Writer Wednesday: James Maxey

I’m pleased to present James Maxey as today’s interviewee.  Find out about some of his complicated yet compelling characters, what he’s working on now, his advice about which links to avoid, and more…

1.  First things first…a name and bio:

Author Name:  James Maxey

I’m the author eight novels and a score of short stories. Most of my novels are fantasy, with the Bitterwood Trilogy (Bitterwood, Dragonforge, Dragonseed) and the Dragon Apocalypse series (Greatshadow, Hush, Witchbreaker). I also have two superhero novels, Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn.

2.  Where are you from and what’s your favorite thing about where you live?

I’m from southwestern Virginia, near Roanoke, but have lived most of my adult life in North Carolina. I currently live in Hillsborough, NC, and my favorite thing about living here is that it’s where I met my wife. She’s lived all her life in Hillsborough and it’s kind of difficult to imagine her living anywhere else. Since she’s here, I’m here.

3.  Tell about your latest book.  What made you want to write it?

Just today I was emailed the galleys for my novel Witchbreaker, due out in January. It’s the third book in my series, but actually the first book that I outlined over six years ago. It’s set in a fantasy universe in which the Church of the Book has waged war against witches for centuries and driven the handful that remain into hiding. A young witch named Sorrow rebels against this and sets about to destroy the Church and launch a new golden age of witchcraft.

I have a few archetype protagonists I seem to return to again and again. Half of them are easy-going everymen who are caught up in events much bigger than themselves. Richard Rogers in Nobody Gets the Girl and Stagger in Greatshadow fit this template. But, I also write about very driven characters who will sacrifice everything in order to remake the world. Bant Bitterwood is probably my most extreme example of this, or at least he was until I reached Sorrow.

Some days, I wake up and have difficulty suppressing my outrage. I look at the headlines and I just want to walk around slapping my fellow citizens, shouting, “Aren’t  you paying attention? Don’t you see the massive crimes unfolding around us? Don’t you care?” But, of course, I don’t do this, since it would be rude, and also because it would be useless. The problems of the world are so large that the only sane way to actually enjoy your life is to just ignore everything that doesn’t affect you directly. Each morning, I stare in the mirror and repeat the mantra, “Try not to think about it,” seven times, and I’m able to function as a relatively normal person for the rest of the day.

Sorrow is someone who can’t ignore her outrage. To her, the accepted social and moral structures of her world are so warped and perverted that she is driven to wage a war to topple them, despite the vast powers arrayed against her. This has cost her all hope of friendship, and turned her into a rather unpleasant person to make small talk with. “How’s the weather today, Sorrow?” “Cloudy with a 100% chance of atrocities!” I know I’m supposed to write sympathetic characters that the readers can root for, but with Sorrow I’m writing a character who’s kind of difficult to love. She got her good points—she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s a dreamer—and her bad points—she’s capable of killing without remorse, and she allies herself with some very evil forces on the theory that the enemy of her enemy is her friend. She’s a challenging, complicated character. But, I love her, and root for her, and want her to find something like a victory in the face of a world created to defeat her.

4.  Where can people find your books?  

I’ve got so many books and various editions of my books that the simplest thing is just to go to Amazon and search for James Maxey. The first two pages of results are pretty much all me.

5.  What are you working on right now?

I’m doing some reading in preparation for launching into a new novel in November. I’m going to be trying something new, a historical fantasy with some steampunk elements that really is something outside of my comfort zone. When I write epic fantasy, I’m making up the world, so no one is going to write me to complain that I got some little detail of the history of that world wrong. Whereas, there are millions of people better educated than I am on the historical era I’ll be writing in, and I fear angry letters telling me, “Idiot! Your character eats a BLT sandwich for lunch on page 270, but the BLT didn’t exist until 1917!” Well, probably not that, but, still, there’s so many tiny details to pay attention to in period fiction that I’ve avoided it until now. But, the story I plan to tell is pretty compelling to me, and you can’t grow as a writer unless you’re willing to try new things.

6.  What inspired you to be a writer?

Reading. I was a bookish child. My grandfather was an avid reader and had so many books they spilled out of his house into shelves on his porch. I used to sit on is porch and dig through mildewed paperbacks to read pulp science fiction and weird science stuff about UFOs. Books were magic, and still are.

7.  Who is your favorite character in your stories? Why?

A tough call. It’s like picking your favorite child. Stagger, the narrator of Greatshadow and Hush, is definitely near the top of the list. He’s a natural storyteller, with a self-deprecating humor and a good eye for detail. But, while he has active roles to play in the novels, he’s usually more of an observer and reporter than a driver of events.

