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, July 26, 2012

Powerful Women, Factual and Fictional - Guest Post by Rowena Cory Daniells

Rowena Cory Daniells is a fellow Solaris Fantasy author, whose new fantasy series The Outcast Chronicles is now hitting stores. I invited her to write a guest post (since, lord knows, I seem to be negligent in writing posts lately), and she's turned in thoughful essay on the shortage of female villians in fiction. At the end of the post, we're giving away a copy of her latest book! Read on:


I teach a unit on film and TV to university students. One of the things we discuss is characterisation and character archetypes. I can find examples of female heroes, (Ripley, it always comes back to Ripley!), but the hardest thing to find is a female villain. When I ask the students to name some, they come up with women who are the sidekicks to male villains, or they come up with Disney villains.

‘Stand alone’ female villains tend to be from children’s stories. (Does this mean that inside the home is the only place where a woman can be truly powerful?). The evil step-mother trope is probably based on truth. In the past, when many women died in childbirth, their children would be raised by a step-mother who, when resources were scarce, would favour her own genetic off-spring over the older children of another woman.

So why can’t the students name a female villain? These young males (average age 19) have told me it’s because they aren’t afraid of women due to females being physically weaker. The obvious response is, but what if you put a gun in her hand, surely this would negate the physical differences?

While a gun will kill in anyone’s hands, you come back to the person behind the trigger. You have to believe they are a threat to you and these young men couldn’t take a female villain seriously. Judging from the lack of female villains in mainstream media, it would seem most men can’t take a female villain seriously. (Does this mean they don’t feel threatened by women and, if so, does it mean deep-down they don’t regard women as equals?)

You could base a doctoral thesis on the questions this raises, but since I’m writing a light-hearted blog post I’ll move on and talk about the late 70s SF show,
Blake’s 7.

Supreme Commander Servalan...

This character had to be the sexiest and most menacing villain in any TV show. She made a deep impression on my young mind. Why? Because she was smart, powerful, ruthless and... feminine.

I understand it is possible to watch the Blake’s 7 episodes on you tube. I should really go back and re-watch them to see if she still has the same presence, thirty years later.

Why do we see so few powerful female characters in drama? If a woman is powerful she is often divorced from her femininity or crazed (and therefore pitiable).

In real life, there were women who wielded power but they were often born into aristocracy and they wielded power on behalf of an absent husband or son, or an under-age son, such as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was smart, but it helped that she was born into power, married two kings, produced many children — three sons who became kings, among them Richard the Lionheart — and lived to be eighty-two. (It is hard to make an impact on the world when you spend the majority of your adult life pregnant and die in childbirth at twenty-five).

When Richard the Lionheart inherited his throne from his father, he authorised his mother to rule England until he was ready to take over. Yet, when Eleanor was married to her first husband, the weak king of France, and she attempted to play a part in politics she was put in her place by the powerful men of the French court. *

This pattern of accepting a powerful woman if she is acting on behalf of son, but resenting her if she attempts to wield power on her own behalf or that of a weak husband can be seen in the Byzantium Empire, specifically during the hundred years between 1150 to 1250. Although empresses who ruled for their sons were still criticised by their male peers, the most severe criticism was reserved for Irene Doukaina and Euphrosyne Doukaina, who were ruling as wives rather than mothers.**

From this you can make the assumption that powerful men, feel threatened by a woman who ‘usurps’ their power, but will accept a powerful woman who is wielding power on behalf of a son.

Could it be that powerful men, resent powerful women?

There are always exceptions to the rule and not all powerful women came from privileged backgrounds. According to Hiskey, Ching Shih, the Pirate Queen started out as a prostitute and by the time she was thirty, she commanded a fleet of around 1,800 ships with: ‘70,000-80,000 pirates (about 17,000 male pirates directly under her control, the rest being other pirate groups who agreed to work with her group, then female pirates, children, spies, farmers enlisted to supply food, etc.); controlled nearly the entire Guangdong province directly; held a vast spy network within the Qing Dynasty; and dominated the South Chinese Sea.’

With such a vast network of people under her command, she formed a government and established laws. She defeated the Chinese Emperor’s armada, and evaded capture by the combined British and Portuguese navies. Then she negotiated with the Governor General of Canton and struck a deal. Most of her people received amnesty, while she walked away with a noble title and retired at the age of thirty-five. She must be one of the few pirates, male or female, to live out her days in wealth and security.

But Ching Shih would have to be an outlier, which brings us back to women and power, and powerful women in fiction.

