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, October 30, 2014

Bitterwood: The Complete Collection, Now in Print!

Behold! Bitterwood, the Complete Collection, is now available in print! I've had it available as an ebook for a while, but couldn't put out an assembled print edition while Solaris still had the paperback rights. Now that they've agreed to revert the rights, I'm finally gathering up the one giant story into one giant book. 

And when I say "giant book," it's not hyperbole. This thing is massive, just shy of half a million words long, in a 6"x9" trade paperback that's 800 pages long. This book isn't just good for your brain, it's good for your body, since you'll get a good workout just picking it up to read it. It contains all three of the core Bitterwood Trilogy novels, Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed. Then, as a bonus, it contains an entire prequel novel, Dawn of Dragons, plus a bonus short story, "Tornado of Sparks," as well as an introductory essay explaining my creative process in designing my dragons called "Building a Better Dragon." All this for a mere $27 cover price (as opposed to $40 for buying all the individual titles in print). And, to sweeten the deal, Amazon is already selling the book at a discount, at $24.30. Of course, if you are actively opposed to giving money to Amazon, feel free to wander into the book store of your choice and ask then to order you a copy. This is the ISBN-10: 1502906422.

I'm not kidding about burning calories while reading this book. It's big! Big I tell you! For those of you who fear you're not up to the task of lifting such a monster, take heart. Starting next week, I'll be unveiling print editions of all the individual novels. Of course, only the Complete Collection will contain "Tornado of Sparks" and "Building a Better Dragon." Get yours today!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I hate widows and orphans

I had hoped to spend October working on a new novel. Alas, there have been some rather dramatic turns of events unfolding in my publishing life during September that have forced me to switch from my writing hat to my publishing hat.
Bitterwood has sold as a paperback from Solaris books for seven years now, going through four printings. But, eventually I knew the day would come where the sales would dwindle to a point that further printings would be unlikely. On my last statement, Bitterwood's paperback sales had fallen enough that I made the decision to revert the rights and put out my own trade paperback editions available as print on demand books.
I'm kicking things off by releasing a complete collection of all four Bitterwood novels (the core trilogy plus Dawn of Dragons), plus "Tornado of Sparks," the short story set in that world, plus "Building a Better Dragon," an essay I wrote explaining how I designed my dragons to be different from the standard fantasy beasts yet still recognizable as dragons.
Bitterwood: the Complete Collection, is just a few words shy of half a million words of fiction. It's fitting into book 800 pages long. Formatting the book for print has proven... challenging. For starters, finding a font that was easily readable at the size needed to cram in all those words into 800 pages was a challenge. Garamond's small letters were too small, and Time's could be tweaked to fit, but there's something about Times that looks like a business report more than a work of literature. I finally settled on Goudy Old Style at 10 points with a line spacing of 11 points. This is somewhat dense, but still relatively easy on the eye. This summer, I read Don Quixote, a book with a similar word count, and it used a much smaller font, so I don't think anyone will get eye strain from the book. Still, it wasn't just a matter of pulling down and font menu and picking what looked good. I tested and printed sample chapters with easily a dozen font variations before making my final decision.
Designing for print entails a few steps you don't have to worry about in e-books. For starters, in print books most chapters start with dropped caps. These are the large bold letters at the start of a paragraph that hangs down the length of three lines. The complete collection has something like 150 chapters, so going through and dropping all the caps, then tweaking any weirdness that resulted, was time-consuming.
But, the real time sink is finding and fixing widows and orphans. If you don't work in printing, you may not be familiar with the term. Basically, a widow is the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page, and an orphan is a fragment of a sentence by itself at the top of the page. In the image below, you can see an example of both. The first page has a widow, the second page has an orphan.


In the next image, I've tweaked the spacing between fonts in in order to shift the text to avoid the widows and orphans. You can compress or expand the space between letters to tighten up or spread out a paragraph, but this is a tool you should use cautiously. As a rule, I only allowed myself to expand or contract text spacing by no more than .2 of a normal space. In other words, I could reduced the space between letters to about 80% of it's normal size, or spread it out to about 120%. Past this range, the text either looks cramped or stretched. If you look at the image above and below, you'll note that I've actually manipulated text on the previous page (not shown) in order to bring the text up two lines. Then, I've expanded the text in the first paragraph of Chapter 10 so that it takes up an extra line, resulting, I hope, in a more balanced page spread.

To say that this is tedious work is an understatement. But, I think I've finally got 99% of my widows and orphans on this massive document under control. There are a few places where I just couldn't figure out a way of fixing a widow without ruining another page, but for the most part I think I've wound up with a professional document.

So, I submitted my files last week and got the proof mailed to me this week. And... disaster! Something was wrong with the italics in Goudy Old Style. They looked fine on screen, but when they print, they print bold as well as italicized. So, I've had to try two other PDF makers before I finally found one that would create files where the italics printed properly. Foolishly, I approved the proof minutes after I got the printed copy, and it was only later as I was looking at it again, basking in the glow of how good the book looked, that I noticed the bold italics. This happened Friday. I've now uploaded the corrected files, but feel terrible that someone actually bought a copy of the book in the time between my approving the proof and finally noticing something was wrong. I feel terrible. It's not like the book is unreadable, but I've been in the business long enough to know that the proofing process should entail more than just quickly flipping through the pages and letting your mind see the book the way you think it should have printed, rather than the way it really printed.

Right now, the new files are still under review by Createspace. I'm hoping they'll be approved later today, or tomorrow at the latest. Then, I'll do a formal announcement that the book is available, and unveil the cover.

Now that I've got The Complete Collection formatted, it should be simple to peel out the individual books and get them prepped. The good news is, I can use a slightly larger font and let each book spread out to 250 pages instead of 200 each. The bad news is, when I change the font size, all my previous work on widows and orphans will be undone. Sigh.