Stephen S. Power

The Wave Rises

The Wave Crests, then Falls

Monday saw the publication of my sixth story at AE, You’ll Never Walk Alone, which was accepted just last week, and my first at Flash Fiction Online, Mamita. Once again I owe both to the precise editing of DF McCourt and Suzanne Vincent, respectively.

Last week I also found out that StarShipSofa would be reading my Nature story Stripped to Zero. With River Boys slated to be read on FarFetchedFables, now I only need to crack TaleToTerrify to pull of the spec fic trifecta.

After that, though, the rejections started pouring in, including one from a place that had held a story I’ve been trying to get pubd for a long time. Argh…

I’m slammed with stuff to write, including three essays that should appear around the pub date for The Dragon Round, plus a presentation at a business writers conference, which naturally means I’m doing worldbuilding for something entirely different and playing lots of LOTRO. I need to focus.

 

 

 

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A Better Week Than Most

First, Game of Thrones.  Second, Game of Thrones. I have an hour until it’s on again. Hodor. Hodor.

Daily Science Fiction pubd my story For Our Light Affliction this week, which got me some much appreciated. Twitter praise. It was originally written for an Apex microfiction challenge on the theme “hellhound.” I thought it was funnier not to mention that Satan’s bichon frise was a hellhound, then I realized, What if it’s not? The title comes from 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Is anything more eternal than outrage?

I also had my favorite and possibly best story, “The Catskill Dragon,” accepted by the relaunched Deep Magic, although I’m cognizant that I might only feel it’s my favorite and best because I put so much work into it. In an ideal world, it’ll turn into a book series called “The Dragons of America.” In the real world, such a series might not be as saleable as others I’m working on. More to come on this when it’s pubd. The first issue of the relaunch, but still called #50, is available now.

Which brings me to The Dragon Round, with its movable feast of a pub date, now July 19. Two months to go. It got a great PW review, which is pretty surreal for someone’s who’s spent 20-odd years reading PW reviews and who’s also written 20-odd himself. Better still, the review’s eminently quotable:

Power’s promising first novel mixes dark naval adventure with classic fantasy in a tale of mutiny with a twist. …Power adeptly mashes together Horatio Hornblower–style adventure with the art of training dragons and a hint of backstabbing treachery for a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

But enough about me. Back to Game of Thrones. I’ve been studying the first book for lessons in perspective, particularly how frequently to put a character’s inner thoughts into a chapter, as well as how to build in description because Martin does this very well. Each of his chapters ends with a key decision or action, but it takes it’s time along the way. For instance, most the chapter that ends with Ned’s fate is spent following Arya around Fleabottom as she tries to survive. The decision at the end isn’t even hers; it’s Joffrey’s. Martin’s paragraphs can be structured like this too. For instance, check out this one in the newly released chapter of The Winds of Winter:

Dusk found them on the fringes of the rainwood, a wet green world where brooks and rivers ran through dark forests and the ground was made of mud and rotting leaves. Huge willows grew along the watercourses, larger than any that Arianne had ever seen, their great trunks as gnarled and twisted as an old man’s face and festooned with beards of silvery moss. Trees pressed close on every side, shutting out the sun; hemlock and red cedars, white oaks, soldier pines that stood as tall and straight as towers, colossal sentinels, big-leaf maples, redwoods, wormtrees, even here and there a wild weirwood. Underneath their tangled branches ferns and flowers grew in profusion; sword ferns, lady ferns, bellflowers and piper’s lace, evening stars and poison kisses, liverwort, lungwort, hornwort. Mushrooms sprouted down amongst the tree roots, and from their trunks as well, pale spotted hands that caught the rain. Other trees were furred with moss, green or grey or red-tailed, and once a vivid purple. Lichens covered every rock and stone. Toadstools festered besides rotting logs. The very air seemed green.

What a last sentence! Like Joyce’s, “She was tired.” And such a lush land deserves such a lush paragraph. The last sentence wouldn’t work without all that, either. I’ve been debating with myself the need for “very,” but I think it works here the way adding “Frankly” to “My dear, I don’t give a damn,” made the movie version of the line better than the book version: it’s a sort of punctuation that sets up the rest.

