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), the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collection, There is No Wheel. In 2017, I'll be releasing a new superhero series, The Butterfly Cage. 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.




Monday, November 24, 2014

PUT DOWN THAT HOOK!

One bit of advice often offered to beginning authors is that you should open your story with a hook. I think this advice is responsible for millions of terrible beginnings, openings with overwrought action bits that wind up confusing the reader more than drawing him in. The story opens with a gun going off. It starts with a bang! Or, the story opens with the character dangling by his fingernails from a window ledge. Tension! Suspense! Spare me. It's not that such openings are always wrong, it's just that trying to open a story with suspense kills the best part of reading something suspenseful. You want the stakes to be rising with each page, as the machinery of the plot keeps clicking forward, cog by cog, until you know that when you turn the next page something will have to give. If you start your story at a moment of peril, where do you go from there? The tension either has to decline, or else ratchet up from such a high baseline that it creates unintended comedy.

Instead of a hook, what a writer really needs is a strategy. Anytime you sit down to write a story, you have several important things you want your reader to know quickly. Who is the story about? What's their problem? Why should anyone care? Where and when is the story taking place? If it's science fiction or fantasy, what are the rules the character has to obey in regards to commanding miracles?

What used to paralyze me when I was starting as a writer was the seeming impossibility of getting every important detail on to the first page. I remember one story I wrote about characters exploring an ice-cavern on Mars. It was kind of important to make sure the reader knew they were on Mars, instead of just a glacial cavern on Earth. So, I had to sprinkle in lots of references to Martian terrain, have the characters mention the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, talk about the gravity as compared to what they were used to, etc. I was so busy explaining that they were on Mars that I didn't really get around to explaining the family dynamics of the characters until a few pages later. The hero was a 12 year old boy who'd been born on Mars, and he was exploring the cavern with his mother, a long-term Martian colonist, and her new boyfriend, a colonist who'd arrived on planet only a few months prior. The tension between the son and the boyfriend is the emotional heart of the story, but someone reading the first page could be forgiven for missing that fact. On the other hand, if I tried opening the story with the son and the boyfriend squabbling and the mother trying to play peacemaker, the fact that the story was unfolding on Mars then seemed like arbitrary window dressing. Arguments like this happen in a million living rooms all around the world. Why does being on Mars make it different or special?

At this point, I'd like to tell you how I solved my dilemma: I wrote another story. I set that one aside after a dozen rewrites and moved on. Because, fundamentally, I didn't have an answer to the question of why being on Mars was vital to the story of their family dynamics. I was just using cut-and-paste plotting, taking a story that could be told anywhere and jamming into a setting I thought would be exotic. SF editors of better magazines are looking for stories that blend with their settings in such a way that they could only be told in their specific time and place.

Eventually, I became better at imagining stories that blended character, setting, and plot in insuperable relationships. But, I was still faced with the problem of how to get all my information on the page in a way that would draw readers in. Even today, I agonize about my openings, and they often wind up being the very last thing I write. This was definitely the case with my most recent novel, Bad Wizard. It originally opened with the current chapter one, with George "Grinder" Greer staggering his way through Washington, DC. I defaulted to this opening because Bad Wizard is set in a specific historical era, and Grinder seemed like a decent character to establish the time frame. I reveal he's a Civil War veteran, though he was a young teenager when he served. Now, he's a member of the Secret Service, protecting Oscar Diggs, the Secretary of War. Opening with Grinder gave me a character firmly grounded in our reality, so at the end of the chapter when he encounters Dorothy Gale and her magic slippers, the introduction of magic is a great way to close out that chapter and encourage the reader to turn to the next page. As an opening chapter, it had its merits. Alas, it was the wrong opening for the story.

So, the last scene I actually wrote for the book was the prologue, where Dorothy Gale is introduced in the first sentence. The book is mostly about Dorothy. The best possible strategy is to put her front and center on page one. Rather than put Dorothy in some sort of physical peril, I open with her at the funeral of her Aunt Em. We swiftly learn that her aunt and uncle have passed away, and Dorothy is now wondering what she will do now that her last relatives have passed away. She goes back to the farm lost in thought, and finds the local banker nailing a notice to her front door. The looks at the notice, and reads aloud the word that stands out. The last line of the first page is also the first line of dialogue in the book, a single word: "Foreclosed?"

Winged monkeys and witches can menace Dorothy in their own good time. For my opening, I'm counting on more readers being able to empathize with her real world problems. She's a poor Kansas farm girl about to be kicked out of her home. She's unhelpfully told she can probably find work in Topeka, but has no idea how she can get to Topeka and survive there. She has nothing of value to sell... until she remembers those strange silver slippers that were found next to her in the field after the tornado. Line by line, I guide the readers into Dorothy's world, first attempting to shape an emotional attachment by touching on a problem that most people can identify with. The life she knew is coming to an end against her will; what will she do next? Only after the emotional attachment is formed do I introduce the slippers, and reveal that Dorothy's reality is different from our own because of the existence of magic.

This is now a pretty common strategy for me. Every story is different, and every story will reveal how to tell it eventually. But, just glancing at my short story collection There is No Wheel, of the ten stories, five of them contain the name of the protagonist in the first sentence. Three of them have the protagonist's name as the very first word. Only one story has the name of another character appear before the protagonist. Most of the other stories are told in first person, so there's an "I" in the first sentence, and you might not know the name of the protagonist, but you swiftly gain a sense of who they are based on their unique voice. Only two of the stories open with the characters in any sort of near term peril. For the most part, I'm patient. Establish the character. Establish where and when they are. Clarity is my number one goal. The best hook of all is for your reader to quickly and easily grasp what's going on.

Of course, just saying who your character is and where they are at can be boring. What you need are telling details that reveal your character and your world indirectly. This is the opening to my short story "Echo of the Eye."

Kidd pumped quarter after quarter into the washer at the Laundromat. The humid air was thick with the smell of bleach and Tide. The water in the window of the machine began to turn pink. A career as a butcher had left Kidd unusually skilled at removing blood stains.


The reader will suspect that Kidd is the protagonist, since he's introduced first. The smell of bleach is a strong sensory connection, an aroma almost everyone will be familiar with, and a familiar scent can instantly link a reader to your world. The mention of a brand name establishes that the story is taking place in contemporary America. The water turning pink is meant to be slightly disturbing. Is it because of blood? The next line establishes that there is blood present, though it presents the benign explanation that Kidd is a butcher. And he must be a down to earth guy, doing his own laundry. Still... hopefully, the reader leaves the first paragraph feeling the possibility that something sinister has happened.

You probably won't find many writing books advising you to open a story with a character doing laundry. But, soap suds were the way to go with this particular tale. If you're having trouble finding the right opening for your story, try the direct approach. Introduce your character in the first sentence. Establish where they are at the moment the story starts, whether it's on a starship, in a living room, or out in a forest. Focus on a simple sensory detail, preferably at scent, taste, or texture, that will engage the core of the reader's brain. Give them an intriguing fact to close the paragraph, then move on. Your readers will follow.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Win a print edition of Bad Wizard!

 
Yay! Goodreads is finally showing a listing for Bad Wizard, so I'm finally able to arrange a giveaway there! Now through November 15, Goodreads users can enter to win one of five signed copies of my latest novel. Just follow this link to enter, and good luck! 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bitterwood: The Complete Collection, Now in Print!

Behold! Bitterwood, the Complete Collection, is now available in print! I've had it available as an ebook for a while, but couldn't put out an assembled print edition while Solaris still had the paperback rights. Now that they've agreed to revert the rights, I'm finally gathering up the one giant story into one giant book. 
 

And when I say "giant book," it's not hyperbole. This thing is massive, just shy of half a million words long, in a 6"x9" trade paperback that's 800 pages long. This book isn't just good for your brain, it's good for your body, since you'll get a good workout just picking it up to read it. It contains all three of the core Bitterwood Trilogy novels, Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed. Then, as a bonus, it contains an entire prequel novel, Dawn of Dragons, plus a bonus short story, "Tornado of Sparks," as well as an introductory essay explaining my creative process in designing my dragons called "Building a Better Dragon." All this for a mere $27 cover price (as opposed to $40 for buying all the individual titles in print). And, to sweeten the deal, Amazon is already selling the book at a discount, at $24.30. Of course, if you are actively opposed to giving money to Amazon, feel free to wander into the book store of your choice and ask then to order you a copy. This is the ISBN-10: 1502906422.

