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!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

There is No Wheel is now live!

There is No Wheel is now live on Kindle and Nook.

This eclectic collection of the best of my published short stories mixes science fiction, urban fantasy, superheroes, and ghost stories… sometimes all in the same tale.

The stories included are:

To the East, a Bright Star: A former circus aerialist rescues a girl from an abandoned building in the face of the ultimate natural disaster.

Silent as Dust: A tale of Seven Chimney’s, a haunted house with one ghost too many.

Final Flight of the Blue Bee: The Blue Bee’s former sidekick, Stinger, is released from prison after forty years. He sets off to find justice with a scheme involving a venom gun, a suitcase full of twenties, ten million bees, and a hostage.

Empire of Dreams and Miracles: A tale from the future Atlantis glimpsed in my Bitterwood trilogy. What is left of a human life once all the great struggles are gone?

Return to Sender: Crystal Lance is a half-breed angel assigned to root out a demonic cult in a small college town. The monks who’ve raised her have trained her in martial arts and taught her the true names of the 7,777 heavenly powers. But can Crystal’s holy mission survive the temptations of coffee, pizza, her first kiss, and Elvis?

Pentacle on His Forehead, Lizard on His Breath: A junkie uses drugs and magic to search for his dead father. Will he still be sane enough to deal with the consequences when he finds him?

To Know All Things That Are In the Earth: In the aftermath of the Rapture, a scientist attempts to understand the mind of God through the autopsy of an angel.

Echo of the Eye: In a town of famous for its barbeque, the local butcher is a vegetarian. Mostly.

Where Their Worm Dieth Not: Atomahawk! She-Devil! Retaliator! The most powerful members of the Law Legion must unite to thwart the villainous scheme of the Prime Mover, until Retaliator discovers that they may be in the grip of an even more insidious evil.

Perhaps the Snail: A young woman is invited back to the trailer of her pop-star idol for a sex act involving a silver tray, a wine bottle, a pistol, a large pink snail, and sudden brief glimpse of the entirety of creation.

A word of caution: Many readers know my work from IGMS, which has PG13 guidelines. If this collection were a movie, it would definitely be rated "R," and maybe even "NC17." The last three stories in the collection have scenes of bondage, cannibalism, torture, and somewhat detailed descriptions of reproductive anatomy. I believe I have handled these elements with a certain level of restraint. I included these elements not to shock or titillate, but because they serve the larger purpose of the stories as I give my very best attempt possible at capturing the human condition as I understand it. I may write smut but I don't write fluff.

But, this is the heart of a future essay about the art of the short story. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sneak Peek! There is No Wheel cover!

I've spent most of my morning filling out all the various data fields on Amazon and Barnes and Noble needed to publish my short story collection, There is No Wheel. It can take several days from the time you start to the time that the books are finally available for sale. What's frustrating is that during this review time, you can't edit or tinker. So, when I posted my book description Amazon, I realized I wanted to revise the description slightly. Unfortunately, I'd already posted the original version at Barnes and Noble's pubit site, and can't touch it now until the book is up. Then, after I hit the final "upload" button on Amazon, I realized that while I'd added Ed Schubert as a contributor (since he'd written the intro), I sort of, kinda forgot to put my own name down as author. Sigh. Again, once the books have been reviewed and approved, all this information unlocks and is simple to edit. I just wish I didn't have the wait.

Anyway, while I'm waiting, I figured I'd post my semi-final version of the cover. The outer black swirls were just added this morning, and I'm not sure I like the way they interact with my name. On the other hand, the swirls give a feeling of movement to what had been an otherwise static cover. I'll probably keep them.

I went with this abstract image because I couldn't think of any single concrete image that captured the overall book. This is a mix of superheroes, urban fantasy, hard SF, and ghost stories... sometimes in the same story. I was tempted to do another superhero doll cover to try to capture some of the Nobody readers, since this collection does have three superhero short tales. But, I don't want to sell the book as something that it's not, and 30% isn't a high enough superhero ratio to really justify marketing the book as a collection of comic book prose.

