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.

 

 

 

 

Why not steal a horse? The perils of steampunk tropes

By Angelia Sparrow

I have a new book forthcoming. I just sent the proofs back Monday.  The Sweet Science of Bruising will be out soon from Purple Sword Publications.  It’s steampunk adventure with strong erotic content, mostly heterosexual, although both leads are bi, and Lillian is disguised as a boy for most of the book.

Lillian is an inventor of vibrators who is swept off to adventure with an itinerant bare-knuckle boxing outfit. In her escape, she essentially invents a motorcycle.

When I was writing this, our Fearless Leader, Elizabeth, asked “Why don’t they just steal a horse?” The thought had never crossed my mind. It’s rather like when Gabriel asked “Why vampires?” and I stuttered a moment and said “I’d looked damned silly trying to have a vampire apocalypse without vampires.”

Other questions were raised by early readers, including the feasibility of dirigibles, and why cities don’t have balistas on city hall if airship pirates are a problem. Those were tabled. (Answer, figured out much later: because Abilene is not quite that advanced or that wealthy. Balistas are used in Kansas City and points east, which is why the pirates prefer to operate out west)

But my point is tropes. These recognizable conventions in a genre are useful shorthand for readers, and save the author a lot of explanation. They are almost a visual or literary shorthand. If I say “They climbed the winding steps up the tower to the sorceress’ workroom,” you have a mental image of the tower, the narrow, steep stairs that climb it (always turning counterclockwise, makes it easier to defend), the room at the top with shelves and work tables, and bubbling huggermugger that will play no part in the story but sets the tone. Likewise, if I talk about the dusty streets with board sidewalks and hitching rails, a lone tumbleweed drifting along, and the complete silence, you’re either expecting a gunfight or a post-apoc western. And your mind supplied a saloon, a livery stable and a sheriff’s office without me saying anything.  Tropes are very useful.

Until you hit a beta reader who is not conversant with that subgenre’s tropes. (Which is why, if I taught creative writing, genre fiction would be covered in the second semester, when we address the tropes as well as the story mechanics)  Then you find yourself questioning your airships, your wizard workrooms, your FTL travel methods, why the vampires don’t just shoot the hunters and even your mechanized vacuums.

I’ve had to deal with all these questions from beta readers and editors.  They are good questions, even if they are annoying. I’m caught in the story. I understand it’s steampunk, so I’m expecting goggles, and airships and contraptions. To have a simple, non-mechanical solution offered might be throwing a wrench into the works. Then again, that’s what writers are for.

One reader actually questioned the gadgetry and invention, saying “people don’t just do that sort of thing.” I referred him to the photo of Mr. Daimler and the motorized bicycle and reminded him that the motorcycle was invented in four different places within three years of each other. And then I wrote this, to show that the theory was sound, even if I don’t have the mechanical skill to do it myself.

 

A rider used an up and down motion, pushing pedals around in a circle, which drove a small wheel connected to a larger wheel. It was a very simple machine. She visualized one of her preventative machines and its own simple engine.

A simple steam chamber, heated by the gaslights, drove a single piston engine. The motion went in a straight line from the motor to her toy. She regulated it by turning the valve as to how much steam she wanted. She really should come up with a several stroke engine, one whose drive she could interrupt to control the velocity of the phallus, starting it slowly and then letting it pound.

She reminded herself to borrow the pen from Turlough’s desk at first light, and make the note on her shirtsleeve, having no paper to hand. She didn’t want to forget the idea. That way, she would not be tempted to interrupt the escape for forgotten notes, since she would be wearing them.

Another cheer from the fight drew her attention back to her escape plan. The engine would need to be quite small as most bicycles were built for one passenger, not two and an engine. It still needed to be faster than a man could run and faster than a horse and rider.

She played with the design of the bicycle, trying to figure a way to mount the engine and seat the both of them. Turlough would need to steer. She would have to ride backwards and mollycoddle the engine along. It would be a touchy and temporary thing, but she could do it.

The steam would rise, but she wanted the stroke to move downward. The memory of a carousel she had ridden with her parents on a trip back east to St. Louis returned. The great steam organ in the center had moved the axles around and round. But the horses had gone up and down because of a bend in the bar. The same should work in reverse, with the up and down motion causing a round and round motion.

If she mounted that over the back wheel and hooked it right into the axle…but no, that meant one stroke would move the bicycle one wheel-turn and she needed it to go faster than that.

Gearing, of course. If one stroke spun the tire three times, that would be good. Especially if she could make the piston move faster than a human leg.

So, back to the original question, why don’t they steal a horse?
I’ll let Lillian explain.

She explained the plan in hasty whispers in the dead of the night. Turlough shook his head.

“‘Twould be easier to just take a horse,” he said for the dozenth time.

“Have you seen the horses with this outfit? Two of them nearly as old as I am and the others slower than slugs. Draft horses aren’t built for running. Besides, they hang you for stealing horses. Tell Wulf you want to try a new training exercise and have him find you a bicycle.”

“I can’t ride one of those contraptions, lass.” The admission finally came, Turlough sounding embarrassed. “Horses I understand but not those things.”

“That’s why you practice before I attach the engine.” She smiled.

To find out the rest of Lilian and Turlough’s adventures, and enjoy seeing scenic Kansas by motorcycle, airship and train, look for The Sweet Science of Bruising by Angelia Sparrow, coming soon from Purple Sword Productions.

 

Angelia Sparrow is a bus driver who lives quietly in the MidSouth. She has been writing professionally since 2004. Unofficially called the Queen of Cross-genre, she has been a finalist for the Darrell Award, the Lamnbda Literary Award and the Gaylactic Spectrum award. She has a husband, kids and grandkids, and enjoys a variety of handcrafts as well as writing. Web presence.

 

 

Time (drink)

By J.L. Mulvihill 

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty hole, it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.

— Riddles in the Dark; The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937.

Here I am turning 55, and I am pondering the concept of time and wondering where all my time went. When I was little, time was a thing of infinite substance and seemed to stretch on. I was always waiting. Waiting to get out of class, waiting to go to the pool, waiting for dinner to be ready, always waiting. Now I am constantly running to catch up and time eludes me.

By the way, did you know this is article includes a drinking game? If you are trying to stay or get healthy and are drinking water, carry on, or if you are a connoisseur of the spirits, so be it, but every time you see the word time, DRINK! Also, if you are under 21 might I recommend ginger beer, which is my beer of choice and non-alcoholic, it has a nice ginger bite to it.

So, back to my pondering. I seem to never have enough time in my life anymore. There is always something going on and it feels like the days are getting shorter and shorter and time runs away from me.  I have no idea why this is such a problem suddenly, or has time always been my nemesis? Perhaps in the turmoil of recent events I just forgot how to time manage, or is it manage time?

