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.




Saturday, December 31, 2016

366,317 words for 2016 + Covenant First Draft Finished! Plus, musings on my first full year as an indy author.

Yesterday, I finished Chapter 34 of my Covenant first draft, bringing my total word count for the year to 366,317, plus whatever the word count of this blog post turns out to be. I wish I could say that all 366,317 words were first draft, but I started out the year with a rewrite of the fourth Dragon Apocalypse book Cinder, which got counted in ever decreasing percentages I went through multiple drafts. There's also some bonus points in there for bring Dragon Apocalypse: the Complete Collection to market. This collection has far exceeded my expectations, selling out twice at conventions, first at the Fayetteville Comiccon, then at the NC Comiccon. I don't know why I should be surprised by this. It's got a great cover and the physical book is probably my best designed yet. When I first started publishing my own work, I had the basic skills needed to get a book into print, but now that I've handled a dozen titles, I'm actually putting out books that I think are probably formatted at or above the level of quality of things I've had put out by actual publishers.

The one downside of being my own publisher is that it's time consuming. It subtracts from the hours I should be writing or at least daydreaming about new books and keeps my attention on stuff I've already written. I felt it this fall especially while I was writing the Covenant first draft, since I was also designing marketing material for the Dragon Apocalypse to use at conventions, as well as experimenting with Facebook ads. The time for business and marketing side of being a publisher has to come from somewhere, and in my case it came from the daydreaming and creative side of being a writer.

I'm not complaining about his, by the way. I knew when I made the decision a few years back to fully transition into indy publishing that it was going to eat up a lot of time and force me to learn new skills. A lot of these new skills bring creative satisfaction. For the person who's never designed a book cover, you might look at the Dragon Apocalypse cover and think, what's the big deal? It's seven words stuck over art done by someone else. But the reality is that this is the end product of easily twenty hours or more of labor. First, I went through a lot of initial sketches of a layout before deciding what I wanted from the artist. Then she and I had multiple drafts to consider, and feedback on increasingly small details as the cover developed. Then, once I had the art, the text work I'd planned to use just didn't seem to look right on the cover. So, I had to go through at least a dozen different font variations, and once I found the fonts that looked balanced, I spent hours tweaking the blend of red to yellow in the letters to give it the right fiery glow. It's a lot of work spent on seven words, but the end result is creative satisfaction.

Still, I wasn't just a publisher this last year. I did write two complete novel first drafts, Big Ape and Covenant. Writing two novels in a year isn't shabby. I go into 2017 with three unpublished novels in the pipeline, the raw material I'll need for a great year of publishing.

Looking back, I'm no longer sure that my infatuation with using word count to track my writing career is the best measure. When I was only an author and other people were dedicated to publishing and promoting my books, word count was a decent tools. Now, since I'm partially a publisher, I'm concerned with other metrics, like how many books I'm selling and how much money is coming in. I'm please to report that these metrics also provide me with a good deal of satisfaction. I haven't added up the totals yet, but 2016 was probably the most money I've earned from writing in the last seven or eight years. I did have a better year all the way back when I got advances for Dragonforge and Dragonseed in the same year, plus sold foreign rights to these books as well, resulting in a pretty nice influx of cash. But the problem with getting a lot of money from an advance is the advance part of it: You're literally taking money out of your future income. So, with traditional publishing, I'd have years with a lot of money, including money for books not yet written, followed by years with greatly reduced income, since I'd already been paid for the books I was turning in. Once a book was in print it might take years to earn out its advance.

Indy publishing has flipped this formula. Now, I work unpaid up front. I shell out money for covers and ads. Whenever a book comes out, I'm starting in a hole as far as income goes. But, the nice thing is that most of the places I publish ebooks pay me monthly. Once I get past my initial expenses, the books turn into a monthly flow of revenue that is easy to track, easy to budget, and paid like clockwork.

For 2017, in addition to bringing more superhero novels into print, I'm planning to try out even more marketing venues. Goodread ads seem like they'd be worth a shot, and I will probably be bringing out the Butterfly Cage books as Kindle Select at first, which will open up direct advertising on Amazon. BookBub also has a paid advertising program for non-discounted books I want to check out.

Looking past 2017, right now I'm 70% certain I'll return to the Bitterwood universe to write another novel or two sometime in 2018. Whenever I go back and look over my Bitterwood stuff, I realize how much I miss some of the characters. It's still my most fully realized fictional world, and there are still plenty of stories that could be told there.

Okay. At some point in that last paragraph, I hit 1000 words for this post. So, I close out 2016 with 367,317 words written.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a nap.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Covenant Update, 366 update

November was a first for me. Just to see if I could do it, I wrote something on my new novel every day, a tricky prospect given that Thanksgiving is a multiday event involving my two families. Still, I made a goal that I'd always write at least 100 words, and I really don't think I ever did less than 400 words except on the very last day of the month when I got to 100 words, got up from my computer, and spent the rest of the evening reading a book.

My results were dreadful. I feel like I had lower weekly word counts for most of the month. Partly because I'd decided to write in little segments, I found myself daydreaming about the next paragraph or two, then stopping. Ordinarily, I plan out entire chapters, or multiple chapters, in my head before I sit down. And since I was writing every day, I didn't feel a particular sense of urgency that was propelling me to sit for long sessions in my writing chair. If I got to 1000 words, I felt pretty good.

Still, I'm already 20 chapters into the Covenant. Admittedly, these are really short chapters. The longest is 3000 words, but plenty are shorter than 1500. I'm falling back into the same streamlined, fast paced style I used for Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. Lots of dialogue, plenty of action, but barely any description of settings or characters. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Short chapters keep the reader plowing ahead. I just finished reading Song of Solomon, which was a fantastic book, but it had long, long chapters, which meant that when I was reading in bed it was easy to flip ahead, see I had another fifteen pages to go in the chapter, and give up on that chapter for the night. If I'm looking ahead and seeing five or six pages, I keep reading.

As readers of this blog know, I'm trying to write 366,000 words of fiction this year. As of last weekend, I was at 319,153. 319,153. I've written maybe another 5000 words so far this week. So, about 42,000 to go. And this blog post counts!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Covenant

This week, I started working on a new novel. It's kind of a gear shift from my original plans for the year, but it feels to me like the most logical path forward from now to the end of the year.

The novel is called Covenant. It picks up where Burn Baby Burn leaves off, following the adventures of the superhero team known as the Covenant that formed to capture Pit Geek and Sundancer. The core members are:

Servant: The teams heavy hitter, his cells generate force fields that make him invulnerable. He can also manipulate these force fields to give himself super strength, and since his fields warp time as well as space he can also simulate super speed. As revealed in Burn Baby Burn, Servant has a dark secret--he used to be a supervillain named Ogre. But, he's now a devout Christian, committed to using his God-given talents for the greater good. Underneath his desire to do good, however, are the same anger and abandonment issues that drove him to a life of crime. The struggles between his angels and his demons are one of the big reasons I want to write this book.

Sky-Rider: Sarah Knowbokov, the Thrill from Nobody Gets the Girl, is public enemy #1 due to her involvement with the destruction of Jerusalem. It's a tragedy she was powerless to stop, but it haunts her and drives her to continue fighting the good fight, now in her new identity of Sky-Rider. But Sarah spent many years in hiding before the formation of the Covenant, and has a life independent of her superhero identity. Her struggle to juggle her two lives is my current hook for keeping her interesting

App: App has a teleportation belt that he has to wear constantly to keep from disintegrating into a cloud of subatomic particles. By manipulating the belts programming, he can alter his body to grant himself a wide variety of superpowers.App is the public face of the team, live streaming his adventures and engaging in social media to make sure that the activities of the Covenant are viewed in the best light possible.  But, like his team mates, he's got his own dark secrets, having spent many of his teen years as a homeless junkie after being kicked out of his home for his homosexuality. The tension between his public persona and the privacy he wants to protect are part of the reason I'm interested in his story.

At the moment I'm planning to round out the team with two new members. They're still being crafted, but I definitely know that of them will have the code name of Steam-Dragon.

Why undertake this project instead of continuing to work on my Butterfly Cage books? Three reasons.

  1. My  366 Challenge. I don't want to back into this challenge by finishing the year with a lot of rewriting. I should get close to 100k first draft words out of this project. Add that to my first draft for Big Ape, and that means that half of my word count for the year will be first draft.
  2. This book is just ready. I've been thinking about it since finishing Burn Baby Burn back in 2011. In fact, I've been thinking about elements of this story since Nobody Gets the Girl came out back in 2003. This will be the world's slowest trilogy, but I've known for a long time that this book was going to break out into the world some day.
  3. Marketing. These days, my bestselling books are my collections of Bitterwood and Dragon Apocalypse. When I sell books directly at conventions, people gravitate toward books with big spines. Last week at the Fayetteville ComicCon, I sold 11 copies of my Dragon Apocalypse Collection, far and away my best selling title, with the Bitterwood Collection being my second best selling title. Hopefully I can replicate this with a superhero trilogy.
The only downside is that I could have had Cut Up Girl on sale before the end of the year if I weren't starting on this project. But, I'm not going to be as obsessed about word count in 2017. Next year, I'll be fine if I don't have a single word of first draft and instead just focus on getting books I've already written into print.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Grateful for My Darkness: a #HoldOnToTheLight post


I was damned at the age of thirteen. I belonged to a fundamentalist church. I’d been to Sunday School and two church sermons twice a week my whole life. I spent chunks of my summer in Vacation Bible School and church camps, and was part of scout groups based in my church. I believed in God. I believed that the Bible was the literal word of God, and everything in it was true. I believed I was a sinner, and that God knew my every thought, my every urge, but that was okay. I believed, as well, in the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus, and took comfort in the notion he’d died for my sins, that all was forgiven.