You can't read it, but in the background of the image are passages from all the stories. At the center of the image, if you had the original vector art and not a moderately compressed jpeg, you could read "the great spiral of life stood revealed." Other snippets include "You're as safe as you're ever going to be," "a real angel would have known to duck," and "these taboos are mighty, mightier even than eyeball consumption euphoria."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Greatshadow 37566

I finished Chapter 8 of Greatshadow earlier this evening. Was absolutely certain I'd made it over 10k for the week, until I did some actual math and found myself exactly 75 words shy of that goal. In fairness, I have time to write another 75 words before bedtime, but I think I'll settle for "close enough." Plus, while my word count goals are important to me, an even more important goal is actually producing a story, and I feel like that's coming along swimmingly. I don't have a chapter by chapter outline, but 8 chapters is roughly 1/3 of the way through the book I have in mind, and this week a lot of haze cleared up around some of the fuzzier story elements. My supporting cast finally started showing a little personality and the first leg of my tri-pod of villianous world-destroyers has been firmly planted. I've had three fight scenes in the 8 chapters, and my main dissatisfaction is that my heroes have mainly been playing defense against an enemy that they don't know or understand. But, I'll shift gears in the next third of the book as my heroes figure out the danger they face and go on the offensive to deal with it. The last third of the book is where the true epic stuff breaks out, dragon versus dragon battles with the fate of the world at stake. I'm both eager to reach those chapters and utterly dreading them. A lot of what makes my writing work is that I'm good at grounding stuff in the material world. I use a lot of textures, temperatures, scents and non-language sounds to open gates for the reader to step into my worlds. But, I'm going deep into the land of magic and symbolism for my big final confrontations, pushing the boundaries of anything I've ever tried to put onto paper. I wish I could say that I'm currently reading a lot of books on myths and legends and symbolism to get myself in the right mindset, but instead I'm reading "The Disappearing Spoon," by Sam Kean, a book about the periodic table of elements, which is about as grounded in the material world as you can get. This coming week, I plan to shoot for another 10k, but my mother is having surgury on Wednesday so I'll be going to her house and staying there Tuesday night so I can take her the following morning to the hospital, where I'll probably be for a pretty long stretch. Then, she'll be there for a week, so my evenings will of course be spent with her. That said, I've done these hospital vigils before, and this time will be the first time I'll be doing one with a netbook at hand. Words shall be produced, but the exact level of my productivity is difficult to guess at.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Greatshadow 27641

Ran out of time last night to post my weekly word count. Jonathan Oliver with Solaris had requested descriptions of protagonists, settings, and dragons for use on the covers of the three books I've sold at the middle of last week. I'd promised it to him by Monday morning, then completely forgot it until 6 oclock last night as I was sitting down to dinner with some friends. By the time I got it all written up, it was waaaaaay past my bed time.

Anyway, I obviously fell short of 10k last week. I wish I could point to some major life event as having snatched away my time, but, honestly, I felt like I put in the required butt in chair hours, but was just writing slow. I feel like I'm typing a lot of sentences and then immediately erasing them to type better ones. Better may seem, well, better, except it's too early in the draft still to be worried about the finer details of the prose. Still, this is one of the challenges of having a single POV narrator for a book. Stagger has a voice I built in the last book, and when I write something that doesn't sound like he would be saying it, it sets off sirens in my head.

Either I have to turn the sirens off, or I need to increase total butt in chair hours. I'm going to try a little of both this week and see if I can't get in more than 10k. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Big news, part 2: Book deal!

As exciting as all my ebook news has been lately, the big news that's been making me feel slightly drunk for the last two months is that by this time next year, I'll be back in bookstores! Greatshadow has sold to Solaris Books, along with two further books in the Dragon Apocalypse series, Hush and Sorrow. You can read the Zeno Agency announcement here.

