Congratulations to Underlord Denny Upkins, who has recently joined PEN America! PEN stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression, both in the U.S. and worldwide. “We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world,” reads their mission statement. Denny is their newest professional member, and we’re looking forward to what that cooperation may bring!
Denny also has a new piece up on 30up.tv, analyzing “Marvel’s most important superhero.” “The Perfect Storm” went live last month, and begins thus:
“Nine years old. That was the age of this Catholic Altar Boy when he saw God… or one of her manifestations, to be more precise.”
Of course, if you’re interested in more of Mr. Upkins’ work, you can snag his novel West of Sunset from Literary Underworld!
For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, he’s working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forest.
In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when he’s at his best. In Keepers, Brecken is enlisted to aid Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; twins, the last Pyrians, the last of an ancient race. The Brothers Phoenix are on a quest to uncover clues to their past. When they find a lost relic, a pair of demons claim it. With Brecken’s aid, the twins are determined to not only stop the threat, but have some fun in the process.
West of Sunset takes place a year after Keepers. All Brecken wants to do is get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend, he plans a vacation of surf, sun, partying and relaxation… until the boys stumble upon a museum heist connected to a biker gang of vampires with plans to raise a most dark power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and powerful witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent forces, vampire biker gangs, even Brecken’s vacations are just another day at the office.
Underlord Dennis R. Upkins recently had the opportunity to interview comics superhero Gail Simone. As Denny says in his prologue to the interview, if well-behaved women seldom make history, Gail has made history in defiance of the male-dominated comics industry.
Gail created the Women in Refrigerators concept, which called out misogyny and the sidelining of female characters in comics as perpetual victims to motivate male heroes. She went on to write several comics lines, including the longest run on Wonder Woman for any woman writer, as well as Birds of Prey and Deadpool.
A few excerpts from Gail’s discussion with Denny:
On Women in Refrigerators:
GAIL: Like most jobs, you get tested, you make errors, choices are given to you where the road isn’t clear, but I think your gut is a fair indicator of what the right thing to do is, most of the time. And I do feel lucky that the Women In Refrigerators AT LEAST named a trope that seemed to permeate adventure fiction on all levels. It was never my intent to tell people what stories are ‘off limits,’ it was just to say, ‘doesn’t this seem a little tired to you?’
It was never even intentional activism, it was a frustration I had to voice, and the wonderful thing is, people of all genders got it, they had the same uncomfortable feeling. So that was worth the constant hate mail and rage that was sent my way. None of that meant very much to me, still doesn’t.
On pushback against diversity in comics:
GAIL: I had great editors on Deadpool when I got started, and we raised sales and fan/critical reaction hugely. But they got promoted and the new editor was just awful. He said my Deadpool, which was literally FULL of shooting and action and boners, “had too much estrogen.” That’s a direct quote, someone actually gave this genius a job.
So that kind of thing happened, I remember a bit of pushback on making a character gay very early on. However, I have to say, DC was really advanced about that at the time, in particular. I don’t remember them ever pushing back about diverse characters, even things like the first Transgender character in a Batman-universe book. They were behind us, and I am very appreciative of that.
On the future of the comic book landscape:
GAIL: I want comics shops to be healthy. Comics will mutate and absolutely SHOULD be in as many venues as possible. But the front line is comics shops, and they’re being obliterated by piracy, rent hikes, and other factors, it all has to be addressed. Other than that, I want more The Walking Dead style hits, books that bring in readers who weren’t reading, say, Spider-Man.
On advice for aspiring creators:
GAIL: I say bring your principles with you. No one wants to be preached at while reading Batman. But acknowledging a wider world is saying, “I do not accept that this world that I love, this universe that I am so deeply entrenched in, has to stay mired in amber since 1940.”
Also, if your plot is dragging, have Spider-Man web some dude.
Dennis R. Upkins is an Atlanta native and member of the Literary Underworld. He is the author of Hollowstone and West of Sunset, and regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media. 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.
Today’s guest author is Michael Houtchen, whose debut novel Tybee Island H-Bomb premieres this week from our friends at Seventh Star Press. Here’s Michael’s story in his own words:
Kentucky has always been my home. I was born in Owensboro and raised in Daviess County. Life was simple back then. I grew up with outhouses, hand-pumps, and coal stoves. If you wanted hot water, you heated it on the stove.
Both of my parents have passed on. I have a half-brother, Danny, but most of our younger lives he lived with his father, so we didn’t get to see each other often. Looking back, sadly, it was like being an only child. My closest friends were the cows, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys, geese, ducks, and horses my dad kept on our small farm. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Farm animals can be so jealous. Our grocery store – mason jars of mom’s canned vegetables and the occasional trip into town to the IGA.
My dad was a woodsman. You could give him a shotgun, a box of shells and
a book of matches, and he could disappear into the forest for weeks. I used to
hunt with him, but I was never the woodsman. I can’t tell you how many deer,
squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and ground hogs I’ve eaten.