Time management is essential to a writer. If you have been doing this for a while, then you know this; if you are new to writing, then you should know this. The management of time is not just being able to schedule your writing around your work and life, but also consider setting aside time for research and editing, which are an absolute must if you want to be a good writer. Then there is the business side of writing and in this you must make time for marketing and promoting. So much time goes into the career of a writer that it is hard to sustain a normal life. In time you learn to manage and juggle all these things, or you don’t, and you ride time like a wild turnip hoping you don’t fall off.

Every person, whether you are a writer or not, tries to squeeze more time out of the day. Why is this, I wonder? Have we become a society that bites off more than we can handle? Have we added more tasks to our day and then given ourselves an inadequate amount of time to achieve our goals? Are there really that many things we need to do or get done in such a short time or are we fooling ourselves? I look at the dishes in the sink and wonder if I should do them later or take the time to get the job over with. On the other hand, I could be writing or working on something else more productive in my mind. However, the dishes are still there and eventually they still need to be done, so what does it matter when I set aside the time to do them?

It appears we never have enough time to get everything done we set out to achieve. Time is passing us by, and as we get older time flies by even faster. Psychologists have discovered the reason behind this time-flying thing. Oh, thank goodness, a mystery solved at last. So, psychologists believe the brain forms more memories of new experiences than that of familiar ones. Since fewer new memories are built later in life, time seems to pass more quickly. Well, that doesn’t solve any time problem at all. If this is true, then the simple solution to that is to constantly make memories. Keep going, don’t stop and you will never see time get away from you.

Nonsense, you say. Agreed, the psychologists might be right on the concept of time flying by for us, but it still does not satisfy the need to get everything done and not having enough time to do it. This leads me to the fact that we ask too much of ourselves in our daily lives. This excess of tasks leads to exhaustion, and it is not time that gets away from us, but rather us getting away from time, needing to nap or work slower because we are too tired, or procrastinate.

Exhaustion is not a new concept and in fact every era has its reasons for exhaustion. We now say that modern technology has made things so much easier for ourselves and our lives that we add more things to do on our list expecting that technology will save us time allowing us to achieve our goals. Perhaps we think too much of ourselves in this manner. We tend to want to overachieve or prove ourselves better than the next person. I have written five novels but feel that I am so far behind the status quo that I try to do too much to achieve what I think is the expected number of written novels I should have.  If I did that, would I actually be writing good novels though?

This line of thinking always circles back to needing more time. But I can’t buy time, I can’t steal time, I find it very hard to make time, and I sense there is no way to invent time. Time is elusive. As a child I used to complain at bedtime that time was a made-up concept by humans to make other humans do stuff they don’t want to do. Especially Daylight Savings. That only confuses my brain more, and my body when it thinks it needs more sleep, and my cat when she thinks it’s time to be fed. What started all this time nonsense anyway?

Scientists have concluded, without my help I might add, that there was a beginning of time with the Big Bang, but as far as there being an end, there is no way of knowing.  In particle physics experiments, random particles arise from a vacuum, so it doesn’t seem likely the universe would become static or timeless. I am not sure what that really means except that we cannot obtain more time, nor can we lose it.  This does not help at all and only confuses the matter of time.  Or is time real?

According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion: our naive perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. He explains, the apparent existence of time — in our perceptions and in physical descriptions, written in the mathematical languages of Newton, Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger — comes not from knowledge, but from ignorance. ‘Forward in time’ is the direction in which entropy increases, and in which we gain information.

Ahh, so at last someone who agrees with me. Time is as Einstein says, relative, meaning it will happen no matter what you do or when you do it. But Carlo Rovelli says that time is an illusion, and it is not real. So, is time what we make it, or will it happen anyway? The subject is still under debate to this day. Reading all the articles and books there are on time does not give me a sense of accomplishment, but merely scrambles my brain.

I have as much the answer as anyone else. If you believe in time then you must manage it properly, put your nose to the grindstone and get your stuff done. If you do not believe in time, then you should be able to slip through reality and get a lot more done than the rest of us. Either way I think you should not push yourself too much, and just go with the flow. You don’t have to be too strict but instead riding that wild turnip, then maybe try and tame it a little bit. Give it a saddle and teach it to prance at a pace before you gallop across the desert.

By now you are either waterlogged or drunk, and if that is the case then I have done my job. I don’t suppose I given you any real answer to the question of how to have more time, but maybe I have entertained you a bit or even enlightened you in some shape or fashion.  These are merely my ponderings and the wonderings of my mind, and I am happy to share my chaos.

Cited articles:

Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “What Is Time? A Simple Explanation.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-time-4156799.

Andrew Jaffe probes Carlo Rovelli’s study arguing that physics deconstructs our sense of time; 16 April 2018; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7

 

Though J L Mulvihill (Jen), is a descendant of Hollywood royalty, she relinquished her crown and rock star days to obsess over her passion for telling stories. An author of young adult fiction and an award-winning screenplay writer and public speaker, Jen dabbles in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, medievalpunk, horror, thrillers, and historical fiction. Her recent debut as host for the talk show On The Page with Geeky Side Network TV has got everyone asking, “What will Jen do next?”

To find out the answer to that question check out Jen’s webpage at www.jlmulvihill.com where you can also find her books and short stories. Or just type in jlmulvihill for all social media and you can catch up on Jen’s much ado on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You might just happen upon her sporadic foodie fest Jen Can’t Cook where Jen tests her hand at old style cooking.

Jen’s y/a series, Steel Roots, is based in the steampunk genre and engages the reader in a train hopping heart stopping adventure across a dystopian America enclosed within the walls of its own making. Follow young AB’Gale Steel as she travels across America in search of her missing father learning about the world around her as she goes, and The System that has a hold on its people. A story of love, friendship, hope, and the courage to fight back injustice. 

Jen is also the author of a y/a medievalpunk series, The Elsie Lind Chronicles. This epic adventure boasts of demons, dragons, and dark witches. From the strange and dark corners of her mind Jen has created an extraordinary fantasy world. Weaving Scandinavian folklore into the telling of the adventure of a young girl who is struck with amnesia and finds herself in the middle of an ancient forest in a world filled with mystery and danger. 

Not only is she known for her writing but also her public speaking, where Jen encourages other writers to hone their skills. Currently Jen is working on several writing projects including a science fiction novel, a thriller, a children’s book, toss a couple of cookbooks in there and some poetry, include several movie scripts, and Jen will never get any sleep again. Ahh, but it’s gonna be great!

Check out J L Mulvihill’s books on Literary Underworld!

