A second chance at a Cold Run

What does it mean when your so-called new book launch is actually a second chance at life?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially as I work my way through finishing the book series I contracted last year with Falstaff Books. Cold Run, Book 1 of the Rick Keller Project, is a werewolf secret agent novel that tells the story of Rick Keller, a wolf without a pack, a soldier without a country, a wanderer who searches for someplace to call home.

Falstaff Books released Cold Run on Dec. 8, 2022, but it wasn’t the first time the novel had ever been launched into the world. I’d originally written it for NaNoWriMo in 2011, although the idea for the novel came around even earlier than that.

The book, which I hadn’t even considered expanding into a series at the time I wrote it, grew out of a book, Naming the World. My writing group in Texas was working its way through the various prompts and practical exercises contained in NtW, and I had chosen to write about a dark place on a snowy night off a narrow trail in the wilds of Vermont. As I imagined this place and started concentrating on the details that would bring it to life, I saw a wolf running along the path, pursued by men with silver weapons, sprinting for sanctuary under the full moon.

As the writing exercises evolved into a novel idea, and the idea evolved into an extremely rudimentary outline, and the outline served as the basis for the mad dash that is NaNoWriMo, I began to think about publication. For the next two years after I wrote it, I workshopped, revised, workshopped, and revised again. I continued to grow as a writer, and eventually conceived of an entire trilogy around this character of Rick Keller, secret agent werewolf; his partner, former Army psychological operations officer Karen Willet, Ph.D.; and their run-ins with the agency he used to work for, MONIKER.

When I was finally satisfied with the book, I submitted it to a few agents and editors. A small publishing house by the name of Untold Press picked it up and offered me a chance to get it published. And then I wrote another novel, and a novella and a reader magnet, which they also sent out into the world. I personally made a lot of mistakes and did eventually end up asking for and readily receiving my rights back to the books. However, I don’t regret this experience. I learned a lot from it, and when it came time to decide how I wanted to publish other writing, or to coach others’ in their writing journey, the lessons became that many more tools in my writing and coaching toolbox.

Instead of publishing right away, I decided that I was going to rapid-release them all, and also that Winter Run, the fourth book, would be the last in the series.

Deciding to indie publish is a route that can be fraught with, if not danger, then a lot of frustration and head-desk contact. The stereotype of the writer who drinks is often based in reality. Let me tell you, the writer who is publishing herself, and also running an indie publishing company (because of course, launching an indie horror micropress in the middle of plague times was a great idea! For more on that, check out Crone Girls Press,) that writer/editor/publisher is going to keep the package good store in good standing.

At one point, I ran up against a roadblock that was going to take a good deal of time, effort, and likely money to fix. I headed over to my current writing group, The Writing Tribe, and with sorrow in my heart, I vented my frustration and asked the universe (and my fellow writers) if this was worth it. Not writing, in general. This werewolf secret agent series in particular.

I don’t have an answer yet to that question. And when I do formulate that answer, I’ll be taking my publisher’s concerns into the equation. But I will say this.

When you get a second chance to return to a character, a book, or a series that you have put a lot of yourself into, and that you still believe in, you sometimes just have to take a chance and kick your imposter syndrome to the curb, along with your inner editor who can’t believe that you’re allowing you early writing back out into the world. I did do some updates and revisions to Cold Run, based on my growth as a writer, and my new understanding of craft and how to structure a novel. I have also been working on a series arc in addition to the other novels in the series (four? Ha! It’s going to be five books long now, and I have so many ideas for short stories in the universe.)

The decision to go with a publisher or head down the indie route can be a hard one, especially with a project that you’ve already tried and not quite met with the success you hoped. But it you have a publisher who believes in you, and who says things like, “I can’t wait to have this book on my table” or “Rick Keller reminds me of Joe Ledger,” then it becomes easier to take a leap of faith and get back to writing. (Also, if you sign the contract, you’re obligated to do so, and therefore I should probably wrap this up and get back to work.)

Thanks to John Hartness and Falstaff Books for giving Rick Keller and company a new lease on life, and thanks to the readers, old and new, who have grabbed a copy and are coming along on the ride.


Richard Keller wanted nothing more than to watch the world go by from his isolated home in Vermont. Life on the other hand had other plans. Kidnapped by his former employers, the covert government organization MONIKER. Richard is forced to suit up once more and use his supernatural abilities in an effort to save kidnapped victims.

However, not all is as it seems with MONIKER, and Keller is going to need all of his wits and strength if he is to return to some semblance of his normal life.

The hunter is about to become the hunted.

Rachel A. Brune graduated from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in May 2000, and was immediately plunged into the low-stakes world of entry-level executive assistant-ship. Her unexpected journey out of that world and into the military is chronicled in her self-published book Echoes and Premonitions. After five years as a combat journalist, including two tours in Iraq, and a brief stint as a columnist for her hometown newspaper, she attended graduate school at the University at Albany in NY, where she earned her MA in Political Communication, and her commission as a second lieutenant in the military police corps. Although her day job has taken in her in many strange, often twisted directions, Rachel continues to write and publish short fiction. She released her first novel in early 2013. She blogs her thoughts about reading and the writing life at http://www.infamous-scribbler.com.

We hope to have Cold Run in the Literary Underworld soon! In the meantime, catch it on Amazon where it is available on Kindle Unlimited. 

Going wide

By Silke Campion

In 2021, I started a new pen name in a different niche of romance than where I’d previously published. The old name wasn’t getting any traction, the brand was a muddied mess, and I needed a fresh start.

It was also past time that I put some of my years of accumulated knowledge of marketing and writing to work for me. Enter Silke Campion, writer of short, hot instalove romance. There was an established niche for the kind of stories I wanted to write and (this is key) I really enjoyed writing and reading these short novellas. They provided the quick endorphin hit that many readers needed, especially post-2020.

I quickly wrote and published a reader magnet plus seven novellas around 20K each that I put into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. All my market research indicated that KU was absolutely the right move for someone starting out in this niche, and many of my colleagues quickly populated my also-boughts. The readers had found me.

In 2022, I slowed down quite a bit and only published three novellas, all part of multi-author collaborations. Remarkably, my income increased slightly! Most of it came from my backlist, and my readership was split about 60/40 with the majority coming from KU page reads versus outright purchases.

I’d toyed with the idea of going wide because at the same time as I was succeeding, I also knew several well-established authors who had suddenly seen their Amazon accounts locked (some of them irreversibly) for no discernible reason. If they were all in with KU, that was it. They were sunk. Some of them scrambled to publish their work elsewhere and some of them had had enough of the publishing game and just quit. I cannot blame them at all. The devastation they must have felt haunts me.

On Dec 31, 2022, I went to bed, satisfied in the knowledge that my estimated royalties for the year were in a comfortable place.

