Groovy Deadly Swag: Another Five Star Review Of Hollowstone

Michael M. Jones of Realms of Fantasy Magazine had this to say about Hollowstone:

When Noah Scott wins a scholarship to the exclusive Hollowstone Academy, he enters a world of privilege and opportunity. As one of the very few black students, he stands out, but his roommate, the rich and popular Caleb Warner helps him settle in. Soon, Noah is caught up in the academic grind and entangled in the school’s mysteries, scandals, romances, and intrigues. It all turns sour when Cal is killed but his ghost lingers. In order to solve Cal’s murder, Noah must delve into Hollowstone’s darkest secrets, which seem tied to a greater supernatural scheme. With its diverse cast of characters, myriad plotlines, and a callback to Fitzgeraldian sensibilities (evoking The Great Gatsby), this book tackles some heavy themes along the way. Unfortunately, a lot happens for the slim page count, suggesting that a more leisurely approach might have worked better. It’s a strong debut, and Upkins shows lots of promise.

 

 

 

Yep, pretty much.

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Please Sir, I Want Some More

Recently yours truly penned a guest post over at Gay YA (an excellent website by the by). In the post I discuss why more and better representation of LGBTQs is needed like whoa and explained that the next Harry Potter, Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl doesn’t need to be a cis straight white male. Have a gander. 

 

ETA: Oh and while you’re reading, imagine it being spoken to you in a very wicked cool British accent. You’ll understand why as you read it.  😉

 

 

 

 

Like A Boss!

OMG! OMG! OMG! Okay, so Sisterspooky, fangirl of all things AWESOME recently finished Hollowstone and posted her review. And this has been me all weekend:

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been immensely nervous. Sisterspooky tells it like it is and is brutally honest (which is one of the many things I love about her). More than that, she’s a voracious reader and she knows her stuff. So writers best be bringing their A-game to survive a critique from her.So to get this type of review from her. [points back up to macro]

So check out the review and show Sisterspooky some love and leave comments. Comments are loved on her blog. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do the dance of joy.

[pops collar like a boss]

My 20 Steps To Getting Published

So since Hollowstone’s release, most of you know that I’ve been doing overtime promoting the novel.

Not surprising, one of the things I’m asked the most are steps and advice to getting published. Several colleagues at work asked me for some tips on writing a novel and seeing it published.

The following is an email I sent them sharing my experiences which I think may serve as a useful resource for other writing aspirants.

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So you wanna be a writer? Well let me tell you, it’s not easy and I’ve got the ulcers to prove it. But there’s no greater feeling than holding your own book in your hands or people falling in love with your creation.

The road to publishing is vastly different for each writer, so by no means is my journey the end all-be-all. Trust me when I say, there is no one set formula. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. But the following is what worked for me. And many, if not most of these steps (or at least some variation thereof) have worked for many of my fellow published writer buddies.

While there’s many more facets worth covering, here’s the barebones minimum that I think will at least get you a good start.

Be warned. Writing is not for the faint of heart, it’s rarely glamorous and is the most disrespected of art forms. It requires dedication, sacrifice and more often than not, it’s a labor of love. A tough skin, adamantium armor and a strong masochistic streak are required.

Still here? All right, don’t say you weren’t warned. Okay, here we go.

1) A Novel Idea

Most people start writing a book because they have a novel idea (bad pun intended). Once you get this novel idea, think it through. Let the idea develop. I would say give it a few days, even a few weeks.

2) Jot Down Your Ideas

Once the idea has gained enough stability that you think it carry a story, start jotting down ideas. Doesn’t have to be coherent to anyone else, just you. Nothing official yet. Think about characters, setting, themes. What are the character’s motivations. What are their internal conflicts. What’s the plot?

3) Form An Outline

Once you have enough ideas jotted down, start arranging them into an outline. Again this is the brainstorming portion of the writing. If you get stuck trying to work out the logistics, that’s okay. That’s a good thing. This is what the outline is for. To work all of this stuff out before you actually do the writing.

