Unleaded: Fuel for Writers is pleased to host Denny Upkins as our Guest Blogger for Monday, April 28th, 2014. (And my apologies for being late in getting this up and on the website!) Denny’s sophomore title, West of Sunset, will be released April 30, 2014 by Parker Publishing! That’s in TWO DAYS!!!!
Denny was kind enough to give us a fun post about staying motivated about one’s writing. Obviously, from the tone of the piece you can tell Denny loves it! He’s given us a detailed list of the things he does to keep going, but more importantly, to keep enjoying what we’ve chosen to spend time on. Writing is often a solo affair. It is lonely and for many folks requires sacrificing family time, time with friends, television, video games, even sleep (I particularly like sleep).
About the book itself, West of Sunset can best be summed up as young gay wizard detectives, witchy heroines, vampire biker gangs, all colliding during a vacation in Los Angeles. And that’s just one half of the book!
Full disclosure time.
When I learned about this page and began brainstorming on guest post ideas, I geeked out with excitement. I love the idea behind this website as staying motivated about writing is an issue I’m all too familiar with. So trust me when I say that having the opportunity to discuss and share my experiences and techniques with fellow bards is a real treat for me. Hopefully this post will be entertaining and beneficial for each of you. As is the standard with any advice I offer, take whatever you can utilize and disregard the rest.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Early in my writing career, I made the mistake of forsaking fun for my prose. I wasn’t invested in the short stories I wrote. Don’t get me wrong, they were well structured and well-written but because these characters were one-offs and not players in the universes I intended on investing in and developing a series around……the stories lacked my enthusiasm/passion/soul or what you.
In my defense, I was a fledgling writer at the time and I was testing the waters of the submissions and publishing process. But before I knew it, writing was becoming as unpleasant as my day job and worse, I wasn’t being paid for it.
That’s when I made a solemn rule. I will not write a story unless I’m having the most fun possible. If the concept of the plot or the characters don’t have my muse and my inner geek excited to a fever pitch, I’m not wasting my time. That concept can range from misadventures in babysitting that led to my audio short, Stranger Than Fiction; a retelling/homage of the Great Gatsby which was one of the key themes of my debut YA paranormal mystery, Hollowstone; a re-imagining and exploration of Richard Corey as a young gay black wizard such as my hero Brecken Everett in my upcoming novel West of Sunset.
An original story I’m developing now begs the question as to what would happen if Regina Mills/The Evil Queen from TV’s Once Upon A Time crossed paths with DC Comic’s Cassandra Cain. By no means am I exaggerating when I say I’m having a party.
Allowing myself to be a kid is not an easy feat for me. A precocious old soul, my parents used to constantly tell me that I was 16 going on 50 and I needed to learn to loosen up. I have it on good authority, those conversations never happen with teenagers. However in the process of discovering my inner kid, said fun and magic translated over into my work and by extension, to my readers.
The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Not only is The Soundtrack of Our Lives a punned title and segue into the next topic I’m going to discuss, but they’re also a great band. If you aren’t familiar with their music, I highly recommend you check them out.
One of my rituals before starting a story or while writing one is composing a soundtrack from my iTunes library. Despite the fact that I can’t play an instrument to save my life, I love music.
From Johnny Cash to Michael and Janet to Kasabian, to Ladytron, to Beethoven, to 2Cellos, to Janelle Monae, to the Prodigy, to Sloan to the New Pornographers to the Dandy Warhols and countless other acts, their art fuels mine.
Music can often convey ideas, emotional content, and stories when even words fail. In West of Sunset, there’s a very intimate scene where Brecken and his buddy Owen have an intense dance. That scene was inspired by the Smithereens’ classic track, The Last Good Time.
Feel free to Google it. I’ll wait. Go ahead. It’s totally worth it.
When Hollowstone was released, I repeatedly mentioned that Moon by the Kaiser Chiefs was the perfect theme song for the novel.
When I released the trailer for the novel, NIN’s A Warm Place fit the bill for the teaser.
But since seeing and hearing is believing, have a gander at the book trailer.
The Inspiration That Is Life
With West of Sunset I definitely pulled from real life. For instance in the first half of the story, there’s a “gentleman’s wager” that’s based on a pool my college roommates had going in regards to which one of them I would come out of the closet to, first.
