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!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Witchbreaker

Gail Z. Martin answered some questions about her next book on her blog last week and forwarded those questions on to other authors so they could have a crack at them. Since Witchbreaker hits stores next week, this seems like a good excuse to talk about it.

What’s the title of your next book?

Witchbreaker: Book Three of the Dragon Apocalypse
If you found yourself in a lift with a movie director you admire and had the chance to pitch your book to them, what would you say?

Witchbreaker is the story of Sorrow Stern, a young witch on a quest to find the legendary queen of witches, who forms an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac knight called Slate, who may or may not be Lord Stark Tower, the infamous Witchbreaker.

If this happened to your work, which actors would you choose to play your characters?

I never really think about my books as movies, so I haven’t given this a lot of thought. You would need a time machine to make this happen, but I would say that Sorrow would be well represented by a young Sinead O’Conner. Slate looks a bit like Robert Irvine from the Food Network. I’m sorry I don’t know more current celebrities. I go to maybe three movies a year, and usually two of them are animated.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Without naming names, some years ago I was romantically involved with a woman who had experienced a very traumatic event when she was young and saw how, decades later, those events had left her living in a very different world than most people. She was acutely aware of injustices that others were blind to. This had the negative affect of creating a sense of paranoia and isolation and a slow, seething anger that never quite went away. But, it also had the positive aspects of giving her a tremendous amount of empathy for the suffering of others, and a steely stubbornness to stand up for her beliefs and not whittle her values away with compromises that most of us make without a second thought because we don’t want to live our lives in a constant state of confrontation.

Sorrow’s character draws heavily from this mold. Her father was a judge who hung his own mother after she was accused of being a witch. Sorrow rebelled by becoming a witch herself, but her hatred isn’t directed directly at her father, it’s directed at the religious and political institutions that empowered him. So, Sorrow’s life mission is to overthrow that system. She’s one woman against the world, fighting to make it a better place even though everyone she meets keeps insisting that the world isn’t so bad. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for characters locked into a lifelong battle against forces more powerful than they will ever be.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A few months. I started the book around last Christmas and turned in the final draft in July. The last few years have been pretty productive for me. With Greatshadow coming out last January and Witchbreaker coming out in December, I’ll have written quickly enough to see three epic fantasy novels released in a single year. I don’t like to keep my reader’s waiting!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Terry Pratchett is the closest comparison, though my books are less overtly humorous and a bit more weighted toward action.

What makes this book uniquely yours, a reading experience that no other author could provide?

My Dragon Apocalypse novels are kind of their own little mini-genre, medieval superheroes in epic battles against dragons, with a carefully balanced blend of action, humor, romance, and philosophy. I write about the moral questions that fuel my curiosity, but do everything I can not to be preachy and to make sure that the plot moves forward on every single page. I try to take characters who are pretty difficult to like and lead the reader to a deep understanding of why they are who they are, so that even if you sometimes roll your eyes at their bad choices, you’re still left loving them. I won’t claim that no other author can do these things, since obviously they can. But, the way I mix these elements is fairly distinctive. I think that, even if my name were stripped from my novels, a reader could still recognize me by my style and my approach.

How has this book helped you grow as a writer?

In the past, most of my characters have been loners, since this is kind of the standard template for iconic heroes. Superman, Batman, Spiderman—all orphans who have secrets that keep them from fully connecting with other people. Sorrow certainly fits this mold, but I’ve surrounded her with a supporting cast called the Romers, who are a family of super-powered sailors. They love and support one another, though they have the same squabbles and tensions as any family. Some of the most heartwarming scenes in the book are about the way they relate to one another. This is the first book where I really talk about family in any meaningful way, and I think it gives the book a nice heart. The love and warmth that the Romers show one another is a good contrast for Sorrow’s much more cynical world view.

When will your book be available?
It hits bookstores December 26, so if you happen to receive a Barnes and Noble gift card the day before, keep me in mind. In fact, I’ve been told you won’t even need to wait that long. In theory, the ebook is going to be available on Christmas Day, though I still haven't seen any "preorder" buttons for the ebook yet.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

You know, it’s kind of tough to believe that I’ve answered these questions barely mentioning dragons, because this book is chock full of them. We see some elemental dragons from previous books: Hush, Greatshadow, Abyss, and Rott, and are introduced to some new ones: Abundant, the Dragon of Animal Life; Tempest, the Dragon of Storms; and Kragg, the Dragon of Stones. Hush is trying to persuade the other dragons to join her on a quest to destroy mankind as revenge for what happened to Glorious in the second novel, and the book builds to a big confrontation between all the primal dragons that decides the fate of the world… at least until the next book.

Since Gail was kind enough to pass these questions on to me, I've invited a couple of other authors to take a crack at them. So, next week, please check out the answers from Alex Granados as he talks about his novel Into the Cave at alexgranadoswrites.blogspot.com. Then, jump on over to John Brown's blog as he talks about his new thriller, Awful Intent.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Butt in Air

I've talked about the importance of "butt-in-chair" time if you want to be a writer. There's really no escaping the central reality that, if you want to write a novel, you'll probably be spending a couple of hundred hours sitting in front of your computer pressing keys. The more you keep your butt in the chair, the more you're going to produce. It's a pretty simple equation.

