Hollowstone: In 10 Questions Or Less

When will Hollowstone be out?

June 17. Mark your calendars and save the date.

Will Hollowstone be available for Kindle?

It will be released as both ebook and print. Parker has a number of titles available on Kindle and I imagine Hollowstone will be released for Kindle as well.

I want to read this! Will you do autographs??

You better know it. You buy it, I will gladly sign it.

Is it true that you and Afro_Dyte got married over the internet?

I don’t know how many times I done told her about putting our business out in the streets. This is EXACTLY what we were talking about in couples counseling last week.

What’s the main inspiration you had for writing this? Was it any particular one thing or a series of events and items?

There are a plethora of elements that influenced Hollowstone, chief among them would definitely be film noir, Rebel Without A Cause, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

One of the things that really impressed me about Rebel Without A Cause was that it called out a number of societal ills in a fluid matter-of-fact manner. Anyone familiar with the movie, will definitely recognize more than a few nods to the film in Hollowstone.

When I set out to write Hollowstone, I didn’t consciously set out to write a YA novel, it just naturally manifested. While I love speculative fiction, I never try to limit myself to a particular genre. I just let the story lead me. That’s one of the beautiful things about writing. The journey takes the author to unexpected places. Often the story is just as much a surprise to the storyteller as it is to the reader. I was toying with the idea of Hollowstone during my final quarter of art school. I was taking a film noir class at the time and I had completely fallen in love with the genre. Not surprising, many noir elements are very visible in the novel.

And ever since high school, I always wanted to write a story that was at least in part an homage/modern day retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The high school I graduated from was a prestigious private school, and being from a working class background, I could relate to Nick Carraway entering this strange new world of the elite and the privileged. However for the novel, I decided to base Noah (the Carraway of this piece) on three of my high school buddies. I was also captivated by the social commentary Fitzgerald ingrained in the tale.

Between Rebel Without A Cause, the film noir class, the idea for the Gatsby homage/retelling, the social commentary, one thing led to another and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hollowstone was actually written during my first year of National Novel Writing Month back in 2007. I’m proud to say I was victorious. The novel was certainly a labor of love. It was frustrating, exhausting, dark, exciting, occasionally fun, in short, a roller-coaster ride. But it’s all been well worth it. Especially now, getting to talk to people about the novel, I’ve fallen in love with the story all over again.

How much of your own experiences did you put in Hollowstone?

I’ve joked with friends that this is about as close to an autobiography as I’ll get. LOL! I would say that probably 75-80 percent of the novel is based on real life accounts. Many of the characters were based on people who have been in my life. And many situations throughout the story were either experienced firsthand or I witnessed them.

Hollowstone is a YA novel, but as a work of fiction there is a lot more going on than that. The mystery and intrigue of it has a very Southern Gothic feel, but that’s just my reading of it. How would you describe the artistic and literary aspects of your novel? If someone were to write a term paper for their Comparative Lit class, which works should they check out?

If someone were to write a term paper about this book for their class, that would be 20 kinds of awesome.

Again, Gatsby obviously comes to mind. The first half of the book that lead up to Cal’s death serves as an homage and a modern retelling of the Fitzgerald story. You can also make parallels between Gatsby, Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jordan and Cal, Noah, Abby, Chris and  Brianna. Fitzgerald’s poignant and matter of fact style of of social commentary definitely plays out in the novel. In fact, said social commentary is very much akin to what you see played out in film noir.

Speaking of social commentary, Kate Chopin, particularly her story Desiree’s Baby, is an example of exposing the raw dark reality of racism. She pulled no punches, made no pretenses or excuses, she just placed the truth on display. That technique is certainly something I tried to emulate in Hollowstone in unapologetically exploring the bitter realities of racism, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, rape culture, child abuse, domestic violence and the other aspects of institutional oppression.

In the second half of the book, business picks up (to quote Jim Ross), and the plot goes into overdrive.

