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!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse, Book Four, 60,259 words

Okay, just a hair shy of my 10,000 word goal. I suppose I should man up and write the last 500 words I need to get there, but, honestly, my brain is just hollow after the chapter I finished today, a pivotal chapter in which Slate finds the soul of Stark Tower, the man he's cloned from, in Hell. It's a fairly dark chapter, in a string of dark chapters. I would have thought a novel set in hell would have more laughs! Seriously, I feel pretty good about my emotional exhaustion at the moment. I'm tapping into some deep places inside me to pull this story out.

Here's a brief, unedited excerpt:

Sorrow woke slowly, luxuriating in the warmth that filled every last muscle of her body. Until now, she’d only toyed with magic, only caught glimpses and hints of what it was truly like to wield true power. True, she’d experienced the raw elemental power of Rott, a destructive, nihilistic power that had almost devoured her. But in Slate’s arms, together they’d awakened something new and powerful within her, a force of creation, a power of life instead of death.

With her eyes still closed, she frowned. Where were Slate’s arms? They’d fallen asleep spooned together, his arm draped across her belly, his chest seemingly glued to her back by sweat. Now, he wasn’t touching her.

She sat up, and instantly crossed one arm across her naked breasts, as she found that she wasn’t alone. In a tightly packed circle around the silk (check this) cloak they’d fallen asleep on, a score of old men and women stood shoulder to shoulder, glaring at them with judgmental eyes.

Slate sat next to her, pulling on his pants with one hand, while holding onto the Witchbreaker with the other.

“I don’t think the sword is necessary,” she said softly. “They look too old and toothless to be able to hurt us.”

“Appearances can be deceiving in Hell,” said Slate. “It’s not their teeth I fear, nor their limbs. It’s their eyes that tear into me. I’ve never felt so… so naked.”

Sorrow put her hand on Slate’s back to comfort him. He instantly tensed up, and said, “Don’t touch me while they watch.”

She pulled her hand away, noticing the faces of the assembled crowd took on an even deeper look of disapproval following her touch. One of the old women whispered, “Whore.” A man on the opposite side of the circle whispered, “Sinners.” A third voice, too weak and trembling for Sorrow to determine the sex of the speaker behind her, hissed, “Shameful!” The word was taken up, passing among the crowd. “Shameful. Shameful. Shameful!”
“No!” Slate cried, pulling on his shirt. “You don’t understand!”
“Slate, calm down,” she said, noticing the near panic in his voice. She’d never heard any emotion vaguely resembling this in his voice before.
He turned to her, tears welling in his eyes. “We should have waited,” he said, his voice choked. “We—”
“Hussy. Tramp. Fornicators. Dirty, dirty, dirty,” murmured the crowd.
“Please,” said Slate. “It was only a moment of weakness.”
Sorrow stood up, her fists clenched. She stared into the eyes of the woman nearest to her. “You’re wasting your time here.”
“Shameful,” scolded the woman.
Sorrow shook her head. “I feel no shame. Not even the slightest. You’ve no power over me. Go away.”
The woman flickered, turning halfway to smoke, before solidifying again. He eyes now focused on Slate, completely ignoring Sorrow. “Seducer,” she said, clucking her tongue. “Shame. Shame!”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 50,735 words

Passed the 50k milestone. Yeah! Still didn't hit 10k words this week. I had two events as Piedmont Laureate, one Monday, the other Thursday, and a fairly busy weekend. My wife and I are training for a "Century Ride," which is a bike ride of 100 miles in a single day. (Technically, I think it's supposed to be done in under 12 hours. We're just committing to getting the ride done between dawn and sunset, on June 21, the longest day of the year.)

Fortunately, the hours I spent on my bike have been productive ones for my day dreaming. I feel like I have enough material to have a much more productive week between now and next Sunday.

The thing I don't have, unfortunately, is any kind of clear, clean ending in mind any more. The plot I thought I would be following has crashed up into the reality of the plot my characters are scripting for themselves. Gale Romer was especially willful this week. After my earlier attempt at writing her out of the main plotline for a side mission, she and her family returned with a vengeance for one of my favorite chapter sequences yet. It's making my novel messier than I had planned, since now I have four major plotlines unfolding simultaneously. I imagine things will be even messier by the 60 and 70K word mark. After that, I can probably start wrapping up the plots one by one, and still finish my first draft by the end of April, like I'd originally planned.

No excerpt his week. Too brain dead to find a passage that holds up out of context. Maybe next week.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 44,801 words

I end the week with two more chapters behind me, and a whole lot of plot threads getting tangled together. I'm finding it a little difficult to write scenes with Cinder, Infidel's daughter. I'm still finding that she lacks much in the way of personal goals. She becomes a more driven character over the course of her story arc, but in these beginning stages, I'm finding it hard to articulate why she would ever agree to go along on such a dangerous quest. Oh well. There's nothing to do but move forward, and hope that the more I write about her, the more I'll understand her.

