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), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. 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. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Mid Year Update: 209745

As June comes to a close, my word count for the year is 209745. This is mostly new fiction, between a first draft of Dragonsgate, 14 chapters of Nobody Nowhere, and lots of false starts and test chapters on other projects. At the beginning of the year, I still thought I'd be writing a Smash Lass novel called Smash, and I may one day, but for now it's gone and forgotten. I also wrote several false starts for a younger reader novel called Squire. It's also set aside and mostly forgotten. In non fiction, I've written several chapters or fragments for my writing book, The Stuff. It's very much an alive project, but a ton of what I've written is probably unusable. I've been approaching the book as a series of essays, but am starting to see that, despite being non-fiction, it really needs a plot. There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it needs some twists along the way. I wrote a new first chapter for the book last week and feel like I might finally have a handle on how to make the book a page turner. I also think that my previous takes on writing advice have been somewhat serious and dry. My new vision incorporates much more humor.

My word count is also including some non-revenue oriented writing, like these blog posts, some written interviews I've done, and some of the writing-related work I've done on organizing projects for the Friends of the Library. (For instance, writing the rules for the costume contest at the Comic Fair.)

But, still, I'm not happy to be over 40k words under goal for the year. On the other hand, I'm not panicked either. My year got off to a slow start, with really low selling cons in January and February, and the first BookBub ad I ever ran that had no long trail off at all. On previous ads, I had elevated sales for up to six months. The last one I ran had a one month boost, then a rapid reversion to what I'd been selling before. So, in March, as I was really starting to dip into my savings, I took a temp job. I really thought the project would end in early May, but it ran through the third week of June. Ironically, once I took that job, the writing income panic went away as bigger cons started kicking in. But, it's nice going into the rest of they year with my savings account boosted up a bit. I've got some good sized cons lined up for July and August. September doesn't have any huge events on the calendar, but October and November should be good, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this year I won't have two events in a row cancelled by hurricanes. It's the December through February window that's challenging, both for finding events of any size, and for not having those events canceled by snowstorms (which also happened to me this year).

Of course, the best cure for the winter con slump is going to be to have books releasing during that time frame to boost my online revenue, and I'm on target to do that. Getting in 300k words in the second half of the year requires an average of 12k words a week. Not very daunting. Now, it's time to wrap up this blog post, and get back to cranking out chapters!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Year to date: 188092 words

I skipped a weekly update last Sunday since I was still at ConCarolinas. Next Sunday I'll be at HeroesCon. This week, Cheryl and I took a trip for her birthday to Damascus, Virginia to bike the Virginia Creeper trail. As I predicted in my last blog post, all of this has just killed my writing momentum for the time being.

In addition to all the travel, I also did something yesterday that was writing related, took hours, but didn't count toward my word count goals. I finally created an online inventory system for my books. I've almost certainly lost sales this year by not having enough stock when I head out to a con. I've now upped my inventory level for all my titles and, more importantly, have linked all my inventory into Square so I'll know when it's time to order more while I'm selling them instead of waiting until the day I'm packing for a con to discover what I still have. Unpacking every book I had in stock, sorting them, rearranging shelves so I can more easily store what I have, and keying the inventory into Square ate up my whole afternoon yesterday, but now that it's done it should pay off moving forward.

This week, I was listening to a radio story about a musician who wasn't releasing her new album digitally but was instead only going to release it as a CD. She talked about how CDs might not sell as well in stores, but they still sold well at concerts. It made me realize that my career has kind of become that of a gig musician. Last month I had more revenue from selling books at cons than I made in online sales. This pattern will likely hold true at least through August. Online sales in theory have less cost, but the landscape of digital sales has changed a lot in the last few years and now Amazon has sort of changed the rules to a system where you have to pay to play. If you aren't running ads, your books disappear.

