A Special Tribute To Toni Morrison

So last week Literary Phenom, Nobel Prize Winner, and Black Excellence Personified Toni Morrison celebrated her 85th birthday.

This woman has been a guiding light for me both as a speculative fiction author and as a human being.

Morrison is one of the catalysts in both Hollowstone and West of Sunset becoming a reality.

Case in point:

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And The Nominee Is…..

West of Sunset Profile Pic

With October being LGBTQ History month as well as #BlackSpeculativeFictionMonth, the following news seems almost provident.

My sophomore novel, West of Sunset, has been nominated for 2015 Gaylactic Spectrum Award in the best novel category. I’m immensely humbled by this honor. It’s wonderful to be reminded that if you’re willing to dream and put in the work, opportunities manifest as a result.

This year alone, I’ve been reminded that marginalized voices are needed in speculative fiction and the media in general, now more than ever.  So by sharing this announcement, hopefully I’ll inspire my fellow PoC and LGBTQ storytellers to share their gifts with the world.

West of Sunset is a superhero and urban fantasy. In two action adventures, the world is introduced to Brecken Everett, an overachieving college wizard who moonlights as a private investigator.

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#ICapeForBlackWomen: West of Sunset, My Love Letter To Black Women

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES

(Originally published on Black Girl Nerds)

When my debut novel, Hollowstone, was released a few years back, I had no idea how far the rabbit hole would go. What began as me publishing a YA novel that I completed during my inaugural NaNoWriMo challenge has resulted in endless opportunities (such as writing for Black Girl Nerds). It’s also sparked some most excellent discussions on diversity: race, LGBTQ, and gender.

I couldn’t be more humbled and honored.

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Looking back, there was one thing I found to be a bit unsettling. Whenever white feminists commented on the female players of Hollowstone, they discussed (and praised) Neely at length. Understandable, given that she was a universal fan-favorite. While Abigail, and Brianna were examined, I noticed Cassidy and Ruby were ignored. This bothered me. Brianna was only in the first half of the novel as opposed to Cass and Ruby who were main players that appear throughout the entire novel.

The difference is that both Cassidy and Ruby are Black women.

On the flipside when women of color reviewed the novel, they had thoughtful insights to share on all of the ladies and the rest of the cast.

While unsettled, I wasn’t surprised. You see too often when the discussion of feminism arises, white is unconsciously (and often consciously) considered the default ethnicity. Just as white is considered the default on the LGBTQ front.

This is why many women of color identify as womanists and why many Black queers identify as same gender loving and we’ve established our own initiatives.  It’s for the same reason why #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen are still very relevant hashtags.

Enter my sophomore novel, West of Sunset:

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For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, hes working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forces. In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when hes at his best. In Keepers, Brecken is enlisted to aid twins Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; the last Pyrians, the last of an ancient race. The Brothers Phoenix are on a quest to uncover clues to their past. When they find a lost relic, a pair of demons arrive to claim it. With Breckens aid, the twins are determined to not only stop the threat, but have some fun in the process. 

The second half, eponymously titled West of Sunset takes place a year after Keepers. Brecken  simply wants to get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend Owen, they plan a vacation of surf, sun, partying and relaxation. That is until the boys stumble upon a museum heist connected to a biker gang of vampires with plans to raise a most dark power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and powerful witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent force, and a vampire biker gangeven Breckens vacations are another day at the office.

For my second book, I had a few objectives I wanted to achieve. Among them, the novel would revolve around a gay action hero in Everett and the female leads would be Black women.

Too often in speculative fiction and media in general I’ve witnessed extraordinary characters of color be sidelined, shortchanged, and diminished for mediocre white protagonists. Tara Thornton, Monica Dawson, Storm, Bonnie Bennett and Dr. Martha Jones, have all been victims of this.

Not only did I want West of Sunset to be an opportunity to avenge those slighted heroines, but to also celebrate Black excellence through Everett, the angelic soldier Nemesis, and the witches/demon huntresses, Shayna and Violet. In my universe, characters are welcome as illustrated here.

These amazing heroines are not only a tribute to incredible Black women who have been a part of my journey shaping me into the man I am today but it’s also a tribute to Storm, Kendra, Cyndi Mayweather, and a few of the diamonds showcased here.

Here’s hoping I did these legends justice. Here’s hoping I added a few legends to the list as well.

West of Sunset Profile Pic

Putting Faith To Purpose: An Origin Story

Originally published on The Nerds of Color

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A great visionary by the name of Cindi Mayweather once said, “Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable. I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness.”

My name is Dennis R. Upkins. I’m a speculative fiction author who writes urban fantasy, YA, and superhero fantasy. Storytelling has always been my calling, but sometimes fate has to put you on the path. The key is to be astute when the signs present themselves.

It was two years ago and I had a homecoming of sorts as I was back in Atlanta for Gaylaxicon/Outlantacon. The con was a smashing success but that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected however was the revelation I would receive repeatedly throughout the weekend.

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West of Sunset: My Love Letter To Black Women and Other Women of Color

West of Sunset Profile Pic

Recently I had the honor of penning a guest post for the exquisite ladies at Black Girl Nerds.

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When my debut novel, Hollowstone, was released a few years back, I had no idea how far the rabbit hole would go. What began as me publishing a YA novel that I completed during my inaugural NaNoWriMo challenge has resulted in endless opportunities (such as writing for Black Girl Nerds). It’s also sparked some most excellent discussions on diversity: race, LGBTQ, and gender.

I couldn’t be more humbled and honored.

Looking back, there was one thing I found to be a bit unsettling. Whenever white feminists commented on the female players of Hollowstone, they discussed (and praised) Neely at length. Understandable, given that she was a universal fan-favorite. While Abigail, and Brianna were examined, I noticed Cassidy and Ruby were ignored. This bothered me. Brianna was only in the first half of the novel as opposed to Cass and Ruby who were main players that appear throughout the entire novel.

The difference is that both Cassidy and Ruby are Black women.

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