James Maxey discusses family book collections, the true “currentness” of current events, and his upcoming book on cryptozoology. Read his latest short story for Asimov’s, “Lonely Hill,” in our [November/December issue, on sale now!]
Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
James Maxey: This was a slow build of a central theme bubbling up in my awareness. I spend a lot of time outdoors, and a lot of the rural and remote spaces I love are being nibbled away by suburbia. Forests and fields give way to housing developments, and creeks and beaver ponds give way to ditches and retention ponds. This has been going on since long before I was born, of course, but I think there’s a perspective that comes to you after the age of 50, where you’ve personally witnessed the loss of so much open space. I recall visiting rural Orange County twenty years ago when it was still mostly dairy farms and being stunned at how clear the sky was at night, just completely full of stars. Now, I can stand in the same spot and all there is at night is a dull haze and a half dozen stars trying their best to break through. So it’s not just rural lands you lose with all the development. You lose quiet, starry nights as well.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
JM: Buck’s cousin Johnny with his stacks of moldy paperback books is drawn directly from my grandfather, Sidney Maxey. He was an avid reader and there were stacks of books and magazines in every corner of his house. He had bookshelves on his porch with hundreds of paperbacks and all of them were ruined by exposure to dust and humidity. I’d dig through these and find old science fiction novels. My own library these days is more curated and cared for, but I have an upper shelf where I stack old, yellow, beaten up paperbacks as a reminder of my literary heritage.
AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
JM: I sell my books at events like comicons and Ren Festivals. I’ve got two short story collections, There is No Wheel and The Jagged Gate. After my dragon books, they tend to be my best-selling titles at events despite selling almost nothing online. When I’m pitching these collections, I’ll mention magazines where the stories were previously published. The only magazine that ever triggers a light in people’s eyes is Asimov’s. The 25 books on the table with my name on them don’t always convince shoppers that I’m a legit author, but when I name-drop Asimov’s they assume I’m the real deal.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
JM: I’m not convinced there are any current events. I run a book club at my local library called First Monday Classics. We focus on older books, things that people keep reading a century or more after they first appeared. Again and again, you’ll discover characters talking about “current” events from 1850 or 1790 that could easily be cut and pasted into today’s newspapers or twitter feeds. Last month we tackled Anna Karenina and there’s a conversation between two of the characters about their privilege, and how it possibly distorts their worldview. When I look at today’s news, I see contemporary society churning through the same basic moral debates people were engaged in when Cervantes was writing Don Quixote in 1605. Or, hell, you can go back to Ecclesiastes 2500 years ago for the basic reality about “current” events—“There is nothing new under the sun.”
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
JM: Some days I’m aware that we’re nothing but temporary blips of delusional, self-aware matter that swiftly vanish with no impact at all on the greater cosmos. Other days, I wake up knowing I’m made of stardust and lightning. I possess boundless potential to create things that will endure after I’m gone. Most of my work deals with characters trying to cobble together a workable life between these two extremes.
If you can daydream and type, people will give you money for it. It’s a pretty good grift!
AE: What is your process?
JM: My process is mostly sitting around in my pajamas thinking I should get some work done and not getting any work done. This goes on day after day, month after month, with my guilt and sense of failure increasing by the hour. Then, one day, I find myself holding a finished manuscript for a novel. I’ll read through it and think it’s pretty good, even though I have no firm memory of how, exactly, I wrote it. It’s vaguely possible that I have helpful typing elves living in my office. I should leave out some cookies.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
JM: I’ve got a non-fiction book on cryptids that should be out next year, and I’m plunging into the third book of my current dragon trilogy, Dragonsgate: Angels, with a goal of having it out next year as well. (Dragonsgate is dragons versus dinosaurs versus robots versus cosmic gods in a battle across parallel earths. It’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written, and that’s saying something.)
In addition to my own writing, my wife and I are editing a series of science fiction and fantasy short stories for middle-grade readers. This summer we released Beware the Bugs! and Rockets & Robots. I’m currently putting the final touches on our next anthology, Paradoxical Pets. Not all pets are cute and cuddly, a dinosaur could be your buddy!
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
JM: As my sixtieth birthday gets closer, I’m starting to wonder when those anti-aging pills are going to show up.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
JM: I’ve actually written a whole book on this! But, the main takeaway is not to get intimidated by what you’re doing. Yes, there are a lot of skills to be mastered in creating prose that people will actually enjoy and the business side of writing is an arcane mess. Set aside all those frustrations and focus on the core reality. If you can daydream and type, people will give you money for it. It’s a pretty good grift!
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
JM: On Facebook, I occasionally post news on my fan page, Dragonsgate. I’m also on Twitter, both as me and as Word Balloon Books, the imprint that’s publishing the kid’s anthologies. Finally, I have a newsletter that goes out three or four times a year.