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and I always appreciated Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s style of drawing the reader into the adventure. Typically we, the audience, experience the events vicariously through Watson but in addition to a solid mystery, Doyle always did an incredible job of allowing the reader to feel the tension and the danger. Most notably for me is when Watson and Holmes go head to head with Moriarty in The Final Problem. The stakes were never higher and you were anxiously aching to see how this would play out. Those were elements I definitely tried to bring to Hollowstone.

Being a proud black man and a student of the Harlem Renaissance, I always feel a strong need to represent black culture, our stories and experiences with honesty and respect; especially when one of the co-main protagonists is African-American. So you’ll definitely see that tradition continued in my work. Sadly, even in the 21st century, even having a black president, this is still abysmally rare in the media.

Having grown up in the South, it wasn’t hard to find themes of the Southern Gothic because it is so pervasive in Southern culture. I think you’ll find that to be the case for many writers who pen tales that are set in the South. Be it history or lore, there’s so much material to pull from and one will quickly understand the meaning behind the expression, The Dirty South.

As a queer artist of color, you’ve spoken a lot about the importance of representation in cultural media. The main character is far from stereotypical as a man of color. To what extent was your presentation of the protagonist deliberate in this regard?

It was deliberate in that it was an honest portrayal. And unfortunately, it’s an honesty and a truth that’s rarely explored in the media. Typically blacks are portrayed as criminals, lazy, ignorant, subhuman. The few times we are cast in any respectable light, our roles are relegated to that as a minor character or at most, the black best friend/sidekick.

Because of this pervasive racist mindset, many clueless and bigoted whites are usually dumbfounded (and often nonplussed) when they see blacks and other racial minorities prospering in some manner (and even better than them), because that’s not how the world is supposed to work.

This is why blacks are often shamed, resented and vilified for being accomplished and exceptional. This is why we’re accused of aspiring to be white. As if being an exceptional accomplished black is an oxymoron (according to many morons).

The Huxtables were not an anomaly set in Bizarro World. Neither are the Obamas or the Smiths. They are reflective of many families in this country, on this planet.

It wasn’t by accident that Noah was from Atlanta. Anyone familiar with the city knows why it’s a cornerstone for the black community. It’s one of the few places where blacks were able to go to college, create their own businesses and create economic opportunities which weren’t afforded to us in most areas and to some degree still aren’t. That’s why blacks are dominant in government, business and every other aspect in Atlanta. That’s why it’s the norm to see numerous black families in the wealthiest of neighborhoods. Because blacks were afforded opportunities in Atlanta that are afforded to whites everywhere else.

That gets explored a bit in Hollowstone when Noah is home for the holidays.

With your involvement online with Ars Marginal, Random Fandom, and other communities, there seems to be a growing trend – one could even say a movement – of artists creating works that emerge from the intersections of political identities. How do you see yourself in relation to these artists and in relation to that movement?

I’m simply Moses leading my people through the desert to the Promised Land. TRU FAX! TRU FAX!!!!! LOL!!!!

In all seriousness, like most storytellers, I simply believe that I have something worth sharing with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, people like me typically aren’t allowed to have our stories told or our truths shared. This is on of the main reasons why we have so many issues in the world that we do.

One of the best things about the internet is that it has become the ultimate equalizer in allowing marginalized voices to be heard. We’ve seen crowd funding, online initiatives and e-movements have been instrumental in the success of minority works. John Chu’s Legion of Extraordinary Dancers is a perfect example. It’s gone from a viral web series to being a worldwide hit. More than that, it’s proof that diversity can lead to success.

I think other artists (most notably queer, POC, etc.) are taking the intiative in creating their own spaces, going through unconventional channels to have their voices heard and many of us are working with one another for that same goal.

As a result, I’m not surprised we’re seeing such a movement and many success stories on top of it.

If Hollowstone had a theme song what would it be?

Oh that’s easy, Moon by the Kaiser Chiefs. I played that song nonstop (along with the Hollowstone soundtrack/playlist I made) while writing Hollowstone.

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By Dennis R. Upkins