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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Greatshadow: The Audiobook Now Available!

Buy the audiobook and I'll send you the first edition paperback free! Read on for details!

One of the things I keep getting asked at conventions is when will the Dragon Apocalypse books be available in audio. I had all audio rights to my books reverted back to me late in 2014, but then I was named the 2015 Piedmont Laureate and was too busy hosting events and teaching classes to worry about finding a narrator. Then I went into 2016 with the goal of writing three novels (Cinder, Big Ape, and Covenant) and worrying about audio rights was something that only rarely snuck into my consciousness. Finally, I slowed down enough to think in 2017 and remembered, oh, right, I should find narrators.

Perhaps this was fate instead of simple procrastination. (Yeah, let's go with fate.) When I put up Greatshadow, one of the first auditions I received was from a guy named Jake Urry. I'm American with a noticeable southern accent, and in my head I usually heard by books read in a similar voice. Jake Urry is British, and the second I heard him read the opening lines I knew that his was the perfect accent for the book. His performance is amazing, and once you hear it you'll agree he's captured the voice of Stagger in such a way that's it's impossible to imagine anyone doing it better.

Greatshadow is a challenging book for a narrator. It shifts gears between comedy and philosophical introspection in the span of a sentence. It requires great timing and a willingness to go over the top to deliver the jokes, then just as quickly fall back into a quiet, thoughtful musing. The range of voices is also challenging, especially when one of the characters is a shape shifter who goes through a variety of different bodies in the course of the tale. Oh, and another major character, No-Face, doesn't have lips, but still has a lot of lines. I can only imagine the look on Jake's face when he reached lines in the manuscript that read, "Ruhr. Ruh muguh, huh." Fortunately, he rose to the challenge. Jake delivers dragons, boa constrictors, ogres, pirates, priests, and faceless brutes, all with polish and flair.

Of course, you don't need to take my word for it. You can listen to an audio sample right now! Just click this link!

If you want to purchase the audiobook but are on the fence, I'll sweeten the deal. If you purchase the audiobook before June 9, 2017, email me at nobodynovelwriter(at)yahoo(dot)com with your mailing address and I'll send you an autographed copy of the original Greatshadow paperback first edition from Solaris. There are two terms and conditions: First, I'll need to limit this offer to the first twenty people who write me. The original paperbacks are no longer in print, so once I go through my current supply, I can't get anymore. Second, alas, due to the cost of mailing stuff internationally, I'll have to limit this to US readers.

A great book to listen to and a freebie. What more can you ask for?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Covenant Update: 24 chapters down, ten to go on second draft

So, the bad news is that starting tomorrow I'm on vacation. No, wait, that's good news! It really is. Cheryl and I are going to bike chunks of the C&O Canal, plus a few other greenways in Virginia and Maryland, for a weeklong getaway doing our favorite pastime. I need this vacation more than I can express. It's been a stressful few months at work, combined with designing brochures and planning events for the Friends of the Orange County Library, combined with rewriting a novel, combined with getting two audiobooks into production. (More on that soon!) A week away from computers is going to be exactly what I need.

The only downside is that I didn't hit my personal deadline of finishing the second draft in time to get the book ready for publication in time for ConCarolinas in early June. But, I knew that was an aggressive deadline when I set it. I should still be done with the second draft early in June, and my new target is to get this put together in time to debut at SuperCon in early July.

The good news is that the second draft is pulling together really well. The characters are getting sharper and more detailed, and the subplots are weaving together much better than they did the first time around. The plot hole keep getting smaller and smaller. I still have a distant villain problem. The master villain really doesn't get revealed until the last ten chapters, and while I don't feel like the revelation is going to come completely out of nowhere, it's also tough to get into a villain's head when they are so far removed from the overall plot. The villain's minions are present, of course, but they don't do much to reveal the true motives of the mastermind. Solving this so that the bad guy seems like a genuine threat instead of someone sending out cannon fodder villains for no apparent reason in the early pages is so far going to be my biggest challenge in the next draft.

Hopefully, when I get back from vacation, the way forward will be apparent.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Covenant V2 progress: Six more chapters!

Six more chapters done this week. That's 12 done, on a book with 36 chapters, so progress is moving at a nice clip. If I have one critique of my own story it's that, as a team book, I feel like the story is currently somewhat fragmented. All the characters have their arcs, but I keep jumping between all the team members and I'm worried that the motivations for individual characters might be getting muddied as characters step in and out of the spot light. But, I'm working on this in fragments, focusing intently on small segments. I'm hoping that when I finally read the book as a coherent whole, it will flow smoothly.

Another update next Sunday!

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!