In November, I did pretty well at keeping my butt in my chair, cranking out 50k words on my new novel. Then I hit a wall. I made my way through the first 50k because I knew how the story began, and was able to introduce my three major characters, spend some time exploring the setting, and get in a few action scenes to establish the pace. Unfortunately, I really didn't know how the book ended, and now that I was done with all my introductions, I couldn't move forward because, without knowing how the book would end, any further typing I did would be directionless meandering.

I've been thinking about this book for at least a year, and completely immersed for over a month. My inability to figure out an endpoint was frustrating. I always have some idea of where my books are heading. But, every ending I could think of for this book was too direct. The hero beats the bad guy, the end. Yawn. I needed something a bit less clean.

So, it was time for "butt-in-air." Yesterday, I took a ten mile hike along the Eno, alone. I had my phone full of podcasts to listen to, but found the willpower never to start those up. Instead, I spent five hours in solitude and quiet, utterly bored for most of the journey. The Eno has some wonderful scenery, including a quarry lake with water like a mirror and the ruins of old farmhouses and mills emerging like memories from the hilly landscape. But, it also has lots and lots and lots of roots and rocks, so 90% of the hike isn't spent looking at the scenery, it's spent watching the leaf-strewn ground three feet in front of you so you don't break your ankle.

Under such conditions, the mind wanders. In the quietness, I could begin to hear my characters talking to one another. I could listen in and discover just what the heck it was they were planning on doing, and by the time I emerged from the woods, with sore feet and completely sodden with sweat, I had figured out a satisfying ending for my book. It may not be the final ending; I'm sure it will grow and mutate in the weeks ahead, as my endings always do. But, it's a destination, something I can look forward to reaching, the way I looked forward to reaching the lake when I was hiking.

All those hours of daydreaming will mean nothing if I don't have the willpower to sit down and keep typing. But, sometimes, to make the hours you spend with your butt in a chair count for something, you need to go as far away as you can, not just from your computer, but from your television, your books, even your friends and family, and hunt for the silence where you can finally hear your book.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Winter Tales, NaNo, Long Term Career Plans

I'm going to be at the main branch of the Orange County Library here in Hillsborough on December 13 at 6:00pm where I'll be joined by four other local authors for an event called "Winter Tales." Alex Granados, Mur Lafferty, Becca Gomez Farrell, Gray Rinehart and I will be reading original essays, stories, poems, and maybe even a song or two themed around the holiday season. Cookies and spiced cider will be served.

In other news, I made my NaNoWriMo goal and got to 50,600 words for the month of November. This might not look impressive compared to writing Burn Baby Burn in a week, but there was a time in my life when November would have been chock full of good excuses not to write. I had two different thanksgiving celebrations. We found a renter for Cheryl's old house and spent a lot of time cleaning out the shed there and doing other prep work. Among that work was discovering the furnace was shot, and having to shell out 4 grand getting a new one installed. This, on top of my transmission blowing out on my Scion XB, which turned into a $3000 repair that put my car out of commission for a week and led to a three days of shopping for a new car before I decided that the repair was my best choice both economically and because, honestly, I just like the features of my car more than the features of any other car I looked at. It's big enough to seat four comfortably, roomy enough that I can some peices of furniture in the back, has a flat roof that lets me cart my canoe around, and has all the audio features I want including bluetooth for my phone, a feature wierdly absent even as a factory option on the Honda Fit, which was my #1 contender for replacing the vehicle. Oh, and I still get about 30 miles to the gallon average, my minimum fuel economy target. If the new transmission gets me through one more year (which it's warrantied to do), I'm certain I'll come out ahead versus a new car with payments and a higher insurance premium and tax value.

Anyway, the point is, I had a LOT of distractions in November. When life throws $7000 in unexpected expenses at you in the space of a week, it gets tough to focus.

Future plans: I'll be working on the new novel through January, and hope to have the first draft finished before Witchbreaker is released on January 26. I'll probably immediately start in on the second draft, and hope to really step up my second draft production speed. In the past, my typical novel follows the pattern of 3 months for first draft, 2 for second, 1 for finishing drafts. I've done a lot to increase the speed of my first draft output, but haven't focused as much on sharpening my revision speed. This time, I'd really love to get the new book into my agent's hands in March instead of April.

After that, I'm planning on writing another superhero novel. I had been planning on writing a third book in the Nobody Gets the Girl series, and my do this yet, but, honestly, I'm a little burned out on sequels. Of the 8 novels I'll have in print come January, 5 are sequels. I really need to write a couple of books purely as stand alones in order to keep my creative muscles from getting flabby writing the same characters and setttings again and again.

That said, I do plan on writing the 4th Dragon Apocalypse book next year as well. It's going to be a monster of a book. I've never written a 200k word novel before, but I think I'm going to go for it with book 4. Honestly, I have enough story to make it book 4 and 5, but think it would be a creative challenge to wrap up everything in one truly epic fantasy. Updates will follow.

After these three books, I'm entertaining a project that's insanely ambitious. I'm giving serious thought to writing 12 short interlinking novels in one year. These books would all be in the 40-50k length and I would release them one a month as ebooks. I have plenty of time to talk myself out of such a crazy scheme, but, at the same time, I feel it's the obligation of any writer to keep pushing to try new and different things. Nothing will destroy a creative mind more than settling into a rut.