Yours truly recently sat down with Bridget Adams, The Mistress of AWESOME, for a one-on-one interviewabout Hollowstone and the representation of LGBTQs and other marginalzied people.
Oooo! Poppets, I’ve started a trend! Back in May, I was lucky enough to interview a strong LGBTQ voice, Shawn Harris. This month, it’s Dennis R. Upkins, author of Hollowstone, social justice advocate, and really cool all-around guy.
Bridget Adams (BA): First and foremost, what’s Hollowstone about?
Dennis R. Upkins (DRU): Hollowstone is the story of Noah Scott whose changes drastically when he is accepted to Hollowstone Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country set in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. Within the hallowed halls of the illustrious school, Noah soon discovers that the world of the privileged is rife with social hierarchies, politics, depravity and corruption. It is also there that Noah meets his roommate and best friend, the charming and enigmatic Caleb Warner.
Tragedy soon strikes when Cal is brutally murdered in a hold-up. But when Noah is haunted by Cal’s ghost, he soon discovers that the random act of violence was in fact a premeditated one. Determined to uncover the truth and find Cal’s killer, Noah soon finds that the school and its patrons have more than their share of secrets. Secrets they are willing to preserve at any cost. Noah also quickly learns that greater supernatural forces are at play. In a race against time, Noah must solve Cal’s murder before he’s the killer’s next victim.
BA: What made you decide to write black and gay protagonists?
DRU: Being a double minority myself, I’m a firm believer in showcasing diversity, in a natural, honest, and respectful manner. And I’ve done it for so many years, now it’s not even really a conscious decision. It’s just second nature to me.
Some people may ask, why include marginalized characters? I ask, why not?
When it comes to people, straight white able-bodied middle class male is not the default. So for me it’s not brain surgery or rocket science to have marginalized characters as the leads in a story.
BA: What challenges do your characters face as both Black youth and gay youth that may not be understood?
DRU: With Noah being the narrator, I think this is a chance for many white readers to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a person of color in the U.S. He’s constantly on the receiving end of racial slurs (and I’m not even talking about the infamous “N-Word”) and other racist harassment. We’re talking about everything Confederate flags waving prominently throughout the town of Newton, to racial profiling by police officers. People are shocked when they learn that Noah is 1) at the school on an academic scholarship and not an athletic scholarship and not because of affirmative action. 2) he grew up in the suburbs and wasn’t from the hood 3) that he speaks so well. And let’s not forget the racist insults by classmates (I think he got called a house slave at one point), not to mention when two white female classmates clutched their purses (and the proverbial pearls) when he passed them in the lawn because they thought he was going to rob them in broad daylight.
Many people still have this failed mindset that blacks and other POCs (People of Color) are still on the receiving end of racism because they bring it on themselves because they can’t get their acts together. And yet here we have Noah, who is a mild-mannered student. A gifted violinist, he makes straight-A’s and is a devout Catholic. In fact, Cal’s nickname for him is Altar Boy. And yet he’s still catching this much bigotry.
Many whites believe that as long as they aren’t burning a cross, wearing a white sheet, or screaming white power with a swastika branded on them, then they aren’t “real” racists like the really bad white people. I think seeing the hardships that Noah, and for that matter Cassidy, endures will illustrate that it’s the everyday racism from everyday white people that is even more destructive and more pervasive in our society than many whites may realize.
As for the three LGBT characters – Ryan, Neely, another character who comes out in the story – the audience learns why it rarely gets better for queer people, especially in the telling of Ryan’s experiences. His story is a painful and sobering reminder of the abuse and hatred that gay teens face in high schools. And to be clear, Ryan is not an effeminate character, he’s not flamboyant, he’s not emo, he’s not “flaunting his sexual preference,” he’s not trying to “push an agenda.” He’s simply a nice quiet kid who spends every waking moment apologizing for his existence and trying to blend into the background so he’s left alone and that’s not enough for his tormenters. Because the truth is, some people won’t be happy until LGBTQs are dead. Ryan is also a cautionary tale why one should be careful about who they bully and that contrary to popular opinion, gay people do in fact fight back. Because when he’s pushed when he’s pushed too far, Ryan stops apologizing once and for all and takes his power back in a most spectacular manner.