Then, one Sunday School, it was explained that there was one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. While contemplating this revelation, I imagined what one might say that would constitute such a sin. And then I’d done it: I’d thought of a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And God knew my every thought. Thinking a sin was the equivalent of doing it.

I was eternally damned. I was damned, in a church where nearly every sermon brought up the torments of hell, the fiery pits, the unquenchable thirsts, the boils and pestilence and wounds that would never heal.

For people who grew up in a different faith or with faith held at a different intensity, it’s perhaps unfathomable that I would have felt condemned to hell for a thought. I will ask you to trust me when I say that this single moment nearly destroyed me. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t pay attention at school. I lived, day in, day out, with the certainty that I was going to spend eternity in Hell. I couldn’t talk about this with anyone. I felt like a monster, the worst of all possible sinners, worse than a murderer or a thief in the Lord’s eyes.  Unforgiven. Unforgivable. Sometimes, I’d wake from sleep certain that Satan was in the room. Not metaphorically. I was convinced that if I opened my eyes the devil would be there, waiting to take me.

I became withdrawn. Even though I still went to church, I was unable to connect or socialize. My life was over before it ever truly started. 

Fortunately, in my religious household and social circles, no one ever tempted me with booze or drugs. I can see pretty easily that I could have become an addict if these outlets had been close at hand. But I was lucky. The only drug available to ease my suffering was reading. I retreated from the real world into the world of books. I read a lot of comic books, which lead me to read a lot of science fiction novels, which got me started on reading books about actual science. The world explained by science had no need of a creator God, no need of a cosmic judge. Morality and ethics could be explained by evolutionary roots rather than requiring commandments carved into stone. By sixteen, I’d escaped damnation by shifting into atheism. Of course, it was a secret atheism. I couldn’t tell my family. I definitely couldn’t tell people at church. I couldn’t tell people at school, because my secret might spread.

I was still a monster in my own eyes. I didn’t know a single other person who was an atheist. I’d never seen an atheist portrayed on television. But at least I had a label to cling to. I knew what kind of monster I was. There was something sinister and subversive in my secret rejection of the Lord Almighty. It made me feel… weirdly empowered.

I captured a bit of this feeling in my novel Witchbreaker. Sorrow, my protagonist, is a witch at war with the Church of the Book. She’s tried to boost her magical prowess by stealing the power of the primal dragon Rott. Unfortunately for her, using the dragon’s power comes with a terrible price. She’s slowly turning into a dragon. In this scene, she awakens to discover that her legs are gone, replaced by a serpent’s tail:

Her legs were gone. From her hips down, she now possessed an enormous black serpent’s tail. She stared at her scales for only a moment before she had to turn her face away and stare at the walls of the pit. 
“You’re already in a grave,” she said out loud. “Why waste the effort of crawling out?”
She choked back tears. Never before had she contemplated suicide. She held nothing but contempt for those who threw their lives away. But did she even have a life as a human now? She was more snake than woman. If the changes continued, and she lost her arms… she shuddered at the thought.
Should the day come when she lost her arms, she’d curse herself for not ending her life when she had had the chance. She cast about the broken ground with her hands until she found a shard of glass from the dragon’s coffin.
She placed the sharp edge against her wrist. She studied the blue veins beneath her pale skin and set her jaw.
After a moment, she threw the glass away. She wasn’t afraid of death. But she couldn’t bear the thought of her long war against the church coming to an end due to a moment of weakness. If her life had lost so much value that she found death an acceptable option, wasn’t this a liberation? She had nothing left to lose. She could throw herself into her quest to destroy the church without fearing for her own survival. Perhaps she’d been too concerned for herself, too cautious. Now, this timidity no longer stood in her way.
“I’m a monster,” she whispered. She found that the words didn’t hurt. She said, in half a shout, “I’m a monster!”
The thought calmed her. She’d been a freak and an outcast since the day she’d shaved her head and driven in her first nail. Brand had perhaps been right after all. Her father was a moral monster. It had been only a matter of time before his blood pulsing through her veins drove her to the same inhuman extremes. Let the world see what she had become. If she was to be a monster, better it be in body than in soul.
“I hereby promise myself that I shall never surrender,” she said. “Let my enemies gaze upon me and know fear!” She raised her fists in defiance. She was certain she was more ready than ever to take the fight to her enemies, if not for the non-trivial problem that she had no idea how to climb out of this hole.
Sorrow’s transition from horror to defiance takes only a few paragraphs (in fairness, this scene unfolds roughly ten years after the initial trauma that set Sorrow on her path, so in the book itself this scene has a more context and backstory). My own journey took years.

I’ll confess: I became a real jerk for several decades. It wasn’t enough that I didn’t believe in God. I wanted no one to believe in God. Once I left my parents house and moved to college, I was quick to jump into arguments with anyone who dared to tell me about how important God was in their life. I was combative, but only because I was certain I was in possession of a grand truth that the world was blind to.

My bitterness festered in my gut like slivers of broken glass. I walked around angry every single day. This anger used to boil to the surface quite easily. I can’t count the number of times I lost my temper in public. The triggers seldom had anything to do with religion. It was just difficult for me to contain my outrage. Which meant a lot of people probably thought I was crazy. Which also wound up as a scene in Witchbreaker, again involving Sorrow, when she’s talking with Gale Romer, the captain of the ship she’s on, and Gale surprises Sorrow by telling her how much she admires her:

Sorrow smiled even more broadly. “I didn’t know you felt this way. I just… I never meet anyone who approves of my goals. I’m used to people telling me I should let go of my anger. I’m used to people looking at me as if I’m crazy!”
Gale shrugged. “Perhaps we’re both crazy. I sometime think that what the world accepts as sanity is merely the capacity to grow numb to outrage. I find sanity to be a depressingly common commodity. Your anger exists for a reason, Sorrow. I admire that you still have the capacity to feel it. I admire that you’re willing to risk everything in order to try to put the world right.”

I’m still angry. Every single day. Half the time I’m angry at the world. Half the time I’m angry with myself. How could I have been so gullible when I was thirteen? But why blame myself? What sort of evil minds decided that children should have the threat of damnation dangled over them in order to get them to behave? And how can the majority of people live in a world where we’ve unraveled so many of the secrets of space and time still believe in myths dating from the Stone Age? Of course, I also have to wonder why any of this matters. Why can’t I be happy believing what I believe without feeling stressed about what others believe? On the other hand, why haven’t I done more? Why hasn’t every book I’ve written had the absence of God as the main theme, front and center? And why, when I have approached the topic in writing, have I been so ineffective that I’ve not changed even a single person’s mind? I should chill out. I should fight harder. I need to let go of the anger before it destroys me. I need to hold tight to my anger, and let it spur me to fight harder than ever before.

Back and forth, to and fro, the anger washes out toward the world, then rolls back onto myself. Endlessly. It wears me down. Which is why, in Cinder, Sorrow has fully become a dragon and is swimming down into the deepest depths of the Sea of Wine, never to return to the world of light:

She swallowed hard, staring into the unfathomable depths below. Once before, she’d stared into this void. As before, she found that something stared back, something beyond thought, a force beyond emotion, a primal thing, the primal truth, in fact. Before her lay nothing at all, the ultimate fate of all men, of all animals, all plants, the final sum of stones and stars, the complete value of all love, all hate, all fear, all hope. Everything was nothing. The void devoured all.

I’ve been there. I go there often. I’ll be there again. Staring into the void, paralyzed by the futility of my every thought and action.

And what makes me turn away from the void? The words come from another book, and another character, Bitterwood.

People will tell you that hate eats you from the inside. They tell you to let go of old pains, not to carry a grudge. Don’t listen to them. Hate’s all a person needs to get out of bed in the morning. Hold onto it. Hate is the hammer that lets you knock down the walls of this world. 
Don’t get me wrong. It’s been forty years since I found myself damned. I’ve… adapted. After a series of divorces and completely doomed romances, I finally married a woman who is mentally healthy and who keeps me mentally healthy. We exercise. Like, a lot. Thousands and thousands of miles of biking, hiking, walking and kayaking. We get outside and fill ourselves with sunshine and fresh air and usually that’s enough. I’m a materialist. I don’t believe I have a soul. I don’t even truly believe I have a mind. What I think of as my consciousness is an illusion created by purely physical processes in my brain. Since my brain is part of my body, keeping my body healthy keeps me on keel mentally.

