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!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Dragonsgate: Spirits update

The sequel to Dragonsgate: Devils is Dragonsgate: Spirits. Bitterwood and Nadala team up to journey through underspace to find Zeeky and Nadala's kidapped (dragonnapped?) drake. They wind up in a world that follows different rules than the reality they are used to, and are swept up in a battle between three powerful queens. 

Anza, meanwhile, continues her journey out west, encountering dragon species she's never fought before and finding remnants of human civilization that have found new ways to survive in the wasteland. 

Finally, Hex has finally accepted his responsibilities as king, and his first act is the abolition of slavery. But his fellow dragons aren't happy about this, and the rebels of Dragon Forge, now led by Elspeth Howell and her mysterious companion known as Surgeon, have their own plans for the balance of power between men and dragons. 

It's coming together! I'm technically only 11 chapters in, but some of these are ridiculously long and almost certain to be divided into multiple chapters, so I've probably got at least 14 chapters of material hammered out, with probably at least 20 or 25 to go! It's going to be epic! I promise it will be worth the wait!  

Friday, July 17, 2020

Hearts of Frost & Flame Audible Review Codes Still Available!

I'm pleased to announce a new release in partnership with master narrator Jake Urry, Hearts of Frost & Flame! This is actually one of two Omnibus collections we're called "Dragon Duologies." Hearts collects the previously released editions of Greatshadow and Hush, and the follow up, Hell & Back, will collect Witchbreaker and Cinder. Since you can now get two books for one credit, this is a great deal for Audible subscribers. But, hold on! I've got an even better deal than two for one! I need reviewers, so I'll be happy to send you a free code in exchange for you considering a review on Audible.

If you've read these books in print before but never listened to them in audio, this is a great chance to revisit the books. Jake Urry was born to voice Stagger, and really brings the book to life. Don't the shy! Start listening today by signing up to get a code here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Write! Daydream, Type, Profit, Repeat! Sample Chapter!

How to Be Original While Following Formulas

My favorite sandwich is a Reuben. Luckily, this is a pretty easy sandwich to find on menus anywhere I travel. When I'm on the road, I like to be adventurous, and if I see something really unique on the menu, I'll give it a shot. This is how I wound up eating a Belgian waffle covered in sausage gravy in a small restaurant in West Virginia. But, lots of times, the menus from state to state aren't all that varied. So, if I'm facing a page of fairly standard burgers and subs, and a Reuben is available, I'll give it a shot.

The standard recipe for a Reuben, if it's followed faithfully, makes a pretty awesome sandwich each time. It's basically five ingredients: Rye bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing. The best preparation is on a griddle with some butter. A toasted Reuben is unsatisfying, and a cold, uncooked Reuben is an abomination. Properly cooked, the rye provides a slightly bitter note, sauerkraut brings acidity, the corned beef gives it salt and fat, which are complimented by the sharpness of the cheese, and the Thousand Island dressing adds sweetness to contrast with the other flavors. It's fatty, salty, sour, and sweet all at once, with a nice protein kick from the corned beef. It makes my mouth happy.

Just to put you at ease, I haven't forgotten that this is a writing book. I promise I'm going somewhere with this.

Readers want originality, but spend most of their money on familiarity. It's the same reason I'd like to order a different sandwich in every city I visit, but wind up ordering the same sandwich again and again. If sandwiches were free, I'd be more daring. These days in a bar, sandwiches can be ten bucks a pop. I kind of want to know I'm going to be happy with what I order. The same impulse drives fiction purchases. Sure, in a perfect world, they'd read anything and everything. Alas, time and money are finite quantities. If you found a type of book you like, it makes sense to keep buying that type of book, as long as things stay fresh enough to keep you hungry for it.

