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, May 29, 2014

Choosing what novel to write next: A decision is made!

A few posts back I said I was choosing between a space opera SF novel called Cherry Red Rocket Ship and a more literary, end of the world tale tentatively called Shooting Star. Having mulled these ideas over at length, I've decided to write: Neither.

My next book, in fact my next few books, will instead be sequels to Cut Up Girl, a series of books with the overarching title Accidental Gods. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that over the Memorial Day weekend, I did a hundred mile bike ride split up over the three days. This was roughly 18+ hours out peddling in the hot sun wearing a helmet, not listening to music or reading stuff on my phone, just being alone with my thoughts except for the breaks when I could talk to Cheryl. I had time for my mind to wander. And, where it wandered was back to Cut Up Girl, and the potential for telling more stories in her world.

I mentioned a few posts back that my agent was deciding whether or not he could represent Cut Up Girl. I thought it was a long shot, and this week he passed on it. Superhero novels are tough sells, and Cut Up Girl is a tougher sell still. If a publisher was going to put out a superhero book, they'd probably want a character with the appeal of a Superman or Batman. I've basically written a book about Arm Fall Off Boy from the Legion of Superhero Rejects. Because, let's face it, there are thousands of writers who want to tell Batman and Superman stories. What there is to say about this type of character has been said, a dozen times over, with the caveat that anything you say can always be unsaid, since popular characters must always reset to the status quo. To write a story about a real person, someone who can grow and fail and triumph and die, you have to write about a character that's not already precious to the rest of the world.

The thing is, even before he passed on the novel, I'd pretty much decided on this path. When Cheryl and I had dinner on Monday following our bike ride, I explained the whole series to her. If my agent had contacted me the following morning and said he wanted to send it to an editor, I think I would have been a little disappointed. I have a vision, and I have the skills and experience to execute the vision. At this point, a traditional publisher would only slow me down.

Now that I've decided firmly that Cut Up Girl will be self published, I'm going all in. To date, my independently published novels have only been sequels to my traditionally published novels. Cut Up Girl will be my first completely independent novel unconnected to a traditional publisher. The market realities of publishing are that series sell better than stand alones, and, from the start, I saw the Cut Up Girl novel as an introduction to a larger world. Now, I'm planning to seriously devote myself to exploring that world. During my bike ride, I thought up the broad plots of not one, but three follow up novels. I had said the second book would likely be called Adventures of a Big Ape. While Harry will still play a starring role in the novel, the second book in the series will likely be called Echo, and it will follow the story of Cut Up Girl after she's been shot three times in the heart. She spends the entire book in a coma. Which, I admit, doesn't sound like a great premise for a novel. But, Cut Up Girl is probably the one character in the world capable of investigating the mystery while still in a coma. Sorry if this is cryptic; I really can't explain the premise in greater detail until the Cut Up Girl novel is published without introducing spoilers.

The second book will end with the core characters of Echo and Harry in deeper trouble than they started. The third book will track their efforts to fight back against the forces hunting them, with the help of a mysterious ally. The final book in the series will be a fight for the destiny of all mankind, or something like that. I do know that a masked woman in underwear will beat the snot out of the world's most respected superhero.

In addition, to help ensure that Cut Up Girl has the best possible company for superhero fiction, I'm also going to soon be announcing plans for my own small press devoted to publishing other writer's costumed heroic adventures. I was telling a friend via email earlier today that I couldn't think of a book published in the last decade that was on my list of top fifty favorite books. I want to change that by actively searching for authors and helping them develop outstanding books that are completely unlike anything else being published today.

Moving forward with a future of superhero novels isn't an easy choice. It basically means turning my back on traditional publishing for the next few years and devoting myself full time to being an indy author and indy publisher. It could be a path to increasing obscurity, and it could be a big money loser, as I funnel dollar into covers and promotions without a guarantee of anyone buying  a single book. And, it means that, for the next few years, I'm not likely to go into a Barnes and Noble and find a copy of one of my books there. I'm going to have to deal with the possible stigma that people think I'm self publishing because my books aren't good enough to make it into stores.

But, honestly, I want to write books that are better than what you're likely to find in stores. I want to write books that aren't easy to describe or explain, books that satisfy on every level, full of action and humor but also filled with meaning and heart.

