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!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four, second draft: More than half done!

I've got fifteen chapters rewritten. My first draft was only twenty two chapters, so I'm well past the halfway mark even though I'll be adding chapters on this draft. I'm still a little fuzzy on whether or not to add a few scenes, but I expect this will probably wind up being 25 or 26 chapters long.

My biggest challenge with this draft is turning out to be the difficulty of juggling all the plots. I've got Slate and Sorrow off on one adventure, Gale Romer and her children tackling another quest, Infidel's daughter Cinder teaming up with the ghost of Father Ver for a major plot thread, and the Black Swan pursuing a goal that takes her into conflict with all the others, eventually. I've got all the plots figured out nicely, and know where they intersect. But, since all four plots are unfolding at the same time, there's a real challenge to figuring out what information to present in what order. I'm tackling Cinder chapters and thinking, hmm, maybe this should be before the Romer chapter. But the Romer chapter needs to be before the Sorrow chapter. And the Sorrow chapter works best if its before the Cinder chapter. Yeesh.

The problem is that a reader's attention is like a small door. If every one of my plots try to jam into the door at the same time, none of them are getting through. Oh well. I'll get it worked out. And, if it's not working... there's always draft three.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Cinder: Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse. The second draft begins!

I've used my three-day weekend to plunge into the second draft of my fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel, Cinder. I just finished the third chapter, and am mostly happy with how things are turning out. My biggest difficulty is still the sheer size of the cast. I've got seven Romers, Brand, Bigsby, Slate, and Sorrow in Hell, along with Walker, a trio of demons, and a hundred rescued pygmy slaves. Trying to craft smooth dialogue with so many players on stage is challenging.

Fortunately, from this point on, most of the chapters have the cast splitting up and a lot of the scenes only have two or three characters to deal with.

The most important thing I've written so far, however, is the outline I cobbled together Friday morning. Looking back on the first three novels, I realized I had left out a pretty major plot thread I'd introduced all the way back in the first book, and had to figure out where I was going to weave it back in. To be honest, I'd considered introducing the thread while writing the first draft of this book, but decided to leave it out because the plot was already fairly complex. Now that I've had time to think about it, though, it's the only plot thread that can truly bring the novel to a satisfying conclusion. The ending I had in mind did a nice job of wrapping up the main plot thread of this book, but left a lot of the characters kind of hanging. Now, I know how to write a final scene that will have just the right balance of tragedy and hope that gives all the characters left alive at that point a role to play.

The next two weekends have back to back science fiction conventions, Illogicon in Raleigh and MarsCon in Williamsburg. I'm going to do my best to keep the book rolling forward despite this. If I can produce three chapters each week, I should have a full second draft by the end of February.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Scenes from my time as Piedmont Laureate

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a 18,000 word post...

There's a Red Monkey Tavern in Raleigh, decorated with monkeys and dragons. It's like eating inside one of my novels.

I saw my name in the paper a lot this year.
I mean, I do most years, but this year no crimes were alleged.

Novel fuel.

James Maxey named Piedmont Laureate! Hell freezes over.

Ghost bunny.

Ghost house.

I really should write more stories about giant bees.

I am, in fact, writing a story about hummingbirds.

Dragons in Raleigh!

The Tin Woodsman endorses Bad Wizard.

Talking about superheroes.

The only decent photo I've ever managed to take of the moon.

From Mordecai House. "Thinking of Thee!"

I sometimes think they only reason they make dolls is to provide props for haunted houses.

I was tickled to spot "The Mysteries of Udolfo." Jane Austen fans will know why.

While teaching my ghost story workshop, I managed to photograph a ghost. More or less.

If you want to catch light in a jar, bring a jar.

Burwell School, "Silent as Dust."

What I was wearing under my clothes my whole time as Laureate.
You'll never guess where I hid the big pencil.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I'm back!

This week, I turned in my final blog post as the 2015 Piedmont Laureate. Whew! It's been a blast, but there's no question it also ate into my writing time far more than I had anticipated. I did close to thirty events in 2015, counting readings, workshops, signings, panel discussions, dinners, and speaking to government boards. It turns out that constantly talking about writing satisfies a lot of the parts of the brain that ordinarily need actual writing for stimulation.

I'll still have a few events next year, including my normal science fiction convention circuit, but my real focus is going to be cranking out as many publishing worthy words as possible. I've kicked things off by spending the last few weeks heavily editing my short story "The Jagged Gate." This morning, I sent it out to spend a few weeks in a slush pile. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can see an acceptance letter sometime in January, but even if it doesn't sell, it felt good getting back into the grind of going through a story again and again to fine tune it.

The version I started working on was pretty good. It was definitely publishable, since I'd already sold it to an anthology. Unfortunately, that anthology got delayed and delayed, to the point that I finally asked for the rights to revert back to me, since I didn't want to leave the story stranded.

When I reread "The Jagged Gate" after close to two years of not thinking about it, I discovered once more that "publishable" isn't a synonym for "perfect." The previous draft now felt wordy, which often happens with my first person narrations. In letting the character have his own voice, I also have been known to allow my character to meander a bit. So, I decided to do an aggressive edit, reading the story out loud multiple times to remove any stray words or phrases I could. I also realized that my narrator was a bit too passive. He's telling us a story about someone he knows, and while he has a choice to make at the end, I didn't really do much to show how the events of the story were changing him. This time, I was able to establish a subtle conflict between who he thinks he is when the story starts and who he becomes thanks to the relationship he develops in the story. I'm hoping it's not too subtle a transition, but I also didn't want to hit the reader over the head with his "journey." As for the female lead, Nyx, she was quirky and interesting throughout, but there was a revelation in the last few pages showing a hidden side to her past that I didn't really do enough to foreshadow. I think I've fixed that in this draft, without waving a big red flag reading "tragic past!"

OK. Story in the mail. What next? Another story! Forward!

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.