This is one of the biggest challenges for a fiction writer who pursues a long-term career. Repeat readers get hooked a certain story formula. When Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, he was following a formula established by Edgar Allan Poe. An eccentric genius solves baffling mysteries that thwart the best efforts of the police. There can be some variety; perhaps it's a murder, perhaps it's a stolen heirloom, perhaps someone has been kidnapped. The case will always be solved by the genius noticing small details others have missed, or else interpreting details correctly after the official investigators have leapt to the wrong conclusion from the same clues. In no case will the official investigators ever be allowed to solve the murder before the genius. They aren't even allowed to be useful except occasionally they'll be on hand to help take the criminal off to jail in the final scene. The criminal is always apprehended unless they are a mastermind who will serve as a foil in future stories, or sympathetic people who committed the crime for the best possible reason.

Subplots can exist. You might have a long running mystery about a crime that the detective failed to solve early in his or her career. You might have a love interest, or a series of them. Still, the formula of genius, oafs, clues, solution must predominate. If you break the formula, by just leaving out one of the ingredients, you'll have an unhappy reader.

Which happens with Reubens. Sometimes, I'll order a Reuben, and it's not on rye, but on whole wheat, or maybe sourdough. Neither are right, but they aren't necessarily a disaster. If any bread has been cooked on a griddle with a little butter it's going to taste pretty good. But, visually, the sandwich will be off. I can look at it and know that care wasn't taken in the preparation, that it was slapped together with whatever was on hand. If the bread is wrong, other things can be off. Sometimes, it's not corned beef, but roast beef. They might swap Swiss for provolone. Hey, they're both white cheeses, who's going to notice? I'll notice. The absolute worst "Reuben" I was ever served was on an Italian sub roll with no sauerkraut, just lettuce. I mean, at that point, why bother? Just tell me you can't make me a Reuben. I'll order something else.

The takeaway here is that breaking the recipe carelessly or thoughtlessly is going to disappoint me as an eater. Miss a vital ingredient in a story, and you're going to disappoint the reader.

Maybe you don't want to be a line cook, cranking out someone else’s recipe again and again. Maybe you've got all the steps down, but this isn't really your sandwich. The Reuben doesn't belong to you, no matter how well you execute it. You want to make a name for yourself, and improve upon what's already a perfect sandwich.

It can be done. I've eaten that sandwich. I was at a bar in Raleigh and spotted a "Far East Reuben" on the menu. The formula was a standard Reuben, except that the sauerkraut was swapped with kimchi. Brilliant! Kimchi and kraut are both fermented. They have the same underlying sourness, but kimchi adds hot peppers to the mix. Putting it onto the sandwich instead of ordinary kraut was genius! It respected the original recipe, while at the same time taking the sandwich in a new direction and making it especially rewarding. Whoever was behind that sandwich could break the formula because he or she understood the formula. They knew the role the kraut served, and found a substitute that fulfilled the original role and brought in something extra.

This is how you, as a writer, can express your creativity. Master the recipes, and understand the purpose of each story ingredient. Then, find a better ingredient to substitute. In my own case, I've twice created fantasy universes. A vital ingredient in any fantasy is the magic. Magic is the whole reason people pick up a fantasy novel. Magic serves to stimulate a reader’s sense of wonder. Magic also introduces a wild card into the plotting. Anything can happen! For my Bitterwood universe, the ingredient I chose to tweak was the magic. Instead of coming up with rules for a supernatural universe, I decided that all the magic was going to follow science fiction rules. Everything magical in the story could be explained by technology and chemistry and biology, with a touch of theoretical physics to spice things up. The science fiction still served the same purpose at magic, heightening the sense of wonder and building in the possibility of miraculous happenings that could provide unexpected plot twists. It also provided plausibility (I hope), and I'd like to think that some readers found themselves intrigued by some of the science fiction concepts and went on to learn more about reality, the way that watching shows like Star Trek inspired me to learn more about space.

After I wrote the Bitterwood books, I tossed out my own recipe and started fresh on the Dragon Apocalypse books. This time, magic would remain magical. What I substituted out instead was the cast. Traditional fantasies are built around certain character types. There's a great deal of variation, of course, but fantasy novels often put together teams of characters and you'll find people playing the roles of warriors, wizards or clerics, and rogues. I decided to swap out these traditional stereotypes for superheroes. Of course, no one in my Dragon Apocalypse books ever identifies themselves as a superhero, or would even know what the term meant. But all the characters have superpowers, most have code names, and most have costumes. By introducing characters who are physically invulnerable, or who fly, or who have super strength, I upped the stakes on the action, allowing me to write over-the-top action scenes that wouldn't have worked with ordinary human characters. Since many of my characters couldn't be harmed physically, that forced me to make most of the peril they faced be either internal or emotional. In sparing them physical pain, I was able to amplify mental pain.

