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, April 16, 2013

Oz Novel Update

Last week, I completed the second draft of my Oz novel, currently titled "Bad Wizard." It's 40 chapters long, 100,000 words, and, for the most part, I feel pretty good about it. I still need to tweak Dorothy's personality--she's kind of a blank slate in the original book, and for such a central character I feel bad that I don't have a firm grasp of her personal voice. She has a biography, she has politics and philosophies and goals, but what I don't have for her is any distinctive personality tick that would let you pick out her dialogue even if it wasn't attributed. (For an example of what I mean, if you read Greatshadow with all the dialogue tags removed, you could easily tell if the speaker was Stagger or Infidel or Zetetic. They have different attitudes and vocabularies.)

I think my problem is that I don't want her to be sassy and sarcastic, which would be the easy personality to place on her given her current role. But, when I play her as serious and driven, she comes across as flat given the insanity of events around her. Oh well. I'll figure it out.

Except for Dorothy being tough to pin down, the rest of the book crackles. I was worried about writing in a genuine historical setting, but think I manage to blend just enough historical fact in to make the fiction plausible without overloading the reader with boring details.

But, enough talking about it. There's another draft needing my attention. Onward!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dawn of Dragons First Chapter


THE DRAGON SLITHERED SILENTLY among the trees branches as the knight on horseback drew closer. A practiced hunter, the beast positioned himself downwind, with the setting sun at his back.
Not spooking the horse was the dragon’s top priority. The knight himself would be no threat, but experience had taught the beast the benefit of slaying the mount along with the rider. Horsemeat as a rule was more savory than the flesh of men. No doubt the diets of men spoiled their taste; most humans spent the better parts of their lives slowly poisoning themselves.

This knight looked to be no exception. Despite the gleaming, polished armor that glimmered ruby beneath the dimming sky, despite the sword and mace and crossbow that all hung within easy reach, it was obvious from his smell that this man posed no danger. He was sweating from the simple effort of wearing the armor and riding the horse. No doubt his sword arm was slow, his aim unsteady. This was just another deluded fool in a growing string of fools who had set out in pursuit of the dragon.

The knight grew ever closer to the dragon’s hiding place. The man’s eyes stayed on the path before him, oblivious to the danger above. As the knight passed below, the dragon was close enough that he could have dangled his tail and touched the rider’s helm.

With feline anticipation, the dragon tensed, his mouth opening slightly to reveal dagger-like teeth. His strike would be lightning-swift; the horse and rider would die before they ever understood their fate. The dragon’s claws sunk deeper into the branch as he shifted his body to pounce.

The knight’s phone rang.

“Goddammit,” grumbled the knight, pulling the reigns of his horse as he twisted in his saddle to better reach his saddlebag. He continued to curse softly as he rooted around the contents of the bag, only halting his obscenities when he shifted his helmet back and raised the phone to his ear.

“O’Brien here,” he said.

The dragon leaned closer, curious at this new development. His keen hearing allowed him to hear the voice on the other end of the line. A female voice. The knight’s mate, perhaps?

“Dammit, Martha,” said O’Brien. “You know not to call me when I’m working. You know I—what? What do you mean you know I’m not working? Jackson told you what? What?”

The woman’s voice on the other line told the knight what Jackson had revealed: O’Brien was spending several million dollars to pay for a vacation at the most exclusive hunt club on the planet. He’d explained his absence to his wife by claiming he was attending a business conference.

O’Brian sighed, and rubbed his temple.

“Fine,” he said. “So I’m hunting. Yes, you’re right, this is a goddamned mid-life crisis. Yes, I lied to you. Yes, I frivolously blew a huge wad of dough. But it’s my money, Martha. I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am and it’s time I started eating the fruit of my labor.”

The woman’s voice grew louder and angrier as the dragon lowered his long snaky neck to listen better. He was now close enough to see his toothy reflection in the knight’s polished helmet.

“Don’t take that tone with me,” snapped O’Brien. “I don’t need to explain myself. Tell Jackson I’d better not see his face when I come back to the office. I—”

Martha asked something the dragon strained to hear. Her mood had shifted. Her voice cracked with sorrow. Didn’t O’Brien trust her anymore?

“This isn’t the time to discuss this,” said O’Brien. “I’m hunting! There are dangerous animals here and it’s getting dark. I’m going to hang up. Don’t call me again. I mean it. Yes. Yes, consider that a threat. The prenuptial agreement is rock solid, Martha. You’ll do as I say and you’ll like it.”

The dragon had enough. Tensed muscles uncoiled as it leapt, spreading its wings at an angle that flipped it into the path of the knight, opening its jaws and emitting a hiss that caused the horse to rear.
O’Brien cursed as he fell from the saddle to the stony path. He curled into a fetal position to avoid the hooves as his horse turned and leapt over him. Martha was shouting from the fallen phone, her voice panicked. With a start, O’Brien unfolded himself and drew the sword from his scabbard, struggling to reach his feet as the dragon looked on with impatience.

