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!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Week Six: 10,233 words

Two more chapters done for Dragonsgate! I mentioned last week I was happy to have Hex finally show up in the novel, and his presence continued to pay dividends as I wrote to deeply introspective chapters where Hex and Burke have a long conversation over cups of tea while they discuss their feelings. 

Wait, that doesn't sound right. 

Oh! Looking back at the chapters, I think it's more accurate to describe what unfolds as two chapters of shouting and bloodshed. Burke basically unleashes the full arsenal of Dragon Forge against Hex in an attempt to be done with one of the biggest obstacles to his goal to spread the human rebellion. Hex uses his invulnerable golden armor to fight back and unleash some serious mayhem. It's steam-tanks versus superdragon and I love it, love it, love it when characters like Hex and Burke take charge and write their own scenes and I'm mainly just transcribing what they're doing. 

The end of the first draft is still a bit over the horizon. Like most Bitterwood novels, there's two parallel plot lines, and I'm nowhere near merging them together for the big climax. Some of the earlier Bitterwood novels run for over 30 chapters. I'd hoped to keep this one down to about 25, but that's looking a lot less likely as my to do list of scenes I still need to write keeps growing. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Week Six: 7077

An underwhelming week for word counts. My excuse is the exact opposite of my excuse for bad weeks last month. Last month, the flu and the aftereffects kept me in bed or sitting on the couch like a zombie. This week I was fully recovered and it meshed with amazing weather, with a string of warm, sunny days. I had missed my exercise mileage goals in January due to being ill, so I've been biking or taking long walks every day since Monday in an effort to make up my mileage deficit. My overall goal for the year is to log 2400 miles. I'll probably have some 300 mile months over the summer, so I wanted January and February to be 100 mile months. Falling short in January means I have to hustle!

The good news is that what I did write was nearly all Dragonsgate, as the confrontation between Burke and Hex spread across two chapters. This is the sort of fight that I most like writing. It's not a good guy versus a villain, nor a major character taking on some army of flunkies. It's two protagonists that have hopefully both earned some reader loyalty, who're on a collision course as they each pursue admirable goals. For Burke, he doesn't see any way for mankind to move forward unless the war against dragons continues until every last human in the kingdom is free. Mankind has been enslaved for centuries and the remaining dragons aren't just going to accept humans as equals and share the world fairly. The only path forward is violence and war. Hex, however, is doing all he can to prevent war. He thinks that reason and persuasion can bring humans and dragons together into a future where mutual self-interests will allow everyone to be free to pursue their own happiness. He doesn't want dragons to rule over men, but he also believes that Burke's true goal is for humans to rule over dragons, and he can't have that either.

As satisfying as their philosophical conflict is to write, once the actual fight breaks out it's awesome. It's Burke and his machines versus a sun-dragon with nearly invulnerable Atlantean armor and the battle that unfolds is one of the coolest action sequences I've written in a long time.

I'm now up to chapter 18, so I'm definitely on track to finish this up some time in March. After that, I'll switch to finishing Nobody Nowhere. Then I need to make some hard choices about whether to edit either of these works for a new release at Supercon in July, or work on yet another first draft for Smash or Squire. Part of me wants to get as many first drafts into existence as possible this year so that when I do switch back to editing and publishing mode I've got plenty of material to keep me busy.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Week Five: 10k+

Don't have my exact word count, since I'm back at the Robotic Rodeo selling books. Well, hoping to sell books. Parking was worryingly easy to come by this morning. I've been to many, many cons where Sunday is my best day for sales, but the overlap with Superbowl Sunday might make this day somewhat under attended. (Though it's just the first half hour and I've already had one sale, so maybe my pessimism isn't justified.)

Anyway, I know that I was over 8,000 words on my home computer, and have just over 2000 from yesterday on my laptop, so I'm definitely over 10k, but probably under 11k.

