Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, the author of the Bitterwood fantasy quartet, Bitterwood, Dragonforge, Dragonseed, and Dawn of Dragons, as well as a pair of superhero novels, Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. (Click on the titles to be taken to Amazon.) My Dragon Apocalypse series combines both superheroes and epic fantasy, and so far three books have been published, Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker. The fourth book in the series, Soulless, is still under construction, but, I swear, it will see the light of day! I've also published numerous short stories, the best of which are reprinted in my collection, There is No Wheel.

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.

Coming out in 2014 will be my Oz inspired novel Bad Wizard, published by Antimatter Press. I'm currently working hard to finish up another superhero novel, Cut Up Girl. Watch this space for news!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Reading update

There's not been a lot of activity on this blog since I became Piedmont Laureate. I write a blog at piedmontlaureate.com that I update every two weeks, always on writing related subjects. I don't have a lot of writing updates to go into here, since I've not written any fiction since I finished the first draft of the fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel back in April. I've got a lot of laureate events lined up for the fall and into early December, so, realistically, it will be early next year before I focus on my own writing again.

While I haven't done a lot of writing this year, I do feel like I've got a decent amount of reading done since April.  I've reread some books that were important to me, like Winesburg, Ohio and Huckleberry Finn. I've discovered Thomas Hardy after somehow missing him all my life, and have now read Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Currently, I'm about 75% of the way through the Brothers Karamazov.

Karamazov has been both a delight and a slog. Oddly, some of my favorite parts have been chapters where absolutely nothing happens, and it's just one of the brothers giving a long monologue on philosophy. Dostoevsky knows how to ask truly monumental questions, like, if God exists, is there any evidence whatsoever that he is loving or just? I never feel as if he's stacking the deck in favor of one answer. The slog part has been that occasionally he seems to forget which book he's writing, and goes off on a tangent exploring the life of some minor character in sidetracks that last half a dozen chapters. If the book had no plot whatsoever, I could just roll with the flow. But, there is a plot, which makes the long diversions into stuff unrelated to the plot aggravating.

Hardy has been my favorite discovery of the summer. Holy cow, this guy can write! He has, for me, a nearly perfect blend of setting and character, with a marvelous gift for weaving in a ton of detail without bogging down the flow of his tale. I'd been told his works were somewhat bleak--which they are--but hadn't been told they were also funny. He's got a wonderful gift for banter between his characters and a gift for irony. Hardy also has a gift for capturing beauty. His descriptions of the English countryside are breathtaking. Then, amid all this beauty, he will systematically destroy a character you to like and admire, tearing away their dignity, finances, and health item by item until they are brought to utter ruin and die without redemption. And Lord help you if you're an infant in a Thomas Hardy novel. You've got the life expectancy of a gerbil, and not a healthy one. Hardy definitely had a lot of anger toward societal institutions. You can see he views the morality of his day as immoral to the core, and the church, government, and even colleges as being designed to reward the undeserving elite and punish the striving poor. I see in his writing precursors to great social justice novels like Grapes of Wrath or the Jungle. I intend to read more of his novels when I'm done with Karamazov. I'm still hoping he's got at least one baby born in the course of a book who makes it out alive.

Even when I'm writing, I try to keep reading, but it's been an interesting experience reading during half a year of not actively working on a book of my own. I've pretty much been working on one writing project or another without a break for close to fifteen years, so often when I read I'm placing things in the context of what I'm currently working on. I'll hit a line in what I'm reading that reminds me of something a character in my current work might say of feel and the next thing I know I'm off in my imagination, completely losing the thread of the book before me. It's kind of nice to make it through some of these big, meaty novels without that distraction. That said, I'm definitely finding inspiration as well. My work has never shied away from asking big questions, but I've always made sure that I'd follow those deep questions with scenes of intense action or comedy, almost as if I feel like I owe my reader a treat for forcing her to sit through a few paragraphs of philosophy. I've written a lot of entertaining books. But, have I ever truly attempted to write a great one?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse, Book 4: 90451, first draft finished!

