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, June 28, 2008

Essential Loneliness

I haven’t had a lot of success in my life building my own family. Both my marriages ended childless, which saved a lot of paperwork on the divorce, I must say, but that’s not a huge consolation. I’m deeply envious of people who’ve managed to select their mates wisely and raise children. It is, I think, one of the highest possible achievements of any human to launch a child safely and securely into adulthood.

Still, while my romantic entanglements have always been something of a mess, I’ve been much luckier in friendship. I have a wide circle of friends, including some I would count as true friends. As the old joke goes, a fried will help you move… a true friend will help you move a body. Fortunately I haven’t had to put these friendships to the body test yet, but I know in my heart who I’d make the first call to if the situation arose, and I know that not only would he help, he’d probably have the foresight to bring power tools. Of course his car isn’t very big… luckily I have another friend with a pickup truck, and I’m certain she would loan me a tarp, and I know she won’t rat me out.

I fear I’m veering off topic.

What I meant to get at when I sat down to write this post was that I think I have stumbled on to a key element to being a writer worth reading: the writer must always possess an essential loneliness.

Having a successful marriage and family won’t necessarily preclude this loneliness. Having good friends can’t truly cure this loneliness either. A writer, or any other artist, must always possess a sense that he is an outsider. Place him in the middle of a crowd, and he can never truly think of himself as part of that crowd. He is, instead, an observer of the crowd. If he’s participating in whatever the crowd is doing (cheering a rock band, for instance, or walking through a crowded mall the weekend before Christmas), he’ll still feel like he’s only pretending to be part of the group; on a deep level, he’ll never truly fit in.

It may be that everyone feels this way. It’s certainly a common theme in movies, books, and song lyrics. Far more likely, feeling this way may be a motivator to write movies, books, and song lyrics. Because one of the things that keeps me writing, day after day, year after year, is this never ending quest to explain myself. I am forever crafting small homunculi of myself and sending them out into the world via fiction, hoping they’ll find acceptance.

Writing has a way of weeding out a lot of lesser motivations. If you’re writing seeking fame and fortune, this might keep you going for a book or two, but you’re going to realize fairly quickly that fame as a writer means that in any random crowd, nobody is going to have a clue who you are. As for fortune… I suspect panhandling would probably provide a more steady income, and would keep you out in the fresh air and sunshine to boot. Most writers I know are pale people deficient in Vitamin D.

The one thing that kept me typing year after year, until I had committed a million words and then some to paper, was this quest to ease my loneliness by revealing hidden aspects of myself in fiction. When I first started writing, I used to have a fear that people would see too much of me in my writing. One reason I think I have found the modest success I have as a writer is that at some point I stopped being afraid that people would discover my dark secrets and started to embrace this as a hope. The stories that receive the greatest reaction are stories where I confess the things I least want the world to know about me. Admittedly, I do this obliquely… I place my hate into the character of Bitterwood. I place my more sadistic thoughts into Blasphet. My sleazier, cheesier elements find voice in Pet. In Nobody Gets the Girl, I confess my sense of being an outsider rather nakedly in the form of Richard Rogers, AKA Nobody, a man moving through the world as an unremembered ghost, invisible, intangible, hungry for the simplest human connections.

It is possible, of course, to write stories that don’t have this confessional element. I’ve certainly done so many times, and with some success… “Final Flight of the Blue Bee” will soon see publication for a third time, and I’m hard pressed to say that a reader would learn much about me reading it… except, perhaps, in the last moments of the story, when Stinger is falling to his death, and he yells out his final message to the Blue Bee. His voice is drowned out by the drone of the millions of bees that surround him. The most important words he’ll ever say go unheard. I think this moment captures my fundamental belief that, in the crucial moments, the things we most want to communicate are almost always missed somehow.

In the end, the feeling that I’ve never truly said what I most wanted to say is what keeps me coming back to blank pages again and again. I am forever tapping keys to fill the empty space with words, in a desperate attempt to keep myself from fading from this world, unknown, unremembered, a nobody.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can a powerpoint presentation change the world?

Ross Perot is back! The last person to discuss the federal budget seriously with voters has launched a website discussing a doom I've been known to howl about here a time or two, the federal debt. It's a 20 minute power point presentation that you can watch here.

In four years of doing this blog, I've never directed readers toward videos of singing cats, nude celebrities, or politicians forgetting thier lines. So, hopefully I've earned your trust that I'm not going to direct you towards time-wasting trivia. This presentation corrects some of my doom and gloom statements about the federal debt. For instance, it's really closer to 5 trillion than the 9 trillion I quote, due to the so-called social security trust fund. Yet, in other ways, I've also underestimated the true size of the problem, and thought we could fix it if we'd just do stuff like not fighting in Iraq. Turns out, ending the war tomorrow wouldn't even make a dent.