I'm up to 17 chapters on Dragonsgate. I've finally brought Hex back into the book and it's been a joy writing him. Hex is one of my favorite characters from the original trilogy because he's got an interesting world view and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Looking back, I don't think I appreciated how much the comic relief characters contributed to the books. Having Poocher, a pig, have an actual storyline in the first trilogy did a lot to pace the mood and deflate tension with a touch of humor.  Blasphet with his over-the-top villainy was also just fun. So far, this book has had a surplus of grim and driven characters. Writing Hex makes me realize how much I need to add a witty rogue to the human cast.

I also worked a bit on Nobody Nowhere. It's shaping up nicely, but I really need to figure out the scope of the book. I'm at a point where I can introduce more characters, but worry about having too many characters. There's no point in introducing a character if I don't plan to give them an arc, and I'd like to keep the word count under 90k, like the rest of the books in the series. This give me a practical cap of 5 or 6 important characters in addition to the protagonist, plus maybe another handful of minor characters with more limited roles. Things are complicated by the fact that this is a parallel world novel. So, for a lot of my characters, there's two different versions of them.

Oh well. I'll figure it out. And it it does turn into a longer book, so be it.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dragon art!

Setting up for the Robotic Rodeo, a steampunk festival in Durham. As I mentioned last week, I have a 10 foot space instead of the 6 and 8 foot tables I normally get. I'm adding dragon art to my inventory! I'm starting small with what I think is my best dragon at sunset photo. The frames are hand decorated. If there's any interest at all I'll branch out. I've got quite a few dragon pics. And, if no one even looks at them, I've got new decoration for my office!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Week Four: 10343 words

I made my goal this week despite still being sick for most of the week. My flu last week has settled into a bad case of bronchitis that's just completely sapping my energy. I get little bursts of feeling pretty good, but then try to do some minor task like unloading the dishwasher, wind up coughing for ten minutes, then, boom, I need a nap. 

In contrast to my sickly physical state, my current draft of Dragonsgate is developing quite healthily. In every book, characters show up who I didn't originally include in my plans. This time, it was a "sister of the serpent" named Colobi. She's a minor character in the original Bitterwood trilogy, one of Blasphet's main sidekicks in the cult of human women who worship him as the Murder God and serve as his assassins. Colobi is the one who saves Blasphet in the tunnel after Bitterwood leaves him for dead, and in Dragonseed she defends Blasphet against Anza and winds up dead, only to be restored to life by Blasphet. 

When I started writing Dragonsgate, the character wasn't on my radar. But, following Dragonsgate: Preludes and Omens, Anza was pretty badly injured and I needed to get her back in action again quickly. I'd introduced the healing power of the dragonseed previously, but who would still have one around, and who would be willing to use it? Colobi sprang to mind, and after I brought her back into the novel to heal Anza, she's been hanging around and generally acting crazy, talking about how Blasphet's not really dead and that's she's still intent on serving him. But even I wasn't certain if she was just there to be a bit player, or if she actually had a role in the plot. This week, finally, she stepped up and explained exactly what her master plan was and it's perfect. Her agenda is the thread that ties together the three diverging plots of the book and will pull them back together. 

I can't tell you how much I envy people who can outline their novels in advance. Winging it and hoping it will out work out is stressful... even though, again and again, it does all work out. I'm reminded of the theory of the bicameral mind. The short and probably not precisely accurate summary of this theory is that human consciousness grew out of a more primal state where the left brain and right brain weren't really aware that they were part of the same mind. So primitive man would hear voices and obey these voices thinking they were gods or spirits, when in fact it was his own mind speaking to him. For me, writing fiction is something like this. I feel like there's a muse in my head who knows the whole story of what I will write, but can't be bothered to explain it to me in advance. She teases me along from plot twist to plot twist, and I'm always thinking it would be nice if she'd given me some advance warning. But, she knows that, if she did warn me in advance, I'd spill the beans. In this theory, I do have the whole novel planned out in advance, I'm just hiding it from myself. 

The counter theory is that my brain contains ten thousand monkeys pressing keys randomly, and instead of recreating Shakespeare, I get James Maxey novels. 

