Hollowstone Giveaway Results

The Hollowstone Giveaway over on Goodreads was a huge success.  Approximately 800 people signed up for the giveaway and over 200 people added the novel to their To-Read list.

Congrats to Lisa in Fort Worth, TX and Elizabetha in Rochester, NY. I’ll be shipping those novels out very shortly.

Congrats to the winners and thanks to everyone who participated and made the giveaway a monumental success.

50+ Awesomest LGBTQ Comic Book Characters

So with October being LGBTQ History month, I wanted to celebrate it in my own special way. Some of you may recall that last year I did a post where I celebrated the 25 Awesomest LGBTQ Characters In Comics.

The original list came about after someone linked me to a 7 Best Gay Characters In Comics list. While the list was solid, I was inspired to compose my own list of the 25 awesomest LGBTQ characters in comic books and/or comic book themed media/adaptations.

This time we’re celebrating 50+ of the most awesome characters in comic books and comic book themed media.

What makes me the most qualified to compose this list? Besides being a published novelist, a lifelong unapologetic rabid comic book fan, and this being my post and my blog, what else makes me qualified, you ask?

A few ground rules: Typically when queer people, specifically gay males express any form of opinion about their culture, depictions, representation or their mere existence, legions of mofos (usually straight and/or white, mainly white folks) will line up by the droves to talk down to them and dismiss their opinions.

Not here, not now.

This list is based on my criteria and my opinion. The next person’s mileage may vary and that’s cool. I’m not interested in being lectured and talked down to about my list.

Why? Because it’s my list. So if you don’t like my list, go make your own.

And if you love my list, go make your own anyway. No seriously, I’d be curious to see who you would include and why.

I also post this list as a resource for people who might be interested in getting in comics and looking for excellent stories featuring queer characters. I love giving recommendations

So if you want some titles to check out, get at me bro!

With it being 50+ characters, obviously there are some new players, and some major shifts in placings. Some of the rankings may surprise you. They certainly surprised me.



Shall we commence?

Continue reading

You Have Questions, I Have Answers

Just a quick reminder, I’m doing a Hollowstone Q&A for a forthcoming post and I’m still taking questions. I’ve got a lot of great ones so far and would be happy to answer them.

So if you’ve read the book and wanted to know what inspired the characters, certain storylines, ask away.

Wanna know how it feels to be a published author, ask away. Wanna know about my writing process, ask away.

Want advice on being a successful writer, ask away.

You have questions, I have answers. Comments will be screened so you can ask your questions here in private or you can pm me. Whichever you prefer.

Also, don’t forget, we have giveaways to give away.

And once again, thank you to each and every one of you for your love and support. Hollowstone has been doing really well and it wouldn’t be the success that it is, if it weren’t for you excellent peeps. Much love to all of you.

Hollowstone Giveaway

Looking for an excellent paranormal story to read for this Halloween season, how about Hollowstone?

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy, I’ve got some excellent news for you. We’re having a giveaway for Hollowstone over on Goodreads.

That’s right gang, I’m giving away two signed paperback copies and here’s your chance to grab a copy.

Synopsis: Life for Noah Scott 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.

Why should you check out Hollowstone? It’s an excellent story and it’s one of the few that features POCs and queer characters as the lead protagonists. And this weekend I spoke to one of my lovely editors at Parker who informed me that the novel is doing really well which is always awesome.

But don’t take my word for it: Here’s what some other fine folks have had to say about Hollowstone:


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Hollowstone by Dennis R. Upkins Jr.

Hollowstoneby Dennis R. Upkins Jr.

Giveaway ends October 30, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Introducing Tony B

They grow up so fast.

My awesome little cousin (well, he’s not little anymore but he’s awesome as ever), Tony B has entered the music game.

And cuz has come out swinging with “Fall,” the title track off his upcoming EP.

Anyone who’s known me for five seconds knows that I’m all about promoting and supporting quality PoC media. And when said quality media is coming from kinfolk: bonus!

So you know I’m more than proud to boost the signal with this post.

Tony is not only immensely talented but he clearly knows his craft.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out the track.

And don’t hesitate to show my cousin some love. You can find him at these haunts:

Facebook: fbook.me/tonyb
Twitter: @tonybonline
YouTube: YouTube.com/tonybvideos

Jobs Well Done


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” -Steve Jobs


As most of you are no doubt aware, yesterday we lost Apple co-founder, inventor and visionary Steve Jobs along with Civil Rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth.

This will surprise no one who has known me for over five seconds but for many decades I’ve been a diehard Apple fan. I was an Apple fan before Apple became cool. I’m the proud owner of major Apple product: iPods, iPad, iPhone, I’m even composing this post from my Macbook Pro.