There's a lot of cost involved in selling books at conventions, but the raw dollar profit on a physical book is much larger than the royalty on most ebooks. My ebooks sell best when I discount them. So, from time to time I've done 99 cent promos on my dragon collections, and these are always profitable compared to what I spend on the ads. But, at 99 cent, selling 45 books earns me a royalty equal to the profit I make selling one trade paperback dragon collection at a con. And, at cons, the competition is  less intense. I'm not going to conventions where George R. R. Martin or Brandon Sanderson are sitting next to me selling their books. At a lot of the cons I do, there are only a handful of other authors, and most aren't targeting the same audience. So, for now, doing cons most weekends seems to be the most reliable way of turning my time into money... with the one long term cost, for now, seeming to be a loss of hours spent actually producing new fiction.

The only way forward is forward. I used to balance a day job with writing a couple of books a year, so I see no reason I shouldn't be able to balance all these conventions with producing at leas the same number of books. And, I feel like I'm spending a lot of time beating myself up for making it to June without having released a new book this year, and kind of ignoring the fact that I have actually produced the first draft of one novel and am creeping toward the final chapters of another. Little by little, the writing is getting done. I'm still on track to release two books this year. And, unless the bottom completely falls out, I should have a more profitable year this year than last. It's hard work, but anyone who thinks that making a living as a writer is easy is delusional. It's still so much more rewarding than anything else I've done in my life to earn an income.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Week 21: 3300 word

As expected, the Hillsborough Comics Fair ate up most of my time this past week. No new fiction, most of what I'm counting as writing is a blog post and a lot of social media posts promoting the event. I normally count blogs posts, but don't count, say, a Facebook post, but these were fairly chunky posts hyping several features of the event like the cosplay contest. Oh, and I'm counting typing up the rules for the cosplay contest and creating an entry form and judges form.

Tomorrow I'm doing a 50ish mile bike ride from Anderson Point Park in Raleigh all the way back to near the Southpoint Mall in Durham, so that's going to chew up tomorrow. I'll probably be brain dead Tuesday after the ride, and Thursday I'll be packing up to head for ConCarolinas, so I won't get a lot of writing done this week either. Still, I'm optimistic that I'll be well over 200,000 words by the end of June, probably in the range of 230,000 words, which leaves me positioned to get back on track over the summer, when my cons aren't quite as stacked up as they've been in recent weeks (and won't be requiring quite as much travel).

It was totally worth it to take the time to plan the Comics Fair. Our best estimate is that over 200 people came to the event, and it might have been closer to 300 people. There were a lot of kids, which was exciting. A lot of the cons I go to are really focused on nerdy adults, which is great for me since that's my target reader. But, since this was a free event at the library, the proportion of younger kids was a real thrill. It felt good to contribute to the future nerds of America.

Luckily, my friend Calvin Powers came by and snapped some pics! Here's some of what you might have missed if you didn't make it yesterday!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Week 20: 4850 words

Last week I took a micro vacation on the way to Tidewater Comicon, spending two days biking in the Virginia beach area before the two day con. With Wednesday spent packing, this effectively gave me a work week of Monday and Tuesday night, and a count of 4850 words.

This week, I'm mainly doing last minute organizing on the Hillsborough Comicon, so probably another low word count week. Then, the following Monday, if plans hold, I'll be doing a 75 mile bike ride, then prepping for ConCarolinas, a three day con where I'm moderating panels, again giving me another short week. But, despite a hectic May (and early June), things should calm down considerably after HeroesCon, as I won't have any more multi-day cons on the books until the end of July for SuperCon/GalaxyCon.

Cons are a huge time and energy investment, and there's no question my busy travel schedule over the last few months have sapped my writing energy. Is it worth it? Yep! The more cons I do, the better I'm getting at selling my books. This year, I've earned four times what I'd earned between January 1 and May 20 last year. Part of it is just that I have more books to sell, since I didn't have all of my Lawless books out last year at this point, nor had I released Dragonsgate. I also didn't have hardcovers. I'm charging more for my books than I did last year, relying less on discounts to move products. I'm also travelling a bit further and doing more multiday events. I've revamped covers that weren't selling, and improved my table signs and banners to do more selling without me spending as much time doing pitches. Part of this means that I'm once again a part time writer... only now, instead of my energy being divided between a day job and writing, my energy is divided between writing and a career as a travelling salesman for my own books.