With one final writing session on the last day of April, I bring my first draft to a stopping point. Technically, there are still probably two chapters to write, but at this point all that's left for those are choreography. I know who's fighting who, I know my big last second twist, I know my final scene, even if I'm still not exactly sure what the characters will decide to do in the last sentences.

The last few chapters have been pretty satisfying. Stagger and Infidel were reunited for most of a chapter and got to talk out some family issues. Sorrow was off stage for a good deal of the time, but when she did reemerge, she'd regained the intensity of purpose that always made her so compelling for me.

Oh! And Menagerie also gets in a moment of glory. I like having him around. He's competent, and good at fixing problems, but also knows when to shut up.

I'm going to ignore the book now for an indeterminate time. It's possible I could start a second draft in June, but I may wind up putting it off until August. June is getting really full of Piedmont Laureate events and I'll be at the beach two weeks in July. It won't hurt to let things percolate.

My biggest worry about the book right now is that it lacks a strong central character. That's not necessarily fatal to a book. Dragonseed is a good example of a book I've written with no single main character. But, the Bitterwood books always had an ensemble cast, while my Dragon Apocalypse Books have been focused more on single characters. Infidel stars in Greatshadow, Stagger gets more of the spotlight in Hush, and Sorrow is present in all but a handful of scenes in Witchbreaker. I had originally intended to focus on Slate, but the story was simply bigger than him. The Black Swan became my back up central protagonist, and she does drive a lot of the plot, but she's just crossed a line, a line Sorrow straddled in Witchbreaker, where her drive to complete an all important mission has stripped away most of her humanity. It was possible to tell a story of Sorrow fighting to recover her humanity in Witchbreaker, but the Black Swan is never going to be able to call herself human ever again. This makes her tricky to identify with.

I'm hoping as the book percolates between drafts that I might find some way to make people care about the Black Swan, versus just caring about what she's trying to do, which is save the world. Or, I might decide that the story is fine being split between the various cast members.

If any of you encounter me this summer, and I have a haunted look in my eye, you'll have some clue as to what's going through my mind.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 78,920 words!

Yes! This is starting to reach the word counts of an actual, publishable epic fantasy novel. Still plenty of story to go, but the end game is starting to form. I finally figured out a fairly decent way to bring Stagger back into the book without having him be an omnipotent force that wiggles his fingers and fixes everything. I've got most of my major players reunited after all the various subplots that split them up. Now I've just got to get my choreography right on who's confronting whom in the next four or five chapters. Infidel obviously has to go fight a dragon, but which one? Someone gets to fight Numinous Pilgrim, the Omega Reader, but who gets to be the last person standing in the encounter? Oh, and right now Slate is half dead and unconscious in the hold of the Circus. Do I revive him and put him back in the mix? Or just bring him back for a touching farewell scene? Or do I change my mind about keeping him alive and decided he was killed off in the last fight? Choices, choices.

This week's excerpt, with the usual disclaimers that this is raw first draft:

Set up: Cinder, daughter of Infidel, has returned home from her journey to the netherworld to find her home village missing. As she searches through the tree tops, she hears a woman scream:

Knowing it might have only been her imagination, she set off in the direction of the scream, moving with reckless speed through a canopy that kept throwing her surprises. Vines she expected at her fingertips had vanished, while thick branches she’d never seen before provided new routes among the leaves. The morning jungle came to life. Parrots and parakeets danced around her as she ran, vibrant green snakes slinked along vines in pursuit of small gray monkeys that leapt from her headlong path.

In the sunlight, among the canopy, she covered in fifteen minutes the space she’d traveled in an hour along the dark, rocky ground. She paused in front of a knotted branch, realizing she from the pattern she was mere yards from a Bug Wood village. As confirmation, a shout came from just ahead, followed by a grunt. She pushed through a leafy wall to find a trio of blue-skinned pygmies wrestling with a dark green woman entangled in a net in the center of a large woven platform surrounded by huts. To the side of the scene, an old man with green skin lay on his back, his belly sliced open, his still fresh entrails hanging from the wound. His eyes blinked as he stared blindly into the sky.

