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, February 29, 2012

Review Round-Up; Witchbreaker v1 stumbles to an end

I told myself I'd finish the first draft of Witchbreaker by the end of February. And, as of now, I'm done with the first draft. I'm still a few chapters shy of the real end of the book, but I don't see any real bonus to pushing forward. The fact is, the first draft of this book had problems that go way back to the first two or three chapters. I started at the wrong place, with the wrong focus, and took almost eight chapters before I made any attempt at getting a spark of interest going between my male and female leads. Then, for the rest of the book, while I had some neat fight scenes and cool plot twists, my two lead characters struggled to find anything to say to one another. Complete character misfire. Sometimes, this is cool. I'll have an idea in mind of what I want the characters to do, but then the characters will push back and I wind up taking the story in a different direction. But in this draft, my male lead character never really told me where he'd like to go. He was just a dud.

So, I'm back to the drawing board for the second draft. With a few possible exceptions, I'm probably tossing all that I've written so far and working each new chapter from scratch. I had a very good conversation the other night with an old friend of mine named James Rice where I was describing the female lead, Sorrow, and was telling him the key elements of her personality, and I suddenly had a revelation about how her most traumatic childhood experience would inform her opinions on what sort of man she could feel attraction to. Somehow, I'd written over 17 chapters without glomming onto this vital aspect of her psyche. Now that I've gotten this handle on her, I'm busy re-imagining the male lead, Slate, to turn him into exactly the sort of man she thinks she should hate. Plot wise, I've had a "duh" moment of when to introduce Slate to make him an actual co-driver of the story, instead of just a hanger on who suddenly starts making demands in the second half of the book.

I take comfort in one of my "rules" of writing: To write a good book, you must first write a bad book. The bad version of Witchbreaker is behind me. Onward to the good version!

Meanwhile, the first book in the Dragon Apocalypse series, Greatshadow, continues to pile up enthusiastic reviews.

First, from Sina at Cry Baby Reviews: From the very first page, this was a joy to read. There were enough typical fantasy elements to satisfy me, and lots of original new ideas and creatures. I LOVED the world building. James Maxey did a brilliant job at creating a whole new world that was vivid in my mind and really fleshed out. He tells you more about the world and characters gradually throughout the book. No page long info dumps that made me want to fall asleep here!

Then, from Superior Realities: “Greatshadow” is a thoroughly unusual book, and while it may not be perfect, it’s still one of the most unique and entertaining reads I’ve had in recent memory. Overall rating: 9.2/10 Do yourself a favour and read it.

Jared at the awesomely named site Pornokitsch writes: This isn't your bog-standard intro quest: Greatshadow is a skip-to-the-back-of-the-book epic-level adventure. That's the large part of Greatshadow's fun. Infidel and her squabbling comrades are essential superheroes, ones that have gone largely unchallenged. Mr. Maxey not only comes up with ways of vincing the invincible and overpowering the omnipotent, he does so in a well-composed, organic way.

From Falcata Times: It had all the elements I wanted, solid fight sequences, heroes of epic proportions and of course a plotline that doesn’t let up from the start to the end. All that and more was present within and when you add solid prose alongside characters you care about, its really a tale that’s hard to put down.

Lastly, at the Ebon Shores blog, David McDonald writes: Greatshadow is a very ambitious book that aims high and, for the most part, gets there.

So far, so good! Reviews like these are a large part of the reason I'm tossing aside so much of Witchbreaker, v1. Honestly, the first draft wasn't all that bad. But after Greatshadow and Hush, I can't turn in a manuscript that's merely good. As the last review said, I've got to aim high if I want to get there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

There is No Wheel Giveaway


March marks the first anniversary of the ebook edition of my short story collection There is No Wheel. To celebrate, I'm doing a Goodreads give-away for three copies of the trade paperback edition of the collection released a few months ago by Spotlight press. The drawing just went live a vew hours ago and 85 people have already entered, so hurry! The drawing ends on March 2, my birthday.




In other "Wheel" news, I've decided to enroll the ebook collection in the Kindle Select program. This means the ebook will only be carried on Amazon. Philosophically I'm opposed to limiting reader choices, but the reality is that this collection barely sells at all on Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble ebook buyers and Amazon ebook buyers have very different tastes in books. On Barnes and Noble, my top selling ebook title, hands down, is Bitterwood. Nobody Gets the Girl seldom sells more than one or two copies a month. On Amazon, Nobody Gets the Girl sells well, and my dragon books sometimes sit for days without moving a copy. Why this should be I can't guess.