In the end, both my head and my heart have signed on to this decision. My heart loves the books I plan to write. It's not just excitement when I think about them. I'm seriously in love, devoted to seeing them though poverty and illness, to have faith in them when they've lost their way. And my head thinks this is my smartest path forward. It might not be the best choice financially, but it's not like I've gotten rich writing for traditional publishers. Pursuing this series of books gives me total control over my writing and publishing life. I no longer have to play by the hurry up and wait rules of dealing with mainstream publisher, or have to swallow unfair contract terms in order to see my books in stores. And I definitely won't have to suck it up and live with a cover I don't like at all, like the one on Greatshadow.

Speaking of Greatshadow, when the rights to that series revert to me, I plan to reissue them my way. I've always thought of them as superhero novels with a fantasy setting. I want future covers to reflect this, and future marketing to emphasis these elements instead of hiding them.

So, my long term plan: Indy career, superhero novels, both my own and other authors who want to work with me. I'll still have room to pursue other ideas that appeal to me; I could see fitting Cherry Red Rocket Ship into my indy line up fairly easily.

Immediate plans: Outline. Shocking, I know, since I don't normally outline. But, I really want to nail down the big events for all the books in my Accidental Gods series, so I can know if there are future events I need to foreshadow in the first book. I plan to dedicate June and July to outlining and prewriting, then launch into the books full throttle in August, with a goal of having all three books drafted by the end of the year. Then, in early 2015, I'll release Cut Up Girl, and arrange for the other books to come out about every three month or four months.

Once these four books fill up 2015, hopefully I'll have the rights back to the Dragon Apocalypse. I can then write Soulless, and put out an authoritative edition of the Dragon Apocalypse through 2016.

I've picked my road. I don't know what's at the end of it. But it's time to put my creative drive into gear. Forward!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

JamesMaxey.net launches!

So, it turns out this world wide web thing might not be a fad after all. Despite having two blogs and a Facebook page, I've never taken the time to actually set up a website devoted to my writing. I'm happy to announce that changes today. With the help of my friend Jesse Bernier, I'm launching a site that will consolidate both my blog feeds, provide a handy billboard for upcoming events, and give a more organized way of finding out information on all my books. Right now, there are links to buy the books, both physically and electronically, from various retailers. Soon, we'll have ecommerce set up so you can purchase books directly from me, including signed copies of the print books.

There's also still plenty of formatting and tweaking to be done. Right now we're trying to figure out why my blogs feed in with red text. So far, GoDaddy's tech support hasn't been very helpful on this. Still, small snags like that are no reason not to go live.

We've also got a nifty quote generator set up with rotating quotes from some of my books and stories, though I really need to add to the collection, since I've only got about ten set up so far. If anyone out there has a favorite line from one of my books, let me know and I'll add it to the rotation.

Oh! It would probably help to mention the name of the website: JAMESMAXEY.NET.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Choosing what novel to write: an interlude

When I started this series of blogs, I thought that by the time I reached the final post, I'd have, you know, figured out what book I'm going to write next. And, I'm really, really leaning toward one of them. But, whenever I sit down to announce my choice, I find myself still not quite there.

These are some of the criteria for my choice:

1. Excitement. How passionate am I about the idea? How energized to I feel thinking about it?

2. Importance. Do I actually have something important to say? This can actually be very much in conflict with excitement. It's easy to get excited about a cool, grand idea that's ultimately kind of pointless and hollow. On the other hand, you can feel like you have something important to say, and dread the thought of putting it to paper, because you know you're going to get it wrong, and the big, vital thing you're going to say is going to seem small, or obvious, or else get misunderstood and twisted until people think you've said the exact opposite of what you meant to say.

3. Will it sell? I won't lie to you. I've had some real duds economically. I personally prefer Greatshadow to Bitterwood by a pretty wide margin. But, Bitterwood has outsold Greatshadow by a huge, huge margin. I like writing quirky, funny novels that don't take themselves too seriously. But, so far, the reading public seems more willing to shell out dough for my more serious ideas over my goofier ones, even if my goofier ideas are, in my opinion, better executed and more in line with my world view. Maybe I should go with an idea that isn't introduced to potential readers as "really weird."

4. Will it help me grow artistically? I've never wanted to build a career writing the same books again and again. I try to do something I've never done before with every book I write. But, at this point, I've written a dozen novels. Figuring out what I haven't tried before is tougher than it was six books back.

