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!
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Joe's Spider Farm--The most important story I ever wrote, finally in print.
The new horror anthology Soon: Four Chilling Tales, has just gone live on Kindle. It contains horror stories by Abby Goldsmith, Rebecca Roland, Sarah Kelderman, and myself. At .99 cents, it's a perfect way to get yourself into a Halloween mood.
My contribution to the collection is "Joe's Spider Farm." This is kind of an ancient story for me, one I wrote all the way back in the year 2000. It's a horror story about a trailer park of retired carnival freaks who get a visit from a former carnival geek. The fire king, Pete Pyro, is none to happy about the new arrival and conspires to chase him off. Things go down hill after that.
So, it's a 14 year old story that I wasn't able to sell when I wrote it. I think the reason I couldn't sell it was that there weren't a lot of paying markets for non-supernatural horror when I wrote the story. I shelved it and mostly forgot about it, despite feeling like it was a really solid tale.
So, why do I call it the most important story I ever wrote in the title of this post? Because my earliest big sales have their roots in this novel. First, one of the highlights of my short fiction career was my first sale to Asimov's, "To the East a Bright Star." In it, Tony, the former circus tightrope walker, makes mention of his old friends... Pete Pyro and the Wolfman, both of whom are featured in "Joe's Spider Farm." The existence of JSF gave Tony a rich back story that helped make him a fully realized character. It's a story behind the story, a larger universe not seen in the Asimov's tale, but the foundation that the visible story rests upon.
If Spider Farm had just got me my first pro magazine sale, that would be noteworthy. But, it did a whole lot more than that. Shortly after I wrote "Joe's Spider Farm," I wrote my superhero novel Nobody Gets the Girl. I wrote Nobody very quickly, making up stuff as I went along, and at one point I hit the scene where I knew I needed to introduce some low-level villains for my heroes to face off against. I still had the villainous geek from "Joe's Spider Farm" kicking around in my head, so I decided to make him one of the villain gang. Instead of having him bite the head of chickens, I decided to give him the power to bite through anything, and also implied that he could survive any injury. If you've read Nobody Gets the Girl, then read "Joe's Spider Farm," you'll instantly see what I'm talking about: Except for the superpowers, it's the same character in both stories. So, I got an important supporting cast member for my first published novel from my little unpublished story.
Of course, that led to Burn Baby Burn, a novel where Pit Geek graduates from supporting cast to protagonist for the entire novel. He's fleshed out considerably in the novel, of course, but there are still elements of his character that originated in the short story. For instance, in the short story, the geek has suffered enough brain damage that he doesn't remember his own name any more, just as Pit in Burn Baby Burn is unable to remember who he used to be.
If there's a larger lesson to be drawn here, it's that nothing a writer puts on paper is ever a waste of time. "Joe's Spider Farm" took a lot of time and energy to write and polish, and back in 2000, it probably seemed like the time and energy I'd put into it weren't going to be repaid with publication. But... without it, I might never have sold anything to Asimov's, and I might never have sold my first novel, let alone wrote a sequel to it.
So, now's your chance to discover the short story that did more to shape my later career than anything else I wrote from that period. Even if you haven't read Nobody or Burn Baby, check it out. It's a pretty kick ass tale on it's own merit, and I'm thrilled to finally see it in print.