“Let her go!” Cinder cried out in her best river pygmy dialect.
The trio of river pygmies turned their faces toward her, their eyes growing wide. She must have looked like some sort of jungle spirit, with her ebony skin and relatively gigantic stature, and her hair tangled with leaves following her mad flight to reach here.
If she’d hoped that her appearance might startle the river pygmies into flight, her hopes were dashed when they instead dropped the edges of the net and all drew swords. She frowned as she saw the metal blades. No pygmies crafted such weapons. They were only found in the hands of river pygmies who sold forest pygmies to the long men.
She clenched her fists and said, in a low growl, “A am the wrath of the forest. Flee me, or face destruction.”
To her great surprise, the two pygmies furthest from her lost their nerve and sprang away, leaping from the platform to dangling vines. The pygmy closest to her possessed an abundance of courage and charged toward her with a savage battle cry, his sword drawn back over his head.
In a move that would have made her mother proud, Cinder stood her ground, then, as her attacker came within striking distance, she reached up to the branch above her and pulled herself up, letting his blade slice through empty air before dropping down onto his back. As he went sprawling, she straddled him. Though he was wiry and strong, she had the advantage of size and leverage, and needed less than a second to pry his blade from his grasp. Without hesitation or remorse, she wrapped her fingers in his blue hair, pulled back his head, and drew the blade forcefully across his throat.
She rose and ran to help the woman, who’d crawled to the side of the fallen man, not bothering to fully disentangle herself from the net. The woman held the man’s hand and wept. Cinder reached out, intending to touch the woman’s shoulder, to ask what was happening, but stopped short. Let the woman have her grief. Cinder knew all she needed to know. Slavers had raided the village at dawn. They would now be marching their captives toward the nearest river navigable by canoe, a good three miles away. They’d travel along the ground, no doubt. River pygmies weren’t skilled enough at traveling through the canopy to do so managing a band of captives.
She set off for the river, sword in hand. If the slavers were active in the area, could they be to blame for the missing Jawa Fruit People? It made no sense. Even if they’d taken the people, the platforms and huts would have been left behind. Unless… how far back in time had she come? The Jawa Fruit people had migrated into the area after the Bug Wood people disappeared. But… that had been long before she was born. Even before her mother was born.

Scrambling through the canopy, she was glad to overtake a group of river pygmies winding there way along a rocky ledge below. There were five of them, adult warriors armed with swords, prodding and poking almost two dozen forest pygmies, mostly women and children.

Once more, her mother’s spirit flowed into her as she leapt down onto the rear-most river pygmy and plunged her blade deep into his back. His sword clattered on the rocks as he fell. As the others turned toward her she’d already reached the next in line. He had no time to raise his blade before she impaled him, driving her blade through his ribs until the tip jutted from his back. As he fell, the twist of his body tore her blade from her grasp, but without pause she caught his blade as it slipped from his dying fingers. She charged the next pygmy in line. He turned to flee, screaming in terror. She struck low across his upper thighs, dropping him, then leapt over to reach the next slaver. Unfortunately, the extra second of warning he’d had proved sufficient to keep him out of reach as he bolted like a frightened hare, on the heels of the last river pygmy, who’d also decided he valued his life more than his prisoners.

Cinder paused to finish off the ham-strung pygmy, then used his blade to free one of the captives, a boy perhaps ten years old who looked at her with calm and stoic eyes as she cut through the hemp rope that bound his wrists.

“Are you a hoorga?” he asked as she placed the blade into his hands.

She wasn’t familiar with the term, but every pygmy tribe had it’s own band of forest spirits, good and evil. Perhaps he’d mistaken her for a such a creature.