Next weekend:  Robotic Rodeo in Durham! I'll have a bit more space than normal, so my plan is, in addition to books, to also have a small selection of dragon art for sale. I did a test run last year with some dragon greeting cards I gave away free to people who signed up for my newsletter. I ran out of stock pretty quickly, but, of course, it's easy to give stuff away, a bit harder to sell it. Still, I figure it's worth a shot for those occasions when I have ten feet of table space to fill up. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Week 3: 8344 Words

Missed my goal for the week. Every year, I get a flu shot and, every year, I still get the flu. It started as a scratchy throat Sunday and then three lost days where I pretty much stayed in bed around the clock. I pecked out a few words Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but even though I started feeling good enough by yesterday to get up and get out of the house, my head still feels full of cotton. I really hope I can shake it off and get back into the game soon. Fortunately, I'd beaten my goal a little the first two weeks, so I'm still on target for the year.

Read another 150 pages or so of Roots. Past the halfway mark in the book.

Next weekend I head to Charlotte for the Charlotte Minicon. I've only got a half table, so I'm only taking dragon books, at least to display. After that, I'll be doing three days at Durham's Robotic Rodeo. My situation there is flipped and I've got more space than I usually get, so I'm planning to expand with some art offerings. More on that next week!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Week Two: 11366 words

Worked a little on three different books this week, Dragonsgate, Squire, and Nobody Nowhere. I'm still a little nervous about not staying focused on one project alone until it's done, but so far I'm pretty happy with everything I'm doing and satisfied with my word count. 

With Dragonsgate, I'm finally hammering down exactly why each character is in the novel. You think that's something I'd figure out before I started writing the book, but sometimes when I write characters just show up and stick around, volunteering to do more work. On the flip side, I also have legacy characters who wind up in the book just because they were in the previous books and I feel like I should do something with them. These are frequently more challenging because, if I did my job right in the previous book, they've already had a character arc that resolved their emotional conflict and brought them to whatever goal they were pursuing in the last book. Finding a new challenge and motivation that grows out of their previously stated goals can be tricky. 

Two of my characters, Anza and Zeeky, have really just been along for the ride in this book. I'd given them surface reasons to be present, but hadn't really dug deeply into their emotions, and why the mission they are on is important to them. This week, I finally got my handle on Zeeky. Anza, though, is still shrugging off most to the emotional conflicts I keep offering her. I feel like if I can find her grand goal, the book is really going to come to life. But, who knows? It might be the second draft before she decides to play along. I might just have to write a draft where she does what she needs to do to advance the plot and figure out why she's doing it later. Step one of writing a good novel is to first write a bad novel. There are a hundred balls you have to keep in the air while you juggle all the elements of a book. Sometimes you just need to let a ball drop if you want to keep the other 99 in the air. 

Squire is turning into an interesting project. I've made a decision to keep the chapters short, under 1500 words. This isn't completely arbitrary. I'm hoping to target some younger readers with this series, and writing short is forcing me to keep things simple and direct. I think my ordinary style is pretty readable, but I'm also aware that I can be somewhat wordy. A lot of my epic fantasy chapters get close to 6000 words. Part of this is because of the "epic" modifier. A have large casts and lots of plot threads and take time to describe exotic creatures and settings. Squire is going to have a single POV character and a much smaller cast than my previous fantasies. It will still be recognizably epic fantasy, but streamlined. 

My last project, Nobody Nowhere, has been the most fun to write so far. It's still in the early stages of character introduction and plot initiation. My challenge with it will be deciding how many POV characters I want to use. I've already introduced three. I feel certain I need at least one more. But the book has so many interesting characters the temptation is to give them all a little POV time. There are artistic reasons to restrict the POV characters, but another part of me is wondering just how big a mess I'd create if I just went for it and crammed in a dozen POVs. Oh well. Well see. The best way to find out is just to keep writing! 

Reading update: Didn't get to listen to more of Master and Margarita because I had a bunch of chapters of the audio version of Dragonseed to listen to this week. But, I'm close to a quarter of the way through Roots now. It's definitely a great book, but the pacing lags in parts. I can only assume there are some really big time jumps later in the book if this story is supposed to follow the family through to the present day.