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, April 29, 2009

A few random thoughts on politics

Driving home tonight, I was listening to news about Arlen Specter switching to the Democrats. I'm not happy about it, not because I particularly like any Republican policy, but because I did like that there was at least still some small sliver of a balance of power.

On the other hand, in a way that has never really happened in my lifetime, it's interesting that one party really owns all the responsibility for managing the country's problems at the moment. Since Republican's can't pull off a filibuster even with 100% solidarity, and since the Democrats have a firm majority in the house, there really is no excuse at all for the Democrats not to fulfill their collective promises. Claims of republican obstruction are going to ring hollow. On a wide range of topics, from climate change, to fuel supplies, to foreign policy, to health care, the Democrats will be left with two choices: Act, or try to blame Bush.

I suspect we'll see the later strategy. I don't think Democrats are truly eager to enact rigid carbon caps; they have to know that this would strangle the economy at the worst possible time. I predict, instead, that they will hem and haw and commission on it, then enact some legislation that goes into effect in 2016, after Obama's out of office. When pressed why they aren't acting more aggressively now that they hold all the reins of power, they'll say that their hands are tied by the economic stagnation that Bush created. Any foreign policy that doesn't go their way: Bush poisoned the waters.

And, I think this will have some traction for a year or two, but, long term, the democrats are going to really have to figure out how they are going to placate their most rabid members. Bush's blood will only sustain them so long. Eventually, all the interesting fights will be democrat versus democrat.

Here's an idea I had that may be the Republican's last hope of wielding any power: Every last member of the house and senate should switch their party affiliation to Democrat. Just have the republican party fold up shop, and flood the ranks of the Dems with conservatives, who will then have a real shot at building political coalitions with moderates. Remove the power of party labels by putting everyone under one umbrella, and shift the debate from what defines a party to what defines the individual members.

I know it won't happen, but it's still an interesting thought. I suspect the republicans will just hold on, hoping for the day that the democrats stumble badly enough to bring them back to power, which certainly will happen one day. After all, I don't think the Democrats owe their present popularity and power to Barack Obama--I think the real savior of the democratic party was George Bush.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Art Grid

John Brown, a fellow writer, posted a grid on his blog this weekend designed by another writer, Lon Prater, that shows a four quadrant analysis of the various categories of writers as they fall along an axis of love and money. It's funny, but also pretty thought provoking, and it strikes me as being appropriate to more than just writing. You can check it out here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The only law of literature

The discussion in the thread of my last post came on the heels of my discussing writing on a thread at a forum called ImpishIdea. A writer there named Lccorp2 is posting a series of articles "sporking" Bitterwood for it's crimes against literature. Normally, bad reviews elicit shrugs from me. I've been around long enough to know that what I write isn't going to be to everyone's tastes. And, I sometimes gain really valuable insights from bad reviews. Suanne Warr's comments on excessive use of minor POV characters resonated with me in her review, and led me to try new strategies in later books for building scenes where I don't want to be in the head of the character who the scene is really about. I don't eliminate all minor POV scenes, since they are still useful tools, but I now save them for when they are the best of all possible tools, not just the most convenient one. (An example in Dragonforge is the one scene that is in the POV of Sparrow as she fights her way down the corridor of assassins to open the gate to the Nest. It's her only POV scene, it's probably under a 1000 words long, but there really was no better alternative than to jump into her head at that point, and the resulting scene is one I'm happy with.)

But, something about Lccorp2's criticism of the book struck me as strange. He's breaking the book down chapter by chapter; he dislikes it from the very first page, and by chapter 3 he hasn't found a single element of the book he likes. The book has failed on every single level for him. Yet, he kept reading the book to the end. It mystified me. There have been plenty of books that I've picked up over the years that weren't to my taste. Plenty more books I've never even picked up because I could glance at the cover and know instantly that I wasn't the target audience of the book. The Left Behind series, for instance. So, I put the question out there of why he'd kept reading the book.

It turns out that this website is in the habit of analyzing "bad" books in order to learn what makes them bad, with the intention that it will lead the readers at the sight, mostly novice writers, to discover how to improve their writing. In addition to sporking Bitterwood, they apparently have also sporked Twilight and Eragon, books that they hated for reasons they documented in great detail.

I'm actually somewhat flattered to be in the company of Twilight and Eragon. If my books could fail to please readers even one tenth as spectacularly as these books failed to please readers, I could retire a wealthy man. It struck me as a rather perverse and backward approach to learning to write--to take books that earned the approval of editors, publishers, movie producers, and millions of readers... then figure out how not to write like that.

In reality, it's a very simple thing not to write in a way that you don't like.