 
I'm not kidding about burning calories while reading this book. It's big! Big I tell you! For those of you who fear you're not up to the task of lifting such a monster, take heart. Starting next week, I'll be unveiling print editions of all the individual novels. Of course, only the Complete Collection will contain "Tornado of Sparks" and "Building a Better Dragon." Get yours today!



Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I hate widows and orphans


I had hoped to spend October working on a new novel. Alas, there have been some rather dramatic turns of events unfolding in my publishing life during September that have forced me to switch from my writing hat to my publishing hat.
 
Bitterwood has sold as a paperback from Solaris books for seven years now, going through four printings. But, eventually I knew the day would come where the sales would dwindle to a point that further printings would be unlikely. On my last statement, Bitterwood's paperback sales had fallen enough that I made the decision to revert the rights and put out my own trade paperback editions available as print on demand books.
 
I'm kicking things off by releasing a complete collection of all four Bitterwood novels (the core trilogy plus Dawn of Dragons), plus "Tornado of Sparks," the short story set in that world, plus "Building a Better Dragon," an essay I wrote explaining how I designed my dragons to be different from the standard fantasy beasts yet still recognizable as dragons.
 
Bitterwood: the Complete Collection, is just a few words shy of half a million words of fiction. It's fitting into book 800 pages long. Formatting the book for print has proven... challenging. For starters, finding a font that was easily readable at the size needed to cram in all those words into 800 pages was a challenge. Garamond's small letters were too small, and Time's could be tweaked to fit, but there's something about Times that looks like a business report more than a work of literature. I finally settled on Goudy Old Style at 10 points with a line spacing of 11 points. This is somewhat dense, but still relatively easy on the eye. This summer, I read Don Quixote, a book with a similar word count, and it used a much smaller font, so I don't think anyone will get eye strain from the book. Still, it wasn't just a matter of pulling down and font menu and picking what looked good. I tested and printed sample chapters with easily a dozen font variations before making my final decision.
 
Designing for print entails a few steps you don't have to worry about in e-books. For starters, in print books most chapters start with dropped caps. These are the large bold letters at the start of a paragraph that hangs down the length of three lines. The complete collection has something like 150 chapters, so going through and dropping all the caps, then tweaking any weirdness that resulted, was time-consuming.
 
But, the real time sink is finding and fixing widows and orphans. If you don't work in printing, you may not be familiar with the term. Basically, a widow is the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page, and an orphan is a fragment of a sentence by itself at the top of the page. In the image below, you can see an example of both. The first page has a widow, the second page has an orphan.

 

 
In the next image, I've tweaked the spacing between fonts in in order to shift the text to avoid the widows and orphans. You can compress or expand the space between letters to tighten up or spread out a paragraph, but this is a tool you should use cautiously. As a rule, I only allowed myself to expand or contract text spacing by no more than .2 of a normal space. In other words, I could reduced the space between letters to about 80% of it's normal size, or spread it out to about 120%. Past this range, the text either looks cramped or stretched. If you look at the image above and below, you'll note that I've actually manipulated text on the previous page (not shown) in order to bring the text up two lines. Then, I've expanded the text in the first paragraph of Chapter 10 so that it takes up an extra line, resulting, I hope, in a more balanced page spread.


To say that this is tedious work is an understatement. But, I think I've finally got 99% of my widows and orphans on this massive document under control. There are a few places where I just couldn't figure out a way of fixing a widow without ruining another page, but for the most part I think I've wound up with a professional document.

So, I submitted my files last week and got the proof mailed to me this week. And... disaster! Something was wrong with the italics in Goudy Old Style. They looked fine on screen, but when they print, they print bold as well as italicized. So, I've had to try two other PDF makers before I finally found one that would create files where the italics printed properly. Foolishly, I approved the proof minutes after I got the printed copy, and it was only later as I was looking at it again, basking in the glow of how good the book looked, that I noticed the bold italics. This happened Friday. I've now uploaded the corrected files, but feel terrible that someone actually bought a copy of the book in the time between my approving the proof and finally noticing something was wrong. I feel terrible. It's not like the book is unreadable, but I've been in the business long enough to know that the proofing process should entail more than just quickly flipping through the pages and letting your mind see the book the way you think it should have printed, rather than the way it really printed.

Right now, the new files are still under review by Createspace. I'm hoping they'll be approved later today, or tomorrow at the latest. Then, I'll do a formal announcement that the book is available, and unveil the cover.

Now that I've got The Complete Collection formatted, it should be simple to peel out the individual books and get them prepped. The good news is, I can use a slightly larger font and let each book spread out to 250 pages instead of 200 each. The bad news is, when I change the font size, all my previous work on widows and orphans will be undone. Sigh.

Monday, September 29, 2014

THANK YOU TO MY WISE-READERS

Wise-reading differs from critiquing in a few significant ways. First, it’s not reciprocal. In critique groups, you critique the same people who’ll be critiquing you. Even in the fairest of groups, this creates bias. If a writer praised your last story, you might read his next story with the assumption that he’s a writer of great taste and overlook the story’s weaknesses. With wise-readers, I’ve seldom read anything they’ve written. I know they aren’t trying to influence my opinion of their work by saying kind things about my novel.

Second, wise-readers don’t offer solutions. They tell me what’s keeping them interested, as well as what’s boring them to tears. They don’t need to diagnose why. As the writer, it’s my duty to keep them immersed in my world. If they’re not engaged, it’s my duty to fix it.

A final difference between wise-readers and members of critique groups is the sheer volume of reading. A group might tackle two stories at a time, maybe twice a month, seldom needing to read more than 10,000 words per session. With my wise-readers, I throw four to six chapters a week at them and want feedback quickly. I’m not giving them pages of sparkling, polished prose. My second drafts are full of missing words and continuity glitches. Wise-readers breeze past all of these little frustrations and keep their eyes on the big picture. It’s a wonderful skill, and I’m fortunate to have worked with a terrific set of wise-readers on this project.

So, my heartfelt thanks go out to Susan Voss, Mark Barlow, James Marsh, Laurel Amberdine, Cathy Bollinger, and, of course, my lovely wife Cheryl Morgan Maxey. Bad Wizard is a better book because of their hard work and dedication. They waded through a lot of mangled prose and meandering scenes in pursuit of making this a better novel. I’m deeply grateful for their efforts.

And, of course, if you want to get your hands on their work as quickly as possible, Bad Wizard just happens to be available for preorder right now on Amazon!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bad Wizard: The Cover Revealed!

 

Jeremy Cavin's amazing cover revealed in its full glory. You should be able to click on the above image to see a higher resolution version of it. Bad Wizard is on track to be available for sale on October 1. If you're interested in reading the book prior to publication in order to review it, please email me at james(at)jamesmaxey.net. Line edits are still being finalized, but I can provide an advanced review copy in an electronic format of your choice. Advance readers will get rewarded with a Bad Wizard poster!
 
The story:
 
In 1894, Oscar Zoroaster Diggs walks into Topeka with every pocket of his suit stuffed full of high quality emeralds. Overnight he's the richest man in Kansas. With his winning smile and gift for gab, he's quickly befriended by the governor and appointed as one the state's US Senators. While in Washington, he befriends Theodore Roosevelt, and when Roosevelt becomes president, Diggs become the Secretary of War. Now, in 1904, he's overseeing the construction of a fleet of zeppelins to be used to spread democracy to the far corners of the earth.
 
One woman knows Diggs true goals, however. Her name is Dorothy Gale, a reporter for the Kansas Ear. She's hounding Diggs with articles showing him to be a corrupt conman. She has a talent for getting her hands on sensitive documents to expose his shady dealings, but so far Diggs hasn't been harmed by her charges of corruption. In her quest to expose the truth about Diggs, Dorothy is hampered by her inability to tell the full truth. She alone knows the truth of how Diggs acquired his fortune -- she met him ten years ago in Oz, where he ruled as the Wizard. She also knows his true purpose for building the fleet of airships -- he plans to return to Oz to rule once more. But she can't go to her editor and explain that Diggs is planning to invade an invisible sky island ruled by witches. Nor can she explain that she gets her sensitive documents not from connections in Washington, but by using her magic silver slippers to travel cross country in the blink of an eye.
 