I could try something really radical. Like, why do I only write one book at a time? Maybe I could structure my writing schedule in such a way that I could be writing two books at once by interchanging writing days.

The thought's intriguing, but I suspect I won't go there. I value my sanity.

I've already discussed how these pros and cons apply to the books under consideration in my previous posts, but I thought it would be nice to consolidate all my thoughts here. It wasn't my intention to leave people hanging. In writer time, once I start my next book, I'll be living with it for probably half a year. I know I'm not starting it until June. So, I'm not yet at any sort of real deadline to force me into a choice. But, the calendar pages keep on flipping. Hopefully, next post, a decision.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write: Part Four

Today, the two most likely candidates for my next novel.

Cherry Red Rocket Ship: About a century from now, the world has been transformed by contact with the Thardexians, a race of alien shape-shifters who are unfailingly benign and generous in sharing their technology. They stay off Earth, since they're environmentally conscientious enough not to alter our biosphere to their liking. Mars, however, is a perfectly viable planet not being used, so they've built big domed cities there to thardaform into pleasant environments. They don't need the whole planet, so they've shared their tech so that humans can also settle the planet. In fact, humans have now colonized several Jovian and Saturnian moons, as well as our own moon, and have ambitious plans to cool Venus and make it viable for colonization.

Trade with the Thardexians is mostly intellectual property, with the Thardexians being especially interested in cultural imports. They love bluegrass, ice cream, Bollywood movies, and Russian novels. The one thing they have a problem with is coffee. And the problem is they can't get enough of it. Thardexians love the stuff. I gives them a high that makes crack seem tame. So high, in fact, that coffee addicts abandon their duties and forget their morals and generally lose interest in anything beyond where they're going to get their next cup of coffee.

So, of course, the Thardexian have convinced the governments of earth to outlaw the production and consumption of coffee if the want to continue having trade relations with them. And, of course, a huge organized crime black market has arisen to grow and smuggle coffee, both to the Thardexians and to earthies who can't live without the stuff.

The novel follows Remy, a young coffee smuggler who gets pulled over by the cops while smuggling half a pound of coffee beans. In a panic, he swallows the bag of beans he's carrying. The cops had only pulled him over for a busted nav signal, and would have let him go with just a ticket if he hadn't thrown up beans all over their uniforms.

Now, Remy's in jail and he knows his days are numbered. The cops doped him up on truth endorphins and he's spilled his guts, both literally and figuratively. The head honcho of the local drug cartel has a zero tolerance policy for snitches. Talk to the cops, and he'll twist off your head. Which he can do easily, since he's a twelve foot tall cyborg gorilla veteran of the moon wars named Space Gorilla Max.

Remy has to get out of town. In fact, he needs to get off the planet, even out of the solar system if he wants to avoid having his head mounted about SGM's fireplace. So, when he's released from jail due to a computer error, he races to the nearest spaceport and hotwires the first rocket ship he sees--the bright cherry red chrome bedecked pimp rocket that belongs to Space Gorilla Max. He takes it to Mars to see his old girlfriend, Suzanne, a female thardexian with a coffee problem who broke up with him when she started her twelve step program. Apparently, her sponsor felt that dating a coffee smuggler wasn't conducive to her remaining clean. Remy is hoping Suzanne will help him get to Thardex, far beyond Space Gorilla Max's reach. Grand adventure ensues as they romp around the solar system, with both gorilla goons and law enforcement in hot pursuit. Lots of quirky characters and settings, lots of madcap humor, tons of action sequences.

I really want to write this book. I think it would be fun to write and fun to read. Playful, with a (hopefully) interesting political edge, and a chance to comment on just about any cultural element I have an opinion on. Also, I really want to infuse the book with a retro SF aesthetic, where the spaceships all have tailfins and people go hiking in Mars in shorts, a tank top, and a big glass dome over their heads. Oh, and did I mention that the Thardexians shape shift to psychically appeal to humans? So that Suzanne is a busty blue-skinned vixen who dresses in silver bikinis and high heels? I want a cover on this thing that would have been at home on any SF magazine published in 1933.