On Jan 1, 2023, 30 percent of my income from the previous year was nowhere to be found. Surely, I thought, this is a glitch. The software was stuck somewhere along the line and in a couple of hours, all would be right again.

Reader, it was not a glitch.

Trying to downplay my panic, I scrolled through FB groups and Discord servers to see if anyone else was experiencing the same thing. What I found horrified me.

Occasionally, Amazon will decide that too many of an author’s page reads came from bots and strip half of them away. Since KU represented about 60 percent of my income, the amount I’d lost in a blink was an accurate representation of that math.

Remember Hades’ flaming blue hair from the Disney movie “Hercules”?

That was me.

To make an already long story marginally shorter, I got lucky. I emailed Amazon a polite, but tersely worded note requesting a review and reinstatement of my earnings. While their reply was the usual CYA “there’s nothing wrong here,” my page reads were returned to their previous numbers over the next 24 hours.

I repeat: I. Got. Lucky. There was no reason for them to even blink in my direction, but somehow, it worked out.

However, I’d come too close to losing it all. So this is my year to go wide.

The Facebook group, “Wide For the Win” has been invaluable in my research. I found knowledge and techniques that will help me move all my books over later this spring, tips to help me let my readers know what’s going on, and best practices for using aggregators or going direct to different vendors.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. I’d already planned to do some reformatting, updating backmatter and keywords, and refreshing blurbs, but this has put those plans into high gear as I prepare to publish my backlist to all vendors in the best way possible to pave the way for the new series I’m writing and plan to publish wide from the start.

A few years ago when I started self-publishing under my old pen name, I had already set up accounts at various vendors, plus Draft2Digital. Establishing a new pen name with those accounts has been one of the simpler tasks, but at least I’m not starting from scratch.

One of the things I’m prepared for is a dip in income. Hopefully, releasing new work as I debut my backlist will mitigate those losses, but the one thing everyone has said is that it takes time to build a readership on other vendors, which makes sense. As far as Kobo or Barnes and Noble or Apple readers are concerned, I’m coming out of nowhere. But it’s a mountain I’m willing to climb, rather than play a constant game of “the floor is lava” with Amazon.

hope to come back next year with news that everything has gone well and I’m now purchasing a private island with my income. Or at least I’m keeping my head above water as I dog-paddle forward.

As an endnote, I’d like to say that, despite all the Zon’s shenanigans, my KU strategy worked. It got new stories from a new writer in front of thousands of people, and I profited from it. In fact, I’d still recommend it as a short-term strategy to use their algorithm of rapid releases and build backlist quickly. But I don’t think the center will hold for everyone, so stay on your toes and always have an exit plan.

Good writing!

 

Silke Campion writes hot, flirty, sweet and dirty romances featuring heroes who will gladly take control to ensure their heroines get their Happy Ever After. She’s been married to her own military hero for over twenty-five years, living and loving through dozens of cross-country and international moves with their two children and a menagerie of dogs and cats. Now they’re settled back in the U.S. where — when she’s not head-down writing — she contemplates the serious issues of what to make for dinner with the ridiculous amount of basil she grows in her herb garden, what cocktail will go with it, and what cross-stitch project she’s starting next. She also writes paranormal and sci-fi romance as Sela Carsen.

Find out more at https://www.silkecampion.com/

 

 

It’s Black Friday!

If you’re like us here at LitUnd Towers, you really prefer doing Black Friday from your couch, watching silly movies and drinking cocoa. Fortunately, we are all set up to help you get your shopping done without leaving that wonderful couch!

We have a few suggestions for your list. (You thought we might.) There’s some terrific ideas below, and some really awesome specials from our authors! Remember that when you buy from Literary Underworld, you are buying from the authors and small presses directly, so they will get to keep much more of the sale price. Every little bit helps your favorite author keep creating those fascinating new worlds.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Literary Underworld!

On Sale!

Get three Nick Rowan titles in ebook for only $10!

Buy any of the Eight Thones series by Angelia Sparrow and get a free PDF of short stories in that universe! No codes or minimums required. Check out Master Anton, Anthony Reprobate, Nikolai Revenant or Glad Hands to get your free extras! Or get the entire series for $40 here!

All Crone Girls Press titles are 10 percent off for the holiday season! 

If you buy Wild Hunt by Nick Rowan, you’ll get a free PDF of DJ Admire stories including “By the Fire with Care”!

It’s 10 percent off all Elizabeth Donald titles for the holiday season! No code needed!

For the romance fan…

Heart of the Beast by Jim D. Gillentine ($20) tells the story of Andrew, a man with a beastly secret, and his horrifying journey with his love Angela from the dark streets of Memphis to the cold reaches of Alaska, from faraway places to deep within each other’s souls, seeking peace and freedom to love one another – if only the world would let them.

The Carolina Wolf box set by Sela Carsen ($7) combines Carolina Wolf and Carolina Pearl, two tales of werewolves and true love in South Carolina. Whoever said there were no wolves in South Carolina lied. Put a little grrrrl power into your romp in the swamp this holiday season!

Silke Campion’s sexy new Brothers in Arms series can be yours for only $35! Hot, flirty, sweet and dirty, there’s no slow-burning angst here; just a steamy, quickly flourishing devoted love that gets right to the heat. Not ready to commit to a whole series? Each title is only $5 – for the paperback! Check it out here!

For the fantasy fan…

Born of Swords by Steven L. Shrewsbury. Interviewing Gorias La Gaul is a dream come true for young scribe Jessica. Unfortunately for Jessica, she’s found Gorias in the midst of an annual pilgrimage of sorts, and though he agrees to let her come along, it’s not without a warning: You may not like what you see and hear. Whether viewing past visions with magical gemstones or jumping into the fray alongside the barbarian, Jessica’s about to get firsthand accounts she won’t soon forget…and discover legends are far from reality, and just as far from being pretty. For most men, the future is not certain and the past is prologue.

Wild Hunt by Nick Rowan ($10). When the Preternatural and Magical Squadron dumps an ugly batch of child serial murders into her lap, DJ Admire has a few weeks to find the killer before the next victims are found dead in their own little beds.

On the Nightside of Memphis, few things are as they seem and even allies have their own agendas. And DJ has no magic, just a Desert Eagle and an ongoing romance with Captain Morgan and Admiral Nelson…

Buy this book during the 2022 holiday season and get a free PDF of DJ Admire short stories FREE!

For the weird Western fan…

Mojo Hand by Steven L. Shrewsbury ($15) After a gun battle in an 1884 Peoria cathouse, one-armed ex-Confederate guerrilla Joel Stuart finds himself at odds with dire magical forces. He runs headfirst into an army of the undead, a demon guard, the persona of African god Damballah, and even finds himself beneath the lid of a coffin.

