Meet our new Underlord: Dennis Upkins!
Dennis R. Upkins joined the Literary Underworld this spring, diving into the deep end (almost literally) by joining the crew for the chaos at Midsouthcon in Memphis. Dennis is a proud Atlanta, Ga. native. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling.
In 2011, his debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing. His sophomore title, West of Sunset, was released by Parker Publishing in 2014. Upkins has also worked as a freelance artist and digital photographer. His artwork and short stories have appeared in Drops of Crimson, Sniplits and a number of other publications.
Upkins regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media and has served as a contributor for Ars Marginal, Black Girl Dangerous, Prism Comics, Nashville Geek Life and Comicbook.com.
In an effort to help enlighten society about the cultures of the African diaspora and promote a more accurate and positive image, Upkins launched the Black Folks Being Awesome initiative in 2013.
When he's not out saving the world and/or taking it over in his spare time, Upkins' hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, cosplay, rollerblading, martial arts, and of course, writing.
What inspired the idea for your current project??
There were a lot of factors.
I had been growing frustrated with the lack of diversity in speculative fiction. More than that, I was seeing too many people only paying lip service to it.
For the last year, I’ve adhered to a personal mandate to start producing more stories that feature LGBTQ and/or protagonists of color as the primary or central characters. I also wanted to write a story that celebrated heroes of color, specifically black protagonists. I wasn’t seeing enough good stuff out there and I definitely wanted to do my part to improve things. Particularly I’ve been wanting to write an action hero who happens to be gay. One who debunks many of the homophobic tropes and stereotypes that often inundates stories with gay leads.
While I love my debut novel Hollowstone and I’m proud of its success, it was a very dark and heavy story that tackled some serious issues, so I wanted something lighter and fun for my sophomore outing for the sake of my mental health. And nothing inspires novels like vacations with your best friend.
It ultimately goes back to the famous quote by the amazing Toni Morrison: “If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
And as the kids say in this day and age, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!!!!!!
Who are your favorite writers?
Joss Whedon, hands down. Perhaps my biggest influence, he’s been an absolute game changer for speculative fiction and entertainment in general and continues to redefine the standard of excellence. Shonda Rhimes is another incredible writer. What makes her unique is that she can create complex multifaceted protagonists and she can build them up without undercutting her other characters. Her commitment to diversity is an inspiration. Speaking of inspirations as a writer and an extraordinary human being: J.K. Rowling. My other faves include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bruce Timm, Michael Turner, Dwayne McDuffie, and my friends, Cherie Priest, Gail Simone and the late Perry Moore.
Do you listen to music when you write?
One of my rituals before starting a story or while writing one is composing a soundtrack from my iTunes library. Despite the fact that I can’t play an instrument to save my life, I love music.
Music can often convey ideas, emotional content, and stories when even words fail. In fact, one of the inspirations behind West of Sunset, is The Smithereens’ classic track, The Last Good Time.
How do you balance being a writer with your day job/family/secret identity as a superhero?
It’s definitely not easy. Effective time management is an essential discipline to master for any serious artist. I’ve also found keeping a secret identity helps matters as well. Most people I encounter in 3D space aren’t aware that I’m a comic book nerd, let alone a novelist. That’s led to some surreal situations dating-wise, specifically when it comes to bringing a guy back to my place. More than a few times, a guy will see the bookshelf, that’s filled with texts, graphic novels, and then a few will see my name on Hollowstone or West of Sunset. You would’ve thought I brought them back to the Fortress of Solitude or the Batcave, the way they reacted. It’s usually then in pure Clark Kent fashion, I remove my glasses and confess to them a very important secret. By day I’m a mild-mannered office worker, but I lead a double life as a published spec-fic novelist.
Do you ever read your own books? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Not just my own books but short stories, blog posts, social media updates, magazine interviews. If an “auteur” is serious about their art and their brand, they’re going to analyze and critique their work. What aspects of my storytelling really connects with audiences and what do I need to develop? What are my strengths and what are my areas of opportunities? But yes, I do enjoy reading my books because they are well-written, great works of art, and immensely entertaining in my humble, objective and most unbiased opinion. ;-)