Dorothy's plans to thwart Diggs are complicated when he kidnaps her to take back to Oz as insurance that the Scarecrow will hand over the throne of the Emerald City. When she escapes his clutches in Oz, she must navigate a dangerous magical landscape in order to rescue her the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion. But even when they are finally united, will they be too late to stop Diggs from conquering the Emerald City with his aerial navy?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bad Wizard Cover Tease #3


Zooming out a bit further, full title banner can be seen, with Esau's wings serving as the "W" in Bad Wizard. The spires of a crystalline city are becoming apparent, and the fact that Esau is falling from a gray sky into a full color landscape reflects gives further hints to the setting.

This Sunday, I'll reveal the full cover online in all it's glory! If, by chance, you are near Hillsborough this Friday (August 29) and want to get your hands on a poster of the cover, come by Purple Crow Books during the Last Friday street festival between 6 and 8 pm. I'll be set up out front selling books and will have a limited number of posters on hand to give away. If you aren't in the Hillsborough area, don't despair! Everyone will have a shot at getting a free copy of the poster next month. Stay tuned for details!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bad Wizard Cover Tease #2

 
As we pull out from Esau's face, it should be obvious why he performs under the name "The Winged Monkey." To draw crowd's to his mother's temperance rallies, Esau goes a mile into the sky in a balloon then leaps. Instead of a parachute, he relies on a folding mechanical glider that he opens in mid-leap. Esau designed and built his wings himself, but is currently being sued by the estate of Otto Lilienthal, one of the first developers of a glider, for patent infringement. Esau's defense is that his device only resembles Lilienthal's to the extent that both are based on the wings of raptors. Still, his legal problems are one reason that Esau, a committed pacifist, winds up agreeing to work for Oscar Diggs, the Secretary of War, who promises to make the lawsuits against Esau go away if he'll help train an aerial navy in the use of the folding glider.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bad Wizard Cover Tease #1


The front cover of Bad Wizard has been decided on by Antimatter Press. The art by master illustrator Jeremy Cavin is filled with amazing detail, so I'm going to reveal it in stages, so there's time to marvel at all the tiny touches that make up the jaw-dropping whole. Pictured above is Esau Bejano, a.k.a. the Winged Monkey, the acrobatic engineering-genius temperance crusader who winds up as Dorothy Gales biggest ally in her struggle against Oscar Zoroaster Diggs, the former Wizard of Oz.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is that a novel in your pocket or are you happy to see me?


I've delayed starting typing on my next novel until early September. I thought that I'd be done with Bad Wizard by this point, but I won't be getting the final line edits until this Friday. Once those are done, I need to work on getting the print edition set up, since Antimatter Press is only handling the ebook edition. In addition, I'm also working on a secret project that I'm not yet ready to announce, but that I will unveil before the end of this month.

The fact that I'm not typing doesn't mean I'm not writing. I've taken to carrying a thick stack of notecards in my front pocket. Anytime I get even small ideas about the next book, I'm jotting them down. When I am ready to start typing, all I need to do is organize my notes into the correct sequence and I'll have a functional outline I can follow. My big challenge at the moment is figuring out how to integrate the villain's back story. I'm currently planning a single POV, but the villain's motives are complicated, and it sure would be a lot easier if I could tell things from her POV. Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid the standard villain explains her motives and master plan monologue.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Heat up your summer with FREE Burn Baby Burn!


For my summer special, I'm offering the ebook edition of Burn Baby Burn for free! You can download it for Kindle from Amazon or at an epub from the Nook store. You can also download it from Smashwords in both formats plus PDF.

Burn Baby Burn is perhaps the most heartfelt book I ever wrote. It's a love story unlike any you've read before, a book with protagonists who can diplomatically be described as complicated, or bluntly described as cold-blooded killers. But, hopefully I dig down into the core humanity of both characters. Oh, and I should also mention the book is pretty much non-stop crazy superhuman action. Check it out!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mothers

Having only read two Faulkner novels so far, I can hardly consider myself an expert on his ability to create characters. But, one thing did catch my attention in both Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner didn't seem to like mother's very much. They tend to be weak and sickly, or else bitter and hateful, or barely register as characters at all, all but invisible next to much more vivid male characters.

Of course, mother's don't fare well in a lot of pop culture. Many, many iconic characters are orphans. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Tarzan, Luc Skywalker, Popeye... being the mother of an action hero is extremely dangerous for one's health. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that having parents in general and mothers in particular would just hold you back.

Being dead is sometimes the best fate a mother can hope for. Think of the characters in Big Bang Theory. Most of the major characters have surviving mothers, and most of these mothers are pretty messed up. Howard's mother is a fat, nagging, hypochondriac. Leonard's mother is a manipulative intellectual who belittles him constantly. Sheldon's mother is a strong character who is allowed to offer wise advice to her crazy son, but she's also a religious nutjob with racist attitudes.

All of this, of course, makes me think about the mother's in my own writing. I've got a lot of orphans at the center of my books. I can't think of any mother's I use for comic relief, at least. And, I do have at least one strong matriarch who doesn't suffer from any obvious personality flaws: Gale Romer from Hush and Witchbreaker. Luckily, I do have an opportunity coming up to add a second strong mother to my mix, since I'll get to show Infidel as a mother in Soulless. I'll also start looking at the three superhero novels I'm currently outlining in hopes of finding a good place to insert a strong mother figure among the cast.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Choosing what novel to write next: A decision is made!

A few posts back I said I was choosing between a space opera SF novel called Cherry Red Rocket Ship and a more literary, end of the world tale tentatively called Shooting Star. Having mulled these ideas over at length, I've decided to write: Neither.

My next book, in fact my next few books, will instead be sequels to Cut Up Girl, a series of books with the overarching title Accidental Gods. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that over the Memorial Day weekend, I did a hundred mile bike ride split up over the three days. This was roughly 18+ hours out peddling in the hot sun wearing a helmet, not listening to music or reading stuff on my phone, just being alone with my thoughts except for the breaks when I could talk to Cheryl. I had time for my mind to wander. And, where it wandered was back to Cut Up Girl, and the potential for telling more stories in her world.

I mentioned a few posts back that my agent was deciding whether or not he could represent Cut Up Girl. I thought it was a long shot, and this week he passed on it. Superhero novels are tough sells, and Cut Up Girl is a tougher sell still. If a publisher was going to put out a superhero book, they'd probably want a character with the appeal of a Superman or Batman. I've basically written a book about Arm Fall Off Boy from the Legion of Superhero Rejects. Because, let's face it, there are thousands of writers who want to tell Batman and Superman stories. What there is to say about this type of character has been said, a dozen times over, with the caveat that anything you say can always be unsaid, since popular characters must always reset to the status quo. To write a story about a real person, someone who can grow and fail and triumph and die, you have to write about a character that's not already precious to the rest of the world.

The thing is, even before he passed on the novel, I'd pretty much decided on this path. When Cheryl and I had dinner on Monday following our bike ride, I explained the whole series to her. If my agent had contacted me the following morning and said he wanted to send it to an editor, I think I would have been a little disappointed. I have a vision, and I have the skills and experience to execute the vision. At this point, a traditional publisher would only slow me down.

Now that I've decided firmly that Cut Up Girl will be self published, I'm going all in. To date, my independently published novels have only been sequels to my traditionally published novels. Cut Up Girl will be my first completely independent novel unconnected to a traditional publisher. The market realities of publishing are that series sell better than stand alones, and, from the start, I saw the Cut Up Girl novel as an introduction to a larger world. Now, I'm planning to seriously devote myself to exploring that world. During my bike ride, I thought up the broad plots of not one, but three follow up novels. I had said the second book would likely be called Adventures of a Big Ape. While Harry will still play a starring role in the novel, the second book in the series will likely be called Echo, and it will follow the story of Cut Up Girl after she's been shot three times in the heart. She spends the entire book in a coma. Which, I admit, doesn't sound like a great premise for a novel. But, Cut Up Girl is probably the one character in the world capable of investigating the mystery while still in a coma. Sorry if this is cryptic; I really can't explain the premise in greater detail until the Cut Up Girl novel is published without introducing spoilers.

The second book will end with the core characters of Echo and Harry in deeper trouble than they started. The third book will track their efforts to fight back against the forces hunting them, with the help of a mysterious ally. The final book in the series will be a fight for the destiny of all mankind, or something like that. I do know that a masked woman in underwear will beat the snot out of the world's most respected superhero.

