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.
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!