It's yet another paradox of writing. You should love your characters and want what’s best for them. Usually, what's best for them is torment and suffering. A character not going through some sort of distress or turmoil is about as interesting as a cold Reuben.

Just as a chef needs to constantly analyze the food he enjoys to understand why it’s so satisfying, authors need to analyze the books they love and attempt to discern the ingredients, the purpose of these ingredients, and how they’ve been put together. Once you figure out the recipe for books of a given genre, you’ll understand which ingredients can be swapped and improved upon, so you can give your readers a book that is both what they wanted, and much more than they hoped for. 

Write! will be released in just two weeks! Order today! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dragonsgate: Devils Signed Copies!

With most of my conventions cancelled until 2021 at the earliest, and gathering restrictions keeping me for arranging for bookstore or library signings, I've decided to offer signed copies via mail. This is a nice, hefty book, 382 pages of story, that retails for $18 for the trade paperback edition. I'll sell it for the full $18, but won't charge additional for shipping if you live in the US and don't mind me shipping via postal media mail. I've got a limited quantity in stock but more on the way.

If you're interested, just fill out the form at this link!  I'll send you an online invoice when the book is ready to ship. If you aren't in the US and want a copy, go ahead and fill out the form and I'll get back to you with shipping costs.

I feel like I've been talking about the book non-stop for a few months now, but in case you're wondering, yes, this is a new novel set in the Bitterwood universe, yes, dragons do explore dungeons and fight dinosaurs, and yes, of course there's a moon-wizard. I promise it will be the best dragons versus dinosaurs novel you'll read all year!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Dragonsgate: Devils! The Secret Origin!

In the beginning was the nerd. I was that nerd. I was seventeen years old. I was a little short on practical knowledge, but I knew the secret identities of every member of the Justice League. I also could recite entire scripts of the Tom Baker Dr. Who episodes broadcast each day at 4pm on a PBS station in the next county. For those of you who never had the joy of climbing onto a roof to turn the antenna to stand at least a trivial chance of watching blurry images through bands of static, to follow the adventures of a guy with a long scarf and a robot dog, you don't know what you missed. Luckily, Star Trek was on a station actually broadcast in the county where I lived, so I had that to satisfy my science fiction cravings in a slightly less static filled manner. Don't ask, "Which Star Trek?" There was only one, and it's reruns were broadcast at 11pm on Saturday nights. Which was fine. Comic book collecting, Trekkie geeks who knew what all the letters in TARDIS stood for didn't get invited to a lot of parties.

And then, D&D. Dungeons and Dragons arrived at my high school in 1980. Comics and TV shows were mostly solo activities, but D&D required groups of friends. By the time I went to college, I had no reason to fear loneliness. I just posted a flyer on a bulletin board saying I was getting an AD&D campaign together. People showed up!

It was in one of these college games where I was the DM that I put together a team of evil characters to oppose my players. For weeks they'd run through dungeons hacking at skeletons and committing war crimes against orcs. Now, I wanted them to face a more formidable opposition, a group of characters with more skills and resources who were capable of working together to advance their evil plots. There was an anti-paladin, an evil wizard, a dark cleric, an assassin, and, to give the bad guys a bit of extra muscle, a red dragon named Ellison.

I'd had characters fight dragons before, but Ellison was the first time I really had to put myself into the character of a dragon. How did Ellison wind up working with these creeps? What was in it for him? Just what did dragons do with the treasure they hoarded anyway? Since dragons could talk, who did they talk to? Did they have families? Relationships? Were there entire dragon cultures hidden away in distant lands? Were the rare dragons that humans encountered outcasts from this larger group?