 

Engaging With Stories of Disabled People: Interview with Alice Wong

By Dennis R. Upkins

One of the true joys of my career is that I get to meet some truly extraordinary and amazing people from all walks of life. These individuals are using their gifts to make this world a better one. A few of them, I’m both honored and humbled to consider colleagues and good personal friends.

Case in point: Alice Wong.

Activist, media consultant, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, and excellence personified, Alice and I first crossed paths during our time as contributors for The Nerds of Color, a few years ago. I’ve learned a lot from Alice. Not only in regards to disability issues, but also in terms of being a leader, a class act, and showing true solidarity with other marginalized groups. If you don’t believe me, you can always ask President Obama. In 2013, he appointed Alice to the National Council on Disability.

This year alone has been a milestone for Ms. Wong. She recently released a new book entitled Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century which is available now and appeared on the cover of British Vogue.

I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Alice and discuss everything ranging from the new book, her podcast, activism, to the power of storytelling.


Upkins: Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. For those who are unfamiliar, share a bit of background about yourself.

Wong: Thanks, Denny–always fun to be talking with a fellow nerd!! I’m the founder and eirector of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. I started it in 2014 as a one-year oral history campaign to record stories by disabled people for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and it snowballed into a bigger thing. I have a podcast and blog, I published guest essays, and I edited and published #ADA30InColor, a series of essays by disabled people of color this past July for the 30th anniversary of the ADA. As a side hustle, I’m a research consultant. I also have a new book that just came out, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, available now from Vintage Books.

Upkins: For some, activism is what they do, for others it’s a part of who they are. How did you find your calling?

Wong: It took me a long time to be comfortable identifying as an activist. As a person born disabled in a world that was never built for me, I had no choice to be an activist as a means of survival. I had to advocate for myself and I didn’t see it from a larger social and political and social perspective until I was a young adult. Even then, as I became involved in the disability community in the San Francisco Bay Area I didn’t do it as my ‘job,’ it was an act of love and service. For the last 5-6 years, most of my activism takes place in my writing, media making, and through social media. People described me as a community organizer and I still wonder if that’s accurate because I’ve internalized the idea of an activist or organizer as someone who is doing things ‘on the ground.’ Over time I’m becoming more okay with it because I believe what I do is activism and that we need to expand our ideas of who gets to be an activist and what activism looks like.

Upkins: The Disability Visibility Project, how did that idea become a reality?

Wong: The initial idea came from my frustration at the lack of disability history, especially stories of current disability history and stories by actual disabled people. The DVP first started as a community partnership with StoryCorps, an oral history nonprofit, where I encouraged disabled people to come in (or use their app) to record a story. StoryCorps has an arrangement with the Library of Congress giving participants an option of archiving it there for the public which is incredibly cool–we can create our own history and leave it there for generations. As of 2020, we recorded approximately 140 oral histories since 2014 and that makes me feel good. I made it a reality by creating a website and using social media to spread the word. And it was thanks to the community who supported it enthusiastically.

Upkins: In recent years, Selma Blair garnered headlines when she disclosed having multiple sclerosis. In many ways, she became a face for disability advocacy. This point was explored in the book with Zipporah Arielle’s essay, “Selma Blair Became a Disabled Icon Overnight. Here’s Why We Need More Stories Like Hers.” Who are other significant activists and trailblazers in the disability movement who may not be as famous as Ms. Blair?

Wong: So many people!! There are so many badass disabled people changing the game. Here are just a few:

Andraéa LaVant, Impact Producer for Netflix’s Crip Camp and President of LaVant Consulting, Inc. I recently interviewed Andraéa about her work on the impact campaign for the latest issue of Break the Story, an online publication from the Pop Culture Collaborative.

Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW, a disability rights consultant, writer, activist from Winnsboro, SC, and the creator of #DisabilityTooWhite.

Rebecca Cokley, Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress who has been instrumental in advancing disability issues in the last several Presidential elections.

President Obama poses for a photo next to a live video feed of Alice Wong, smiling at the camera. Behind them is a large bouquet of yellow, white and blue flowers.

Upkins: What are some major misconceptions and beliefs regarding disability issues that you find yourself debunking most often?

Wong: There’s a lot and the bar is so low. I find myself repeating some of the most basic things but unfortunately, this is where we are. A few things I try to change regarding narratives and beliefs about disability:

Disabled lives are not worth living.

Disabled lives are filled with suffering, tragedy, or bitterness.

Disabled people ‘take’ and consume rather than offer rich insights, creativity, and innovation to the world.

The future is one where disability, pain, and suffering do not exist.

Upkins: For parents who may learn that their child may be disabled and have challenges ahead of them, what advice would you give them in terms of navigating the unknown and being the best parents they can be for their child?

Wong: My parents told me they cried when they found out about my diagnosis. The shock and sadness is real. However, I was still their kid and they expected the same things from me as with my younger sisters, if not more since I was the oldest. I hope they will center their child on what they are experiencing and giving them a space to be angry, non-compliant, and frustrated. I hope they will seek out advice from disabled adults from the community and learn about the possibilities their child can have. I hope they will also rely on their own intuition and feel empowered to not heed every single piece of advice from professionals who frankly don’t know everything and cannot predict the future.

Upkins: One thing you have reiterated over the years on social media as well as in the introduction of the new book is the power of storytelling and the profound impact it can have. Would you mind expounding on this idea for readers?

Wong: Books were a gateway to freedom for me. I felt free and believe that everyone deserves to be seen and heard in books and all forms of culture and media. Stories can give a glimpse of what’s beyond our individual situations and this is incredibly powerful for people who receive messages from society that they are not enough or that they don’t count.

Upkins: I remember a little over a year ago, you reached out to me because two very talented Black writers were attempting to share their truths about the anti-blackness Lupita Nyong’o endured for starring in Us and the white privilege of Netflix’s Special respectively. Both writers got backlash for speaking truth to power. Nevertheless, you wanted to make certain their voices were heard. For PoCs with disabilities, how much of a fight is it to simply be heard?

Wong: It’s tough because let’s face it, racism, anti-blackness, sexism, homophobia is real and no community is immune from them. I am always interested in dissenting or different takes from the media hype around things, especially from disabled perspectives. When I see Asian American or disability representation in films or TV I also notice a pressure to have to embrace it without critique because of how little exists. We deserve more than the crumbs and we also need space for nuanced perspectives. People can read the two essays, by Da’Shaun Harrison and D’Arcee Charington Neal. I also recommend this fantastic essay for the DVP by Vyoma Raman on the Netflix series Never Have I Ever.

Upkins: Covid-19. It’s been a paradigm shift of sorts on a global scale. In your estimation, has the pandemic brought focus and resources to those with special needs or did it do the opposite?