I'm obviously biased, but Greatshadow really is, I think, the best book I've yet written. It's fantasy stripped to it's purest core, as a small group of heroes must band together to hunt down the world's most dangerous dragon, Greatshadow. But, once I've stripped the fantasy down to this base concept, I rebuild as the fantasy novel I've always wanted to read but that no one had ever got around to writing for me. So, in addition to being epic fantasy, it's also a superhero novel populated by men with strange powers and colorful garbs flying around and having kick-ass fights with each other. And, the whole story, from the first line to the last, is a single coherent romance, as two lovers must struggle to overcome the ultimate barrier to happiness: Death itself. And if this wasn't enough of a challenge, the whole book is narrated by a single character, a drunken monk with a Brobdingnagian vocabulary.

I'd gush on more, but I suppose I must pace myself. It is almost a year before it hits stores, after all. And, I still need to write the remaining books! Best get to that now, in fact.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Yet another stab at the Bitterwood Covers

Here's my latest stab at finding the right covers for my ebook editions of the Bitterwood Trilogy. Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Big Announcement #1

I've been hinting since January that I have big news, but have been keeping details under wraps until ink was actually on contracts.

Now, I can announce good news, part 1: I have an agent! And not just any agent, but John Berlyne with the Zeno Agency. Zeno reps some true giants in speculative fiction, folks like Ian McDonald and (in the UK) Brandon Sanderson and Charlaine Harris. John had been on my short list of most desirable agents ever since I attended World Fantasy last October. I can report that his good reputation is well-earned; from the day I contacted him he's worked to get me the best deal possible and made me feel as if he genuinely cared about my career.

Follow this link to the Zeno website to see my page there, and stay tuned: Even bigger news is coming.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hush 21294

As the second week of March comes to an end, I've reached 21294 on the first draft of my Greatshadow sequel, Hush. From this point on, the goal is 10k a week. Progress updates every Sunday. Forward!

The most dangerous thought you’ll ever have

I’ve given a lot of advice on how to be a writer over the years, but today I’m going to give my absolute top bit of advice on how not to be a writer. All you need is one single thought, a basic assumption that you build your future on. That single dangerous thought is this: When I’m a writer, I’ll finally have time to write.

I used to firmly believe this. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I had a job I hated, and I told myself I could be a writer if only I had the time. So, I paid off all my debts, saved a little money, and quit my day job. And, I did write… some. A little. I tried to find the discipline to write every day, but, looking back, even though I was without a day job for the better part of a year, very little of the writing I did during that time amounted to anything. I made a few story sales to markets that paid in copies. Eventually, the money ran out, and I went back to work.

I didn’t hate my new job as much as my old job, but I still wanted to make it big as a writer and quit. I’d squeeze out a short story every few months, always dreaming of the day I’d have the time to really write. Then, I had a second chance to ride the “time to write” pony when I attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writer’s Workshop. My work agreed to let me take off the six weeks for the class, and my wife at the time covered all the bills and was generally a trooper. I went to the Workshop feeling like I’d have all the time in the world. After all, classes were just a few hours each morning. The vast bulk of the day was free time, far from home, without distractions. Six glorious weeks immersed in writing to produce… precious little. A few deeply flawed stories. I went home certain I’d failed; I wasn’t a writer. I’d had my best possible shot, and hadn’t written a thing worth reading.

Back home, my life got more complicated as I took on new responsibilities on my job. I bought a house and suddenly had yard work and maintenance to deal with. I had less free time than ever. Whereas before Odyssey, I’d make a point of setting aside whole evenings to write, I now had to write in little bits and fragments. I used to get together with friends every Friday night to play video games; I didn’t want to miss their company, so I started taking my laptop and writing while they played, then join them when they took smoke breaks. Everything I had in my head about the proper conditions for writing told me I should be alone in a quiet room with unbroken, dedicated blocks of time before me. Now I was writing in the barest scraps of time, in the moments in between and on the way to the rest of my life.

And from these time scraps came Nobody Gets the Girl, and Empire of Dreams and Miracles, and To the East a Bright Star, and a dozen other stories I consider my prime work.

