Interview with Digital Poet & Fantasy Novelist Stephen R. Drennon

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.

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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.

Before I get back to writing myself, I would like to thank LE Olteano for another fine review, this time of Transfection, and to Doubleshot Reviews for the same reason!

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.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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15 Responses to Interview with Digital Poet & Fantasy Novelist Stephen R. Drennon

  1. I really enjoyed this interview, Dave and Steven. Very informative and well thought out. And Steven, I love the cover for Three for Avadar. Gorgeous color. Very eye catching.

    I curious, though, what’s the word count difference between short stories, novellas, short novels and novels? Is there some rule of thumb? Or does it depend on genre?

    I ask because my first novel (urban fantasy) is just over 72K words. Which I would consider a full length novel, but it could be considered My second in the series so far stands at about 58K, though will hopefully finish up around 62K. Is that a short novel? Or a novella?

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    • There are plenty of different definitions out there. The SFWA goes by this for the Nebula awards:

      Novel — 40,000 words or more
      Novella — 17,500–39,999 words
      Novelette — 7,500–17,499 words
      Short Story — 7,499 words or fewer

      However, others (and I would be in this bracket) would go by something like this:

      Flash Fiction – 1,000 words or less
      Short Story – 1,001 to 10,000
      Novella – 10,001 to 40,000
      Short Novel – 40,001 to 60,000
      Novel – 60,001+

      If you are a novelette fan you can squeeze it in there at 10,000 – 17,500 and that structure still works.

      Others will argue, many people have many different definitions. I have seen some argue that anything above 5,000 is not a true short story, and others argue that anything up to 20,000 IS a short story. I have also seen people add “epic novel” for anything over 120,000 words or even sometimes 100,000 words. Although, for me, “epic” is more about style and content than length, but that’s a whole other can o’ worms!

      There is no one hard-and-fast structure that is universally accepted.

      Also, this varies greatly from genre to genre, and is very different again for Children’s/YA.

      In answer to your question, I think you are safe calling all of yours novels.

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      • Thanks Dave!

        Yes, I’d heard there was no universal standard, but it helps to have something to refer to. I’d hate to claim something as a “novel” when in reality it’s a “novella”.

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      • Shea – in your genre, I would only worry if it was in the 40k to 50k range, and then you might just have to call it a “short novel” – that’s it.

        Whatever the length, it’s always a good idea to mention it in the description, e.g. “This novel is 58,000 words or around 232 book pages.” (Use the 250 words per page rule.)

        Readers like to know what they are getting, and it’s one way to head off complaints at the pass. Also, sometimes a well-meaning reviewer can say something like “a great, quick read” where they mean that your novel is fast-paced, or a real page-turner, or that they couldn’t put it down until they were done, but the casual reader may take that to mean it is very short.

        Again, stating the exact length in the description will prevent that misconception.

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    • Hi Shea,
      Thanks for the compliment on my newest book cover. That was done by Glendon Haddix at streetlightgraphics.com. In fact, he did the covers for both of my novels.

      I would concur with Dave on the lengths of different types of stories. My novellas will be in the 20k-40k range. When I combine them together in a separate offerng it will end up being over 60k words.

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      • Steven –
        No wonder! I’ve seen Streetlightgraphics work before. Good stuff.

        Thanks for the confirmation on length. It’s good to have some general idea to go on. Also, your stories sound really interesting. Have to add them to my ever growing TBR pile.😉 lol

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  2. Dave – Definitely! I have avoided purcahsing books myself because I had no idea how long the book was. I wasn’t about to pay £2.99 for something that turned out to be a 20 page short story. In fact, I once paid about £5 (directly from an epublisher) for a book that was listed as a “novel”. It was about 90 pages or 22k words. I was NOT pleased!

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  3. Brondt says:

    A nice interview there. As a poet myself, I have to agree largely with Stephen’s assessment of that market. Point in fact is that I won’t even bother to try to publish poetry unless it is something like prosimetrum, prose and poetry intertwined, which I have experimented with in the past. I think that the average reader does have a bias against poetry–I see this all the time as a university lecturer–and I would also assume (bit of a generalization, but again going by what I see in the department) that the average reader of modern poetry has not yet embraced the ereader.