4) Start Filling Out The Outline

Once I have a solid outline of the novel, I usually begin filling out the outline with more details. This is where I also start getting into the characters’ heads. What are their motivations. How do I flesh them out? What’s their backstory? Is there a funny line or scene I want to include? All that good stuff.

5) Write Here, Write Now

Butt in seat. Put pencil/pen to paper, type at laptop/desktop/typewriter. Just do it. Do it now. Doesn’t matter how crappy the prose is. Keep writing.  If you’re like me, it’s easy to get distracted while you’re writing—oooooh something shiny, must go look. I’m sorry, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Keep writing. If possible, discipline yourself to churn out 1500-2000 words a day. Set a time each day to write. Maybe when you wake up before you start your day before you get distracted. Just write. Also: Look Up National Novel’s Writers Month. You will thank me for it.

6) Don’t Revise While Writing The Roughdraft

Doesn’t matter how crappy the prose is. Keep writing. If you edit while you write, you’ll never get it done. Just finish it. Writing and revising is like sculpting. The first draft is the lump of clay or the block of marble. Each revision molds and chisels away the undesirables. But you can’t sculpt if you don’t have the material to work with. Just get the manuscript done.

7) This Is Where Your Fortitude Will Be Tested

At this stage, the newness of the novel idea has worn off. Doubt has seeped in and you think you’ve just made the biggest mistake ever. This is all natural. Do not fret. This is what separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. The true writers, stick it out and keep fighting for their project. They won’t abandon it. They will see it through to the end.

8 ) Keep Writing

No matter how discouraged or distracted or derailed you become. Pick up the manuscript and finish where you left off. Keep writing. The one thing you CANNOT DO is give up. Finish the manuscript. Once it’s finished, you still have a lot of work to do. And while by no means is your journey over, it’s quite an accomplishment in itself.

9) First Revision

Congrats on finishing your manuscript. You’ve got a long way to go, but already you’ve accomplished more than most.  Now is the opportunity to do your first revision and try to polish it up as much as you possibly can.

10) Beta Readers

Now comes the time to get critiques. This is where beta readers come in. Sorry, nope. Friends, families and loved ones don’t count. Unless they’re professional writers. You need readers who know their craft and have no qualms being objective in critiquing your work, telling you what parts failed and how you can do better. If you haven’t already, start looking at online writing critique groups or local ones in the area.

11) There Will Be Blood

Or at least it’ll look like it after all the red ink on the manuscript. It will hurt because you put your soul into your work only to have it ripped to shreds. Constructive critiques are like alcohol on an open wound. It will sting, it will hurt, but you’ll be better for it. Remember it’s about the work, not the writer. As long as you’re getting constructive feedback and solutions, then it’s all good.

12) You Will Be Discouraged

Especially after the critiques. Fight through it. DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!

13) Do More Revisions

After the critiques, get back to revising. With critiques, there generally is a rule. Critiques are subjective and you have to be objective in finding your voice, listening to wise advice and deciding if that advice works for the narrative. That said, if 2 or mor beta readers are raising the same point about your piece, that might be a clue that you need to address that issue.

14) The “Final” Revision

Still here? And you have a “final” revision. There may be hope for you yet. Congrats. Here’s the next phase.

15) The Submissions Process

Here’s where business begins to pick up. This is where you begin researching markets. Find out what genre your novel fits in. Who’s your market? Who’s your audience? What makes your novel stand out?

This is also where you start submissions to editors, publishers and agents.

While the internet has many wonderful things, this is one of those times where you need to go to the local bookstore and pick up one of the annual Guides To Publishers/Agents.
This is how I found my publisher. This requires a lot of work. Publishers and agents are looking for a reason NOT to read your manuscript, so you have to sell yourself in your cover letter and your prose has to be as polished as possible. You’re competing against hundreds, if not thousands. Break out the Sunday’s finest, and bring your A-game.