Wong: First off, let’s abolish the term ‘special needs.’ Seriously, in 2020, we can eschew euphemisms and be more precise on who and what we’re talking about–disability. I feel great ambivalence about what’s happened during the pandemic. Suddenly, as non-disabled people were inconvenienced and had things taken away from them, access miraculously became available despite decades of advocacy by disabled people for accessible classes, remote working, and online conferences, performances, and events. During this same period, we’ve seen a narrowing of access and services for sick, disabled, and immunocompromised people. The rhetoric around ‘high risk’ people as acceptable losses is straight-up eugenic and this clearly also applies to Black, brown, and indigenous communities. I am glad to finally see people realizing what systemic racism and ableism looks like in the ways that our lives are devalued and deprioritized when it comes to testing and treatment for COVID-19. This year I wrote about the shortages of ventilators and health care rationing and the invisibility of deaths in congregant settings.

Book cover for "Disability Visibility: First-person Stories from the Twenty First Century" in black text on a background of brightly colored triangles with flat light beige behind them.

Upkins: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the 21st Century. How did this anthology come about?

Wong: Catherine Tung, an editor at Vintage Books at the time, emailed me in 2018 about whether I had an interest in editing an anthology and I told her YES and that I had a great idea for it. After several conversations, I was able to prepare a book proposal and find an agent to submit it. I am very grateful for this opportunity and had an excellent experience working with the people at Vintage.

Upkins: How were each of the authors selected? Have you previously collaborated with any of them?

Wong: In preparation for the anthology, I created a spreadsheet of stories I loved over the last 20 years and it was a matter of deciding what kinds of stories and being intentional about the kinds of people I wanted to highlight. Each piece is unique, personal, and powerful. There were many more I wanted to include and I have a section in the back with a list of additional reading for people to explore.

Upkins: I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading and instantly I was blown away. Each piece was textured and nuanced. Was this organic, by design, or a combination of the two?

Wong: Yes–this was all part of the master plan *evil laugh*. I wanted to challenge readers with work that’s substantive, not Disability 101 or aimed to garner awareness or empathy. I also wanted to show just a small sample of the brilliance of disabled people doing a wide range of things. These contributors all have something to say and putting them together side-by-side was strategic. There are heavier, serious pieces, there are lighter pieces. Some are long while others are short and there is a wide range of writing styles which is important to me. There is a free plain language version of Disability Visibility and a discussion guide on my website if people are interested. Both are written by disabled writers, Sara Luterman and Naomi Ortiz respectively.

Upkins: As a reader, I found there was a component I could connect with in nearly every story. For example, being Indigenous myself, Jen Deerinwater’s (“The Erasure of Indigenous People In Chronic Illness”) firsthand account of invisibility and erasure was all too familiar. Jeremy Woody’s plight (“The Isolation of Being Death In Prison”) broke my heart. When Keah Brown explained (“Nurturing Black Disabled Joy”) that discovering joy as a queer disabled Black woman incites rage, hatred, and backlash from others, that resonated with me on too many levels. Were these universal elements something you noted while editing the book?

Wong: Not exactly–I don’t expect people to identify with every piece but I hope there is something for everyone. I also hope that one does not need to connect to something personally in order for them to appreciate and understand it. This is the opportunity and potential–to share something unexpected and revelatory without preaching.

Upkins: A point that was reiterated in many of the pieces is that these individuals aren’t waiting to be “fixed” or “healed.” In an ableist culture, why can’t this be stressed enough?

Wong: Just the other day the asswipe known as Elon Musk was touting a brain implant that according to him would ‘fix’ all kinds of disabilities. People eat this shit up because it’s edgy and futuristic. People forget that it’s also hella eugenic and ableist. And ableism is always bound up with white supremacy and heteropatriarchy, so there’s that. The struggle (and work) never ends, but if more non-disabled people after reading the book get it and decide to push back on these kinds of ‘progress,’ it would be one of many ways to be in solidarity with us.

Upkins: What’s been the reception and feedback to the anthology thus far?

Wong: Pretty good! It’s a weird time to come out with a book but I think it’s giving people a lot of joy and comfort. I also think there’s a hunger for a book like this in the world for both disabled and non-disabled people. I am always blown away by seeing people post selfies with the book or sharing their responses online. One cool thing that I cannot get over is the fact that Disability Visibility was selected for the Noname Book Club this September! I died, let me tell you, DIED!

Front cover of Vogue Magazine: Black and white photo of an Asian American woman in a power chair. She is wearing a vibrantly patterned blouse, a mask over her nose attached to a gray tube and a dark lip color. The Magazine says "Activism Now: The Facts of Hope" in red letters.

Upkins: You recently appeared on the cover of British Vogue. Congratulations. That had to be exciting and surreal for you?

Wong: Quite surreal for sure! An editor reached out to ask for a photo and I figured it was for an article but either I forgot or didn’t realize it would be on the cover. I definitely felt like the odd one out in that group of esteemed activists!

Upkins: You and I initially met during our time on the Nerds of Color? In keeping with the power of storytelling, what fandoms and speculative media are your personal favorites? Which characters and stories were influential on your journey in becoming the individual I’m interviewing now?

Wong: Gotta love the Nerds of Color! Shout-out to Keith Chow who invited me to be part of the crew and write for the blog. My go-to fandoms are Star Trek (DS9, TNG, Voyager, Discovery in that order) and X-Men. I am looking forward to the new version of Dune because I loved the books as a teenager and am intrigued by it especially since the director, Denis Villeneuve, did a remarkable job with Blade Runner 2049 (Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite movies).

Upkins: So aside from promoting the book, what lies ahead for Alice Wong in the immediate future?

Wong: I have a few things in the works that I can’t reveal just yet. I am continuing with my podcast, publishing guest essays periodically, and continuing my activism with #CripTheVote on Twitter in the lead up to Election Day. #CripTheVote is an online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people with my co-partners Gregg Beratan and Andrew Pulrang.

Upkins: Where can readers grab a copy of Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century?

Wong: Folks can find my book in paperback, audiobook, and e-book from major retailers by going to the publisher’s websiteMy website also has info on upcoming book events, media coverage, and other goodies about the book.

Upkins: Where can someone follow you and the Disability Visibility Project?

Wong: On Twitter, I’m @SFdirewolf and @DisVisibility. I can be found on Instagram: @disability_visibility and my website is disabilityvisibilityproject.com.


A picture of Dennis R. Upkins, a lean black man with long limbs wearing a well fitted navy and white pinstripe button up shirt. He's wearing black framed glasses and a warm smile, and has a black katana leaning against his shoulder.