The arguments against writing it: Retro SF is going to be a really tough pitch to a mainstream publisher. I can't point to a successful book published in the last ten years and say, "See? There's a market for this." My last project, Cut Up Girl, is probably an even harder pitch. There aren't a lot of hit superhero novels, and female superhero projects are such a tough sell they can't even get a Wonder Woman movie made.  Cut Up Girl is an awesome novel, and I still have hope that a publisher might recognize the awesome and take a gamble on it, but I wrote it mainly because I wanted to read it, and have enough artistic integrity to commit to a project from time to time without regard for whether or not it can sell. But do I have enough artistic integrity to do this twice in a row? Or should I focus on something slightly more commercial for my next undertaking?

Shooting Star: First, that's a very tentative title. The story would share the premise with my short story "To the East, a Bright Star." A few centuries ago, a rogue brown star passed along the edge of our solar system, disrupting the Oort Cloud. For a long time, nothing happened. Then, a few years back, every other day astronomers announced the discovery of a new comet. Some days, dozens of comets were found. Soon it became obvious that something bad was going to happen. A whole storm of comets was heading our way. With luck, none would hit us.

We weren't lucky. A relatively small one impacted with Antartica. This melted much of the ice sheet, raising sea levels 50 feet in under a month and overloading the atmosphere with water vapor creating an accelerating greenhouse effect, so that temps have risen on average ten degrees in under a decade.

In the midst of all this disaster, the governments of earth have proven pretty effective in managing the crisis. The greatest minds of humanity now work together to keep mankind safe and fed, and for the most part there's a spirit of social cohesiveness, a sense of hope that we can all get through this by working together.

Looming over everything is the doomsday comet heading towards us. A big one, bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Our one hope is to deflect it with a massive nuclear bombardment. Unfortunately, the halo of debris surrounding the core shreds the rockets sent to save us. Other rockets go up, including a last second attempt to guide a largish iron-nickel asteroid to collide with it and shatter it into less damaging chunks. But when this rocket crashes into the asteroid, killing the crew, the President must address the nation and tell them that deflecting the comet is no longer an option. Instead, plan B is a mandatory evacuation to underground bunkers where mankind will wait out the impending comet holocaust.

And in a dive bar in rural Arkansas, a truck driver empties his beer, wipes his mouth, stares at the screen where the President is still speaking, and says, loudly, "That's it. We're fucked." Then he pulls out a pistol and tries to rob the place. This is where the novel opens, and where we meet our protagonist, a young guy name Tony talks the driver out of the robbery, offering him some weed so he can chill out and get into a better head space.

Tony's known pretty much since he was a teenager the date he was going to die, since that's when astronomers announced the date the comet would strike earth unless it was deflected. He'd had a gut feeling that nothing would work. He doesn't intend to go live in some underground bunker like a prisoner fated never again to see the sun. Instead, the comet is predicted to strike just off what used to be the Outer Banks of North Carolina (now vanished beneath the rising waves). Tony's plan is to get to the coast and climb to the roof of the tallest building he can find on Day Zero and watch what is going to be the most spectacular, albeit brief, fireworks display anyone has ever seen.

The novel would be a journey across a nation falling apart. Tony has some people he'd like to see before the final day, and a few specific provisions he'd like to acquire to make his final moment of life something truly special. Along the way, does everything he can to help people, since he wants to reach the end with a clear conscience, knowing he did all he could to help his fellow men.

Even though civilization is unraveling, one important goal I'd have for this novel would be to write it with as little violence as possible. I think my current body of work reflects a broader cultural bias that adventure equals action and action equals violence. Every book I've written to date buys into this assumption. And, don't get me wrong, I love me some art based on this premise. Turning to my left, I've got a row of superhero graphic novels, easily two dozen of them, and I guarantee you there's not a one featuring a story where no one gets punched. I like me some fight scenes. And, I think I'm really good at writing them. Perhaps I'm misjudging my artistic strengths, but I think one of my strong points is that I write a mean fight. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any book I've written to date isn't built around a climax where the good guys win a physical confrontation with the bad guys.

Why? I've never hit a single person in my life since I was a kid, nor has anyone hit me. Violence just isn't part of my day to day life. Why do I continue building stories around it?

So, Shooting Star will have as little violence as possible, although given the setting I imagine it would be unrealistic that Tony won't encounter some violence. Still, the climax of the book won't be structured around a big fight scene. Nor will the climax of the book be structured around Tony "winning" or even surviving. The book instead will be about living life despite the inevitability of death. I think I touched upon my feelings about mortality in Burn Baby Burn, but Shooting Star would be built around the finite nature of any individual human life, and everything that results from that finite nature, be it kindness or cruelty, joy or despair, loneliness or camaraderie.