But there’s always the darkness, lurking over my shoulder. More than exercise, more than love, I have one sharp edged tool I use to stab at the darkness. I’m an artist. I’m an author. I grab my darkness with both hands and wrestle it onto the page. My books have a lot of wondrous, magnificent, and silly things filling their pages. Dragons, of course, and monkeys and caped men and bulletproof women and spaceships and time machines and magic rings. Fluff and shiny things. But always, at the heart of each book, there’s someone struggling with their demons. There’s some broken adult still trying to piece back together a world shattered by a trauma that unfolded in their childhood. Some succeed. Some fail. But their struggle is what gives my books some measure of life and meaning and truth. And because my characters scream, and fight, and rage for me, I manage most days to pass for a reasonably well-adjusted human being.

I don’t know what your tragedy is. I have no insight as to your darkest secret. But while the name of this series is “Hold on to the Light,” I want to tell you not to be afraid of your darkness. You’re angry? Bitter? Afraid? Sad? Excellent. You feel something. Feelings are fuel. Your own suffering may one day lead you to be more compassionate and kind. Your outrage might make you stand up against something or someone that really must be opposed. Your fear might paralyze you… or it might goad you into action, be it fight or flight. Either is action, and action is life.

I sometimes wonder about what kind of person I might have become if I hadn’t experienced such a fall at an early age. I know I lost valuable years of education because of my distraction. I know I lost friends, and alienated a lot of people. I carry a burden of loneliness that my fictional creations can never quite share. In exchange for all my pain, I got to step outside the cage of my own life. The moral and intellectual walls that contained my young mind crumbled. It opened up worlds I might never have seen. It gave me a million words, and counting. My novels are just shouts at the world, frozen and sharp on pristine white paper, the letters dark as the void. I hold onto my light. But I’m grateful for my darkness. 

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection... Linkorama!


Behold! The Dragon Apocalypse has arrived! After a few technological obstacles, I've finally got the book live at most major book buying websites.

The Dragon Apocalypse is literally a labor of love. When I finished my Bitterwood saga a few years ago, I wanted to write something completely different in tone. Bitterwood was so dark and, well, bitter. I wanted to write about characters who were having a little fun with their lives, who actually enjoyed the grand adventures they undertook. I wanted the book to be funny, though not a parody. I also knew I wanted to write a love story, where I could explore a more redemptive and optimistic force than the revenge and hatred that had run through the struggles in Bitterwood. I also wanted to try something stylistically daring, writing the first two books in a first person voice with a single POV narrator who could give the tale a bit more attitude and edginess than I could allow myself in a third person voice. And when that narrator, Stagger, was taken off the playing field by events in the second book of the series, I switched back to third because I needed an objective voice to bring you Sorrow, the witch who drives the events in the last two books, and a character that I consider to be one of my best creations. She's both serious and funny, cruel and kind, introspective yet utterly blind to many of her own faults. She's ruthless in her goals, but also noble, and willing to sacrifice her body and sanity to serve the greater good.

One other thing other thing I'd like to note about the novel. Many, many years ago, before I'd written a single word of this series, I pitched the overall idea to my publisher. The key to any good pitch is to get to the heart of the matter in as few words as possible, so I used just four: "Bad girls, big dragons." I actually forgot about that pitch while I was writing, but when I look at the final battle, it strikes me that nearly all the major players in the effort to save the world from the dragons are women. Infidel, Cinder, Sorrow, the Black Swan, and Gale Romer are calling the shots and fighting on the front lines. One of their major goals is rescuing a male protagonist who's been captured. There's not a damsel in distress to be found. But there's nothing artificial about the all-girl cast at the end of the series. They were simply the best, most competent characters to arise from the pages of the plot.

This book has everything. It's a love story, a comedy, a ghost story, a philosophical debate, and an epic adventure that spans twenty years and literally takes the characters to Hell and back. What more could you possibly want in a book?

So... link-o-rama time!

First, Amazon. On this page you can buy either the ebook or the print edition.

Next up, Barnes and Noble. Only the ebook is showing at the moment, but the print edition should link in any day now, and you can also walk into any book store of your choice and have them order a copy of the print edition.

Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords will round out the ebook venues. Between one of these vendors, the ebook should be available worldwide. I know that Amazon UK has the book live because I'm already making sales there. The print edition is going to be available in the US, the UK, and the rest of Europe via Createspace. Alas, no distribution in print to the rest of the world at the moment. If you are outside North America and Europe and need to get your hands on a print copy, drop me an email and I'll see what I can work out if you're willing to pay for international shipping.

That's it! Thanks for your attention.




Friday, September 23, 2016

Dragon Apocalypse versus Brothers Karamazov

While formatting Dragon Apocalypse, I noticed that the collection was about 460,000 words. I wondered how it stacked up to some of the other long books I'd read, and happened to have The Brothers Karamazov sitting on the bookshelf beside me. I looked it up, and it weighs in at a mere 360,000 words. This surprised me, since when I read The Brothers Karamazov I was under the impression it contained all the words, ever. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful book, an enduring literary classic, and there's a good reason it sits next to me.  I keep many of my favorite books on a shelf beside my computer so I can glance over at them when I'm writing and remind myself of why I'm putting myself through the headache of creating a book.

That said, Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection is, let's face it, an inarguably larger book than The Brothers Karamazov. Just look at the photographic proof!
Plainly, my book is vastly superior in size.
Of course, you'd have to be a pretty shallow person to judge the worth of a book purely by the fact that one author has gone out of his way to bring you dozens of fascinating characters, settings, and plotlines, while the other author lacked the vision and imagination to keep going for another 100,000 words.

There's also the argument that number of words doesn't matter. It's how you use them. So, here's a perfectly objective chart comparing the literary merits of each book:

This chart was created by a Piedmont Laureate Emeritus, so you know it's accurate.
Look, I'm not saying you should skip reading The Brothers Karamazov in order to read Dragon Apocalypse. Both are fine books! You should really read them both. But start with Dragon Apocalypse. It's got dragons. And apocalypses.

Finally, my goal was to get up this morning and announce to the world all the different links that would allow you to purchase DRAGON APOCALYPSE: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Alas, when I got home last night, the power was out, which meant I couldn't finish uploading to all the retailers. The power did come back on around 9:00, so I signed in and started uploading... only to have the power go off again, and stay off well into the middle of the night. So, I've spent my morning uploading books to Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and updating the Kindle file after I spotted a few typos created during the formatting process. (For some reason, if the first line of a chapter was dialogue, the opening quote mark was missing.) So, now I'm going to go for a hike, and hope that by this evening I'll have a bunch of links to share.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Full Cover Reveal!


Behold! There is a cover! Artwork by Hugo Award winning artist Julie Dillon!

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection includes all four novels of the series, Greatshadow, Hush, Witchbreaker, and Cinder. As an added bonus, the novel Greatshadow: Origins is also part of the set. I wrote this novella several years before the novel. It was printed in an anthology called Blood and Devotion. Several familiar characters are in the novella, including Infidel, Bigsby, and a Truthspeaker. The basic plot's the same, with a party of holy warriors off to slay the dragon, and a team of mercenaries tagging along planning to grab as much treasure as they can. There's even a few lines of dialogue lifted verbatim from the closing lines of the novella and transplanted into the novel. In comic book terms, the novella is the Golden Age version of these characters, while the novels are the Silver Age.

The book will be available at most ebook retailers very soon. I'm uploading files to several sites today. There will also be a print edition as big as a phone book. I'm chewing my nails waiting for the printed proof to arrive via UPS.

I'll do an update Friday that will hopefully have some links to actually buy this thing. The print edition will retail for $27. The ebook will be a steal at $5.99. You know you want it!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cover teaser #2 for soon to be revealed new book!

A little larger slice from the cover of my new book. Coming soon! Possibly as early as this Friday! It's big! It's hot! Full cover to be revealed on Wednesday!


Sunday, September 18, 2016

366 Update

At the beginning of the year, I set out to see if it were possible for me to write 366,000 words in a year, 1000 words a day on average. My methodology is perhaps a little controversial. I count first draft 100%, but I've also been giving myself partial credit for rewrites, and also giving myself bonuses for getting books into print and a few non-writing activities like cover design. Still, most of my word count is coming from novels, either first drafts or revisions.

I was on pace for the first half of the year, closing out June just slightly over 180,000 words. July, alas, was something of a speed bump, though for a good reason, since I was on vacation for two weeks and not writing during that time. I kept tracking my weekly productivity, but stopped adding it up in July since I was seeing myself slip further away from my goal. Fortunately, in August I started clocking in several weeks in the 8-10,000 word range. Since I just need 7000 words a week to stay on track, I started making up lost ground. Today, I finally decided to do the math and...

YES! I've got 257,092 words written for the year. I've only got a 103,000 to go, and over three months to get there!

The rest of September will probably not yield many high word counts, though I will be getting some bonus points for having a book go live on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. (Which book? I'll reveal the answer this week! Hint: It's longer than the Brother's Karamazov by 100,000 words.)

Then, in October, I've got a vacation and two conventions. Still, I'll start a project that month that should take me over the top on my word count. I've got several different options.

1. I can revise Cut Up Girl and Big Ape to get them ready for printing.

2. I can write a third novel in that universe and plan on revising all three next year and getting them into print with just a few weeks between release dates.

