Hollowstone: An interview with author Dennis Upkins

I’m very excited to interview author Dennis Upkins about his new novel Hollowstone as a part of his virtual book tour.  We had a great chat about Hollowstone, writing and activism and, of course, comics.  Check out Dennis insightful answers and pick up your own copy of Hollowstone.

Q:  Can you tell us briefly what Hollowstone is about?

A:  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.

Q: Most of my readers are interested in Palestine and the Middle East. Why should someone with those interests read Hollowstone?

I think good storytelling, engaging characters, a smart plot, a powerful story, all of those things are universal. One of the inspirations for Hollowstone was the Great Gatsby. Now I’m not a white male who lived during the twenties, but I was able to relate to Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby.

And I think the same applies to Hollowstone. It’s about flawed characters trying to function is a broken world. I think their journeys will be relatable to any reader, regardless of their background.

One thing storytelling has taught me time and time again is that while our cultures and customs may vary, ultimately, we as a people have far more in common than most of us realize.

Q:  Do you think that writing can be form of activism? Can storytelling help to build community and social change?

A:  Absolutely. No question about the pen truly being mightier than the sword. Whether it’s Martin Luther’s 95 Theses or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letters From A Birmingham Jail. The Diary of Anne Frank, the Harlem Renaissance, writing can reach hearts and minds in the deepest of ways. And the impact they can make can be more powerful than any weapon.

Q:  Hollowstone is full of the sort of totally awesome, powerful characters who normally aren’t represented in the media. I’m really curious about Neely Daniels, whom you’ve described as “spunky, outspoken, and not afraid to be her own woman” and “a bisexual Wiccan teen in a Southern conservative prep school, Neely is accustomed to being treated as an outcast for being true to herself.” I’ll be honest, I’m pretty excited because off the top of my head, I can’t think of another bisexual character in a YA novel. Can you tell us a little bit more about her? Did you have any trouble convincing your editors and publishers that Neely and your other queer characters were “appropriate” in a YA book?

A:  I’ve gotten so much positive feedback about Neely and I’m excited that she’s gone over well with so many readers.

While she doesn’t appear until the second half of the novel (there’s a reason for that), she’s the main character of Hollowstone, following Cal and Noah. Essentially she arrives at Hollowstone to investigate the murder of her brother. She soon finds herself teaming up with Noah to get answers in a school that would sooner keep their secrets at all cost. One thing that I think makes her appealing is that this a young woman who takes charge. She doesn’t wait on the sidelines or wait to be rescued. She saves herself and does plenty of rescuing on her own as the novel will illustrate. When it comes to stories of characters investigating/avenging the death of a loved one, the role of the investigator/avenger is usually reserved for male characters. It’s rare that female characters take point in storylines like this and it’s even rarer to have a bisexual character in media period, much less in a leading role. Neely is young woman who is force to be reckoned with in her own right. In addition to being an accomplished martial artist (which comes in handy more than once), she possesses limited psychic ability due to a near death experience at a young age. She can see the auras of others, sense supernatural fluctuations and is the only other person aside from Noah who can see Cal’s ghost.

Thankfully no convincing was necessary with my publisher (Parker Publishing) but I know that would’ve been an issue with many other publishers. In fact it was when I was making the submission rounds. Unfortunately the industry is still a very racist and homophobic one and it’s not coincidence that there’s a dearth of POC and LGBTQ-lead stories.

Parker’s tagline is Quality Fiction For Readers Of Distinction. It’s an independent publisher that celebrates black, multicultural, interracial, and multiethnic voices. With their audience, as well as their staff being primarily women of color, they understand intersectionality, just as I do being a queer person of color. They understand the importance of promoting marginalized characters in an honest and positive light.

So thankfully, that was a non-issue with them.

Q:  Hollowstone is a novel, but I know you also love comics. What’s your favorite author or series? Any love for non-fiction comics and graphic novels?

A:  You mean I have to pick just one? LOL!

X-Men will always holds a special place in my heart because it’s based on the Civil Rights movement and today it represents any type of struggle against bigotry and institutional oppression. One of the things that definitely made X-Men unique and I hope they eventually return to is that there was no hierarchy.

Before the comic devolved into The Wolverine Show & His 150 Sidekicks, every character was equally developed and anyone could take center stage with a front-burner storyline at anytime: be it Rogue and her struggles with her powers, Angel and his ongoing battles with Apocalypse, Psylocke, Bishop, etc. The diversity was also one of the key components to X-Men’s initial success in my opinion. This is the series gave us Storm, one of the most iconic characters of all time and the first lady of Marvel comics.

With the X-Men, the characters came from all walks of life and that appealed to a wide demographic of fans. There was a hero and a heroine for everyone and it worked. Excellent conscious stories, compelling characters and respect to diversity is what contributed to X-Men becoming one the best-selling comics of all time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8. Each time I get a new issue, I’m immensely giddy with excitement because I can’t wait to see where the characters are going to be taken next.

I also love the Reginald Hudlin run of the Black Panther with Shuri as the titular heroine. It’s one of the few titles which celebrates African culture/three-dimensional compelling black characters with respectability. The art is enjoyable and the stories are a perfect blend of action, adventure, fantasy and conscious social political commentary. For 15 minutes I’m taken to a world where being black isn’t a scarlet letter but a badge of honor, one of vibranium even.

Midnighter was another series I adored. And I won’t even go into my love of the Cassandra Cain run of Batgirl, less I be counting the ways for the next 10 years.

In regards to non-fiction comics, I’ve immensely been enjoying the Blue Water biography series which has done comic features on the lives of JK Rowling, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton.


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