A few years back, one of my counselors was gracious enough to pass me this commencement speech from Jobs. It was most inspiring and one I’ve re-read frequently over the years.
This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.


And to celebrate Jobs’s legacy, I’m reposting one of my favorite videos.


Round Table

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

Recently a group of novelists decided to have a sit-down for a round table discussion.  For months they had been discussing some of the challenges that novelists of color face in both the publishing industry as well as the media in general. In addition to race, they also tackled the intersections of gender and orientation. The writers then realized that an honest conversations on these issues was something worth sharing.

Four authors, one powerful discussion.

And here we are.

Introduction: The Players

Ankhesen Mie is an author, publisher, and self-identified “professional lunatic.” Mie is a co-founder and Director of Promotions for Middle Child Press. Her works include Violet Dusk, a poetry collection, The Woman from Cheshire Avenue, and The Velvet Hall.  She can be found tending the bar at her official website: http://www.ankhesen-mie.net, and narrating all things Blasian at the Blasian Narrative: http://blasiannarrative.blogspot.com.

Amaya Radjani is an author, editor, publisher and an educational researcher. A novelist by nature, she is a co-founder and the Creative Director of Middle Child Press. Radjani is the editor of MCP’s The Sultry Court and the author of Corruption.  She can usually be found musing in the dark on her official blog: http://www.amaya-radjani.com.

Dennis R. Upkins is a writer, digital artist and a hopeless comic book addict. His debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing this past summer. Novelist by day and nerd seraph by night, he can usually be found plotting to save the world and/or take it over on his website: http://dennisupkins.com.

Hayat Ali is an author who has amassed a loyal following.  A full-time attorney, her debut novel, The Alpha Promise, has been gaining much buzz. You can find out more about Ali and her work here:



The Roundtable

-Please introduce yourselves to those reading along.

Mie: I’m Ankhesen Mié, an Ambazonian-American author and blogger.

Ali: My name is Hayat Ali. Black woman. I’m a full time attorney struggling to become a full time writer and eventually film maker.

Radjani:  My name’s Amaya and I’m a gorgeous black woman and a prolific author.  In addition to musing in the dark, I’m an educational researcher and an editor.  I am also the Creative Director of Middle Child Press.  Some of my duties as CD include constructive and editorial assistance for new and experienced authors.

Upkins: My name is Dennis R. Upkins. I’m a digital artist, blogger and a professional author.

-How did you get into writing?

Ali: I have been writing since I was a kid. I love making up stories in my head when I played and on paper. I don’t get to finish most of them on paper but I do try. I have even written fan fiction.

Radjani:   What I am first and foremost is an author.  Storytelling is my life.  Everything else I’m doing right now is just details.  Writing has always been in me; it’s like breathing.  I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t scribbling stories once I learned to hold a pencil.  I can’t imagine my life without this gift.

Upkins: Even as a child I’ve always been passionate about storytelling. Writing is the outlet that allows me to channel that passion.

Mie: I started writing as a child.  My father says I “destroyed” (scribbled in) most of the books in his house by the age of four.  As storytelling is a very important component in pretty much every African culture, my scribbling tendencies were strongly encouraged.

-What genre(s) do you write in?

Radjani: Contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, supernatural, erotica and gothic.  I have a love of and an appreciation for dark subject matter, and in certain places, I’m known as The Goddess of Smut because I know how to write exceptional sex scenes.  Read my blog and you’ll see that for yourself.  Anyway, my work is far more than about sex, and I’m always seeking to test my boundaries and branch out into new genres.  Lately, I’ve been fascinated with monsters and demons and I know it’s only a matter of time before you’ll hear about my foray into erotic horror.  Don’t worry, I always issue proper warnings beforehand.

Upkins: YA, noir, urban fantasy, paranormal and superhero/comic book.

Mie: I write fiction, or what I call “experimental fiction.”  I try very hard to think outside the box.  To do so, I look for inspiration in unexpected places.  I believe that reading/seeing/listening to one thing and wanting to do something similar is not inspiration; it’s just imitation.  True inspiration is experience one thing and think of doing something completely different.

Ali: I write mostly sci-fi, fantasy and supernatural but with a friend I have done contemporary/romance stories. My first book [The Alpha Promise] is a vampire story. I also have a fantasy and sci-fi story I want to start.

-Are your protagonists usually POC?

Radjani: Yes.  But back when I was cutting my teeth on the writing stone, I took my infantile inspiration from what I saw on television.  Which, of course, were white people.  That era didn’t last long because 99% of my world consisted of black people, and writers typically write what they know.  I didn’t know a damn thing about white folks.