I'm not complaining at all about this, by the way. In my years working a "real" job, I spent countless hours selling products of dubious value, with my soul withering as the people who signed my checks kept inventing new ways to gouge customers with unnecessary add-ons. It turns out that selling a product I believe to be superior to other items of a comparable price is actually quite uplifting. I normally finish a con exhausted, but giddy at how many books I've sold. Hoorah for the intersection of creativity and capitalism!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Week 19: 7155 words

Another week where writing related activities devoured actual writing. I've been working behind the scenes on the Hillsborough Comics Fair most of the week. I also had to put together a newsletter, since I hadn't done one since March. To put out the newsletter, I had to do a few more edits of the DRAGONSGATE Sneak Peek, and make a temporary cover to go with it. I also listened to more audio chapters of Covenant, and booked hotel rooms for upcoming cons. I do give myself some "word count" for some of these activities, like the revisions and newsletter, but except for about half a chapter of Nobody Nowhere, I haven't produced much new fiction.

The upcoming weeks don't look much more promising for production. The Comics Fair is going to be taking a little bit of time every day through May 25. I also have the Tidewater Comicon in Virginia Beach next weekend, and we'll be doing some touristy stuff on the way up, so that will be four days on the road.

By the way, I'm not complaining about organizing the Comics Fair. I've taken part in several cons organized by libraries, so helping my own hometown library get one set up suits my particular skill set, and anything I can do to get more people to visit a library makes me feel like a responsible citizen helping to maintain civilization in good working order. I don't really have the skills I would need to find a cure for cancer, but getting comic books into the hands of kids and maybe instilling a life long love of a true American art form? That's right in my wheelhouse. Also, organizing the con helps me realize how much hard work other volunteers to for the cons I attend. I don't know if I can call what I'm doing paying it forward, but hopefully I'm at least paying it sideways.

Back to word counts: I'm already making time on my calendar later in the year for a few "writing retreats" later in the year, where I go to an undisclosed location to get away from distractions and spend days just typing for a full week. My goal this year of 10k words a week was always going to be about averages. I'm going to have a few weeks of 30k plus words. I've had weeks in the past where I've gotten out close to 60k words in a week. I admire writers who can follow the slow and steady route, but a lot of my favorite books were written when I just closed out the rest of the world for a few days and did a full immersion in a project.

In other news, a few weeks back I mentioned doing a guest blog. It was published this week, and here's the link. It's an essay about my own personal experiences of entering some of the dream worlds where my Dragon Apocalypse novels unfold, and the treasures that I found there.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Week 16: 7552 words

Finished a chapter and got a good start on another chapter of Nobody Nowhere. I also did some rewriting work on Dragonsgate! My goal is to send out a new newsletter by next weekend and include a sneak peek. I had some trouble picking the scene to rewrite. There's some good action scenes, but when I pulled them out of context I worried they felt like random violence once stripped of the story context. It might work for a movie sneak peek, but people read books for different experiences. In the end, I went with a scene of a conversation between Burke and Bitterwood that I think sets up the emotional stakes for both characters nicely. It's a quiet character moment that sets up all the mayhem and carnage that will follow. I'll do two more passes on it this week, then get it out in the newsletter. 

This week I also I did a fair amount of non-writing writing work. I set up a table at the Free Comic Book Day at Atomic Empire to sell books and help promote the upcoming Hillsborough Comic Con, As long I was heading out to make copies of the flyers to promote the con I figured it was time for new pricing signage for my books. My old signs didn't reflect the hardcovers, and I've raised the price of my short story bundle from $16 to $18. I've sold out of the sets three times this year, at SC Comicon, Raleigh Comicon, and Wilmington Geek Expo, so I'm probably way overdue in bumping up the price. Still, once I had the old signs open in Photoshop, of course I had to start tweaking fonts, and before I knew it, poof, there was an evening gone. But, it needed to be done, and it's done, and I won't need to mess with it again for a long time. 

