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, April 6, 2011

There is No Wheel: I may write smut but I don't write fluff.

I may write smut but I don’t write fluff.

I wrote these words near the end of my essay announcing the release of “There is No Wheel.” I promised a future essay expanding on this thought. Welcome to the future.

Several weeks ago, while attending Mysticon in Roanoke, I went to dinner with Ed Schubert, editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show, and asked him if he’d be willing to write the introduction to There is No Wheel. He’s bought three out of four short stories I’ve sent him, and at cons he frequently uses my stories as an example of the sort of stuff he’d like to see more of in his in-box. I knew he was a fan of my work, but I also knew that the work I submit to IGMS represents only a sliver of what I write. I warned him that the collection would contain stories that would never fit IGMS’s PG13 guidelines, and wound up telling him about “Perhaps the Snail,” a story that should probably be rated PG45. It’s a story I have trouble discussing in public forums because, honestly, any description of the story is pornographic. If I were to list the behaviors engaged in by my young female protagonist, Devi, during the course of a story, it would look like the search tags attached to some dreary hard core web page. It’s the sort of story that I look at and ask, “Why on earth did I write such a thing?” Then, “Why on earth am I including it in my ‘best of’ collection?” And, “Why is it the last story in the collection, getting the final word, leaving this particular tale as the last story they will associate with the name James Maxey before they put the book down?”

The answer is simple. Most anthologies open and close with the stories the editor thinks are the strongest. I follow the same format with my collection. I’ve placed this story at the end because I think it forms a nice bookend with the opening tale, “To the East, a Bright Star.” Both stories break taboos. “To the East, a Bright Star” features illegal drug use in its closing scene that does not result in the drug users living poorer, less fulfilling, sadder lives. In fact, for one of the characters, the drug provides a sort of salvation in a syringe. “Perhaps the Snail” closes with people behaving downright dangerously, pursuing sexual gratification in circumstances that carries a high probability of getting them killed or maimed. The thing that both stories have in common is, only by taking my characters to such extreme environments am I able to have them understand what it is they need to understand. The point of the first story isn’t “drugs are fun!” The point of the first story is that after life has taken from you every last hope that you are the master of your own destiny, after every roll of the dice has come up against you and you have reached a point in life where shared morality and the judgment of others no longer limit your actions, there is still redemption to be found in being kind to someone else. In the last story, I systematically strip Devi of every illusion that she is smart, or wise, or important, of the very notion that her life has meaning. I have her stare into the abyss… and laugh as she understands what a wondrous, beautiful, trivial and fleeting thing that she is in the face of such nothingness. She exits the story young, dumb, fearless, and alive, and the better for it.

Sure, I write smut. But I don’t write fluff. I’m not portraying graphic sex and violence in the hopes that you’ll be amused or shocked or horrified or aroused for five minutes. In “Empire of Dreams and Miracles,” I criticize our present entertainment culture. As humans, we struggled to build a world in which our collective children would be safe, free of the fear of hunger, disease, poverty, even death. Having insulated them from all the great struggles of humanity, we now pour vast resources into keeping our children entertained and stimulated. What, exactly, are the great human values a teenager is supposed to learn playing Halo or whatever the hot game of the moment happens to be? There are people who write books and movies with no higher goal in mind than to cash in on this craving for stimulation. They are pleased to trot out gorier zombie death tides, raunchier were-wolf sex acts, grosser cannibal feasts. They pursue an elevated heart-beat, hoping to amuse you enough that you’ll tell your friends about your cool five minutes of entertainment.

I am not that writer. An average short story takes, what, ten minutes to read? Fifteen? I am not interested in such a trivial time in your skull. My goal is to claim space in your head for the rest of your life. Your fleeting amusement does not concern me. I want you to think. I want you to be awake at three in the morning five years from now, sitting all alone at a truck stop on some lonely highway, working on your third cup of coffee as you stare at your reflection in the window. When the waitress asks if you want another cup, you won’t understand the question at first, because you’ll be far away, thinking about Tony shooting up Esmerelda with the last of the morphine, thinking about Eric gazing into the cooler filled with moonshine and finding the pickled body of a cherub, wondering what really happened to Retaliator when he pulled that trigger. I want you to be thinking about that cab heading down the highway at the end of “Perhaps the Snail,” wondering if anyone ever grabs the wheel.

And I know, I know, I know how arrogant and pretentious it is to think that I, a verbose nerd with an strange affection for circus freaks and cannibals and perverts, dare to ask you, a reader, to let my words stand in the doorway of the mansion of your mind for a even five minutes, let alone have them carry in baggage and ask to stay for five years, or ten, or a lifetime. But, it would be even more insulting to assume that all you want when you start one of my stories is a few minutes of fluff. I work from the assumption that when you open the doors in your head, you’re actually hoping that a story will show up with a few bags, and that some of these bags might hold some answers about life, and even if you found the answers to be wrong, you could still work back to an all consuming question, which you could attempt to devour before it devoured you.

Do I reach this level of engagement on every story? I don’t know. Questions that I might struggle with for decades, others shrug off in an afternoon. But, I can at least promise that, with my Wheel stories, I at least was trying to engage. I may write smut, but I don’t write fluff.

2 comments:

Darkond said...

tl;dr
...
Just kidding!
When I find a book, a REALLY good book, it's hard for me to read. I read at what I consider to to be the average American pace. Normally, I'll check out twenty pieces of fictional lit every Sunday and finish them all by Wednesday. But, sometimes, I might spend WEEKS reading a single book (right now, Fellowship of the Ring). It's the crap books that I really breeze through; seven-hundred pages in two hours. When I find a deep book, I lose myself in it; I'll not eat or sleep or go to the restroom.
But when I find a meaningful book, that has a lesson in every chapter that forms a greater lesson when they are all put together; I spend ages trying to scratch the surface, picking at the iceberg.
The older I get, and the more books I've read, it seems like there are less meaningful books than there use to be. I remember trying to scratch the surface of Narnia, when I was nine. I remember struggling to imagine the beauty of Inkdeath when I was fourteen. But now they're just puddles for me to splash in, and I've moved on. When I read your Bitterwood Trilogy, I swam deep in it. I liked the second book enough to search high and low for the first and second. When I found them I read each book twice individually, and then back to back. I haven't read them since, though I still imagine them. Maybe I'll pick them up again next year.

What was I trying to tell you? I forgot why I started writing this comment xD

James Maxey said...

Darkond,

My sincere thanks for your thoughts. I know exactly what you mean about crap books failing to make an impact. I don't read 20 books a week any more, but when I was younger I'd exhaust the library of every small town my family moved to, searching for the next great book. To this day, I can remember reading Lord of the Flies and Catch-22 and 1984, long before I'd been asigned them in any literature class. I don't presume to think that my books come close to matching works like these, but it depresses me that so few books seem to even try for this level any more. The number of books I forget ten seconds after I shut the cover is shameful, but I don't think it's because of my bad memory. I just don't think enough writer's sit down, crack their knuckles, and dive into their stories thinking, "this time... this time I'm going to change the world." I've failed to change the world quite a few times now, but, I promise you and all my other readers... I'm not giving up.

Again, thanks, and thanks also for increasing my vocabulary. I had to look up tl;dr!