About the guest blogger/interviewer: Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist, and an equal rights activist as well as a long-time member of the Literary Underworld. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine, and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website.

This interview was originally published by Yopp. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Nick Rowan, Local Kitchen Witch

By Nick Rowan

It’s been a busy summer, and a busy year for me, loves.

I’m still driving the school bus. I am The Local Kitchen Witch, and training more. So I cook for bunches of pagans twice a year. Festival of Souls is in October. Ancestor Ritual, Witches’ Ball, Candle Labyrinth. Kithaka Dun is in May. Wild Hunt, Maypole, and this year SJ Tucker is playing a concert.

Both are terrific times. Come out and join us in the woods.

I’ve been doing Grandma duty to two adorable boys. Hunter is 6 and Alexander will be 2 in November.

But my 2021, so far:

~~~
January saw the re-issue of Glad Hands, with a new cover and about 20 percent more new material. It, like all of the Eight Thrones Books, is under the Angelia Sparrow name.

Chuck Hummingbird has a big rig and a big heart. Even as a boy, he took in every stray and injured animal and person around him. Now, even though he is speed-running through some of the most hostile territory in the DisUnited States, he can’t say no to rescuing a pretty blue-eyed gay boy in Heartland. And that just increased the danger level of his run from normal to expert.

This is a dystopian gay trucker romance.

~~~

Temple Secrets from the Cult of Cheesecake came out in December and is available in ebook or print. It’s our church cookbook, and I love it. It’s perfect bound because spiral wasn’t available anymore. It’s good food, some with good stories. The following made my father wibble a little, as it’s his mom’s bread pudding.

Bread Pudding – Nina Fantz

Nick’s grandma taught him to make bread pudding. This is very basic stuff, no fancy whiskey sauce here. When Nick’s mom was terminal with leukemia, he made this for her frequently during the month he took care of her. It was one thing she had no problem eating, despite chemo killing her appetite.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. 1″ stale bread cubes
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. raisins (optional)

Directions:

Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Stir in bread cubes. Stir in brown sugar and raisins. Pour into 8″ round cake pan. Place in large shallow pan on center rack of oven. Pour hot water into larger pan 1″ deep. Bake 350° about 45 minutes, or until knife comes clean.

~~~

In July, I was a prolific little succcubus. (Succubi and incubi are the same demon, they just shapeshift depending on situation. As does my gender-fluid self.) Not only did I have a drag show early in the month, I wrote a lot.

~~~~

As Angelia, I published a sexy short, “Dangerous Game.” This is a fun little piece that manages to combine Real Person Fanfic from the Memphis drag community, multiple personalities, Jekyll and Hyde cosplay and yet remain heterosexual.

When Valentina’s guy heats up the stage as Dr. Jekyll during a show, she lets him know he’s got her heated up too. And wackiness ensues.

~~~

Also as Angelia, I compiled a Busy Night cookbooklet of freezer meals and slow-cooker dishes. It’s stuff that has always worked well for us. No flavor text or cute stories, just recipes. We’re busy, after all. Includes my famous Pasta Fazool. One of my drag characters performs as a zombie Dean Martin—complete with oversized martini glass and eyeballs for olives–and does “That’s Amore” while visibly restraining himself from eating the audience.

When the stars make you drool
Just like Pasta fazool
That’s Amore

Dean O’Bedlam’s Pasta Fazool (no eyeballs)

  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 jar (24 to 26 ounces) tomato-basil marinara or pasta sauce
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-1/4 cups dry pasta
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, optional, for serving
  • Grated Parmesan, optional, for serving

Freeze all items except pasta in a ziplock. Dump into cooker, with 4 cups of water. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 7 hours, or until the vegetables are as tender as you like them. When ready to serve, stir the cooked pasta into the soup. Taste the soup and adjust the salt and herbs to suit your tastes.

~~~

Last August saw the reissue of Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists, now with 80 percent less sex and 100 percent more characterization.

This summer, I edited on the sequel, Terror of the Frozen North. About 20% less sex, more plot and action. It will be out… unknown. As Thoth wills it.

I also continued writing on the third, Mystery of the Monkey God, and have roughed out the fourth, Dance in the Graveyard.

~~~

I did something a bit foolish, perhaps. I started an OnlyFans. It was intended to be a “Watch me Clean and Exercise” channel, but I haven’t done much of either. But it is some fun stuff and the pics are a bit sexier than we normally see.

And when the weather cools down, I will have Gabriel do me up a Lady Dimetriscu shoot. I have the costume.

~~~

In early August, I pinned down Gabriel, finally, and we took a weekend to rewrite Master Anton, fourth in the Eight Thrones series. It needed it. Unfortunately, we got through the book, then added a scene about 60 pages from the end which means we will have to entirely rewrite the end. Oops, so more rewriting is in our future.

~~~

I have the cover for Captain Calamity’s Bedside Reader, a collection of steampunk stories. The book itself is edited and needs formatting. I hope to have it out in time for Black Friday sales.

~~~

My next show is Sept. 10 at Black Lodge, and the theme was A Mad Tea Party. I did Alice Cooper dressed as Alice Liddle performing “Welcome to my Nightmare.” And for Shinedown’s “Her Name is Alice,” I was her shrink who morphed into the Cheshire cat during the song. My video performance list is here.

~~~
My Patreon will be running Sounds of the Season (Halloween music), with crafts, recipes etc. and Yuletide Youtube, Lucky 13, this year. I am also watching as many of the IMDB greatest horror films as I can find, and reviewing them, plus some extras. Tod Browning’s Dracula is not on the list which I consider a serious omission.

$1 gets a lot of online goodies. $5 gets ebooks, $10 gets paperbacks.

~~~

Ways you can support me:

Patreon. Get writing and pics of the say and sometimes crafted goodies:

I have a list here. Some of these are cash-back apps. You get money back, it costs you nothing, and I get a kickback from the app. Win, win win.

Links to all my books currently in print: Here.