Dragons routinely slept on treasure piles filled with magic items. Ellison was smart enough to actually use the items he owned, including a wand of enlargement he used on himself in one battle to grow big enough to tear apart a castle. When he was hurt, he'd quaff down healing potions. If memory serves, I think he also had a ring of invisibility. Ellison was smart, he was often funny, and when he was finally killed by the adventurers who were hunting him, he was one of the first characters I'd created that I really hated to see go.

Fast forward a decade and I was still playing AD&D. After the games, my friends and I would sit around talking about the various computer versions of AD&D were never quite as good as the live games. This was before the immersive 3-d rendered worlds that followed games like Doom and Tomb Raider, so we were talking about how great it would be if someone could build an amusement park with giant animatronic dragons where you could go and get a real Dungeons and Dragons live experience. But, nerdy as I was, I felt like Disneyfying the dragons and monsters would be pretty disappointing, likely targeted at kids instead of edgy adults like myself looking for serious danger. What if, instead, you could use genetic engineering to blend together traits from existing creatures? Like, take DNA from a tiger, an eagle, and a alligator in order to get a big, agile, ferocious toothy predator? Wouldn't that be great? What could possibly go wrong?

And, "what could possibly go wrong," led to my original Bitterwood Trilogy, with it's genetically engineered dragons ruling over humans in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic America.

Still, it's been ten years since I wrapped up that trilogy. Why return to that setting and characters after all this time?

First, while I'd wrapped up most of the major plot threads of the original trilogy, there were still a few dangling strings. Graxen and Nadala, the sky-dragon lovers who'd been major protagonist in Dragonforge, had been banished from the kingdom at the end of the book. I kept wondering what had happened to them.

Second, I hadn't really ended the war between the human rebels and their dragon overlords. I'd ended the series with the conflict on hold. The dragons hadn't been able to defeat the humans, but humans had mainly spent the third book defending the territory they'd gained in the second book. There was no negotiated peace, only an equilibrium. The humans could hold off the dragons, but, realistically, the next step would be for the humans to expand the war. I wonder what Burke, the human leader, would do next. He was always planning and plotting. He wasn't going to be content holding onto one town. What was his next target? How would the dragons react once they were the targets of aggression?

Third, I'd hinted at creatures that lived on the other side of the Haunted Mountains. I'd said there were reptiles living there even bigger and more dangerous than dragons. I'd also established in my trilogy that the Bitterwood universe dragons knew all about dinosaurs, and regarded the thunder lizards as their ancestors. Were there somehow dinosaurs living beyond the mountains? Why? How did they get there?

These questions percolated in the back of my mind for several years. I moved on to other projects. I wrote four books in the Dragon Apocalypse series. Five superhero novels came out, a steampunk Wizard of Oz tribute called Bad Wizard, and two collections of short stories. As intriguing as it was to return to the Bitterwood universe, I had so many ideas to write about I just didn't see when I'd find time.

Then, in February of 2017, I went on a writers retreat with fellow authors Stuart Jaffe, Gray Rinehart, and Edmund Schubert. The goal of the retreat wasn't to actually write, but to brainstorm and plan. We'd go in with undeveloped ideas about novels we might write, bat them around for a bit, ask hard questions, and leave with a clear concept for a book to write.

I went up fully intending to talk about superheroes, and maybe delve into a little urban fantasy. Instead, I almost immediately went into my pitch for a novel where dragons battled dinosaurs. I even had a vision of where the dinosaurs came from. In my original trilogy, I'd established a technology known as "underspace gates," that let people instantaneously travel through between remote points in space. But, if a gate malfunctioned, could it also permit travel between remote points in time? Once I knew the dinosaurs were coming out of some sort of portal, I knew the title, Dragonsgate, and I also knew it wouldn't be a single novel, but a new trilogy. The first book would be set in the Bitterwood universe where characters from the original series would have to deal with all these dinosaurs. The second book would take a core group of characters through the gate into the world beyond for an adventure in a fresh setting. The third book would, as a consequence of events that take place on the other side of the gate, lead to an ultimate, final resolution in the larger war between mankind and dragons.