Finally, as you may have noticed from the images above, I'm trying a new cover for the ebook edition of There is No Wheel. The abstract image of the swirling darkness will remain on the trade paperback edition for the time being, but I woke up this morning thinking about a different cover design, and it was either spend half the day playing with photoshop, or actually write some chapters of Witchbreaker.




If you'd like to enter the drawing for the trade paperback, click below:






Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Heart Baby Heart!

Burn Baby Burn has now been reviewed at SuperheroNovels.com! It's described as "funnier than the first book and has a bigger heart." Personally, I agree!

Heart seems to be the theme of the week, because I've also seen an upcoming review for Greatshadow in the magazine SFX that calls the book "a maginificently entertaining romp bursting with charm" and goes on to say "If it lacks a world-building spine, its enormous heart more than makes up for it."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

News and Review Round Up

Greatshadow is now almost a week old in official release date age, and is starting to get some reviews! First, from A Fantastical Librarian: "Greatshadow was a fabulous read, which kept me turning pages and just finishing one more chapter before doing whatever I was supposed to do. Besides, any story that can legitimately clothe its main character in a chain mail bikini and make it functional can only be genius! If you like straight up adventure novels, kick ass heroines and dragons – lots of dragons – then you can't miss Greatshadow."

Then, from Fantasy Nibbles: "This one is so, so much fun. We have here a proper fantasy adventure story. You hit the ground running with Greatshadow, straight in with the action and you’re pulled along for a brilliant ride. It’s got different races, different religions, and a really great mix of characters."

I've also had two interviews go live this week. First, from the McNally-Robinson website, I'm interviewed by Chadwick Ginther, who manages to draw out from me why there was a time in my life when I was wandering around jabbering stuff like, "O stone! Be not so!" and "No! It is opposition!"

Then, at the Solaris blog When Gravity Fails, Michael Molcher has an interview in which I reveal what used to lurk under my bed when I was a kid.

Finally, a semi progress update on Witchbreaker. I haven't been faithfully posting word counts, partly because I'm really confused now what to count and what not to count. I've written 13 chapters on the book, which is pretty good since my original outline only called for 21 chapters. But, where it's tricky is that I'm 99% certain at this point that I'm chopping two of the chapters at the beginning and starting later in the action. This isn't really that unusual. I chopped the first two chapters I wrote of Dragonforge also. In a sequel, there's a temptation to spend time revisiting the previous story, and it was just something I had to get out of my system.

In any case, without those two chapters, I'm somewhere just past the mid-point of my course corrected outline. I really need to be closer to the two third point. So, February will have a LOT of butt in chair time as I try to get out at least ten more chapters. My birthday is March 2; I want my birthday present to myself to be to finish the damn first draft by then.

Forward!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? A Panel

As a follow up to my class this morning, this Wednesday, Feb 8, at 6pm I'll be moderating a panel discussion at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough, joined by fellow authors A J Mayhew, John Claude Bemis, Natania Baron, and Ed and Janet Howle. These authors represent a wide range of ages and genres, so there should be something of interest in the discuss for all readers and writers.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This morning, I taught a class on creativity at the Orange County Library.

These are my class notes:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
(And what to do when you find one.)

The Warm Up Exercise

The story of your morning:
You got up this morning and came to the library. Woo! Exciting stuff.

Rewind. Tell us about the amazing exciting thing that happened to you on the way here.

(in this exercise, the students were encouraged to tell elaborate fibs about their journey to class)

Part One:
How important are ideas?

The Paradox of Ideas

Truth #1:
Ideas are the key element of any story.

Truth #2:
Ideas barely matter at all with successful story telling.

Why?

When I say ideas are the key, I mean it in the sense that you already have a million stories locked inside you. Without the spark of an idea, you have no way of getting through the locks of your imagination to the treasures inside.
A good idea is absolutely meaningless if you don’t have the tools to develop your initial concept into a compelling story. Beginning writers often feel that a fresh, clever idea will be essential to breaking into publication. In reality, good execution of an old, even stale, idea is a far more certain path to publication. If you need evidence, go to Barnes and Noble and count the number of books about vampires.

Exercise:

Think about a favorite work of fiction.

What do you think was the central idea the creator wanted to convey?

Does the idea matter most to you, or the storytelling?