Just don't write stuff you don't enjoy reading.

I've never read Twilight. Would probably chew off my arm if I were chained to a seat in a theatre where the movie was playing. But, I'm not a 14 year old girl. I understand my own tastes and preferences. I'm free, among the millions of books in this world, to seek out and read books that I enjoy. If I know from the cover, or the pitch, or the first chapter, that the book isn't for me, I move on. Life is too short to waste time reading stuff you hate.

And, if you do hate it, there's no point in reading it in order to try to figure out the secrets of its success. You'll never grasp it. If you are searching for some magic formula of plot or character or dialogue that a successful writer has captured and try to mimic it, you are likely to fail.

The reason that my Twilight or Eragon or even my books manage to make it into print boils down, I think, to a couple of key elements. First, we actually managed to write a book; this is a pretty big obstacle for some folks. Second, we all got lucky and our manuscripts wound up in the hands of the right people at the right time. But, third and most importantly, I think Twilight and Eragon and Harry Potter and my books were written as labors of love. When these books were first emerging into the world, no one was paying the writer to write them. They were written instead because they were a story that the writer loved.

All the literary analysis of writing techniques, of style, of world building, of creating characters--it all has it's place, but it's almost completely useless as a guide to writing a good book. You are never going to be able to think or study or analyze your way into writing a book that people love.

There is only one law of good literature: Write what you'd love to read.

Not what you have read and loved. What you love, but haven't yet read.

To quote myself from the Impish Idea thread:

Every thing you write should be a love story. Not a romance. But a story written because you loved it.

Follow your passion. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Fill your book with the stuff that makes your heart race and leave out the stuff that bores you. If you don’t make it into print, at least you’ll have a book you can look at with pride as being truly your own.

Once you've learned this secret, everything else falls into place.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Squidoo: The Dragon Age

I was contacted over the weekend by a fellow named Mike Moore who has created a Squidoo "lens" on my Dragon Age novels. I confess, I had never heard of Squidoo before. Apparently, it's a site where users can create articles around very specific and focused topics, called "lenses." It differs from wikipedia, I think, in being less rigid and encyclopedic in its approach.

Anyway, here's the link to Squidoo: The Dragon Age. Mike just posted an interview with my earlier today where I discuss my favorite characters from all three books, as well as give some insights as to my creative process, and reveal why the third book of the series may or may not bring peace to the middle east.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Socialism versus Capitalism

There was a poll released today showing that only 53% of American's believe capitalism to be a superior economic system. 20% preferred socialism, and the rest weren't sure.

As expected, right wing talk show hosts were having a field day with this. It's the downfall of America; we're half way to communism.

I think a little perspective is needed.

First, while I suppose that economists may use the terms capitalism and socialism with a clear understanding of what they mean, I think that most people are somewhat fuzzy on the concepts. Polling Americans about economics is a somewhat ill-fated activity. Americans use credit cards to buy pizzas and go to the movies. Any nation where large percentages of the population will go into debt to entertain themselves is a nation that collectively knows nothing about managing its money.

Second, the reality is that it's possible for a nation to be both capitalistic and socialistic at the same time. These aren't like matter and antimatter, destroying one another on contact. It's more like a sliding scale with pure libertarian capitalism at one end and outright communism at the other. America's needle has been sitting in the middle of these extremes for a long time. Business has never had a truly free hand in America, nor should it. Also, I think a lot of businesses would go into a full blown panic if the government really decided to get out of their affairs. If the US decided tomorrow that our agricultural policy was: grow whatever you want, sell it where ever you can, at whatever price you can get, you would see shares plummet in every stock even vaguely tied to food.

Finally, I find in the worship of capitalism flaws similar to the worship of libertarianism. (Keep in mind, I am a libertarian.) Both systems are built around a fundamental idealogy that says that if government would get out of the way, people would behave rationally to further their own self interests. They would make better investments, use better judgment when purchasing products, and generally be able to police themselves. The flaw, of course, is that substantial pluralities of people don't behave rationally, even when there are strong incentives to do so. For instance, for pretty much all my adult life, people have been able to invest money in IRAs. It saves in taxes, it's safe, and there are banks in every town in America that will be glad to set one up for you. Yet, only about 14% of people choose to contribute to a traditional IRA. For the record, I'm not part of that 14%. I've either been to concerned about spending my money here and now, or I've found the fine print in the brochures at the bank a little daunting, or I've just decided that I don't really care if I'm a millionaire when I'm sixty-five, since by then Cthulhu will return and end the world, most likely.

What someone needs to design is an economic system that depends on hedonism, ignorance, and apathy. I'd do very well in that system, I think.