“What’s a hoorga?” she asked.
“The black bird who flies through the realm of roots,” he said. “The black bird who takes the shape a woman when she comes for the dead.”
“Rest assured, I’m not here for you,” she said. “Use the sword to free the others. How many more have been captured?”
“Everyone,” he said. Unfortunately, not all pygmy tribes had the vocabulary to express numbers.
“Then I’m going to free everyone,” she said, leaping to a nearby tree and climbing once more into the canopy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book 4: 66,000 words

I missed posting my updates Sunday night because I was completely wiped out, not from writing, but from the early onset of a cold. I'd been hiking earlier in the day and when I got home all I could do was lie in bed and complain about how tired I was. The sneezing didn't start until later. Luckily, the duration was short, and 48 hours later I'm feeling somewhat peppy.

Next Sunday: No word count update. First, I'll be out of town Friday-Monday, taking a little mini-vacation. But, I'm taking Tuesday through Sunday off next week as well for some serious butt-in-chair time to get this draft finished, or, if not finished,  much closer to my original goal of finishing by the end of April.

I feel like I'm somewhat past the middle of the book. It's hard to judge because I haven't made up my mind on which of the half dozen possible endings I'm going to go with. The first draft is almost certainly going to be shorter than the final draft, since I already know I have a LOT of character work to do on some of the major characters. I had a pretty good early chapter where I focused on childhood events that shaped Cinder, Infidel's daughter, and gave her some depth of character. Then... pretty much zero development for her. I know, in the end, she has an arc, that she does grow and change from her experience in the book, but here in the middle she feels really static. In contrast with her mother, she's shy and cautious and quiet, and I find myself getting to the ends of chapters and thinking, hmm, she could have crawled off to take a nap and nothing would be significantly different in this chapter. That has obviously got to change, but I'm also determined not to turn her into Infidel 2, another fearless, wise-cracking warrior woman. I do want her to be shy, cautious, and quiet. I just want her be noticeable and interesting while displaying these traits, which is going to be challenging.

No excerpts this week. I'm getting into parts of the novel where pretty much every line I type is going to be a spoiler. Maybe I can find something to post on my next update two weeks from now.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse, Book Four, 60,259 words

Okay, just a hair shy of my 10,000 word goal. I suppose I should man up and write the last 500 words I need to get there, but, honestly, my brain is just hollow after the chapter I finished today, a pivotal chapter in which Slate finds the soul of Stark Tower, the man he's cloned from, in Hell. It's a fairly dark chapter, in a string of dark chapters. I would have thought a novel set in hell would have more laughs! Seriously, I feel pretty good about my emotional exhaustion at the moment. I'm tapping into some deep places inside me to pull this story out.

Here's a brief, unedited excerpt:

Sorrow woke slowly, luxuriating in the warmth that filled every last muscle of her body. Until now, she’d only toyed with magic, only caught glimpses and hints of what it was truly like to wield true power. True, she’d experienced the raw elemental power of Rott, a destructive, nihilistic power that had almost devoured her. But in Slate’s arms, together they’d awakened something new and powerful within her, a force of creation, a power of life instead of death.

With her eyes still closed, she frowned. Where were Slate’s arms? They’d fallen asleep spooned together, his arm draped across her belly, his chest seemingly glued to her back by sweat. Now, he wasn’t touching her.

She sat up, and instantly crossed one arm across her naked breasts, as she found that she wasn’t alone. In a tightly packed circle around the silk (check this) cloak they’d fallen asleep on, a score of old men and women stood shoulder to shoulder, glaring at them with judgmental eyes.

Slate sat next to her, pulling on his pants with one hand, while holding onto the Witchbreaker with the other.

“I don’t think the sword is necessary,” she said softly. “They look too old and toothless to be able to hurt us.”

“Appearances can be deceiving in Hell,” said Slate. “It’s not their teeth I fear, nor their limbs. It’s their eyes that tear into me. I’ve never felt so… so naked.”

Sorrow put her hand on Slate’s back to comfort him. He instantly tensed up, and said, “Don’t touch me while they watch.”