The Alamo and Zombies by Jean A. Stuntz ($5) is exactly what it says! Zombies at the Alamo, what else could you want?

For the horror fan…

Nocturne Infernum by Elizabeth Donald ($20) compiles the three books of the Nocturnal Urges series into one volume filled with heat, horror and intrigue. In this alternate Memphis, vampires are a dark underclass whose bite offers pleasure and pain in one sweet kiss. Humans take advantage of the pleasures vampires can provide, but call them friends? Lovers? The strain between human and vampire grows as death rises in the streets…

The Dark Walk Forward by John McFarland ($12). The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure. An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge. A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find. John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into these sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales.

Stories We Tell After Midnight ($10). Here, the shadows keep their secrets and the moon hides from deeds cast in her glow. In this collection, the Fae walk as human, the dead burn with their anger at the living, the creatures that live in the dark places of the wrong zip code creep out of the shadows and into the kitchen. And all Crone Girls Press books are 10 percent off for the holidays!

For the sci-fi fan…

Dream of the Navigator by Stephen Zimmer. For most, virtual realms, substances, and entertainment provide escapes, but for Haven, Cayden, Jaelynn, and Salvador, growing up in Technate 6 is a restless existence. A hunger for something more gnaws inside each of them. Discoveries await that open the gates to transcend time and space, and even new planes of existence. Nothing in their universe, or others, is impossible to explore.

Ace’s Odds by Sela Carsen ($10). Mkhai is a former soldier in debt to the mob boss who runs a glitzy, glamorous space station casino hiding a dark underworld. The only hand he’s got left to play is getting the mob boss’s daughter off the station… but Silbe is no pampered princess, even if her father is one of the most feared men in the galaxy. Embroiled in a desperate scheme to keep her family safe, Silbe must team up with a roguish smuggler who makes her want to bet on him with everything she’s got.

For the YA reader…

Moonblood by T.W. Fendley. ($12) Who wants to live a century before seeing the outside world? Not Ariadne. Restless and idealistic, the young immortal sneaks out of the Eves’ secret compound and finds the outside world more dangerous than she could have imagined. Cut off from her own kind and hunted by mortals, she is forced to hide among the Adams, the immortal sons born of her sisters. But the Adams have sinister plans of their own. Ariadne must find a way to stop them, even if it means sacrificing her immortal life.

The Boxcar Baby by J.L. Mulvihill ($15) is the first book of the Steel Roots series. Born in a boxcar on a train bound for Georgia. At least, that is what Papa Steel always told AB’Gale. But now, fifteen years later, the man who adopted and raised her as his own is missing and it’s up to AB’Gale to find him. (Or splurge on the whole series for $40!)

For something shorter….

Setting Suns: Anniversary Edition by Elizabeth Donald brings a new look to her first collection, including a new story, new afterward and more.

A nightmarish fun house turned deadly.
A couple trapped in a futile journey through time.
A single baleful eye watching from the deep.
An assassin waiting in a snow-covered tree.
A toy that seems to have a life of its own.
A pair of soldiers trapped between death and something worse.
A tenebrous hand reaching out of the shadows.
These are the award-winning tales and terrors of Elizabeth Donald, writer of things that go chomp in the night. This new anniversary edition is being released 20 years after the first story was published, now including a bonus short story and the author’s reflections on twenty years of twilight tales.
In that space between evening and nightfall, between consciousness and sleep, the moment when the light fades and the shadows take over… These are the lands of the Setting Suns.

Side Roads by Rachel Brune is a Crone Girls Press title, and thus is 10 percent off this season. Clockwork fairies, arachnid mothers, the Carnival Ghost…
The stories gathered here take the reader on a winding trip down a darkened road as the battery in your phone slowly dies. The threads of this collection weave a tale of wrong turns in the early morning hours, of faded photographs that don’t quite fit one’s memory, of dying monarchs and has-been superheroes. In these pages, you will find the eerie, the grim, and the lost souls that wander the gloom. These stories were born of dark nights and cold drives and the certain knowledge that, as winter sets in and the nights grow longer, there’s more out there in the darkness than the shadows let on…

New from Crone Girls Press…. an anthology for a cause.

A Woman Unbecoming, ed. by Rachel Brune and Carol Gyzander. Crone Girls Press presents A Woman Unbecoming, a charity anthology of horror and dark tales to benefit reproductive healthcare rights. Award-winning and up-and-coming authors share over two dozen stories and poems. If you like intense characters, powerful women, and twists you won’t see coming, then you’ll love this fierce anthology co-edited by Rachel A. Brune and Carol Gyzander. Explore AWoman Unbecoming to revel in women’s rage, power, and agency—and support reproductive healthcare rights today. Stories and Poems By: Marc Abbott, Linda Addison, Alp Beck, Carina Bissett, Rachel Brune, Paige L. Christie, Ravyn Crescent, Elizabeth Davis, Angela Giddings, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Teel James Glenn, Carol Gyzander, CM Harris, Nicole Henning, Darin Kennedy, DeAnna Knippling, Tara Laskowski, Lee Murray, Bridgett Nelson, Jennifer Nestojko, Jessica Nettles, Christina Nordlander, Cindy O’Quinn & Patricia Gomes, Cristel Orrand, Jude Reid, Mike Robinson, Kathleen Scheiner, Jeff Strand, Anna Taborska, Steven Van Patten, Holly Lyn Walrath, Michael G. Williams, and Jeff Wood.

All Crone Girls Press books are 10 percent off for the 2022 Holiday Season!

For the artist….

A handmade leather mask is the perfect stocking stuffer for the cosplayer on your list! Branson’s General Store has a variety of colors in the simple $5 design, so be sure to indicate your preferred colors in your order!

Like what you’ve seen from photographer artist Elizabeth Donald? Order any size poster or print at elizabethdonaldphotography.com!

A special note of thank you

The authors and artists of the Literary Underworld and all those whose livelihood depended on the cons and book fairs and other gatherings that were canceled by the pandemic are very grateful for your continued support. As we celebrate this holiday season in this time of recovery, we hope for a happier, safer and more prosperous year for everyone.

Stay safe out there, and we will all see each other again soon.

 

You read all the way to the end!
Use the code BF2022 to get a discount on your purchase!

Her Royal Majesty Alethea Kontis!

The Literary Underworld is delighted to offer a limited selection of titles from our longtime friend Alethea Kontis, New York Times bestseller, princess and storm chaser. Her Majesty has written more than 20 books and 50 short stories, including the wildly popular AlphaOops! children’s series. Alethea has received the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and is a two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award.

Also, she chases storms. She’s just that awesome.

Below are the Alethea Kontis titles temporarily available at the Literary Underworld, online and at our booths at the fall conventions. When they’re gone they’re gone, so move fast!

