Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collection, There is No Wheel. In 2017, I'll be releasing a new superhero series, The Butterfly Cage. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public.




Saturday, March 25, 2017

Covenant V2 progress

This week, I started the second draft of Covenant, the third book in my superhero trilogy. I've rewritten five chapters so far. When I wrote the first draft, I felt like the early chapters were pretty terrible, but they've held up surprisingly well now that I'm rewriting them. When I wrote the first draft, I wasn't clear about who the main villain of the story would be. I knew what the main villain needed to do in order to have a plot, but their identity and motive hadn't quite clicked. I think the stress of uncertainty on such an important element of the story made me feel like everything I was writing was going to get tossed out. Fortunately, the opening chapters made it onto the page much better than I remembered.

I have a fairly aggressive timeline for getting this rewritten. ConCarolinas is the first weekend in June and I'd really like to have this rewritten and published by then. That's only about 10 weeks away, which is a pretty insane goal to strive for. I definitely don't want to let a desire for speed lead me into shortchanging quality. On the other hand, this is the third book in a series and the main character, Sarah, has been a character in my head for close to seventeen years, ever since I wrote the first draft of Nobody Gets the Girl. Writing her scenes is pretty easy. I'll just keep working and hope for the best.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Read more... and save the world!

I’ve been on a book-buying frenzy lately. In my foolish youth (that is to say, before I met Cheryl) I had to move around a lot. Following my first divorce, I had a period where I was both broke and rootless and often just rented rooms to live in. As a consequence, while an avid reader, it wasn’t convenient to lug around boxes of books. Fortunately, used bookstores would take my old books as currency for new books which could then be traded in for other books. I’ve also never moved to a new city without obtaining a library card within the first week of my residency.

A few years ago, when I did finally settle down into houses I owned with space to store stuff, technology intervened and suddenly I could grab any book I wanted to read out of the thin air on my Kindle or phone. Thus, I’ve read uncounted thousands of books but currently own barely a hundred. Now, I’m finally addressing the mismatch between the library in my mind and the library on my bookshelves and hunting through used bookstores for affordable hardcover editions of books I cherish.

Last week I picked up a gorgeous Easton Press edition of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, bound in leather with gold foil edging the page. I’ve listened the free audio edition of the book on Librivox and downloaded it for free to my Kindle. The novel lives in my mind. Still, it’s nice to look up and see it on the shelf and be reminded of the bleak wisdom within its pages.

Jude the Obscure is perhaps the darkest of Thomas Hardy’s novels. Two of Jude’s children are murdered by his mentally ill third child from a previous marriage. It’s difficult to put a positive spin on an event so tragic, and Hardy doesn’t bother trying. He spends the early part of the novel building Jude up as a sympathetic, smart, hard-working, and ambitious protagonist. The rest of the book he shows again and again why being smart, hard-working, and ambitious isn’t always enough to overcome the obstacles of poverty, class, and social prejudices. In the opening pages, Jude is given some books by a teacher who is moving away. This sets Jude on a path of self-education, and gives him the dream of going to college. But when he arrives in the college town, he finds that his self-education hasn’t been sufficient to qualify him for a scholarship, and his poverty prevents him from paying the tuition. He takes up work as a stone mason, where his work ethic and ability to learn make him valuable. Unfortunately, it’s also work that’s physically taxing and mind-numbing. Body, mind, and soul are all soon worn down.

Spoiler alert: Jude dies in poverty, loved by no one, having accomplished nothing at all of note in life. The book ends with his wife on the prowl for a new husband before he’s even been buried.

Why write such a dark book? Why read it? Ultimately, the purpose of a book like Jude the Obscure isn’t to argue that success and fortune in life isn’t possible. Instead, it’s to highlight existing injustices. Jude may be a self-taught scholar, possibly a genius, but he lacks the family connections and fortune that allow men of lesser talent access to higher education. It’s also a way of deepening empathy in the reader. We know Jude is a good man who’s worked hard to better himself. But we see him make a poor match in his first marriage, then fall in love with a woman and live with her outside of marriage, a scandalous arrangement that further limits his social mobility. We also watch as chronic illness grinds him down as the job he needs to feed his family slowly kills him. If you didn’t follow Jude’s story from the beginning, and only learned of a poor man who died anonymous and unloved, it would be easy to dismiss him as a loser somehow deserving of his fate. Instead, the reader is force to acknowledge that sometimes people come to tragic ends no matter how hard they fight to succeed.