3. I could write a third novel set in my Nobody Gets the Girl universe. Basically, I have Nobody and Burn Baby Burn as a duology, but I'm finally getting it into my head that more books in a series equals more sales, and I actually have a pretty kick ass idea for one last book to cap off series. But, that pushes back Cut Up Girl and Big Ape even further. On the positive side, the last book in this series, Covenant, is one I've been thinking about for a long time, and I think it would come together pretty quickly. It also is a good vehicle for tackling an ethical question that I've grappled with for a long time. Is it enough in life to simply do no harm? My libertarian and nihilistic ethics have for a long time led me to believe that people can do whatever they want with their lives, as long as they don't hurt other people. But, after years of living with this belief, I can't help but wonder if this philosophy isn't merely selfish, but actively harmful to collective humanity. Of course, I've long believed that if individuals just take care of their own interests, then collectively mankind is better off. But what if I'm wrong? What if the world really is a better place if we're all our brothers' keepers? If Nobody Gets the Girl has a coherent theme, it would be that good intentions are dangerous things, and that some of the greatest harm is done to mankind by people convinced that they alone can make the world a better, safer, happier place. It would be interesting to explore this theme with a more positive spin.

Lots to think about. Lots to write. 103,000 words to go. Forward!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Something big is coming....


Big Ape isn't my only big news this week. I've also just finished uploading files for another big project that will go on sale before the end of the month. And by "big," I'm talking about a book with a print edition 790 pages long, containing just shy of half a million words. Cover art is by Hugo-winning artist Julie Dillon! Here's a close up of  part of the cover. More will be revealed soon!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Big Ape Update: 88,693 words, first draft finished!

Every novel I've ever worked on hits a part in the middle where I find myself utterly discouraged. I really can't win, no matter how things are going. If the words are flowing easily, I find myself worried that what I'm writing is too trite and simple. Maybe it's flowing because I'm rehashing old, tired ideas, not putting anything fresh or original on the page. The flip side to this problem is that the words aren't flowing at all, and I'm convinced that what I'm writing is too weird and strange to ever be of interest to anyone. I'm aware of my tendency to follow my characters places it's probably not wise for them to go.

In Big Ape, I encountered a little of both. Originally, I had planned for one of the primary villains of the book to be called Bad Mother. She had an army of robotic crime babies. But, her most lethal, city destroying weapon was a 300 foot tall robotic doll called Big Baby. The problem: My first novel features a 300 foot tall robotic doll with a gun for a head, called Baby Gun. Now, it might seem like it should have been obvious to me that I was repeating myself before I even started typing. But, the thing is, Bad Mother rose up organically in my imagination as a female, tech genius supervillain. There are surprisingly few female mad scientists in comic books, and I felt like I needed to balance the gender scale a little. And, honestly, I just love typing the words "crime babies." And once I had an army of robotic babies on tap, well, the logical progression was Big Baby. And, once you have a Big Baby, of course I have to have him trashing a major American city, while my Big Ape protagonist uses a growth ray to grow to an equal size to fight him and... and... then, in the middle of the fight, finally, oh yeah, Baby Gun. I've done this before.

But, so what? I've written about dragons in 8 different books. Is it completely forbidden for an author to repeat himself?

Sigh.

In the middle of the chapter, I knew Big Baby had to go, which also meant that Bad Mother probably wasn't going to make the cut either. So, losing the villain mid-novel... kind of a problem. But, a problem that I solved, I hope, with an even more insane villain named Technosaurus. He's a sixty-five million year old survivor of a race of intelligent dinosaurs who... I should say no more. You'll have to read the book. Let's just say that robotic dinosaurs aren't quite as satisfying to write as crime babies, but they get the job done.

Once I had my villain problem solved, though, I ran smack into a "character going someplace I didn't plan for them to go" problem. Big Ape is a fairly light-hearted character with a sense of humor and an instinctual drive to do good. He has a dark side, though, and a tragic past that gives him depth. But, about two thirds of the way into the book, I put him into a situation where he faces a temptation to do something that might cost him a lot of reader sympathy. And, it seems like I would be the final arbiter of whether or not he made the right choice, but that's not always how writing works. The character wanted to do the wrong thing. Needed to do the wrong thing. The wrong thing was the only possible choice he had given his history and the stresses he'd been under in the story to that point. So, I wrote the last third of the book with the character fully aware of his transgression, and me grappling with whether or not I could forgive him for his transgression. Ultimately, I think it gives the character depth, but I still have the sinking feeling that a lot of readers will be pissed off by the character doing such an unheroic thing. Then again, literature is full of heroes who fail moral tests. King Arthur couldn't control his lusts. Big Ape is still a good guy, he just has flaws. Flaws are important in a character, right?

I guess we'll find out.

At this point, I'm undecided about my next move. I could go back and start revising Cut Up Girl and Big Ape. Or, I could launch into yet another novel first draft, and give myself some distance from Big Ape before I start revising. I'll definitely make my choice by early October. Until then, stay tuned!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Big Ape Update: 38509 words

Almost two years ago, I announced that the next novel I was going to write was a superhero tale called Big Ape. Then, life threw a couple of plot twists at me. First, Solaris agreed to revert the rights back to my Dragon Apocalypse books. I’d been holding off on writing the fourth book in that series until that came about, since if the fourth book boosted sales of the first three books, it might have delayed the reversion. Second, I was named Piedmont Laureate for 2015, and spent a year teaching and talking about writing, but not actually producing much work. When my laureate duties came an end, I plunged into the fourth Dragon Apocalypse novel, Cinder, finally getting it into print in mid-May. Then, finally, I started working on Big Ape.

Alas, I did something I frequently advise other writers not to do: I wrote three chapters, then went back and started the novel all over again. My plan had been to produce a parallel novel to Cut Up Girl. Harry (Big Ape) and Vic (Cut Up Girl) have lives that are intertwined by multiple big events, and I thought it would be interesting to see these events from two different perspectives.

Unfortunately, once I actually started writing, this approach just got bogged down with repeated details. I don’t think meshing the two plots together would have been a big deal, but I found myself reintroducing the same members of the supporting cast. Supporting characters are trickier to write than you might imagine, since you often have to capture their entire personality and backstories in just a few telling details. If I tried to give Vic and Harry wildly different perspectives on some of these characters, the inconsistencies made the characters impossible to pin down. If I didn’t change the personality traits and details, though, I felt like I was being redundant.

By the third chapter, I felt like I was just repeating myself. And a lot of the back story I was writing about Harry’s early years seemed like stuff that I could easily integrate into the Cut Up Girl novel. So, I ditched those three chapters and went back and started writing from Big Ape’s perspective one minute after the end of the events of Cut Up Girl, focusing on his life moving forward.

So far, this draft feels right. It’s got a lot of energy and momentum, and I’m getting to introduce brand new supporting characters instead of rehashing old ones. Rose Rifle from the first book turned out to  have a vigilante son who calls himself Reverend Rifle, and the Rev is a lot of fun to write, a sort of mashup between Batman, the Lone Ranger, and an evangelical preacher. I’ve also discovered that when Harry first joined the Lawful Legion, he was part of a teen brigade that included two girls, Smash Lass and Elsa Where, and the dynamics between the three of them are flowing out really easily. The most difficult character so far has been Screaming Jenny, who has the power to curse at people until they catch fire. I’ve got a good story arc planned for her, but so far she’s just not talking to me. I keep even forgetting she’s in the room when I’m writing scenes with the other characters. Not good, since her arc really creates a lot of drama around the middle of the book.

Oh well. That’s why you write first drafts.

I’m now up to chapter 8, with 38,509 words down on paper. This likely means I’m about 1/3 of the way through. I’d hoped to get the first draft done before the end of August, but that’s going to require a much faster pace than I’ve so far managed. Still, that’s the goal.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Classics updates


It's been a while since I've talked about my reading. I'm continuing to concentrate on classic literature, driven in part by my participation the "First Monday Classics" book club at the Orange County Library. I'm sure I'm going to forget something, but since last fall I've read:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. A seriously brilliant book. It's well written in a simple, straightforward style that rises to poetry when needed. It does a masterful job of showing you the world through the prism of a different time and culture. Achebe doesn't romanticize pre-colonial Africa. We see the ugly side of the culture as well as the high points. But you can't help but come away from the book seeing the world with new eyes.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. I have to admit, I thought this was pretty terrible. No plot, no characters of any depth, just lyrical sentimentality.


If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. A novel about reading a novel. The protagonist keeps getting interrupted after reading an opening chapter, discovering his book is misprinted, has the wrong cover, is the wrong translation, etc., so that every other chapter is the beginning of a new book. Lots of musing on the power of writing and the power of reading, but ultimately the book left me cold. Once you realized that none of the chapters of the fake books were ever going to go anywhere, they turned into a pointless slog.