    I think that if we are going to see a revival in poetry, it is going to come from poets recognizing that epublishing allows us to bypass the “elitists” who control the poetry presses already, and that the type of poetry that is likely to take off is that like Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, and Robin Hood ballads. I hesitate to throw Faerie Queene in there (though something like it too could do well) because that courtly poetry is the direct line to the Romantics, and while someone writing like Lord Byron might do well, I doubt another Wordsworth would take off popularly. Another Paradise Lost would simply and frankly tank. Tennyson, the last English poet to enjoy massive popularity, certainly at a rate rivaling the popularity of novels with the common man, may serve as an example too, but then we must look at what of his was popular and what wasn’t. In short, I think the market for lyric poetry (which is the dominant form of verse today) is very small; the market for narrative verse, small too, could grow because people prefer reading stories over snapshot confessions.

    The problem is that novels have superseded the narrative verse form found in the Beowulfs and Canterbury Tales to the point that a reader would simply ask, “Why didn’t he just write a book?” And notice I said “book” and not “novel,” because (assumption again) I think the average Joe reader equates book with novel now, and the epic poem is something one is forced to read in school, and is therefore almost guaranteed to be un-enjoyable.

    Like

    • Hi Brondt,

      Glad you enjoyed it. I like to feature something a little different now and then.

      I also think that bias exists, and I think it is very strong – even amongst heavy readers. It’s funny, they can read lyrics to songs and describe them as “poetic”, they can see a love poem in a movie and be swept away by it, and they will always reach for a poetry book when they want something profound to say in a speech at a wedding or a funeral, but they would never (and I mean never) consider buying a poetry book or even reading one if it were on their shelves.

      I must admit the last book of poetry I read was quite a few months ago – a collection of Leonard Cohen’s early stuff – and I really enjoyed it, but when I was younger I liked e. e. cummings, TS Eliot, Wilfred Owen – that kind of stuff.

      I think the popularity of poetry has been cannibalised by music. But as popular lyrics become more and more trite, perhaps people will seek meaning elsewhere. Perhaps not.

      I was, though, very interested to read of the huge success that Faber & Faber had n the UK with the TS Eliot “Wasteland” app, and maybe that kind of interactive, immersive approach could be the way of the future.

      I don’t write any myself, mostly because I am awful. I like to write haikus for fun, but that’s all it is.

      Dave

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    • Hello Brondt,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. I agree that many of the big name poets you identified would struggle with success in today’s market. However, back when they were in their heyday, they were widely read and recognized. The term used to go hand-in-hand with scholar, but not so much anymore.

      Unfortunately, I believe the perception of most people is that a poet is still something of a scholar and as such they wouldn’t bother taking the time to read it. We’ve become a global society with easy access to any form of information we like. There are just too many other things competing for people’s precious time these days.

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  4. Pingback: Interview with a Digital Poet | Adventures in Writing

  5. Great interview!

    I don’t know if I agree about ereaders not helping poets. I like to download longer poetry and read it in my leisure. Plus Kindle has a built in dictionary to look up obscure words so I’m able to keep the flow of the poem a lot easier. I also like the fact that those huge anthologies don’t weigh anything and I can take them with me and read a poem or two whenever the mood strikes.

    I think the biggest problem is people who buy literature and poems might come late to the party, but I still think they’re coming. A friend of mine who mainly reads philosophy books and literature just bought a Kindle so I see that as a sign that it is slowly, but steadily changing.

    I have a question for anyone who has uploaded poetry is it difficult to maintain the form of the poems especially if they are not written in a block pattern? I was just wondering how this was done.

    Like

    • Hi Josephine,
      I did find at first that there were some unique problems with formatting my poetry for the Kindle reader. This was especially true with longer lines that tended to wrap around to the next line. I tried a couple of different formatting tricks, and I think I got it to work better. I tend to read everything on my iPhone, so I get a LOT of lines that end up wrapping, but I find I don’t have problems with it after the changes. One of the unique features of the Kindle is that the reader can change fonts on you, so your first impression may be great, but when your book gets read in a smaller device or with a bigger font, you can run into some surprises!

      I agree with what you say about the size. The two anthologies I am working on will have 450 poems each. A book that size would be a real challenge to carry around, but the Kindle version will make it a breeze!

      Like

      • Thanks Steven. I had a feeling it was going to take a little bit of technical gymnastics. — I might leave it for a professional. I hadn’t thought about the fonts and smaller screens — huh. I think people in this new age are used to making some allowances for electronic devices, but I will be happy when the uploading process advances a little more to make these things more compatible with how we envision the end product.

        Like

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