In any case, I highly recommend the presentation. Whether you are liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, it can only help to get your hands on the facts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Racing toward the End

I've been hunkered down writing a good bit of the day. There's also been some bill paying and air conditioner purchasing and installation mixed in there... we're pushing 100 degrees here in NC. I bought a 12,000 BTU model that's supposed to cool 550 square feet--roughly the area of my living room, office, and a bit of the kitchen. So far, the day is really testing the unit. Tomorrow, I'll install the much smaller 65000 BTU model in my bedroom and see if that helps things out. Days like today make me wonder if I'm wrong about global warming. But, of course, the data from any given city on any given day is pretty meaningless. And global warming is one of those issues where it really doesn't matter much if my opinion is right or wrong. So what? The reality is, we as a species are going to be pumping a lot more CO2 in the air next year, and we'll be pumping out more the year after that, and more the year after that. The AC unit in my window is making my carbon footprint bigger, but I'm one of the select few people on the planet that get to have AC. That's not going to last for long, though. The chinese are putting in AC. People in India are installing AC. Coal is going to be powering most of this.

And, of course, that's not even the big driver of greenhouse gasses. The big drivers are the agricultural systems that keep American's fat and happy... and, coming soon to a planet near you, steak-eating Chinese will make American's look like vegan sissies. Food follows money.

So, we're all doomed, unless we're wrong, and there are feedback systems in the planet that keep the thermostat stable, or unless the extra heat turns out not to matter all that much. The ice caps will melt, and we'll lose some tropical shoreline, but we'll start building beach houses in Russia and Canada, and life will roll on.

This wasn't at ALL what I sat down to talk about by the way. I'm actually sitting down to report that at some point tomorrow, I'll roll over the 120k mark on Dragonseed, the third Bitterwood book. Actually, there's a decent shot I'll roll past the 125k mark. I worked on Chapter 29 today. Tomorrow I'll do 30, and maybe go back and fill in a scene or two, and that will be the end of the first draft.

Right now, I'm in a good news/bad news sort of area, plot wise. I had really set myself a goal of finishing all the major plot threads raised in the trilogy at the end of this book. Any further books set in the Dragon Age were going to follow a different cast. But, while I'm confident I'll end the story of Bitterwood, it looks like I'm going to have to leave a few of the rest of the cast with some dangling plot threads. Not major ones, but my goal had been to have all the characters by the end of this book either living happily ever after, or dead. Now, it looks like I'll be getting many of my characters out of the fire at the end of the book, but still in a frying pan, so to speak. Ah well. These things happen. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the human/dragon struggle for dominance can't be completely resolved in a few books. It's like waving a magic wand and saying that the Palestinian/Isreali conflict is all better now.

Sunday, I plan to nap. Maybe go fishing, even with the heat. Maybe stretch out in front of the AC and read a book. Then... the rewrites begin. But, that's the thing about endings. They always seem to morph into beginnings.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Concarolinas and Creationism

I'm just back from Concarolinas in Charlotte. This is a kick-ass con, extremely well organized and well attended. I got to hang out with old friends like Ed Schubert, Gray Rhinehart, and Gail Martin, as well as making some new buddies like Jeremy Lewis and David B. Coe.

I'm exhausted though... I was on 11 panels this weekend, and my brain is now mush. My last panel of the day was on paranormal phenomena, and I was too bushed to rant.

One thing I really like about Concarolinas is that they do several science panels. I enjoy going to cons and talking about writing, but I LOVE talking about science, especially with folks who know what they are talking about.

One point that came up at the con was an argument put forth that creationism and evolution aren't incompatible. I've heard this argument many times. Basically, the logic is that the presense of evolution doesn't disprove the existence of a creator--which is something I freely concede. There could have been a creator. Or, all of reality could just be a computer simulation we're all trapped in without knowing it. Or, all of reality could just be the dream of an old man, and when he wakes up, everything will cease to be. However, just saying something could be true doesn't make it true.

Here's the difference between creationism and evolution: Evolution is well documented by physical evidence, both fossil and DNA, and by observation. Evolutionary theory makes predictions that can be tested. If we say that man evolved from a common anscestor with chimps and gorillas, then we should find evidence of such beings existing in times before there were humans and chimps... and we do.

Creationism makes no predictions. What is a feature you would expect to find in a created world that you wouldn't find in a world that just sort of came together over a long period of time? I can think of one obvious prediction: I would expect a created world to have been put together in a reasonably short period of time. It's taken about 4.5 billion years for man to appear on Earth... a span of time that just seems implausibly long if there were a guiding force. If God could make a living organism like a tree or a squirrel just by speaking them into existence, why would he bother with a seemingly endless cycle of creation and extinction of tree precursors and squirrel ancestors instead of just jumping straight to the final forms? But, this is, I admit, an easy target... I'm thinking of a prediction that others will no doubt argue is a stupid prediction. 4.5 billion years seems long to us, but maybe it's like an week for God. But, in that case, human life spans must be like nano seconds. We must flash in and out of existence at such an absurd rate that he can't possibly take time to get to know us. So... what am I being blind to? What is a testable prediction of creationism? What is the evidence that supports the theory?

I will say that, if there was a creator, he went through a hell of a lot of trouble to hide his workmanship. He created our world in the middle of an almost infinite multitude of stars, so that we wouldn't get all snooty and think our star was special. He created and destroyed billions of species over and over before he got around to making a species in his image that he intend to spend eternity either rewarding or punishing. And, the only people he's ever told the story to have been loners in the desert. He could have carved his signature in twenty mile letters on the moon. Or, he could, you know, have a blog or something. Anyone could just post a message in his forum and he could straighten them out on anything we might be unclear on. Instead of everyone arguing about gay marriage, he could just spell out his position. If he was smart enough to figure out DNA, it seems like HTML would be a breeze.