In this excerpt, Father Ver's ghost and Cinder have come with a knight named Pyre to meet Pyre's spiritual leader, a dragon named Brother Wing, who will be familiar to readers of the previous books by different names: Relic and Brokenwing. Brother Wing is now leads the Church of the Sacred Flame, dedicated to the worship of Greatshadow. Father Ver has asked for Pyre's help in rescuing Slate, Sorrow, and the Roamers from Hell. This leads to a revelation that might be of interest to readers of the first few books, a previously unknown connection between Sorrow and Brokenwing.

Same disclaimers as always. First draft. Not edited. Might change entirely.

“I don’t dispute that you believe the threat is real,” said Brother Wing. “I just feel the problem is somewhat… abstract. Meanwhile, the problems this settlement faces are far more concrete. The world beyond these shores grows less inhabitable by the hour. The bay at Commonground is a mass of ships now, as Wanderers seek shelter in the last unfrozen waters to be found. They carry with them refugees from the other lands. Some are upon the ship because the Wanderer’s felt mercy, others because, even in the face of Doomsday, there were still Wanderers with enough love of commerce for wealthy men to buy passage to safety.”

“Now,” said Pyre, “It’s only a matter of time before these men leave Commonground to find new homes upon the Isle of Fire. While we would welcome with open arms anyone who comes in peace to help us build, we know that many of these men will come with war in their hearts, and see our humble settlement as ripe territory for starting a new empire.”

“So you see why I am reluctant to have Pyre join your quest,” said Brother Wing. “Reluctant… but not completely unwilling.”

“I will go where you wish me to go,” said Pyre. “But… why do these people trapped in hell matter to us?”

Brother Wing sighed. “Because I know them. Some of them, anyway. In the Palace of the Inquisition, I dined with Slate and Sorrow. While I’ve never met the Romers personally, in the time I lived in Commonground, I learned of them from the minds of their fellow wanderers. The world will be poorer for their absence.” He paused, looked as if he were weighing something further, then said, “I should also say that I know Sorrow much more intimately than from a single dinner.”

“My mother knew Sorrow,” said Cinder. “I’m told she was very driven. And very angry.”
Brother Wing nodded. “Traits that I found very much to my liking, back then.” His eyes seemed less focused, as if he was lost in memories. “My father cast me aside as a fledgling, my wings broken, with every expectation I would die. But I killed the lava pygmies who came to collect my body. From their minds, I caught the faintest glimmers that there was a larger world beyond the jungle. I filled my belly with the bodies of the lava pygmies, but they couldn’t satisfy my intellectual hunger. Driven by a desire to understand more of the world… and more of myself… I descended the mountain and made my way to Commonground.”

“Even in a city of half-seeds, I cannot imagine they welcomed a dragon there with open arms,” said Father Ver.

“No,” said Brother Wing. “I was met with hostility and violence, driven back into the wilds weeping and wounded. However, as a telepath, I quickly learned to hide myself from the gaze of men. At first I merely hid in shadow, but soon I learned the art of disguising myself in rags. Moving among the crowds of the city unmolested, I drank in the minds of those around me, and soon mastered human languages. I had left the jungle feeling deep emotions, emotions I had no words for. But soon after I arrived in Commonground, a woman in a cloak of fine green silk walked past me. Instantly, she caught my full attention, for here was the first human I’d encountered who felt precisely the same emotions that I’d known since being discarded by my father. She was filled with hatred of her own father, and a deep and abiding desire for revenge against him. In her, I’d found a kindred spirit.”

“And how did she feel about you?” asked Father Ver.

“She never knew me. She was too intently focused on revenge against her father, and the religion that had shaped him, for me to ever hope of winning her over to my cause. Plus, she came to Commongroud at the summons of the Black Swan, who’d hired her to make use of her talent as a sculptor. I stayed near her, always just out of her range of vision. At night, I’d slink into her sleeping chambers and stand by her bedside, exploring all she’d learned. It was from her I learned the basics of necromancy and soul catching, which allowed me to craft my first golem, Patch. Alas, he proved to be a flawed creation, not even lasting through his first fight.”

“I find it very disturbing that you would read her mind as she slept,” said Cinder. “That seems like a horrible violation of her privacy.”

“Oh, it was inexcusable,” said Brother Wing. “I’d never engage in such a thing now. My years upon the Island of the Inquisition exposed me to many, many arguments about what was moral. My most steadfast companions were, I fear, rather hedonistic, and would have argued I’d done no wrong to Sorrow, since I’d never done any actual harm to her. You don’t harm a flower by gazing at its colors or smelling its aroma. I didn’t harm her mind by combing through her secrets.”

“But you don’t feel this way now?” asked Cinder.

Brother Wing shook his head. “No. Now, I inform people when we first meet that I can see into their minds. It is their choice if they wish to stay near me. I gave her no choice. What’s more, with the wisdom of twenty years of hindsight, I understand that the emotional bond that drew me to her, her unquenchable anger, was a poison to my own soul. It took me many years to forgive my father, and come again to love him.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse Book Four: 36,487

Not my most prolific week. Chapter 7 was a bear to get through, Chapter 8 was even worse. I'm really, really, really hoping these will be the two chapters that I come back to in the rewrite that strike me as perfect. That happens to me a lot. Chapters where I feel the flow, where everything is just coming together easily, are sometimes just painful when I get to the rewrite stage. Chapters where I slog and sweat and dribble out words can later seem brilliant. I honestly never know immediately after I've written something.