When my best friend Will and I get together, either he’s usually getting me into trouble or I’m getting him into trouble. And in those very rare instances where we’re both being very well behaved Christian Southern gents, trouble finds us both. Suffice it to say, the two of us vacationing in Los Angeles without any adult supervision was an epic for the ages that provided a lot of inspirational source material that I used in West of Sunset. However, some of our hijinks were too far fetched even for an urban fantasy novella so I thought it best to keep with the more realistic stuff, wizard detectives, vampire biker gangs, angelic demon hunters and witchy heroines.
Yes, much more realistic, you read that correctly. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Don’t you judge me. 😉
Cross The Streams
Okay, show of hands, how many of you have are in the process of developing your own universe where a series of your stories take place? Come on. Don’t be shy. Raise em up and represent. How many of you have two or more universes/series created or in the works. Very awesome.
By crossing the streams, I’m not just making a Ghostbuster’s reference but I’m also referring to crossovers.
Worlds collide in West of Sunset when Brecken teams up the Phoenix twins and later with Violet, all of whom are key protagonists in three separate series and universes I’m developing. For me, the writer, it was a treat for the same reason someone enjoys Angel making a cameo on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spider-Man and Storm teaming up for an adventure in a comic book, or seeing two of the Avengers appear on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And speaking of all things Marvel, I feel the need to say something very important here.
One of my favorite exercises, dreamcasting is where I share who would be my ideal picks to portray the players of my novel in the hypothetical live-action adaptation. This often gets very interesting for me because how I envision the characters in my mind while writing the characters and the actors portraying them can sometimes be vastly different and it sort of creates a sister universe of my own source material.
If that was surreal for you to read, imagine how it is for me typing this out.
Another added benefit of dreamcasting is that it helps the readers to envision the characters and when you’re promoting your latest project, it gets them uber stoked.
The idea of defining your brand or pitching your story can seem like a daunting task but I’ve found that when you get creative and have fun with the process, not only does it make you even more excited about your work but it can boost your confidence about your craft and your career overall.
As a gay writer of color who analyzes diversity in media and is an equal rights advocate, I’m well aware that my identity and my brand makes me marketable to a huge potential audience that the mainstream (read: white) industry continues to ignore and denigrate. Because I’m serving a cause that is bigger than me (diversity and progressiveness), I’m motivated to give my 100 percent in all of my work and to promote and fight for it. Why? Because I understand what it means to read a book that has a sympathetic protagonist that looks like you and shares your identity, be you a woman of color, a trans person, an individual with disabilities, or any other minority.
The greatest motivator for me is when a PoC tells me they couldn’t put the book down and want to buy my other work or when a gay person thanks me for giving them a champion. Upon hearing that, I can’t grab the pen and the pad and return to the lab fast enough.
Much in the same way that dreamcasting aids readers in visualizing the characters for your saga, I’ve found that creating a digital photo album, be it one on iCloud or a Pinterest board, aids me in visualizing the world, the protagonists, and the ideas and emotions I want to communicate with the audience. The photo can be of any person, place, thing, or even an abstract expression. The only requisite is that it encapsulates a theme, emotion,or idea that aids me in visualizing my story in its proper tone and context.
Doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, as long as it makes sense to me, that’s all that matters. Not only does that keep me jazzed about working and writing but when loyal and inquisitive fans follow you on Pinterest and see your process, they often encourage you even more with their questions and comments.
The End of The Race Is Only The Beginning
The biggest confidence booster and motivator for me is finishing a story. Doesn’t matter how bad it is or how many revisions I may have to do. I set out to accomplish a task and I did that very thing. That is a fact that cannot be undone.
By completing this journey, I know the highs, the lows and intricacies of my writing process and possess a better insight in achieving maximum efficiency when I embark on my next project.
And embark I shall.
That’s the thing about journeys once I finish one, I’m left with a hunger to embark on another one, pen a more epic fantastical tale, with the goal of this work one being superior to my last.
The end? Far from it. I’m only getting started. 😉
Author Bio (from his website):
Receiving an academic scholarship, Upkins graduated from the University of TN at Chattanooga with a BA in English. After working as a reporter for a local newspaper for a few years, he moved from Tennessee and relocated to Atlanta, GA where he procured a BFA in media arts & animation from the Art Institute of Atlanta.
In 2011, his debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing. His upcoming title, West of Sunset is also scheduled to be released by Parker Publishing.
In addition to writing, Upkins has worked as a freelance artist and a digital photographer. His artwork and short stories have appeared in a number of publications, most notably Drops of Crimson. And his audio short, Stranger Than Fiction, can be found at Sniplits.
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 and Nashville Geek Life.
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, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing.
Dennis R. Upkins books are available at:
Parker Publishing: http://www.parker-publishing.com/