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Beautiful writing and very deep exploration of characters. The dialect was kind of hard to work through, but once you caught the rhythm the back and forth between the supporting characters was very funny and really brought the book to life.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Meh. I mean, it's not terrible, and thankfully it's not long. But Kurtz is built up throughout the book as a great and interesting man, but when he finally appears he barely says anything then dies of illness. It's a lot of build up for a somewhat weak payoff.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I added this one to the clubs reading list because it's one of my all-time favorite novels. I've lost track of how many times I've read this book, but every time I always hit lines that make me laugh. Despite all the talk about frying his mind with drugs and booze, the actual writing in this novel is crisp and focused. The book isn't without flaws, of course. There's a certain amount of low-brow, gross out comedy, and most of the characters are one-note clich├ęs. Except for a maid and a waitress, women are strangely absent from the book. Still, a damn funny novel.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric. The opening chapters are pretty harrowing as we see in graphic detail the gruesome practices used to force the laborers to build the bridge. Then we start skipping through the centuries, getting a pretty broad mix of history and characters. As a history lesson, it's informative, but as a novel it lacks any sense of immediacy. You can go many dozen pages at a time before stumbling onto an actual scene with dialogue.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. This book was all kinds of terrible. In fairness, it has moments of wit and the author has a great talent for bringing a setting to life. I even thought she had a good ear for dialogue. But I couldn't relate to the characters even a tiny bit. The book is about how shackled the characters are by the society they live in, but, the characters are all rich enough that they could live pretty much any life they wished if they'd just show a little backbone.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdal. This wasn't part of my book club reading list, and I'm hesitant to recommend it to the group since our focus is on novels and this is non-fiction. I'd read this book as a teenager and had fond memories of it, so I grabbed a used copy at a book store and decided to reread it during a week at the beach. It was even better than I remembered, a grand adventure pitting men against the elements. The great strength of the book is the crazy confidence of the author, who is convinced that Polynesia was settled not from Asia, but by ancient Peruvians crossing the ocean in rafts. When the scientific world assures him that a raft can't cross the ocean, he decides to prove them wrong by building his own primitive raft and setting sail. Along the way, we see the ocean in a way that few people ever get to see it, a living, ever-shifting waterscape populated by strange inhabitants. Completely engrossing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You Too Can Get the Girl! Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy! 12 novels for just $1.99!


Nobody Gets the Girl is the only novel I’ve ever written based on a dream. In the fall of 2000, I had a nightmare in which a woman was riding through the middle of a mansion on roller skates, gliding along a single railroad track. Adding to the weirdness of that vision, she had long, sharp spikes jutting from her ankles, which tore up the walls and smashed through furniture and paintings as she skated along. I woke up wondering just who the hell this woman was. To find out, I wrote a novel, working without an outline at a feverish pace, finishing the first draft in just 45 days.

The woman turned out to be a superhero named Rail Blade, and I regard the complexities of her character as a milestone on my journey to becoming a successful novelist. Rail Blade, AKA Amelia Knowbokov, was stern and aloof on the surface, with occasional flashes of dark humor that borders on the mean. But she’s driven by an admirable sense of duty and a genuine love for her family, and soon wins readers over as the get past her cold surface. She’s smart, brave, and a no-nonsense ass-kicker. She’s got a complicated relationship with her father, who treats her both as a daughter and as a soldier in his ongoing war to save mankind from dark forces he’s unwittingly released. And, in what would become a hallmark of most of my successful characters moving forward, you’ll never grasp the full nuances of her character until you discover her darkest secret.

Nobody Gets the Girl was the first novel I ever sold to a publisher. You can see echoes of this book in nearly everything I’ve written since.

And there’s never been a better time to read it than right now!  I’m pleased to announce that Nobody Gets the Girl is one of the novels selected to appear in Modern Magic: Twelve Tales of Urban Fantasy. For the sweet price of just $1.99 you get twelve complete novels by some of the hottest names in modern fantasy! This collection is only going to be available for a limited time, so order yours today!

The included novels are:

THE TENTACLE AFFAIRE: A Slip Traveler Novel by award-winning and RT Recommended bestselling author Jeanne Adams--He doesn't believe in aliens. She doesn't believe in magic. They're both wrong.

DAYS GONE BAD (Vesik, Book 1) by Eric Asher - An urban fantasy about a necromancer and his vampire sister. And chimichangas.

THE NIMBLE MAN by New York Times bestselling author and Stoker Award winner Christopher Golden & NY Times bestselling editor Thomas E. Sniegoski, the first book of The Menagerie series. They are beings of myth and legend. They possess powers beyond imagining. They are our only hope.

BILL THE VAMPIRE (The Tome of Bill, part 1) by Amazon Top 100 author Rick Gualtieri - Bill Ryder was a dateless geek, but then he met a girl to die for. So he did.

HARD DAY'S KNIGHT – by award-winning author John G. Hartness-- A pair of comic book nerds get turned into vampires, and now they have to save the world. The world is so screwed.

SOUTHERN BOUND (Max Porter, Book 1) by Top 100 Kindle author Stuart Jaffe - When Max Porter discovers his office is haunted by the ghost of a 1940s detective, he does the smartest thing possible -- starts a detective agency.

TAINTED (The Blood Lily Chronicles Book 1) by New York Times bestselling author Julie Kenner--The first installment of the Blood Lily Chronicles, an urban fantasy romance which introduces readers to Lily Carlyle, a tough-talking bad girl who's been chosen to save the world, and Deacon Camphire, the darkly sensual man whose words seduce her, but whose actions suggest he’s hiding secrets of his own.

THE SOUL CAGES: A Minister Knight Novel by Nicole Givens Kurtz -Sarah risks everything to save her soul and be reincarnated back into flesh. Now, the real adventure begins…

TRIFLES AND FOLLY (Deadly Curiosities Adventures) by #1 Kindle Top 100 bestselling author Gail Z. Martin – A Charleston, SC antique store is the cover for a coalition of mortals and immortals who have sworn their lives and magic to saving the world from supernatural threats and cursed relics.

NOBODY GETS THE GIRL by 2016 Piedmont Laureate and award-winning author James Maxey -- The fate of the free world is at stake as the superhuman battles escalate, wiping entire cities from the map, threatening the survival of all mankind. Who can save us from the looming apocalypse? Nobody!

TOUCH A DARK WOLF (Shadowmen Book 1) by USA Today bestselling author Jennifer St. Giles--Poisoned by evil, Jared fights to save Erin before the murderous darkness in him claims them both .

CELLAR by Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Karen E. Taylor– If Laura Wagner’s inner demons don’t get her, the real ones just might…

Seriously, why are  you still reading this blog? Get thee to Amazon!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

366 Progress Report. Also, I just had a story published...

I reached the end of April with 135,256 for my word count. This includes the penalties I give myself for drafts (for instance, the fourth draft of Cinder I counted as 20% of total word count), but also some bonuses like credits for submitting stories, and also for selling a story.

In fact, that story appeared at IGMS a couple of weeks ago. It's a sign of how bad I am at self promotion that I just now remembered that as worth mentioning on my blog. The story in question is Cherry Red Rocket Ship, a tale I wrote years ago as a 2500 word space opera parody/tribute. I took another look at the story last year and realized that what was holding it back was the complete absence of any backstory for the protagonist, which left him very two-dimensional. Crafting his backstory also helped me flesh out the world building, and now, while the story is still humorous, it's not just the humor that carries it. You can read the story here.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cinder: Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse: Let there be a cover!

I'm pleased to finally reveal the cover for Cinder: Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse. The figure of Cinder was drawn by Giared Terrelli. Cinder is the daughter of Stagger and Infidel, conceived by a living mother and a dead father in Greatshadow's spiritual realm. As such, she has the power to travel freely between the lands of the living and the dead. Perhaps as a result of being conceived in Greatshadow's realm, she possesses skin the color of soot, much darker than I decided to portray her on the cover since I didn't want Giared's line work getting completely wiped out. She's been raised among the Jawa Fruit pygmies, the same tribe that took in Stagger's grandfather, Judicious Merchant, as seen in the first book.

As far as the background, readers of the series may remember that the Church of the Book believes that all of reality is actually nothing but words written in a sacred tome by the Divine Author. Let's just say that one of Cinder's extradimensional journeys takes her to the strangest abstract realm yet.

My goal with these covers has been to pay tribute to the true roots of my love of fantasy, the fantasy comic books of the seventies put out my DC and Marvel. There was Conan, of course, and Mike Grell's Warlord, plus slightly lesser known series like Krull, Claw, and Red Sonja. I was reading Conan comics before I was even aware that they were based on novels. Comic book fantasy was pure sword and sorcery, very action driven, without much emphasis paid to political intrigue. The larger plot lines ran for several issues, but each seventeen page comic book would contain a complete story. A lot of the pacing and action in my books can be credited to these comics, which taught me to expect fast pacing and over the top action. I also confess it instilled in me a love of melodramatic dialogue, and more than a little humor. Fortunately, I did get some humor woven into Cinder, though this is definitely the darkest, most high stakes book of the series, given that half the book literally takes place in Hell. Good times.

Cinder launches May 18! If anyone would like to get on a mailing list to get notified when it's available to order on various platforms, email me at james@jamesmaxey.net. Thanks!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

First Chapter Preview of Cinder: Book Four the Dragon Apocalypse!