It’s almost a cliché to say that as you age, it feels like the days get shorter. But, I swear, my own personal experience confirms the cliché. Subjectively, I feel like I have half the hours in a day that I used to have when I was 40, and back then I had half the hours in a day I had when I as 30, and I can’t even remember how I filled all the hours of my seemingly endless free time when I was twenty. The future never holds more time. Not only are the hours of my life ticking down like a clock on a bomb, the clock hands are moving faster and faster, until they’re just a blur. Hell, I woke up this morning a whole hour from my life had vanished while I was sleeping!*

If you’re waiting until you have the time to be a writer to start writing, I pity the unborn characters and worlds within you. If the thought “when I am a writer” ever enters your thoughts, get rid of it. Shoot it, bludgeon it, cut it out; employ the violent metaphor of your choice to remove that phrase, because it’s utterly poisonous, the most dark and wicked viper crawling around in your skull. The thought you need is “always I am a writer.” And then you should #*$&ng write something, you procrastinating fool.

*The day after daylight savings robs you of an hour is a good day for a rant such as this.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing

The image above is a screen shot from Amazon's author central showing this morning's sales rankings for the Kindle edition of Nobody Gets the Girl. My superhero novel has done very well since coming out on Kindle. Amazon advertises 810,000 titles available in the Kindle store. Sales ranks change hourly, but it just happens that if I average out my sales numbers for a full month, Nobody's average would be very darn close to the number 8,100. This means that Nobody is selling in the top 1% of Kindle books right now. That still doesn't make it a "best-seller." I'm not getting rich off this, but I'm selling enough copies that I'll almost certainly make more money off the ebook this year than I ever did off the print edition.

My dragon books haven't been quite as successful as my superhero novel. I don't think I've yet put the right covers on them, and I also think they face stiffer competition. As a superhero novel, Nobody gets linked to the dozen other standalone superhero novels currently for sale on Amazon, and is almost always on the front page of "customers who bought this also bought this." If you're looking for superheroes, the book is easy to find. If you're looking for dragon based fantasy, my books do show up in the "also bought" streamer, but on page 17 instead of page one. Still, most of my dragon books maintain sales rankings above 81,000, so I feel like I can safely say that they are in about the top 10% of Kindle books, again, not bestsellers, but also nothing to be embarrassed about.

I love having books on Kindle. I love being able to check my actual sales hourly. I like getting sales statements three days after a sales period ends instead of three months. And I definitely have a warm glow when Amazon deposits my royalties into my checking account every month like clockwork. It's the dream of every writer: sales information that is timely, transparent, and accurate.

And yet, I'm writing this blog post to say, if you are an unpublished author thinking of self-publishing your novel to Kindle, my current advice would be: Don't.

I have a fifth title on Amazon, my short story "Final Flight of the Blue Bee." Last month, I sold 4 copies of this title. And, on average, FFBB has a sales ranking somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. I think I can safely extrapolate from this that the vast majority of Kindle titles, roughly half a million of them, sell fewer than 4 copies a month.

My dragon novels, in upper 10% of sales, sell about 40 copies a month on Kindle. 40 copies is fine for me, since I've already earned a lot of revenue from the print editions of the books, and at this point any further revenue I generate is just free money. My books have already been read by tens of thousands of readers in print, so I feel like I've done my artistic duty in getting the books read. But, if these books had never had print editions, selling 40 books a month wouldn't be something I'd get excited about. 40 copies a month in print would be kind of sad.

Your mileage may vary, of course. Right now, if you google "kindle success stories," you'll find a dozen authors who kept getting turned away from traditional publishers who self-pubbed to ebooks and are now making thousands of dollars a month. It's easy to want to emulate their path to victory. But, the important thing to remember is that the people who put out books and find themselves unexpected bestsellers are of course going to jump on their blogs to write about it. It's easy to talk about success. But the thousands of writers who self-pub their ebooks and sell less than 4 copies a month... they aren't blogging about their failure.

