Welcome!

I'm James Maxey, the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, the Dragon Apocalypse series of Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker, as well as the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Good-bye, Hunter.

I can't say I'm shocked to learn that Hunter S. Thompson has taken his own life. If one tenth of the stuff in his books is true, he was addicted to self-destruction for a long time now. You can't read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and not recognize a man driven by demons. Ah, but what demons.

By chance, I re-read Fear and Loathing last week. This was probably my sixth or seventh re-read--plus, I've seen the movie a half dozen times, and used to have a seriously abridged book on tape version of the story. No matter what the format, I always, always laughed at the line, "Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it?" When asked what my favorite novel is, I never even hesitate.

I have spent much time analyzing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, trying to figure out what makes it magic, at least to me. HST's other works never did much for me. Hell's Angels was interesting, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72 was barely readable, Better than Sex had its moments. I always felt like Thompson was trying hard to recapture something in his later works, the mad energy that dances through FLLV, the manic depressive absurd stupid wise worldview that makes it seem perfectly logical to contemplate getting your hands on a pineal gland and taking a big bite out of it, just to see what it will do to you. The chapter "A Horrible Experience with Terribly Dangerous Drugs" resonates with me like no other words ever put on the page--and why? I've never taken drugs, illegal ones anyway. Despite the occasional joke about it, I really don't drink--I'm too cheap to go to a bar and spend $50 on booze in one sitting. I can't stand the smell of beer. I'll occasionally have a margarita or a bloody mary, but seldom more than one in a sitting. To my knowledge, I've never been legally drunk.

So, again, why? Why would a story about a man overdosing on drugs until he experiences complete mental and physical collapse strike me as so funny? Why do I identify with the character? Why do I think, "Yeah, I know how THAT feels!"

I think the closest thing to magic in this world comes through the process of creation. Whether painting, singing, building a birdhouse, writing--in the best moments you tap into something, something Thompson called "the main nerve," and you practically vibrate with the power of pulling something out of nothing. And I think Thompson was tapped in during those moments he was writing Fear and Loathing. I think he surrendered himself to the act of creation and woke up with this strange and wonderful manuscript in his hands, then spent the rest of the life trying to figure out the how and why himself. I've felt it--I've had moments when I'm writing when I vanish--the story already exists--it's simply borrowing me to bring itself into the world. And the terrible thing about these moments is how wonderful they are--and how rare. You never know when the words you are typing will catch fire, come to life, become poetry instead of mere language. If you go for a long time without one of these moments, it haunts you. You are left wondering if it will ever come again, that magic, that power.

I suspect Thompson was one of the most haunted men on Earth.

I hope I'm completely wrong about the afterlife. I hope that every religion is wrong as well. I hope that Heaven is open to anyone. I am so often wrong about so many things. Good luck, Hunter. I hope Heaven is full of typewriters when you get there.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More Dead Ends

This was actually the start of a 45k word novella that I've never shown anyone:

Story one:

Chase was so far from normal values now that the first thought that sprang into his mind when his old friend Jazz at last showed up in his darkened bedroom was “He doesn’t know I could kill him.” And Chase could have killed him. Not that he wanted to kill Jazz. He actually felt a great deal of affection toward this former friend. But, as a matter of fact, as a simple reality as basic as “the sun rises in the east” or “two plus two equals four,” Chase could have killed Jazz before Jazz had even opened his mouth.
1. A bullet. Chase had a small pistol tucked into his waist band. Jazz was six feet away, across the bed. He couldn’t possibly miss.
2. A garrote. An obvious choice, given that he did have neighbors and some things, such as killing an old friend who has come to beg your help because you are the last person in the world he can turn to, should be kept quiet.
3. Defenistration. Just stun Jazz with a judo chop then toss him out the window. They were ten floors up.
4. Knife.
5. Pin him to the floor. Prop open his mouth. Pour in lye.
6. Hit him, and keep hitting him, and keep hitting him until his internal organs were mush.

I don't know what I was thinking. Chase is some kind of top secret CIA killing machine, Jazz is a cyberterrorist. It was just stupid.

Story two:

God created us all, with memories and everything, ten minutes ago.

