I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. 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. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Pirates of the Carribean

I saw "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" last night, and the Pirates of the Carribean sequel today. PotC came highly recommended, but I was disappointed. I didn't remember enough of the first movie to know who all the players were. And, I couldn't figure out why the characters felt loyalty to Captain Jack Sparrow, who betrays them in pretty horrible ways during the course of the film and shows no concern at all about the other characters. So, at the end of the film, when they are all agreeing to journey into Hell to save him, it felt completely arbitrary and unsupported by the movie's events. Finally, the action sequences dragged on way, way too long. I could have chopped this movie by a good hour just by making the fight sequences tighter.

Conversely, MSEG was a movie that had poor word of mouth and bad reviews, and when we went to the theatre, it was empty. But I found it to be a funny movie with some terrific superhero action. The movie was formulaic, yes, but played well within the confines of the formula. The movie also earned my respect by actually making me like the characters. Even the bad guy is easy to identify with. Seriously, if you want a good superhero movie, I think this beats Superman or X-men hands down this summer. I would rank it just below the Spiderman movies. It's even better than Mystery Men, another funny superhero flick.

One annoyance: Early in the movie, the characters are speculating about what the "G" in G-girl stands for, and I don't think that's ever revealed. A casual movie goer probably won't give a hoot, but I formed a theory from her early superhero feats that the "G" stood for gravity. When the whole thing is forgotten about, I felt robbed.

My "G" is for geek, no doubt, for worrying about such a thing....

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Faking It, Fifteen Years Later

On the codex forum, a question about what elements of the writer's craft I possessed from the start. Did I have some inate gift for dialogue, plotting, characters, or style, even from the start?

Alas, I understood almost nothing intuitively and have pretty much had to work at everything. One of my more brutal friends read my first novel fifteen years ago and asked, in his critique, "Have you even read a novel?" My plots meandered; my characters were clich├ęs; my dialogues were duds. Also, I had no idea how to use a semi-colon.

Still, I did have three things going for me:

1. A masochistic streak. Harsh criticism did little to discourage me. Indeed, I cherished the most savage assaults on my skills.

2. A complete ignorance of the financial rewards of writing. I started this game never having met an actual fiction writer, and was under the horrible misconception that it was possible to write one novel then quit your day job. Actually, that is possible... but it's also possible to win the lottery, or have wealthy relatives you've never heard of pass away and leave you their fortunes. By the time I learned the truth about the likely money to be made by fiction writers, it was too late; I was hooked on writing.

3. A lack of any other talent. I can't sing, play an instrument, dance, paint, sculpt, or act. So, in my early years, I drifted toward writing as my claim to some sort of creative ability simply because it seemed like the easiest talent to fake. A decade and a half later, I'm still winging it. I don't think I'm any more talented than I used to be; I simply have a better bag of fakery tricks.

These are the things I think I'm good at faking:

1. Sucking. I've learned to write openings that suck the reader in like a vacuum cleaner nozzle. Once in the grip of the suction, a reader will be pulled along the twists and turns of the plot like a dust clump navigating the vacuum cleaner hose. In the end, the reader inevitably smacks into the inescapable conclusion, as the dust is caught in the bag. So, when people tell me my writing sucks, I smile and say, "Thank you. How kind."

2. Lying authoritatively. My entire career as a science fiction writer is built on the fact that most people know even less than I do about science. So, if I write that Einstein's theory of relativity states that if a spaceship is traveling at 99.9% of the speed of light, then all the crew has to do is jump vigorously forward in order to land in an alternate reality, readers of Analog will roll their eyes, and the editor might, in fact, vomit. But, the vast bulk of the remaining reading public has no idea whether this is true or not, and sooner or later the old school editors who know a thing about science pass away and are replaced by English majors. As long as I don't smirk when I present my "jump drive," enough readers will buy into it that the story can then move along to the stuff readers really care about; i.e. characters killing each other in creative ways, or some sort of odd sex. Sometimes these can be combined.

3. Symmetry. Since I started with a list of three things I had going for me when I started writing, it is aesthetically pleasant to end with three items. So, here is the third item. Fifteen years ago, I might have awkwardly presented only two, or, garishly, gone over the line into four.

And that's it. Everything I know about writing, fifteen years on. I never claimed to be a fast learner.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


When the world crumbles beneath your feet, you may experience a freefall plunge. With any luck, you might fall far enough to enjoy the feeling that you are weightless.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Two months

It's been two months since Laura passed away. I intended to come home tonight and write another article about her, or, more honestly, about me, about my thoughts and feelings on life and death two months later. Alas, I don't know I have anything terribly profound to say.

Not having Laura around sucks. I still view the world through the filter of "would she like this?" I'm house-hunting now. I actually went and looked at a house today. And I kept thinking, walking through the dark, empty rooms, "What would Laura think of this?"

Not much, probably. The house wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great either. My questions about the safety of the neighborhood were answered by the clear evidence of the door having been kicked in at some point in the past, and windows busted in. Still, the house was brick, in better condition than I thought, and had a big bathroom, which is a plus for me. I like bathrooms I don't feel cramped in. It also had hardwood floors throughout. So, from the inside, I could imagine myself living there. From the outside, though, I can hear Laura advising me that if I moved there, she wouldn't come visit me.

My problem is, essentially, I can't afford to buy a house anywhere I'd want to live. Correction: I can't buy a house anywhere I want to live within a reasonable commute of where I work. My budget would by me a quite nice house if I wanted to move an hour or more out of any major city. Up close to the Virginia border, there's a small town called Lillington that has a lot of houses that pop up in the MLS in my price range. It's a lovely old town, where I could get the house of my dreams... and a ninety minute one way commute.

Losing Laura was more than just losing her. I also lost a big part of my direction and purpose in life. I had a clear role when she was around: I was here to make her life a little easier and a little more joyful. Now, I don't know. The big picture stuff is still there: I write. I actually am producing quite a bit of work lately. More and more, I'm seeing the window to success opening. The biggest danger to this is my general all around rootlessness. I don't know where I'm going to be living a year from now, and it bums me out. The place I looked at today... I have a hard time imagining living there for five or six years. It would be purely a transitional home. I could buy it for less than I pay in rent, and make the gamble that two years from now I could sell it at a profit: a risky assumption in today's market, especially if interest rates keep going up.

Not having Laura around to talk over these big decisions makes them a good deal tougher. Laura was a terrific counselor. She'd lived in some pretty horrible conditions. Indeed, she's told me some horror stories that make me thing that the house I looked at today would be luxurious compared to one of the houses she lived in in Boone. I think having lived in poverty gave her a good view of the world. She didn't judge people by their net income. I miss the advice she would have been able to give me on decisions about moving to these marginal neighborhoods.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grave Visit

I took Simon and Veronica to Laura's grave again today. We left some roses in a vase. Luckily, the vase fit perfectly into a holder that Laura's friend Anke had left there. And, by chance, Anke showed up while we were there with flowers of her own.

I asked Veronica what she would tell her Mom if her Mom was still around. She said she'd tell her that Taylor Hicks won American Idol.

It was actually a more uplifting trip than my previous visits. Anke and I have been discussing headstone designs. I think that if Anke can find the headstone she has in mind, I can talk to her parents and friends and see that enough money is raised to make it come to fruition.

A couple of people have asked me to think of something to put on the headstone. I admit, I'm drawing a blank. There's just too much Laura to capture in twenty five words or less.

I've thought of using the Oscar Wilde quote, "The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death." But, I don't know. Love for Laura wasn't that great a mystery. She was pretty easy to love.