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!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Kindle Journey, Part 1

Getting my novels available in various e-book formats is one of my top goals of the summer. My former agent had the wisdom to retain the digital rights. I've since had an offer for the rights, but felt like the royalties offered were rather slim when compared to the direct slice I could earn if I published the books myself. I don't think self-publishing books that have already been professionally published carries the stigma of vanity publishing. The only thing that has held me back to date has been ignorance and sloth. This is true of very many areas of my life, but, specifically, I didn't know how to go about converting my books to digital format and I didn't know if the money that could be earned would be worth the effort. I did know it wouldn't be a trivial investment of time. All of the dragon age books and Nobody went through final edits in PDF format. This means I don't have the final edited word files on any of them, and will need to revise and edit from the last Word files I have available. In the case of Nobody, I may actually have to scan in the book and deal with cleaning up the OCR scan, an extremely tedious task.

Fortunately, years of working as a professional writer have toughened me for the task of working insanely long hours on projects for which I may see only meager rewards. I don't expect any of my ebook offerings to make me rich, but I do think I'll benefit from the "long tail" effect. It may be I only sell a few dozen digital copies each year of any given title, but, since there's no cost for storing the stock, those sales can persist year after year and, in the long run, amount to something. And, I never have to worry about the book selling out a print run, the way Bitterwood has twice now, leaving gaps where it's unavailable to those interested in reading it.

Which leaves me mainly with a knowledge gap of learning how to format and upload files to the various formats and outlets. My first target is to get my books available on Kindle, which seems to be the market leader, both in the stand alone readers and in the free software on various platforms, including Android phones. I tried reading some other authors advice on publishing on the Kindle, but wasn't happy with any resource I found. Some were too technical, talking about XML tags, whiles other were too vague and general.

So, I decided that the best way to figure out the process was just to plunge ahead and do it. I decided to start with a short story, "Final Flight of the Blue Bee," and make it available for just 99 cents. This is the minimum price you can charge on the Kindle. FFBB is a story that originally was published in Asimov's and has since been reprinted twice. It's a superhero story, so it should appeal to readers who enjoyed Nobody Gets the Girl. And, since it was under 8,000 words long, the editing task of converting it to HTML didn't seem to great a task.

And, it wasn't! I just saved as HTML from the file menu in word. Well, duh. I was still worried that when I uploaded the file, I'd get strange formatting errors. Nope! It converted over just fine. Now, admittedly, I didn't do anything fancy. There's no table of contents, like I plan to put in my novels, hyperlinking to the chapters. Still, I was worried about really basic stuff, like whether paragraphs, quotations, and em-dashes would convert well, and they did.

So, as of today, I have my very first Kindle offering available. Click here if you'd like to see the amazon page. Cool, eh?

Now that I've learned that the technical side is relatively easy, I'm ready to tackle the novels. No small task; all the dragon books are in the 120,000 word range, so the sheer mass of reading through them again is going to take some time. But, I'll keep readers here posted on my progress. My first target will be Bitterwood. Hopefully by the time I've got all four novels available, I'll have some further news on Greatshadow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greatshadow Lives. Also, Writing as a Method of Mapping Ignorance.

Last Friday, I passed an important milestone for my latest novel, Greatshadow. It will seem trivial perhaps, but that was the day when I finally put together a single word file with the title "Greatshadow.complete.doc." I now have an actual novel 113k words long. I began this project last July, but due to various false starts, I'll used August 1, 2009 as my official starting point. Since then, I've been writing and rewriting chapters. The first draft had about 20 chapters. I didn't show these chapters to anyone. This was the draft where the book was still raw and half formed. I had characters who had showed up to take part in the story who were still strangers to me, and I was fuzzy on details in setting, plotting, etc. But, the whole point of my first draft is to educate myself on the broadest extent of my ignorance. I start writing the book knowing there are certain things I don't know, but am blissfully unaware of many more things I don't know. By the time I get to the end of my first draft, I have a really good map of the deficiencies in my knowledge and imagination. For instance, in my first draft, I have a minor character named Aurora. She's an ice-ogress with a broad range of ice-related powers. She started as an enforcer for another character, the Black Swan, but beyond this, I didn't know much about her other than she was a tough guy with some cold-themed magic tricks. I thought she might be in one or two scenes, and that would be that.