My wife, Stephanie, and I have five kids (three boys and two girls) and
eight grandchildren (five boys and three girls). All but one son live here in
town. You should see Christmas day at our house.
I’ve had several jobs during my lifetime. When I was thirteen, I had a summer job. I was a soda-jerk at the Utica Junior High School playground. The school is now defunct. It is not my fault the school went defunct.
As an adult, I started out as a janitor. Loved the work, but not the pay. Mapping came next. In other words, I was a draftsman who created maps from surveys. I did that for over twenty years. Mapping full time and going to Brescia College (it’s now a university) at night, I got a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Career change: I was a computer analyst for over twenty years.
There came a day when I realized I was the dinosaur of computer science. Technology had passed me by. So I up and retired. That was in 2014, and I haven’t missed working a day. Truth be known, I do miss the people I worked with.
Notice: I’ve said nothing about writing. I could tell you a pretty good story, but putting it on paper was another thing. Stephanie, my wife, asked, “And why not?” I had no answer.
I should keep this short, so, I will tease you with two important events
that happened in my life; two events that I haven’t already discussed. When we
meet each other, don’t hesitate to ask me about them.
Monday, September 6, 1965, was a Labor Day, and I was out of school. On
that day, I came in contact with a high voltage powerline. Seven thousand two
hundred volts entered my hand and exited my head and my feet.
That’s not a typo. It was 7200 volts. I was given up for dead for three days. There is a “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. Ask me about it when we meet.
The second event: September 17, 2017, I was ordained a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. It keeps me busy these days. If you’re not sure what a permanent deacon does, Google it.
There you have it: My life story summed up in 1,000 words or less. It sounds like a writing contest, doesn’t it? There’s so much I left out. I could tell you about riding the rails, or the time I hung myself. But those will have to wait until we meet.
Michael on the elements of a good thriller:
A solid series plot.
I like for each book in a series to be standalone, but the
overall series could have a well thought out plot, a “traveling” storyline, if
you will, traveling from book to book. I
wrote a four book series, and I knew were each book was going and how each book
Without interesting characters, the series could/would get
boring or grow stale. Adding/removing
characters helps keep the storyline fresh.
Yes, after a while, there’s nothing wrong with killing off main characters
or having them move away. People will
hate you, but that’s real life. Never,
never kill a pet! Just look at John
A thriller takes place in the world with real world
situations — no hocus pocus. Even if the
series takes place on, say, one of Saturn’s moons, it should still have real
world situations, like the 1981 movie Outland
staring Sean Connery.
A good series will take you down an expected path, just to
come to a dead end. But don’t drop the
solution in the last chapter, or by the introduction of a new character with
the solution near the end of the story.
Work your way, chapter by chapter, to the solution. Keep the reader, guessing. I love hearing people say ̶ I
thought it was this person until you killed him.
Take the time to do the research. I once had a “scene” where a person was starting a helicopter. I went through all the buttons and gauges just fine, only to find out, I had the pilot in the wrong seat. The helicopter inventor was left-handed, so pilots sit in the right seat. A pilot friend, who flew helicopters in Vietnam, pointed out my error.
Tybee Island H-Bomb
The government lost a hydrogen bomb around Tybee Island, Georgia, in
1958, or is that an old wives’ tale?
If it is only a tale, then why are three young men trying to find it, in
hopes of selling it to make a dirty bomb?
Before the week is out, six friends from Kentucky will get caught up in kidnapping, murder, and treason, while trying to save one of their own and perhaps the citizens of Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia.
Today’s guest blogger is Joann H. Buchanan, whose latest book is being released this week from Seventh Star Press. Joann was raised in a military family and at the age of 19, followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. She went to college at OPSU in Oklahoma, majoring in CIS, but the love of writing made her ultimately come back to it. After Dark is Joann’s fifth book. Joann and her husband John have five children and live happily in the heartland of middle America.
The hurdles of being indie
Everyday there are over 500,000 books published on Amazon.
That is the biggest hurdle. How to stand out in a sea filled with water?
The most obvious answer is marketing. There are a lot of indie authors who can’t afford to market a book the way it should be.
There are a few ways to get around this.
One, hire someone who is versed in marketing and can make it easier on you or two, gather a few people who are in the same boat and work together. The second is probably going to end up being the most rewarding because you make friends in the journey and you don’t feel so alone. Also, set your expectations one day at a time. If you receive a review about your book and it’s fabulous, use that to keep moving forward. If you are able to help a friend spread the word, use that to keep moving forward.
That’s the most important thing… keep moving forward. Ultimately you are your own worst enemy. If a new author focuses on the fact that you aren’t a number one best selling author right off the bat, then you are focusing on the wrong thing.
As a friend of mine has told me, this is a marathon, not a
sprint. In other words, be prepared for a long journey and celebrate every step
that moves you forward.
I have been fortunate in this business in that I have not
only made money, but I have connected with some amazingly talented people. They
have given me a map when I was lost, an ear when I wanted to vent and a laugh
when I have felt down. Allow yourself to exist in the moment. Eventually the
bottom line will take care of itself as long as you are existing in the moment.
