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.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More reasons to move to Hillsborough

#7, the Jockey Lot. Not technically in Hillsborough, but only a few minutes away, the Jockey Lot is a big flea market on Buckhorn Road just outside of Efland. North Carolina is currently experiencing a major demographic change as an influx of workers from Mexico have flooded in over the last decade or so, working in agriculture, the mills, construction, etc. Take a drive down Highway 70 toward Burlington and you'll find a dozen business that were once empty now occupied by Mexican grocers and restaurants. Spanish language newspapers are easy to find.

The full impact of the Mexican immigration really hits home when you go to the Jockey Lot.

Flea Markets used to be as lilly white a gathering place as you can imagine. Now, walking through the central tent mainstreets of the Jockey Lot has the feel of walking through an open air market in Mexico (or so I imagine, not having actually been to Mexico). Vendors are set up hawking everything from lingerie to bootleg videos to seafood. You can walk past several tents without seeing or hearing a single word of English.

I went there Saturday with Joy Marchand (pictured above), fellow Codexian and culinary artiste. We browsed among stands full of the most amazing fresh vegetables you can imagine. Ripe, juicy tomatoes were fifty cents a pound. Avacados at the perfect peak of ripeness were going for eighty cents each. Limes were ten for a buck. We bought some shrimp that looked like they'd been swimming in the ocean a few hours before, and some fresh cat fish, whiskers and all. Later that day we made salsa and ceviche that rivaled anything I've had in a restaurant, and we chased it down with fresh mangos and watermelon. Yum!

Since the internet has yet developed a way for me to transmit the tastes and smells of the rewards of Jockey Lot shopping, I hope you'll be content with the following photos, snapped by Ms. Marchand, who turns out to be as talented with a camera as she is with a keyboard. Get ready to feel hungry....

Friday, May 25, 2007

Prime Codex is Go!

This weekend sees the debut of Prime Codex! This is an anthology collecting the best published short stories of the Codexwriters group. You can buy a copy at Balticon this weekend, or order from the website linked to above for books that will start shipping on May 30. The title is also live on Amazon. All codexians have published at least one short story at professional rates, or, at a minimum, have graduated from a major workshop like Clarion or Odyssey. You can hardly blink these days without another Codexian selling a novel. Follow this link for a Codex Library.

My story in the anthology is a reprint of my first sale to Asimov's, "To the East, a Bright Star." Of the short stories I've published to date, "Bright Star" is at top of works I'm most proud of, dancing on the head of that pin with "Perhaps the Snail" and "Empire of Dreams and Miracles." It's the story about the choices we make when we are most aware that life is finite--much of the story unfolds in the last fifteen minutes before a comet is going to strike the planet, and our protagonist, a former circus tightrope walker named Tony, is faced with the choice of meeting his destiny the way he's imagined for the last ten years, since learning of the date and hour the comet would strike, or detouring from that dream in order to rescue a damsel in distress. One of the questions I'm faced with most often as an atheist is, why live a "moral" life? In the absence of the reward of heaven or fear of hell, what does it matter if you're kind to your fellow human beings or not? Do the choices you make matter in the absense of hope? This story is my most successful attempt to answer that question.

No reviews yet of the anthology, but you can read a review of my story at Emerald City. My story is the last one reviewed, so if you don't want to read about the entire issue of Asimov's just scroll to the bottom.

Speaking of Codexians, I get to meet one today, Joy Marchand. She doesn't have a story in Prime Codex, but we share a table of contents in Modern Magic and I've read her story in Interfictions, "Pallas at Noon." I can safely report she's insanely talented, writing rich, image-filled prose at a level of talent I can only dream of. If you're interested in Prime Codex and want to qualify for free shipping, throw in a copy of either of the above two anthologies, although if you have to pick one, pick Interfictions, since "Pallas at Noon" is such a strong work. The final scene, and the final line, are amazing (in the context of the story, natch... don't just read the last line and think, "What's so amazing about this?").

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Skink in Bed

I came home Monday and found a skink sitting on the end of my bed. Skinks are small, slinky lizards, this one about 6 inches long. They are insanely fast, so, alas, I failed to catch this one.