She pulled her hand away, noticing the faces of the assembled crowd took on an even deeper look of disapproval following her touch. One of the old women whispered, “Whore.” A man on the opposite side of the circle whispered, “Sinners.” A third voice, too weak and trembling for Sorrow to determine the sex of the speaker behind her, hissed, “Shameful!” The word was taken up, passing among the crowd. “Shameful. Shameful. Shameful!”
“No!” Slate cried, pulling on his shirt. “You don’t understand!”
“Slate, calm down,” she said, noticing the near panic in his voice. She’d never heard any emotion vaguely resembling this in his voice before.
He turned to her, tears welling in his eyes. “We should have waited,” he said, his voice choked. “We—”
“Hussy. Tramp. Fornicators. Dirty, dirty, dirty,” murmured the crowd.
“Please,” said Slate. “It was only a moment of weakness.”
Sorrow stood up, her fists clenched. She stared into the eyes of the woman nearest to her. “You’re wasting your time here.”
“Shameful,” scolded the woman.
Sorrow shook her head. “I feel no shame. Not even the slightest. You’ve no power over me. Go away.”
The woman flickered, turning halfway to smoke, before solidifying again. He eyes now focused on Slate, completely ignoring Sorrow. “Seducer,” she said, clucking her tongue. “Shame. Shame!”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 50,735 words

Passed the 50k milestone. Yeah! Still didn't hit 10k words this week. I had two events as Piedmont Laureate, one Monday, the other Thursday, and a fairly busy weekend. My wife and I are training for a "Century Ride," which is a bike ride of 100 miles in a single day. (Technically, I think it's supposed to be done in under 12 hours. We're just committing to getting the ride done between dawn and sunset, on June 21, the longest day of the year.)

Fortunately, the hours I spent on my bike have been productive ones for my day dreaming. I feel like I have enough material to have a much more productive week between now and next Sunday.

The thing I don't have, unfortunately, is any kind of clear, clean ending in mind any more. The plot I thought I would be following has crashed up into the reality of the plot my characters are scripting for themselves. Gale Romer was especially willful this week. After my earlier attempt at writing her out of the main plotline for a side mission, she and her family returned with a vengeance for one of my favorite chapter sequences yet. It's making my novel messier than I had planned, since now I have four major plotlines unfolding simultaneously. I imagine things will be even messier by the 60 and 70K word mark. After that, I can probably start wrapping up the plots one by one, and still finish my first draft by the end of April, like I'd originally planned.

No excerpt his week. Too brain dead to find a passage that holds up out of context. Maybe next week.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 44,801 words

I end the week with two more chapters behind me, and a whole lot of plot threads getting tangled together. I'm finding it a little difficult to write scenes with Cinder, Infidel's daughter. I'm still finding that she lacks much in the way of personal goals. She becomes a more driven character over the course of her story arc, but in these beginning stages, I'm finding it hard to articulate why she would ever agree to go along on such a dangerous quest. Oh well. There's nothing to do but move forward, and hope that the more I write about her, the more I'll understand her.

In this excerpt, Father Ver's ghost and Cinder have come with a knight named Pyre to meet Pyre's spiritual leader, a dragon named Brother Wing, who will be familiar to readers of the previous books by different names: Relic and Brokenwing. Brother Wing is now leads the Church of the Sacred Flame, dedicated to the worship of Greatshadow. Father Ver has asked for Pyre's help in rescuing Slate, Sorrow, and the Roamers from Hell. This leads to a revelation that might be of interest to readers of the first few books, a previously unknown connection between Sorrow and Brokenwing.

Same disclaimers as always. First draft. Not edited. Might change entirely.

“I don’t dispute that you believe the threat is real,” said Brother Wing. “I just feel the problem is somewhat… abstract. Meanwhile, the problems this settlement faces are far more concrete. The world beyond these shores grows less inhabitable by the hour. The bay at Commonground is a mass of ships now, as Wanderers seek shelter in the last unfrozen waters to be found. They carry with them refugees from the other lands. Some are upon the ship because the Wanderer’s felt mercy, others because, even in the face of Doomsday, there were still Wanderers with enough love of commerce for wealthy men to buy passage to safety.”