Links to me: Nick Rowan, Violetta, Angelia Sparrow.

~~~

How do I do it all and hold down a full time job? 400 words a day. Two chapters of editing a day. And when the muse is upon me (not the kittens or Stratus who are always on me) I ride with her as far as she will take me.

Until next time, my freaky darlings,

Nick.

NICK ROWAN is a bus driver who lives quietly in the mid-south. He writes and crafts to support his yarn habit, You can follow him on Facebook (NickRowan) or Patreon (NickRowan) or Twitter (@NickRowan16) or Tumblr (nicholasrowan) or blogger (NicholasRowanSp) or Etsy (thecarpenterswyfe). Nick has been writing professionally since 2004 as Angelia Sparrow.

 

 

 

End of an era

By Elizabeth Donald

This month was a milestone for me, as my long-running short-story anthology finally went out of print after 15 years and I sold my last copy at a book signing in Memphis.

Setting Suns wasn’t my first book, but it was the first to appear in paperback. Way back in the dawn of the ebook era, my first novel Nocturnal Urges came out from Ellora’s Cave Publishing, but they only published in ebook (two years before there was even such a thing as a Kindle!). If the ebook did well, they released it in paperback later.

Nocturnal Urges came out and it sold well, won awards and the publisher demanded a sequel despite all the people insisting, “I’ll wait until the real book comes out.” I kept yelling, “It IS a real book! Ebooks are real books!” Now people look at my paperbacks and say, “I’ll get the ebook,” and I want to yell, “Where were you in 2005??”

I was working on that sequel when Frank Fradella, founder of New Babel Books, came to me with the idea of putting my short stories into a collection. I’d published a handful of short stories in horror and science fiction magazines that had a disturbing habit of going out of business right after they published me. I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press in the early 2000s. Frank suggested collecting those stories and writing another half-dozen or so just for the collection, and thus Setting Suns was born.

It wasn’t my first book. But it was the first time I opened a box of books and saw my name on the cover. Ask any writer about that moment, and see the look in their eyes when they remember.

Setting Suns has been in print for 15 years, give or take, and that’s one hell of a good run for a small press collection. It won the Darrell Award for best short story for “Wonderland,” a weird little Frankenstein riff told entirely in emails and online chats that gave Frank apoplexy in layout, and contains two of my most popular short stories: “Sisyphus,” a tragedy exploring toxic grief and lost love; and “Jesus Loves Me,” known as the Evil Teddy Bear story.

The Evil Teddy Bear still exists, here in my office. And there were T-shirts.

But there are other stories that didn’t get as much attention. There’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” a literal funhouse horror piece that looks at the different kinds of love a person can have for the people in her life, plus crazy man with gun.

There’s “Silent,” which was one of my very first short stories to be published for money, that smacks of a haunted house as told by The Twilight Zone. There’s “Deep Breathing,” a future-world submarine scarefest involving a monster several readers have referred to as “Cthulu-esque” which was funny because I’d never read Lovecraft at that point.

There’s “Memory Lane,” another escapee from Twilight Zone about a husband’s desperate search to find his missing wife, and the dark secrets that come to light. That one began as my first attempt at a short-film screenplay, rewritten as a short story for Setting Suns.

There’s “Gauntlet,” an action-flick of a science fiction story set in my Sanctuary universe that only reaaaaally dedicated readers know about, since it’s had a couple of stories published but the novels remain in the trunk until I get them to not suck. Three of the Setting Suns stories are set in Sanctuary, but “Gauntlet” is my favorite.

There are even two stories that would qualify as “literary” with no SFFH elements whatsoever, though entering an MFA program and exploring literary fiction was the absolute last thought on my mind in the waning years of my twenties.

After 15 years, Setting Suns was still the “entry drug” for Elizabeth Donald fiction. Long-time readers sometimes tell me it’s their favorite of my titles (which is a little humbling since I’ve published maybe fourteen books and novellas since then, give or take a few).

I’m gonna miss the old girl.

I want to thank Shane Moore, current publisher of New Babel Books, for working with me to put Setting Suns out of print with grace.

I also want to thank Frank Fradella, who is no longer with New Babel Books, for his contributions to making Setting Suns what it was. The book was Frank’s idea, and his editing, layout and design coupled with the cover art from Darren Holmes made a wonderful book that I was proud to call my first.

Thanks also go to Jason R. Tippitt, who co-authored one of the stories with me (“I Live With It Every Day”) and served as sounding board and inspiration through much of the book’s development. I very rarely work in partnerships – I don’t play well with others – and it is a testament to Jason’s patience and skill that our story turned out well. The book was dedicated to Jason, who is a fine writer and I hope you’ll hear more from him in times to come.

It’s been a terrific run for my first “real” book, at least as far as I’m concerned. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and finalist for the Prism and Imadjinn awards, author of the Blackfire urban fantasy series and Nocturne vampire mystery series, as well as other novels, novellas and stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. More recently, she was awarded the Mimi Zanger Literary Award for fiction. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld small-press cooperative; an award-winning journalist and essayist with more than twenty years in journalism; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently completing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and teaches newswriting and English composition at the university. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, vice president of Phi Kappa Phi and Sigma Tau Delta at the university, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, Editorial Freelancers Association and many other organizations for which she volunteers. She lives with her family in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time. 

www.elizabethdonald.com

www.donaldmedia.com

elizabethdonaldphotography.com

Writing isn’t Exactly a Healthy Profession

By Nicole Lanahan

It’s no secret that a writer’s job requires a lot of sitting—there are days when the only time I get out of my chair is to get a refill of coffee. And let me tell you, that much butt-in-seat action may be good for your writing output, but it’s not good for your butt—or in my case, my cholesterol. I had my annual bloodwork done at the beginning of the year, and the results were not great.

I’m getting older. It happens to the best of us. And my body can’t rebound from writing like it could when I was in my 20s. Let’s face it, most writers have day jobs and families. How are we supposed to go to the gym and cook healthy meals when we’re trying to meet deadlines?

The pandemic has been hard on all of us. If you were like me, most of your dinner came from a bag. The result was exactly what you’d think it would be. I was tired all the time, my complexion was a mess, and my cholesterol was through the roof. After a pretty serious conversation with my doctor, I promised to make some changes. I’ve started walking daily at the park and started making healthy eating choices. So this year I vowed to make a change and I’m happy to say I’m down nearly twenty pounds since January, I have more energy, my skin has cleared up, and my cholesterol levels are down enough that I no longer need medication.

Mornings have always been especially hard for me to make good diet choices. Either I want something sugary (I’m talking to you, Starbucks Frappuccino), or I skip breakfast all together. Now that I’ve discovered a healthy, delicious replacement for my usual sugar-filled coffee, I don’t suffer from the afternoon sugar crash. This means I’m in a much better position to write in the afternoons when I get off of work instead of succumbing to the dreaded sugar crash.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any secrets for staying healthy while writing?