BEAUTY AND DYNAMITE

Once upon a time, a young girl walked into a world of wonder and delight. But that’s not where this story starts.

The young woman she became published a nationally recognized children’s book and edited a star-filled collection of stories to benefit the tsunami relief effort. But that’s not where this story ends.

Meet Alethea Kontis, a self-proclaimed Genre Chick whose life is an adventure that tears through these pages like a hurricane. Carrot-a-day cancer cures and Murphy as a guardian angel (yes, that Murphy, the guy with all those irritating laws) are just a part of the daily routine for the Incredible Whirlwind of Beauty and Dynamite, the force of nature masquerading in human form.

Through essays, poetry, and commentary from family, friends, and famous authors alike, a world of Blood Oaths and road trips, broken hearts and mended cars, comes alive with the strength of one woman’s conviction that the world is there to be befriended.

You have now been introduced.

Let your adventure begin.

 

ENCHANTED

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

 

HERO

Rough and tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?”

As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.

 

DARK HUNTER COMPANION

with Sherrilyn Kenyon

Consider this handbook your education. Hunter 101. And don’t go thinking you got off easy just because there’s not a pop quiz at the end. This is the good stuff. The real deal. In here you’ll find out all there is to know about being a Dark-Hunter.

Now for the disclaimer: This book is mutable. It goes with the wind. It changes more often than the mind of a sixteen-year-old Gemini with a closet full of clothes and a date in an hour. Don’t be surprised if you open it up for the thirty-five thousandth time and find something old, something new, something borrowed or. . .well you get the point.

Curl up in a comfy chair with some millennium-old scotch and feast upon the informative banquet I have prepared for your enjoyment.

Welcome to your new life.

 

ZERO GRAVITY

Alva J. Roberts, ed.

This short story collection features thirteen fantastic adventures set in the cold vacuum of space. Read about rogues, scoundrels, aliens, robots, heroes, junkers and priests as you explore the rich and creative diversity of the following stories: “Junker’s Fancy” By Rosemary Jones, “Leech Run” By Scott W. Baker, “A Space Romance” By Paul A. Freeman, “Hawking’s Caution” By Mark Rivett, “Parhelion” By David Schembri, “To Stand Among Kings” By Kenneth Mark Hoover, “The Unicorn Tree” By Alethea Kontis, “The Beacon of Hope” By Gregory L Norris, “Tangwen’s Last Heist” By C.B. Calsing, “The Stand-Ins” By Gef Fox, “Glacier Castle” By Will Morton, “Rescue” By Margaret Karmazin, and “At One Stride Comes the Dark” By Murray Leeder.

 

DARK FAITH

Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, eds.

Some of the genre’s top authors and most promising newcomers whisper horror tales that creep through the mists at night to rattle your soul. Step beyond salvation and damnation in this intense horror and dark fantasy anthology containing thirty stories and poems that reveal the darkness beneath belief. Place your faith in that darkness; it’s always there, just beyond the light.

Experience the spiritual side of the zombie apocalypse in “The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” and transcend both hell and nirvana in “Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation.” Look into “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King” to find the beautiful brutality written in the moment of epiphany or “Go and Tell it On the Mountain,” where Jesus Christ awaits your last plea to enter heaven—if there is a heaven to enter when all is said and done.

Contains the following stories and poems:

  • “The Story of Belief-Non” by Linda D. Addison (poem)
  • “Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland
  • “I Sing a New Psalm” by Brian Keene
  • “He Who Would Not Bow” by Wrath James White
  • “Zen and the Art of Gordon Dratch’s Damnation” by Douglas F. Warrick
  • “Go and Tell It on the Mountain” by Kyle S. Johnson
  • “Different from Other Nights” by Eliyanna Kaiser
  • “Lilith” by Rain Graves (poem)
  • “The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ” by Nick Mamatas
  • “To the Jerusalem Crater” by Lavie Tidhar
  • “Chimeras & Grotesqueries” by Matt Cardin
  • “You Dream” by Ekaterina Sedia
  • “Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes” by Jay Lake
  • “The Mad Eyes of the Heron King” by Richard Dansky
  • “Paint Box, Puzzle Box” by D.T. Friedman
  • “A Loss For Words” by J. C. Hay
  • “Scrawl” by Tom Piccirilli
  • “C{her}ry Carvings” by Jennifer Baumgartner (poem)
  • “Good Enough” by Kelli Dunlap
  • “First Communions” by Geoffrey Girard
  • “The God of Last Moments” by Alethea Kontis
  • “Ring Road” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “The Unremembered” by Chesya Burke
  • “Desperata” by Lon Prater (poem)
  • “The Choir” by Lucien Soulban
  • “The Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • “Miz Ruthie Pays Her Respects” by Lucy A. Snyder
  • “Paranoia” by Kurt Dinan (poem)
  • “Hush” by Kelly Barnhill
  • “Sandboys” by Richard Wright
  • “For My Next Trick, I’ll Need a Volunteer” by Gary A. Braunbeck

Archon is a smash!

We had so. much. fun. at Archon last weekend – so much fun, indeed, that it’s taken me six days to write it up because I’ve been recovering.

Archon is always one of the highlights of our year, and it’s our home con, so it’s also a family reunion. Literary Underworld authors were out in force, including Sela Carsen, T.W. Fendley, Nikki Lanahan and Michales Joy. At any given time you might have seen any of us at the booth, or our Minions, Cole and Ian – who have actual minion badges now. We’re very proud of that. Our good friends from Pro Se Publishing and Yard Dog Press were also there, and it was great to catch up with them in meatspace. We also launched preorders for A Woman Unbecoming, a charity anthology from our friends at Crone Girls Press to benefit reproductive healthcare advocacy. Click here to preorder your copy.

And, of course, there was the Traveling Bar. As is our custom, we opened our doors both nights to serve drinks and talk shop. Jim served as bouncer with backup from our good friend Scott Cousins, and Sela was our Social Butterfly keeping the conversation light and friendly and alerting either of us if there was a potential problem. At this point, we’ve got it down to a science.

On Friday, we opened the doors at 9 p.m. and I started serving drinks about 90 seconds later. My arm literally did not stop moving until I yelled union break at 11:45 so I could hide in the bathroom and stretch my poor arms for five minutes. Then I was back behind the bar until we yelled last call at 1:30 a.m. Saturday was almost as crazy – there were a couple of five-minute spells where I didn’t have anyone asking for a drink, which did not occur on Friday.

Oh, was I tired. I’m still tired just thinking about it, and I’ve slept since then. But everyone had a fantastic time, and that’s the important part. Well, that and making a living, of which Archon is always a major part. But there’s something really fun about being the bartender at a con party, and that’s the people. Most people are happy when they come in and happier with the drink in their hand, but some people are so happy, so grateful, and greet me so cheerfully, it creates this lovely positive energy that I absolutely love. It really felt like the vibe at Archon was back to normal, or as close to normal as we can get with the spectre of the Voldevirus still looming over us.