Arguments against writing Shooting Star: It's a much bigger break from my existing body of work than Cherry Red Rocket Ship. I don't think this is a novel I can pitch as a "fun read." I'm certain there will be humor, but the tone of the book would be much more serious. While the break down of civilization will give me opportunities to talk about modern culture, my intention would be to skip over trivia and grapple with Big Questions. And, yes, I'm aware of how easily it would be to slide down the slope of these Big Questions into a novel that is a pretentious, masturbatory slog of people giving long speeches about the meaning of life. No one wants to read that; I don't want to write that.

Could I sell this novel? Unlike the retro SF of CRRS, the near future of Shooting Star would be more at home in the modern bookstore. There are, like, a thousand successful novels built around great disasters and the collapse of modern civilization. I think this would be an easier pitch to a mainstream publisher, assuming I can pull it off well. Of course, that's something I have my doubts about. Can I write a novel where I'm not structuring it around what fight scene happens next?

There's also the question of what I owe my current readers. Presumably, the people reading my current books like all my elaborate fight scenes, and probably like the fact that, for the most part, my protagonists triumph in the end. Will they follow me into such a radically different storyline?

So, here are my two candidates. Cherry Red Rocket Ship makes my brain feel lively when I think about it, until I think about the fact that I'll probably never see it published. Shooting Star fills me with just a tiny bit of dread, but probably has a clearer path to publication, and has the potential to be a more enduring artistic statement. On the other hand, CRRS has a goddamn space gorilla. Christ almighty, I want to write about a space gorilla. But, on the other other hand, mortality. How can I call myself an artist if I don't at least try to grapple with such an imposing thematic foe?

Tomorrow: How I'm choosing between the two.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part Three

Today's category are novels I have every intention of writing, but am reluctant to start for business reasons:

Soulless, Book Four of the Dragon Apocalypse: The novel opens twenty years after the events of Greatshadow. Tempest, the Dragon Lord of Hell, has unleashed an army of the damned upon the world. The primal dragons most aligned with humanity have fallen, and the ones hostile to mankind unleash waves of destruction. In a climatic final battle, Stagger, Primal Spirit of the Sun, falls to the forces of evil. As eternal darkness falls, Rott, the Dragon of Death, wakes for his final meal.

And that's the first chapter. Of course, we know from previous books that one person survives the end times--the Black Swan, who once more travels into the past in an effort to halt the apocalypse. This time, her plan to save the world centers on the daughter of Stagger and Infidel, a child conceived in the spirit world, who possesses vast powers. Of course, she also possesses a very opinionated, very protective mother, who's never much liked the Black Swan. Hijinks ensue. Also tragedies. Lots and lots of tragedies.

Meanwhile, Sorrow, Slate, and the Romers are still in hell, with the enigmatic Walker as their guide. Together, they must cross the surreal landscape of the netherworld in search of the soul of Lord Stark Tower, the man Slate is cloned from. Can Slate locate his missing soul and redeem it? In doing so, can he and the others find a path to lead them out of hell and back to the land of the living? And, if they do find the path, will there be a living world to return to if when the Black Swan fails once more?

If you haven't read the first three books of the Dragon Apocalypse, I imagine this synopsis just sounds like eye-glazing fantasy mumbo jumbo. If you have read the Dragon Apocalypse, you're probably thinking, "Yeah. I want that."

And I want to write it! But, here's the legal reality: Solaris still owns all rights to the first three books. There's a chance I can get the rights reverted to me around the end of this year... assuming the books don't see a spike in sales. Releasing a fourth book independently of Solaris might cause a spike that would cause Solaris to hold onto the rights longer. So, while I could write the book now, economically it makes more sense to hold out until the rights to the first three books are controlled by me again. Then I can release new ebook editions off all three books, make Greatshadow completely free and advertise the heck out of it to bring in new fans, and reap the full financial rewards of my efforts. While I hate, truly hate, leaving existing fans of this series hanging, the economics of publishing argue for me waiting at least another 8 months before I put my time and energy into this novel.