One irony of loving this book: Jude’s main tool for self-improvement is reading. Which, it happens, is my main tool for self-improvement. And, ultimately, the central thrust of this essay: Reading is still an important foundation to a wise and happy life and absolutely central to having any hope of a functional society.

These days, the world seems increasingly focused on trivia. Our ability to focus or place things into perspective is wrecked by the echo chamber of social media where complex thoughts get boiled down to some still frame from a movie overwritten with five or six words in large block type. As a writer, I appreciate the importance of statements that are concise and to the point. But are we seriously to debate every important issue of the day within the 144 character limit of twitter?

We live in a world where complex ideas are increasingly stripped of context and nuance. Books are still the best tool available for gaining perspective. I don’t know how anyone can make sense of debates over illegal immigration if they haven’t read Grapes of Wrath. (Which isn’t about illegal immigrants, but still shows the forces that would drive people from their homes to seek work in strange lands where they are not welcome.) For that matter, Grapes of Wrath is also a book about man-made climate change, and about the impersonal forces of economy and law that compound the tragedy. But, there’s also an important hopeful lesson to be gained. We now have the benefit of hindsight. The plight of the Okies didn’t doom their descendants to permanent poverty. The dust fields and ruined earth were eventually reclaimed and once again made fruitful. On a long enough timeline, all tragedies become histories. Life moves on.

I’m not arguing that well-read people can’t and won’t be upset by current events. Sometimes, we’ll be even more frustrated. Has no one else read Brave New World? But I can say that if you make a concerted effort at reading more novels, especially old novels, you gain the perspective to stop seeing current events as current events. Everything that happens, from the most stupid and outrageous politics of the day, to the most heart-breaking and tragic wars and natural disasters, all become part of a larger, grander, still ongoing story of the world. We’re just witnessing the middle chapters, and if you’re jumping into the story without reading the earlier chapters, you have no hope of making sense of what’s going on.

And, at the risk of sounding like a public service announcement… you’ll find those earlier chapter in books. Put down your phone and get to a library. If enough of us do it, maybe we’ll have the wisdom to steer the world onto a better path. Perhaps that’s only a dream. But what’s so wrong with a dream?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

366,317 words for 2016 + Covenant First Draft Finished! Plus, musings on my first full year as an indy author.

Yesterday, I finished Chapter 34 of my Covenant first draft, bringing my total word count for the year to 366,317, plus whatever the word count of this blog post turns out to be. I wish I could say that all 366,317 words were first draft, but I started out the year with a rewrite of the fourth Dragon Apocalypse book Cinder, which got counted in ever decreasing percentages I went through multiple drafts. There's also some bonus points in there for bring Dragon Apocalypse: the Complete Collection to market. This collection has far exceeded my expectations, selling out twice at conventions, first at the Fayetteville Comiccon, then at the NC Comiccon. I don't know why I should be surprised by this. It's got a great cover and the physical book is probably my best designed yet. When I first started publishing my own work, I had the basic skills needed to get a book into print, but now that I've handled a dozen titles, I'm actually putting out books that I think are probably formatted at or above the level of quality of things I've had put out by actual publishers.

The one downside of being my own publisher is that it's time consuming. It subtracts from the hours I should be writing or at least daydreaming about new books and keeps my attention on stuff I've already written. I felt it this fall especially while I was writing the Covenant first draft, since I was also designing marketing material for the Dragon Apocalypse to use at conventions, as well as experimenting with Facebook ads. The time for business and marketing side of being a publisher has to come from somewhere, and in my case it came from the daydreaming and creative side of being a writer.

