Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. 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. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A return to classics

Being a writer as changed the way I read. When I was young, I devoured books visually. I would scan my eyes along a page of text and the meaning would flow into my mind. I didn't really have an intervening step where I would "hear" the words represented on the page. As a result, I was a very efficient reader, easily going through five to ten books in a week. 

But when I actually started writing, my style of reading actually held me back. As the written word to me was merely a visual code, my writing has no music to it, no real flow or rhythm. It wasn't until I started reading my work out loud during my editing process that I reconnected the audible portion of writing in my own work. Now, it's second nature for me to hear the words I'm writing. A side effect of this is that I now also hear books I'm reading, and this is a much slower process of going through a book than my old habits. A book that I might have devoured in an afternoon now takes me a week or two to get through. There are advantages to this... I've discovered some of the beauty of good writing that had previously been lost to me. The downside is, I can't fit as many books into a year as I'd like. 

This year, I've made a decision to devote the whole year to reading old classics that I've somehow missed reading up until now. So far, I've read Pride and Prejudice, The Time Machine, and the Island of Dr. Moreau. Now, I've started in on Tarzan of the Apes. If the book isn't at least a century old, it probably won't make it onto my list for the year. 

I kind of feel guilty that I'm ignoring novels coming out this year. After all, many of them are by other writers who are my friends. And, there's something to be said for the importance of a writer understanding what work is being published currently. But, I turn 49 this year. Do I really want to turn 50 and say I've never read  Frankenstein? Or Wuthering Heights? It's not as if I have no foundation among classics. I could list a hundred important books I have read. But, the number of important books I haven't read far outnumbers those I have. Of course, this will still be true even if I somehow recovered my old five novel a week speed. Still, it's a worthwhile project. I'll post my progress as the year proceeds. 


Mr. Cavin said...

This is excellent. I started this same strategy about three years ago, in much the same way you are (Pride and Prejudice and Dr. Moreau were definitely in that first year, as well as Catch-22 and To Kill a Mockingbird and about fifty-two more. I loved Moreau). Then I just kept doing it. Getting a Kindle two years ago was excellent since almost everything I was interested in was public domain. I spent the entire first year reading only free books (that had been handily repackaged for me for some tiny price), and I haven't stopped this project since. I'm still reading the third volume of Dumas' D'Artagnan Romances, which is wonderfully endless. Can't wait to hear what you're getting and liking.

Notably, in that first year of the Kindle, your own books were the only digital books I bought and read for real money!

James Maxey said...

I haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird, so maybe I'll expand past my current public domain plans. The fact that most of these older classics are free (or even books I already have on my shelf) is definitely a nice bonus.

Opinions so far:
Pride and Prejudice: Very funny at times, with wonderful and realistic characters. I recognized it instantly as the template for ever romantic comedy movie I've ever watched. My major problem with the book is that, ultimately, it's the story of wealthy and handsome landowners getting to marry the women they want. I prefer my love stories to have characters with a few more rough edges.

The Time Machine: The character is a complete cipher, but once you get past the unscientific gimmick of the machine itself, this was one of the most "sciencey" science fiction novels I've ever read. Really thought provoking.

These two books were good. Moreau, however, was awesome. The characters were fascinating, especially the manimals. The science was interesting, and the moral questions still relevant. The book has something of a slow start, but becomes a real page turner once the characters are finally on the island. The chanted laws are haunting. A wonderful book.

CathyB said...

If you haven't already read them, may I suggest the novels of Jules Verne? He initiated me into the realm of speculative fiction when I was a lass of 13. Also, if you're looking for the original template for every utopian tale you've ever read, try Plato's Republic. I was astonished.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop myself here. :)

Mr. Cavin said...

Oh yeah, totally go for the Verne. I've really liked everything I've read by him. I thought 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was especially great. Like you, I think Wells is mercurial--just fine most of the time, but sometimes a little unexpectedly ho hum, too. If you haven't (re) read WAR OF THE WORLDS yet, then do! It was a lot scarier than I remembered. Burroughs, on the other hand, as brisk and able as he usually is with action, is just as often tiresome and repetitious when it comes to everything else. Enjoy TARZAN, but I thought the sequels bogged down quickly into comic books.

FRANKENSTEIN is a worthwhile slog (like HEART OF DARKNESS), while the first half of DRACULA is magnificent before it bogs down into purple Victorian melodramatic excesses and caricature. It's not public domain, but I really recommend Guy Endore's WEREWOLF OF PARIS, which is one of my favorite books and comes pretty cheap digitally.

Changing channels, I think you should go ahead and read WUTHERING HEIGHTS immediately as some kind of antidote to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Also throw Dashiell Hammett onto the stack--all five of his novels are more or less excellent and consistently inventive and entertaining (but THE THIN MAN and RED HARVEST are absolute musts). Also, I really do recommend THE THREE MUSKETEERS (all of them if you want to spend the whole year on it, but the first one at least) and TREASURE ISLAND because it is just wildly great (and difficult to keep from reading out loud, even alone to yourself).

Don't get me started on the Russians!

James Maxey said...

20,000 Leagues under the Sea is very high on the list of novels I'll be getting to sooner rather than later. Also, Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Should I be concerned that my idea of "classics" looks so similar to a Saturday night line up at a 1950s drive in theatre?

I'm nearly done with Tarzan. I feel like I'm learning something by reading it, but it's something unpleasant about readers of a different era. It has occasional momements of interesting high adventure interwoven with moments of cringe worthy white supremacy porn, and the longer the book drags on the less plausible it becomes. I will grant that he has a good sense of timing and knows how to use a scene break to build suspense. Still, I'm looking forward to getting it behind me so I can move on to something better, which is probably pretty much anything else on my list.

James Maxey said...

Finished Tarzan this morning. The book really went off the rails once he left Africa, but I actually liked the final few pages of the book and thought it ended in a surprisingly satisfying way, completely contrary to the way any adaptation I've ever seen ended the story. I know there's a slew of sequels that undoes the one bit I liked, but, if I just stop here, I can still say I liked the book a a little.

Probably doing Wuthering Heights next since I've done three adventure novels in a row. I'm racing through these things now because I'm in a little lull between drafts of my own novel. I expect my pace will slow dramatically once I dig back into the second draft.