogue. If only they knew that none of it just happened. It was all learned and earned.
4. What is the most frustrating thing about being an author?
Time. You never have enough of it. It often takes months to write a book, then even more to polish it up for a publisher. If you’re a talented time manager, you may be able to get a few books out a year. Most writers might squeeze out just one if they’re lucky. Within that period, I find that I’ve dreamed up several new plot ideas, but there’s just not enough time to commit to each one.
5. What's your favourite movie?
“Halloween” by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. That movie really proves that you just can’t keep a good guy down.
6. What's better, dogs or cats?
I own both, but prefer dogs only because they don’t stare at you like they’re planning your murder.
7. If money was no object, how would you spend your life?
Mostly the same, but maybe a few more sprinkled vacations.
8. Do you draw from personal experiences when you write?
Great question. I’d say there’s a lot of the people and places I love in my stories, in addition to my personality. Chicago, the city I’ve loved for thirty plus years, is in the main backdrop of The Plenty Dreadful universe. However, it’s more the wonderfully offbeat people that I meet daily that creep their way onto the pages. As for experiences, I’ve had a lot of them that people might not believe, from being hunted by a supposed vampire at a goth club to being on a reality tv show in Las Vegas. I try to incorporate that awkwardness, excitement or eerie feeling into tales for readers to love.
9. What is more important? Strong characters or a strong storyline?
I’ve seen people have success with an ordinary plot because the characters were so interesting and well-developed. I’ve read far too many books where the opposite is true (great plot, boring characters), and it’s just far too easy to lose the reader. It’s not to say you can’t get away with it. There’s just far too many challenges when your characters are trite, dull or stodgy.
10. What advice would you give to first time writers when submitting their work to publishers or literary agents?
Learn the art of “Submissions.” While your query will never be perfect, there are a lot of great books that get passed up because the author didn’t justify why their book should be published. It takes months, if not years, to understand, but you should give it your all from the first time you click send.
For more information on Justin Alcala on to purchase his latest book, Consumed, click here.