Cinder: Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse, launches on May 18. I'm still putting some polishing touches on the manuscript, but feel ready to reveal the first chapter. It's been a long wait, and I'd like to thank all the patient fans who've followed the series to date. I hope you'll discover it's been worth the wait.

Chapter One

The Final Chapter


Wind lashed the Black Swan as she straddled the massive killer whale that flew through the howling blizzard. The night was utterly dark, the stars lost behind storm clouds, but her gaze extended beyond the material world. In the faint glow of the spiritual realms, she could see the Keep of the Inquisition rising before them.

“We’re close enough to land,” she shouted above the cry of the wind.

The whale tilted, diving down. With her inhuman eyes, she saw the frozen surface of the sea rushing toward them and wondered if Menagerie was about to crash. At the last second, the whale shifted shape, taking on the form of a polar bear inches above the ice, landing with a jolt. The Black Swan dug her iron fingers into the beast’s fur to keep from being thrown.

“Ow,” said Menagerie, rising on her hind legs as the Black Swan dropped to the ice. “Pulled fur doesn’t feel any better than pulled hair.”

“I can’t remember what that’s like,” said the Black Swan. “It’s been centuries since I last had hair.”

Still standing, the bear sniffed the air. The beast wore a gray silk cape that flapped in the wind, the ends threadbare and tattered. Menagerie’s nose twitched as she turned her head first to the left, then the right, before releasing her breath in a great cloud of steam.

“Be ready,” said Menagerie, her voice a gruff growl. “Someone’s near. I smell them.”

“Alive or dead?” asked the Black Swan.

“Alive,” said Menagerie. “Whoever it is, they’re wearing way too much perfume. Bears have better noses than bloodhounds. This much concentrated lavender is obnoxious.”

“I’ll take your word for it. I haven’t had a working nose in a long time, either,” said the Black Swan.

The Black Swan climbed to the peak of a frozen swell, the spikes in her iron feet skittering on the gray ice. Her diamond eyes whirred as she adjusted their focus, until at last she spotted the purple-robed figure standing atop jagged rocks on the nearby shore.

No, not standing. Dancing, arms lifted, toes barely touching as the figure gracefully leapt from rock to rock.

“Zetetic?” Menagerie asked as she climbed up the swell.

The Black Swan shook her head. “Equity Tremblepoint.”

“Is she a lunatic? She’ll freeze in this wind.”

“No one who lives here can be called sane,” said the Black Swan, as she slid down the swell and continued toward the Keep.

White flowers of frost crunched beneath the Black Swan’s steel toes as she ascended the pebble beach toward the front gate. She glanced back across the trackless ice.

“I hope we’ve had enough of a head start,” she said.

“I didn’t mind flying here as Slor Tonn,” said the bear. “It helped clear the scent of burning flesh from my lungs.”

Hours had passed they fled the Silver City. The last of King Brightmoon’s elite guard had tried to push back Tempest’s unliving armies by pumping burning oil from massive jets atop the palace walls. The endless hordes of marching corpses had kept advancing as they burned, crushing against the heavy oak of the barred doors until the wood finally gave way. The burning army had surged into the palace, bringing death to the last defenders of civilization.

Reaching the main gate of the Keep of the Inquisition, the Black Swan pounded on the iron bars, hoping her knocking could be heard above the storm. Her hope was rewarded as chains clattered within the walls and the gate rose. Beyond the gate, massive iron doors slowly opened.

After weeks without seeing the sun, she had to raise her hand to block the radiance that flowed from within the castle. She stepped into the great hall, brightly lit with a thousand glory stones floating in silver cages that filled the torch sconces. After the chill of the frozen ocean, the warmth of the hall felt like a furnace.

The bear stood once more on her hind legs, then shrank until it took the form of a woman with gray hair. For an instant, the frost that had tipped the bear’s fur glittered like diamonds against her nude skin until her gray cloak fell around her. She took a step forward, stumbling slightly.

“Are you okay?” asked the Black Swan.

“I’m fine,” said Menagerie. “A little out of practice. First time I’ve walked on human legs in weeks.”

The Black Swan moved further into the hall, gazing at the paintings and sculptures covering the space. It was difficult to discern a theme among the artwork. Paintings depicting church-like piety hung above marble nudes posed in acts of depravity.

Menagerie paused before a painting of a platinum-haired woman wearing pure white armor. The resemblance between the faces of the viewer and the subject was striking.

“Queen Alabaster Brightmoon,” the Black Swan said. “Your current body’s distant ancestor.”

“With paintings like this around, it’s surprising it took us all so long to realize Infidel was a Brightmoon.”

The Black Swan shrugged. “I knew it all along. I recognized the value of keeping her secret.”

Menagerie shook her head. “Does anything have value now? Both of us spent our lives in pursuit of wealth. My estate on the Silver Isles makes this fortress look like a cottage. You’ve got enough treasure stashed away to purchase kingdoms if you wished. Now, what’s it all worth? Absolutely nothing.”

“So I don’t need to pay you when this is over?” asked the Black Swan.

“A contract’s a contract,” said Menagerie.

“Of course,” the Black Swan said. “It’s good to see that some things remain true even in these—” The Black Swan stopped in mid-thought as a drawing in a glass frame caught her attention. It was a likeness of herself, naked, or at least unclothed. She didn’t know if the bareness of her iron shell constituted nudity or not. In any case, she now wore britches and a jacket of leather to conceal her metallic form. A broad-brimmed hat concealed her hairless scalp. Only her iron feet, fingers, and face remained bare.

She picked up the frame, studying the intricate detail of the drawing, carefully inked with crisp black lines. Beside the depiction of her outer form, dozens of gears, pulleys, and braided iron wires were sketched out, along with a pair of bellows. These comprised her internal organs. A human skeleton was drawn next to the objects. The stark depiction of her naked bones felt like the ultimate invasion of privacy.

“When did you pose for that?” asked Menagerie.

“I didn’t,” she said, the lenses in her eyes clicking into ever sharper focus, until she could be certain that the black lines weren’t soaked into the paper as ink, but instead sat slightly raised upon the surface, crafted of pure, rustless iron filaments fine as hair. “Sorrow’s been here. She sculpted my current body. These were her final plans, the ones I approved.” She shook her head slowly. “The breasts look better on paper.”

“Please don’t get started on that again,” Menagerie said with a sigh.

“Yes,” said a faint voice behind the two women. “Please don’t start a discussion of breasts until I’m close enough to participate. I’ve strong opinions on the subject.”

They turned and found an ancient man hobbling toward them, supported by a stave decorated with carved serpents. The old man was toothless, his right eye a yellow, sightless moon. His good eye sparkled as he regarded the two women.

“I’m so pleased you’re here!” he said, smiling. “I’d given up hope of seeing an actual woman again before the world ended.”

“What of the woman dancing outside?” asked Menagerie.

“Equity? She’s no woman. At least, I don’t think she is. Or he is.” He scratched his scaly scalp. “Pronouns get muddled when Equity takes the stage.”

“Why’s she dancing?” asked the Black Swan.

“To say goodbye to the world, of course,” said the old man. “Zetetic tells us it’s ending within the hour. If we make haste and disrobe along the way, we can still reach my chambers in time to— ”

“If you finish that sentence I’ll disembowel you,” said Menagerie.

The old man frowned.

“We’ve no time to waste,” said the Black Swan. “We must see Zetetic at once.”

“Zetetic isn’t taking visitors.

“Tell him the Black Swan must see him.”

“And Menagerie. He knows me. We were companions during the quest to slay Greatshadow.”

The old man smiled. “As long as we’re doing introductions, I’m Vigor.”

“I know who you are,” said the Black Swan. “You’re an authority on reptiles.”

“Yes,” he said. “Though my specialty is dragons.”

“If you know about dragons, do you have any clue how we can stop Tempest?” she asked.

Vigor shook his head. “Tempest is something much worse than a dragon these days. Nothing can save us, I fear.”

“I can’t accept that,” said the Black Swan. “Zetetic’s powers are almost without limit. Why hasn’t he acted? He has the power to stop this with any of a thousand different lies.”

“Zetetic would agree with you,” said Vigor. “But he says things will happen as they happen. He says that lies are but shadows cast by truth, and that truth has vanished from the world.”

“What does that mean?” asked Menagerie.

Vigor shrugged. “It’s been a long time since I had a conversation with Zetetic where I understood a single thing he was talking about.”

“Then let us talk to him,” said the Black Swan.

“As I said, he’s not taking visitors.”

The Black Swan’s arm sprung out with spring-driven force and clamped iron fingers around Vigor’s throat. “Take us to him or I’ll throttle you.”

Vigor smiled weakly, gasping, “Threats aren’t… terribly effective… with the end… so near.”

The Black Swan opened her fingers. “There won’t be an end if Zetetic acts. With a single utterance, he could undo all of this! He could send Tempest’s armies back to Hell. He could free Abyss from Hush’s control. He could at least tell us what Tempest did to the sun, and how we might put it back into the sky!”

Vigor rubbed his throat. “I hold out the faint hope that Equity’s sense of stagecraft has rubbed off on our host. Perhaps he’s waiting for the moment of greatest peril to make a grand entrance and turn back all the horror.”