Even though I'm keeping busy, I'm aware that I've had three weeks in a row where I failed to hit my target of 10k words. I'm going to need to start getting in some weeks above goal to break out of the hole I'm digging. Fortunately, there's still a lot of the year left. I'm not worried yet, which is probably the problem. It's too easy to procrastinate at this stage of the game. If the end of June rolls around with my word count for the year not near 250,000, then I'll worry.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Week 17: 8944 words

A decent week. Another chapter of Nobody Nowhere, plus a guest blog post (I'll let you know when it appears), plus two text interviews. Also some writing advice bits added to the growing pile of words that will one day be edited into my writing book The Stuff. 

When I first got the idea to do a writing book, I thought, hey, this is going to be easy. Back when I was Piedmont Laureate, I was teaching a lot of writing classes and writing a lot of articles about writing. So, I easily had a book length mass of words that could just be collected, or so I thought. My real challenge is trying to find my own unique twist on the genre of writing books.

One thing that drives me to write the fiction that I write is that I'm often writing in reaction to elements I don't like about the genres I'm writing in. When I started writing Bitterwood, I was in sort of an anti-magic mindset. I had grown up liking fantasy literature, but when I started writing Bitterwood I was at the peak of my atheist activism, and really wondered if the casual inclusion of magic in popular culture didn't prep people to accept the supernatural. Skeptics in most pop culture are always proven wrong. Ghosts are real, or angels do exist, or there really is a vampire next door. So, Bitterwood was my attempt to write the fantasy fiction I still pined for, but to do so without any supernatural or magical elements. Fantasy without the fantasy. How's that for a pitch to a publisher? But... it worked.

When I moved on to the Dragon Apocalypse, I was kind of reacting to my own attempts to de-magic fantasy, and decided to go over the top with the magical and mythical elements. But, even more, the books are a rebellion against a trend in fantasy that annoyed me, which was that so much fantasy was centered around royalty, and/or built around the notion of a "chosen one." So, while there is a princess hidden in in the Dragon Apocalypse, she embodies none of the usual traits of royalty. 99% of the time, a rebellious princess will find that duty calls, and she must reconcile her desire to be herself with her responsibilities as royalty. Dragon Apocalypse has none of that. Aside from the princess, you get through four books without meeting another member of a royal family. (Not counting the so called Queen of Witches, who is ruling over an empty kingdom of bones.) None of my heroes are "chosen ones," except, of course, for the actual chosen one, Numinous Pilgrim, and he's a dick.

Of course, readers probably never notice what my novels aren't about. But, for me, creativity is something of a rebellion. I'm not trying to write books that imitate books I've liked. I'm trying more to write books in genres that I once loved, but where I eventually came to see that the genre wasn't really giving me what I needed or wanted. I start to spot weaknesses, gaps, and blind spots in books I've already read. Then I think, you know, this could be done better, so I try to do it better.

Right now, with The Stuff, I'm trying to figure out what I'm rebelling against. I've got some low hanging fruit, bits of common advice on how to write well that I think actually cause people to write dreadfully. Like, show, don't tell. This is great advice for screen plays, but not as great for prose. There are lots of situations in writing novels and short stories where directly telling the reader important information is absolutely the most effective approach, while page after page of body language and facial expressions and cryptic conversations leave the reader more annoyed than intrigued.

But, even as I say this, I create my own rule, and that rule is almost certainly wrong. Some times showing instead of telling is the only thing that works, and it's magic.

Do what works. There! That's what all my writing advice comes down to. Which seems like, I dunno, kind of a skinny book.

I do think I've got some useful stuff to say about writing, but I'm still rooting around for the big, driving theme that's going to unify it all. When I finally have that, I suspect I'll be able to put the book together relatively swiftly. I easily have 80K words about writing already written. I just need the theme to tell me what goes in and what stays out.

This coming week should be a good one for writing fiction. This last week I was tied up with a lot of Library stuff. This week I've got a lot more time blocked off for butt in chair, focused on Nobody.