(In this exercise, the students think about the ideas behind favorite stories as well as the execution of those stories and see how they are or aren't connected.)

Part Two:
Creativity is a muscle.

cre·a·tiv·i·ty

The Dictionary Definition:
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc

What it actually means in real life:
the ability to see the connections between things that most people don’t recognize as being connected related.

There are no wrong ways to get ideas.
There plenty of ways to avoid them, however. A passive approach to a creative life is likely to produce the same results as a passive approach to physical fitness. The mental muscles of your creativity must be exercised daily to stay trim. Generating ideas isn’t something that can be done only when you carve out a little extra time to do some thinking. It’s something that you must actively pursue at every opportunity.

How I personally gather ideas:
I steal them.
I constantly wage war upon my ignorance.
I keep a messy desk. Throw nothing away!
I look for the everything in anything.

An Exercise in Theft

First, a word about copyright and the public domain…

Pink Card = A famous character
Yellow card = A famous place, fictional if possible
Blue Card = A period of time
Green Card = Something with a strong smell

(For this exercise, students filled out their cards with the items above, then collaborated with their table mates to build a story from the combined items, for example
Robin Hood, the Emerald City, Chinese New Year, a bouquet of roses. )



On the Art of Lighting Candles in the Dark Void of Your Ignorance:

Before the end of the day, eat something you’ve never eaten before.
Before the end of the week, seek out some local culture that’s new to you.
Before the end of the month, read a book on a subject you know nothing about.
Before the end of the year, visit a state or city you’ve never visited.

You can only write what you know. What you know is limited only by your curiosity and drive.

Ideas Must Breed

A single idea is a sad thing. I suppose single ideas can sometimes give birth without mating with another idea, like some parthenogenetic lizard of literature. But, for most ideas to bear offspring, they must breed with other ideas.

Keep a journal of your ideas. Paper is the way to go! When you’re stuck, read your journal.

Talk with other writer. Don’t be afraid of having your ideas stolen! The more you give, the more you will receive.

Even if you can’t stand a messy desk, cultivate a messy mind. It’s important for the wildest, most unrelated concepts to bump into one another.

To write Greatshadow I had to know about: Jungles, volcanoes, oceans, casinos, biology, botany, religions, mythology, fishing, alcohol, cooking, anatomy, Eskimo lore, weaponry, whaling, dream symbolism, love, rejection, ambition, failure, life, death, and the correct verb to use to describe being thrown from a window.

The Everything in Anything

The most mundane object you can lay your hands upon is composed of the remnants of dead stars.

A cup of coffee contains within it the entire history of mankind.

It’s not just Kevin Bacon connected to everyone else in the world.

Writing is revelation.

Exercise:

? is like ?

Life. Death. Justice. Love. Family. America.

(Here, I passed out random objects like a toy bulldozer, a flashlight, an empty envelope, a package of crackers, a leaf, a seashell, a plastic dinosaur, etc. and asked students to explain how their objects were a metaphor for the concepts above.)

Part Three:
I have an idea!
Now what?

Ideas are nothing but flashes of light on the film of your mind. No one can see them until they are developed.

Once you have an idea, turning it into a story is easy! Wait, did I say easy? Because it’s actually kind of a pain. Turning an idea into a story requires many long hours with your butt in your chair fighting to put the concepts in your head onto paper.

But, even before you start writing, here’s a checklist you can follow to know if your idea is growing into a story or not.

A Simplified Checklist of Story Development:

Do I have a:
Character?
Setting?
Plot?

Check these boxes and you’re home free!

Character.

A literary character is a disembodied simulacrum of a human being.

To pass as a real person, he or she needs:
Personality
History
Relationships
Tastes
GOALS. Goals, goals, goals, goals, goals.

Optional but useful traits are:
Physical attributes
Symbolic elements (for instance, a meaningful name)
Distinctive speech patterns.

Setting.

A literary setting is an figment of imagination that’s confused for a real place.

To aid this confusion, a setting should have:
Light – Noise – Scent - Texture

Optional but useful traits are:
Geography – Architecture - Culture
History - Weather - Cuisine
Symbolism

Two Tricks of the Trade:
Setting is back story.
A character’s body can also be a setting

Plot.

A literary plot is a set of fixed, unchanging words that simulate the passage of time.

To create the illusion of movement through time, a plot needs:
Direction
Misdirection
A destination
Obstacles

Life is just one moment after another. A plot is one eventful moment after another. More importantly, a plot is one meaningful moment after another.