I’m also rereading the series along with rewatching the show to see what Martin and D&D did differently not as a matter of plot but of authorial focus. For instance, before Tyrion goes to breakfast at Winterfell, in the book he wakes up in the library, but in the show he wakes up in a kennel. I much prefer the former. It plays up his mind, showing how he finds strength despite physical difficulties, rather than playing up his weakness for drink, which suggests  a capitulation to them. The show does have the scene where he talks about books with Jon Snow, but that’s pretty weak sauce after the kennel scene, plus the entirely added orgy scene.

Now some more updating, then back to this week’s episode.

 

 

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Publishers Weekly Review

Here’s some good news:  The Dragon Round got a good–and, better yet, a quotable–review from PW:

“Power’s promising first novel mixes dark naval adventure with classic fantasy in a tale of mutiny with a twist…[He] adeptly mashes together Horatio Hornblower–style adventure with the art of training dragons and a hint of backstabbing treachery for a thoroughly enjoyable tale.”

It’s pretty weird to come up with a pull quote for my own book.
In other news, I currently have four things held for consideration: two stories, one reprint for a podcast, and a poem. Given my track record, I may get one acceptance out of this.
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Good week!

If you’ve come here from my LitPick interview, welcome. It was great fun to do. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my LitPick interview.  It was great fun to do. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Two weeks ago, Flash Fiction Online took my story Mamita, which crosses a big name off my bucket list. It’s about a woman who lives Dade County some 35 years from now after all of Florida south of Alligator Alley has been flooded out. The editor Suzanne Vincent patiently worked me through two rounds of edits, which not only improved the story, but which will improve all my work. She wanted to know more about why the main character was acting in certain ways, and she wanted the character’s agency to be more clear at the end. What I learned was: If I start in a character’s head, I can’t drop out and let the dialogue carry the story, which I have a tendency to do, and readers want decisions made or actions taken in conclusion, not just feel a push toward them. Very good stuff.

This week my story “Bright Lights” was one of five chosen for AE‘s microfiction contest Micro 7  on the theme “change.” It’s a 200-word story about a K-Pop star who sells her face rights. I also won last year for The First Degree of Separation, which was about a Taylor Swift-like star whose skin cells are stolen. I imagine that my story next year will be about a chorus of Georgian robots who win Eurovision.

Of course, having the paranoia of all writers, I figured these acceptance would trigger a wave of rejections–the wave rises, the wave falls–and I did get one, but I also got a hold at another very good bucketlist market. So we’ll see.

I’m now revising the first chapter of Dragon Tower, which is tougher than I thought it would be, perhaps because I’m overthinking things. Also, I totally changed the beginning, which is having ripple effects. It’s still fun, though, and that’s what counts.

I’m also still trying to write more positive SF. I read a great summation of what SF should be about: “Strong characters trying to solve intriguing problems.”  Success is secondary. Indeed, what made The Martian so engaging was that it was a series of intriguing problems solved by strong characters. In addition, I keep reading variations on a theme expressed today in Rebecca Solnit’s Harper piece, The Habits of Highly Cynical People: “What we do begins with what we believe we can do.” That is, to me, Write the future that I’d see happen. My struggle stems from not being able to see a future that isn’t shut down before it begins by selfish corporate interests or political ignoramuses. Indeed, The Martian can only occur in a world without Republicans because if they did somehow let American space travel survive that far into the future, they’d certainly shut down the government before seeing funds for a rescue allocated without their being offsetting spending cuts to schools, public healthcare and social services (provided Republicans have let those things survive that far into the future). I’d rather live in the future of The Martian, but picturing it feels like doing physics without friction, even if the party could disintegrate in the next few months.  Maybe that’s where I should start, with that disintegration and with President Obama’s incrementalist approach to the change: small gestures today lead to big effects tomorrow.

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2 Out of 3 Aint Bad

Over at SF Bluestocking, Bridget McKinney is reviewing all the stories in the collection Up and Coming, which was put together in spectacularly quick fashion by Lisa Huang and Kurt Hunt. And by “all,” I mean 230 stories by 120 author who are eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2016. The collection has 1.1 million words, which isn’t far off the word count of the first five Game of Thrones books. It’s a crazy task that she’s doing at a lightning pace, but her reviews betray no haste. They are thoughtful and precise and they’ll be my guide to the book when I get a chance to read it.

