Welcome to my worlds!

I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Greatshadow, 60844

Last week, I promised to talk about my new book. First, though, I wanted to discuss the last twelve months of my publishing life. It was almost exactly one year ago that I turned Dragonseed into my publisher, Solaris. My editor, Christian Dunn, and I talked about future books at that time. I had ideas for more books in the Bitterwood universe, but I told him that I really wanted to flex my creative muscles and start a new series of fantasy novels. I even thought it was possible that, after I took a year off from the Dragon Age, I'd be able to keep two series going at once. I could perhaps but out a Bitterwood book every summer, and one of my new series every winter.

I was pretty burned out last fall, having written about 300,000 words of fresh fiction in roughly 14 months, all while holding down a full time job. So, I took a few months to write some sample chapters and an outline for the first of the new fantasy novels I had in mind, a book called 13 Nails. I sent the proposal in to my agent around the end of October if my memory serves me. Not long after, we got the news that Solaris was up for sale.

Now, the smart thing for me to do when I got this news would have been to sit down and start writing. Which, actually, I did. In the past year, I've started four different novels, and written at least a few chapters on each of them. There were the three chapters I wrote for 13 Nails. I wrote five chapters of a novel set in a superhero universe you'll be able to catch a glimpse of in an anthology next year called With Great Power. I wrote two chapters of a sequel to my superhero novel Nobody Gets the Girl. And, while on vacation July, I wrote three chapters of a fantasy novel called Greatshadow, set in the same universe as 13 Nails, but with a completely different central cast.

As I was doing this, I was sort of kicked back, not stressed out about losing Solaris as a publisher. After all, I had an agent. She was still out there shopping around the sample chapters and outline for 13 Nails. So, while I wrote 13 chapters over the course of the last year, I didn't actually write any books. I got spoiled by my last two books, which I sold before I wrote them. I was unable to commit my time to an entire new book until I knew for sure it would be published.

Then, on July 28, I got a call from my agent. She was shutting down her agency and leaving the business.


Now I had no publisher and no agent. A year ago at this time, I had Christian Dunn expressing interest in as many books as I could write. Today, I have nothing nailed down. There's a reason the phrase "Don't quit your day job" is standard advice for writer's getting started in the biz.

So, that's the bad news. The good news is, I got off the phone with Nadia and started writing an actual book. Of all the projects I had started, the one that most captured my imagination was Greatshadow. It might simply be that it was just the most recent of the projects I'd started. But, also, it's a project I can explain in just a few sentences. All the other books are complex. The Nobody sequel requires that a person has read the first book to get the pitch. 13 Nails is, I think, a great book, but it has a wildly ambitious scope to it that defies simple summary. Any plot line that relies on events unfolding over a 500 year timeline is going to be tricky to pitch in 25 words or less. My superhero novel was a fun project, but I had a problem in that, after five chapters, I hadn't found it's heart. I had a plot, I had characters, but I didn't feel like I'd figured out what my larger point was. When I write a book, I want to be doing it for some larger reason than simply writing a book. I want to say something about what I've learned about life; a good book needs a theme, and it should be something more than "superheroes are cool."

Which brings me to Greatshadow. I'm going to count August 1 as my official start date. While I wrote three chapters in July, I threw those out and started from scratch. 40 days later, I've written 60944 words and 14 chapters. This is longer than my very first novel, which took me two years to write. I feel like this has passed solidly from a book I might write to a book I will write, which I why I'm finally talking about it here.

I've decided not to launch a serious search for a new agent or publisher until I finish it. The problem with only writing early chapters, polishing them, and sending them out is that, for me, I keep discovering wonderful stuff about the world and the characters as I roll along. I could sit and imagine a book for as long as I want to, think I've got it all figured out, but the second I start typing, things start changing. For instance, I know already I'm changing the names of at least two of the characters. I don't know what I'm changing them to, mind you, but the names have an internal rhyme that didn't matter to me when I started (I actually liked the way the names flowed when I listed characters and had the two names that partially rhymed), but now that I've written fourteen chapters, I know that it just doesn't work. Rhyming names always turn into jokes... think Rod and Todd from the Simpsons. And, I intended one of the characters to be comic relief, but the other character has emerged as one of the stronger players in the book, and I don't want to detract from that.

Here's the big picture: Greatshadow is the world's most powerful dragon. He's the primal dragon of fire, half big lizard, half elemental force. He's four thousand years old, has watched civilizations rise and fall, and during this time he's accumulated the largest treasure trove on the planet.

Now, a heroic knight named Lord Tower has sworn to slay the dragon once and for all. He's put together a team of a dozen of the world's greatest priests, wizards, and warriors to get the job done. Guided by an ancient map, they'll navigate into the heart of a volcano to fight the beast, both in the physical world, and in the spirit realm.

Twelve warriors set out. Only two come back.