Niki Alba’s Morning Coffee Protein Shake

1. 1 C. Ice (there’s 2 in the picture because I made a double batch)
2. 1/2 scoop of protein powder. All I had on had on hand was cookies and cream, but chocolate powder or my favorite salted caramel would make this killer
3. 1/2 frozen banana. Learn from my mistake. Peel this bad boy before you freeze it.
4. 1/2 C. Unsweetened almond milk
5. 1/2 C. Coffee (again, there’s more in my pic because I made a double batch.)
5. Optional 1 stevia packet

Throw all ingredients in blender, blend, and enjoy your only 150 calorie coffee protein goodness!

——

At seventeen, Nicole Lanahan found herself homeless with only a beat-up Volkswagen Jetta and a bag of Goodwill clothing to her name. The only things that got her through the nights she spent parked in truck stops and cornfields were the stacks of books she checked out from the library along with her trusty flashlight. Because of the reprieve these books gave her from her troubles, she vowed to become a writer so she could provide the same escape to readers who needed a break the reality of their own lives. She has written as both Nicole Lanahan and Cole Gibsen. 

 

Love story or romance?

And why, if you choose to ignore the difference, you should invest in fireproof underpants.

By Sela Carsen

 

Wuthering Heights is not a Romance. Literary theory may classify it as a romance, but that is not the same thing as Romance.

See the difference there?

That capital R indicates genre Romance, as opposed to the entire movement of literature that gets categorized as romance (did you know that Robert Burns’ poem about lice in a pretty girl’s hair is “romantic” because it’s about nature?), or millennia’s worth of love stories that fall under the same label, though the vast majority of them end miserably.

But here we are in the 21st century, and people still can’t quite wrap their head around the difference between the variations. I mean, it’s clear enough if you send your spouse to the grocery store to get “cheese,” then grind your teeth if they come back with cheddar instead of cotija, because those are clearly different things… that both use the same word.

For today’s exercise, let’s discard the stories that get labeled “romance” simply because they were written in the “romantic” era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. According to Wikipedia, “Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature….”

Nothing in that statement specifies tales about relationships, so let’s stick with stories that focus on romantic love.

Part of the trouble we have with defining our terms comes from the archetypical “romantic hero” who became popular during this era. Whether the stories involved a romantic relationship or not, they centered around certain types of characters. Either the brooding, solitary hero who rejects love because he’s somehow unworthy, or his counterpart, the waif-like, long-suffering heroine whose life is dictated by the harshness of her rational, patriarchal family. Because extreme emotion was the hallmark of the movement, those archetypes have stuck with the label of “romantic,” which isn’t necessarily a match for writing a Romance.

Capital-R Romance, however, is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t concern itself with glorification of all the past and nature. Instead, it has two main focuses: the “Rules of Romance,” if you will.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. (Romance Writers of America)

Nothing there about staring across the windswept moors or digging up your dead lover’s grave to beg her to haunt you so you can make everyone in a ten-mile radius miserable for the rest of your life. (I’m lookin’ at you, Heathcliff!)

There’s also nothing there about having one half of the relationship die tragically of cancer or in a car wreck or in childbirth or anything else. *coughNicholasSparkscough* No one cheats, no one gets bored, no one leaves.

And before you snort disdainfully and go, “That’s not realistic,” I ask you if zombies are realistic. Or demons that bubble up from cracks in the earth. Or whether you’ve ever actually encountered a hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-boiled detective who referred to women’s legs as “gams” in real life.

It’s. Fiction. People.

Love stories often get the first part right, the main focus on the relationship, but then take a left turn before getting to the part about the optimistic, satisfying ending with the lovers together. You can write a beautiful story where the relationship doesn’t work out, but the main character moves on happily. But if the lovers aren’t together happily, then it’s a love story, not a Romance.

Two people.* Together. Happy Ending. That’s a Romance.

Capital R Romance is about making readers end a book with a smile and a happy sigh, rather than a bewildered, horrified, and tear-drenched, “WTF did I just read?!? What is wrong with these people?!? Did no one learn anything?!?!?”

Whether it’s filled with sexy bits or not (my best-sellers have zero touchy-time on the page), whether it’s set in ancient Rome or in a galaxy far, far away, or in some fictional midwestern small farming town, whether it has vampires or werebears, or billionaires who are suddenly single fathers and down-on-their-luck waitresses/nannies, all Romances follow the above two rules.

Want to write a gorgeous novel that focuses on two people in a zombie apocalypse finding each other and struggling to make their relationship work… then one of them dies (like, all the way dies, doesn’t come back to life with a craving for human flesh), leaving the other a lone, tragic figure?

That’s awesome! Do it! But it’s not a Romance. It’s a love story.

Want to write a beautiful novel that focuses on two teens, but the boy is a zombie who eats the brains (and memories) of his girlfriend’s dead ex-boyfriend, and even though he stays a zombie, he sort of gets much better, and even though her zombie-hunting dad wants to kill him, the boy and girl overcome their human/zombie differences and stay together?

Don’t write that. Someone already did, it’s called Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, and it’s freaking adorable.

But you could write your own zombie Romance as long as it ends with the two happily getting together and staying together!

Now let’s put on our author hats. The business hat, not the creative one.

Romance is a marketing term. It’s designed to let readers know what they’re picking up in much the same way that the terms mystery and thriller signal certain expectations to readers.

Romance readers are a savvy bunch of (mostly) women who drop billions of dollars a year on those Happy Ever Afters. They’re socially connected, they belong to vast communities of other readers, and they do not like getting tricked because you think you’re going to “turn romance on its head,” or you don’t like genre limitations, like that daft rule about how you always have to reveal whodunnit at the end of a mystery novel.

You’re an artiste! No one can tell you what to do! And those silly Romance-reading women with all that disposable income should appreciate your avant-garde approach to educating them and teaching them to read “better books.”

*snort*

Try it. I’ve got a bag of marshmallows to roast on the bonfire they’ll light around your flaming literary oeuvre and the ashes of your career. Or, as they call it in the Romancelandia territory of Twitter, “every other Tuesday.”

That attitude is not special, or unique, or clever. It IS however, probably some combination of pretentious, ignorant, and/or misogynistic.

Labeling a book as a Romance has meaning, and mislabeling shows that the author either doesn’t know what they’ve written, or they’re deliberately trying to mislead potential readers. Because I can absolutely guarantee that Romance readers understand their genre, and they read it specifically for that Happy Ever After satisfaction. They can get misery anywhere, but they pick up a Romance to get that happy sigh at the end. If the author doesn’t deliver, they have wildly misjudged their readership.

Note: Romance isn’t limited to just two people. There are entire niches filled with polyamorous but committed groupings. Romance has also become very open to non-het, non-cis, non-binary characters and relationships. Love is love.

Writing a Romance and labeling it correctly not only ensures that you’re going to hit your target market correctly, thereby putting you in a position to sell well, but it also indicates a basic level of respect for the readers.