The other thing, appreciate your fans. They don’t have to
buy your book. So even if they don’t particularly enjoy one book but they loved
another, tell them thank you for reading it. I think some writers forget the
fans. One of my favorite things to do is answer emails from fans. They are
everything when it comes to the literary world.
The question is what is the biggest hurdle for an indie
writer—I think the biggest hurdle is ourselves. We should band together to make
things easier. I’ve seen authors put others down instead of celebrating
accomplishments. Don’t do that. Remember that today it is their turn but
tomorrow it may be your turn. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate one another
and help one another than to walk all over one another or allow jealousy to
If you are an indie writer and you want to work together to move forward, let me know. I will gladly be part of your group to help one another move forward. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
After Dark: Children of Nox series No. 3
The time of three arrives….
The stained one is revealed.
The dream protector’s power grows.
A demon possesses the body of Jonah.
All the pieces are in place, guided by Trinity.
Gods, goddesses, and supernatural forces converge,
and a clash of powers looms that will determine the fate of the world.
What will come after the dark?
The thrilling conclusion of the Children of Nox Series awaits you!
Saturday morning, a meeting room filled with people from all stages of
publishing. Multi-pubbed award winners to aspiring writers who hadn’t finished
their first draft yet, working in all genres, found their spots and settled in.
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors. She also maintains an award-winning blog for writers at JaneFriedman.com; her expertise has been featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, the National Press Club and many other outlets.
With those kinds of credentials, it’s
no wonder people were engaged and interested for the day-long workshop called “Are
You Ready for Success?”
The main points included learning how
to build an author platform, optimize branding and messaging to appeal to readers,
and employ strategize in your website, blog, newsletters and social media to
reach and engage your audience.
The first point she made was to
define “platform,” which she equated to visibility. Right off the bat, the
audience was asked to think, not in terms of individual sales, but in terms of
how we reach our audience at large.
And the only way to reach that
audience was to do the work.
In other words, write the book.
Building an author brand. The idea of a brand is to build an expectation in readers for what you deliver in text, design, and action. Presenting a unified, even repetitive image across all your media helps solidify that brand in the readers mind through consistency.
Optimizing your books starts with metadata, which consists of the book description, cover, editorial reviews, categories and keywords. She mentioned that one of the ways readers know what they like is through comparison, which is why you often see phrases like, “If you like X, you’ll love Y!” in book marketing.
Whether or not those comparisons are entirely accurate, knowing who and what is selling in your genre or niche can help you identify your target audience. Yasiv.com is a helpful tool for finding similar books, as well as looking through your also-boughts, checking reviews for mentions of similar authors, as well as Goodreads lists and those media roundups of “Top 10 Whatever Books To Read Next.”
Writing compelling book descriptions
is more than telling the plot. Using headlines, bold type, and white space
effectively, including editorial reviews from bloggers and media, as well as
working in appropriate categories and keywords can help readers find you in
She also suggested updating your book
descriptions periodically to take advantage of new trends. A little work every
few months might bring in fresh readers.
Consider your strengths in generating leads. Are you a good blogger? Can you do a podcast or run a Twitter chat? Maybe you’re great at networking – not all authors are introverts. All of those and more are ways to generate leads, which in publishing translates to finding readers.
One way to discover some of your
possible lead generation avenues is to do a SWOT analysis. Strengths,
Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Focus on maximizing what you can (write
more books!), and taking the chances that come your way.
Platform Assets: Website first, because it’s your official face as an author. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be functional. It should look like you – an opportunity to reiterate your branding – and it should have all the information about your books a reader or a potential contact might need.
Social media is another platform asset, because it’s a way to connect you to the community of readers, as well as a way to network with other authors and publishing professionals. It is not your best selling tool, but it is a way to brand yourself and build relationships.
The final leg of your platform asset
is your email newsletter. When you build your list organically, it consists of
your most engaged readers. They’re the ones who will evangelize for you.
She addressed a few different
strategies for producing original content. For instance, readers enjoy media
content lists — what you’re reading/watching/listening to/streaming right now.
Q&As and interviews with other authors are of interest, as well as behind
the scenes peeks into the writing and publishing process. Finally, funny is
always a good bet for entertaining, value added content.
You can also send out RSS feeds, blog
roundups and automatic digests for newsletters.
One of the biggest keys to
maintaining a vibrant, engaged newsletter list is consistency in frequency,
format, look, and voice.
If you need a priority list for your
platform assets, attend to your website first, then your newsletter, then pick
one social media platform where you can show up regularly.
If you’d like to learn more about the
Missouri chapter of Romance Writers of America, the organization that hosted
the special event, please visit https://www.morwa.org/wp/
Sela Carsen is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She maintains a permanent nerd-on for fairytales and mythology, and openly hoards reference books about obscure folklore. Born a wanderer, she and her family have finally settled in the Midwest. Until they move again, at least. http://selacarsen.com/