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.




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.




Friday, September 23, 2016

Dragon Apocalypse versus Brothers Karamazov

While formatting Dragon Apocalypse, I noticed that the collection was about 460,000 words. I wondered how it stacked up to some of the other long books I'd read, and happened to have The Brothers Karamazov sitting on the bookshelf beside me. I looked it up, and it weighs in at a mere 360,000 words. This surprised me, since when I read The Brothers Karamazov I was under the impression it contained all the words, ever. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful book, an enduring literary classic, and there's a good reason it sits next to me.  I keep many of my favorite books on a shelf beside my computer so I can glance over at them when I'm writing and remind myself of why I'm putting myself through the headache of creating a book.

That said, Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection is, let's face it, an inarguably larger book than The Brothers Karamazov. Just look at the photographic proof!
Plainly, my book is vastly superior in size.
Of course, you'd have to be a pretty shallow person to judge the worth of a book purely by the fact that one author has gone out of his way to bring you dozens of fascinating characters, settings, and plotlines, while the other author lacked the vision and imagination to keep going for another 100,000 words.

There's also the argument that number of words doesn't matter. It's how you use them. So, here's a perfectly objective chart comparing the literary merits of each book:

This chart was created by a Piedmont Laureate Emeritus, so you know it's accurate.
Look, I'm not saying you should skip reading The Brothers Karamazov in order to read Dragon Apocalypse. Both are fine books! You should really read them both. But start with Dragon Apocalypse. It's got dragons. And apocalypses.

Finally, my goal was to get up this morning and announce to the world all the different links that would allow you to purchase DRAGON APOCALYPSE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Alas, when I got home last night, the power was out, which meant I couldn't finish uploading to all the retailers. The power did come back on around 9:00, so I signed in and started uploading... only to have the power go off again, and stay off well into the middle of the night. So, I've spent my morning uploading books to Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and updating the Kindle file after I spotted a few typos created during the formatting process. (For some reason, if the first line of a chapter was dialogue, the opening quote mark was missing.) So, now I'm going to go for a hike, and hope that by this evening I'll have a bunch of links to share.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Full Cover Reveal!


Behold! There is a cover! Artwork by Hugo Award winning artist Julie Dillon!

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection includes all four novels of the series, Greatshadow, Hush, Witchbreaker, and Cinder. As an added bonus, the novel Greatshadow: Origins is also part of the set. I wrote this novella several years before the novel. It was printed in an anthology called Blood and Devotion. Several familiar characters are in the novella, including Infidel, Bigsby, and a Truthspeaker. The basic plot's the same, with a party of holy warriors off to slay the dragon, and a team of mercenaries tagging along planning to grab as much treasure as they can. There's even a few lines of dialogue lifted verbatim from the closing lines of the novella and transplanted into the novel. In comic book terms, the novella is the Golden Age version of these characters, while the novels are the Silver Age.

The book will be available at most ebook retailers very soon. I'm uploading files to several sites today. There will also be a print edition as big as a phone book. I'm chewing my nails waiting for the printed proof to arrive via UPS.

I'll do an update Friday that will hopefully have some links to actually buy this thing. The print edition will retail for $27. The ebook will be a steal at $5.99. You know you want it!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cover teaser #2 for soon to be revealed new book!

A little larger slice from the cover of my new book. Coming soon! Possibly as early as this Friday! It's big! It's hot! Full cover to be revealed on Wednesday!


Sunday, September 18, 2016

366 Update

At the beginning of the year, I set out to see if it were possible for me to write 366,000 words in a year, 1000 words a day on average. My methodology is perhaps a little controversial. I count first draft 100%, but I've also been giving myself partial credit for rewrites, and also giving myself bonuses for getting books into print and a few non-writing activities like cover design. Still, most of my word count is coming from novels, either first drafts or revisions.

I was on pace for the first half of the year, closing out June just slightly over 180,000 words. July, alas, was something of a speed bump, though for a good reason, since I was on vacation for two weeks and not writing during that time. I kept tracking my weekly productivity, but stopped adding it up in July since I was seeing myself slip further away from my goal. Fortunately, in August I started clocking in several weeks in the 8-10,000 word range. Since I just need 7000 words a week to stay on track, I started making up lost ground. Today, I finally decided to do the math and...

YES! I've got 257,092 words written for the year. I've only got a 103,000 to go, and over three months to get there!

The rest of September will probably not yield many high word counts, though I will be getting some bonus points for having a book go live on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. (Which book? I'll reveal the answer this week! Hint: It's longer than the Brother's Karamazov by 100,000 words.)

Then, in October, I've got a vacation and two conventions. Still, I'll start a project that month that should take me over the top on my word count. I've got several different options.

1. I can revise Cut Up Girl and Big Ape to get them ready for printing.

2. I can write a third novel in that universe and plan on revising all three next year and getting them into print with just a few weeks between release dates.

3. I could write a third novel set in my Nobody Gets the Girl universe. Basically, I have Nobody and Burn Baby Burn as a duology, but I'm finally getting it into my head that more books in a series equals more sales, and I actually have a pretty kick ass idea for one last book to cap off series. But, that pushes back Cut Up Girl and Big Ape even further. On the positive side, the last book in this series, Covenant, is one I've been thinking about for a long time, and I think it would come together pretty quickly. It also is a good vehicle for tackling an ethical question that I've grappled with for a long time. Is it enough in life to simply do no harm? My libertarian and nihilistic ethics have for a long time led me to believe that people can do whatever they want with their lives, as long as they don't hurt other people. But, after years of living with this belief, I can't help but wonder if this philosophy isn't merely selfish, but actively harmful to collective humanity. Of course, I've long believed that if individuals just take care of their own interests, then collectively mankind is better off. But what if I'm wrong? What if the world really is a better place if we're all our brothers' keepers? If Nobody Gets the Girl has a coherent theme, it would be that good intentions are dangerous things, and that some of the greatest harm is done to mankind by people convinced that they alone can make the world a better, safer, happier place. It would be interesting to explore this theme with a more positive spin.

Lots to think about. Lots to write. 103,000 words to go. Forward!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Something big is coming....


Big Ape isn't my only big news this week. I've also just finished uploading files for another big project that will go on sale before the end of the month. And by "big," I'm talking about a book with a print edition 790 pages long, containing just shy of half a million words. Cover art is by Hugo-winning artist Julie Dillon! Here's a close up of  part of the cover. More will be revealed soon!