Welcome to my worlds!
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The main reason I didn't get more than 3k words done is that I spent all week working on my Codex Halloween story. The first draft of it was 8,800 words! Yowza! A bit problematic, though, given that the word count limit for the contest is 7,500 words. I've spent a lot of time intensively rewriting to tighten it up.
I think that my rewriting approach to short stories and novels is very different. With short stories, as I go through, I'm looking at every detail and thinking, "Does this really need to be in here? Can I just get rid of this entirely?" A short story should be free of distractions and side trips. On the other hand, when I'm writing a novel, I frequently find myself asking, "Is there something more I can put in here? Can I add some new detail that's only tangentally connected to the story, but still makes my world come alive?"
For instance, in my dragon age novels, I spend a lot of words talking about food and diet. In Dragonforge, there's a scene where Graxen devours a catfish on the docks in Hampton. It really doesn't have anything to do with the story. You could take out every mention of food in all three books, and the plot wouldn't change a bit. But, I really think the food scenes help bring the books to life; they provide a sensual detail that connects the reader on a literal gut level with what's unfolding on the page.
In a short story, if I have someone eat, I try to make the most of the sensory experience. But, also, I'm only going to have them eat if it's helping move the story along. Every element has to be propelling the reader toward a single destination. In a 5000 word story, you want 5000 words of story. In a 100,000 word novel, you can probably have 90,000 words devoted to advancing the story, and another 10,000 spent on diversions, curiousities, and amusements that flavor the tale without much changing it.
I have yet another draft to go on the halloween story. But, next week, I have a 4 day weekend. Greatshadow will get my full attention then.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Now the subject of my post: Fantasy Magazine has just posted an interview of yours truly by Catherine Bollinger, along with a review of Dragonseed by Cat Rambo. I did this interview back in late June or early July, and at the time thought it would go live in only a week or two, so in it I pitch the Books for Breasts campaign. If you've come here looking for information about it, alas, I wrapped up the campaign shortly after Dragoncon. I gave away a lot of my remaining copies there, both to people who contributed to the Koman foundation, as well as people who gave blood at the con. The Koman contribution page is down now; we wound up raising over $1,100. Between the campaign and Dragoncon promotions, I gave away about 70 books. I may relaunch the campaign next spring, depending on how generous the new owners of Solaris are with supplying me with free copies. The previous owners would mail me free cases of the book without batting an eye.
Monday, September 21, 2009
1: I'm taking part in the annual Codexwriter's Halloween Short Story Contest. I'm the reigning champ from last year. In fact, I've taken top prize in two out of the five years the contest has been going on, and sold every story I've written. "Final Flight of the Blue Bee" was from the first year and sold to Asimov's, ISLI, and Diakaijuzine (where you can read it for free... ignore the fact they've misspelled my name, please!) "Echo of the Eye" took second place the next year, and was published this spring in the Blotter (again, you can read it for free online, but don't if you're offended by kinky cannibal sex; also, the pdf takes a minute to two to open once you click the link). "Silent as Dust" was my first #1 win in the contest, and can still be read at IGMS for a small fee, and will be appearing next month in The Year's Best Fantasy and Science Fiction 2009 edited by Rich Horton. Last year, I wrote "Where Their Worm Dieth Not," which will be published in an upcoming superhero anthology called With Great Power, edited by Lou Anders. I'll talk more about it as the release date draws nearer.
Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that my word count on the novel is low because I wrote about half of a short story for this year... which I'm now going to throw away. Normally, I'm a believer in slogging through to the end and fixing in rewrites, but there really was nothing to fix. It was a perfectly fine story. It just wasn't a kick-ass story, and didn't have any hope of ever becoming one. It was just an idea with a plot; there was no loneliness or grief or sadness attached to it. It's funny, I don't normally think of myself as someone who writes sad stories. I normally think of my identifiable story elements as weirdness, humor, and odd takes on morality. But, Blue Bee works because the villian, Stinger, is so heart-broken. Echo works because the cannibal protagonist has a secret that he can't share with anyone but his monkey. Dust works because the hero has screwed up his life so badly that he's turned himself into a ghost, haunting an old mansion, without going through the normally required step of dying. And Worm has a weary superhero facing up to the fact that beating the latest bad guy hasn't reduced the sum of evil in the world at all. So, I'm back to the drawing board with 9 days to go before deadline. I intend to win this thing.
