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. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Deadstock

So, in my earlier post about Readercon, I mentioned meeting Jeffrey Thomas, author of Deadstock, and a fellow member of the Solaris writing stable. During the meeting, I was worried he might ask me what I'd thought of his book, since I'd mentioned to him a while back that I'd bought a copy... only, I never got around to reading it, even though I knew I'd be seeing him.

Part of the reason was, I'd read part of the prologue of the book and found it difficult to get into. It's mostly following a character wandering around a futuristic cityscape looking for his girlfriend, but it didn't engage me all that much because the prologue doesn't contain any dialogue, except for one brief line from memory. Also, the prologue just had the feel that it was being written about a throw away character. I knew from what I'd read about the book that the protagonist was a shape-shifting detective named Jeremy Stake, and plainly this character wasn't him. So, I lost interest after the first five or six pages.

Fortunately, on the plane back from Readercon, I had the book in the top of my backpack and pulled it out, figuring I'd give it one more shot. I skipped the prologue and started on Chapter One. WOW! It was like an entirely different book. Suddenly, I understood how he'd gotten a blurb from China Mieville on the cover. Once Stake enters the book and the dialogue starts, the book comes to life. Stake is a great vehicle for conversations--he suffers from "confused flesh," a mutation that causes him to start looking like a person that he's looking at, so, when he talks to people, he slowly starts looking like them, causing a range of reactions from freaked out to fascinated. The other characters reveal hidden parts of themselves as they react to him--it's really quite a masterful device for bringing the supporting cast to life.

The other real strength of the book is the sheer scope of imagination Thomas throws onto each page. Nifty SF gadgets like Ouji phones, marketed to teenage girls... the phones ring when a damned soul comes on line, the the girls tease and taunt them. It's so disturbingly wrong, and yet so precisely right that you buy the idea instantly. At another point, he's walking through a factory where there are these legless, headless cows floating in tanks... nutrients are pumped in through a tube where the neck should be, and waste is sucked from the other end. It's the ultimate in factory farming, and if anyone has ever visited a commericial chicken farm you will recognize the idea as one corporate farmers would embrace in a heartbeat. Thomas makes you keenly aware that any advance in technology that can improve human life is also just as likely to get twisted around and warped into something that perverts human life. It's a fairly bleak vision, but it doesn't come across as depressing, as the sheer weirdness and creepiness of the images he throws out are simply fascinating.

The plot is terrific once it's underway, with a growing sense of inevitable doom. I honestly felt the possibility as I was starting the final chapter that no one--not even Stake--was going to get out of this novel alive. He kills off characters that I was certain he'd never kill.

One minor gripe with the novel is that Stake doesn't have much of a personal tie to the actual plot line. He's only involved with the other characters because he's been hired to be involved... in fact, there's even a line of dialogue near the end where his employer asks Stake why he cares enough to face the danger he's about to face and Stake answers, "Because you're paying me to." Yet, in a way, Stakes lack of personal involvement turns him into an objective camera through which we observe the rest of the story. The coolness saves the novel from slipping into melodrama as some really horrible things start happening to other characters.

All in all, it's a darn fine read.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I feel as if I've done my job

Pat Esden on her live journal has provided one of my favorite quotes about Bitterwood yet, and she hasn't even read the book! She attended my reading at Readercon and writes on her blog: James Maxey read the beginning of his novel “Bitterwood”. It was great and convinced me to move the novel higher up in my stack of summer reading—and gave me a craving for barbequed dragon tongue.

Really, that's pretty much what I consider the key to engaging writing... leaving the readers with cravings. It's been twenty years since I read Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Aiule (I'm sure I just misspelled her name). Yet, I can still recall vividly her descriptions of the food the cave men gathered, all the fresh green sprouts and pungent roots and giant fish. I remember going to a salad bar and loading up on bean sprouts and bamboo shoots and thinking, "a caveman would enjoy this salad." (Though I'm not sure they had ranch dressing.)