In addition, to help ensure that Cut Up Girl has the best possible company for superhero fiction, I'm also going to soon be announcing plans for my own small press devoted to publishing other writer's costumed heroic adventures. I was telling a friend via email earlier today that I couldn't think of a book published in the last decade that was on my list of top fifty favorite books. I want to change that by actively searching for authors and helping them develop outstanding books that are completely unlike anything else being published today.

Moving forward with a future of superhero novels isn't an easy choice. It basically means turning my back on traditional publishing for the next few years and devoting myself full time to being an indy author and indy publisher. It could be a path to increasing obscurity, and it could be a big money loser, as I funnel dollar into covers and promotions without a guarantee of anyone buying  a single book. And, it means that, for the next few years, I'm not likely to go into a Barnes and Noble and find a copy of one of my books there. I'm going to have to deal with the possible stigma that people think I'm self publishing because my books aren't good enough to make it into stores.

But, honestly, I want to write books that are better than what you're likely to find in stores. I want to write books that aren't easy to describe or explain, books that satisfy on every level, full of action and humor but also filled with meaning and heart.

In the end, both my head and my heart have signed on to this decision. My heart loves the books I plan to write. It's not just excitement when I think about them. I'm seriously in love, devoted to seeing them though poverty and illness, to have faith in them when they've lost their way. And my head thinks this is my smartest path forward. It might not be the best choice financially, but it's not like I've gotten rich writing for traditional publishers. Pursuing this series of books gives me total control over my writing and publishing life. I no longer have to play by the hurry up and wait rules of dealing with mainstream publisher, or have to swallow unfair contract terms in order to see my books in stores. And I definitely won't have to suck it up and live with a cover I don't like at all, like the one on Greatshadow.

Speaking of Greatshadow, when the rights to that series revert to me, I plan to reissue them my way. I've always thought of them as superhero novels with a fantasy setting. I want future covers to reflect this, and future marketing to emphasis these elements instead of hiding them.

So, my long term plan: Indy career, superhero novels, both my own and other authors who want to work with me. I'll still have room to pursue other ideas that appeal to me; I could see fitting Cherry Red Rocket Ship into my indy line up fairly easily.

Immediate plans: Outline. Shocking, I know, since I don't normally outline. But, I really want to nail down the big events for all the books in my Accidental Gods series, so I can know if there are future events I need to foreshadow in the first book. I plan to dedicate June and July to outlining and prewriting, then launch into the books full throttle in August, with a goal of having all three books drafted by the end of the year. Then, in early 2015, I'll release Cut Up Girl, and arrange for the other books to come out about every three month or four months.

Once these four books fill up 2015, hopefully I'll have the rights back to the Dragon Apocalypse. I can then write Soulless, and put out an authoritative edition of the Dragon Apocalypse through 2016.

I've picked my road. I don't know what's at the end of it. But it's time to put my creative drive into gear. Forward!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

JamesMaxey.net launches!


So, it turns out this world wide web thing might not be a fad after all. Despite having two blogs and a Facebook page, I've never taken the time to actually set up a website devoted to my writing. I'm happy to announce that changes today. With the help of my friend Jesse Bernier, I'm launching a site that will consolidate both my blog feeds, provide a handy billboard for upcoming events, and give a more organized way of finding out information on all my books. Right now, there are links to buy the books, both physically and electronically, from various retailers. Soon, we'll have ecommerce set up so you can purchase books directly from me, including signed copies of the print books.

There's also still plenty of formatting and tweaking to be done. Right now we're trying to figure out why my blogs feed in with red text. So far, GoDaddy's tech support hasn't been very helpful on this. Still, small snags like that are no reason not to go live.

We've also got a nifty quote generator set up with rotating quotes from some of my books and stories, though I really need to add to the collection, since I've only got about ten set up so far. If anyone out there has a favorite line from one of my books, let me know and I'll add it to the rotation.

Oh! It would probably help to mention the name of the website: JAMESMAXEY.NET.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Choosing what novel to write: an interlude

When I started this series of blogs, I thought that by the time I reached the final post, I'd have, you know, figured out what book I'm going to write next. And, I'm really, really leaning toward one of them. But, whenever I sit down to announce my choice, I find myself still not quite there.

These are some of the criteria for my choice:

1. Excitement. How passionate am I about the idea? How energized to I feel thinking about it?

2. Importance. Do I actually have something important to say? This can actually be very much in conflict with excitement. It's easy to get excited about a cool, grand idea that's ultimately kind of pointless and hollow. On the other hand, you can feel like you have something important to say, and dread the thought of putting it to paper, because you know you're going to get it wrong, and the big, vital thing you're going to say is going to seem small, or obvious, or else get misunderstood and twisted until people think you've said the exact opposite of what you meant to say.

3. Will it sell? I won't lie to you. I've had some real duds economically. I personally prefer Greatshadow to Bitterwood by a pretty wide margin. But, Bitterwood has outsold Greatshadow by a huge, huge margin. I like writing quirky, funny novels that don't take themselves too seriously. But, so far, the reading public seems more willing to shell out dough for my more serious ideas over my goofier ones, even if my goofier ideas are, in my opinion, better executed and more in line with my world view. Maybe I should go with an idea that isn't introduced to potential readers as "really weird."

4. Will it help me grow artistically? I've never wanted to build a career writing the same books again and again. I try to do something I've never done before with every book I write. But, at this point, I've written a dozen novels. Figuring out what I haven't tried before is tougher than it was six books back.

I could try something really radical. Like, why do I only write one book at a time? Maybe I could structure my writing schedule in such a way that I could be writing two books at once by interchanging writing days.

The thought's intriguing, but I suspect I won't go there. I value my sanity.

I've already discussed how these pros and cons apply to the books under consideration in my previous posts, but I thought it would be nice to consolidate all my thoughts here. It wasn't my intention to leave people hanging. In writer time, once I start my next book, I'll be living with it for probably half a year. I know I'm not starting it until June. So, I'm not yet at any sort of real deadline to force me into a choice. But, the calendar pages keep on flipping. Hopefully, next post, a decision.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write: Part Four

Today, the two most likely candidates for my next novel.

Cherry Red Rocket Ship: About a century from now, the world has been transformed by contact with the Thardexians, a race of alien shape-shifters who are unfailingly benign and generous in sharing their technology. They stay off Earth, since they're environmentally conscientious enough not to alter our biosphere to their liking. Mars, however, is a perfectly viable planet not being used, so they've built big domed cities there to thardaform into pleasant environments. They don't need the whole planet, so they've shared their tech so that humans can also settle the planet. In fact, humans have now colonized several Jovian and Saturnian moons, as well as our own moon, and have ambitious plans to cool Venus and make it viable for colonization.

Trade with the Thardexians is mostly intellectual property, with the Thardexians being especially interested in cultural imports. They love bluegrass, ice cream, Bollywood movies, and Russian novels. The one thing they have a problem with is coffee. And the problem is they can't get enough of it. Thardexians love the stuff. I gives them a high that makes crack seem tame. So high, in fact, that coffee addicts abandon their duties and forget their morals and generally lose interest in anything beyond where they're going to get their next cup of coffee.

So, of course, the Thardexian have convinced the governments of earth to outlaw the production and consumption of coffee if the want to continue having trade relations with them. And, of course, a huge organized crime black market has arisen to grow and smuggle coffee, both to the Thardexians and to earthies who can't live without the stuff.

The novel follows Remy, a young coffee smuggler who gets pulled over by the cops while smuggling half a pound of coffee beans. In a panic, he swallows the bag of beans he's carrying. The cops had only pulled him over for a busted nav signal, and would have let him go with just a ticket if he hadn't thrown up beans all over their uniforms.

Now, Remy's in jail and he knows his days are numbered. The cops doped him up on truth endorphins and he's spilled his guts, both literally and figuratively. The head honcho of the local drug cartel has a zero tolerance policy for snitches. Talk to the cops, and he'll twist off your head. Which he can do easily, since he's a twelve foot tall cyborg gorilla veteran of the moon wars named Space Gorilla Max.