2: Writing is really a wonderful, wonderful activity. I love crafting stories, inventing characters, weaving plots. But, I have to tell you, the actual business of writing, the part where you try to get paid, is just painful. I signed a deal earlier in the summer to sell the French rights to Bitterwood and Dragonforge (Dragonseed wasn't out yet when this started). I've been sitting around all summer, daydreaming about the day when I'd finally get paid. So, last week I followed up with the French agent, and discovered that they'd never received any paperwork back from me (it's a long story why, which I'll not go into here). So, two months of waiting to get paid amounted to zilch. Luckily, they were still wanting to do the deal. Unluckily, I had to fill out tax forms again, then scan them and email them, them Fedex the hardcopy. I've also swapped at least a dozen emails trying to sort everything out. The deal is on, everything's worked out. Still, too much of my week was spent focused on dealing with this rather than on daydreaming about dragons crunching on knights.
Anyway, I'll post again next week. Since I'm doing short story work, my word count goal by next Sunday night will be to reach the 75K mark. Then, the following week, 85k. I'm counting on all of you to tease me mercilessly if I miss.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
I've had a really tough week, so I haven't been able to visit until this morning, and haven't been able to post yet since I had to set up a new user account and now need to wait for Hannah to approve it. I hope to be back there as early as tomorrow. I enjoyed the various discussions that emerged there, and hope you'll join us.
I'll discuss my really tough week in tomorrow's update post on Greatshadow word counts. And, tough might not be the word I'm looking for, since everything worked out well in the end. But any week that involves filling out a lot of tax forms is never a fun week.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I was pretty burned out last fall, having written about 300,000 words of fresh fiction in roughly 14 months, all while holding down a full time job. So, I took a few months to write some sample chapters and an outline for the first of the new fantasy novels I had in mind, a book called 13 Nails. I sent the proposal in to my agent around the end of October if my memory serves me. Not long after, we got the news that Solaris was up for sale.
Now, the smart thing for me to do when I got this news would have been to sit down and start writing. Which, actually, I did. In the past year, I've started four different novels, and written at least a few chapters on each of them. There were the three chapters I wrote for 13 Nails. I wrote five chapters of a novel set in a superhero universe you'll be able to catch a glimpse of in an anthology next year called With Great Power. I wrote two chapters of a sequel to my superhero novel Nobody Gets the Girl. And, while on vacation July, I wrote three chapters of a fantasy novel called Greatshadow, set in the same universe as 13 Nails, but with a completely different central cast.
As I was doing this, I was sort of kicked back, not stressed out about losing Solaris as a publisher. After all, I had an agent. She was still out there shopping around the sample chapters and outline for 13 Nails. So, while I wrote 13 chapters over the course of the last year, I didn't actually write any books. I got spoiled by my last two books, which I sold before I wrote them. I was unable to commit my time to an entire new book until I knew for sure it would be published.
Then, on July 28, I got a call from my agent. She was shutting down her agency and leaving the business.
Now I had no publisher and no agent. A year ago at this time, I had Christian Dunn expressing interest in as many books as I could write. Today, I have nothing nailed down. There's a reason the phrase "Don't quit your day job" is standard advice for writer's getting started in the biz.
So, that's the bad news. The good news is, I got off the phone with Nadia and started writing an actual book. Of all the projects I had started, the one that most captured my imagination was Greatshadow. It might simply be that it was just the most recent of the projects I'd started. But, also, it's a project I can explain in just a few sentences. All the other books are complex. The Nobody sequel requires that a person has read the first book to get the pitch. 13 Nails is, I think, a great book, but it has a wildly ambitious scope to it that defies simple summary. Any plot line that relies on events unfolding over a 500 year timeline is going to be tricky to pitch in 25 words or less. My superhero novel was a fun project, but I had a problem in that, after five chapters, I hadn't found it's heart. I had a plot, I had characters, but I didn't feel like I'd figured out what my larger point was. When I write a book, I want to be doing it for some larger reason than simply writing a book. I want to say something about what I've learned about life; a good book needs a theme, and it should be something more than "superheroes are cool."
Which brings me to Greatshadow. I'm going to count August 1 as my official start date. While I wrote three chapters in July, I threw those out and started from scratch. 40 days later, I've written 60944 words and 14 chapters. This is longer than my very first novel, which took me two years to write. I feel like this has passed solidly from a book I might write to a book I will write, which I why I'm finally talking about it here.