Mie: Yes, my protagonists are usually POC.  I don’t hide the fact that I have a target audience.  I don’t believe in “universal narratives” so I don’t bother trying to write them.  I write for POC, so my characters are POC.

Upkins: It’s usually 50/50 with me. It really all depends on the story. But even if characters of color aren’t the main protagonists, they definitely have vital key roles.

Ali: Yes they are primarily because in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy it usually isn’t. In fact there aren’t people of color. You only get the diversity from sci-fi by them injecting aliens, trolls whatever in it. It gets frustrating.

-Do you share the same gender/race/orientation as most of your lead characters?

Ali: Yes my main characters reflect my race and gender and that’s deliberate on my part.

Radjani: Sometimes.  Most of my protagonists are sistahs, but I have written from a male perspective.  But as I mature and develop and branch out, so do my characters.  Within the past four years, I’ve seen my characters’ sexual orientation evolve.  It’s never deliberate; my characters are real people, as far as I’m concerned, and their lives are what they are.  I have yet to write a story where a protagonist happens to have a different orientation than I do, but I know it will be soon.

Mie: I do mostly write women because I feel we’re quite shafted by media.  I recently learned that on Netflix that there’s a separate category for shows and films “with a strong female lead,” as though leading female protagonists are just some cute, quaint little novelty belonging on a shelf, preferably out of sight.

Upkins: Not necessarily.  And as a rule, generally no. The lead character may be queer and/or a POC but for the most part, you probably won’t find me writing a story about a queer black male character, simply to avoid being falsely accused of author insert.

-Has anyone falsely accused you of author insert simply because you share the same gender/race/orientation as a protagonist? I.E. she’s black, you’re black, OBVIOUSLY that’s supposed to be you.

Radjani: Don’t even get me started.  I’ve had to—and still have to—shut down many an ignorant soul. My female characters embody aspects of me and women I know, but they are never me.

Ali: No. Not yet but I’ve argued with white people about the lack of PoC in fiction and was told that I should just change the color in my mind. I find that lame. Race is a conscious choice an author makes, just like time place and setting. I want to read about a POC not just impose it on the story.

Mie: Only with my first book, Purple Jars of Rice, has anyone automatically assumed that a main character was based on me.  Because I write experimentally, and often give readers a WTF moment, they don’t usually think author insertion is involved.

Upkins: Most definitely. I’ve seen this happen to too many other writers of color. These bogus accusations are blatant attacks to undercut and discredit them from writing about the POC experience. It stems from this failed mindset that we as POC writers can’t be objective or “universal” in our storytelling. We’re not sophisticated, nuanced, or real writers.

I even had a few (read: racist white) critics make that accusation about my character Noah in Hollowstone and he’s straight and based on three high school buddies. But because he’s a black male and I’m a black male, CLEARLY that’s supposed to be me. Never mind the fact that there are white queer characters and a young black woman in the novel who I personally identify with.

If you don’t accuse Jim Butcher of author insert with Harry Dresden or George Lucas with Luke Skywalker (who Lucas has gone on record of stating that he named Luke after himself), then I don’t want to hear that BS now.

-Have you ever been treated differently because you are a POC author and/or your stories feature POC characters?

Upkins: Absolutely. I’ve had more than a few white colleagues sneer and give me the evil eye because I chose to go with an excellent black publisher and because my novel features a black co-protagonist and tackles racism. I’ve had the snide remarks along the lines of it’s a vanity publisher: Because Negroes don’t read, much less write, much less publish books with powerful stories. And if black people accomplished something that many racist white writing aspirants haven’t, then CLEARLY there’s some chicanery afoot.

Ali: No I haven’t. But people challenge me on why there is a need for POC in fiction and I find that remarkable.

Radjani: Well, that depends on what you mean by differently.  I’ve had a hard time getting published in the past, but I can’t say with any certainty that it had to do with my race or the race of my characters.  Probably, but I don’t know for sure.  I never worried about it.  I’ve spent most of my writing life in a complete void.  All of this interacting with a community of real writers is still very new to me, but welcome all the same.  It’s a beautiful thing, networking with like minds.

Mie: I have been treated differently because I’m POC and I write for POC.  I’ve made white people quite uncomfortable because once they learned this about me; they didn’t know what to say.  POCs, of course, tend to be more encouraging.

-What are the double standards you feel that POC authors have to contend with?