And around the corner were our friends at SausageFest, raising money once again for cancer research. Sadly I did not get over there to try this year’s snausages, but fortunately everyone else at the con did, or so it seemed. If you want to kick in a little toward their fundraising, click here. They are the bestest neighbors.

Many thanks to all our friends who greeted us so warmly, to our customers who bought books, to our guests who drank the booze and partied with us, to the Underlords and member presses who were there or who supported us from afar, and especially to Minions Ian and Cole, who hauled all the books and booze back to the van and to LitUnd’s dungeon until the next time. (Okay, it’s a storage unit we like to call the warehouse when we’re feeling grandiose, but “dungeon” suits, don’t you think?)

Click here for the photo array. Because what is Archon without costumes?

The answer is…. a woman unbecoming

By Rachel A. Brune, Editor, Crone Girls Press

The question was: how to channel the anger, rage, despair, more anger, frustration, and once more, anger, at the news that Roe v. Wade had been toppled by a Supreme Court filled with privileged beings far removed from the pain and suffering they were about to cause?

It’s not that we didn’t see it coming. Those who feared and those who rejoiced in the prospect of reproductive healthcare and bodily autonomy rights being stripped from half the population saw it coming. And in the days and weeks after, as fingers pointed and tempers flared, there were those who placed the blame on previous administrations, Congresses, for not encoding those rights into law, as if it were realistic in the past partisan twenty years to take up an issue as polarizing as reproductive healthcare and find some way for everyone to enshrine it in law.

Those same blame-makers were often those who would never have to hear a medical professional tell them that their lifesaving procedures could not be enacted due to a strict law enacted by old, righteous men. Nor could they, apparently, envision their loved ones bleeding slowly to death, with sepsis poisoning their body. Those images had been out of the mainstream for so long. But not anymore.

Take a look at the headlines. If you have a uterus, and want to see how far your particular state cares about your health and welfare, all you have to do is read about miscarriages that could be easily treated with a D&C, but are now subject to so much legal threat that the doctors who could perform them don’t want to take the risk to their license by giving their patients the medical care they need.

I could go on. And I do. But words aren’t enough.

Or rather, words are the weapon I choose for the next phase of this struggle.

Thus was born the anthology, A Woman Unbecoming.

This project came from a post that I made in the Crone Girls Press private authors’ Facebook group. Comment by comment popped up from authors who stated not only their interest, but their desire to contribute to making the barest hint of an idea of a charity anthology for reproductive healthcare an actual reality.

The race was on to get this project put together, and while there were and are a number of speedbumps, it was almost alarming how quickly and subtly things came together to make it happen. A catching-up lunch with an old friend led to her coming onboard as co-editor. I had worked with Carol Gyzander before on a series of charity anthologies for Writerpunk Press, and I knew that she was creative, organized, able to work under pressure and, better yet, had the same affinity for spreadsheets that I do.

A few days after that, Lynne Hansen sent out her newsletter. The monthly pre-made cover art she included for that month was so perfect for this project, I immediately replied and asked to purchase it before anyone else could snatch it up.

All throughout, authors that I’ve worked with, and authors that I’ve always wanted to work with, sent us stories to read and consider. And over and over, we heard the same refrain: Writing (or revising or contributing) this story gives me a chance to do something.

And that’s what this project is. A chance to do something. Proceeds from the anthology will be donated to an organization that has already been established and working to guarantee access to reproductive healthcare. Hey—even when it was legal across the U.S. didn’t mean it was accessible to everyone. We will also be donating half the proceeds to an organization supporting candidates in political races, as the mid-terms are almost upon us.

And so that is A Woman Unbecoming. Not merely an anthology of fierce and ferocious horror stories, but a chance to do something. To step out of the feelings of anger and hopelessness, and act. But this is not the end of action—it is the beginning. Elections are rolling around. Have you registered to vote? Have you confirmed your registration is active? There is also a list at the end of the anthology of books and articles for further reading. Check them out.

Or, you may be tired and overwhelmed and unsure of what to do or where to get the energy to do it. Perhaps buying a book and putting it on your TBR pile is what you have the time for right now. If that is the case, we thank you, and hope that your TBR pile, unlike ours, is short enough that it won’t threaten to topple over and smother you in the night (and if so, then just push it a little farther away from your bed, I’m sure it will be fine.)

For those who have already picked up a copy—thank you. And to those organizations and people out there working to restore the rights we have lost due to this decision—we thank you, we see you, and we support you.

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Welcome to the Disunited States

By Angelia Sparrow

In November of 2005, I won NaNoWriMo for the first time. The result was a novel that is now called Nikolai: Revenant.

It’s undergone a lot of revision and character changes since the initial draft. The world has expanded and shifted with each new projection of the future. Now, we are four books, a gaming manual, several short stories, and a couple of rough drafts into the series. My now-coauthor, Gabriel, went from my biggest fan to my loyal conspirator, and brought his own brand of creativity to the world.

The series is set at the end of the twenty-first century. America balkanized into eleven countries, with Hawaii and Alaska becoming independent. Some countries have moved forward from the DisUnification and others have chosen to move backward.

I started this as a reaction to a lot of trends I was seeing in the mid 2000s. It has aged eerily, as I’ve watched some of my predictions come to fruition in some ways, but it remains solid. My dystopia is not supposed to be more comforting than my reality, but it has become more so as the years go on.

Most of the series occurs in Memphis, with occasional excursions to Italy, Kansas, Pacifica and other places. The Confederated States are fascinating, and rather terrifying. Based on the trends in Christian Nationalism, including the Christian Exodus movement, the CS is a fascist theocracy with an absolutely free market. Church attendance is required by law, and the law enforces modesty codes. Education is limited to white boys, and only available through private schools. Racial segregation is law, and most crimes are capital ones.

Half of the titular Nikolai’s education is unlearning erroneous history from his three years of formal schooling. Nick Boyd is a Memphis street rat, who took the name Nikolai when he became a member of the Revenant gang. Smart, vicious, and self-assured, he caught the eye of James Ligatos, one of the Eight, the cabal that rules the world behind the scenes.

James turns promising young criminals into world leaders. In Anthony: Reprobate, we delve into the hyper-surveillanced and repressive Heartlands for another protege, Anthony Hatcher, who is stuck in a reeducation facility with an R tattooed on his hand. Reprobate is the lowest of the low, both Homosexual and Nymphomaniac, and every other “anti-social” marker. But with enough work and a little support, anyone can change the course of a country.