In my new trilogy, The Outcast Chronicles, the pure-blood mystics all have a gift of some kind, but the women are more powerful than the men. Not only are the females more powerful, but their power is expressed in a different way and the nature of male-female power means they are drawn to each other. The mystics live in brotherhoods and sisterhoods, united for their own protection. Their society balances on a knife edge because the men resent the women and the women fear the men.

With this trilogy, I wanted to explore the ramifications of gifted people living amongst the non-gifted, True-men as they call themselves. Would those without power resent those with the gifts? We see the results of this discrimination and persecution through Sorne, the unwanted half-blood son of the True-man king.

I also wanted to explore how power would affect the individual mystic. There had to be limitations and consequences for using power. The gifts affect the way the mystics see the world and each other. Their society evolved rituals to recognise and contain power.

Most powerful of this generation is Imoshen, who has the gift of reading people’s motivations. The males hate her and even the women of her own sisterhood are wary of her. It is not until the True-man king besieges their city, that her gift makes Imoshen the natural choice to lead their people.

In this trilogy I explore the consequences of power for those with it and those without. I also explore the impact of the gender divide because I’m fascinated by these questions.

Rowena has a copy of Besieged to give-away. To enter, on the comments section, tell us who is your favourite powerful female (villain or hero) and why?

Catch up with Rowena on Twitter: rcdaniells
Rowena Cory Daniells

Catch up with Rowena at Goodreads!

Catch up with
Rowena on her blog

* For more information on Queen Eleanor see Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir.
** For more information on these women see Women, Men, and Eunuchs: Gender in Byzantium, edited by Liz James. It contains a series of essays on the topic. This section is drawn from Barbara Hill’s essay Imperial Women and the Ideology of Womanhood in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


As revealed in my last post, I've assembled a complete draft of Witchbreaker, Book Three of the Dragon Apocalypse. This book is going to be graced with a breathtaking cover from Adam Tredowski, depicting Tempest, the primal dragon of storms, locked in mortal combat with the crew of a clipper ship known as the Circus. The Circus is the new home of the Romers, the family of Wanderer's introduced in Hush. The pace and plot of Hush kept me from sharing as much of the Romers as I would have liked, but I think they really come to life in Witchbreaker.

Of course, the star of Witchbreaker is Sorrow Stern, the young witch introduced in Hush who is on a quest to overthrow the Church of the Book and lauch a new golden age of witchcraft. In personality, she's the opposite of Stagger and Infidel, who mainly wanted to find a little happiness. Sorrow, as befits her name, cares nothing about happiness and is willing to pay any price to reach her goals. She's the most driven character I've introduced in this series, and her attitude doesn't earn her a lot of friends as the book unfolds. But, she's surrounded by a truly eclectic cast that compliments and contrasts nicely with her somewhat harsh world view. There's a lot of humor to balance out the high stakes drama.

Oh, and dragons. Lots and lots of primal dragons. For the first time we get to see the primal dragons interact with one another as they debate the final fate of mankind. There's a reason I call this series the Dragon Apocalypse!

The book hits bookstores in January, 2013. A preview chapter is in the back of Hush, though, alas, that chapter has changed a good deal from the final product. After the book goes through further editorial revision, I'll probably post the final preview chapter here. (The basic outline of the published chapter is fine, but I ditched the whole "Journal of Sorrow Stern" format at the beginning of the chapter since it just proved awkward to include it throughout the book like I'd planned. Ah well. You can't learn from mistakes unless you make them.)

Friday, July 20, 2012


Witchbreaker is done! 108,000 words, 21 chapters. I still have polishing to do but I finally have a single coherent manuscript.

I'm at the beach this week with the worst internet connection ever so I'm doing blog posts from my cellphone. Next week I'll post more about the book and show off the cover. For now, I merely have the irresistible urge to publicly exclaim "Wheeeeeee!"

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Three Blog Posts in One!

One reason I haven't posted here in a few weeks is because I've recently been invited to write a lot of blog posts elsewhere, all of which just went live this week. 

First, over at the Odyssey live journal, I discuss the very important writing skill of knowing when to give up on a story: ...One dividing line between the professional and the amateur writer is developing that instinct for setting aside work that isn’t up to par. Sometimes, it takes a dozen drafts to figure out that a story should never be shown to the world. Often, you know the truth ten minutes after you reach the end of a first draft. With enough practice, you’re able to reject a flawed story before you ever type a word. It sounds like a certain recipe for low self esteem, but trust me, you won’t believe how much time this opens up to work on good material.

For more insights on this, click here. 

