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.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My letter to my congressman

Driving home tonight, I listened to the President talk about the need for the 700 billion dollar bailout package. A feeling of terror gripped me; I am deeply, sincerely afraid that he might get away with this. For a long time, some of my more liberal friends have been pitching me conspiracy theories about George Bush and how he has turned the US government into a big cookie jar for all his friends to loot. They point to all the no bid contracts in Iraq, including the contracts of American oil companies to manage Iraqi oil assests. For a long time, I've resisted these conspiracy theories, choosing to believe that Bush was most likely doing what he believed was best for the country, even when I deeply disagreed with him.

However, after listening to this bailout being debated for a week, I'm now convinced that this is, in fact, nothing but a scheme to enrich a small handful of wealthy, well-connected people at the public trough. 700 billion dollars is a staggering sum of money that is going to wind up in the hands of a relatively small number of people. I have yet to hear one economist say it's actually going to solve the financial problems on Wall Street. I've been hearing dire warnings that the market may fall to 8000 in the coming days if action isn't taken. My 401k is already taking hits. It' scary to look at. But, here's the thing: if the stock market falls to 8000, it's because it's only truly worth 8000. If it's actually worth more than 8000, then people like Warren Buffett are going to sweep in and buy everything they can lay their hands on, because it will, eventually, rise back to it's true value. The government's actions seem to be dedicated to blowing more air (or, in this case, money) into a bubble that is rapidly collapsing. Why, why, why, why does it make sense to anyone to keep a financial bubble growing past the point where it should naturally collapse in on itself? Bailing out Wall Street now is going to be the equivilent of giving all the people defaulting on subprime mortgages high-limit credit cards they can charge mortgage payments to--which, believe me, some people have no doubt done. Blowing money into the bubble now is only going to make the collapse in the future far, far worse.

So, for the first time in my life, I've written my congressman an email. I doubt it will change a damn thing. But, I encourage you, if you are opposed to this bailout, or even in favor of it, to take the time to write your congressman. It's easier than ever these days. Two minutes on google will produce your representative's webpage and email address. We may see congress write the largest check of all time within the next week. One reason we're in this mess is American's have been willfully blind to most actions of congress and the administration. If you are ever going to make your voice heard, this is the moment to do it.

Here's the letter I wrote:

Representative Price,

I would like to add my voice to the flood of email I'm sure you must be getting against the proposed 700 billion dollar bailout. This is being sold to the US public in the same doomsday terms used to sell the Iraq war--then, we were warned of nuclear weapons, today we are being warned of long term recession. But, saddling the taxpayers with another trillion dollars into debt is insane. The very heart of our financial crisis is that too many people have been buying things they can't afford on borrowed money. Homeowners have bought houses using loans they couldn't afford, banks have made the loans using the plentiful credit available on world markets, and the US government has been helping create an artificial boom economy by spending hundreds of billions of dollars more than it takes in each year in taxes, purchasing the illusion of prosperity today at the expense of future generations.

The time has come to obey the first law of holes and stop digging. If the stock market collapses and credit markets freeze up, there will be a lot of pain, but it's a neccessary hardship to endure to get our economy back on track. A tight credit market will kill subprime mortgages and marginal credit cards, but I predict that responsible borrowers will wind up highly sought after and the credit market that emerges will be more restrictive, but sounder. Borrowed wealth isn't true wealth.

If the stock market falls to 8000 or lower, that's because that's the true value of the market--I don't see it as government's responsibility to artificially inflate markets. Yes, a lot of people will take a serious financial hit as their 401k's fall. I had been looking at my 401k as recently as last year with daydreams of early retirement. But I'd rather not build my life around a lie, where my wealth depends on an ever growing bubble. Sometimes, you have to let the bubble pop to find out what the true value of things are.

The right thing for you to do in the coming days is to just say no to any bailout at all. I hope you will have the wisdom and judgement to resist the president and leaders in your own party to make this stand. If you choose to reply, I would like to know how you intend to vote on this bailout.

Thank you,
James Maxey

Monday, September 22, 2008


My short story "Final Flight of the Blue Bee," which first appeared in Asimov's, has been reprinted online at Diakaijuzine. It's a superhero story, so if any of you are fans of Nobody Gets the Girl, you're likely to enjoy this story as well. It's also a story about emotionally screwed up people striving hard to live their lives in a way that makes sense to them even though it makes no sense to any sane person - in other words, it's a James Maxey story. Check it out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A long, cranky rant about our economy and our government

This morning I discovered something called the "Drew Carey Project" and heard he'd had put some videos on the web talking about the positive effects of immigration. It turns out that he has a whole series of short documentaries he produces and hosts on a wide range of topics. I've spent the last two hours absolutely absorbed in these things.

If I've ever had any wavering doubts about my libertarianism, they've been completely blown away by the video on bacon dogs. Drew tells a story of a street vendor in LA who was actually JAILED FOR 45 DAYS for the unthinkable crime of selling hotdogs wrapped in bacon. I'm not sure how to link to any individual video, but you can find a complete list here. Scroll down to the video labled "food fight."

On the surface, this was a bad week to be a free-market libertarian. When the stock market tanked early in the week, the blame fell on unfettered free markets and a lack of regulation. When they rose at the end of the week, it was because the government rode in on a white horse and rescued Wall Street and promised regulation to make certain this would never happen again.
In reality, the government's fingers are deeply dug into the current market woes, and the proposed action to save the markets are only going to lead to further woes. First, where is the government going to get a trillion dollars to buy all these insolvent loans? They'll either borrow it, tax it, or create it by printing more (not that I think any actual printing is involved). If they borrow it, it's just another shackle we're locking onto the legs of our children and grandchildren. Our debt is already pushing 10 trillion dollars. If they actually raise taxes to cover this, it's safe to say that will depress the economy enough to drag the stock market down as much as it was going to fall anyway. And, if we print the money, we'll add to inflation.