This is a line all by itself in a file. I was reflecting on the arguments that some creation scientists use to explain away the apparent age of the Earth and the Universe, an argument that boils down to, basicly, God created them to look old and fool us. So I had an idea for a story where God had thrown a tantrum, destroyed the universe, then rebuilt it "in progress" ten minutes ago. And . . . that's all I ever had. No plot, no characters, nothing but the premise. Occasionally, I'll write a sentence like this and it's sort of an act of faith, that once you get to the end of the sentence, another sentence will come, then another, and another, and before you know it, you have a story. My story "Empire of Dreams and Miracles" essentially happened this way. Alas, sometimes you are just left with the one sentence.

Story three:

Zach, the vegan hillbilly hairdresser died first, during a space walk. Lance, the gay, decorated marine Captain of the expedition, had argued that the space walk served no purpose, that it added nothing to the mission.
"We had a twenty percent drop in audience last week," Betty, the producer, had explained. "You guys can't simply sit in the tin can all the way to the moon. The audience needs some action."
The footage from the space walk looked like Dullsville for the first ten minutes. Then the meteor--some theorized it was a 40 year old bolt from MIR--had caught Zach square in the middle his thigh, coming out the other side, puncturing his suit. He screamed for seven minutes while they reeled him in. Sashay, the mixed race transgendered strip artist with the forked tongue had joked that Zach would be fine, anyone who could scream like that had plenty of air.
Zach went silent as they were pressurizing the airlock. Lance was at his side in the lock, along with Tommi, the born-again blonde surfer from the American Heartland. When the pressure normalized and they pulled off Zach's helmet, there was no pulse. Tommi started CPR while Lance cut away Zach's suit. The bolt had severed an artery. Cutting the suit away proved slippery work. The camera caught the beads of sweat dripping from Lance's face. In the end, it was all for nothing. Zach had simply lost too much blood.
Tommi leaned back against the airlock door, wiped her face with a bloody hand, and cried.
Lance recited as much of the Lord's prayer as he could remember as he closed Zach's eyes.
Then he sagged against the wall, staring at the camera for a moment, before popping open a can of Real Cola and taking a deep swig.
Ratings gold.
Real Moon pulled in a 57% share that week.

I stole this idea from my friend Mr. Cavin, who envisioned a reality TV show about a journey to mars. I made the idea a little closer to home, something that could plausibly be launched in the next year or two. Seven strangers on the moon. Real World meets Lost in Space. Oh, and the whole thing is sponsored by a product known as Real Cola. Before I started typing this story, I was certain I had a golden idea, a sure-fire sell. Alas, two pages in I was bored with the characters. My plot involved them getting to the moon and being so imcompetent at food production that they eventually turn to canibalism. I might salvage the plot as a running joke in an upcoming novel--this is one of the characters favorite shows or something. But for now, it's a dead story.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dead Ends

Sorry about the long gap in posts. Last week, I actually posted thirteen blog entries on the codexwriters blog, as part of a challenge to myself to write about thirteen angels in thirteen hours. I yanked them all down 24 hours later, chopped six angels and made a short story out of the entries called "Seven Angels."

So, in a sense, six of my angels were stillborn. Stories I started (and in some cases, finished) that will never again see light. The proportion is about right, though--I would say that about 45% of my story ideas never make it to a draft I'm willing to show anyone. I'll be all fired up and excited about them for a few hours, even a few days, but by the time I've written a few pages it all falls apart. Frequently, I'll even finish the damn things, only to realize later that they are hopeless, and no amount of tweaks or rewrites could ever save them.

Inspired by Luc Reid, who just published one of his aborted story beginnings on the Codex blog, I've decided to post some of these dead stories, or at least the opening lines. This ties in nicely with my earlier posts on ghost words. Because, in some ways, these are ghost stories--stories written but never read, or started but never finished.

On my desktop computer, I just trolled through the My Documents folder and found 13 dead stories. I know I have far more on my two laptops or hiding on old back-up CD's of my last few desktop computers. Still, even 13 seems like too many to feed you all at once. So, here are three story openings that no one ever got to read....

Story one:

Gen.1

1 In the R&D phase, God proactively initiated the implementation of the systems and processes that established Heaven, and its vertically integrated wholly owned subsidiary, Earth.
2 God commissioned a study of the feasibility of luminous emissions, then implemented luminous emissions.
3 God oversaw the development of Earth production systems.
4 God became the leading provider of grain and fruit solutions, vegetation-wise.
5 Animals were given the go-ahead by R&D, successfully cornering the market on meat and meat by-products.
6 God studied the balance sheet and declared Earth a win-win situation.

I went on like this at some length until Genisis 1:26, when God says to Adam, "You're fired!"