I'm not complaining about his, by the way. I knew when I made the decision a few years back to fully transition into indy publishing that it was going to eat up a lot of time and force me to learn new skills. A lot of these new skills bring creative satisfaction. For the person who's never designed a book cover, you might look at the Dragon Apocalypse cover and think, what's the big deal? It's seven words stuck over art done by someone else. But the reality is that this is the end product of easily twenty hours or more of labor. First, I went through a lot of initial sketches of a layout before deciding what I wanted from the artist. Then she and I had multiple drafts to consider, and feedback on increasingly small details as the cover developed. Then, once I had the art, the text work I'd planned to use just didn't seem to look right on the cover. So, I had to go through at least a dozen different font variations, and once I found the fonts that looked balanced, I spent hours tweaking the blend of red to yellow in the letters to give it the right fiery glow. It's a lot of work spent on seven words, but the end result is creative satisfaction.

Still, I wasn't just a publisher this last year. I did write two complete novel first drafts, Big Ape and Covenant. Writing two novels in a year isn't shabby. I go into 2017 with three unpublished novels in the pipeline, the raw material I'll need for a great year of publishing.

Looking back, I'm no longer sure that my infatuation with using word count to track my writing career is the best measure. When I was only an author and other people were dedicated to publishing and promoting my books, word count was a decent tools. Now, since I'm partially a publisher, I'm concerned with other metrics, like how many books I'm selling and how much money is coming in. I'm please to report that these metrics also provide me with a good deal of satisfaction. I haven't added up the totals yet, but 2016 was probably the most money I've earned from writing in the last seven or eight years. I did have a better year all the way back when I got advances for Dragonforge and Dragonseed in the same year, plus sold foreign rights to these books as well, resulting in a pretty nice influx of cash. But the problem with getting a lot of money from an advance is the advance part of it: You're literally taking money out of your future income. So, with traditional publishing, I'd have years with a lot of money, including money for books not yet written, followed by years with greatly reduced income, since I'd already been paid for the books I was turning in. Once a book was in print it might take years to earn out its advance.

Indy publishing has flipped this formula. Now, I work unpaid up front. I shell out money for covers and ads. Whenever a book comes out, I'm starting in a hole as far as income goes. But, the nice thing is that most of the places I publish ebooks pay me monthly. Once I get past my initial expenses, the books turn into a monthly flow of revenue that is easy to track, easy to budget, and paid like clockwork.

For 2017, in addition to bringing more superhero novels into print, I'm planning to try out even more marketing venues. Goodread ads seem like they'd be worth a shot, and I will probably be bringing out the Butterfly Cage books as Kindle Select at first, which will open up direct advertising on Amazon. BookBub also has a paid advertising program for non-discounted books I want to check out.

Looking past 2017, right now I'm 70% certain I'll return to the Bitterwood universe to write another novel or two sometime in 2018. Whenever I go back and look over my Bitterwood stuff, I realize how much I miss some of the characters. It's still my most fully realized fictional world, and there are still plenty of stories that could be told there.

Okay. At some point in that last paragraph, I hit 1000 words for this post. So, I close out 2016 with 367,317 words written.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a nap.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Covenant Update, 366 update

November was a first for me. Just to see if I could do it, I wrote something on my new novel every day, a tricky prospect given that Thanksgiving is a multiday event involving my two families. Still, I made a goal that I'd always write at least 100 words, and I really don't think I ever did less than 400 words except on the very last day of the month when I got to 100 words, got up from my computer, and spent the rest of the evening reading a book.

My results were dreadful. I feel like I had lower weekly word counts for most of the month. Partly because I'd decided to write in little segments, I found myself daydreaming about the next paragraph or two, then stopping. Ordinarily, I plan out entire chapters, or multiple chapters, in my head before I sit down. And since I was writing every day, I didn't feel a particular sense of urgency that was propelling me to sit for long sessions in my writing chair. If I got to 1000 words, I felt pretty good.

Still, I'm already 20 chapters into the Covenant. Admittedly, these are really short chapters. The longest is 3000 words, but plenty are shorter than 1500. I'm falling back into the same streamlined, fast paced style I used for Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. Lots of dialogue, plenty of action, but barely any description of settings or characters. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Short chapters keep the reader plowing ahead. I just finished reading Song of Solomon, which was a fantastic book, but it had long, long chapters, which meant that when I was reading in bed it was easy to flip ahead, see I had another fifteen pages to go in the chapter, and give up on that chapter for the night. If I'm looking ahead and seeing five or six pages, I keep reading.