“It’s hard to imagine things getting any worse than they are at this exact moment,” said Menagerie.

From outside the open gate, above the howl of the wind, came a bone-shivering, high-pitched shriek. The Black Swan cut her eyes toward Menagerie, her iron eyebrows knitting together.

“I regretted saying it before the last word left my lips,” said Menagerie.

Equity Tremblepoint stumbled through the open gate into the hall. Her purple robes were torn to tatters. When she spotted Vigor, she raised the back of her hand to her forehead, shuddered, and collapsed against the door, her figure framed by the darkness behind her. She arched her back, extended her hand with its long, red nails, pointing into the darkness, trembling, as she exclaimed, “The damned! They’ve found us!”

The Black Swan ran to the gate. A trio of dead soldiers stood in the darkness barely a yard away, with shreds of Equity’s robes still dangling from their skeletal fingers. One carried a black blade that stank of sulfur as he raised it overhead, preparing to chop the Black Swan in twain.

There was a slight tap on the Black Swan’s shoulder as a squirrel used her for a launching pad to fling itself toward the sword-wielding corpse. By the time it reached the warrior, the squirrel had changed into an enormous silverback gorilla. The beast grabbed the lead corpse by the wrist and swiftly disarmed it, in the most literal meaning of the word. Using the dismembered limbs as clubs, the gorilla knocked the skulls free from the shambling forms flanking the first skeleton.

Menagerie turned to the Black Swan. “Find the Deceiver! I’ll hold them off!”

The Black Swan peered into the darkness, spotting the ragged forms lurching over the frozen swells. Their numbers were uncountable, as if Hell had thrown up all of its damned souls. Which, of course, was precisely what was happening. The damned had been promised the world once the last of the living perished. As far as the Black Swan knew, the last men still alive were the inhabitants of this small island.

“Why hasn’t he stopped this?” whimpered Equity. “I thought he would stop this!”

“Fall back!” the Black Swan shouted to Menagerie. “There’s too many of them! Get inside the gate!”

“You’ve seen how quickly they can penetrate a fortress,” Menagerie growled. “I can hold out far longer than iron bars.”

“Not alone,” said the Black Swan.

“He won’t be alone,” said Vigor, hobbling forward.

The gorilla’s eyebrows shot up. “No offense, but I’m not sure how much help you’re going to be.”

Vigor began to undress, struggling to pull his robe over his head, revealing his boney, wrinkled body.

Equity’s sobbing despair turned into a rueful chuckle. “There was no chance the world could come to an end without Vigor taking one last opportunity to display his genitalia.”

But it wasn’t Vigor’s crotch that caught the Black Swan’s attention. An elaborately inked tattoo completely engulfed Vigor’s torso, depicting a dragon in minute detail. The dark lines pulsed and glowed as Vigor pulled a small flask of powder from a pocket before he tossed his robe aside.

On wobbly legs thin as sticks, he shouted to Menagerie, “You think you’re the only person who ever studied blood magic? For three long years I lived with the scion of Greatshadow. I collected blood frequently while he was under my care. He had no reason to suspect I intended to study draconic biology from a vastly improved perspective.”

He popped open the cork on the vial and tilted his head back, shaking the powdery contents into his gaping mouth. The wind snatched away much of the dark powder, giving the air the scent of blood. Vigor coughed as he strained to swallow the dusty mouthful. Red spittle flew from between his lips. He coughed again, more violently, and a jet of flame shot ten feet from his open mouth. The flames seemed to have melted his face, which grew longer, more narrow, as the heat covered his skin with vivid red blisters, crusted with black. His body bulged as he dropped to all fours. With a horrible rip, his paper-thin skin split along his spine and two long red wings unfolded from between his shoulder blades.

In ten seconds, the transformation was complete, and a dragon larger than a bull with wings the size of mainsails stood facing the armies of the damned. He opened his crocodilian jaws and roared. An inferno billowed over the waves, incinerating the front ranks of the shambling dead.

Menagerie grabbed the Black Swan by the shoulders, refocusing her attention.

“Go!” the gorilla shouted. “Make Zetetic stop this!”

The Black Swan nodded, turning, grabbing Equity by the waist and slinging her over her shoulder as she ran into the hall.

“Where can I find him?” she shouted.

“Put me down before I throw up!” Equity shouted back.

The Black Swan put the aged thespian back on her feet. Equity responded by pointing at a stairway at the back of the hall. “Zetetic dwells in the uppermost chamber of the main tower!”

“You’re sure he’s there?” asked the Black Swan.

“Of course not. He’s probably long gone into an abstract realm. Even if you find his body, I don’t know that his mind will be with it. But what choice do you have but to try?”

“I’ve been asking myself that for over two hundred years,” grumbled the Black Swan as she ran toward the stairs, her feet clanging like hammer blows on the marble floor. She took some comfort from her certainty that Equity was wrong. Zetetic hadn’t fled to another reality. If a portal to an abstract realm had been opened here on the island, she’d know it. As a traveler of those realms, she could feel a pressure in the roof of her mouth, faint but unmistakable, whenever she was near a dimensional veil that had been breached.

She raced up the steps to the floor above. The light of a great fire flickered through an open window. She glanced out to see Vigor nearly a quarter mile out on the ice, spewing flames, spinning as he blasted the armies massed against him. Unfortunately, from her higher vantage point, the vastness of the army stood revealed. As large as the dragon was, he couldn’t protect the Keep from being overrun.

She ran on. Her only hope lay at the top of the stairs. Her tireless legs moved with machine precision to propel her upwards, leaping three steps at a time.

At last she reached a locked door. She hoped beyond this she’d find Zetetic. She pounded on the door with her fist. “Open up! It’s the Black Swan! You owe your life to me!”

When no reply came, she threw herself against the door. The thick wood cracked, but held. She threw herself again, then again, until the door came apart and she stumbled into the chamber beyond. Instantly, she felt the familiar sensation in the roof of her mouth. In passing through the door, she’d left the material world behind.

She found herself in a room lined with paper, in large sheets pasted roughly to stone walls. The paper had been painted white, though here and there some faint traces of words seeped through the chalky wash. The edges of the room were difficult to pinpoint, but the space felt cavernous. In the center of the space, dressed in red robes, sat Zetetic, cross-legged, his head in his hands, staring at objects before him.

She stepped closer, and saw a can of white paint before him, a worn and ragged brush balanced on the lip of the open container. Beside this was an inkwell, with a simple goose quill next to it, the tip black as soot. On the paper before Zetetic a few hundred words had been jotted, in a language she couldn’t read.

“Zetetic?” she said, softly.

He said nothing.

“Zetetic, it’s me. The Black Swan. I paid King Brightmoon to spare your life when you were captured by the Church of the Book all those years ago. I greased the palms required to let the king trust you with teaching Stagger how to guide the sun, and paid the necessary fees to have you take possession of this island. You owe me.”

Zetetic didn’t even look up.

She moved to a few feet away. She crouched, her iron joints creaking. Studying his face, she confirmed he was awake. He blinked, but never lifted his eyes to acknowledge her.

She reached for the quill, since it seemed to be the focus of his attention.

The Deceiver’s hand shot forward and grabbed her wrist.

“I owe you nothing,” he said in a calm, measured tone.

“Zetetic, listen to me. I know that out here in the Spittles, news may be slow to reach you. The Dragon Apocalypse is upon us.”

“It know what lies beyond these walls. Nothing at all, or very nearly nothing. All that remains of our world are echoes and shadows, soon to fade.”

“That can’t be true!” she said. “Yes, Stagger has vanished, and the sun has been torn from the sky. In the endless night, Tempest has thrown open the gates of Hell and the destruction wrought by his army of the damned is unimaginable in scope. Hush has enslaved Abyss, his mind frozen by her elemental chill, so that nothing prevents her from turning the whole world into a frigid wasteland. But it’s not too late! We have to hope that pockets of humanity yet survive. If we stop the dragons, enough remains of the world that we can rebuild!”

“I know all of this,” said Zetetic, lifting the quill, running his finger along the edge. “I’ve known it before it happened, thanks to your careful reporting from the future. Everything is happening, just as you said. You have the ultimate opportunity to say, fully, profoundly, ‘Told you so.’ This must provide you a great deal of satisfaction.’ ”

“Don’t be absurd!” she cried. “I’ve devoted numerous lifetimes to preventing this day. You swore you’d help me stop it!”

He smiled, ever so faintly. “Certainly you knew better than to take the word of the Deceiver.”

“Why would you lie when it means your own death?”

“Why should I fear death? It’s nothing but a door.”

“A door I’ve passed through many times,” the Black Swan said. “Trust me, the living world is far better.”

“You’ve traveled to the abstract realms, as have I. They are mere shadows of the living world. When life is gone, and they fade away, what will we discover beyond?”

“What if it’s nothing?” she asked. “Certainly it’s best to fight to save the world we know.”

“I don’t believe that at all,” said Zetetic. “I’m certain that the reality we know is nothing but a fiction created for the entertainment of beings unfathomable. We’re puppets. I would rid myself of strings.”