Remy has to get out of town. In fact, he needs to get off the planet, even out of the solar system if he wants to avoid having his head mounted about SGM's fireplace. So, when he's released from jail due to a computer error, he races to the nearest spaceport and hotwires the first rocket ship he sees--the bright cherry red chrome bedecked pimp rocket that belongs to Space Gorilla Max. He takes it to Mars to see his old girlfriend, Suzanne, a female thardexian with a coffee problem who broke up with him when she started her twelve step program. Apparently, her sponsor felt that dating a coffee smuggler wasn't conducive to her remaining clean. Remy is hoping Suzanne will help him get to Thardex, far beyond Space Gorilla Max's reach. Grand adventure ensues as they romp around the solar system, with both gorilla goons and law enforcement in hot pursuit. Lots of quirky characters and settings, lots of madcap humor, tons of action sequences.

I really want to write this book. I think it would be fun to write and fun to read. Playful, with a (hopefully) interesting political edge, and a chance to comment on just about any cultural element I have an opinion on. Also, I really want to infuse the book with a retro SF aesthetic, where the spaceships all have tailfins and people go hiking in Mars in shorts, a tank top, and a big glass dome over their heads. Oh, and did I mention that the Thardexians shape shift to psychically appeal to humans? So that Suzanne is a busty blue-skinned vixen who dresses in silver bikinis and high heels? I want a cover on this thing that would have been at home on any SF magazine published in 1933.

The arguments against writing it: Retro SF is going to be a really tough pitch to a mainstream publisher. I can't point to a successful book published in the last ten years and say, "See? There's a market for this." My last project, Cut Up Girl, is probably an even harder pitch. There aren't a lot of hit superhero novels, and female superhero projects are such a tough sell they can't even get a Wonder Woman movie made.  Cut Up Girl is an awesome novel, and I still have hope that a publisher might recognize the awesome and take a gamble on it, but I wrote it mainly because I wanted to read it, and have enough artistic integrity to commit to a project from time to time without regard for whether or not it can sell. But do I have enough artistic integrity to do this twice in a row? Or should I focus on something slightly more commercial for my next undertaking?

Shooting Star: First, that's a very tentative title. The story would share the premise with my short story "To the East, a Bright Star." A few centuries ago, a rogue brown star passed along the edge of our solar system, disrupting the Oort Cloud. For a long time, nothing happened. Then, a few years back, every other day astronomers announced the discovery of a new comet. Some days, dozens of comets were found. Soon it became obvious that something bad was going to happen. A whole storm of comets was heading our way. With luck, none would hit us.

We weren't lucky. A relatively small one impacted with Antartica. This melted much of the ice sheet, raising sea levels 50 feet in under a month and overloading the atmosphere with water vapor creating an accelerating greenhouse effect, so that temps have risen on average ten degrees in under a decade.

In the midst of all this disaster, the governments of earth have proven pretty effective in managing the crisis. The greatest minds of humanity now work together to keep mankind safe and fed, and for the most part there's a spirit of social cohesiveness, a sense of hope that we can all get through this by working together.

Looming over everything is the doomsday comet heading towards us. A big one, bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Our one hope is to deflect it with a massive nuclear bombardment. Unfortunately, the halo of debris surrounding the core shreds the rockets sent to save us. Other rockets go up, including a last second attempt to guide a largish iron-nickel asteroid to collide with it and shatter it into less damaging chunks. But when this rocket crashes into the asteroid, killing the crew, the President must address the nation and tell them that deflecting the comet is no longer an option. Instead, plan B is a mandatory evacuation to underground bunkers where mankind will wait out the impending comet holocaust.

And in a dive bar in rural Arkansas, a truck driver empties his beer, wipes his mouth, stares at the screen where the President is still speaking, and says, loudly, "That's it. We're fucked." Then he pulls out a pistol and tries to rob the place. This is where the novel opens, and where we meet our protagonist, a young guy name Tony talks the driver out of the robbery, offering him some weed so he can chill out and get into a better head space.

Tony's known pretty much since he was a teenager the date he was going to die, since that's when astronomers announced the date the comet would strike earth unless it was deflected. He'd had a gut feeling that nothing would work. He doesn't intend to go live in some underground bunker like a prisoner fated never again to see the sun. Instead, the comet is predicted to strike just off what used to be the Outer Banks of North Carolina (now vanished beneath the rising waves). Tony's plan is to get to the coast and climb to the roof of the tallest building he can find on Day Zero and watch what is going to be the most spectacular, albeit brief, fireworks display anyone has ever seen.

The novel would be a journey across a nation falling apart. Tony has some people he'd like to see before the final day, and a few specific provisions he'd like to acquire to make his final moment of life something truly special. Along the way, does everything he can to help people, since he wants to reach the end with a clear conscience, knowing he did all he could to help his fellow men.

Even though civilization is unraveling, one important goal I'd have for this novel would be to write it with as little violence as possible. I think my current body of work reflects a broader cultural bias that adventure equals action and action equals violence. Every book I've written to date buys into this assumption. And, don't get me wrong, I love me some art based on this premise. Turning to my left, I've got a row of superhero graphic novels, easily two dozen of them, and I guarantee you there's not a one featuring a story where no one gets punched. I like me some fight scenes. And, I think I'm really good at writing them. Perhaps I'm misjudging my artistic strengths, but I think one of my strong points is that I write a mean fight. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any book I've written to date isn't built around a climax where the good guys win a physical confrontation with the bad guys.

Why? I've never hit a single person in my life since I was a kid, nor has anyone hit me. Violence just isn't part of my day to day life. Why do I continue building stories around it?

So, Shooting Star will have as little violence as possible, although given the setting I imagine it would be unrealistic that Tony won't encounter some violence. Still, the climax of the book won't be structured around a big fight scene. Nor will the climax of the book be structured around Tony "winning" or even surviving. The book instead will be about living life despite the inevitability of death. I think I touched upon my feelings about mortality in Burn Baby Burn, but Shooting Star would be built around the finite nature of any individual human life, and everything that results from that finite nature, be it kindness or cruelty, joy or despair, loneliness or camaraderie.

Arguments against writing Shooting Star: It's a much bigger break from my existing body of work than Cherry Red Rocket Ship. I don't think this is a novel I can pitch as a "fun read." I'm certain there will be humor, but the tone of the book would be much more serious. While the break down of civilization will give me opportunities to talk about modern culture, my intention would be to skip over trivia and grapple with Big Questions. And, yes, I'm aware of how easily it would be to slide down the slope of these Big Questions into a novel that is a pretentious, masturbatory slog of people giving long speeches about the meaning of life. No one wants to read that; I don't want to write that.

Could I sell this novel? Unlike the retro SF of CRRS, the near future of Shooting Star would be more at home in the modern bookstore. There are, like, a thousand successful novels built around great disasters and the collapse of modern civilization. I think this would be an easier pitch to a mainstream publisher, assuming I can pull it off well. Of course, that's something I have my doubts about. Can I write a novel where I'm not structuring it around what fight scene happens next?

There's also the question of what I owe my current readers. Presumably, the people reading my current books like all my elaborate fight scenes, and probably like the fact that, for the most part, my protagonists triumph in the end. Will they follow me into such a radically different storyline?

So, here are my two candidates. Cherry Red Rocket Ship makes my brain feel lively when I think about it, until I think about the fact that I'll probably never see it published. Shooting Star fills me with just a tiny bit of dread, but probably has a clearer path to publication, and has the potential to be a more enduring artistic statement. On the other hand, CRRS has a goddamn space gorilla. Christ almighty, I want to write about a space gorilla. But, on the other other hand, mortality. How can I call myself an artist if I don't at least try to grapple with such an imposing thematic foe?

Tomorrow: How I'm choosing between the two.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part Three

Today's category are novels I have every intention of writing, but am reluctant to start for business reasons:

Soulless, Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse: The novel opens twenty years after the events of Greatshadow. Tempest, the Dragon Lord of Hell, has unleashed an army of the damned upon the world. The primal dragons most aligned with humanity have fallen, and the ones hostile to mankind unleash waves of destruction. In a climatic final battle, Stagger, Primal Spirit of the Sun, falls to the forces of evil. As eternal darkness falls, Rott, the Dragon of Death, wakes for his final meal.

And that's the first chapter. Of course, we know from previous books that one person survives the end times--the Black Swan, who once more travels into the past in an effort to halt the apocalypse. This time, her plan to save the world centers on the daughter of Stagger and Infidel, a child conceived in the spirit world, who possesses vast powers. Of course, she also possesses a very opinionated, very protective mother, who's never much liked the Black Swan. Hijinks ensue. Also tragedies. Lots and lots of tragedies.