As readers of this blog know, I'm trying to write 366,000 words of fiction this year. As of last weekend, I was at 319,153. 319,153. I've written maybe another 5000 words so far this week. So, about 42,000 to go. And this blog post counts!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Covenant

This week, I started working on a new novel. It's kind of a gear shift from my original plans for the year, but it feels to me like the most logical path forward from now to the end of the year.

The novel is called Covenant. It picks up where Burn Baby Burn leaves off, following the adventures of the superhero team known as the Covenant that formed to capture Pit Geek and Sundancer. The core members are:

Servant: The teams heavy hitter, his cells generate force fields that make him invulnerable. He can also manipulate these force fields to give himself super strength, and since his fields warp time as well as space he can also simulate super speed. As revealed in Burn Baby Burn, Servant has a dark secret--he used to be a supervillain named Ogre. But, he's now a devout Christian, committed to using his God-given talents for the greater good. Underneath his desire to do good, however, are the same anger and abandonment issues that drove him to a life of crime. The struggles between his angels and his demons are one of the big reasons I want to write this book.

Sky-Rider: Sarah Knowbokov, the Thrill from Nobody Gets the Girl, is public enemy #1 due to her involvement with the destruction of Jerusalem. It's a tragedy she was powerless to stop, but it haunts her and drives her to continue fighting the good fight, now in her new identity of Sky-Rider. But Sarah spent many years in hiding before the formation of the Covenant, and has a life independent of her superhero identity. Her struggle to juggle her two lives is my current hook for keeping her interesting

App: App has a teleportation belt that he has to wear constantly to keep from disintegrating into a cloud of subatomic particles. By manipulating the belts programming, he can alter his body to grant himself a wide variety of superpowers.App is the public face of the team, live streaming his adventures and engaging in social media to make sure that the activities of the Covenant are viewed in the best light possible.  But, like his team mates, he's got his own dark secrets, having spent many of his teen years as a homeless junkie after being kicked out of his home for his homosexuality. The tension between his public persona and the privacy he wants to protect are part of the reason I'm interested in his story.

At the moment I'm planning to round out the team with two new members. They're still being crafted, but I definitely know that of them will have the code name of Steam-Dragon.

Why undertake this project instead of continuing to work on my Butterfly Cage books? Three reasons.

  1. My  366 Challenge. I don't want to back into this challenge by finishing the year with a lot of rewriting. I should get close to 100k first draft words out of this project. Add that to my first draft for Big Ape, and that means that half of my word count for the year will be first draft.
  2. This book is just ready. I've been thinking about it since finishing Burn Baby Burn back in 2011. In fact, I've been thinking about elements of this story since Nobody Gets the Girl came out back in 2003. This will be the world's slowest trilogy, but I've known for a long time that this book was going to break out into the world some day.
  3. Marketing. These days, my bestselling books are my collections of Bitterwood and Dragon Apocalypse. When I sell books directly at conventions, people gravitate toward books with big spines. Last week at the Fayetteville ComicCon, I sold 11 copies of my Dragon Apocalypse Collection, far and away my best selling title, with the Bitterwood Collection being my second best selling title. Hopefully I can replicate this with a superhero trilogy.
The only downside is that I could have had Cut Up Girl on sale before the end of the year if I weren't starting on this project. But, I'm not going to be as obsessed about word count in 2017. Next year, I'll be fine if I don't have a single word of first draft and instead just focus on getting books I've already written into print.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Grateful for My Darkness: a #HoldOnToTheLight post


I was damned at the age of thirteen. I belonged to a fundamentalist church. I’d been to Sunday School and two church sermons twice a week my whole life. I spent chunks of my summer in Vacation Bible School and church camps, and was part of scout groups based in my church. I believed in God. I believed that the Bible was the literal word of God, and everything in it was true. I believed I was a sinner, and that God knew my every thought, my every urge, but that was okay. I believed, as well, in the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus, and took comfort in the notion he’d died for my sins, that all was forgiven.

Then, one Sunday School, it was explained that there was one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. While contemplating this revelation, I imagined what one might say that would constitute such a sin. And then I’d done it: I’d thought of a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And God knew my every thought. Thinking a sin was the equivalent of doing it.

I was eternally damned. I was damned, in a church where nearly every sermon brought up the torments of hell, the fiery pits, the unquenchable thirsts, the boils and pestilence and wounds that would never heal.