“Now,” said Pyre, “It’s only a matter of time before these men leave Commonground to find new homes upon the Isle of Fire. While we would welcome with open arms anyone who comes in peace to help us build, we know that many of these men will come with war in their hearts, and see our humble settlement as ripe territory for starting a new empire.”

“So you see why I am reluctant to have Pyre join your quest,” said Brother Wing. “Reluctant… but not completely unwilling.”

“I will go where you wish me to go,” said Pyre. “But… why do these people trapped in hell matter to us?”

Brother Wing sighed. “Because I know them. Some of them, anyway. In the Palace of the Inquisition, I dined with Slate and Sorrow. While I’ve never met the Romers personally, in the time I lived in Commonground, I learned of them from the minds of their fellow wanderers. The world will be poorer for their absence.” He paused, looked as if he were weighing something further, then said, “I should also say that I know Sorrow much more intimately than from a single dinner.”

“My mother knew Sorrow,” said Cinder. “I’m told she was very driven. And very angry.”
Brother Wing nodded. “Traits that I found very much to my liking, back then.” His eyes seemed less focused, as if he was lost in memories. “My father cast me aside as a fledgling, my wings broken, with every expectation I would die. But I killed the lava pygmies who came to collect my body. From their minds, I caught the faintest glimmers that there was a larger world beyond the jungle. I filled my belly with the bodies of the lava pygmies, but they couldn’t satisfy my intellectual hunger. Driven by a desire to understand more of the world… and more of myself… I descended the mountain and made my way to Commonground.”

“Even in a city of half-seeds, I cannot imagine they welcomed a dragon there with open arms,” said Father Ver.

“No,” said Brother Wing. “I was met with hostility and violence, driven back into the wilds weeping and wounded. However, as a telepath, I quickly learned to hide myself from the gaze of men. At first I merely hid in shadow, but soon I learned the art of disguising myself in rags. Moving among the crowds of the city unmolested, I drank in the minds of those around me, and soon mastered human languages. I had left the jungle feeling deep emotions, emotions I had no words for. But soon after I arrived in Commonground, a woman in a cloak of fine green silk walked past me. Instantly, she caught my full attention, for here was the first human I’d encountered who felt precisely the same emotions that I’d known since being discarded by my father. She was filled with hatred of her own father, and a deep and abiding desire for revenge against him. In her, I’d found a kindred spirit.”

“And how did she feel about you?” asked Father Ver.

“She never knew me. She was too intently focused on revenge against her father, and the religion that had shaped him, for me to ever hope of winning her over to my cause. Plus, she came to Commongroud at the summons of the Black Swan, who’d hired her to make use of her talent as a sculptor. I stayed near her, always just out of her range of vision. At night, I’d slink into her sleeping chambers and stand by her bedside, exploring all she’d learned. It was from her I learned the basics of necromancy and soul catching, which allowed me to craft my first golem, Patch. Alas, he proved to be a flawed creation, not even lasting through his first fight.”

“I find it very disturbing that you would read her mind as she slept,” said Cinder. “That seems like a horrible violation of her privacy.”

“Oh, it was inexcusable,” said Brother Wing. “I’d never engage in such a thing now. My years upon the Island of the Inquisition exposed me to many, many arguments about what was moral. My most steadfast companions were, I fear, rather hedonistic, and would have argued I’d done no wrong to Sorrow, since I’d never done any actual harm to her. You don’t harm a flower by gazing at its colors or smelling its aroma. I didn’t harm her mind by combing through her secrets.”

“But you don’t feel this way now?” asked Cinder.

Brother Wing shook his head. “No. Now, I inform people when we first meet that I can see into their minds. It is their choice if they wish to stay near me. I gave her no choice. What’s more, with the wisdom of twenty years of hindsight, I understand that the emotional bond that drew me to her, her unquenchable anger, was a poison to my own soul. It took me many years to forgive my father, and come again to love him.”