Here’s what she says about the three stories I contributed:

“Stripped to Zero” is a solidly well-written and timely story about the steady creep of technology into our lives and the ways in which we’re always being watched, analyzed, and advertised to. It’s somewhat pessimistic, but not crushingly so. In “Wire Paladin,” Stephen S. Power continues to examine some of these same big ideas, but with a darkly funny twist at the end. I was glad to have read these two stories together, as they complement each other well. I didn’t like “Automatic Sky”—about a pair of somewhat star-crossed lovers—at all, but I expect your mileage may vary with it.

For the first public review ever of anything I’ve written, I’ll take 2 out of 3, especially with the third being left for others to judge for themselves. Totally fair analysis.

You can download Up and Coming for free here until March 31. If you want to read the best minds breaking out in SF/F today, this is the place to start.

OK, I know you’re hearing it in your head. Here’s Meatloaf.

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Blurbs!

As an editor I’ve requested, revised and compiled hundreds of blurbs for my authors’ books. Today, for instance,  two different people asked me for the blurbs for The 10 Laws of Trust by Joel Peterson and David A. Kaplan. But to get blurbs of my own? That’s wild.

And the two I got are great–and gratifying. If Dragon Round can please these authors, maybe I can start to think I know what I’m doing.

The first is from Marie Brennan:

“In The Dragon Round, Power takes his tale of revenge in unexpected and refreshing directions. Think you know where this story is going? Think again.  He paints his scenes with vivid and meticulous detail, lending real force to the struggles his characters face. And his dragons are compelling beasts — neither wholly vicious nor wholly trustworthy. They may not speak, but this story belongs to them every bit as much as it does to the human characters.”

And the second is from K.M. McKinley:

“A brilliant story of dragons, trade, treachery, and the sea, told with scintillating immediacy—the best fantasy I’ve read in years.”

Both authors were kinds enough to point out stuff they liked in particular, including that I made them laugh, which is the highest compliment that I could get, in my opinion.

I finished drafting chapter one of Dragon Tower the other day and started revising this morning. I forgot how tough first chapters are. Marie and Kay’s praise, however, definitely helps push me forward.

 

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Nebula Nominations

This is my first year nominating for the Nebulas. I’ve read only one of the novels people are talking about for that award–Naomi Novik’s Uprooted–and few of the novelette and novellas–I’ve been meaning to read “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman Malik most of all, but haven’t had the chance–so I’m only going to nominate for short stories, of which I’ve read many. I also slushed my way through dozens of those on SFWA’s reading list.  Here are my five:

  1. “Bilingual” by Henry Lien, F&SF. Made me wander my kitchen after reading it, dreaming of how I could have helped the protagonist were I in the story. (I’d have given her my jacket and hat so she could get away more easily.) Here’s what you can do in the real world to help Akari.
  2. “La Heron” by Charlotte Ashley, F&SF. Great use of magic, especially the mushrooms. The story’s not online, but an interview with the author about the story is.
  3. “The Fox Bride” by Mari Ness, DSF. I read this in a little coastal tourist town between Toronto and Niagara Falls while waiting outside a clothing story my wife and daughter were shopping in . Made me want to put foxes in all my stories, but I don’t think I could do it as well.
  4. “The Plausibility of Dragons” by Kenneth Schneyer, Lightspeed. Utterly compelling. An interesting model for what I want to do in “The Dragons of America.”
  5. “What Wags the World” by Sarah Pinsker, DSF. The last paragraph is heartbreaking.

I hope they all win.

 

 

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The Week in Review

It has been a pretty good start to the year, with a fourth story taken by AE, “No Less Constant.” It was originally called “The Fire and the Rose Are One” after a line in Eliot. Duff also suggested some very good edits to the end, and it was published quickly. You can find it here. Once again AE illustrated it with a wonderful piece of art.