For people who grew up in a different faith or with faith held at a different intensity, it’s perhaps unfathomable that I would have felt condemned to hell for a thought. I will ask you to trust me when I say that this single moment nearly destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t pay attention at school. I lived, day in, day out, with the certainty that I was going to spend eternity in Hell. I couldn’t talk about this with anyone. I felt like a monster, the worst of all possible sinners, worse than a murderer or a thief in the Lord’s eyes.  Unforgiven. Unforgivable. Sometimes, I’d wake from sleep certain that Satan was in the room. Not metaphorically. I was convinced that if I opened my eyes the devil would be there, waiting to take me.

I became withdrawn. Even though I still went to church, I was unable to connect or socialize. My life was over before it ever truly started. 

Fortunately, in my religious household and social circles, no one ever tempted me with booze or drugs. I can see pretty easily that I could have become an addict if these outlets had been close at hand. But I was lucky. The only drug available to ease my suffering was reading. I retreated from the real world into the world of books. I read a lot of comic books, which lead me to read a lot of science fiction novels, which got me started on reading books about actual science. The world explained by science had no need of a creator God, no need of a cosmic judge. Morality and ethics could be explained by evolutionary roots rather than requiring commandments carved into stone. By sixteen, I’d escaped damnation by shifting into atheism. Of course, it was a secret atheism. I couldn’t tell my family. I definitely couldn’t tell people at church. I couldn’t tell people at school, because my secret might spread.

I was still a monster in my own eyes. I didn’t know a single other person who was an atheist. I’d never seen an atheist portrayed on television. But at least I had a label to cling to. I knew what kind of monster I was. There was something sinister and subversive in my secret rejection of the Lord Almighty. It made me feel… weirdly empowered.

I captured a bit of this feeling in my novel Witchbreaker. Sorrow, my protagonist, is a witch at war with the Church of the Book. She’s tried to boost her magical prowess by stealing the power of the primal dragon Rott. Unfortunately for her, using the dragon’s power comes with a terrible price. She’s slowly turning into a dragon. In this scene, she awakens to discover that her legs are gone, replaced by a serpent’s tail:

Her legs were gone. From her hips down, she now possessed an enormous black serpent’s tail. She stared at her scales for only a moment before she had to turn her face away and stare at the walls of the pit. 
“You’re already in a grave,” she said out loud. “Why waste the effort of crawling out?”
She choked back tears. Never before had she contemplated suicide. She held nothing but contempt for those who threw their lives away. But did she even have a life as a human now? She was more snake than woman. If the changes continued, and she lost her arms… she shuddered at the thought.
Should the day come when she lost her arms, she’d curse herself for not ending her life when she had had the chance. She cast about the broken ground with her hands until she found a shard of glass from the dragon’s coffin.
She placed the sharp edge against her wrist. She studied the blue veins beneath her pale skin and set her jaw.
After a moment, she threw the glass away. She wasn’t afraid of death. But she couldn’t bear the thought of her long war against the church coming to an end due to a moment of weakness. If her life had lost so much value that she found death an acceptable option, wasn’t this a liberation? She had nothing left to lose. She could throw herself into her quest to destroy the church without fearing for her own survival. Perhaps she’d been too concerned for herself, too cautious. Now, this timidity no longer stood in her way.
“I’m a monster,” she whispered. She found that the words didn’t hurt. She said, in half a shout, “I’m a monster!”
The thought calmed her. She’d been a freak and an outcast since the day she’d shaved her head and driven in her first nail. Brand had perhaps been right after all. Her father was a moral monster. It had been only a matter of time before his blood pulsing through her veins drove her to the same inhuman extremes. Let the world see what she had become. If she was to be a monster, better it be in body than in soul.
“I hereby promise myself that I shall never surrender,” she said. “Let my enemies gaze upon me and know fear!” She raised her fists in defiance. She was certain she was more ready than ever to take the fight to her enemies, if not for the non-trivial problem that she had no idea how to climb out of this hole.
Sorrow’s transition from horror to defiance takes only a few paragraphs (in fairness, this scene unfolds roughly ten years after the initial trauma that set Sorrow on her path, so in the book itself this scene has a more context and backstory). My own journey took years.