The difficulty in Chapter 8 was one of the characters just not wanting to cooperate. It's a Slate and Sorrow chapter, and I went into the book with a grand master plan on how their relationship would progress. There's one conversation they desperately need to have, and I planned for that conversation to come much, much later in the book. But, it turned out that the character wanted to hash things out in the first third of the book. I'm happy because I think the scene has the emotional weight I wanted. I'm nervous, because... what's next? This scene was supposed to be the climax of their story arc, not an opening scene. Oh well. Hopefully things will work out.

No excerpt this week. Hopefully, a nice long one next time!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dragon Apocalypse, Book Four: 30426 words

Things are zooming along! I stop this week in the middle of chapter seven. I'm probably a quarter of the way through the book, maybe more. A lot depends on how thoroughly I flesh out some of the subplots. This week, the Romer and Slate and Sorrow part ways, with the Romers planning to sail to the Sea of Wine to escape from Hell, but Slate and Sorrow choosing to stay behind. The Romers have a role to play in the plot, but I currently don't have much in the way of personal story arcs for them. The focus will be on Slate and Sorrow. Later, the Romers do return to take part in a big, climatic battle. But how much time I focus on their side quest is likely to determine whether this is a 120,000 word novel, or a 150,000 word novel.

In this short, raw, unedited excerpt, Slate and Sorrow have ventured forth into hell in the company of a demon guide named Fester. Fester hasn't spoken much before now, and in this scene Sorrow discovers that some demons have annoying verbal quirks:


They watched as the Freewind vanished around a bend in the river.

“There’s no turning back now,” said Sorrow.
“As any demon will gladly tell, no one may turn back from Hell,” said Fester.

“I had no intention of turning back,” said Slate, looking at Fester. The muscles of his left cheek twitched as he forced himself to keep his eyes on the devil. “Walker said you’d guide us. He also said you could read our minds. You know where I wish to go. Take us.”

“I know where you wish to go,” said Fester. “But your lover’s wishes are not so.”

“Okay, first of all, we’re not lovers,” said Sorrow. “Second, if Slate wants to find Stark Tower, I want to help him.”

“You would find that quest a bother,” said Fester. “The soul you search for is your father.”

Sorrow felt the blood drain from her face. “Then… it’s true? He’s here?”
“In the dark vale of despair, where he breathes the poison air.”
She crossed her arms. “How did he die?”
“This news will truly make you weep,” said Fester. “For he died quietly in his sleep.”
She frowned. “But… he’s here? Why didn’t he leave when Tempest opened the gates?”
“Your father believed that sinners should burn,” said Fester. “He fully grasps that now’s his turn.”
“If you want to go see him first, Stark Tower can wait,” said Slate.
She shook her head. “It’s… I don’t know what I would say to him that would do me any good. It sounds as if he’s finally getting taught the lesson I wanted to teach him. I can only imagine his shock at going to sleep thinking himself a saint and waking up in Hell.”
Fester shook his head. “Of this fact, you’re father long has known the truth. His soul was black, and each man he hung was proof.”
“He knew?” Sorrow ran her hands along her scalp, feeling as if this revelation didn’t quite fit inside her skull. “If he knew, why didn’t he change?”

“He gave his soul for a greater good, as you also think you should.”
Sorrow turned her back to Fester. She gave a deep sigh.
“I… I don’t need to see him. I don’t want to see him. Slate’s quest should come first.”
“Perhaps it’s due to birth, how easily lies pass through your lips,” said Fester. “But as you've judged its worth, we’ll set forth on your lover’s trip.”

Sorrow started to protest the second use of the word ‘lover,’ but held her tongue. I could have just been in the demon’s nature to try to get a rise out of her. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

“Which way should we go?” asked Slate, surveying the hills around them. Sorrow looked around as well, realizing that landmarks she’d been unconsciously cataloging were already gone. The hills were moving, so slowly for the naked eye to notice, but rapidly enough to rob her off all sense of direction.
“We must go toward the snow,” said Fester.
“There’s snow in hell?” Slate asked, surprised.
“Since Tempest’s allied with Hush, half this kingdom is cursed slush.”
“We really should stop asking him questions,” said Sorrow. “If I listen to one more rhyme, I think I’m going to scream.”

Fester said, “Screaming here would be—”
“By the pure metals would you just shut up?” Sorrow shouted at the demon.

“—unwise,” finished Fester. “It would draw the gaze of dangerous eyes.”

“Oh,” she said, biting her fingernails. “Then, I guess I should just keep quiet. Sorry.”

“Too late for regret, I fear,” said Fester, gazing toward the ridge of a nearby hill. “A gibbering guardian now draws near. Should you wish to survive this eternal night, draw your blades, for now, we fight.”