“Good sir knight,” said the dragon, with a hissing British accent that was half Monty Python, half actual python. “Sheath your sword and heed my words.”

O’Brien’s mouth fell open.

“Your mate has called because she fears for your safety and you treat her with scorn,” said the dragon. “True knights were chivalrous, but your behavior is loutish in the extreme.”

“You talk,” said O’Brien.

“Or you’ve hit your head rather hard on the path,” said the dragon. “No, I jest. I am, indeed, speaking your native tongue. The monsters who designed me thought it a nice touch, as dragons in speculative literature are somewhat loquacious. But, sir, don’t allow your amazement over my vocalizations to distract you. Your behavior toward your wife is shameful. As one who dreams of knowing the love and affection of a devoted mate, I ask you to lift up that phone and apologize. Leave this place, and I shall not injure you. My offer of safe passage does not extend to your horse.”

“Ha!” said O’Brien, brandishing his sword. “Well, goddamn! A talking lizard.”

“You assume a martial position,” said the dragon. “I ask you to reconsider. Don’t act rashly. I’ve killed seventeen of your ilk. You haven’t a chance if you continue on this course of action.”

“Hee!” said O’Brien, licking his lips, shifting his grip on the sword. “You breathe fire, too? You making this hunt worth the money, lizard? Huh, lizard?”

“My name,” said the dragon, “is Morningstar.”

O’Brien screamed like he was auditioning for a kung fu movie as he lunged forward, swinging his razor sharp sword like a baseball bat.

Morningstar pushed backwards with a flap of his wings, raising up on his tail for balance as the sword cut the air where he’d stood. His hind claws lashed out, slicing through O’Brien’s steel breastplate like the world’s fastest can-opener.

O’Brien dropped the sword, falling to his knees as Morningstar swayed above him. The wanna-be knight dipped his gauntleted fingers into the jagged gash in his breastplate. He pulled them out to study them in the dying light. They dripped with red. His face grew pale.

Morningstar snaked his head forward, jaws wide open, and sank his teeth into O’Brien’s cheeks. With a snap and a crack, his jaws closed, and Morningstar’s mouth was filled with teeth and a tongue not his own. O’Brien fell to the stony path with a clatter.

Morningstar spit the foul taste of businessman from his mouth and silently moved toward the fallen phone. He lifted it, listening to Martha’s panicked voice. It nearly broke the dragon’s heart. How terrible it must be to lose a mate, even a rude and foolish one.

“Madam,” Morningstar said with all the softness his serpent voice could muster. “I regret to inform you of a tragic event.”

Enjoyed the preview? The book is now available on Kindle and Nook!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dawn of Dragons

Dawn of Dragons is now available as a solo ebook! It just went live today on Amazon, and should be available tomorrow on Barnes & Noble. This is a prequel to Bitterwood, set 1000 years before the event of that trilogy. Despite happening before the trilogy, it's best read as a postscript to those novels, as it sheds light on many of the secret underpinnings of the Bitterwood universe. Later this week, I'll be posting the first chapter here as a free preview, though, of course, there's no need to wait, since you can preview the first few chapters for free on Amazon.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Interview with Dave Thompson, narrator of Bitterwood

Bitterwood has recently been released in audio format through Audible, Amazon, and ITunes. The narrator and producer was Dave Thompson, an editor at PodCastle and narrator of the audio books Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout and Briarpatch by Tim Pratt. Bitterwood is my first audio book, so I was glad to be partnered with someone who knew what he was doing. Translating a book into an audio performance is definitely an art form of its own, leaving me with several questions as to how Dave had pulled it off so masterfully. Fortunately, Dave was generous enough with his time to answer some of my questions:

JM: How did you get started in audiobook narration?

DT: I love the idea of reading stories to people of all ages. But adults - well, we don't get story time like we used to when we were children, and that's a shame, because a lot of us still love it. After my first kid was born, I discovered Escape Pod (a Science Fiction podcast), and loved listening to short stories on my commute. I had written a MG book, and decided to do a podcast of it, and loved the experience. Then I had the good fortune to start hosting and co-editing at PodCastle - Escape Pod's fantasy sister podcast. And I've loved reading stories there. Eventually, some of the authors I'd worked with published books, and those books never came out in audio, which really bummed me out. So when ACX arrived, I knew it was a big opportunity for me, and thought about those authors and those books, and asked if they were interested. Luckily, they were!


JM: Digging back even further, do you remember the first audio book you ever listened to? How did you feel about the whole notion of audiobooks then?

DT: Ha. The first audiobook I ever listened to was an abridged Dean Koontz novel that I absolutely despised (to this day I shudder when I read ABRIDGED in parenthesis)! That did me in for a while. But I got to see Neil Gaiman read a couple of times from his books, and that changed everything. Initially, I started listening to books I had read previously, and the first ones I remember were Gaiman's Anansi Boys and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. I liked both those books when I read them the first time, but I was FLOORED by listening to them. Lenny Henry's reading of Anansi Boys is one of the funniest things I've ever heard - he's hysterical. And I Am Legend is just absolutely brutal and chilling. Robertson Dean read that one, and it was a very flat and minimal read, which just added to the sheer horror of that story. It was just great. 