The Adventures of a Big Ape/Silent Seven: A sequel to Cut Up Girl. There's a human/chimp hybrid in the series named Harry who's Cut Up Girl's best friend through the first novel. He goes through several hero identities, first as Humanzee, then Monkey Boy, Monkey Man, Sock Monkey, and finally Big Ape, after a regenerative drug given to save his life causes him to grow bigger than a gorilla. Harry's an interesting character because his attitude is mostly optimistic through the first book despite his circumstances being much worse than Cut Up Girl's. He's never going to pass as human, but instead of being alienated and mopey about how alone he is, he throws himself with a whole heart into being a costumed crime fighter. At the end of Cut Up Girl, he has to quit his current super-team. This book would follow his adventures as he's recruited into the mysterious Silent Seven, a group of super humans with the somewhat sinister but socially necessary mission of uncovering the secrets of other costumed heroes. Just what these secrets are being used for isn't clear to Harry; he's just happy to once again have a job where he gets to punch people. But when the Silent Seven investigates one of his oldest friends, the hero known as Atomahawk, Harry discovers a dark secret that will change everything the world believes about its greatest heroes.

This is another book I feel like I could start typing tomorrow. I've got some really cool ideas, and if I wind up self publishing Cut Up Girl, I'd like to have the sequel ready to release quickly. But, there is an "if" in that sentence. Right now, my agent is considering whether or not he'll represent the book. If he does, and the book winds up in the hands of a publisher, I'd rather wait to see if there are things they want me to change about the first novel before I'm half way through the second. So, again, it's on the back burner.

There's one more reason I'm not going to write one of these novels next, a more important one than simple economics. Both of these books would be easy for me to write. At least, as easy as any book can be. I know the characters, I know the worlds, I've been thinking about the plot lines for a while. Of course, both books will present challenges. Once I get into them, I'll quickly run into logistical issues of trying to tie dozens of plot lines together within the constraints of my established continuity. But, these are challenges I'm comfortable handling. And, bluntly, while I'm not under contract, I think it's time for me to try a novel that makes me at least a little uncomfortable. I want to do something new, to push myself to write stuff I haven't tried before, so I can continue to hone my craft as a writer.

So, next up: The two books I'm actually going to choose between to write this summer.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part Two

I've no shortage of ideas on what to write next. These ideas fall into three broad categories:

Today I'll look at novels I could write, but probably won't, at least not soon:

Frankenstein's Daughters: The Frankenstein monster has been busy since last seen in the eponymous novel. With his unique biology able to regenerate him from any injury, the monster is effectively immortal, and even today lurks in the shadows of civilization. Always torn between his hatred of humanity and his desire for companionship, the Big F has taken human wives over the centuries. As a consequence, he's had many offspring. His sons are always monsters, both mentally and physically, hideous creatures with violent natures. But, his daughters look completely normal, and pass for ordinary humans, though they share many of their father's attributes of physical strength and toughness and his mental attributes of genius and an nearly inexhaustible well of hatred for mankind. The daughters are protective of their father and male siblings, and during the centuries they've worked themselves into positions of great influence in order to advance their father's long term plan to wipe humanity from the earth and replace it with a race of his own kind.

But, there is a secret society who knows the truth about the Monster's schemes and has worked together to oppose them. The novel would explore the life of the Monster's youngest daughter as she matches wits with the secret society's newest monster hunter.

Pros: One of my more commercial ideas. Built in audience familiar with Frankenstein lore, would be told either as a modern urban fantasy, or set earlier and told as a Gothic steampunk novel.

Cons: My indecision on the setting is a bad sign that this novel hasn't matured to readiness yet. Ideally, setting, character, and plot are all bound together so tightly you can't have one without the others. Also, I hardly ever read urban fantasy or steam punk, so perhaps I shouldn't barge into these genre's expecting great results. On the other hand, lack of actual knowledge on a subject has never held me back before!

The real reason I probably won't write this novel any time soon is that it sounds very much like the premise of any number of novels you could already pick up in the fantasy section of a bookstore. And, yes, that means I would have a real shot of pitching it to a publisher. I just feel like I need a more challenging subject, something that sounds dumb as hell when people hear about it, then turns out to be brilliant. You know, like the rest of my books! (Ahem.)