I think one of the things that has surprised me about Hollowstone is how popular Neely has been as a character. I knew Cal would be popular, and I expected Noah to have some fans, but Neely has really struck a chord with a lot of readers and the common sentiment I continue to hear is that it’s rare to find powerful bisexual characters who are portrayed in such a positive manner.
BA: This book has to be special to you simply because it is your first novel. I would imagine, though, that it resonates even more deeply for personal reasons. What does this story mean to you on that level?
DRU: I’ve joked many times with friends that Hollowstone is probably about as close to an auto-biography as I’ll ever write. A good 80 percent of the novel is based on firsthand experiences. More than that, I think Hollowstone provides a critique on society by raising a mirror and calling out a lot of the injustices that plague society. The novel doesn’t presume to have the answers and in fact it presents none. But I do think it’s a candid look at our culture. Keeping that in mind, this would constitute that “Great American Novel” that most people dream about writing and few people actually do.
But more than that, I get to share this story with other people and that in itself has been a reward.
BA: Why do you think it is so rare to find LGBTQ characters in mainstream fiction?
DRU: I think the reason is obvious. Let’s just keep it real. I think the reason it’s so rare to find LGBTQ characters in mainstream fiction is for the same reason you rarely find POCs in mainstream fiction and the same reason why works by black authors are always shuffled off to the African-American section whether the genre of their work is sci-fi, fantasy, gay fiction, etc.
The publishing industry is a very bigoted one. Whitewashing book covers with POC protagonists is still the norm and this was the same BS that was done to album covers of black musicians during the 50s to make it more comfortable for white audiences to listen to “Negro music.”
Let’s also not forget that it was only two-months ago that a New York Times bestselling author was ordered to change her short story (which featured a gay pairing) into a heterosexual couple for an anthology. We also saw the fallout which occurred when the homophobia in the industry was called out.
You know art is supposed to be progressive and forward-thinking. It’s supposed to enlighten society and challenge us to evolve and it’s unsettling to see that seems to be less and less the case.
BA: What are the problems you see, as an author and as a reader, with most of the LGBTQ characters that are out there these days?
DRU: We’re usually minor characters or sidekicks. And that’s the best case scenario. More often than not, we’re reduced to offensive stereotypes and caricatures. Degrading props to illustrate how and why cis straight people are so superior to us. Believe it or not. Not every gay man is effeminate, flamboyant and aspiring to new levels of “fabulous.” Not every gay men is aspiring to be some honorary woman or to be a straight woman’s fashion accessory.
Many of us are in fact masculine. Many of us are athletes, soldiers, and confident in who we are. Many of us know squat about design or fashion and couldn’t care less. The only difference between us and our straight brethren is that we simply happen to be attracted to other men.
Believe it or not, most lesbians aren’t militant, emasculating man-haters. Most of them are simply down to earth women who happen to love other women.
And with the exception of an elite few, I generally don’t read gay fiction written by women for the same I reason I generally don’t read works “tackling racism” that are written by white writers, for the same reason I surmise that many queer women don’t read works depicting their sexuality from straight men.
In the case of many women writing gay fiction, it’s heterosexism at play. Too often it’s usually privileged women who are using a marginalized group as avatars to write out their fantasies. Because honestly many of these stories are as offensive to queer men as stories depicting queer women written by sexist straight men with a lesbian fetish.
The universal thread there: the writers are usually coming from a place of privilege who couldn’t be bothered to do any actual research or garner any actual facts. Many of these privileged writers usually have a not-so-veiled agenda attached.
And while I would love to support more gay writers, a lot of the work I’ve been coming across is disheartening as well. A lot of the narratives are whiny, pretentious and indulgent and textbook cliches. The stories and the writing is horrid and I’m just wondering, how does this stuff get published?
As LGBTQs, we come in all ranges from all walks of life. We’re more than our orientations just like cis-straight people but it’s funny how that never gets explored. And the fact that I often have to find myself still arguing over this with people in the 21st century is quite disturbing in itself.
BA: Finally, where can we buy the book?
DRU: Hollowstone is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle. It’s also available in other ebook formats on parker-Publishing.com. And if you need any other information, you can hit me up at http://dennisupkins.com.
And hit him up you should, Poppets. Hollowstone is a really excellent read, especially for LGBTQ and questioning youth – okay, really for anybody, but you know my soft spot for teens. Upkins is an even more excellent voice and one that needs to be heard. By as many people as possible. So read a book this month, and until next month, Poppets, take care of you.