16) Think Big and Think Indie

Go for the big markets and land the big lucrative contracts but don’t discount the indie publishers either. Many writers start with a small indie press, build an audience, which in turn makes them more marketable for bigger presses. And with the beautiful thing is that the internet and ebooks has allowed smaller markets to gain ground and new audiences.

17) Prepare For Rejection

You will literally receive hundreds of rejections from agents and publishers. Some may have legit reasons like your novel wasn’t a fit for their company, others will be biased and unreasonable. Some just don’t even bother reading. It is what it is. Keep fighting, keep submitting. Remember, all you need is one publisher to say yes. Again, DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!!!

18) Network

Many opportunities I’ve gained were through being members of writing communities online, being friends with other writers. I did a virtual book tour to promote Hollowstone. It wouldn’t have been the success it was, if it hadn’t been for my many friends online and the wonderful blogs and websites that were gracious enough to host me.

19) Start Working On Your Next Novel

While you’re promoting the first novel, start working on the second one. At this point, your writing should improve immensely and there’s a chance that your second novel will be better and possibly find a home.  Keep at it. It may take months, even years but if you want it bad enough, it can happen. As a wise friend once told me, the ones who make it are the ones who don’t give up.

20) Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Keep doing it until you’re published. If someone had told me this six months ago, I probably would’ve laughed in their face. But this is what happened for me. There’s a lot more worth delving into but this is just as good a jump off as any. Writing is painful and often thankless work. But it’s rewarding. And it can be powerful. To publish a book is to do something that millions talk about doing but few actually do.

Good luck. And I look forward to reading your stories.

Ankh Speaks

Ankhesen Mie, author, editor, co-founder of Middlechild Press, and self described professional lunatic,just penned an awesome review of Hollowstone. So awesome in fact, this has been me for the past few days:

 

And if YOU have revieews and thoughts on Hollowstone, feel free to share them as well.

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I had the honor of being asked to do a review of Dennis R. Upkins’ debut novel Hollowstone.  This is my first ever official book review, and I was very glad it was this book, particularly because I am a huge, huge fan of this man.

Upkins tells us the story of a young nerdy black man named Noah Scott who plays the violin and goes to church (earning him the nickname “Altar Boy”).  Noah is also a brilliant student whose grades land him in a prestigious, exclusive, elitist school of spoiled, selfish rich kids who get with everything – drugs, rape, even murder.  And for Noah, what starts out as simply dealing with annoying classmates eventually turns into a literal life-and-death struggle.

At first I was surprised by the characterization of the students and the choice of setting, but then I realized it made perfect sense.  In order for Upkins to discuss issues of violence, substance, racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism, he needed a place where they constantly came to light yet often ran unchecked.  And when writing young people, Upkins often captures their voices perfectly and quite humorously.

But one of the most fascinating aspects of Upkins’ writing style is a glaring lack of filler.  It’s as though he never takes a rest; every paragraph is made to count, every chapter carries the momentum forward still.  His pacing is astounding; he keeps the reader on the edge and oblivious to the passing of twenty to thirty pages in a row.  Moreover, mystery/suspense is definitely his genre; I never ceased to be amazed at how writers like him can so definitely handle the details numerous which weave together a cleverly tangled web.

Deftly blending the realistic with the supernatural, Upkins presents a delightfully entertaining read and an overall impressive debut.

The Poppets Take On Hollowstone

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.
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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.

You’ve Now Arrived

And in more Hollowstone news, my good friend Cherie Priest, the Priestess of Steampunk and all things awesome gave yours truly and Hollowstone a plug.

[pops collar]

Also just a reminder, Holllowstone is now on Facebook. Yours truly is also on Goodreads.

So with the reviews trickling in, and I know people are finishing Hollowstone, I’m thinking of doing a Q&A session (which will be behind a cut for spoilers) where you all can ask me all the questions you’ve been dying to ask. What’s my writing process, who inspired this character, what in the hell were you thinking writing this monstrosity? So if you have questions, PM me and I can gather a list.