The Black Swan stared into his face, unable to fathom the placidity of his eyes. She whispered, her voice breaking into despair, “You’re mad.”

“Perhaps.” Zetetic focused his gaze on the tip of the quill, as if inspecting its quality as a writing instrument. “But insulting me is a poor strategy for getting me to change my mind.”

“What will change your mind?” she asked.

“The more valuable secret for me would be to discover how to stop it from changing.”

If she’d still had hair, she’d have torn it out. She’d never enjoyed any of her previous conversations with Zetetic, but she had no patience at all for his babble now. She stretched out her arms, seeing no choice but to take him by the throat and throttle him into obedience.

“That will end very badly for you,” he said as her hands approached him. “Besides, you’ve other concerns at the moment. Stagger’s back.”

“What?”

“Stagger’s back. I know you’ve been searching for him. He’s approaching the Keep even now.”

The Black Swan drew her hands back. She knew he was telling the truth, or else had told a lie that had become the truth. The pressure in the roof of her mouth became a stabbing sensation. A being of enormous power had just entered into the real world.

“Stagger?” she whispered, then ran back to the stairway and the nearest tower window.

Walking along the ocean toward the Keep was a flare of light vaguely the size and shape of a man. His radiance disintegrated the undead hordes as he passed.

Pressing a button on the side of her temple, the Black Swan dropped lenses of smoked glass over her eyes. The radiance dimmed, allowing her to see a man at the center of the light, wearing a suit of yellow silk, his long hair tied back neatly into a ponytail.

Bright sunlight lit the frozen waves surrounding the Keep. On the sea below, the dragon gazed up at the light, smoke rising from his nostrils. In a circle several hundred yards around him charred corpses were heaped high.

Menagerie, still in gorilla form, stood atop the wall of corpses, her fur completely matted with dark blood.

Stagger reached the mound of bodies. Extending his arms to his side, he drifted into the air, rising above the corpses, until he was eye level with the gorilla.

“Who are you?” Vigor demanded from inside the circle of bodies, his voice loud enough to be heard from the top of the tower.

“Once I was Abstemious Merchant,” said Stagger. “A solar gentleman. Now, I am a loyal servant of Tempest. If you’ll please step aside, I’m here to kill Zetetic.”

“Kill Zetetic?” asked Menagerie. “I thought the two of you were buddies.”

“Menagerie,” said Stagger, turning his gaze toward the shapeshifter. “I’m genuinely sorry.” A flash followed. The Black Swan blinked to clear her vision. All that remained of Menagerie was a black streak of ash.

Vigor roared, flames belching from his serpentine neck as he blasted Stagger. As the flames died, Stagger proved unharmed. Vigor lunged toward him, his toothy jaws clamping on Stagger’s head. Stagger calmly lifted his hands and pried the dragon’s jaws open, freeing himself.

“You have the same aura as Brokenwing, but you’re obviously not him,” said Stagger.

“Urah muh daggoo,” answered Vigor, his speech rendered unintelligible by Stagger’s grip.

“Whoever you are, farewell,” said Stagger. The Black Swan shielded her eyes from the flash she knew was coming. When she lowered her hand, Vigor was gone. His ashes drifted down to the ice like black snow.

Stagger walked closer to the tower, ascending with each step as if he climbed an unseen staircase.

The Black Swan hesitated. Stagger was here to kill Zetetic? Why? Should she go warn the Deceiver? Was it possible that he didn’t already know?

As the living embodiment of the sun, there was little hope of stopping Stagger by force. Fortunately, she knew one important thing about the man. He loved to talk.

The Black Swan leaned her iron body against the wall and locked her joints. She loosened her grip on her physical shell, stepping outside its confines, connected only by a slender silver thread. She floated out the window to meet Stagger as he drew closer.

“Stagger,” she called out.

“I expected to find you here,” he said.

“I most certainly didn’t expect to find you here,” she said. “Where have you been?”

“In Hell,” he said. “Just another damned soul.”

“No,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “Tempest is my master now. He’s achieved his dream of total dominion over the world. At least, he will once Zetetic has been vaporized.”

“I can’t let you do this,” said the Black Swan. “Zetetic is our last hope of undoing all the destruction.”

“You cannot possibly stop me,” said Stagger.

“Return to your bones,” said the Black Swan, pointing her wraithlike fingers toward the man.

Stagger smirked. “Necromancy isn’t as effective as it once was. Life no longer holds power over death. Now, be a good girl and step aside, won’t you? I can vaporize your spirit as well as your body, but we both know I’d rather not harm you.”

The Black Swan closed her eyes as the silver thread pulled her back into her iron shell. It was time to leave. She’d again failed to stop the end of the world. It was time to go back and try once more.

She opened her eyes. She frowned. She was still in Zetetic’s tower. The winds still howled above the frozen sea outside the window. The toe of Stagger’s boot fell upon the window ledge. He stepped down to the floor beside her.

“You won’t be going anywhere,” he said.

“How?” she asked. “How are you stopping me?”

“The Church of the Book used to draw magical glyphs that protected their holy sanctuaries from assaults from the abstract realm. In coming here, I’ve traced the outline of one of these glyphs to encompass the island. Tempest doesn’t want Zetetic to flee into a different reality.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Zetetic, his voice coming from the paper-lined room. “We’ve reached the last words of the last page of the final chapter. We’re all precisely where we must be.”

Stagger stepped into the room. The Black Swan followed, her mind racing. How could she hope to stop Stagger?

Zetetic no longer held the quill. He now held the paint brush. The words that had filled the paper directly in front of him were mostly gone, lost beneath a sheen of glistening paint. Somehow, in the seconds since the Black Swan had last seen him, he’d worked up a sweat. Huge beads of perspiration stood against the large red “D” tattooed in the center of his brow.

“Goodbye, Zetetic,” said Stagger.

Zetetic drew his brush across the words before him. They vanished beneath the white.

Stagger silently faded away. The Black Swan blinked.

“Where?” she whispered.

Zetetic put down the brush and picked up the pen. As he dipped the tip into the inkwell, the inkwell vanished. He frowned as the dry tip of the quill hit the paper. Then, the quill disappeared.

“My calculations were off a few seconds, I see,” he said with a heavy sigh, studying his empty fingers.

The Black Swan lifted her own hands, confused as to why she could see through them.

In the roof of her mouth, she felt something pop. She didn’t know why, she didn’t know how, but she sensed that the glyphs Stagger had drawn around the island were no longer there.

By instinct, the Black Swan leapt, jumping from the world of the living into the nearest adjacent realm. She tumbled into darkness, falling, falling. Since she’d been on an island, she expected to pass through the Sea of Wine, but it was gone. The Realm of Roots had always held a special magnetism for her ethereal self. She could no longer feel its tug. Stagger had arrived from Hell. The dimensional gateway should still be easy to pass through. Yet… nothing. She felt nothing. Hell itself had been swallowed by an all-encompassing vacancy.

She tumbled through the timeless dark, her mind blank, incapable of conscious thought, as a memory, exceedingly faint and long, long lost, crept into her awareness. She’d experienced this void before. When Numinous had read the One True Book, and ended the world. It seemed like the sort of thing that would be impossible to forget. But how can a mind keep a grasp on nothing?

She closed her eyes and stretched out her arms. The sensation of falling, she understood, was merely a remnant of her last physical sensation. It was impossible to fall in a place with no up or down, no side to side, where width and depth and breadth weren’t even concepts. She was in a place that was not a place. Which meant she couldn’t be here. She had to be somewhere else.

She no longer felt as if she were falling. She opened her eyes, finding impenetrable darkness above. She sat up and discovered herself surrounded by an endless plain of white paper covered in dark scratchings. She’d never been able to understand these symbols before, but realized suddenly that they bore a strong resemblance to the letters Zetetic had scrawled before him.

She stood, gazing over the final realm, the foundation that all of reality rested upon. She’d come once again to the Primordial Pages. Once, the pages had stretched out unblemished for as far as she could see. Now, she saw horrible rips in the paper, long gashes where she’d fallen through on her previous journeys back along the narrative stream of reality. Once, she’d been able to travel back decades with ease. Now, her repeated journeys had left the pages in tatters. Rips had grown and merged, leaving only thin and fragile bridges of intact paper for her to navigate.

Fortunately, she needn’t travel back far. A single step across the lines could carry her back days, even weeks. A few hours of careful treading on the fragile pages might yet take her back a few years. The limbo she’d fallen through provided her an important clue. Numinous Pilgrim had somehow survived her ambush on the Sea of Wine. Only the Omega Reader could have destroyed the abstract realms so completely.

Twenty years ago, Infidel had nearly killed Numinous while he was still a child. How difficult would it be to finish the job? With her destination in mind, she stepped forward.

Her body tensed as she heard the ripping caused by the single step.

When she’d traveled to the Keep, to gain traction on the frozen waves, she’d extended the spikes in her feet. She’d never retracted them.

“No,” she cried, but denying what was happening didn’t stop it. With a loud tearing sound, she plummeted through the page. She grasped at a dangling shard of paper, desperate to climb back. The paper tore from her iron grip and she fell, tumbling toward a recent yesterday.