For now, I’ll say Shay, the escaped slave in my novel Dragonseed. My Bitterwood trilogy is full of characters with amazing abilities. Jandra is a wizard, Bitterwood is an archer with a deadly aim, Burke is a genius armed with cool weaponry, and  Hex is a sun-dragon capable of biting a horse in two. Then you have Shay, who has stolen books from the library of his dragon master and run off to join the human rebellion, believing passionately that books and education can be the key element of a new era of human freedom. He can’t fight worth a damn. Every fight he’s in during the course of the book, he winds up hurt. But, he’s the voice of hope and humanity amid a cast of human warriors who are becoming as monstrous as the dragons they fight.

8.  What character from your stories was the hardest to write?

Anza from Dragonforge and Dragonseed was a challenge because she’s mute. I think writing dialogue is one of my stronger talents, and usually once I can get a conversation going between two or more of my characters, the words just flow out of me. But, I have entire chapters told from Anza’s POV and can’t have her utter a single word. Trying to convey all of her “dialogue” purely through body language was kind of exhausting.

Oh! Wait! How could I forget? The biggest pain-in-the-butt character I’ve ever written, hand’s down, was Nowowon from Greatshadow. He’s the god of self-destruction, who destroys his enemies by reflecting their own fears and weaknesses back at them. To reflect his mirror nature, I decided that all of his dialogue would be written as palindromes. I really thought this was clever when I came up with the idea. But, he has about 20 lines of dialogue over two chapters, and it’s damn tough to structure all the dialogue exchanges in such a way that the palindromes make sense. I swore I would never do anything like that again.

So, of course, in Witchbreaker, I have a character visit a realm where time runs backward in relation to the normal universe, and when he returns he’s speaking all his lines backward. I can report that Microsoft Word’s auto-correcting spellchecker is a real pain when you’re trying to do this.

9.  What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?

The sheer amount of time it takes to write anything of consequence. I can spend the better part of a year getting a book ready, then the day after the book is released, a review will go up on Amazon saying, “I couldn’t put this book down! I read it in one day!” The fact that production can take several months, while consumption takes only several hours, creates this huge mismatch between what readers would like me to produce and what I can actually put out. I know I can put out two novels a year if I really push myself. But could I do three without sacrificing quality? I have a finite number of years left on the planet. Do I want to leave behind ten novels? Twenty-five? One hundred? Right now, I have more ideas for books than I think I could write in five life times. Figuring out how to prioritize my projects is something I struggle with all the time.

10.  Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Have something to say. Writing isn’t just about plots and characters. As a writer, you have a unique opportunity to say something of importance about the world and its inhabitants. Don’t waste that opportunity writing vapid fluff. I admire writers who aim high and fail more than those who produce technically perfect books with no hint of soul.

11. Who are your favorite authors and why?

I have favorite books more than favorite authors. My favorite novel is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s funny, it’s insightful, and the prose in these pages is just flawless. Thompson has a rhythm and energy that has no equal. But, beyond this novel, the rest of his writing is kind of erratic. Occasional flashes of brilliance, but not the sustained high-wire act of this work.

Other favorite books are Grapes of Wrath, Winesburg Ohio, The Grifters, 1984, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

12.  What tools are in your writer’s tool-kit?

All of them? Well, maybe not all of them. I have a good idea for a story that involves Russians colonizing Mars, but I’ve never been able to write it because I don’t really know anything about Russian culture. I try to write what I know, and the things I don’t know are an infinite ocean, against which my knowledge is merely a kiddy swimming pool.

But, there’s a lot of stuff going on in that swimming pool. My writing is informed heavily by science, politics, religion, and comic books. Failed marriages and the death of close friends all go into the emotion grinder and come out as meat for my novels.

I think a James Maxey novel is defined by several elements. First, there’s going to be a lot of action. Second, there’s going to be a fair amount of humor, not so much that it throws reader out of the reality of the tale, but just enough to keep readers paying attention. Third, there’s going to be a big question. Is love more powerful than death? Can hate ever make the world a better place? Is reason always superior to faith? I mankind’s true nature revealed best in wilderness or in the city? Does life have meaning if God is but a fiction? Finally, I would say that a hallmark of my writing is just plain old weirdness. I like to twist normal situations around until they become surreal. I like to take my readers a bit outside the ordinary, so that they can look back and see the real world in a different light.

13. Where can people find out more about you and your books?

My writing blog is dragonprophet.blogspot.com. I update it regularly, if you have a very liberal definition of regularly.

14. What question(s) did I forget to ask?

You forgot to ask about next week’s winning lottery numbers. 2-9-23-24-50 with a power ball of 7. If you use your vast millions to buy copies of my books, I’d be ever so grateful.

15.  Any other links you want mentioned…

The links I feel I should warn you about are fat-free turkey hot dogs. I tried them recently and they taste like plastic.



If you are a writer interested in participating in Writer Wednesday, please send an email with a short biography to ww (at) ambersistla (dot) com.

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