Mie: I’m not sure “double standard” is the appropriate term.  In my experience, there’s just been “the standard” – white, heterosexual, and infallible.  I cannot count how many times white people who learned I’m an author were quick to start rattling off what I should write, how the characters should look, etc., and then were shocked when I said, “Yeah, that’s nice…except I won’t make them white.”  And thus the uncomfortable silence followed.

Upkins: As I mentioned previously, bogus accusations or being accused of not being a “real” writer. And heaven forbid you decide to showcase any real diversity, you get accused of pushing an agenda. Or if you have a competent character of color that’s anything more than the token sidekick, then they’re a Mary Sue.

Ali: Well in some respects yes. There is an expectation that your books need to be diverse. It is assumed by some that the authors can’t tell a story that anyone can relate and read. Once there is a black character some assume it’s a black story.

Radjani: Never thought about it, honestly.  As I said before, I spent most of my writing life in a void, so I can’t speak on this.  I will say that I write what I want to write because I write for me.  If people expect me to conform to a particular standard just because, then they’re in for a hell of a surprise.

-Being a POC or for that matter a woman and/or an LGBTQ, do you feel obligated to tackle certain issues/themes/topics?

Mie:  As an African woman who supports gay and transgendered rights, yes, I feel obligated to tackle certain themes.  By I prefer to simply have characters themselves be the message, if I can.  If I write a well-adjusted, gainfully employed, educated person who is otherwise often portrayed as dysfunctional, I feel my characterization in itself is the message.

Radjani: Obligated? Not really, unless you consider real sex and food an obligation.   My characters eat and they fuck, and this is a common theme in my work.  As I said earlier, I will say that I write what I want to write because I write for me.  If I tagged myself with obligations, then I’m stifling my muse and I absolutely will not do that.  If people decide to read my work and want to come along for the ride and perhaps learn something from it, then I consider it a bonus.

Ali: Yes and no. I’m a very political animal so my stories tend to be that way. I love tackling with issues of race class gender and politics in the story.

Upkins: Because it’s very rare for a person of color to be in the position to represent our people and culture with any sense of accuracy and respect, you definitely feel obligated, I believe, to debunk stereotypes and showcase marginalized people as real organic human beings.

Some themes will naturally manifest in my narratives simply because it’s a part of my experience. Just as elements of racism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice will rarely show up in the works of many white writers because their experience is from a place of privilege where they haven’t had to contend with that in their day-to-day. Or if it is addressed, it’s often done very poorly. But believe it or not POCs and LGBTQs love escapism too. Sometimes we don’t always have to tackle racism or homophobia. Sometimes just presenting a great story that just happens to feature a woman of color or a butt-kicking gay action hero speaks volumes without even having to raise the issue.

-What has the treatment from white readers/white authors/white colleagues in the industry/fandom been like?

Ali: With The Alpha Promise? We’ll see.

Mie: My experience is that white folks want to read works about themselves.  They are especially excited if the author is POC because that offers them the role of “guide.”  They can’t wait to tell you what to do and how you should do it.  Even if you make it clear that POC are the leading characters in your work, they dismissively nod and go, “Yeah, yeah…so back to this random white character in the story.  I think they need more lines.  And bigger backstory. And a [white] love interest.”

Radjani: I believe that TPTB typically want stories by PoC authors that portray us in a negative light; i.e. “hood lit.”  Anything of quality tends to get ignored.  You’ll see all kinds of bullshit on the shelves in the “African American” section, and the themes are typically the same.  I’ve been fortunate to have sorted through the dreck and found a few good authors, but it’s a rare occurrence.  My collection leaves a lot to be desired, and that is one of the reasons Ankh and I formed MCP, to fill this void.

I’m a fanfic writer, and 99% of the time, I have no idea of what the majority race of my fan base is.  I assume they’re white; but I don’t know for sure, nor do I care.  For the most part, they’ve been decent in terms of supporting my fanfics, but considering most of the fandoms I’ve written in are lily-white, that’s easy for them to do.  I’m sure they ignore the blatant (at least I think they are) indicators that the fanfic author is a black woman, because it’s easy to do so.

Upkins: It’s been mixed for me. I’m sure as most POCs know, when you gain any modicum of success (much less publish a book), you find out very quickly who your real friends are. Since Hollowstone’s release, I’ve gotten some rebuke from bitter white peers. On the flipside, I’ve also received a lot of love and support from white readers and industry types who truly are fighting for change and progression. I’m very grateful for them and their support but at the same time, you learn quickly why things haven’t improved.

-Support for POC artists? Are audiences doing enough? Is there room for improvement?