I said in my recent Solaris interview that my first goal as a writer was to entertain the reader. I also said I tried to make my writing thought-provoking. I left out my other important goal--make the reader hungry. A useful goal to remind myself of now, since I'm well underway with my next novel for Solaris. I've finished four chapters and am almost 17,000 words into the project. I'm leaving on vacation this week, and hope to get through at least two more chapters, perhaps even a third. I'm guessing there will be a feast in there somewhere.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Readercon 2007

First, some pictures, then some words:
Sunshine, me, and Cavin
Elaine Isaak and me

Me and Nick Mamatas


Me and Jeffrey Thomas


Last weekend I went to Readercon near Boston. I went there with Joy Marchand and she's already posted her report of the con on her blog, complete with photos, so be sure to check out her report here. I'm in some of the photos, and so are many Codexians.

On the side of this page, you'll see a link on the Bitterwood blog that says "Bitterwood Live!" This is an MP3 of my reading from Bitterwood at Readercon. I'm pretty happy with the reading... not too many stutters, and the sound quality isn't bad at all. It's short, only about 6 minutes. I find I get better audience response at readings if I read from multiple short items rather than trying to slog through one long one. I'm still debating whether or not to post my reading of Cherry Red Rocket Ship from the con. It was a good reading, and the audience is laughing at most of the places I want them to be laughing. Alas, the story is unpublished, and I don't want to risk it's future publishability by making the recording available before it sees print. On the other hand, it's short, so selling it isn't going to translate into a great big pile of cash. (Not that long short stories translate into great big piles of cash either.) So, maybe I will post it. If anyone wants to hear it, respond to this post. If even two or three people want it, I'll put it up. If no one's interested, I'll keep it to myself.



The best part of the con, of course, was getting to meet friends and fellow authors. I got to hang out with Jeremy Cavin and Sunshine Ison, old friends of mine from when I lived in Greensboro. A link to Mr. Cavin's blog may be found on the side of this page.



I also got to meet Nick Mamatas, author of the brilliant new novel Under My Roof. Joy bought a copy and I got to read a bit of it and look forward to getting my hands on my own copy. It's the story of a family that builds a nuclear bomb, hides it in a lawn gnome on their front yard, then declares independence from the US. It's only a matter of time before this is a major motion picture.



Joy's blog shows a lot of my fellow codexians at dinner, but one who couldn't make it to the dinner (because she was, like, 11 months pregnant or something) was Elaine Isaak. Elaine is also a fellow Odfellow. She's published two novels and we share space in Prime Codex.



Also at the con was Jeffrey Thomas, who's blog is on the links on the sidebar, and who is author of the critically acclaimed SF novel Deadstock. I started reading it on my plane ride home and it's terrific. The prologue is a bit of a slow start, but once the protagonist hits the page in the first chapter the book really catches fire. The dialogue is sharp and subtle. What really makes this book stand out so far, though, is the way Jeffrey will introduce fantastic SF gadgets, then show instantly how humans will warp and subvert these gadgets. For instance, there's something called ouiji phones. Scientistic researching other dimensions have found a link to the land of ghosts, and have built a technology to allow you to call there and speak to the dead. But the device isn't used to hold reassuring chats with lost loved ones. Instead, the device is popular among teenage school girls who like to get tormented souls on the line and then tease and taunt them about their deadness. Equally horrifying are the dolls the girls carry as status symbols. They are bioengineered creatures bred to be cute and helpless, with only stubs from arms, tiny mouths, big eyes, and feeble minds. The horror element in this book doesn't come from the ghosts and monsters, but from what human children do to ghosts and monsters. Highly recommended.



Finally, over on the Solaris Blog you'll find a photo of me with Solaris editors Christian Dunn and George Mann.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Return to Odyssey, with pictures

My trip back to Odyssey yesterday is something of a blur for me. Sometimes I remember public events I take part in clearly, but other times I'll be hit with an adreneline rush that during the event that leaves me wondering long afterwards what, exactly, I might have said. Fortunately, while I'm foggy on what I said and can't report the details, I do have photos!