Meanwhile, Sorrow, Slate, and the Romers are still in hell, with the enigmatic Walker as their guide. Together, they must cross the surreal landscape of the netherworld in search of the soul of Lord Stark Tower, the man Slate is cloned from. Can Slate locate his missing soul and redeem it? In doing so, can he and the others find a path to lead them out of hell and back to the land of the living? And, if they do find the path, will there be a living world to return to if when the Black Swan fails once more?

If you haven't read the first three books of the Dragon Apocalypse, I imagine this synopsis just sounds like eye-glazing fantasy mumbo jumbo. If you have read the Dragon Apocalypse, you're probably thinking, "Yeah. I want that."

And I want to write it! But, here's the legal reality: Solaris still owns all rights to the first three books. There's a chance I can get the rights reverted to me around the end of this year... assuming the books don't see a spike in sales. Releasing a fourth book independently of Solaris might cause a spike that would cause Solaris to hold onto the rights longer. So, while I could write the book now, economically it makes more sense to hold out until the rights to the first three books are controlled by me again. Then I can release new ebook editions off all three books, make Greatshadow completely free and advertise the heck out of it to bring in new fans, and reap the full financial rewards of my efforts. While I hate, truly hate, leaving existing fans of this series hanging, the economics of publishing argue for me waiting at least another 8 months before I put my time and energy into this novel.

The Adventures of a Big Ape/Silent Seven: A sequel to Cut Up Girl. There's a human/chimp hybrid in the series named Harry who's Cut Up Girl's best friend through the first novel. He goes through several hero identities, first as Humanzee, then Monkey Boy, Monkey Man, Sock Monkey, and finally Big Ape, after a regenerative drug given to save his life causes him to grow bigger than a gorilla. Harry's an interesting character because his attitude is mostly optimistic through the first book despite his circumstances being much worse than Cut Up Girl's. He's never going to pass as human, but instead of being alienated and mopey about how alone he is, he throws himself with a whole heart into being a costumed crime fighter. At the end of Cut Up Girl, he has to quit his current super-team. This book would follow his adventures as he's recruited into the mysterious Silent Seven, a group of super humans with the somewhat sinister but socially necessary mission of uncovering the secrets of other costumed heroes. Just what these secrets are being used for isn't clear to Harry; he's just happy to once again have a job where he gets to punch people. But when the Silent Seven investigates one of his oldest friends, the hero known as Atomahawk, Harry discovers a dark secret that will change everything the world believes about its greatest heroes.

This is another book I feel like I could start typing tomorrow. I've got some really cool ideas, and if I wind up self publishing Cut Up Girl, I'd like to have the sequel ready to release quickly. But, there is an "if" in that sentence. Right now, my agent is considering whether or not he'll represent the book. If he does, and the book winds up in the hands of a publisher, I'd rather wait to see if there are things they want me to change about the first novel before I'm half way through the second. So, again, it's on the back burner.

There's one more reason I'm not going to write one of these novels next, a more important one than simple economics. Both of these books would be easy for me to write. At least, as easy as any book can be. I know the characters, I know the worlds, I've been thinking about the plot lines for a while. Of course, both books will present challenges. Once I get into them, I'll quickly run into logistical issues of trying to tie dozens of plot lines together within the constraints of my established continuity. But, these are challenges I'm comfortable handling. And, bluntly, while I'm not under contract, I think it's time for me to try a novel that makes me at least a little uncomfortable. I want to do something new, to push myself to write stuff I haven't tried before, so I can continue to hone my craft as a writer.

So, next up: The two books I'm actually going to choose between to write this summer.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part Two

I've no shortage of ideas on what to write next. These ideas fall into three broad categories:

Today I'll look at novels I could write, but probably won't, at least not soon:

Frankenstein's Daughters: The Frankenstein monster has been busy since last seen in the eponymous novel. With his unique biology able to regenerate him from any injury, the monster is effectively immortal, and even today lurks in the shadows of civilization. Always torn between his hatred of humanity and his desire for companionship, the Big F has taken human wives over the centuries. As a consequence, he's had many offspring. His sons are always monsters, both mentally and physically, hideous creatures with violent natures. But, his daughters look completely normal, and pass for ordinary humans, though they share many of their father's attributes of physical strength and toughness and his mental attributes of genius and an nearly inexhaustible well of hatred for mankind. The daughters are protective of their father and male siblings, and during the centuries they've worked themselves into positions of great influence in order to advance their father's long term plan to wipe humanity from the earth and replace it with a race of his own kind.

But, there is a secret society who knows the truth about the Monster's schemes and has worked together to oppose them. The novel would explore the life of the Monster's youngest daughter as she matches wits with the secret society's newest monster hunter.

Pros: One of my more commercial ideas. Built in audience familiar with Frankenstein lore, would be told either as a modern urban fantasy, or set earlier and told as a Gothic steampunk novel.

Cons: My indecision on the setting is a bad sign that this novel hasn't matured to readiness yet. Ideally, setting, character, and plot are all bound together so tightly you can't have one without the others. Also, I hardly ever read urban fantasy or steam punk, so perhaps I shouldn't barge into these genre's expecting great results. On the other hand, lack of actual knowledge on a subject has never held me back before!

The real reason I probably won't write this novel any time soon is that it sounds very much like the premise of any number of novels you could already pick up in the fantasy section of a bookstore. And, yes, that means I would have a real shot of pitching it to a publisher. I just feel like I need a more challenging subject, something that sounds dumb as hell when people hear about it, then turns out to be brilliant. You know, like the rest of my books! (Ahem.)

Orthogonal: A man is confronted in his living room by a gun-wielding stranger who looks just like him. The stranger asks a lot of questions about key events in his life, looking pleased with some answers, dismayed with others. There's a struggle, the stranger is shot, and while examining his body the man discovers what looks like a smart phone. He tries to turn it on to see if he can identify the stranger, and instead triggers a dimensional warp that places him in an alternative universe where his life has gone horribly awry. The stranger was him from this dimension, in this life a physicist, a subject he'd been fascinated by, but didn't pursue at his father's urging to study law. The physicist version of himself has built a device to hop between alternate universes looking for a life better than the one he's ruined, with the intention of killing that universe's copy of himself and taking over his life. Now, our hero has to return home, but it's no easy task when there are an infinite number of alternate worlds to investigate. In his journey across dimensions, he discovers many possible ways the events in his life could have flowed differently, and is forced to grapple with the question of whether anything in his life has meaning if every possible version of himself exists.

Pros: I really want to write a serious science fiction novel. I think there's a lot of artistic potential in this topic.
Cons: I'm still iffy on far too many details to feel ready to write this. Also, I don't know that I yet have an answer to the big philosophical question. What if every possibility is true somewhere? If every good thing you've ever done is negated in the multiverse by an equal number of evil things? How would you find meaning, other than just shrugging and focusing on what's in front of you and pretending you don't know about all the other yous? When I feel like I have an answer, I'll feel like I have a novel.

Next entry: Novels I'll almost certainly write, but not yet due to practical considerations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part One

Last Sunday night, I emailed my latest revision of Bad Wizard to Antimatter Press. This was a post editorial draft for the high level, story content changes. I probably cut about 10,000 words of old stuff and added about as much new stuff. There was other material I shifted around, and the story now has a prologue and epilogue. In the earlier draft, I had a scene, where Dorothy Gale first tries on the silver slippers five years after she's returned from Oz and uses them to travel Paris. This happened in flashback and really messed up the flow of the story around it. On the other hand, I couldn't find a good place for Dorothy to just tell her story first hand, at least not this particular element of it. Changing it to an epilogue solved a second structural problem for the novel. In earlier drafts, the book doesn't open in Dorothy's POV. There are good things and bad things about this earlier choice, and hopefully the epilogue mitigates the bad and elevates the good. 

The biggest bad part of not starting in her POV was that it might lead some readers to think that the novel was going to be about a completely different character. The biggest good part was that when Dorothy does appear, the reader should be intrigued about her identity, piecing it together from visual clues. But, those clues would have been obvious to someone familiar with the book, not someone who only knew of Oz from the movie, where the slippers are ruby and Dorothy hasn't been kissed on the forehead by the Witch of the North, leaving a visible mark. Now, there won't be a mystery about who Dorothy is, so the reader can instead focus on the mystery of what she'd doing and why she'd doing it, a mystery that pays off in the following chapter. 

