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, February 24, 2019

Week Eight: 12507 words

A pretty productive week. I'm ahead of my yearly goal once more, 81107 words as of week 8. A few more chapters for Dragonsgate  made it into draft, plus some notes/essays/exploratory writing on The Stuff, the writing book I've got in development. When I conceived of The Stuff last year, I mainly envisioned collecting together a lot of my old blog posts on writing and adding a little new material. But, my writing about writing over the years was never focused on producing a single, comprehensible narrative to be read at a single sitting. So, I'm currently in a stage of writing best described as exploratory writing. I'm tacking a subject about some element of learning to write and writing some essays that will probably never be read by anyone, that exist solely for the purpose of me finding the voice that's going to work and the angle that's going to make my writing about the subject different from the thousands of other books already written about writing.

I do this a lot with novels as well. I'll write a first chapter of a potential new book, set it aside, then a few months later write a completely different first chapter with a different approach. For instance, right now I've got several chapters of a book called Squire that I'm intending to market toward younger readers than the mostly adult audience I've been focused on. I've written a few chapters with a first person voice, and a few with a third person voice. I've tried starting with a scenic introduction, where I first describe the small town where my hero grows up, and I've tried approaches that emphasize the family dynamics that exist between the character, his parents and his brother. So far none feels exactly right.

One bit of advice I normally give novice writers is that you should always write forward through a first draft, that turning back and starting again and again is going to doom you. But, the problem with any "rule" of writing is that making it simple usually makes it wrong. Yes, the vast majority of my novels follow the motto "never look back." If I get to chapter six and realize that my first three chapters are all wrong, I don't go back and rewrite, I just keep moving forward. But, it's also true that my books often involve a lot of false starts. Only, "false" makes them sound like they weren't the right approach. But often these abandoned first chapters are akin to an artist making pencil sketches of a book cover. There are different perspectives to be considered, different ways to shift the emphasis from one element to another. None of them are really the wrong approach. Any of the sketches, once turned into finished art, could be considered an attractive cover. But, when you have three or four alternatives to consider, one will usually stand out as just being more appealing than the others.

Exploratory writing is like sketching. Sometimes I'll write a chapter and it's perfect and I just plow forward, but sometimes I don't know if I've got the right voice and I need to try out alternatives until I feel confident that I've found the right approach.

Looking back and trying to remember the origins of each of my books, there are very few where my first take made it into print. Burn Baby Burn, Dragonseed, Covenant, Victory, Cinder, Hush, and Bitterwood are books where I think the first chapter I wrote wound up being the only first chapter I wrote. Dragonforge had a very different first chapter initially, a flashback telling the story of how Adam Bitterwood had survived. Greatshadow first existed as a novella where the narrator character, Stagger, didn't even exist. Witchbreaker, the third book in the Dragon Apocalypse, features a plot and characters that I was writing chapters about long, long before I wrote Greatshadow. The original point of view character wasn't Sorrow, but a rogue named Swift who later made it into the Dragon Apocalypse series as Brand Cooper. I also had another take where the POV character was a truthspeaker hunting Sorrow since she'd recently killed some knights while gaining her latest witch nail. That character doesn't appear at all in the final book.

No book in my catalogue changed more from initial draft to final draft than Dawn of Dragons. There my exploratory draft was an entire novel! I wrote a 50k first draft of the book with a protagonist who was a secret agent for the government, infiltrating a gang of ecoterrorists. It was dreadful. Then I wrote a completely unrelated short story called "Warp Monkey" featuring a weird homeless zombie dude named Alex Pure and realized that the concept was much too big for a short story and wound up tossing the first draft of Dawn of Dragons and starting fresh with Pure as a protagonist. The Dawn of Dragons that made it into print has sort of an odd, tangential character who pops up in the middle of the book, a fighter pilot who lands her jet in Atlantis and gets kind of an infodump on how Atlantis plans to serve mankind by destroying civilization as we know it to replace it with something better. That's cut and paste from my first run at the novel. It serves its purpose, but in retrospect I feel a little lazy for putting into the book. Those chapters were "good enough," but I wish I'd tossed them and replaced them with fresh material that better fit the flow of the book.

Now, I still feel that my "only move forward" rule is pretty solid once you're more than five or six chapters into a book. At that point, it's probably best to just finish the book and go back and write a new first chapter later. Bad Wizard fit that pattern. Chapter two was my original opening and it worked fine as a launching point for writing, but put way too much emphasis on minor characters who wouldn't do much to advance the novel. The prologue with Dorothy testing out her silver slippers after she finds them again is the first chapter of the book, but the last thing I wrote. Witchbreaker also opens with a first chapter that was written last. I suspect most readers notice that chapter two has much more of a first chapter vibe, basically reintroducing Sorrow and firmly establishing her plot goals. The new first chapter was required by symmetry. Stagger returns at the end of the book to play a major role in resolving the final conflict, so I felt like he also needed to be present in the first chapter to keep his intervention at the end from being completely deux ex machina. Here, I had to trade a stronger beginning for a stronger ending.

Every writer has their process. Maybe there are writers out there who never write a word that isn't going to make it into the final draft. But, I suspect I'm not alone in my "iceberg" approach. Every word that pops through the surface into visible publication is floating on a hidden mass of never published words and drafts. Many of my characters are secret Frankenstein monsters stitched together from three or four other characters who perished before making it into print. Plots I dreamed up for one book turn to vapor, only to solidify as the skeleton of a new novel.