By intervening in the market this week, government has again rode to the rescue of people who made irresponsible choices. Borrowers shouldn't have been lending money to people with horrible credit scores and no verifiable income. And people with horrible credit scores and shaky income shouldn't have been buying properties they couldn't afford. Investors around the world shouldn't have been investing in portfolios they didn't understand.

Lending money to people with bad credit isn't risk free, or at least, it hasn't been. Now, as I understand the proposed bail out, the government is going to be buying the bad mortgages from banks so that they will no longer bear the risk, allowing their stocks to rise once again. Wall Street has learned a lesson, of course--not the right lesson, which is that they should be careful with the money they invest, but instead the perverse lesson that the government will bail them out if they make risky investments and those investments explode badly enough to cause the stock market to plunge.

If you do check out the Drew Carey Project videos, another eye-opening video is called "Living Large." The point of the video is that the middle class is more affluent today than at anytime in history. But, I think there's a point Carey missed: I'm willing to bet that all the middle-class boat owners he talks to in the video are in hock up to their eyeballs. My biggest worry about America's seeming affluence is that it's borrowed affluence. The government borrows money to keep our taxes low and our social benefits high and to fund foreign adventures and bank bailouts. But the American consumer is no more responsible with their own money--they finance furniture, televisions, boats, tanks of gas, lunches, etc. The concept of saving money to make major purchases is something that seems to have faded from American culture in the span of my lifetime. I remember going with my mother to the layaway department at Sears to make payments on appliances we were buying. The idea behind layaway was that you would go each week or month and pay a little on something you wanted to buy, and when you'd finally paid enough to buy it, you took it home. It requires patience and discipline to purchase stuff this way. Now, it's all been flipped; you buy first, then pay. Layaway departments no longer exist.

We've become a country where responsible choices are increasingly punished. If you choose to live within your means you will have a smaller house compared to your free-spending neighbor who buys a house he can't afford using a subprime mortgage. And, next year when he defaults--no big deal. The government will have backed his mortgage and will take it over, offering some sweetheart plan to prevent foreclosure.

The free market can only encourage responsible behavior if prudent behavior is rewarded in risky behavior is allowed to fail or succeed on its own right. Sometimes, when you go into a casino and put in a silver dollar and pull the handle, the slot machine gives you a million dollars back. Imagine how many more gamblers we'd have in this world if, everytime you put in a dollar you lost it, there was a congressman behind you telling you that it wasn't your fault, that it was the fault of the wicked old slot machine manufacturers, and here's a tax dollar to replace the one you just lost? Because if that's not what's happening on the large scale, I need someone a lot smarter than me to explain how all this makes sense.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to console myself by going to the grocery store and buying some hotdogs and bacon... don't tell the cops.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The two sentence guide to writing interesting characters

I've been corresponding with a fan of Bitterwood who's asked me for some advice on developing the characters in a story he's working on. I told him that, for me, one of the keys to figuring out who your major characters are is to figure out what the worst moments of their life have been, and know what lessons they took from these experiences.

One reason I start Bitterwood out twenty years before the main novel is that I wanted to tell my readers about a pivotal moment in the hero's life. The story starts with Bitterwood's brother on the verge of raping the woman Bitterwood loves. Bitterwood is powerless to stop his brother Jomath, but the rape never occurs because of the arrival of the Bible-thumping, axe-wielding Old Testament style prophet Hezekiah. Hezekiah proceeds to kill Jomath for being an unrepentant heathen; he kills a lot of other people too. Bitterwood is standing there witnessing this; his brother is dying at the hands of the Lord's messenger just at the moment when Bitterwood hates Jomath the most. Bitterwood comes away from this event with a clear vision in his mind that God is a god of wrath and vengeance. There is a higher force in the world watching out for Bitterwood and smiting those who have wronged him. Only, as the backstory unfolds, Bitterwood loses his faith in God when he finds out that Hezekiah is a false prophet. Then, Bitterwood becomes his own absent God; since there is no higher power dispensing punishment upon the wicked, he will do the job himself. He's not doing it for love or money; he's doing it because he wants the wicked to suffer, because that's the god shaped hole in his world that he needs to fill.

Of course, any rational reader will conclude that this is a fairly insane lesson to draw from the events of his life. Bitterwood would have been much better off, probably, just sucking up the injustices visited upon him and trying to rebuild his life. But, this is the second key aspect to character building: Characters are more interesting if they have learned the wrong lessons from life's traumas.

Take Bruce Wayne. He saw his parents gunned down when he was a child and drew the lesson that he should dress up like a bat and use his vast wealth to buy bat-shaped cars and airplanes, so that he could hang out in alleys and throw boomerangs at muggers. An alternative lesson he might have taken away would have been to use his vast wealth to try to strengthen police work and work for social justice to reduce the forces that give rise to crime in the first place. But, since he's learned the wrong lesson, he's interesting. If he'd learned the right lesson, who'd care? There are surprisingly few stories that feature well-adjusted philanthropists as their protagonists.

So my two sentence guide to writing interesting characers is this: 1. Know the event that sent the character's life off the rails. 2. Understand the major flaw in their world view that results from this event.

Obviously, this is oversimplified. But, if you're a writer trying to come to grips with who your character is, try the two sentence guide. Let me know if you like the results.