I’ll confess: I became a real jerk for several decades. It wasn’t enough that I didn’t believe in God. I wanted no one to believe in God. Once I left my parents house and moved to college, I was quick to jump into arguments with anyone who dared to tell me about how important God was in their life. I was combative, but only because I was certain I was in possession of a grand truth that the world was blind to.

My bitterness festered in my gut like slivers of broken glass. I walked around angry every single day. This anger used to boil to the surface quite easily. I can’t count the number of times I lost my temper in public. The triggers seldom had anything to do with religion. It was just difficult for me to contain my outrage. Which meant a lot of people probably thought I was crazy. Which also wound up as a scene in Witchbreaker, again involving Sorrow, when she’s talking with Gale Romer, the captain of the ship she’s on, and Gale surprises Sorrow by telling her how much she admires her:

Sorrow smiled even more broadly. “I didn’t know you felt this way. I just… I never meet anyone who approves of my goals. I’m used to people telling me I should let go of my anger. I’m used to people looking at me as if I’m crazy!”
Gale shrugged. “Perhaps we’re both crazy. I sometime think that what the world accepts as sanity is merely the capacity to grow numb to outrage. I find sanity to be a depressingly common commodity. Your anger exists for a reason, Sorrow. I admire that you still have the capacity to feel it. I admire that you’re willing to risk everything in order to try to put the world right.”

I’m still angry. Every single day. Half the time I’m angry at the world. Half the time I’m angry with myself. How could I have been so gullible when I was thirteen? But why blame myself? What sort of evil minds decided that children should have the threat of damnation dangled over them in order to get them to behave? And how can the majority of people live in a world where we’ve unraveled so many of the secrets of space and time still believe in myths dating from the Stone Age? Of course, I also have to wonder why any of this matters. Why can’t I be happy believing what I believe without feeling stressed about what others believe? On the other hand, why haven’t I done more? Why hasn’t every book I’ve written had the absence of God as the main theme, front and center? And why, when I have approached the topic in writing, have I been so ineffective that I’ve not changed even a single person’s mind? I should chill out. I should fight harder. I need to let go of the anger before it destroys me. I need to hold tight to my anger, and let it spur me to fight harder than ever before.

Back and forth, to and fro, the anger washes out toward the world, then rolls back onto myself. Endlessly. It wears me down. Which is why, in Cinder, Sorrow has fully become a dragon and is swimming down into the deepest depths of the Sea of Wine, never to return to the world of light:

She swallowed hard, staring into the unfathomable depths below. Once before, she’d stared into this void. As before, she found that something stared back, something beyond thought, a force beyond emotion, a primal thing, the primal truth, in fact. Before her lay nothing at all, the ultimate fate of all men, of all animals, all plants, the final sum of stones and stars, the complete value of all love, all hate, all fear, all hope. Everything was nothing. The void devoured all.

I’ve been there. I go there often. I’ll be there again. Staring into the void, paralyzed by the futility of my every thought and action.

And what makes me turn away from the void? The words come from another book, and another character, Bitterwood.

People will tell you that hate eats you from the inside. They tell you to let go of old pains, not to carry a grudge. Don’t listen to them. Hate’s all a person needs to get out of bed in the morning. Hold onto it. Hate is the hammer that lets you knock down the walls of this world. 
Don’t get me wrong. It’s been forty years since I found myself damned. I’ve… adapted. After a series of divorces and completely doomed romances, I finally married a woman who is mentally healthy and who keeps me mentally healthy. We exercise. Like, a lot. Thousands and thousands of miles of biking, hiking, walking and kayaking. We get outside and fill ourselves with sunshine and fresh air and usually that’s enough. I’m a materialist. I don’t believe I have a soul. I don’t even truly believe I have a mind. What I think of as my consciousness is an illusion created by purely physical processes in my brain. Since my brain is part of my body, keeping my body healthy keeps me on keel mentally.