So, if you've written one novel and want to publish it to Kindle, don't. If you've written three novels and are thinking of publishing to Kindle... maybe. If you've written a dozen novels and are positive you're good enough, go for it. One key element of the writers who have been successful in self publishing is that most of them had written a lot of books before they gave up on traditional publishing. They'd honed their craft; quantity does eventually produce quality. Also, the revenue of one ebook selling 20 copies a month might not pay your power bill, but if you have ten titles selling in this range, you'll probably have enough income to cover your mortgage.

One final caveat: The publishing world is changing so swiftly that advice I'm giving today could be completely outdated a month from now. Borders is shedding stores and when I go into Barnes and Noble these days, I can't help but notice that they have less and less store space devoted to books and more and more devoted to toys and games. It's getting tougher to put a book into a book store, so the allure of ebooks is seductive. But, for now, if you are a new novelist, I strongly advise trying to find a traditional publisher. Maybe ebooks will be all your future revenue, but you at least want that first "real" book to be on paper, something you can show your mom and say, "Look! I'm an author!" Something you can put on your bookshelf in your living room so that when visitors come to your house you get to casually nod toward the book as your guests notice it and say, "Oh, that? That's the novel I wrote."

Looking at my sales data on Kindle is pleasant. On days when I've really sold a lot, I'd even describe the experience as euphoric. But gazing at my own bookshelf, with all the various editions of my novels and anthologies I've been in, is a much, much deeper satisfaction. Don't throw away your shot at this. The wait is worth it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hat update, Stellarcon, Writing Tip # 772

So, I mentioned in my last post my hopes of buying a wizard hat at Mysticon. Alas, the vendor who'd had the cool hats wasn't at the con.

Fortunately, I get a second shot at eclectic habidashery this weekend at Stellarcon in High Point. Fingers crossed!

Also this week, I've been working on my next novel, the follow up to Greatshadow, which is called Hush. I'm under contract to turn in Hush by the end of November, a very doable goal if I just maintain the right BIC* ratio. I plan to start posting cumulative word counts starting Sunday the 13th, with a target of producing 10k words a week through March, April, and May, to produce a rough draft about 120k words long.

Some writers I know are even more prolific than 10k words a week, but for me, 10k is something of a struggle. I could type 10 words in a few hours, but imagining what works out to two and a half chapters of plot points, settings, character interactions, and profound questions for the reader to ponder in the course of a week is a serious challenge. The brain buffer is often emptied by typing faster than it fills by day dreaming.

But, over the years, I've offered, if memory serves, 771 bits of advice on writing, and I realized this week that I actually have a 772nd hopefully useful tip: End every writing session at a peak. This is a trick I learned when writing Nobody Gets the Girl. It used to be that when I sat down to write fiction, I'd feel obliged to keep writing until my brain was completely empty. I'd normally start off slow, build to a peak where the words were flowing easily, then fall back into a valley where it became harder and harder to figure out what was left to say. Now, I usually try to stop long before I hit the valley. Last night, I was writing something of a chase scene. This sounds exciting, and hopefully it's interesting reading, but in some ways it's the sort of scene that is kind of boring to write. Mainly it's choreography. "A" happens followed by "B" followed by "C". It's more reporting than creating. But, the whole point of the scene was to take my narrator, Stagger, from one setting and place him in another. So, I reached the point last night where he meets the next major character to be introduced for the book, and where his "life" undergoes a radical change thanks to the actions of this new character. (Life is in parenthesis since Stagger is a ghost.) I was super-excited about writing the description of this new character as he first meets her... so I stopped. It was getting late and I'd produced a reasonable number of words already. Most importantly, the next time I sit down to write, I don't have to struggle up from a valley to build momentum. I'll be starting at a moment that is of great interest to me, and hopefully the writing session will flow out as peak-valley-peak, rather than valley-peak-valley.

Hope that's useful. Updates on Hush will follow on a weekly basis, I promise.

*Butt In Chair