Dragonsgate does continue the Bitterwood saga, but I'm not marketing it as Bitterwood books 4-6. It's Dragonsgate 1-3, and my current plan is for the subtitles to be Devils, Spirits, and Angels. I've got fresh and exciting character arcs that will play out for existing characters, plus a whole slew of new characters like Tellico the Swamp Devil, Zaline the Salt Queen, Commander Elspeth Howell, and a earth-dragon entrepreneur named Bigmouth. I need these new characters in part because a new beginning means that no one from the previous trilogy is safe. Whoever is in charge of carving tombstones near Dragon Forge is going to be making a very good living by the end of the first book.

I promise, if nothing else, this will be the best dragons fighting dinosaurs novel you'll read all year. And it's available now! The link that follows will take you to Amazon, but it's everywhere, man! Apple, Google, Nook, Kobo. Get yours today! 

Thursday, April 16, 2020


The most important key on a writer's keyboard is the delete key. I'm currently wading through yet another draft of Dragonsgate: Devils. On my early drafts, my primary focus is to make sure every bit of information the reader will need to understand a scene is making it to the page. I'd rather give them too much information instead of too little. Too much can be tedious to get through, but too little means the reader is lost and confused.

Still, this philosophy means I wind up with drafts where I've got redundancies, flab, and distractions. It's time for my prose to go on a diet. My current draft isn't so much writing as unwriting. I'm weighing each sentence and deciding if it really needs to be there. I break up long sentences, merge shorter ones, and delete words, phrases, and entire paragraphs if they aren't important to the reader's understanding. The goal here is flow and focus.

Here's the previous version of a few lines from the end of a scene where Hex is trying to destroy the foundries at Dragon Forge. It's told from Burke's point of view. The old version is 342 words. It's perfectly readable. But, it's an action scene, where every word needs to be driving the action forward. Instead, I muddy things up. Here's the old version:
Hex was well clear of the impact zone as ball after ball bit into the bricks above. The cracks in the smokestack grew larger. Burke cursed as brick shards and cannonball shrapnel rained down on him. Then he cursed even louder as the iron ladder began to peel away from the smokestack, bending outward, carrying him into open space. Though he was preoccupied with not falling, he somehow kept one eye on Hex circling back around over the still semi-intact smokestack. The dragon had pulled a few grenades from the bandolier with his dexterous hind-talons. Three rings were snatched away, and three black orbs trailed sparks as they fell. Hex had excellent aim. All three balls went right into the chimney shaft. Burke heard them bouncing and banging against the walls. Then, with a boom muffled by the brick, all three went off at once. The cracks in the smokestack spread further as Hex wheeled back once more. This time, he drew up just short of collision with the chimney and kicked out with his powerful hind talons, their might magnified by his Atlantean armor. This was the final shove needed. The chimney shuddered, popped, and split down the middle before collapsing. The bent ladder Burke clung to was no longer attached to anything. 
Burke had cheated death quite often since barely surviving the rebellion in Conyers. The world had chewed up and swallowed him bit by bit, leaving him scarred, bruised, and short a limb. Any time he glanced into a mirror, he was confronted by reminders of his own mortality. As the iron ladder gave way and he tumbled toward his death, he found a strange peace taking hold of him. He closed his eyes. When he’d hit the ground, if the mystics were right, his body would perish, but his soul would linger on. And if his assumptions proved correct, and nothing followed death… 
He opened his eyes. If he had a half second left to experience the world, he might as well make the most of it. 
The revised version is 202 words.

Hex was well clear of the impact zone as ball after ball bit into the bricks above. The cracks in the smokestack grew larger. Burke cursed as brick shards and cannonball shrapnel rained down on him. Then he cursed even louder as the iron ladder began to peel away from the smokestack, bending outward. 
Hex circled back over the semi-intact smokestack. The dragon had pulled a few grenades from the bandolier with his dexterous hind-talons. Three rings were snatched away, and three black orbs trailed sparks as they fell. 
Hex had excellent aim. All three balls went right into the chimney shaft. Burke heard them bouncing and banging against the walls. With a muffled boom, all three went off at once. The cracks in the smokestack spread further as Hex wheeled back once more. This time, he drew up just short of collision with the chimney, kicking out with his powerful hind talons. The chimney shuddered, popped, and split down the middle before collapsing. The ladder Burke clung to was no longer attached to anything. 
As Burke tumbled toward the distant earth, he kept his eyes open. He had seconds left to experience the world. He might as well make the most of them. 