If you're writing, you're writing. Nothing is ever truly wasted. I've written some horrible crap, clunky, lifeless, pointless, and absolutely necessary for me to find my way to the good stuff. If you never get lost, you're not really exploring, and you'll never find the treasures hidden in the darker reaches of your imagination.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Week Six: 10,233 words

Two more chapters done for Dragonsgate! I mentioned last week I was happy to have Hex finally show up in the novel, and his presence continued to pay dividends as I wrote to deeply introspective chapters where Hex and Burke have a long conversation over cups of tea while they discuss their feelings. 

Wait, that doesn't sound right. 

Oh! Looking back at the chapters, I think it's more accurate to describe what unfolds as two chapters of shouting and bloodshed. Burke basically unleashes the full arsenal of Dragon Forge against Hex in an attempt to be done with one of the biggest obstacles to his goal to spread the human rebellion. Hex uses his invulnerable golden armor to fight back and unleash some serious mayhem. It's steam-tanks versus superdragon and I love it, love it, love it when characters like Hex and Burke take charge and write their own scenes and I'm mainly just transcribing what they're doing. 

The end of the first draft is still a bit over the horizon. Like most Bitterwood novels, there's two parallel plot lines, and I'm nowhere near merging them together for the big climax. Some of the earlier Bitterwood novels run for over 30 chapters. I'd hoped to keep this one down to about 25, but that's looking a lot less likely as my to do list of scenes I still need to write keeps growing. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Week Six: 7077

An underwhelming week for word counts. My excuse is the exact opposite of my excuse for bad weeks last month. Last month, the flu and the aftereffects kept me in bed or sitting on the couch like a zombie. This week I was fully recovered and it meshed with amazing weather, with a string of warm, sunny days. I had missed my exercise mileage goals in January due to being ill, so I've been biking or taking long walks every day since Monday in an effort to make up my mileage deficit. My overall goal for the year is to log 2400 miles. I'll probably have some 300 mile months over the summer, so I wanted January and February to be 100 mile months. Falling short in January means I have to hustle!

The good news is that what I did write was nearly all Dragonsgate, as the confrontation between Burke and Hex spread across two chapters. This is the sort of fight that I most like writing. It's not a good guy versus a villain, nor a major character taking on some army of flunkies. It's two protagonists that have hopefully both earned some reader loyalty, who're on a collision course as they each pursue admirable goals. For Burke, he doesn't see any way for mankind to move forward unless the war against dragons continues until every last human in the kingdom is free. Mankind has been enslaved for centuries and the remaining dragons aren't just going to accept humans as equals and share the world fairly. The only path forward is violence and war. Hex, however, is doing all he can to prevent war. He thinks that reason and persuasion can bring humans and dragons together into a future where mutual self-interests will allow everyone to be free to pursue their own happiness. He doesn't want dragons to rule over men, but he also believes that Burke's true goal is for humans to rule over dragons, and he can't have that either.

As satisfying as their philosophical conflict is to write, once the actual fight breaks out it's awesome. It's Burke and his machines versus a sun-dragon with nearly invulnerable Atlantean armor and the battle that unfolds is one of the coolest action sequences I've written in a long time.

I'm now up to chapter 18, so I'm definitely on track to finish this up some time in March. After that, I'll switch to finishing Nobody Nowhere. Then I need to make some hard choices about whether to edit either of these works for a new release at Supercon in July, or work on yet another first draft for Smash or Squire. Part of me wants to get as many first drafts into existence as possible this year so that when I do switch back to editing and publishing mode I've got plenty of material to keep me busy.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Week Five: 10k+

Don't have my exact word count, since I'm back at the Robotic Rodeo selling books. Well, hoping to sell books. Parking was worryingly easy to come by this morning. I've been to many, many cons where Sunday is my best day for sales, but the overlap with Superbowl Sunday might make this day somewhat under attended. (Though it's just the first half hour and I've already had one sale, so maybe my pessimism isn't justified.)

Anyway, I know that I was over 8,000 words on my home computer, and have just over 2000 from yesterday on my laptop, so I'm definitely over 10k, but probably under 11k.

I'm up to 17 chapters on Dragonsgate. I've finally brought Hex back into the book and it's been a joy writing him. Hex is one of my favorite characters from the original trilogy because he's got an interesting world view and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Looking back, I don't think I appreciated how much the comic relief characters contributed to the books. Having Poocher, a pig, have an actual storyline in the first trilogy did a lot to pace the mood and deflate tension with a touch of humor.  Blasphet with his over-the-top villainy was also just fun. So far, this book has had a surplus of grim and driven characters. Writing Hex makes me realize how much I need to add a witty rogue to the human cast.

I also worked a bit on Nobody Nowhere. It's shaping up nicely, but I really need to figure out the scope of the book. I'm at a point where I can introduce more characters, but worry about having too many characters. There's no point in introducing a character if I don't plan to give them an arc, and I'd like to keep the word count under 90k, like the rest of the books in the series. This give me a practical cap of 5 or 6 important characters in addition to the protagonist, plus maybe another handful of minor characters with more limited roles. Things are complicated by the fact that this is a parallel world novel. So, for a lot of my characters, there's two different versions of them.

Oh well. I'll figure it out. And it it does turn into a longer book, so be it.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dragon art!

Setting up for the Robotic Rodeo, a steampunk festival in Durham. As I mentioned last week, I have a 10 foot space instead of the 6 and 8 foot tables I normally get. I'm adding dragon art to my inventory! I'm starting small with what I think is my best dragon at sunset photo. The frames are hand decorated. If there's any interest at all I'll branch out. I've got quite a few dragon pics. And, if no one even looks at them, I've got new decoration for my office!