There will still be one more draft of the novel, following line editing, then of course there will be galleys. But, when I arrived home from work Monday and sat down at my computer, I had the strangest sensation. For the first time since I turned in Dragonseed almost six years ago, I don't have a next novel lined up to work on, nor am I immediately needing to plunge into revisions of an already drafted novel. (Yet. I will be revising Cut Up Girl eventually, but it's not urgent, no deadline.)

The sensation is both a great relief and more than a little unsettling. 

The relief is easy enough to understand. It's late spring. If I'm not stuck in front of a computer, I can be out hiking or biking or-dare I dream?-fishing. In a more sedentary mode, maybe I can catch up on some of the movies I've missed in the last couple of years. People get vacations from other jobs. Why should writing be an exception? 

It's a little unsettling because, writing is more than just a job for me. It's built into my structure, it's what I think about constantly, it's part of my identity. If I didn't write, I don't have any idea how I would know myself. Who am I if I'm not the person typing away at stories in the evening? Writing is my drug of choice. It takes me away from the world, alters my mind and mood, makes me neglect important stuff, but also gives me highs I can never fully explain to anyone else. If I go too long without writing, I get withdrawal symptoms. My real fear is... what if I got through the withdrawal, came out the other side free of my need to write, free of my dependence on the habit? I spend my days pondering "what ifs." This is a "what if" I'm terrified of contemplating too deeply. 

So, I need a novel to write. In the next few days, I'll talk about my candidate novels, and go through the pros and cons of each, and try to document my process for making a decision. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast


Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

I gave a talk at Orange County High School earlier, discussing my experiences as a writer. Being a writer isn't all that hard. You just have to be able to mentally reconcile six completely contrary truths at once:

1. Always be original.
There's nothing new under the sun
.

Every story idea you'll ever have has already been told. But, the easiest way to appear to be original is to stuff your head with as many books and stories as possible. Then, you can be aware of how your ideas are similar to what has been done before, and consciously choose to steer your stories in a direction that you haven't seen anyone yet try. New ideas are as rare as new elements on the periodic table. But, a few dozen basic elements can be rearranged and combined into a nearly infinite number of chemicals. You can make fresh ideas from combining and rearranging old ones.

2. Writing requires confidence, almost arrogance.
 Writing requires doubt and humility.


You have to believe in yourself to be a writer. You have to think that what you're writing is good enough to stand out from the millions of other stories being written at any given time. You have to be able to ignore your critics and have faith that, in the long run, what you are writing will matter. At the same time, you have to doubt every word you put on the page. Always assume that what you've just written can be made better. And when people are generous enough to offer criticism, listen to it. Don't be defensive. Be open to anything that can help you improve your craft.

 3. You have to learn the rules and follow them.
 You have to break the rules.


Commercially successful stories follow formulas. A hero you care about has an goal you agree is important, faces obstacles and adversaries in pursuit of the goal, and either succeeds and improves the world or fails but improves himself. 90% of all stories published follow this broad formula.

But, once you know the 'rules' of how a story works, you can figure out how to break them. In Bitterwood, I broke the 'hero you care about' part of the formula by making Bitterwood himself a bitter, hateful man who was very difficult to love. In Burn Baby Burn, I broke the formula by giving Sunday a goal of overthrowing Western civilization, which most readers would agree would be a bad thing. Breaking the formula comes at a price. You're going to turn off some readers. But, you probably won't bore them.

 4. The best writing comes from inspiration and enthusiasm.
 The best writing comes from long, tedious slogs through draft after draft.


I bang out a lot of my first drafts in a white hot blaze of creativity where I can put a crazy number of words on the page in a very short time. Burn Baby Burn, seven days! Cut Up Girl, four days! It's like I have lightning in my brain. It feels great!

But people rarely see my first drafts. My published work is a result of numerous drafts, probably never fewer than seven. Each pass refines and changes the work a little, and each pass gets both easier and harder. It's easier, because the story takes shape and becomes something you're proud of. It gets harder, because the mistakes you're looking for get tinier and tinier.

Right now, I'm doing my 6th draft of Bad Wizard. I've changed the opening lines from:

George “Grinder” Greer was a little drunk as he stumbled up the steps of the State, War, and Navy Building in the dead of night. He hoped to rectify his situation by becoming a lot drunk.

To:

George “Grinder” Greer stumbled up the steps of the State, War, and Navy Building in the dead of night, a little drunk. His mission was to become a lot drunk.

The second example is tighter. The contrast between a little drunk and a lot drunk is closer. 'Stumbled' is now the first verb you hit instead of 'was.' To my ear, the second version is plainly better. But the first version was perfectly acceptable. It wasn't wrong. It just wasn't as tight as it could have been. These small tweaks take forever to find. The reward for doing so feels small; it's not as if a reader saw the original version and can congratulate you for the improvement. It's tedious, but it's the where the real craft of writing comes into play.

If I wasn't trying to be period accurate, I would just call the building he's going into the "War Building." I may yet change it to George “Grinder” Greer stumbled up the steps in the dead of night, a little drunk. His mission was to become a lot drunk.  Then introduce the name of the building later. This will haunt me for days. And it's just two lines, out of a novel with 50 chapters. And I'll agonize over tweaks like this in probably every chapter.

 5. The best way to write a good novel is to write a terrible one.

This is similar to the last rule. Your good final draft will grow from an ugly first draft. But it's also true of your whole writing career. While there are writers who write one novel and see it go to print, for most of us, I think you have to write at least one novel that will never be published just to discover all the things you don't know about writing a novel. It might seem demotivational to think that you're writing something that can never be published, but if you look at it in the context of a long career, writing a practice novel makes a lot of sense.

 6. You'll know you're on the path to success if you have a lot of failures.

Fifteen years ago, all I had to show for my efforts as a writer was a big stack of rejection letters. I wrote at least fifty stories that I never sold to major markets. I accumulated easily a hundred rejections, maybe even two hundred. Now, I sell probably 90% of short stories that I write. For the sake of using round numbers, let's say that it was my 100th submission that finally sold professionally. If I'd given up at rejection 99, finally admitting to myself that, wow, I'm just not good at this, that would have been the end. Submission 100 would never have sold.

If you're a writer trying to break in, your magic number is somewhere out there. Maybe it's 5 submissions. Maybe it's 50, or 500. Yes, each rejection letter represents a failure. But, if those failures grow into a giant pile, excellent. Stand on top of that pile; you're closer to your goal than ever.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boredom. My Secret Weapon.

I've pitched a couple ideas to my agent for my next novel. I'd love to get started on the fourth Dragon Apocalypse book, but, strategically, it doesn't make sense to put it on the market before the rights to the first three books revert back to me. There's a chance that could happen later this year. Then, I can return to that world, and tell the story of the Black Swan's final attempt to change the fate of the world. Stagger will be there, and Infidel, and their daughter, and all the characters I left in hell at the end of Witchbreaker. It will be awesome. And it is coming. Just not this year, alas.

Meanwhile, I'm busy developing my next book. Though "busy" is a bit of an oxymoron. Because, at this stage, the most important thing I can do to build my book is to make sure I'm bored.

It's surprisingly difficult to be bored. I have internet enabled devices at my fingertips everywhere I go. I can pluck books out of thin air at a whim off of Amazon, I can listen to any song I want any time I want, I have thousands and thousands of television shows I can stream with a few clicks of a button. Even in my car, I have audio books and satellite radio. There's not a single waking moment where I ever need to be bored.

And that's really dangerous. Because, for me, boredom is a valuable commodity. I daydream when I'm bored. My mind wanders. I put stuff together that I've never put together before. My imaginary friends start talking to one another. I eavesdrop.

So, I now have to deliberately make time in my schedule for boredom. Long bike rides are good. I don't listen to headphones since I want to be aware of cars, so I'm mostly alone with my thoughts. Long car trips are good. I can turn off the radio and tune into the plays in my head. Shorter snips of boredom can be grabbed here and there, in the shower, when I'm cooking, while I'm doing something repetitive at work.