Glad Hands was my biggest seller, a side story set in the Tribal Lands about a trucker who finds a Heartlands boy with an H tattoo. They go on a mad dash ride into the CS on what should have been an average haul, and almost end in the Stoneyard for execution on live national television. This was written on many loading docks, in sleeper berths and rest areas when I was still driving a truck.

Master Anton is our newest installment, and it follows the training of our boys forward. Anthony is called to Rome, to the Eight’s center of operations. Their leader, Benta, the Spider at the top of the World, is a mysterious and seemingly eternal goddess in his eyes. His odd learning style makes for a difficult road, but not nearly as difficult as the rest of the Memphis team is experiencing. Betrayal, collapse, fanaticism, and ruin spin together in a web that can only end when it’s run its course. Anthony earns his title…and he will bring the rest of them along with him if it kills him…or them.

As mentioned, there is also a gaming sourcebook which Gabriel put together over the course of 3 years. He created the PIPA 12 system, and we codified the DisUnited States and much of the world. We’ve run one-shot games at conventions from Kentucky to Georgia, with great success. The opportunity to throw your hat in the ring of a collapsing but vibrant society seems to capture the imagination… especially when we kill someone in mid-game.

I could spend several books (and have) explaining to you all that I see in my world. I would invite you to ride the giant roller coasters in the Arcologies of the California Conglomerate. I would walk you through the Pleasure Clubs of Rome, where every debauchery is at your disposal as long as you know its cost. I would stroll with you through the City State of New Orleans, with its sky-high levees and floating strands of proud laughter and music. I would march with you alongside the fierce warriors of Azteca, their titanium mesh armor shining in the desert sun. I would invite you to lounge with James Ligatos in his boudoir, enjoying the most beautiful of things to fend off the tinges of madness around the edges. I would welcome you home.

But I must instead hope to see you in the pages of the book. It has been my vent and my hope for long over a decade, and there is more to come. Because no matter how dystopian, there is always someone ready to plant their feet and to say no, and inspire others to do the same.

The Eight Thrones Cycle is the story of how to save the world… while indulging your darkest fantasies.

 

Buy the whole series for $40 here!

The Eight Thrones books on sale at Amazon

Each book will be on sale for 99c for one week, Amazon only: Glad Hands on Sept. 15, Anthony Reprobate on Oct. 3, Nikolai Revenant on Oct. 10 and Master Anton on Oct. 15

 

Mortalus: The Eight Thrones Cycle Game is not currently available, though digital copies may be requested through the author if you’d like to try it out for your campaign. Gabriel is also seeking an artist to help him bring the next version into being.


Angelia Sparrow is a professional driver, part-time grandma and full time cat-servant. She lives quietly in the midsouth with two husbands and a wife, overseeing the legalities of an Emerging Religion. She runs Crossroad Treasures, a craft shop, and handles its subscription box at Patreon.

 

 

 

 

 

One savage, two novels at opposite ends of life

By Steven L. Shrewsbury

“Are you ready to meet your father, the devil?” – Robert E. Howard

Rogan, a savage from an antediluvian era mostly forgotten in our history swaggers forth this year in two new novels. Curse of the Bastards (co-written with Brian Keene from Apex Books) sees an aging, jaded Rogan entering the land of Nodd to rescue his nephew, battling demons, would be gods, and various terrible folks.

Killer of Giants (written by myself solo from Seventh Star Press) sees Rogan at age twenty-four, battling Nephilims, Chimeras, demons in human flesh, and bad folks as he fights save his father & sister from a fate worse than death. Swords clash and bodies are carved up as the blood, magick & monsters rage. But these books are more than just the usual sword & sorcery or high fantasy romp.

In Curse of the Bastards we see the older Rogan, cynical by a harsh life full of lies, loss and violence that had made him ponder his own eventual fate. Will he be disremembered after he dies, relegated unto bar ballads and inaccurate tales like his hero, Gorias La Gaul? For all he puts himself through, will he be overlooked and was any of it worth it?

In Killer of Giants, the younger Rogan strives to survive after a clash where his fellow mercenaries all fall but him. This Rogan has hope for the future in a grim world, but still fights on to save what is important to him, his own blood kin. Here, he doesn’t care what anyone might ever think of him, and doesn’t realize his acts of savagery and heroism will become the stuff of legends.

Rogan isn’t always kind. He isn’t Clark Kent or even Bruce Wayne for that matter (nor is he Conan or Kane). He borders on antihero at times, but is from primitive means. As the walls fall about him, he sometimes replaces the bricks, but often, smashes open a new way to escape through.

Why should you, brave reader, check these titles out? They are escapism from this world and an exciting thriller, filled action, adventure, passion and humor so dark it could hide the stars.

Come sit with me and I’ll tell you some tales. Let me spin a yarn about faraway places and people that might make one shake the head, but ones one won’t soon forget, and you won’t regret it. Though the realm Rogan wades though is grim, it isn’t as tenebrous as the news these days. Pour a drink and sit back, open up a book. Come trod through the bloody pages of history with me for a while. You might even learn something.

 

STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. More than 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media, along with more than 100 poems. Nine of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (OverkillThrallBedlam Unleashed) to historical fantasy (Godforsaken) extreme horror (HawgTormentorStronger Than Death) to horror-westerns (Hell BillyBad Magick, Last Man Screaming). He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.

 

 

Stubbornness as a tool for success

By Jason Sizemore

 

There are many variables that dictate how successful you will be as a small press author, publisher, or indie writer. Some are obvious: quality of content, branding, personality. But every hero’s journey has that moment where everything is darkest and the hero is on the verge of failure. How do you respond to this challenge? Personally, I answer with stubbornness.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Literary Underworld Supreme Leader Elizabeth Donald for nearly 20 hours. It was for a local regional convention where both of us were hoping to make a few bucks for ourselves and our authors via bookselling to waves and waves of readers dying for new genre fiction. I pictured Elizabeth and I smoking stogies while counting fat stacks of money.

The throngs of adoring readers never appeared. I sold a total of five books over three long days of sitting behind a table, smiling and waving at people. Staring woefully at Elizabeth Donald. Elizabeth staring back at me, surely wondering why I was staring at her.

Live events are like that. Some weekends you’ll hit the jackpot. More often, you’ll sell enough to break even. Once in a while, you’ll have a soul-crushing “five-books-sold” type of convention.

I have a bad habit of letting a bad weekend get me down. After this recent poor showing, I fell into a funk. Some of it was self-pity, much of it was self-hate. I had decided that I was the reason for the failure to sell books. There had to be something about my personality, appearance, demeanor that was off-putting to people who approached the Apex Books table.

I posted my fears to Facebook. Thankfully, no one admitted to finding me creepy (though I’m sure some were just being polite). Instead, many offered insight into sales tactics. Others shared their similar bad experiences. The confidence boost put me back on my feet. That familiar stubborn notion that I would not let one bad weekend keep me from continuing my trek as a small press publisher.