I feel really let down by my cats. I've been providing them cat food and kitty litter for the better part of a decade now, and, really I don't ask for a whole lot in return. I would say the minimum duty I expect of my cats, though, is to be vigilent in keeping my bedroom free of reptiles.

Now, I'm sleeping a bit lighter than I was, knowing there's a lizard sneaking around somewhere among the dirty socks on the floor. Or, worse, that there's some hole I'm unaware of between the inside of my bedroom and the outside of my house. What's coming in next?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ungraceful follow up

With my last entry being one about Laura, I've been feeling a little restrained on my next blog posting. I couldn't think of any graceful way to move from a reflection on love and death and memory to a post about current events. So, I've just decided to do it gracelessly.

I am not a republican, and in NC that means I can't vote in the republican primary. Which is a shame, because I finally found someone I could imagine voting for among the major parties--Ron Paul. In the last debate, one of the big news items was how strong Rudy Guiliani came out of it because he had smacked down Ron Paul for daring to suggest that American foriegn policy somehow led to 9-11.

I was barely aware of Ron Paul before the news started reporting what an idiot he was. After the debate, I heard commentators on the radio saying his campaign was probably over now--not that it had ever been alive before. I was vaguely aware he was the only republican running for president who had opposed the war in Iraq from the start, and that he had been the Libertarian candidate for president back in 88. Outside of this, I didn't much care to spend the time to learn his opinions.

I didn't watch the debate, but I've since gone and read transcripts and have to conclude, despite the reaction of the crowd, Guiliani was wrong and Ron Paul was right. Guiliani, Bush, and countless others on the right seem to have the public position that 9-11 was caused purely due to evil. Osama bin Ladin devoted his time and attention to killing American's because he's evil personified, an agent of the devil, utterly without any motivation other than wickedness.

The US, on the otherhand, is incapable of wrongdoing. Sure, we kill a lot of people. Dating back to the first gulf war, we've unquestionably killed tens of thousands of Islamic civilians with bombings, and made life miserable for millions with sanctions and destruction of infrastructure and by funnelling support to dictators in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This has nothing to do with evil though... it's all perfectly rational and virtuous responses to evil.

Here's the thing: I think that most of our reactions are rational. It's not that hard to rationalize supporting the Saudi's when the world's energy supply depends on stability. It's not so hard to rationalize invading Afghanistan when they shelter terrorists who've successfully struck us at home. There's even a certain logic that can be followed into overthrowing Saddam Hussein and plunging a country into chaos and war for a decade or more, causing the death of hundreds of thousands and economic and political turmoil. The invasion has the same logic as chemotherapy--it's going to cause a lot of pain and suffering now, but in the gamble that it will eliminate a larger threat. And, it's possible to rationalize embracing and supporting the only dictatorship absolutely proven to have developed nuclear weapons and illegally transferring the technology to our enemies--Pakistan--since Pakistan publicly supports us, and in diplomacy what you say overrides what you do.

I'm NOT arguing that US foreign policy is evil. I won't proclaim it virtuous, but I will say that I believe it is designed by men who believe themselves to be virtuous and reasonable and acting for the long-term good of mankind. Of course, I also think this is the basic mindset of terrorists as well. They are certain that they are virtuous, rational, and that their actions are the only long-term hope of mankind.

The opinions in that last paragraph are my own, and I have no idea how Ron Paul would feel abot them. I'm pretty certain Giuliani or Bush or McCain would shout them down. If I were writing these ideas in Iraq or Afghanistan, most republicans would probably feel perfectly comfortable with arresting me and putting me in a cell in Cuba with no hope of trial or appeal. (Side note: Right now, per square mile of Cuban soil, who do you think is holding more people in jail with no trials--Castro or Bush? I don't know the answer, but isn't it bothersome that this is even a question at all?)

So, I salute Ron Paul for being thoughtful, honest, and courageous enough to say what he said to an audience he must have known would be hostile. I don't think he'll win the nomination; I don't even know if he'll be invited to future debates. But, if some sort of mysterious plague strikes and he winds up being the last surviving republican candidate... I could vote for him without holding my nose. I haven't felt his way about a major party candidate for twenty years.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

One year

Laura died one year ago today. I remember that morning, driving home from the hospital, listening to "The Coroner's Gambit" on my car stereo, watching the morning getting lighter after an all night vigil at the hospital. My emotions that morning weren't so much sorrow as exhaustion. I had a hard time thinking or feeling anything about what had happened that night. I just wanted to get some sleep, then deal with the grief at a later time.