But, a funny thing happened as I wrote the book. I had to introduce a magical weapon that could be a genuine threat to the dragon, and since he's a dragon of fire, it made sense that the weapon would also have a cold theme. How do I introduce the back story of the weapon? Suddenly, it's obvious: Aurora has a back story that links her to the weapon. So, now Aurora is along for the quest, an actual member of the team rather than just a passing cast member. But, I hadn't really developed her much in my imagination. She wasn't even a she when I started writing; she had started out as a tough male ogre, and I had only flipped her to female because I wanted a little gender diversity in a heavily male cast.

The more I used Aurora, the more questions I had about her. Had she ever been in love? How had an ice-ogre gotten to the tropics? Why was she putting up with some of the abuse certain other characters were heaping on her for not being human? The more I wrote her, the more I knew how much more I needed to write about her in the next draft.

So, draft two. This time, I've figured out what didn't know the first time and have to put it onto the page, often wiping out whole scenes and chapters built during my initial ignorance. This draft, I do show to readers, a special circle of critiquers who provide me with feedback and reaction as they read. As I read their reactions, I begin to build a map of a whole knew level of ignorance: My readers begin asking me questions that I don't know the answers to, and they are questions I would never have thought of myself. For instance, I thought I had a pretty firm grasp on a character known as Father Ver, but it turned out that my understanding was actually pretty two-dimensional, and I needed the reader reaction to prod me into thinking deeper about the character. And, I also discover that some stuff I put in just didn't work. There was a fight near the end of the book with a character named Wonowon. Wonowon fought by reflecting back each characters worst fears. I intended the name to be a reference to room 101 from 1984, where Big Brother took you to be confronted with the worst thing in the world. No one got it. Part of the confusion was that Wonowon only speaks in palindromes. "Murder for a jar of red rum," is an offer Wonowon makes to my narrator Stagger, an alcoholic who does worry that he would stoop to killing if he was thirsty enough for booze. I thought the mirror language was a nice touch, but it made the name all the more confusing, since the name was almost a palindrome, but not quite. So, after draft 3, the name has changed to Nowowon.

When I write the third draft, I now have a long list of reader questions that I have to answer. The result should be a book that answers every important questions. The questions I choose not to answer are framed as hints of future events, or else explicitly addressed as questions that no one in the book knows the answer to. The finished product is something very much like a novel.

But, of course, it's not. It's just a string of chapters. It doesn't truly feel like a book to me until I combine everything into one file. This is an important step for mainly psychological reasons. If someone wants to read the book, I can now just mail them a single file. But, there are some practical advantages to having everything put together. Some of my characters underwent name changes, since one of the things I'm ignorant on when I start a book is what my characters will actually be called. This time, I decided very late in the game to change a character name from "Stranger" to "Relic." Stranger was too generic, and, even worse, looked to much like Stagger, my narrator. Relic better captured the tone of the character, and provides a nice ironic twist at the end of the book when details of his true identity are unveiled. But, since "stranger" was a work I had used in non-naming contexts, I had to do a search and replace on the whole book where I examined every single usage of the word, rather than just trusting a universal search and replace. This was much easier to do with the novel assembled than it was chapter by chapter.

Now that I have a whole book, what next? I've already got the novel submitted to one publisher. I could just put it aside and wait for a response, but I still have more work to do. I'm going to set it aside for a week or so, then I'm going to read the whole book out loud in order to smooth out the prose and hunt for typos. Then, I'll send it to more friends for feedback and opinions, in case there's still something I'm missing that could make it a better book. And then, I'll probably start working on a sequel.