You may be thinking, hmm, that seems like a pretty traditional fantasy novel. You'd be correct; I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. The best fantasies I've read always strip down to men testing themselves against legendary beasts, and I want to try my hand at creating a truly archetypical fairy tale adventure. Only, of course, this is a James Maxey story. Nothing is going to be straight or simple. You wouldn't know from just the pitch about the love triangle giving tension to the story. It involves the celibate but sexually tormented knight, the invulnerable, super-strong princess who left him on the altar, and her dead boyfriend who happens to be narrating the book. You don't get a hint of the lesbian frost-ogre, the time-travelling bar owner who has seen the world end in fire and storm, the faceless giant who cries when his kitten dies, or the murdered magician who's been involuntarily brought back to life to take part in the quest. I haven't yet mentioned that almost everyone going on the dragon hunt plans to be the only one who comes out alive, in sole possession of the unimaginable treasure horde.

Also, in the Bitterwood universe, I didn't get to play with magic. This time, magic is everywhere. Lord Tower fights with a magic weapon called the Prayerhammer. He has an inpenetrable suit of armor that is prayed into existence by a team of two hundred monks hidden in a distant mountain monastery. I've got another guy covered with animal tattoos inked with the spirit blood of those beasts who can shapeshift into any creature drawn on him, but only once, until the tattoo gets reinked. (He's one of the characters I need to rename.)

Oh, and, of course, the Bitterwood dragons couldn't breathe fire. They were limited to forty foot wing spans, since that's the largest wingspan any earth creature ever evolved. I took them out of the realm of magic, and made them animals. Now, I'm going in the opposite direction. Greatshadow breathes fire. Greatshadow is fire, beneath a shell of big lizard. And, when I say big, I'm talking half mile wing span. How does he get off the ground at that size? He's magic, baby!

And, without giving too much away, I feel like I have a larger point to make with all this. I'm not some hard core radical environmentalist, but I think I'm touching on some fundamental truths in this book as the heroes set out to slay what is, in essense, a force of nature. Men have always sought to tame nature; everything that is good about being civilized flows from our ability to tame and control the natural world. Of course, some would argue that everything bad about being civilized flows from our separation and degradation of the natural world. Man versus nature is a worthy theme; especially when nature is a mountain-sized monster who gets to fight back.

This novel will get published. I don't know when, and I don't know where. But the chapters I've banged out so far are too good to just disappear forever into slush piles.

My goal is to finish a complete first draft before I start shopping it around; I have a target of finishing before I go to Capclave. I plan to start posting weekly progress reports here, probably every Monday. Once I start rewrites, I'll probably publish a few chapters here so you can see why I'm so excited about this project. I'm also giving serious thought to just mailing out the full manuscript of the book to anyone who wants a copy once I have it done.

Stay tuned.


Cindy said...

Sounds very interesting! If there's anything I can do for you to help you get this going let me know!

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Cindy! I may be soliciting help here on the blog for some fantasy curse words soon. In the Bitterwood books, I had Jandra exclaim, "By the bones!" when she was surprised. Right now, I've got my characters using traditional cuss words, but I really want to add some flavor by going back and replacing these with something that reflects the larger setting. I'll probably do a post discussing the religious views of different characters and see if anyone wants to brainstorm about the curses that might arise from the various faiths.

For instance, in our world, it doesn't make much sense for me, an atheist, to shout out "Oh my god!" or even "Damn it!" Of course, this being the real world, I do these things and no one cares. But in fiction, readers would almost definitely jump on an atheist who said "Oh my God."

Anyway, right now I'm just cranking out words without getting caught up trying to think of new curse words every time a character stubs his toe. This sort of detail is good second draft finessing.

Mr. Cavin said...

I like it. It's a heist movie. Ocean's Thirteen vs. Bellagio the Dragon. Aim for the slots, boys! I'll bet that casino really does have a half-mile wingspan, too.

Looking forward to the cussing.

rastronomicals said...

Funny, I would have guessed that by the time a writer had published four novels including a trilogy, he'd not have to worry about placing anything else he might thereafter write.

Perhaps that was the gist of your association with Solaris, but even with my relative ignorance of the publishing industry, I'm surprised that finding somebody to publish your next work would be anything other than trivial.

Beyond Solaris having folded, do you think that your status in this regard right now is related to the wider economic recession? I know times have been tough in the publishing industry not just for the last year, but more like for the last ten. Is it that the screws have just turned that far? Or do you think that with the publisher of your last three books AND your agent newly out of the equation, you would have faced the same quandary even if it had occurred fifty years ago?

And you know, I hesitate to bring it up for fear of the insult that might be taken by someone who can write 300,000 professional words in 14 months, but self-publishing should it come to that in this internet age does not have the same connotations it once did.

Yesterday I read a story that Doctorow linked to that I quite enjoyed. Reading further, I see that the author aims to publish the novella he's currently working on with the proceeds from some $6,000 worh of donations he's received so far on his page at some site established for just that purpose.