Writing a 100,000 words requires me to sit and type for 100 hours. But, to get those 100,000 words, I have to put in almost an equal number of hours of daydreaming. The books I'm going to write next, I didn't just think of them yesterday. They're based on ideas I had years ago, ideas that have had time to mature. Now, I'm trying to go deeper, thinking of specific scenes, trying to understand my characters better, thinking of odd places they can visit. A month from now, when I finally sit down and start typing... it will all mutate and warp and turn into something I never imagined. It will change because it will be more interesting for me to change it, because I'll be bored of my original ideas by then. I couldn't get there, though, if I didn't have a huge mountain of daydreams to sift through.

Now you know. Boredom. It's my secret weapon.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Full Nobody & Burn Baby Covers Revealed!


Hey, remember, like, a month ago when I mentioned I'd be revealing the full covers for Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn soon? Have I mentioned that time really flies when you're writing a book? I've spent the last month hunkered down in imagination land, reading out loud my latest superhero novel Cut Up Girl so that I could get it sent off to my agent. I had a good deal of editing to do, putting in new scenes and smoothing out continuity errors created by a few simple changes near the start of the novel. But, I emailed the manuscript to my agent a couple of days ago, so now I can do stuff like making a few posts to my sadly neglected blogs.

One irony of blogging is that I started these blogs to promote my writing back when I was still producing about one book every couple of years. Then, boom, my output of novels suddenly exploded, so that now I'm striving to write two novels a year. I have more work I need to promote, but when I get locked into a novel, my brain won't let me spend time on much else.

But, enough whining! Look at those awesome covers! I think the backs are actually my favorite parts. The legion of headless Sundays launching from Pangea, the terrifying eyes of Pit, the tubes of prisoners, and Baby Gun looming above the skyline, are all images from the novels that I think capture the blend of the surreal and pulpy that I'm aiming for in my work. Seriously, they're gorgeous. You should buy two copies of each book, just so you can display both the fronts and the backs on your shelves. (Okay, I'm probably the only one who will actually do that. But, still, buy the books. You know you want them! And if you don't there's some geek in your life who does. The world would be a kinder, gentler place if we all gave more books as gifts!)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Retro Nobody and Burn Baby Burn Covers Unveiled!


Behold, the new front covers for Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn from artist Jeremy Cavin. The covers have been designed with the new print versions in mind, so that when they are sitting next to each other on a table they combine to form one image. The covers are already uploaded to the ebook editions, but it may be next week before the physical books are available for shipping. When they're good to go, I'll show off the back covers of the books, which I think are just as awesome as the fronts!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Coming soon....

I've been working with ace artist Jeremy Cavin on new covers for my superhero books. Here's the blue line sketches to whet your appetites:
 


 
I should be ready for the full unveiling on Monday! Watch this space!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

First Monday Classics: HG Wells and the Island of Dr. Moreau


Join me and authors Clay Griffith and Nathan Kotecki on Monday, March 3, as we help the Orange County Library launch a new series dedicated to the discussion of classic authors and books. The plan currently is to meet at 6:30 on the first Monday of each month for March, April, and May to discuss a different author, with a focus on one of their better known books.

For March, we'll be discussing HG Wells and the Island of Dr, Moreau. Until last year, I'd never actually read HG Wells. His four core novels of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and The Island of Dr. Moreau have been so heavily adapted and borrowed from I felt like I knew the books without having read them. I first read The Time Machine and was impressed by the ideas of the book, but found it to be a rather thin read when it came to plot and characters. Still, it was well written, in a style I thought was quite easy for a modern reader to get through, so I decided to try a second novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Wow. The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. The characters are complex, the plot unfolds at a methodical but engaging pace, and they style is the model of clarity. What lifts this book beyond the merely good into the realm of great art are the themes Wells tackles. Man's relationship to nature, man's relationship with God, the exploration of the line between man and beast and the many ways in which it can be blurred... you can't read this book without thinking through the moral questions placed before you. It's the kind of book I longed to talk about the second I closed the covers, which led me to propose this series discussing classic books to the library.

While the monthly discussions will be led by local authors, my goal is to have the audience share their thoughts and experiences with the authors in question. I want it to feel like a bunch of friends getting together to talk about favorite books.

Coming in April: Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters

The ebook edition of Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is now available for purchase.
 
KAIJU RISING: Age of Monsters is a collection of 23 stories focused around the theme of strange creatures in the vein of Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and more. The anthology opens with a foreword by JEREMY ROBINSON, author of Project Nemesis, the highest selling Kaiju novel in the United States since the old Godzilla books—and perhaps even more than those. Then, from New York Times bestsellers to indie darlings KAIJU RISING: Age of Monsters features authors that are perfectly suited for writing larger than life stories, including:

Peter Clines, Larry Correia, James Lovegrove, Gini Koch (as J.C. Koch), James Maxey, Jonathan Wood, C.L. Werner, Joshua Reynolds, David Annandale, Jaym Gates, Peter Rawlik, Shane Berryhill, Natania Barron, Paul Genesse & Patrick Tracy, Nathan Black, Mike MacLean, Timothy W. Long, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Kane Gilmour, Peter Stenson, Erin Hoffman, Sean Sherman, Howard Andrew Jones (The Chronicles of Sword and Sand tie-in), Edward M. Erdelac (Dead West tie-in), James Swallow (Colossal Kaiju Combat tie-in)

My story in the book is Fall of Babylon. Instead of drawing on monster movies for inspiration, I retell the Book of Revelation as a Kaiju battle, with the Lamb of God, the Whore of Babylon, and the Old Great Dragon duking it out on the streets of Manhattan. A good time is had by all, except those who are slaughtered by the Four Horsemen and the 200 million angels charged with killing a third of mankind. It's the end times as you've never seen them before. Buy today!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Space Opera versus Epic Fantasy

I was on a panel about epic fantasy at Illogicon last weekend that left me thinking a bit about parallels the genres of space opera and epic fantasy. If you're unfamiliar with the terms, space opera is the genre that probably springs to mind in most movie goers when they hear the term "science fiction." Star Trek and Star Wars would fit in this mold, big adventure stories with space ships zooming around the galaxy, but where the science part of the science fiction equation isn't terribly faithful to reality. Lots of things exist not because they make technological sense, but because the creators want every day items to be "futuristic." So, instead of characters fighting with a sword, they fight with a light saber. Instead of travelling city streets in a car, you ride on hover bikes. Space ships don't worry about g-forces and orbits, you just press a few buttons and zoom to wherever you need to be.

Epic fantasy is the genre most of my novels have been published in. In general, epic fantasy is set in a pseudo-medieval setting with traditions drawn from European history. Magic plays a role, and usually fantastical creatures like dragons and ogres are present.

The parallel that struck me last weekend is that both genres seemed to be built around a disappointment with reality. Actual space travel is slow and difficult and unlikely to take us anywhere we'll find exotic alien kingdoms where humans can display their innate superiority. Space opera is the romance of the future stripped clean of facts. One of the founding works of science fiction spelled out in rather gruesome detail why we'll never have Trek-like adventures on other worlds. In War of the Worlds, HG Wells realized that, if aliens ever came here, they'd have no built in resistance to our microbes, and would pretty quickly find themselves digested and putrefied by bacteria. But the flip side of this is also true: If we ever went to a biologically active alien world, we'd have to be completely encased in suits that protected us from the environment. It's not just that we couldn't have Kirkian trysts with buxom alien ladies because we'd risk space cooties. We couldn't breathe the air or drink the water of any world with a biosphere. The thing that would make it interesting to visit would also guarantee it would be fatal to visit. (With a few caveats; it's possible we'd find a world where the biology isn't built around water and carbon, and microbes that went after silicon and ammonia beings might be uninterested in us. But such landscapes would almost certainly be fatal to us in other ways.)

Space opera is a genre that yearns for a future that can never be.

But, epic fantasy is a genre that seems to yearn for a past that never was. Our own history is full of dramatic tales of intrigue between kings and priests and explorers. But, all the magical creatures of our fairy tales just turned out to be, well, fairy tales. There were no dragons to slay, no witches turning princes into toads, no wizards building golems to defend their cities.  Since our own history has failed us, we now construct these fantasy histories. We know they aren't our real past, but writers earn bonus points from making their worlds "realistic," and integrating as much historical detail as the story will bear.

None of this is a slam against space opera or epic fantasy. Escapism is a perfectly legitimate use of art. I, for one, have been quite content writing about dragon-centric ecosystems, and hope that readers have found these excursions enjoyable. Still, it will be interesting to see if I can make use of these insights in designing future novels.