Also my story “The Revivalist,” which was one of the first Sips Cards stories, is going to be podcast by Gallery of Curiosities,  which is evolving out of the steampunk podcast Tales from New Babbage. Another site where I subbed it as a reprint loved it, but thought it should actually be the beginning of a novella, which completely fired my imagination. I dream of writing novellas, despite the market being very limited. (Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri is the perfect model, structurally). I’ve already outlined one, in fact, The Dragon Knight’s Daughter, but I stalled in writing it, I realized the other day, because I haven’t created a more concrete view of the world. Similarly, to write a “Revivalist” novella I have to figure out what happened to the husband. These will have to wait a while, though. Novel first.

I’m in the middle of outline three of chapter 7 of Dragon Tower, which tries to recover from what one of my characters did in chapter 6: up and kill another character while I sat at my typewriter watching helplessly. Fortunately, a third character showed up to help with the body, so I’ve got that going for me. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing that I’m no longer writing the book. I’m just reporting on what these characters are doing. Ideally I’ll finish the chapter by the end of the week.

I think I’ll get through chapter 8, then start on the first draft. That way I can be surprised by the ending too. In Dragon Round, I did the same thing–the entirety of the third outline for what became chapters 8-10 was, “X character goes to place Y”–so hopefully lightning will strike twice again. That way, I can also say I finished the third outline, mentally due 1/15, somewhat on time.

Finally, my found poems are included in the 2015 Unlost Journal Anthology. There’s some great work in there, especially the poem built out of Google search results. That’s just a brilliant idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So This is Christmas

All

I got three gifts early this year.

The first was my fourth acceptance from Daily Science Fiction for a the story “For Your Light Affliction.” The story was originally accepted by Halloween Forevermore which, after a year, informed me that they were no longer publishing fiction, so I sent it to the place I should have in the first place.

The second is the book This Is All a Dream We Dream: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead by Blair Jackson and David Gans. I had books under contract from both authors when I was at Wiley, and both were sadly cancelled after the trade publishing lines were sold. While neither of those books will come out, they did lead in some ways to this one, which made me laugh out loud with the first story I read at random.  Best of all they even signed it for me. You Deadheads with gift cards, this is what you want under your tomorrow tree.

(You might also buy The Pizza Tapes Extra Large 3CD edition, which my brother-in-law Scot gave me tonight.  I’ve been singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” for the past two hours, which got me to stop singing “Box of Rain,” as inspired by the Jackson-Gans title. )

The third gift was a realization. As I’ve written elsewhere, I do three progressively longer outlines of a novel before writing a draft under the theory that for each successive outline I only have to write a 2-3 words for each word in the previous one. In practice, though, I’ve found that instead of doing that expanding literally, it’s better for me to read the section I want to expand, then write up only what I remember. The rest isn’t important or doesn’t fit, although the cut material could be repurposed elsewhere, and the looseness of the approach allows more room for invention.

I got the idea from Jonah Berger’s excellent Contagious, which describes an experiment in which ad was shown to a person, who had to describe it to another, who had to describe it to the third and so on. What information reached, say, the sixth person was what the ad was apparently about (whether that was intended).   Same should be true of outlines.

Thus the third outline for Dragon Tower continues apace. I reached the end of part one this week. I’ll finish a story called, currently, “Sunnyside,” then dive into part two.  I also have work to do on the first “Dragons of America” book, now called The St. Louis Blue, but “Sunnyside,” which I’m writing for an anthology with a due date, jumped in the way.

As for what else I want for the holidays, I’ll take a dominating Jet win over the Patriots. I have the same feeling going into this game, though, as I had when the Gators played FSU, the Pats of the NCAA: We are going to get badly exposed.

Happy Holidays.

S.

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The Week in Review

A little update:

My story “Automatic Sky,” which AE published, will be reprinted by Evil Girlfriend Media, my first reprint. (Side note: I have to get more diligent about submitting reprints).

“River Boys,” which appeared in the anthology Faed, will be podcast by StarShipSofa’s Far Fetched Fables.

I have stories behind held at Daily Science Fiction, Grimdark, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Uncanny. Which means I’ve taken nail-chewing to a new level. And by mentioning this I’ve probably jinxed myself horribly.

And a book I commissioned and edited, We Are Market Basket, is up for the CEO-READ Best Business Book of the Year Award. If it wins, that’d be a huge feather in Amacom’s cap. That said, there are two other books on stakeholder management also up for the award, and if either wins I’d be happy. The message will get out, and that’s what’s really important.

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