And it's practically mainstream for musicians working outside the most popular genres to fund themselves in this fashion by this point.

On reflection here, it sounds to me as if just like
in the music industry, the old paradigms in the bookselling business are, if not failing, being put under some deal of stress. I'm a big believer in talent will out, but it can't be an easy time to be a professional writer.

Good luck to you sir and to your Greatshadow novel. I will buy it when it is available to me.

James Maxey said...

Cavin, a heist movie is very much what I had in mind. Really, this book has too many good possibilities for a pitch. It's a heist movie combined with a dragon hunt. It's a love story combined with a dragon hunt. It's a superhero story. It's a ghost story. It's a madcap musical comedy. Okay, not the last one.

Ras, the irony is, it's probably going to be harder to sell my fifth book than my first one. The downside is, I have a track record of four books; one (Nobody Gets the Girl) was a flop by any financial standard. Bitterwood and Dragonforge did pretty good, but they weren't bestsellers, and due to circumstances I have no control over, I can't help but think that the sales of Dragonseed are going drop in relation to the others. Solaris wasn't spending any money on promotion this year. Ordinarily, when the third book of a trilogy comes out, a publisher might take out some ads, talk it up at cons, or at the minimum feature it on their website and book catalogs. I don't even know if solaris put out a book catalog for 2009. No mention of the book is on the website.

Now, in fairness, Solaris did their most important duty: The got my book into bookstores, and put a good cover on it. I don't think sales are going to drop dramatically; I just don't think they'll show the rise they could have shown with even a modest amount of publicity.

The downside is, when I try to sell my next book, a publisher is going to look at the numbers and see that my last book of the trilogy had a drop in sales. No matter what the cause, that's going to make it harder to generate preorders for my next book.

So, that's the bad news. The good news is, I'm a better writer today than I was yesterday. Most skills improve with practice, and writing is no different. I think Greatshadow has a real shot at getting editors and agents excited about being associated with it.

And, I just know more editors and agents today than I did when I started all this. I've got inside tracks to the desks of real players in the business; I don't have to go back to the slush pile.

That said, I want to go to your last point: Self publishing. I think self publishing is still a lousy route for a lot of the reasons I worry about Dragonseed. When you have a publisher, you don't just have someone who prints your book. You have someone who champions your book and goes out and spends time and money trying to sell it. If it's any kind of publishing house at all, you have a whole team working for you. If you self publish, you don't get this. So, that's the down side.

Now, here's the upside: In my case, I do have a built in audience. And, the potential reward per book in self publishing is just eye-popping. For instance, if I publish an e-book through Amazon, selling it for 9.99, I get $3.50 per book. My advance on Nobody Gets the Girl was only $3000. If I just sell a thousand copies (a big if), I can out earn the more traditional publishing house.

However, I'm doing this for more than just money. I want to be read; if an angel appeared to me today and said, "You have two choices on your next book: 1: You'll get an advance of a million dollars, but the publisher will go out of business before the book goes to press and no one will ever read it or 2: A million people will read your next book, but your publisher will embezzle all the money and run off to Vegas to blow it all in a single weekend. You'll never see a dime." I'd definitely choose #2. For now, as unfair and frustrating as traditional publishing paths are, they are still the best hope of getting my books out beyond just a small circle of faithful readers.

If a year from now, nobody had nibbled at Greatshadow, I'll take a second look at the self-publishing path.

Darkond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darkond said...

That sounds hard. Why don't you try to get your books in other languages for worldwide readers? They would put an interest on each other, and boost sales for both original and translated version. Suggest it to your publisher, if you can.

I'd like to read Bitterwood translated by a professional rather than with my 3rd year English. I'm sure that others would too!

By the way, a lot more people read Spanish and Chinese than Japanese.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear that you still have a job. i look forward to picking up your next book (whichever series that it may be).

also, have you talked to Tarar since the Bitterwood Forum went down? i am starting to wonder if it is ever going back up again


James Maxey said...

Drakonis, I actually have sold the German and French rights to the books, and they'll be going into print sometime next year. My agent never did find a buyer for the Japanese rights, but I still retain them, so nothing's impossible.

Shock, I haven't heard anything about the forums. I do hope they come back up soon. The irony is, they went down just as I went to Dragoncon and passed out materials telling people to go to the site. Ah well.

That said, while I am extremely grateful for the forum, it wasn't something being run by me or my publisher. What I'm hoping is that the new owners of Solaris, a UK software company named Rebellion, will launch a robust forum to support it's imprint, and that there will be someone out there who I can actually harrass if there are problems. The sale was just announced before I went to Dragoncon. I've only swapped one email since then with the new team. They say they'll be talking to me in a few weeks once they get more settled in. I'm cautiously optimistic, but with the emphasis on the caution part.

Anonymous said...

just letting you the Forum is back up