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This Writing Life: James Maxey

GFTW welcomes to the microphone author James Maxey.

Over the years, the corporations I’ve worked for always make a big deal about their mission statements. These statements are usually meaningless, filled with MBA buzzwords like “synergy.” Usually there will be some nod toward diversity, a little plug for the environment, a reference to values, and maybe, as an afterthought, some mention of an actual product they make. For instance, “Krispee Kreme is devoted to proactively leveraging our values to synergistically lead in the arenas of the environment, diversity, and donuts.”
Perhaps I’ve been poisoned by too many years in a corporate environment, but lately I’ve been contemplating my mission statement as a writer. In some ways, a novelist can be thought of as a miniature corporation selling a very specific and targeted product. Occasionally, it’s useful to stop and think: Why am I doing this? What, exactly, do I want to accomplish? What am I trying to sell, and who am selling it to?
So today, I’m pleased to announce my mission statement.

James Maxey is committed to delivering to readers aged fifteen and older fast-paced, adventure-driven fiction interwoven with subversive philosophies intended to overthrow the dominant social order and tear down ideas that many people consider sacred.

Let’s take this item by item. My name is James Maxey because, well, that was what they put on my birth certificate and I’ve been too lazy to think of a new one. The whole “delivering to readers” bit is in there because writing is only rewarding if I’m being read.
I’m targeting readers fifteen and older because the stories that interest me aren’t stories I feel young children should read. I think that sex is an important motivating factor in human behavior, and I frequently weave sexual thoughts and feelings into the fabric of my characters. In my novel Bitterwood, Pet is a sleazy narcissist who stumbles into playing a hero because he’s hoping to impress a girl. In Dragonforge, the character of Graxen risks the extinction of his entire species because he’s on a personal quest to get a little action, sex-wise. Not having characters think about sex would be like not having them think about food. On the other hand, I’m not writing pornography–sexual desire is central to some of my character’s actions, but I tastefully fade to black during the most intimate moments. Still, I don’t want to corrupt children by introducing sexuality when they are too young to deal with it, thus I’d prefer that people younger than fifteen not read my novels.
The next part of the statement is that I write fast-paced, adventure-driven fiction. For this, we can blame comic books. Having read a steady diet of superheroes well into adulthood, I’ve achieved a mental imbalance that leaves me nervous if I read something longer than seventeen pages without someone at least throwing a punch. Superheroes solve all their problems by punching something. Say the Avenger’s go to Denny’s for breakfast. When the check comes, if they argue about how big a tip to leave, you just know that someone is going to be punched through a wall. Iron Man works with the tools he has at hand; his suit has missiles, repulsor rays, and gamma cannons, but not, alas, a tip calculator.
For better or worse, my fiction can be thought of as comic books in prose. My characters plunge headlong into peril, from fight to fight, the tension ever growing, until the bad guy meets some suitably gory end. It’s a formula that works for me, judging from reviews and the mail I get. I suppose, if I tried, I could write a story where all the characters talk out their differences and part with handshake agreements to compromise. However, I promise my readers today that I won’t–it would violate my mission statement.
Now we come to the values part of the mission statement. Let me be clear about this: I want to change the world with my writing. I hope that my fiction raises questions about the underlying logic of the world we live in. I like to raise a lot of big moral questions and offer some non-traditional answers. The eponymous hero of Bitterwood, for instance, is a man almost completely devoid of noble motivations. Stripped to his core, the one reason he gets out of bed each morning is because his hatred of dragons is so strong he can’t rest until he’s killed them all. He tells Jandra, a teen-age girl who is swept up into the war between dragons and men that he’s helped launch that, “Hate is the hammer that knocks down the walls of this world.” He’s a bitter man doing cruel things–yet, somehow, he accomplishes things that the characters with more noble motivations can’t quite achieve. I wanted to write a book that reflected my perhaps controversial belief that the negative emotions–fear, anger, hate, envy–can propel human experience in surprisingly positive ways. Sometimes, the darkness within a man can be the fuel that drives him into the light.
I have a rather curmudgeonly take on the politics and religions that dominate our world. I sit around contemplating current events and I feel like yelling. But, I don’t yell. I write. I turn our politicians and pitchmen and priests into dragons and I send heroes (or, more frequently, anti-heroes) out to slay them.

Few people enjoy reading straight political diatribe. My mission statement requires me to write adventure fiction, not primers on philosophy. I’m never going to fall into the trap of Atlas Shrugged and give a character a fifty page philosophical monologue. That said, I fill my books with characters who champion some small sliver of my beliefs. Burke the Machinist is an avowed atheist who serves as the true hero of Dragonforge. Hex, a sun-dragon, is a warrior philosopher who argues the virtues of anarchism. I write with the understanding that my characters aren’t me. I may imbue them with fragments my philosophies, but time and again I’ve watched them take on their own spark and set off on paths I didn’t plan for them to take. Sometimes, while trying to change the world with writing, I find instead that my writing changes me.
My first goal in my novels is to keep readers turning the pages. My second goal is to make them examine their assumptions about God, about war, about politics, about justice and honor and love–and hopefully they will come out seeing the world in a slightly different way. Do I really think that my books have a hope of changing the world? Most assuredly, because books have shaped and sharpened my own understanding of the world. I believe in the magic of words, I believe in the strength of stories, I believe in the power of ideas, and I believe in books.
Every time I sit down to write a book, I’m on a mission. You know it’s true. I have a mission statement.