I have grieved over the past year, but the experience wasn't anything like what I imagined during Laura's final months. I expected to be devastated, to have a difficult time getting out of bed, to be, at the very least, depressed for weeks and months.

But, in the immediate aftermath, I discovered that the predominant thing I felt was busy. There were phone calls to be made and arrangements to be decided on and a houseful of people who had needs that would have to be addressed. Then, once all that was gone, I had a whole different rush of stuff. I had a book under contract I needed to rewrite, I had to find a new place to live, then I had to renovate a house, then move in, then more writing, and then it was Valentine's Day and then Laura's Birthday and now the anniversary of her death and I find myself wondering if I somehow did it wrong. I didn't go out and wear black for a year. I made several trips to Laura's grave and placed flowers, but I didn't sit by the grave and have long conversations the way you see in movies.

I visited the grave today, the photos of the flowers are flowers that Simon and Veronica picked for her yesterday. I bought some vases and arranged the flowers and we placed them at the grave as a light rain fell. Then, last night the rain really came down, and I woke up this morning certain that the vases had fallen over. I drove back out this morning and found that my suspicions were correct and I propped the vases back up and fixed the flowers. My hunch is I won't be the only person to visit the grave today, and I wanted it to look nice.

It struck me that even today it wasn't grief that motivated my visit as much as it was an immediate task, doing something that needed to be done.

I think Laura would understand. Laura was the person who had to face the reality that she wasn't going to beat the cancer. Her main mechanism for coping with the darkness in her future was to concentrate on her present. She couldn't let despair pin her to the bed, because she had to get up to drive her kids to school, then do laundry, then go shopping, and she did these things well past the point where she felt comfortable doing them. A large secret to her living with cancer as long as she did was simple momentum. She just stayed too busy to die. But, eventually, her energy began to wane.

The picture below of Laura on the couch with Yoshi is from March 17 of last year. This is a fairly representative picture of Laura during the last few months of her life. She's stretched out on the couch because she didn't really have the energy to do much else. Yoshi, her cat, really bonded with her during this time. And, you can tell from the smile, she was still happy. She wasn't healthy any more, and it hurt her to walk or sit or lie still or breathe, and somehow she was, on the whole, still happy. Even on the last day I spent with her while she was conscious, she was cracking jokes, and happy to see visitors. She enjoyed her life. She lived each day to whatever degree her body allowed.

A few weeks before she died, she was laying on the couch in a pose much like this. It was on the weekend, mid-afternoon, and she was still in her pajamas. I asked her if she wanted to go get something to eat. She didn't. She really had no appetite at all by that point. She was always dealing with a certain amount of pain, and didn't feel like going anywhere or seeing anyone, but she was also tired of being in the house. So, I told her we could just go drive around in the country and enjoy the nice spring weather. I wanted to see her up and active, for her to feel like she was living instead of just surviving.

She changed clothes and we went out to the car. She leaned the car seat back as we drove up 54 and I kept turning down side roads to take us deeper into the country. There are a lot of roads that go off 54 and I'd always wondered where they led to. We passed countless rolling fields of yellow and blue wildflowers and wound up in Saxapahaw and drove over the river there, a nice little scenic gorge. We later wound up at a fruit stand near Mebane where I went in and bought her a Jarito's mineral water, and on the way home we found a Sonic Drive-in and she asked me to stop so she could get some tater tots.

I know it's crazy, but I don't think I've ever had a moment of such clear and wonderful hope as I did watching her eat those tater tots. She was hungry, and she was happy, and the fresh spring air and beautiful scenery seemed to have revived her, at least for the moment. I knew, I knew she was dying, but I believed in the healing power of weekend drives, and fields of wildflowers, and fresh air and sunshine and tater tots, and I thought we would be making these trips for a long, long time.

It's that day I remember, more than the hospital. It's that day I remember, more than the funeral home, or the church, or the cemetary. It's a drive I've taken several times since, or a drive like it, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I'll just go out for a drive in the country, and I'll see a road, and wonder, where does that go? And I turn the wheel, and follow the new road, and I watch the fields pass by.