You probably noticed I deleted Burke's history of close calls and his musing about souls. The man is falling towards his death. It's not something I want to drag out. But the more significant edit is this one:

Though he was preoccupied with not falling, he somehow kept one eye on Hex circling back around over the still semi-intact smokestack.

Which becomes:

Hex circled back over the semi-intact smokestack

I left it to the reader to assume Burke doesn't want to fall. Describing Hex's actions without describing Burke witnessing them isn't really a POV violation. The reader can just assume Burke sees this.

 It can be disheartening, highlighting a long string of words and hitting delete. It took a lot of work to get those words onto the page. Now, with a keystroke, they're gone, unwritten. But this is the step that gives your work flow and focus. Don't skip it. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Write! Daydream, type, profit, repeat! First Two Chapters!

Before I dive in on my final draft of Dragonsgate: Devils, I've taken time to write my first ever book of non-fiction, WRITE! Daydream, Type, Profit, Repeat! I'll announce a formal release date soon. The book still needs line editing and final proofing, which I'll get too after I make another pass on Dragonsgate. 

In the meantime, here are the first two chapters to whet your appetite! 


A Pretty Sweet Deal 

Here’s the deal. It’s pretty sweet. This is it. Everything, absolutely everything you need to do to be a professional novelist:





Yeah, I know, you saw that on the cover.

You’ll see it again on the next page. Tear that page out, tape it above your computer, and follow it step by step. If you don’t type at a desk, adapt. Maybe you ride a train to work in the morning and write during your commute. Ask the stranger next to you to hold this above your screen as you work. Don’t let him tell you he has more important things to do. Explain that you’re a novelist. Don’t let him give you any guff!

Also, I should probably clarify that I don’t actually recommend tearing the page out. Cutting neatly with scissors will give you more professional looking results. These words are intended to change your life. Don’t cheapen them with a ragged, torn edge.*

I looked into getting the pages perforated, but that cost a fortune. And, you know, profit.
Well, my job’s done here. Thanks for reading! Sorry if this book turned out shorter than you expected!  
*This text here will make much more sense in the final print book than it will on the blog. Here's the graphic from the page. 


That’s It?

You may feel that my instructions in the previous chapter are a little sparse. Daydream, type, profit, repeat. It feels a bit… underdeveloped.

One of the duties of an author is to pick apart the world and study its component parts. You take something complex and break it down to the essential elements that make something, well, something. A cartoonist learns to replicate a human face by drawing a rough oval and jotting a few lines to indicate eyes and a mouth. ☺

It will be the same with writing fiction. You’ll learn how to break complex things like human lives, world histories, geologic eras, religions, morals, myths, and mysteries down into a string of words that reproduce these things in a reader’s mind as effectively as a circle, two dots, and a curved line can invoke a face.

Making things simple is surprisingly complex.

You might think I dashed out daydream, type, profit, repeat in a matter of seconds one lazy afternoon. The reality it, it’s taken me very close to twenty years to understand my writing process well enough to capture it in four words. Allow me to use many hundred words to explain how I mastered such brevity.

One of my duties when I was Piedmont Laureate for Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill was to teach writing workshops. Planning for these workshops, I did my best to focus on the components I thought a novice writer needed to learn. How to create characters was an obvious topic. I taught another workshop on how to create realistic settings. Plotting. Research. Time management. Anything people asked me about when I taught one workshop inspired me to create another workshop.

Overall, I did close to thirty events, and ended the year fairly confident I didn’t know a damn thing about writing. Everything I’d lectured on was probably useful advice, but I’d always felt compelled to focus on one aspect of writing fiction rather than trying to explain the whole process. In doing so, I was more or less trying to explain how a car works by showing people unassembled car parts. If you’ve never driven a car, and I showed you a detached steering wheel, then showed you a gas pedal, then spent an hour going over the windshield wipers, when you actually sat in a car you might feel more lost than if you’d never gotten any instruction at all. Ultimately, if you want to learn to operate a car, you need to get behind the wheel of an actual car.