Somehow, it struck me as funny to rewrite the Bible in business-speak, but business-speak is so awful I can't quite lower myself far enough down to write it well. This is more a project for Scott Adams, I think. Godbert and Snakebert. Adam with glasses and a crew cut.

Story two:

An angry, full grown male can punch and kick his way through drywall in a couple of minutes. Locking him in the bedroom isn’t the same as locking him in a jail cell. These walls which seem so impenetrable and permanent are nothing but paper and gypsum, well suited for holding in insulation, hiding wires, and holding frames that display happy families—but they aren’t meant to hold back anger. They crumble and fail when confronted with rage.

This was from a story called "Papa Snorted Demons." It was a story of an abusive father who worked in a mine where there were demons trapped in the rocks. The miners would dig out the rocks, take them to an old witch woman in the woods, and have them ground into glowing spirits the kept in vials. They would snort the spirits in and get the strength to go back into the mines, strong as ten men, although the demons also made them mean and abusive. Alas, the story never jelled for me in a modern setting, where the father could kick through the drywall. I tried telling the story with more of a folk-tale voice, something from a the backwoods centuries ago, but it didn't hold my interest. And, after two runs at the idea, the whole thing felt too much like a dumb allegory for drug abuse. So, I let it die. No one has ever seen either version of the story.

Story three:

Look, I’m not going to step outside of this salt circle.
I know it’s strange. I know this is crazy. I know you’ve got dead people in the lobby and you need some answers.
Start jotting some of this down. You’ll never believe me unless you verify this. The first thing you’ll need to check out is this place about 40 miles east of here called Zeke’s Antiques. Down in my truck I have a sheet of paper in the dashboard with directions and a phone number. Get it and they can prove that we were there earlier today, about three in the afternoon.
Zeke’s probably isn’t in the yellow pages. I don’t know how Bud found it. It looked like it had been a barn at one time, a barn that got piled full of junk over the years until somebody, presumably Zeke, decided to put an antiques sign on it. Bud was fidgety with excitement as we pulled up to the place, but he put on his poker face once we got out of the truck. Inside, an Astroturf floor that had been laid down right over raw dirt. The place was packed with old farm tools, plows and pitchforks red with rust, the wooden handles pale gray and cracked with age. The whole place stank of cigarettes and dust.

This was another demon story. Bud is an obsessive collector and my unnamed narrator is his best friend. Bud got to thinking about the three monkeys--See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil. He wonders how they became so famous. He tracks back their origins, and finds that PT Barnum used to display three stuffed monkeys he'd acquired from a shrine in Japan. Bud tracks down the shrine in Japan, and discovers that the Three Monkeys were the avatars of some hideous monkey demon god who was the embodiment of pure evil. (No one is ever the embodiment of so-so evil.) Bud keeps hunting, and finds the PT Barnum stuffed monkey's at this antique shop. Later, he pulls away the hands and finds emeralds in the eye sockets of See No Evil. Rubies in the ears of Hear no Evil. A diamond in the mouth of Speak No Evil.

Bud then is compelled to jam the gems into various facial orifices and becomes the horrible monkey god. I never quite figured out what comes next, which was it's fatal flaw. I felt like I had a decent beginning and middle, but never could come up with an ending that wasn't tiresome. So, Bud's a demon monkey god now. The story could end there, but so what? Then its just a tiresome old horror story where the adventurer tampers with forces beyond his ken and winds up unleashing evil on the world. Ho hum. Or, it could end with nameless best friend besting the evil monkey god and saving Bud. But, again, ho hum. I never thought of the punchline or twist that would make the story worth telling.

Okay, I said three, but I'll give you a bonus. I have on my computer a file with the name "Dead Mimes. " I opened it. It read, in total:

dead mimes
promoting website
suddenly rich

Well, I'm sure it was a good idea at the time....

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Seven More Angels

Solethiel, angel of sensible shoes.

Raznagoth, angel of power lines.

Abrazel, angel of of highways.

Volilov, angel of mirrors.

Yynynyn, angel of internet chat rooms.

Murdnorion, angel of headaches.

Chalbaziel, angel of making old men feel useful.

Seven Angels

Zaviel, angel of the whirlwind.

Curaniel, angel of Monday.

Akriel, angel of barrenness.

Zalbesael, angel of the rainy season.

Yaasriel, angel of pencils.

Abalidoth, angel of sexuality.

Jeduthan, angel of howling.