Before I do the sequel, however, I plan to make my dragon novels and Nobody Gets the Girl available on the Kindle platform. This will be be my first foray into e-publishing. I intend to document my adventures in converting and uploading the files here, so that others might benefit from my mistakes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ConCarolina's Wrap Up

Avast! Little by little, I'm building a pirate costume to enhance my con-attending experience. When I first started going to cons, I was sort of mystified by the costumed attendees. My enthusiasm for dressing up in costumes had vanished pretty much around the time I stopped trick or treating, and I just wasn't sure what to make of all these grown men in storm trooper suits. I mean, I'm geeky, even nerdy, but it just seemed like there was some sort of danger line you crossed over once you started dressing up as your favorite film characters.

But, I've been going to cons for about five years now, and I'm pleased to report that I have managed to loosen up. No longer to I look upon the costumed hordes as wierdos who've had trouble growing up. Or rather, I've finally had the courage to admit that I may well be a wierdo who's had trouble growing up, and what's wrong with that?

My pirate costume has fairly organic origins. Basically, about two years ago I decided to let my hair grow and gave up on shaving, for the most part. Last year, I took a road trip with Cheryl along the inner banks of NC, where about every third village claims to have been the home of Blackbeard. And, looking at drawings of Blackbeard, I thought: You know, all I really need is the hat, and that could be me.

But, there's sort of a slippery slope. Once you buy the hat, you start thinking you need a pirate shirt. And the pirate shirt doesn't look right without a pirate coat and sash. And, of course, I also need the boots. And a cutlass. I could have dumped out $500 all at once on these things, except, you know, I don't often have a spare $500 sitting around. So, I've been building it a piece at a time. I figure that five years from now, I should be up to the eye-patch and parrot. If I get to the point that I start decorating my car to look like a ship, please stage an intervention.

Anyway, I didn't set out to blog about my costume. I meant to blog about ConCarolina's. This year, I've heard rumors that the over 1000 people attended, and that seems plausible. The programming track was very rich this year, with tracks on science and the paranormal in addition to the writing, anime, and media tracks. I think the richness of the content makes ConCarolina's really stand out.

Highlights of the con for me included the "Year in Science" panel with Stephen Euin Cobb. We've been paired together on panels before, and play off each other well. We talk about the latest advances in robotics with the same high energy enthusiasm other guys have when they talk about football. Hopefully the audience has as much fun as we do! I also did a "Where's the Proof?" panel about ghosts. I was the only skeptic on a panel with three ghost hunters, including two professed pyschics. I anticipated hostility, but the hour actually went by as a rather genial discussion, and, even as a person who doesn't believe in ghosts, I had to agree that ghost stories give a little extra spice to life, and I wouldn't want to live in a world without them. Finally, there was a panel about creating protagonists that was led by Ed Schubert and I thought this was one of the best writing panels I've ever taken part in. A lot of writing panels at cons tend to focus on fairly vague generalities, but I thought Ed did a nice job at drilling down to get at the heart of why some protagonists resonate while others are just duds.

I was on eleven panels in total; the fact that I'm not mentioning one here doesn't mean it wasn't good, just that, after what amounts to 11 public speaking events in a span of roughly 44 hours, I arrived home with a brain full of mush, a big grin on my face, and partial amnesia. If anyone out there has a photo of a bespectacled pirate behaving erratically in a hotel lobby, please don't try to blackmail me. I'm currently saving my money for a good pair of boots! Yaarrr!

The Evolution of a Cover

This summer I have a story coming out in an anthology called Masked, edited by Lou Anders. The cover design is by Richard Yoo, and he's just posted an essay showing the various drafts of the cover, which I thought was an interesting glimpse into the publishing process. I'll be talking more about Masked as the publication date draws closer. I'm really excited about being in this anthology. A lot of previous superhero anthologies have missed the mark, coming off as ironic critiques of superheroes rather than enthusiastic celebrations of them. This time, Lou took the trouble to solicit stories from people who actually liked superheroes, and I think the quality and tone of the whole anthology are going to produce a lot of five star reviews on Amazon (and, hopefully, a lot of sales). More news soon!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Signing, June 15, Cary Barnes and Noble

A quick note to announce that a week from today, I'll be at the Cary Barnes and Noble at 7pm for a fantasy and science fiction panel featuring Lisa Shearin, Kelly Gay, Mark Van Name, David Drake, and me. These signings are starting to turn into a regular annual event. Last year, the signing occurred about a week before Dragonseed was released, meaning I wasn't able to sell my entire trilogy. This year, it's taking place when Bitterwood is once again sold out at the warehouse, so I still won't have all my books available. One day, maybe I'll do a signing where my entire trilogy is available at once....