When I started getting really into audiobooks, I started off mainly listening to books I'd already read. But pretty quickly, I branched out, and now I find myself doing the primary portion of my reading through listening to books. 


JM: For me, the most amazing thing about your narration is the way you give all the characters unique voices, then stay in character through the whole book. This book has a couple of dozen characters with speaking parts. How did you decide what they sounded like? And how on earth did you keep track of them?

DT: Aw, man. Thanks so much for saying that! I generally consider myself a relatively minimalistic narrator, and I knew when I read Bitterwood, with the large cast of characters - a lot of them dragons - they'd need very distinct voices, and it would be a particular challenge I hadn't had a chance at yet. So I went through the book, and sounded out the characters, and tried to give them their own voices. Most of them came pretty naturally, really, which I put down to the writing! 

I had been reading the old Hobbit book - the picture book of the old animated movie - to my son over and over again, and I tried out some of the characters there. In the end, Vendevorex sounded an awful lot like Gandalf when I was reading my son the Hobbit. *laughs*

After I figured out what everyone should sound like, I created a separate file, and recorded sound bites of the major characters so I could refer to them whenever I needed. Some characters I didn't really need to refer to - like Bant, Metron, and Albekizahn - there were certain lines from the story that really just anchored their voice. But even so, I used that character index file a lot!

JM: It's interesting that you talk about minimalism, since that was one of the things that really attracted me to your audition. The book opens in a rather emotionally charged scene but you read it without slipping into melodrama, managing to be both subdued and energetic while letting the words do the real work of conveying the drama. Even though you use different voices for the characters, they're very subtle. Can you give me an example of a line you came across when you first went through the book that revealed a voice to you?

DT: Thank you! Well, the letter Bant started writing to Recanna was incredible. Reading that - I'm pretty sure right from the get go - I knew exactly how Bant should sound, and felt like that was a really strong anchor for him. Whenever I worried he was sounding too gravelly or something, I'd just take a breath, say "Dear Recanna," and slip right back into it.  

JM: What's your work process like? How many hours of work does it take to record a 13 hour audiobook?

DT: *LAUGHS* I don't know if I want to answer that question! It took me several full weekends to record. That's not straight recording, of course, it's preparation and practice and all that too. The editing is the difficult, time consuming part for me. If a chapter ended up being an hour of a raw, unedited recording, it takes me about 3-4 hours to edit it down. I'd guess editing was about 60 hours of work. 

JM: Amazon has recently introduced a feature called Whispersynch for audio that lets Kindle users switch back and forth between audio editions and ebooks without losing their place. This was an innovation I'd never even thought of until it arrived. What kind of changes do you see coming in the world of audiobooks?

DT: Whispersynch is a really cool technology that I have to admit completely baffles me. I have a hard time imagining jumping between text and audio, to be honest. I love reading and I love listening to books, but I haven't yet been tempted to stop listening and read one, or vice versa. 

Recently, there's been a lot of talk about DRM free eBooks, which is great. But whenever I read about a publisher or author proudly announcing that they're eBook is DRM free, my first thought is always "Great, but what about the audiobook?" It would make me incredibly happy if Audible (and the book publishers) dropped DRM from audiobooks. There are currently other, lesser known audiobook sites - Downpour being the biggest one I'm familiar with.

I'm also really curious about Kickstarter. I see a lot of authors Kickstarting their books, which is very exciting for me as a fan. I wonder if there's some kind of way for audiobook to do that too. It's a bit weird with audiobooks, because there's more than just the author involved, but I think it would be a really interesting concept. Right now the biggest drawback is that I don't believe Audible would agree to sell the audiobook afterward, the way an eBook can easily be sold in the Kindle/B&N/Apple stores after the Kickstarter. So it feels like a less accessible item than an eBook might. Unless audiobook stores open the doors.

JM: I know you've just had a new addition to your household. Congratulations! Not many people have a new book and a new baby launched on the same day. I'm sure you're taking a little time off from recording, but when will you be back in the microphone and have you decided what your next project will be?

DT: Ha! It was really a surprise that it happened like that! I didn't expect Audible to release the book for another week or so, so here I was checking into the hospital with my wife and my phone starts buzzing with notifications from my fellow AudioBookaneer Sam congratulating me on the release of Bitterwood. And I'm thinking - wow, this is an experience - a baby and a book in one day. That'll never happen to me again! 

But yeah, I've taken a little time off since then. I actually talked with my co-editor at PodCastle several months back to see if I could take some recording time off there. I'm still helping select stories and getting readers, but not recording anything myself for a little while. 

That'll only last so long, though! I'm hoping to do Middle Grade reader by my friend Greg van Eekhout, whose book Norse Code I read. It would be great to have recorded a book my kids can listen to! After that...well, I think I read somewhere there might be a sequel or two to Bitterwood? So fingers crossed!

If you'd like to hear a sample of Dave's reading, you can listen to an excerpt on Audible. Just click the "sample" button beneath the cover.