Here I am with Joy Marchand, who provided transportation for me yesterday and is also responsible for that silly grin on my face being a more or less permanent feature these days. Joy and I have known each other for years as fellow authors. I first read her work when she won WOTF and have long admired her writing style. We've been anthology mates before, sharing space in last year's Modern Magic anthology. She wrote me back in February after I posted the "Five Things Few People Know About Me" blogs. After that, we started swapping flirty emails, which led to phone calls, and now to full blown dating, despite the fact that she lives in Massachusetts and I live in North Carolina.



Speaking of anthology mates, the guy in the photo above is Eric James Stone, fellow Codexian, fellow Phobos award winner, fellow Boot Camp alumni, and soon to be fellow Odyssey grad. We share space in the anthology he's holding up, Prime Codex, which continues to recieve glowing reviews. Eric is also the person who sent me the "Five Things Few People Know About Me" challenge, so he gets partial credit for Joy and I getting together. What a weirdly interconnected world we live in.

After the discussion, I signed books. Lots and lots of books. Fortunately, I had just purchased a fresh inkpen for the event. Note to IRS: I kept the receipt for the pen. So far this year, I've been really good about keeping receipts.


Finally, here's me signing a book. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the person in the blue jacket. Perhaps she'll read the blog and be kind enough to post her name for me. The woman behind her is Jeanne Cavelos, leader of the workshop. Jeanne is a terrific writing instructor. Many Odfellows have gone on to publish novels, me included. Hopefully you'll one day be reading the novels of this years grads. (And, if you'll pardon a repeat plug, you can already read the words of Eric James Stone, not just in Prime Codex but in many other fine publications. See his blog for a more complete list of his stories.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Return to Odyssey

I attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writer's Workshop as a student back in 1998. Tomorrow, I'm going back to talk to this year's class as someone who has managed to build at least a modest career out of fiction.

As a result, I find myself in an introspective mood, thinking about what I've learned in the intervening nine years, trying to figure out if I have any useful advice for the current batch of students.

While advice from me may not be as valuable as advice from J. K. Rowling, I do have one nuggets I can share with the class:

The worst book you put onto paper is more valuable than the best book you keep in your head. Twice in my life, I've found myself in positions where I've been asked to show my work on short notice. The first time, Keith Olexa, the editor at Phobos, called me up to tell me I'd won a Phobos Award and asked if I'd written any novels. The year before I'd written "Nobody Gets the Girl." The novel at the time was short, only 55K words long. And, the ending was just dumb, nothing at all like the published ending. Before I sent it to him, I tacked on a new ending that was even worse, in which Rail Blade gets killed when the World Trade Towers fell on 9-11. A few months later, Keith called me back and said they wanted to publish the book, but the ending really needed to change. Knowledge that the book would see print proved a powerful creative force and I was able to arrive at the published ending, which I'm still quite proud of.

The second time, of course, came about when Nadia Cornier went from being an intern with an agency to being a full agent, if she could build a portfolio of clients. When this news reached me via the Codex boards, I was able to send her "Bitterwood," but a much shorter, less developed work than what is seeing print today. Still, while I look back on that version now as being amazingly devoid of setting details and shockingly thin on character development for the supporting cast, it still had the plot, pacing, theme, and energy that the final book has.

Can I write better novels than Bitterwood and Nobody? I think I can. I've got one book in my head that I think may be the book that turns me into a household name. Unfortunately, you can't read this book. I can't show it to an editor, and I've never been able to share more than a brief outline with my agent. It's a book I always feel I need to do just a little more research to write. It's a book I've become intimidated by. And, as a result, my perfect, fantastic book has never been read by anyone, while the good-but-could-be-better books I've published have been (or will be) read by thousands of people.