And speaking of reviews, I’ve got a great one from Javan Nelums:
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This is my first YA (young adult) book review, and I’m writing a review for Hollowstone. This story is written by Dennis Upkins. He’s an avid blogger at live journal, although I personally don’t agree with the topic and issues, he has proven himself as an intelligent blogger and he has posted topics ranging from comic books, representation of POC (People of Color), homosexuality and typical topics that pops up in his head.  He speaks out that  Hollowstone was released at June 8th at Amazon. In the course of two days, I’ve finished read the book.

The plot of the story:

Plot:

Noah Scott is an African American teenager that lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his grandmother. Lost his parents at a young age due to Hurricane Katrina. He gets accepted to the elite Hollowstone Boarding school. Hollowstne is a typical rich boarding school full of the rich and powerful. There Noah meets with racial and social challenges. There he meets friend and roommate Caleb Warner, kinda like a young Tony Stark without having the Iron Man Suit, a cool rebel rich dude. They share their adventures together bonding on the terms of brothers. (think Brandon Heat and Harry McDowel from Gungrave.) This peace is broken when Caleb is brutally shot. So Noah must uncover the truth behind the murder of his friend and the secrets of the school. Think of the noir films, mixed with the teen genre or I would like to call Teen Noir.

This story is good for people who like the mystery and the supernatural. Like I mention before, the story reminds me of a bit of Gungrave. Instead of the friend turn against each other, they started to have a stronger bond, although one of them dies. I’m kinda sad that the story didn’t include Personas (The Playstation Persona RPG series) or any other shounen mcgruffens. It does have a good twist and turns and visual tools to make the story come to life. I’m surprised that it’s not a comic book or Manga, though it would be best to be it’s own webcomic.

Setting:

The school Hollowstone reminds me so much of the boarding schools that we see on TV. You can picture the students in their uniforms. Hollowstone a gothic school, the teacher, and etc. Also it uses the Southern gothic culture. In fact the school itself is a character.

Character:

Nowadays, it’s rare to see a good character in the YA genre. The characters are usually mopey teen with stereotypical problems (Prom, girlfriend, social life and etc). Noah Scott is an exceptional character. He’s an honest teen at a corrupt school.  In fact he reminds me of Cole Phelps of the game LA Noire. At school he deals with classism, racism and all types of isms. Despite the hardships, Noah is not going to back down to do what is right. Caleb or Cal is Noah’s best friend and roommate. He introduces Noah to the other side of Hollowstone. Despite his laid back persona, he has a troubled past.

Overview:

Dennis Upkins tackles every subject that some people avoid to bring up in YA fiction. Such as racism, sexism, elitism, homosexuality and classism.  Now in some teen fiction, it’s typical, a white teen character with cliche problems. Mr. Upkins takes typical teen drama and turns it on it’s side. Although some of the parts I didn’t feel comfortable with, it was a good break from the norm which is rare nowadays.

So if you like some armchair mystery with a bit of supernatural, you will like this. It will tackle some issues that will make people think or get upset, which is kinda the point. The story has good pacing for those that are fast readers. I would prefer that the story would use a comic format or be an anime.

My overall rating is 8.75 out of 10.

It’s a good story, some of the characters are lively. I’m not a fan of the supernatural, but its does well with the story. It’s a bit slow, but there’s a reason for it. Also it’s good to have minority character without it being cliche (like born in the hood, selling drugs, a gangbanger and other black stereotypical cliches.) It really in your face of oppression at times, you’ll find yourself getting angry at the subject matter despite how you feel about it. So this is a good read for people who like to break away from the current YA fiction trends. So I give it a recommendation for people looking for a good read.

Also if this turn into a live movie: Get Tyler Perry or Spike Lee.

Also if you want me to give your book for a review or you just want to give me crappy books. I’m happy to do it.