So if you choose to write a relationship-based story, know that the conclusion dictates the marketing, and it’s up to you to understand the differences in how they’ll hit the readership.

 

Sela Carsen is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She also writes steamy contemporary romance as Silke Campion. Check out many of her titles on The Literary Underworld.

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of Writing

By Cathy Jackson

The life of a writer is a strange and wonderful thing, and varies from person to person. To create new friends, introduce a reader to new places, and bring a novel to life is an amazing honor. It’s sometimes an easy process, but there are times we struggle to create even a simply phrase. Writing is an occupation that encompasses the mind and soul.

At least it does for me. My husband says I become manic when I write and “zone out” at the computer. To be perfectly honest, once I put in my earbuds and the music streaming from them enters my thoughts, most external influences fall away. My thoughts and feelings become centered on what I see in my mind’s eye. Everything I am becomes about relating what my imagination sends to my fingertips, and I get to convey, to the best of my ability, everything I see, hear, “touch,” “taste,” and “hear.”

One of the amazing things about being a writer is a sharp focus to give myself completely over to whatever is happening at the time. Whether something is happening on or off the page, there is a heightening of the senses that doesn’t seem to ever switch off. Often I’m overwhelmed, but have learned to temper what I’m sensing from around me.

A day in my life is crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My day pre-starts at 4 a.m. when my husband gets up for work. We chat as he dresses for the day, he reads a chapter or two out of the Bible and we pray, then I fall back to sleep for a few hours before it’s my turn to get up. I say a quick prayer, asking God to use me for His glory, and rouse our 15-year-old. He’s remote schooling this year. I pray with him, go through his studies, and then start the housework. Once the housework is done, I get to answer emails and messages on all my social networks. By then, it’s around noon, and I haven’t begun to write on any manuscript. If I am very lucky, I’ll have about two hours to promote one or two of my seventeen published novels before I write.

Lately, I’ve been writing about 30 minutes to an hour a day. The time is enough to release some of the creative energy and I feel great. One more check on our son’s school day before he logs off and I start dinner. We try to have dinner together as a family, schedules permitting this to happen, and then an hour or two of down-time with my husband before bed.

Every writer’s schedule is different, and each day brings its own challenges, but we couldn’t imagine not wanting to do what we do. We love it, and feel called to bring novels to readers. As an avid reader myself, I love when my favorite writers release new novels. It’s nice to read the thoughts from those who read the novels I write when they write a review. Those precious words encourage me and I’m grateful for each review I receive.

Min Eurozan by Cathy Jackson

I am no longer on Earth, nor any other place I know.

I have scant memory of how or why I came to be here.

Time continues to ebb and flow with my memories and the strange, seductive men who inhabit them.

The only constant is Love.

One owns my Body, he equally possesses and protects me.

One holds my Heart, wanting me as his friend and lover.

One challenges my Mind, he’s captured me with his patient intellect.

One completes my Soul, our love is the deepest and most pure.

One heats my Blood, bringing with him fire and need.

I love them all, and I love them as One.

 

Cathy Jackson is a midwestern Christian mother of two twentysomethings and two teenagers. Reading is a passion of hers, but she adores writing. Some of the best people have been placed in her life to help her publish her books. They are a blessing and mean more to her than they will ever know. She loves writing scenes that uplift and encourage along with making one feel the experience. She wants readers to finish the books feeling hope, love, and happiness. To date, the books she has published are inspirational (Christian) romances, but they have a contemporary romance feel.

Author Links:

So you want to be a romance writer….

It’s awesome.

Romance as a genre is one of the most generous communities out there. Are there problems? Sure. But as a whole, the authors are unbelievably generous with their time and experience, and the readers are nothing short of amazing.

I think that’s what happens when you’re the most commonly maligned target of all types of literature. There’s nothing more empowering than standing arm in arm against misogyny — either blatant or internalized — with literally millions of women worldwide who are voracious readers. (I say women because the vast majority of our readers and writers code female. We do have a growing number of male authors and readers, but our industry still leans heavily to women.)

Romance writers tend to be extraordinarily business-savvy in a way that many other authors have never had to be, all while delivering story after story that our readers crave. And the majority of us now do it all ourselves, sometimes while still writing for traditional publishers, as well.

Regardless of the opportunities available to authors these days, it’s not easy to write a romance novel. There’s no machine out there cranking out pre-recorded tropes that you can just mix and match. No matter how much readers love certain tropes, they won’t pick up your next book unless you’re also giving them great characters, solid plots, and meaningful conflicts. There are infinite ways to screw with your characters before they get their happy ever after.

Speaking of those happy endings: yes, they’re a must if you want to sell your book as a romance. Don’t even argue. Just accept it. The same way you’d never tag a book as a mystery if you didn’t reveal the murderer, them’s the rules for romance.

The only other requirement of the genre is that the relationship is the central focus of the story. Within those two parameters, the entire storytelling universe is at your fingertips. If you don’t want to adhere to those rules, that’s fine. Write whatever you like. But you’re writing a love story, and I’d strongly advise against marketing it as romance unless you’re wearing flame-retardant underpants.

There are no length requirements, and you don’t have to write sex scenes if you don’t want to. Literally anything goes. Blue alien barbarians rescuing kidnapped human women? Go for it. Time-traveling Scotsmen wooing modern day wedding dress designers? Write on. Bikers and billionaires and shapeshifting rodeo bulls? Do it. If you want to write sweet Amish romance, there’s a market for it. If you want to write a lawyer and a mechanic coming together in a BDSM dungeon, please do.

There is no shortage of real-life awfulness in the world. Writing stories that readers can depend on to deliver a smile or a cathartic emotional experience that ends in joy can give people what they need to make it through their toughest days.

You’re writing love. And that’s all we need.

Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her wandering lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog and the cat, she is finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Your pick. 

 

 

BY SELA CARSEN
Mondarbre Press
CAROLINA WOLF: Debar Henry is living the meek librarian cliche, except for the teeny hint of magic in her blood. as the keeper of magical knowledge passed down from her ancestors, she’s content with her quiet existence in the tiny town of Culford, South Carolina.
But a monstrous attack could reveal her secret and end her life. Maddox Moreau was a happy lone wolf until the day he spotted pretty, bewitching Debra along the trails of the Congaree Swamp. When he saves her, his fate is bound up in hers, and they have to learn to work together in a hurry to defeat the spread of evil.
CAROLINA PEARL: Conn Lucas is the bastard son who inherited the family home on the Congaree Swamp in Culford, South Carolina. Now he only has to deal with his cousin sabotaging him, his ancestors haunting him, and his gorgeous neighbor distracting him.
Blair Moreau knows Conn is her mate, but he’s proving difficult to convince that they’re a fated pair. If only the stubborn man would let her help, all his problems would be solved.
It takes a wild night with a nail gun before thy find they work better together than they ever can apart.