Ghost in the Machine – James Maxey (Bitterwood)

Welcome to a special podcast featuring the first chapter of James Maxey’s, Bitterwood, read by Dave Thompson.

Ghost in the Machine–Guest James Maxey

1. What is the title of your newest book or short story? What’s it about? Where can readers find it?

My newest book is actually one of my oldest books in a new format. My debut fantasy novel Bitterwood was released by Solaris Books back in 2007. In the intervening years I’ve been asked repeatedly when an audio edition of the book would become available. Lo! It has come to pass! Producer and narrator Dave Thompson has recorded an amazing performance of the book, now available on Audible, Amazon, and ITunes.

2. What inspired your new book or story?

Bitterwood is set in a world ruled by dragons. Humans live among them as slaves, pets, and prey. The mysterious dragon-slayer Bitterwood has been waging a one man war against the beasts for years, but when he kills the son of the dragon-king Albekizan, he triggers a war in which the dragons unite to wipe out all mankind.

I was drawn to this story first by Bitterwood himself. I had a vision of an old, burned out warrior who hated mankind as much as he hated dragons, an utterly unheroic figure who just happens to be the best hope for victory against the dragons. But, as I wrote the book, I kept fleshing out the dragons, exploring their politics, religion, and personal relationships, until the dragon cast was fleshed out as completely as the human cast. I think this gives the book a higher level of tension. You care about both the humans and the dragons, but it’s difficult to see how there can ever be peace between them.

3. What’s your favorite part of writing a new book or story? What do you like the least?

My favorite part is all the daydreaming. I can’t believe that I get to let my imagination run wild, write it all down, then sell the results. I keep worrying that someone is going to catch onto my scam… “Hey! He’s just making this stuff up!” Thinking up stories leaves my head buzzing and my body full of energy. It’s like drinking a dozen cups of coffee.

The worst part of writing is probably the, um, writing. Sitting in a chair for months writing draft after draft of the same book. As wonderful as the high of daydreaming is, there’s a point where, if you want to see the book in print, you have to engage in actual work. While I have no first hand knowledge to compare the two experiences, I would say writing a novel and having a baby have some parallels. The initial process of creation is a lot of fun, but there’s nine months before it amounts to anything, and it doesn’t come out without labor.

4. How do you research your stories?

I don’t. I just pursue the things that interest me, like dinosaurs, comic books, mythology, religions, economics, exotic foods, and anything that catches my fancy. Keeping my head full of fresh facts provides fuel for my imagination. A few years ago, I ate beef tongue for the first time. I loved it! I went home and wrote a scene at the beginning of Bitterwood where he cooks and eats a dragon’s tongue, and in the second book, Dragonforge, he talks about how tongues became his favorite part of the dragon. It’s very rare that I have an idea for a story that depends on things that I don’t know about. I don’t know a lot about, say, Russian history, so it’s unlikely I’ll come up with a story idea that has to be set in Russia in some past era, then have to go out and read up on this. Instead, I follow the oldest advice given to writers, and write what I know. This means every moment of my life is research.

5. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

This might sound a little self-serving, since I’m here plugging my just released audiobook, but I can honestly say that listening to audiobooks has had a real impact on the way I write. I think it’s important that a writer remember the connection between those little symbols on the page and the vocal sounds they’re supposed to represent. Spoken language predates written language by hundreds of thousands of years, and many people still “hear” the words as they read. Some really prolific readers can skip hearing the words and just absorb the meaning by looking at the letters. It’s efficient, but if you write without thinking about how your sentences sound when read out loud, you can produce dense and difficult prose that just doesn’t flow correctly. Listening to audiobooks is a great way of reconnecting the written word with the spoken word, allowing you to produce more natural, and sometimes more lyrical, prose.

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