There's not been a lot of activity on this blog since I became Piedmont Laureate. I write a blog at piedmontlaureate.com that I update every two weeks, always on writing related subjects. I don't have a lot of writing updates to go into here, since I've not written any fiction since I finished the first draft of the fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel back in April. I've got a lot of laureate events lined up for the fall and into early December, so, realistically, it will be early next year before I focus on my own writing again.
While I haven't done a lot of writing this year, I do feel like I've got a decent amount of reading done since April. I've reread some books that were important to me, like Winesburg, Ohio and Huckleberry Finn. I've discovered Thomas Hardy after somehow missing him all my life, and have now read Far from the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Currently, I'm about 75% of the way through the Brothers Karamazov.
Karamazov has been both a delight and a slog. Oddly, some of my favorite parts have been chapters where absolutely nothing happens, and it's just one of the brothers giving a long monologue on philosophy. Dostoevsky knows how to ask truly monumental questions, like, if God exists, is there any evidence whatsoever that he is loving or just? I never feel as if he's stacking the deck in favor of one answer. The slog part has been that occasionally he seems to forget which book he's writing, and goes off on a tangent exploring the life of some minor character in sidetracks that last half a dozen chapters. If the book had no plot whatsoever, I could just roll with the flow. But, there is a plot, which makes the long diversions into stuff unrelated to the plot aggravating.
Hardy has been my favorite discovery of the summer. Holy cow, this guy can write! He has, for me, a nearly perfect blend of setting and character, with a marvelous gift for weaving in a ton of detail without bogging down the flow of his tale. I'd been told his works were somewhat bleak--which they are--but hadn't been told they were also funny. He's got a wonderful gift for banter between his characters and a gift for irony. Hardy also has a gift for capturing beauty. His descriptions of the English countryside are breathtaking. Then, amid all this beauty, he will systematically destroy a character you to like and admire, tearing away their dignity, finances, and health item by item until they are brought to utter ruin and die without redemption. And Lord help you if you're an infant in a Thomas Hardy novel. You've got the life expectancy of a gerbil, and not a healthy one. Hardy definitely had a lot of anger toward societal institutions. You can see he views the morality of his day as immoral to the core, and the church, government, and even colleges as being designed to reward the undeserving elite and punish the striving poor. I see in his writing precursors to great social justice novels like Grapes of Wrath or the Jungle. I intend to read more of his novels when I'm done with Karamazov. I'm still hoping he's got at least one baby born in the course of a book who makes it out alive.
Even when I'm writing, I try to keep reading, but it's been an interesting experience reading during half a year of not actively working on a book of my own. I've pretty much been working on one writing project or another without a break for close to fifteen years, so often when I read I'm placing things in the context of what I'm currently working on. I'll hit a line in what I'm reading that reminds me of something a character in my current work might say of feel and the next thing I know I'm off in my imagination, completely losing the thread of the book before me. It's kind of nice to make it through some of these big, meaty novels without that distraction. That said, I'm definitely finding inspiration as well. My work has never shied away from asking big questions, but I've always made sure that I'd follow those deep questions with scenes of intense action or comedy, almost as if I feel like I owe my reader a treat for forcing her to sit through a few paragraphs of philosophy. I've written a lot of entertaining books. But, have I ever truly attempted to write a great one?
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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!