Next, I've got a post up at Rowena Cory Daniells site where I talk about my inspiration for writing Hush: There’s not a lot of moral knowledge to be gained from knowing that the sun and stars are distant balls of hot gas. The idea that the heavens were the abode of gods, and that we might learn from their stories, now seems quaint. But, these myths continue to resonate on an emotional level. There’s something deeply satisfying about looking at a night sky and thinking of it as a canvas for sagas of love and betrayal, cowardice and courage. I’m hoping to capture a bit of this mythic grandeur in my tale of dueling dragons and the humans swept up in their battles. 

To visit her blog, click here.

Finally, at the SF Signal Mind Meld, I was invited to answer the question of why so many fantasy novels default to using the political structure of monarchies. About a dozen fantasy writers tackle the question, where I confess my own use of the trope: I do admit that one of the protagonists in Greatshadow, the first book in the series, is a princess, though she’s run away from that life and has spent all her adulthood making a living as a sword-for-hire. In one scene she beats a man to death with his own severed arm. I’m expecting a phone call from Disney any day now.

Further insights may be found by clicking here.

Coming soon: Big news about Witchbreaker, and a guest post by Rowena Cory Daniells! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hush Acknowledgments

Alas, when I placed my hands upon the print edition of Hush, I found that the acknowledgments were missing. This is my fault; I wrote them and turned them in well before I got the galleys, and when I got the galleys it was focused on reviewing what was before me and completely failed to notice the absence of the acknowledgments.

Here's my thanks to the people who made this book possible:

Hush wouldn’t be the book it is without the hard work of my wise-readers, a select band of rugged individuals who are willing to slog through my early drafts and gaze unflinchingly upon my naked prose. It’s seldom pretty. Without their critiques and encouragement, writing would be a very lonely business indeed. Thank you, James Marsh, Cathy Bollinger, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Laurel Amberdine, Joey Puente, Jenney O’Callaghan, and, of course, my wonderful wife, Cheryl Maxey.

Special thanks to artist Gerard Miley, for gracing the book with a truly amazing cover. Thanks also to my editor, Jonathan Oliver, and everyone else at Solaris who have worked so hard on this series, including Ben Smith, Michael Molcher, and Simon Parr.

In previous acknowledgements, I’ve given credit to the various writing workshops and critique groups that have helped me hone my skills over the years. But, two people I haven’t acknowledged get most of the credit (or blame) for launching me on this whole writing kick a long, long time before I was even consciously aware of it. So, let me rectify my oversight: It’s probable I wouldn’t be a writer today if not for my grandfathers.

Both of my grandfathers were poor, but both were readers. On my mother’s side, my grandfather Allen Henkle had excellent taste in trashy periodicals. Not pornography, but weirdness, magazines like Fate that talked about UFO’s and telepathy and bigfoot. He also had a stash of men’s adventure magazines, with lurid stories about cannibals and secret jungle temples and "real life" survival tales of men who crash on the side of mountains and survive by sawing off their gangrenous leg and hopping back to civilization with nothing to slake their thirst but their own urine. And, my mother’s family were natural story tellers, always ready to recount a ghost story, which made quite an impression on me since when you looked out the back window of their house you saw a graveyard. (I also remember a huge collection of Reader's Digests, but all I ever read in them were the jokes.)

My father’s father, Sidney Maxey, Sr., had books stacked in every room of his house, and, when he ran out of room in the house, the books spilled out onto his porch in giant mounds of mildewed paperbacks. I don’t know if my grandfather read every one of these books or if he just bought them in bulk from Goodwill stores and flea markets, but they were on every subject imaginable. It was sitting on his porch digging through paperbacks that I first read writers like Ursula K. LeGuinn and Isaac Asimov. I also remember reading about the Bermuda Triangle and ancient astronauts, but these sensationalist paperbacks were balanced out by every issue of National Geographic in print since 1929. I devoured these magazines, gaining a perspective on the vastness of the world beyond my rather narrow view from the southern Virginia mountains.

I don’t want to oversimplify things, but in some ways my maternal grandfather’s reading material shaped my imagination, hooking me on the desire for there to be things hidden from ordinary understanding. Because of him, I retain an insatiable curiosity about the fringes of human knowledge. But it was on my Grandfather Maxey’s porch library that I learned to be fascinated as much by the natural world as I am by myths and legends. Pictures of fish photographed from bathyspheres were even weirder and more wonderful than the aliens hand-drawn in the pages of Fate.

To be a writer, you must first be a reader. Thanks to these two men, I am.