Mie: I think we’ve developed a culture of complaining.  We’d rather complain about what’s not being done in Hollywood, rather than support, praise, and analyze what IS being done outside Hollywood.  And while we don’t realize it, we’re boycotting the wrong people.  If you’re bitching at Jay-Z or Kanye after you’ve bought their albums, and realized you’re tired of rims, hoes, and Cristal, keep in mind you’ve boycotted Asheru, whose albums cost half as much and are one hell of an investment.

When you pay $80-120/month for cable for a bunch of channels you don’t watch, where POC presence has been in decline for the last decade, you’re boycotting perfectly good web series where POC write, cast, and star in stories which relate directly to you.

We have to learn to make that correlation and hold ourselves accountable.  POC fans have got to relearn to take the initiative and do things for themselves to get what they want.

Upkins: I think Ankhesen nailed it. I was talking to a friend about this very issue and we both concurred that POCs, and we were discussing blacks specifically, have become too complacent with the status quo. Rather than demanding better, we rarely take any kind of proactive measure to improve our conditions.

For years I’ve purposely sought out media that features women, POCs, LGBTQs, the disabled and other marginalized people as the primary protagonists. I believe in voting with my dollars. And I regularly make posts, lists, and other recommendations on my blogs to provide resources for other people looking to support quality marginalized media. I was disheartened to learn that I was in the minority in doing that much. I have to admit that for so many people I encounter who cry and moan about the lack of diversity in the media, few actually bother to support it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve boosted the signal on POC media and as a result I only receive e-crickets.

I’ve seen this countless times with other POC fandom efforts. Too many POCs will rather spend money on media they despise than to actually support something that they complain about wanting more of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about an author or an artist (usually white) being racist/sexist/homophobic, but they’ll still put money in their pockets. While queer, female and storytellers of color who are trying to do something positive rarely get any love.

True change requires doing actual work and coming out of comfort zones. It means actually making the effort to be the change we wish to see in the world. But because so many people are slaves to comfort, it’s little wonder why things don’t improve.

-Tell us more about Middle Child Press and its mission statement.

Radjani: A year and a half ago, Ankhesen and I came together and formed Middle Child Press.  We needed a publisher for The Sultry Court, but current eBook publishers didn’t meet our standards.  So we formed MCP around The Sultry Court and decided to focus it on being an independent publishing house for WoC authors.  The time has come for WoC to tell our own stories: stories that run the gamut of human experience, because no one else will do it.  We don’t all write hood lit or streamlined interpretations of our culture.  We don’t all write romance or stories that paint PoC in a negative light.  The problem is that we’re rejected from the mainstream publishing world by the powers that be because we refuse to fall in line with their narrow-minded standards.  Ankhesen and I want to give WoC a chance to see their work in print, or in our case, in eBook format.  We are dedicated to MCP and we believe in this endeavor, or we would have never fronted the cash to give birth to it.

Mie: When we first got into this venture, we invested literally thousands of dollars and reached out to several female authors of color spanning multiple styles and genres.  I understood that such an endeavor takes time (and money) and I was willing to invest the necessary patience.  I still am.  I believe in what we are doing, most importantly because it’s not something I’m seeing widely done, yet is so very essential for the literary needs of the modern WoC.

Radjani:  As of right now, we have three (soon to be four) books in our E-store.  We need your help to spread the word about MCP and what it is we do.  Support us by promoting us on your blogs and websites.  Help get the word out for WoC authors who’ve faced arbitrary hurdles in trying to get published.  We believe in reciprocity; if you promote us, we’ll promote you.  If you follow us, we’ll follow you, be it through blog, Facebook, or Twitter.  It’s the way to get the word out for all PoC authors.  We’ve got to get better at supporting each other.


-Any parting shots?

Upkins: It’s obvious that we’re four authors among others who are fighting for change, fighting to have our stories shared. Why is diversity in the media so important? Because there is power in perception. Malcolm X said it best, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

If our discussion has proven anything, it’s that POCs have a host of other obstacles and challenges to contend with and there is a reason why there’s so few of us in the industry. It’s bittersweet. The fact that we have to go through so much to get our foot in the door is all the more tragic. The fact that any of us made it also makes our victory that much richer.

Reading, Writing, And Musing In The Dark

A few writing posts that are definitely worth checking out:

My good friend Amaya Radjani has a new book out entitled Corruption. She discusses that and her experiences in becoming an author a co-founding an independent press.

An excellent post on the importance of POCs pooling their resources and supporting each other in the media.

And people, I can’t stress this enough. Reading is truly fundamental. It really is. ESPECIALLY, if you’re aspiring to be a writer. Talented author Pauline Trent comes out swinging with the cluebat here. YOU READ NOW!!!!!