I've decided not to launch a serious search for a new agent or publisher until I finish it. The problem with only writing early chapters, polishing them, and sending them out is that, for me, I keep discovering wonderful stuff about the world and the characters as I roll along. I could sit and imagine a book for as long as I want to, think I've got it all figured out, but the second I start typing, things start changing. For instance, I know already I'm changing the names of at least two of the characters. I don't know what I'm changing them to, mind you, but the names have an internal rhyme that didn't matter to me when I started (I actually liked the way the names flowed when I listed characters and had the two names that partially rhymed), but now that I've written fourteen chapters, I know that it just doesn't work. Rhyming names always turn into jokes... think Rod and Todd from the Simpsons. And, I intended one of the characters to be comic relief, but the other character has emerged as one of the stronger players in the book, and I don't want to detract from that.
Here's the big picture: Greatshadow is the world's most powerful dragon. He's the primal dragon of fire, half big lizard, half elemental force. He's four thousand years old, has watched civilizations rise and fall, and during this time he's accumulated the largest treasure trove on the planet.
Now, a heroic knight named Lord Tower has sworn to slay the dragon once and for all. He's put together a team of a dozen of the world's greatest priests, wizards, and warriors to get the job done. Guided by an ancient map, they'll navigate into the heart of a volcano to fight the beast, both in the physical world, and in the spirit realm.
Twelve warriors set out. Only two come back.
You may be thinking, hmm, that seems like a pretty traditional fantasy novel. You'd be correct; I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. The best fantasies I've read always strip down to men testing themselves against legendary beasts, and I want to try my hand at creating a truly archetypical fairy tale adventure. Only, of course, this is a James Maxey story. Nothing is going to be straight or simple. You wouldn't know from just the pitch about the love triangle giving tension to the story. It involves the celibate but sexually tormented knight, the invulnerable, super-strong princess who left him on the altar, and her dead boyfriend who happens to be narrating the book. You don't get a hint of the lesbian frost-ogre, the time-travelling bar owner who has seen the world end in fire and storm, the faceless giant who cries when his kitten dies, or the murdered magician who's been involuntarily brought back to life to take part in the quest. I haven't yet mentioned that almost everyone going on the dragon hunt plans to be the only one who comes out alive, in sole possession of the unimaginable treasure horde.
Also, in the Bitterwood universe, I didn't get to play with magic. This time, magic is everywhere. Lord Tower fights with a magic weapon called the Prayerhammer. He has an inpenetrable suit of armor that is prayed into existence by a team of two hundred monks hidden in a distant mountain monastery. I've got another guy covered with animal tattoos inked with the spirit blood of those beasts who can shapeshift into any creature drawn on him, but only once, until the tattoo gets reinked. (He's one of the characters I need to rename.)
Oh, and, of course, the Bitterwood dragons couldn't breathe fire. They were limited to forty foot wing spans, since that's the largest wingspan any earth creature ever evolved. I took them out of the realm of magic, and made them animals. Now, I'm going in the opposite direction. Greatshadow breathes fire. Greatshadow is fire, beneath a shell of big lizard. And, when I say big, I'm talking half mile wing span. How does he get off the ground at that size? He's magic, baby!
And, without giving too much away, I feel like I have a larger point to make with all this. I'm not some hard core radical environmentalist, but I think I'm touching on some fundamental truths in this book as the heroes set out to slay what is, in essense, a force of nature. Men have always sought to tame nature; everything that is good about being civilized flows from our ability to tame and control the natural world. Of course, some would argue that everything bad about being civilized flows from our separation and degradation of the natural world. Man versus nature is a worthy theme; especially when nature is a mountain-sized monster who gets to fight back.
This novel will get published. I don't know when, and I don't know where. But the chapters I've banged out so far are too good to just disappear forever into slush piles.
My goal is to finish a complete first draft before I start shopping it around; I have a target of finishing before I go to Capclave. I plan to start posting weekly progress reports here, probably every Monday. Once I start rewrites, I'll probably publish a few chapters here so you can see why I'm so excited about this project. I'm also giving serious thought to just mailing out the full manuscript of the book to anyone who wants a copy once I have it done.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I said you'd see more pirate photos. This is the first con where I've ever worn a costume, even if it was only half a costume. Not many pirates wear blue jeans and Reebocks. It was actually a lot of fun, though I was sweating like a ... a... guy who sweats a lot (sorry, my metaphor batteries are drained this morning). I was just wearing the shirt and the hat and worried I might pass out. I have no idea how the people who wear the heavy coats over the shirts and load themselves down with gear like swords and spyglasses manage to avoid heat stroke. Is there some sort of costume air conditioning system I don't know about?