I pondered this problem for a several years. How do I capture the sprawling, time-consuming process of writing novels, something I’ve spent half a century trying to perfect, and break it down into something that evokes the whole process at a glance, the way a circle and a few squiggles turns into a face?

I stumbled into my answer by accident. I was doing a writer’s panel at a convention, one of countless “How to Make a Living Writing” discussions I’ve done. There were five people on the panel, and I was the last to speak. One by one, the authors going before me talked about how difficult it was to be a writer. They complained about publishers going out of business, agents ignoring their emails, and how a career that’s hot one day can go cold the next. A big gripe was how saturated the genre markets had become, as self-publishing had transformed the industry from one where a few hundred new titles a year would find their way into bookstores into a new world where thousands of books get published every hour. How can a writer hope to survive against such terrible odds?

I don’t think this grousing is unique to writers. I think if we’d been a panel of five cab drivers, we’d have spent an hour griping about how terrible traffic is with all those amateur drivers mucking up the roads. It’s a legitimate gripe, but look, if you don’t enjoy being a cab driver, don’t drive a cab. If you don’t enjoy writing books, don’t write books.

Writing novels is a completely optional activity. Mankind invented writing roughly 10,000 years ago. The novel as we know it didn’t come into existence until 400 years ago, more or less. For the majority of human history, people have gotten along fine without novels. It’s not too late to turn back. If the hassle and frustrations of writing books cause you to feel hassled and frustrated, give up! Producing a novel is no more important to the world than driving a cab.

Unless, maybe, you have a beautiful and unique vision for a book that you alone can write. A book that might change the world, or, at the very least, a book that at least a few people will regard as a pretty good story. Which, probably, you do, or you wouldn’t be reading books on how to write novels.

Sorry. I’ve gotten sidetracked. I was telling the story about the writing panel. I kept listening to my fellow writers, hearing them express every frustration I felt about my chosen career. Writers work long hours and the most common reward for your work is obscurity, though occasionally you also get poverty. The publishing industry is brutal. The standard contracts offered by most publisher creep right up to the borderline of legal theft. The gripers ahead of me on that panel didn’t need to explain to me how much life sucked for writers!

Then the moderator asked me how I felt about writing as a career. I looked at the audience. All the energy had drained from the room. The authors on the stage had collectively published over fifty novels. Now we were telling a room full of people working on their first novels that only an idiot would want to be an author.

What if we were telling people this because it was true? What if writing novels is an absolutely crap job? What if those people uploading a thousand books every hour to Amazon were hopeless fools? Forget those thousand people on Amazon. What the hell was I doing? Why did I ever want to be a writer? Why was I still doing it, despite knowing the difficulties?

And suddenly, I knew. Like a cartoonist who discovers a face in a few squiggles, I grasped the entirety of my career. I could see the whole process end to end, and it was simple and elegant and beautiful. No wonder I love doing it.

I said to the room, “I don’t know why everyone’s saying this is hard. I daydream and I type and people send me money to keep doing it. It’s a pretty sweet deal.”

And that’s that. You daydream. You type. You get paid. Then you do it all over again. It’s that easy. Why anyone thinks this is difficult is a mystery. It’s not rocket surgery. You aren’t digging ditches. You seldom get tackled by linebackers. You’re getting paid actual money to sit around daydreaming! Also, there’s some typing involved. And some business stuff. Contracts, royalties, taxes, that kind of junk. Don’t sweat it. It’s easy to figure out. Keep your eyes on the big picture. You want to be a professional author? Daydream, type, profit, repeat!

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s hard!

I mean, sure, occasionally it’s a little hard, parts of it. Not too hard. Except for the times when it’s really hard. Speaking from long experience, there are only four difficulties in writing that I would describe as “soul-crushing.”

1. Daydreaming

2. Typing

3. Making a profit

4. Repeating it.