Stephen S. Power

The Wave Rises

Author: stephenspower (page 2 of 4)

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.



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.








So This is Christmas


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.


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.

How to Break the Story Addiction?

Many years ago when I was at Wiley, a colleague and I came up with an idea for a series: the “Penguin Lives of history.” The premise of the Penguin series was to get great authors to write short biographies of interesting figures, which were then beautifully packaged and sold in perhaps the last big use of display dumps. We would do the same thing for historical events, with the unspoken purpose of bringing bigger authors to Wiley and showing agents we had some cash to spend. While our packaging wasn’t great–that’s what happens when you design my committee–and our subject potential was hamstrung by our president’s insistence that we only do “positive events,” many of the books were fantastic. For me, for instance, Scott Simon wrote on the integration of baseball, Eleanor Clift wrote on the 19th Amendment and Tom Fleming wrote on the Louisiana Purchase.  And our whole list, not just our history list, was indeed jumpstarted.

I mention this because when I approached an agent about one of his authors, he said that he didn’t want his client to take on the project for a reason I hadn’t considered: not the money or the topic, but the time. The author would put his full effort into researching the book, and the 20-35,000 words he’d have to write would take up to a year. That would, in turn, take away from the researching and writing of his next big history book, which his agent didn’t want to happen because the author’s bread and butter were in those big histories.

I could use an agent like him to kick me in the butt about writing short stories. After I turned in “The Dragon  Round,” I set out to write stories to build a name for myself, with the goal of achieving enough pro sales to earn membership in the SFWA. My deadline was audacious, as all targets should be: one year. It took me 18 months, including my not including the four flash stories which didn’t earn the $60 necessary for a sale to count toward membership.

With fifteen stories still under submission, including two whose deals fell apart and had to go back out again, I then focused on outlining the sequel to “Dragon Round” and the first novel in a new series, “The Dragons of America,” which is based on one of those unsold stories. My goal is to finish the third outline for “Dragon Tower” by 12/15/15 and a first draft by 6/15/16 so I can submit it to my agent when DR comes out (hopefully to advance-swelling sales), alternating chapters with the second outline for the “DofA” book, currently called “The St. Louis Blue,” to keep myself fresh.

But these damn stories keep getting in the way–or, should I say, prompts, which are to me what the herring is to the seal. Show me one and I want to drop everything to balance a ball on my nose so you’ll toss the fish to me. In addition, there’s something very satisfying about spending a week on a story, then sending it out or giving it to others for feedback. This week, for instance, got lost to a still unfinished 1,600-word story called “Sunnyside,” given the setting, Queens in 2040, and there’s really no way I can hit my 12/15 date now. I’ll have to move it to 1/15.

Which leads me to wonder: so many great writers churn out stories regularly, but never get a novel off the ground. Would they profit from giving up the stories and their immediate gratification entirely, thereby forcing themselves just to concentrate on a novel, which is much more a marathon than a spring? How do I avoid the story addiction myself, especially when I can write just another 600 words to finish a story and feel gratified instead of the 50K more words of outlining I have to do just for DT, even if that’s broken up into myriad chunks?

Any suggestions?


Edit: Yes, in the last two hours I did revise that story to apparent completion and follow three people on Twitter who all posts links to articles that could inspire stories. I’m hopeless.

OK, I Think I Fixed It

Carry on.

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