“The Count of Monte Cristo with a dragon.”
The words used to describe his debut novel Dragon Round, a Simon & Schuster release. Stephen S. Power also has the honor? privilege? misfortune? of authoring the work of fiction accepted into Unnerving Magazine’s inaugural publication. The Glittering Point, a dark tale of forced servitude in an unlikely situation is pretty far from dragons and adventure.
“In many ways I don't see myself as a fantasy writer. I see myself more in the vein of Upton Sinclair and Emile Zola, writing novels of social justice set in a fantasy realm. I generally don't set out to write in anyone genre. I just get an idea, then run with it to the end of the first third. Should something surprising happen there, I keep going. In this case, I realized one day while passing a church that religion is forced philanthropy.”
It took a single read to recognize The Glittering Point fit into one of the inexplicable categories floating around my noggin. After the contract came back with a signature in place, my wheels of curiosity really began turning about Mr. Power as a writer.
“Wake up at 7:00. 8:00 NJ Transit train to NYC, when I read the Daily SF story of the day for inspiration, then write. In the office at 9:00; I'm now a senior editor at the business book publisher Amacom, where I handle leadership and management titles. 5:45 train home, when I sleep or play, currently, Rodeo Stampede. Dinner and TV with family. Then write, handle writing business and workout. Bed by 1:30. Fall weekends are dictated by chores, my daughter's soccer and field hockey schedules, Florida Gator football and the New York Jets. I am a generic suburban dad. I live in cargo shorts and baseball hats. At a PGA tournament, I vanish into the crowd like Waldo.”
Pants on one leg at a time with a seemingly clockwork regularity of zoo feeding times, Stephen S. Power also found his love for fable in a fairly regular place; childhood.
“I started writing when I was still in elementary school, which later fed into the serious AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) habit I maintained throughout high school. I loved creating adventures, even if no one played them, and reading the published ones, imagining the storylines I could fit them into. I've always been as interested in the narrative and ecology surrounding a region or dungeon as the monsters they contained. I take the same approach to the stories. For instance, the poth in The Dragon Round was added because I realized that if a city was in dire need of medicine made out of components from a distant land, they wouldn't wait until the raw materials reached their port to make the medicine; they'd start while en route.
“I was also always encouraged to read and write, and I was given my parents' old manual typewriters at an early age to bang around on. One of the great moments in my life came during the summer I was twelve, when my mother took me to the library, but instead of setting me loose in the kids section as usual, she brought me to the adult section and said I could take as many books I wanted. I'd been reading books off my parents' nightstand for years (the best; Jaws, The Great Train Robbery and an amazing mystery I called The Random Factor by Linda J. LaRosa and Barry Tanenbaum), but this was beginning of my nightstand as an adult. The stack of books I picked out was half my height. The most memorable book from it was Mutiny on the Bounty, which, along with Captain Bligh's Portable Nightmare, would partially inspire The Dragon Round.
Mr. Power met real opportunity amid what would typically be troublesome news.
“Right before I got the idea for the book, Wiley, where I was a senior editor for more than thirteen years, told me I was going to be laid off, but I would receive a generous severance. Thus they provided both the impetus for a book about a ship captain screwed over by his company, while also providing the time and means to write it. That couldn't have worked out better.”
Like a pearl pulled, Mr. Power found willing eyes for his hard work and his life shake-up.
“My agent at the time, Eric Nelson, submitted it there and the other major houses. We got a few passes, mild interest from one, strong interest from another, and an offer from S&S. Instead of waiting for the strong interest to develop into a competitive offer, we went with the bird in hand because my editor, Brit Hvide, had a vision of how to fix its flaws and, more importantly, was crazy enthusiastic for the project. Enthusiasm is worth way more than money.
“Brit got a tremendous cover for the book, rejecting, in fact, the first one that was done and pushing for another. Its bright colors make it stand out on a shelf full of black, white and gray covers. She also worked hard to get the map perfect. And their sales department got me face out displays in the SF/F New Release section of every B&N I could check.
“Brit zeroed in on exactly what was wrong with the plot, especially where it was bloated, she suggested numerous changes throughout, and she worked with me to solve the problems. She did exactly what I would have done as an editor--and should have as an author.
“They were great.”
Like almost every writer that makes serious effort with his/her craft, Stephen S. Power is a reader. Like every nosy reader, I wanted to know what he was reading.
“I read a lot of books at once, each in a specific place: Audio: Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. Terrifying. Kindle: The Best of Galaxy's Edge plus stories by friends for Nebula award consideration. Weekend morning coffee: Jeff Lemire's heartbreaking Essex County. Home repose: Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World. Made me realize that football thugs could easily become a thing in America, especially around schools like Alabama and FSU. Work lunch: Hooked by Nir Eyal. Plus, endless articles I've saved to Pocket. There's a John McPhee essay in the new New Yorker that will be my reward for the week.”
Life and literature comes together naturally melding, “I draw little things from my life. I pull things from everywhere, especially what I'm reading. There's a bunch of Capt. Kidd in Jeryon, the main character in The Dragon Round, because I read Richard Zacks' The Pirate Hunter while writing it. There's a major scene with him that was inspired by the finale of Breaking Bad. Hipball was inspired by the Mesoamerican ball game, which was mentioned in a book proposal I received,” to create fantasy fit for consumption. “Everything is fodder.”
Stephen S. Power isn’t on a solo mission, there’s figure at his side consuming as he does in the written word: his daughter.
“She knows that while I'm usually frugal, I will likely buy her any book she wants. She has a whole wall of our basement library for her own books. And she loves to discuss books. She was ticked that it took me several weeks to get around to reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child because she wanted to get into it with me.”
Harry Potter aside...
“She's read a few stories and liked them (of Stephen S. Power’s body of work). She started The Dragon Round, but found the technical aspects of the ship too much too handle. Which I suppose should be a sign that I should cut down on stuff like that in the future. At the same time, I'm reminded how Jack Vance's hyper-elevated diction perplexed me at her age, and I'm stronger for having pushed through by reading with a dictionary beside me.
The Dragon Round isn’t likely to be a single blip on the bookshelf spectrum, Stephen S. Power has more in mind.
“Just finished Clavell's Shogun, which I'm modelling something new on, also with dragons, but with a twist. It'll be bigger than The Dragon Round and a bit more leisurely paced, but with more chases, fighting and love.”
Mr. Power was reached via email and we thank him for his time.
Stephen S. Power novel, The Dragon Round, was recently published by Simon & Schuster. His short fiction has recently appeared in "Deep Magic" "Flash Fiction Online" and "Lightspeed," and he has stories forthcoming in "Amazing Stories" and "Daily Science Fiction." He's also a Pushcart-nominated poet and a book editor. He tweets at @stephenspower, his site is stephenspower.com, and he lives in Maplewood, NJ.