One of the many things that fascinate me about digital publishing are the new possibilities afforded to writers. Traditionally, publishing has been wary of all sorts of stuff – short novels, short stories, longer novels, novellas, and poetry.
In fact, for a first time author, an agent would rarely look at an adult novel unless it fell exactly between 80,000 to 100,000 words. They had all sorts of good reasons for this, the main being that this was the sweet spot, the intersection between printing costs and buyer habits.
However, the rise of digital publishing combined with the ability of the author to go direct to retailers such as Amazon (or even sell direct to the reader) has opened up new possibilities for authors.
Supposedly “dead” genres like Westerns and Horror are thriving, and writers are breathing life into long-neglected forms like one of my favorites – novellas – responsible for such classics over the years as Animal Farm, The Time Machine, and A Clockwork Orange.
Today, I got a chance to speak to digital poet and fantasy novelist Stephen Drennon, who is enjoying this new freedom to experiment with all kinds of things.
You have quite a range of stuff out – from fantasy novels to poetry. I’d like to talk about the poems first. Traditionally, they have always been a hard sell, in commercial terms, except for the very few at the top. Poets have long been self-publishing, especially through chapbooks. Can you tell us why you decided to self-publish?
I chose to self-publish mostly because I wanted to be able to share them with my children. I have written about 1000 poems over the past 30+ years, and they were all handwritten and stored in notebooks that were showing their age (even more than me)! I set about getting them all typed up so that I could save them in electronic format, and since I had just published my first fantasy novel, I decided to go ahead and publish them as well.
I’m no poet (and if you don’t believe me, just ask my better half), but I do write short stories. I think there are some similarities here with poetry. The audience tends to be much smaller than novels, and I think you have to overcome a lot of reader resistance to get them to even try it. Why do you think that is?
I think that poetry has always been looked down upon in most circles. I personally feel that people have long considered poetry to be too “artsy” and lacking in substance. I know several people who have told me that poetry takes too much work to read, because you’re looking for the rhyming or meter, even if neither exists (or especially if neither exists)! With short stories, I think people tend to view them as filler material. When you sit down to read something, you’re usually looking for material that is going to involve you over an extended period of time, and short stories or poetry just don’t do that.
Writing is a tough gig, no matter what form you practise. I guess anyone pursuing this as a career is either deluded or crazy. Some people speak of it as a calling. I think it’s a kind of madness running through the veins. What compels you to make little black squiggles on paper and send them out into the world?
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. My maternal grandfather influenced me at a young age by telling me all kinds of stories about growing up in the “old days”. He had such a natural knack for engaging his audience (usually his grandkids), and I thought it would be great to tell such entertaining stories myself.
I’m interested in the possibilities that digital publishing affords writers. We have seen a trend towards shorter novels, there is some talk of a revival of the short story, and, personally, I would love to see a comeback of the novella. What do you think poetry has to offer people in the digital age?
I think poetry can offer folks a couple of things. First, it does present something of a challenge, especially if the author has made a point of using specific meter or rhyming patterns. We can all use a little mental challenge from time to time! Second, I believe it provides a good, quick read. We often find ourselves rushing from one task to another, and it’s good to have a short diversion. Poetry and short stories can help provide that.
By the way, since you mentioned that you would like to see a comeback of the novella, I wanted to say that I agree with you. In fact, I am going to be writing two separate series of novellas as part of my future works, so I’ll be doing my part!
Do you think we could see a resurgence in poetry? Most people these days don’t get exposed to it after school or college, which is a shame. You could walk into a bookshop and not see a single poetry book, and certainly not in the more popular spots for buying books these days – airports and supermarkets. Do you think poetry has a chance now that you can self-publish and reach anyone in the world?
I would love to see a resurgence in poetry! Do I realistically expect to see one? Not likely, unfortunately. I think that poetry has gotten a bad reputation as being prudish or self-indulgent, and many readers tend to stay away from it. However, I do believe that self-publishing through e-books will help make more poetry available, and hopefully any that is worth reading will be discovered, if only by a small following.
Moving on to novels, your first two releases are fantasy. Can you tell us a little about your books?
Each of my fantasy novels takes a different approach in storytelling. Rise of the Raven, my first fantasy novel, is an epic fantasy with over 100,000 words. It tells a story from three different perspectives and goes into great details portraying the bad guys as much as the good guys. Briefly, this book is about a group of wizards known as the Khand. They have a new wizard who is barely more than a boy who finds himself thrust into a major supporting role much faster than he expected.
My second novel, Three for Avadar, is much smaller, weighing in at about 68,000 words. This book doesn’t go into as much detail with the bad guys. Instead, it focuses on the different motivations of the three main characters. You have a soldier of fortune who is out to avenge the death of his brother and his brother’s family. Next is a sorceress who is in search of a sacred crystal that her father hid away just before he was murdered. Lastly, there is the semi-spoiled princess who is trying to make her way back home, while hoping to find herself in the process.
How do you think the genre is doing at the moment? I used to read a lot of fantasy growing up – Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan – and I would like to get back into it. My friend keeps bugging me to read George RR Martin. Do you have any other tips?
I believe fantasy in general is doing quite well. If you look at the number of titles being published in this genre, you can see that it is still one of the largest by volume out there. Of course, having George RR Martin’s book made into an HBO series certainly doesn’t hurt either! As far as recommendations within the genre, two of my favorites are Stephen R. Donaldson and George RR Martin. (You really do need to read his work!)
Before I let you go, I read on your website that you have written almost 1,000 poems, and on top of the two fantasy novels you have already released, you have a whole load of releases planned in different genres. Can you tell us a little about your plans for the future?
I have always enjoyed reading a wide variety of genres. Okay, I don’t read many romance or paranormal novels, but I do consider myself to be widely read! I feel it is only natural that I would enjoy telling stories in different genres as well.
With that in mind, I am currently working on a trio of suspense novellas that will be released individually at $1.49 and then also offered as a combo for $2.99. I have also completed the research and outlines for three separate historical fiction novels, each of which will deal with combat search and rescue in Viet Nam. On top of that, I have completed the outlines for a trio of contemporary fantasy novellas and a trio of novellas about three different female serial killers.
Of course, I don’t want to forget about my poetry. So far I have published six different volumes, selling at .99, each containing 100 poems each. This summer I will release two different anthologies to go along with these first six volumes. The first anthology will include all the poems from my first three volumes, as well as another 150 poems that have never been published for a total of 450 poems, and it will sell for 2.99. The second anthology will combine volumes 4-6 with another 150 poems that have never been published and will sell at the same price.
With that being said, I guess I need to get back to writing! Thanks for the interview!
I would like to thank Stephen for taking the time to talk to me. If you are interested in reading more about him, his website is full of stuff, with a special section dedicated to poetry, and you can check out all of work on his Amazon page.
Oh, I almost forgot. There is an interview with me over at the blog of short-story writer Katrina Parker Williams where I talk about my chaotic writing process, the most unusual research I ever had to undertake, and how an earthquake led to a drunken bicycle adventure. Check it out.