As creators, it is easy to be too hard on ourselves. We are already rife with anxiety and the usual problems of being introverts. Our failures feel magnified more than they should be. For example, all weekend at the convention as I sat there staring at Elizabeth Donald, I kept thinking about how others must be seeing how poorly the Apex Books table was doing. Apex Books, the little company with the Nebula Award finalist and multiple Hugo Award wins, drawing no attention. “Sizemore must be doing something wrong.” I should be more aggressive and not be a passive introvert when people come to the table.

Obviously, nobody pays attention to how much business a certain vendor is doing. Most readers don’t care about awards and award-nominations. Being friendly and helpful when someone approaches the table beats an overbearing, aggressive approach.

While using stubbornness as a shield, I recommend personal introspection as a means of making yourself feel better about the time and money lost. Only once have I ever done a convention and sold less than five books. Yet, that same convention is where I first met Lesley Conner. A decade later, she’s my editing partner and the other half of Apex Books and Apex Magazine. At Scarefest some years ago, I paid an exorbitant sum for table space only to sell about $100 of books that weekend. But my table was next to Midnight Syndicate. I became pals with the band and consider them friends.

At this convention where I only sold five books and pouted online afterwards about my lack of sales, I had ice cream with Ellen Datlow. Had a bonding moment with Jeff Strand about Anton Cancre’s weird antics. Accepted the gracious praise of numerous people who sought out the Apex table to tell me how much they appreciated the work we did.

These things, though intangible, have value. Social capital. Networking. Friendships. These things are often far more valuable than a few hundred bucks at a live event.

It’s okay to feel disappointed in the moment. I certainly do every single time I do poorly at an event. But I encourage you to fall back on stubbornness and introspection so that you can properly assess the actual value of your time spent at the event.


Help Jason not feel like a failure and support the Apex Magazine 2023 Kickstarter! Apex has been part of the Literary Underworld for many years and we have always been proud to offer their titles. Apex’s Kickstarter launched on July 27 and runs for one month, offering preorders for the amazing content they’ll be offering all next year. Exclusive content, free fiction, and awesome stretch goals await! 

 

 

Jason Sizemore is the publisher and editor of Apex Books and the award-winning short fiction genre zine Apex Magazine. He’s a multi-Hugo Award nominated editor who also occasionally writes a short story or two. His debut collection, Irredeemable, is available from Second Star Press. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

Rarest gems: A catalogue of exemplary LGBTQ media

By Dennis R. Upkins

A great bard by the name of Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Both the quote and the late author herself have been a guiding light for me both as an activist and as an author.

Case in point, my latest story “The Bonds That Bind.Appearing in the forthcoming Afrofuturistic themed Spyfunk anthology, the short story was inspired in part by the dearth of quality and progressive speculative media featuring LGBTQs as the leads.

Some progress has been made in recent years with the likes of CW’s Batwoman, Black Lightning and even Supergirl, he latter making HERstory by introducing television’s first trans superheroine in Dreamer, who was played by Nicole Maines. But there is more work to be done.

Stories have power. And representation matters. Media and progressive storytelling may be the only resource and lifeline for so many LGBTQs. 

 

In Between Men:  The series examines the personal & professional lives of four urbanites from different walks of life who do not fit into the lives & perceptions expected of them. Forced to live “in between” a gay world, whose cliches they don’t relate to and a straight world they don’t belong to,  while navigating life as they live, work and play in New York City.

This show easily joins the ranks of Torchwood and Queer As Folk as one of the greatest (gay) series of all time. Speaking of the latter, I appreciated the pseudo-passing of the torch with QAF alum Michelle Renee Clunie appeared in an episode.

What makes In Between Men special is that it spoke to a demographic that is often overlooked on a topic is purposely ignored. For myself, a few loved ones and others, who for the most part, can pass for straight but are shunned by heterosexuals because of bigotry, but because we don’t limit ourselves to cliches or ignorant purviews of the “gay identity,” we’re often alone without a people. This series tackles the issue of masculinity, identity, with a most diverse cast, in a very refreshing and surprisingly nuanced manner. At least it was surprising until I found out the creator of the series, Quincy Morris, is a brother and all that artistry and excellence made sense.

While a few years have past since the first two seasons, I would love a final installment as a film just to give the characters and the series the proper sendoff it deserves.

In any event, I highly recommend it and it’s available now on YouTube.

 

I Am Not Your Negro:  In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as Baldwin’s perspective on American History. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript. Filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this 93-minute documentary combines archive footage and animated visuals with the prose with one of history’s greatest writers, which results in a phantasmagorical journey which both entertains, educates and challenges the viewer. Created on a $1 million budget, the original release had a very limited run which resulted in $7.7 million box office: practically unheard-of for a documentary and a testament to the artistry of this film.

 

Game Face:  Exploring the coming-out journeys of LGBTQ athletes: telling the parallel stories of Fallon Fox, the first female transgender pro MMA fighter; and Terrence Clemens, a college basketball player in Oklahoma who happens to be gay.

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ll definitely appreciate this film. Directed by Michiel Thomas, this documentary does a masterful job of humanizing the individuals behind two trailblazing athletes and allowing the audience to follow Clemens and Fox on their respective quests and experience their trials and triumphs along with them. While the name of the film may be entitled Game Face, gamechangers is just as apt for these two pioneers.

 

Eastsiders: Written and directed by Kit Williamson (Mad Men), who also stars in this dark comedy as Cal, an ambitious young photographer who navigates the complex world of modern gay life, infidelity, and relationships with his boyfriend, Thom, played by Van Hansis (As The World Turns). 

I’ve been a fan of Van Hansis for many years. Not only is he a wonderful actor but an outspoken activist for social justice, but he’s also a trailblazer. Taking over the role as Luke Snyder on CBS’s As The World Turns, Hansis’s character became involved in a romance with another male character and the pairing is considered by many to be the first gay supercouple in American soap opera history. So when I learned he was one of the stars, I was all too eager to check it out.

And before she was Fresh Off The Boat, Constance Wu could be found in this series stealing nearly every scene she was in.

Eastsiders is definitely one of those sordid black dramedies that is good for the self-esteem. Because this show will remind that in spite of all of your bad decisions that you made or continue to make, even your worst, you’re probably still better than this lot on their best day.

 

Feral: A close-knit group of young twenty-something artists living, loving, and figuring out how to pay the rent in Memphis, TN.

Between the cinematography, the story arcs, to the cast performances, this series is a testament to the artistry and ingenuity that indie content creators can produce. What also makes this 8-episode series stand out is that while the three main characters are gay/bi, the could have easily have worked as straight leads. But these rural complicated characters who produce visual art, indie films, and rock out to Lucero, show that LGBTQs come from all walks of life and we come in all forms, just like cis heterosexuals.