But there’s always the darkness, lurking over my shoulder. More than exercise, more than love, I have one sharp edged tool I use to stab at the darkness. I’m an artist. I’m an author. I grab my darkness with both hands and wrestle it onto the page. My books have a lot of wondrous, magnificent, and silly things filling their pages. Dragons, of course, and monkeys and caped men and bulletproof women and spaceships and time machines and magic rings. Fluff and shiny things. But always, at the heart of each book, there’s someone struggling with their demons. There’s some broken adult still trying to piece back together a world shattered by a trauma that unfolded in their childhood. Some succeed. Some fail. But their struggle is what gives my books some measure of life and meaning and truth. And because my characters scream, and fight, and rage for me, I manage most days to pass for a reasonably well-adjusted human being.

I don’t know what your tragedy is. I have no insight as to your darkest secret. But while the name of this series is “Hold on to the Light,” I want to tell you not to be afraid of your darkness. You’re angry? Bitter? Afraid? Sad? Excellent. You feel something. Feelings are fuel. Your own suffering may one day lead you to be more compassionate and kind. Your outrage might make you stand up against something or someone that really must be opposed. Your fear might paralyze you… or it might goad you into action, be it fight or flight. Either is action, and action is life.

I sometimes wonder about what kind of person I might have become if I hadn’t experienced such a fall at an early age. I know I lost valuable years of education because of my distraction. I know I lost friends, and alienated a lot of people. I carry a burden of loneliness that my fictional creations can never quite share. In exchange for all my pain, I got to step outside the cage of my own life. The moral and intellectual walls that contained my young mind crumbled. It opened up worlds I might never have seen. It gave me a million words, and counting. My novels are just shouts at the world, frozen and sharp on pristine white paper, the letters dark as the void. I hold onto my light. But I’m grateful for my darkness. 

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection... Linkorama!


Behold! The Dragon Apocalypse has arrived! After a few technological obstacles, I've finally got the book live at most major book buying websites.

The Dragon Apocalypse is literally a labor of love. When I finished my Bitterwood saga a few years ago, I wanted to write something completely different in tone. Bitterwood was so dark and, well, bitter. I wanted to write about characters who were having a little fun with their lives, who actually enjoyed the grand adventures they undertook. I wanted the book to be funny, though not a parody. I also knew I wanted to write a love story, where I could explore a more redemptive and optimistic force than the revenge and hatred that had run through the struggles in Bitterwood. I also wanted to try something stylistically daring, writing the first two books in a first person voice with a single POV narrator who could give the tale a bit more attitude and edginess than I could allow myself in a third person voice. And when that narrator, Stagger, was taken off the playing field by events in the second book of the series, I switched back to third because I needed an objective voice to bring you Sorrow, the witch who drives the events in the last two books, and a character that I consider to be one of my best creations. She's both serious and funny, cruel and kind, introspective yet utterly blind to many of her own faults. She's ruthless in her goals, but also noble, and willing to sacrifice her body and sanity to serve the greater good.

One other thing other thing I'd like to note about the novel. Many, many years ago, before I'd written a single word of this series, I pitched the overall idea to my publisher. The key to any good pitch is to get to the heart of the matter in as few words as possible, so I used just four: "Bad girls, big dragons." I actually forgot about that pitch while I was writing, but when I look at the final battle, it strikes me that nearly all the major players in the effort to save the world from the dragons are women. Infidel, Cinder, Sorrow, the Black Swan, and Gale Romer are calling the shots and fighting on the front lines. One of their major goals is rescuing a male protagonist who's been captured. There's not a damsel in distress to be found. But there's nothing artificial about the all-girl cast at the end of the series. They were simply the best, most competent characters to arise from the pages of the plot.

This book has everything. It's a love story, a comedy, a ghost story, a philosophical debate, and an epic adventure that spans twenty years and literally takes the characters to Hell and back. What more could you possibly want in a book?

So... link-o-rama time!

First, Amazon. On this page you can buy either the ebook or the print edition.

Next up, Barnes and Noble. Only the ebook is showing at the moment, but the print edition should link in any day now, and you can also walk into any book store of your choice and have them order a copy of the print edition.

Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords will round out the ebook venues. Between one of these vendors, the ebook should be available worldwide. I know that Amazon UK has the book live because I'm already making sales there. The print edition is going to be available in the US, the UK, and the rest of Europe via Createspace. Alas, no distribution in print to the rest of the world at the moment. If you are outside North America and Europe and need to get your hands on a print copy, drop me an email and I'll see what I can work out if you're willing to pay for international shipping.

That's it! Thanks for your attention.