Dennis R. Upkins has a new book slated for release on June 17: Hollowstone
, his debut novel of contemporary noir, paranormal, and the Southern gothic, that happens to have lead characters who are people of color and/or queer. (Now you see the link to Wonder City, right?) Today, Wonder City Stories
is privileged to be one of his stops on Denny's virtual book tour, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about Hollowstone
Jude: What's your Tweet-length blurb for Hollowstone
? I'm sure you've already got it worked out!
Denny: I think it would definitely be the opening line to Hollowstone
: Funny thing about the truth. No matter how deep you bury it, it's always there for someone else to uncover.
J: I find your choice of situating the elite boarding school of Hollowstone in the eastern Tennessee mountains interesting. Usually "elite boarding schools" are very New England, and I have to say, as someone who did spend a while living in the south, and even some time in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, it doesn't seem like a very *likely* setting for a high-class school. Was that part of why you chose it? How did Hollowstone end up where it did?
D: The location of Hollowstone was primarily influenced by my high school years as well as my college years in Chattanooga.
While in high school, my class went on a field trip to Sewanee University to hear a professor give his theories on John Wilkes Booth. Sewanee is located in this secluded area between Nashville and Chattanooga and Monteagle is between the two towns.
Chattanooga has an interesting dynamic. A small town, many of its leaders and wealthier denizens reside on Lookout and Signal mountains. And when I say wealthy, I mean old money from some prominent families. It's one of those facets about Tennessee and the South that you wouldn't know unless you lived there for extended periods of time. Not that I would advise it, especially given the state's recent not-so-veiled attacks on LGBTQs.
But on Lookout Mountain there is a prominent private school that also served as an inspiration for Hollowstone.
Also the story explores many cultural aspects of the region which it wouldn't have been able to do in New England or another region.
J: Do you feel like Hollowstone
also addresses classism as well as racism and homophobia, given that you're using an aspect of Southern life that doesn't get much traffic in the dominant American culture? Because there's a lot of classism in how Americans think of the people who live in Appalachia (not to mention the generalized classism in thinking of the South, Southern culture, and even the Southern accent).
D: Most definitely. As the story unfolds, the reader will learn that tensions are high between the students of Hollowstone and the rest of the town. Many Hollowstone students never miss a chance to terrorize the locals and they get away with it.
The story also introduces quite a few characters who live from paycheck to paycheck who have to do some unconscionable things to survive.
An essential theme throughout Hollowstone is that the laws of man don't apply to those of the elite.
J: The bigger blurb about Hollowstone
mentions the Southern Gothic as part of its feel. What other books do you think of as being Southern Gothic? I'm afraid that my mostly-Yankee brain goes straight to VC Andrews-land. :)
D: The Eden Moore series by my good friend Cherie Priest is an excellent example of Southern Gothic. If you haven't already, I highly recommend you check it out.
I would also qualify Desiree's Baby
by Kate Chopin. While the story has no supernatural elements, the horrors and realities of racism are far scarier than any fictional monster or curse.
J: The past decade has really been a sort of Renaissance for young adult literature. The fact that SF&F YA lit has opened up enough to admit a book like Hollowstone
, with a main character of color who also happens to be queer amazes me. Do you feel like you're part of the vanguard of a sort of Renaissance of the Renaissance?
D: Actually Noah isn't queer. He's straight. Though because he's a mild-mannered young man whose thoughtful and respectful, his orientation is repeatedly called into question, a lot, LOL. Neely, however, is bisexual. Though she doesn't appear until the second half of the novel (and there's a reason behind that), I would say she's the main character in Hollowstone
, after Cal and Noah. In addition there's Ryan whose storyline makes an impact on the novel. Homophobia definitely gets explored in this novel and it points out why it doesn't always get better. And you'll also see some gay characters handle business by any means necessary.
Has SF&F YA lit opened up enough to admit a book like Hollowstone
? While I'll be the first to say that YA has been traditionally been more progressive and ahead of the curve (one of the many reasons I love the genre), in regards to speculative fiction as a whole, I think books like Hollowstone
have made it in spite of the genre and the industry.
It was only last month that a New York Times bestselling author was told that her story wasn't allowed to be featured in an anthology because it featured a gay romance.
And the whitewashing of book covers featuring protagonists of color continues to be the norm. Some days, it feels like we're making progress. The others, it feels like one step forward, two steps back.
There are definitely many out there who are fighting for change in speculative fiction, and I continue to be surprised and humbled by the support and love Hollowstone
and myself continue to receive. I will also say that I've gotten a lot more support in the YA genre than I probably would have in adult spec fic.
I definitely feel there's a growing movement and a struggle for more inclusion and diversity in the media. Like many other friends and colleagues, I've been on the front lines of many of those battles. It's a fight I'm honored to be a part of.
J: Do you think that this opening-up of the YA genre builds on a similar opening-up of the adult SF&F world, or vice versa -- or are they happening at the same time?
D: It's tough to call but I certainly hope so. This is a bigoted industry that's very resistant to change and progress. I think every victory is important. I think YA has traditionally been ahead of the curve in regards to be being progressive and I would love to see it create a trend.
There are others like myself who are out there fighting for change. All the more reason why we need more stories like Geography Club
, and others like them.
Is progress really happening? I don't know. I certainly hope so. But I guess only time will tell.
And that was all the questions my brain would produce. Check out Denny's website
for links to other stops on his virtual book tour. And please support Hollowstone
if you can! I'll be demanding the book from my local bookstore ASAP.