With the exception of John Grisham’s Rainmaker, this has to be the WHITEST Memphis I’ve ever witnessed (seriously what the hell) and there are countless other towns in Tennessee with nary a Negro in sight where this story could’ve taken place and made sense (Chattanooga, Cleveland, Kingsport, Bucksnort, Erin, Columbia). I have an easier time suspending disbelief when I’m watching Chronicles of Narnia. But I digress. For now. And that’s only because this is such a wonderful series. Feral is definitely a series worth viewing and adding to your library.

 

Strut: With Whoopi Goldberg at the helm as executive producer, Strut is a reality television series that revolves around the world of modeling and fashion. What makes this short-lived series unique, however, is that all of the models featured are transgender. The show goes inside the models’ personal lives, showcasing their struggles to make it in the fashion world and revealing emotional conversations with family members. The featured models include Laith, who was one of the first transgender male models to appear in a national campaign; Dominique Jackson, who has been modeling for more than 20 years; Isis, who was a fashion designer before getting into modeling; newcomer Ren, who hopes modeling can help her reconnect with her distant father; and outspoken Arisce, who has walked runways during New York, Los Angeles and Miami Fashion Week shows.

Strut is definitely a fun and entertaining reality tv series. If you’re a fan of America’s Next Top Model, or Project Runway, this series will definitely be up your alley. Before she was serving shade and snatching wigs on FX’s Pose, Jackson was rocking runways and photoshoots with flawless precision. A testament to how talented she is as an actress, Strut showcases how the wise, regal and nurturing Jackson couldn’t be more polar opposite than the villainous Elektra Abundance she portrays on the hit FX series. While the series only lasted for six episodes, you get a full story arc and the opportunity to meet some awesome models who all have been making moves since the short-lived Oxygen series aired.

 

Matt and Blue: The YouTube channel of musician Blue Hamilton; his husband, actor Matt Dallas (Kyle XY); and their adorable son Crow, chronicles the misadventures of their lives on their four-acre farm.

Whether it’s sharing their personal experiences, offering advice on a number of topics, or informing you of some their sponsors’ excellent products to check out for some great deals, Matt and Blue are the definition of family goals and proof that there is fun, life, and adventure after marriage.

 

Love, Simon: Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it’s a little more complicated. He hasn’t told his family or friends that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing.

I have one monumental issue with Love, Simon. It’s that I wish there had been a film like this when I was a kid. It’s a coming of age tale that’s a romantic teen dramedy, but it’s layered, smart and it’s got heart without even trying. What truly makes this film a groundbreaking classic is that it showcases multiple compelling Black protagonists, including a love interest which sadly even in the 21st century mainstream (read: white) gay media is blatantly racist and specifically antiblack. This film thankfully avoids the racefail. But this shouldn’t be a shocker given that CW Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti is the director. It should also be noted that Berlanti has gone on record giving credit to Muhammad Ali for giving him the courage to come out to his parents. So when you have The Greatest as one of your heroes, greatness tends to follow.

Also, speaking of following greatness, Love Victor, the television spinoff picks up where the film leaves off with cameos from prominent players from the film and it is awesome.

 

Codebreaker: Codebreaker tells the remarkable and tragic story of one of the 20th century’s most important people. Alan Turing set in motion the computer age and his World War II codebreaking helped turn the tide of the Second World War.  Instead of receiving accolades, Turing faced terrible persecution.  In 1952, the British Government forced him to undergo chemical castration as punishment for his homosexuality. In despair, Turing committed suicide. He was only 41 years old. Documentary elements seamlessly interconnect with drama scenes in Codebreaker to offer a three dimensional picture of Turing, his accomplishments, his tragic end, and his lasting legacy.

Unlike that abomination of a film, Codebreaker is a true testament to Alan Turing. Codebreaker is a bittersweet film that pulls no punches exploring the persecution Turing endured which led to his death, the qualities that made him one of history’s greatest (and still unsung) champions, and how his legacy can be found today. Case in point, the computer device you’re reading this article from. This film is a tribute to the life and legacy of a bonafide superhero and one I can’t recommend enough.

People You May Know: The lives of several friends are at a crossroads which is only further complicated when their relationships are thrown into chaos after a drunken one-night stand. 

People You May Know is without question the greatest cinematic masterpiece of the 21st century. I say this objectively as an artist and academic. This assessment certainly has nothing to do with the fact that this film provides Sean “I’m Too Pretty To Be Legal” Maher in the type of hot sexy scenes usually reserved for the Paul Morris oeuvre. Nope, this is all factual objectivity.

Just joking. Sorta. Maybe.

In all seriousness, what makes this movie truly special is that even though two of the three leads are gay, their arcs make them relatable to any demographic. Each of the leads are searching to discover what will fulfill them and some of the choices they make may not be conventional or the right choice for others but it’s right for them. In one way or another, the completion they’re each searching for, they ultimately find within. People You May Know is a dramedy that has the cinematographic sensibilities of an indie film without being overt and pretentious.  An amazing film and definitely one worth watching.

Did I mention it stars the delightful and gorgeous Sean Maher?

 

Dirty Computer Emotion Picture: An Android, Jane 57821, attempts to break free from the constraints of a totalitarian society that forcibly makes Jane comply with its homophobic beliefs.

This groundbreaking Afrofuturistic short film is a love letter to Black LGBTQ Excellence. Co-starring Tessa Thompson as Jane’s love interest, Emotion Picture accompanied the release of Monae’s third album, Dirty Computer. If you have not seen this tour d’force…. your life choices, make better ones.

 

Freedom Fighters: The Ray: Combining the first two seasons of the hit animated series, which premiered on the CW Seed, as well as includes never-before-seen footage, Freedom Fighters is the animated origin story of Ray Terrill, who discovers himself as a superhero from a parallel Earth called Earth-X. The new superhero is on a mission to fulfill his destiny as the Earth-X Freedom Fighter, The Ray.

I previously discussed in depth why Freedom Fighters is an exceptional film and a most important one. The original CW Seed animated series is television’s first gay male superhero lead. Non-straight male superheroes are very few and usually relegated to supporting roles. Freedom Fighters is a must-see because LGBTQs need to witness that it doesn’t get better, it gets real, and that’s okay. This film is definitely an A-lister and is shining a ray of light on how artistry, diversity, superhero narratives, and social commentary are properly blended and executed.

Hopefully, Freedom Fighters (and the aforementioned titles on this list) is lighting the way for other exemplary narratives to follow.

 


DENNIS R. UPKINS 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 also released by Parker Publishing in 2014. Upkins has also worked as a freelance artist and a 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’s hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, cosplay, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing. His website can be found here.