Orthogonal: A man is confronted in his living room by a gun-wielding stranger who looks just like him. The stranger asks a lot of questions about key events in his life, looking pleased with some answers, dismayed with others. There's a struggle, the stranger is shot, and while examining his body the man discovers what looks like a smart phone. He tries to turn it on to see if he can identify the stranger, and instead triggers a dimensional warp that places him in an alternative universe where his life has gone horribly awry. The stranger was him from this dimension, in this life a physicist, a subject he'd been fascinated by, but didn't pursue at his father's urging to study law. The physicist version of himself has built a device to hop between alternate universes looking for a life better than the one he's ruined, with the intention of killing that universe's copy of himself and taking over his life. Now, our hero has to return home, but it's no easy task when there are an infinite number of alternate worlds to investigate. In his journey across dimensions, he discovers many possible ways the events in his life could have flowed differently, and is forced to grapple with the question of whether anything in his life has meaning if every possible version of himself exists.

Pros: I really want to write a serious science fiction novel. I think there's a lot of artistic potential in this topic.
Cons: I'm still iffy on far too many details to feel ready to write this. Also, I don't know that I yet have an answer to the big philosophical question. What if every possibility is true somewhere? If every good thing you've ever done is negated in the multiverse by an equal number of evil things? How would you find meaning, other than just shrugging and focusing on what's in front of you and pretending you don't know about all the other yous? When I feel like I have an answer, I'll feel like I have a novel.

Next entry: Novels I'll almost certainly write, but not yet due to practical considerations.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Choosing What Novel to Write Next: Part One

Last Sunday night, I emailed my latest revision of Bad Wizard to Antimatter Press. This was a post editorial draft for the high level, story content changes. I probably cut about 10,000 words of old stuff and added about as much new stuff. There was other material I shifted around, and the story now has a prologue and epilogue. In the earlier draft, I had a scene, where Dorothy Gale first tries on the silver slippers five years after she's returned from Oz and uses them to travel Paris. This happened in flashback and really messed up the flow of the story around it. On the other hand, I couldn't find a good place for Dorothy to just tell her story first hand, at least not this particular element of it. Changing it to an epilogue solved a second structural problem for the novel. In earlier drafts, the book doesn't open in Dorothy's POV. There are good things and bad things about this earlier choice, and hopefully the epilogue mitigates the bad and elevates the good. 

The biggest bad part of not starting in her POV was that it might lead some readers to think that the novel was going to be about a completely different character. The biggest good part was that when Dorothy does appear, the reader should be intrigued about her identity, piecing it together from visual clues. But, those clues would have been obvious to someone familiar with the book, not someone who only knew of Oz from the movie, where the slippers are ruby and Dorothy hasn't been kissed on the forehead by the Witch of the North, leaving a visible mark. Now, there won't be a mystery about who Dorothy is, so the reader can instead focus on the mystery of what she'd doing and why she'd doing it, a mystery that pays off in the following chapter. 

There will still be one more draft of the novel, following line editing, then of course there will be galleys. But, when I arrived home from work Monday and sat down at my computer, I had the strangest sensation. For the first time since I turned in Dragonseed almost six years ago, I don't have a next novel lined up to work on, nor am I immediately needing to plunge into revisions of an already drafted novel. (Yet. I will be revising Cut Up Girl eventually, but it's not urgent, no deadline.)

The sensation is both a great relief and more than a little unsettling. 

The relief is easy enough to understand. It's late spring. If I'm not stuck in front of a computer, I can be out hiking or biking or-dare I dream?-fishing. In a more sedentary mode, maybe I can catch up on some of the movies I've missed in the last couple of years. People get vacations from other jobs. Why should writing be an exception? 

It's a little unsettling because, writing is more than just a job for me. It's built into my structure, it's what I think about constantly, it's part of my identity. If I didn't write, I don't have any idea how I would know myself. Who am I if I'm not the person typing away at stories in the evening? Writing is my drug of choice. It takes me away from the world, alters my mind and mood, makes me neglect important stuff, but also gives me highs I can never fully explain to anyone else. If I go too long without writing, I get withdrawal symptoms. My real fear is... what if I got through the withdrawal, came out the other side free of my need to write, free of my dependence on the habit? I spend my days pondering "what ifs." This is a "what if" I'm terrified of contemplating too deeply. 

So, I need a novel to write. In the next few days, I'll talk about my candidate novels, and go through the pros and cons of each, and try to document my process for making a decision.