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

ConCarolinas June 4-6

I'll be at ConCarolina's this weekend and just got my schedule. I love this particular science fiction convention because they always have a lot of panels discussing the science half of the equation, while many cons focus solely on the fiction. And, the con has been surging in size in recent years, no doubt due to the enthusiasm and talent of the organizers. So, if you're near Charlotte this weekend and want a chance to geek out, there's really no better place you could want to be.

I'll have a table in the hall to sell copies of my books where I'll hang out between panels. Not that there's much "between" for me. I'm on eleven of them! Here's my scedule:

Friday 03:00 pm to 04:00 pm
Event Name: Why Science is Necessary
Location: Keynes - Programming 5
Is the US falling behind in science? What can be done to get more kids involved in science?

PanelistsDebra Killeen, Stephen Euin Cobb, James J McGee, James Maxey

Friday 06:00 pm to 07:00 pm
Event Name: A Character`s Best Friend
Location: University Ballroom A - Programming 3
Creating familiars and other animal sidekicks.

PanelistsA.J. Hartley, Dahlia Rose, J. F. Lewis, Kalayna Price, Misty Massey, James Maxey

Friday 07:00 pm to 08:00 pm
Event Name: Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?
Location: Keynes - Programming 5
Are humans affecting the Earth`s climate and what can we do aobut it if we are?

PanelistsChris Berman, Debra Killeen, Mike Pederson, James Maxey

Saturday 09:00 am to 10:00 am
Event Name: Where`s the Proof?
Location: Walden - Programming 4
What constitutes hard evidence in the field of paranormal study? What would it take to convince the skeptics?

PanelistsJames Maxey, K.G. McAbee, Lisa Phillips, Mike Pederson, Tally Johnson, Sarah Sherman, Todd Lacey, Nathan Levan

Saturday 11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Event Name: I Need a Hero!
Location: University Ballroom A - Programming 3
Creating the perfect protagonist.

PanelistsAllen Wold, Bobby Nash, Dahlia Rose, Faith Hunter, James Maxey, Robert V Aldrich, Edmund R. Schubert

Saturday 01:00 pm to 02:00 pm
Event Name: The Future of NASA
Location: Keynes - Programming 5
The shuttle program is at an end. What`s next for our space program?

PanelistsChris Berman, James Maxey

Saturday 04:00 pm to 05:00 pm
Event Name: The Year in Science
Location: Keynes - Programming 5
What`s new in the scientific works and what to expect in 2011.

PanelistsJames Maxey, Stephen Euin Cobb

Saturday 05:00 pm to 06:00 pm
Event Name: Taking Leave
Location: University Ballroom A - Programming 3
Many writers imagine a future where euthanasia is commonplace. Is this a better future - or worse?

PanelistsJ. F. Lewis, James Maxey

Saturday 06:00 pm to 07:00 pm
Event Name: Cryptozoology
Location: Walden - Programming 4
Bigfoot? Nessie? Chubacabra? Studying legendary beasties.

PanelistsCheralyn Lambeth, James Maxey, K.G. McAbee, Mike Pederson, Bill Mulligan

Sunday 11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Event Name: Censorship
Location: Keynes - Programming 5
How to deal with people who want to silence your voice.

PanelistsA.J. Hartley, James Maxey, J. F. Lewis, Karen Diaz, Misty Massey, DJ Torch, On Mark
Productions , Stephen Mark Rainey, Allen Wold