Anyway, it was fun wearing the costume. I can see how superheroes get addicted to them. I wound up at my only panel during the con in costume. In all the cons I go to, I almost never see other writers dressing up (though I did see some at this con). They don't know what they're missing out on. Now, I wonder where I can get a pair of buchaneer boots....
The Dread Pirate signs some books. Arrrr!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
Okay, first off, this is very poor quality video, shot with my cell phone as I walked through the Marriot on Saturday night around 9pm. It's jerky, the lighting is crap. But, I think you can still get a sense of what the dominant Dragoncon experience is like: Lots of crowds and chaos and a tremendous amount of wonder. The video starts with Captain America taking a photograph of Flash and Catwoman. As I walk past them, I come upon a group of bondage bunnies. I then plunge into a completely dark hallway where I'm invited to a pirate party. I emerge to the sight of a fembot; just beyond is Wonder Woman. I make it to the elevator banks and scan back toward Wonder Woman and notice she standing next to Robby the Robot. I pan the crowd quickly, so you can get a sense of three levels of crowds, before I turn the camera off.
This would NOT be a good place to walk around on any sort of psychoactive drug.
More photos to come once I'm back home!
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
It turns out, we actually got to the roof! The Mariott is fifty floors high, so there were only a handful of buildings on the Atlanta skyline taller than we were. It was gorgeous; my cell phone camera couldn't really capture the full grandure of the view. My friend Mr. Cavin pointed out at a bar recently that, no matter how many megapixels my camera has, it's still gathering light through a lense the diameter of a pencil eraser. I'm hoping Cheryl's camera got better pictures; I just don't have an adapter for her media card.
I did try the video feature of my phone. I start by looking down over the edge. Squint, and you can see very, very, very tiny people in costumes milling about on the street.
After this adventure, we went to Princess Alethea's Travelling Road Show, where we partook in a Zombie Haiku slam. My improvised entry:
a shambling horror
bumping into the doorframe
where are my eyes?
Then, we were off to dinner at the Landmark Diner, which proved to be an adventure due to bad directions from the aforementioned Princess Alethea, compounded by bad directions from a cop. But, we eventually navigated our way across countless city blocks to the right location and had some terrific greek salads.
After that.... it was time to come back to where we're staying. I banged out another thousand words of my new novel. Momentum matters!
Now, bed time. Tomorrow, I'll try to get some pictures of costumes instead of cityscapes.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I'm participating in three official events at the con. First, on Friday at 5:30, I'll be taking part in Alethea Kontis's Traveling Road Show. It's her official reading slot, and since she didn't want to fill the whole hour alone, she's brought in buddies to help out. On Saturday night, I have a panel at 8:30pm called "Goblins, Minotaurs, and Elves, Oh My!" It's about writing non-human characters, a good topic for me given my experience with ex-wives. NO! Wait, that just slipped out. I meant, given my experience writing dragons. Then, finally, on Sunday, I have a reading at 2:30pm. Unlike Alethea, I'm being greedy and keeping the whole hour for myself.
I'm lugging along a very large stash of Dragon Age books. In a variation of my "Books for Breasts" campaign, I'll be doing an informal Books for Blood, where I'll be giving free books to anyone who gives blood at the Dragoncon Blood Drive then tracks me down at the panel or the readings with their little "I donated" label. And, of course, you can still get free copies of Dragonseed with a donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Look for the link near the top of the page.)
Next, I'm also participating in a promotion for Anthology Builder. This is a website where people can order custom made anthologies featuring only stories they want to read. It has an ever growing number of reprint stories available, including a few by me (I hope to have more available eventually.... some of the stories I most want to include are tied up waiting to appear in other anthologies and magazines at the moment). Nancy Fulda, who runs Anthology Builder, has given me 50 badges to hand out at Dragoncon. Send her a photo of you wearing your badge, and you qualify for a prize. Again, see the Anthology Builder website for more details.
I'm taking my laptop, so if I can find free wi-fi I'll post some photos from the con this weekend.
Next week, I plan to announce news here about the new novel I'm currently working on. I've got stories coming out in the next few months in three anthologies and one magazine. Also, there's news about my Dragon Age publisher, Solaris. I'm taking next week off from my day job. Who thought we would see the day when one reason you would look forward to a vacation was that it was a chance to update your blog?