My Favorite Bit: James Maxey talks about Hush
Do you like dragons? You know you do. James Maxey who I’ve been a fan of since I discovered his book Nobody Gets the Girl has two different series with dragons. Today he’s going to tell us a little bit about Hush.
is the second novel in my Dragon Apocalypse series. What drew me to the series overall was a desire to go in a different direction from my previous fantasy novels, the Bitterwood trilogy. While those books have their moments of humor, they are mostly grim and gritty novels about men and dragons locked in a genocidal struggle. I strove for as much realism as its possible to bring to world where half the characters have scales and wings. While people believe in magic and gods in the Bitterwood universe, it’s arguable that no actual magic occurs. I took care that most of the things that happened remained within the realm of known physical laws.
Hush is the second novel in my Dragon Apocalypse series. What drew me to the series overall was a desire to go in a different direction from my previous fantasy novels, the Bitterwood trilogy. While those books have their moments of humor, they are mostly grim and gritty novels about men and dragons locked in a genocidal struggle. I strove for as much realism as its possible to bring to world where half the characters have scales and wings. While people believe in magic and gods in the Bitterwood universe, it’s arguable that no actual magic occurs. I took care that most of the things that happened remained within the realm of known physical laws.
With the Dragon Apocalypse, I said, “Screw that!” and went all in on magic. My characters have a mythic understanding of the world and I write from the assumption that these myths are correct. The sun is a dragon that daily flies across the sky. The stars are glittering ice floes floating in a vast overhead ocean. When volcano’s belch fire, it means the dragon’s awake. The material world of the Dragon Apocalypse exists as a sort of malleable fiction shaped by the beliefs of its inhabitants, and men clever enough to understand this have the power to reshape the world simply by convincing others of their lies. Of course, men aren’t the only characters shaping this world. Dragons in this reality aren’t just big lizards, they’re spiritual beings whose souls permeate the elements they control. Light a candle and Greatshadow, the primal dragon of fire, stares out at you through the flame, waiting for you to grow careless so he can devour you.
The master plot of Hush involves the mischief of one of these primal dragons, the eponymous dragon of cold. Hush has allied herself with a two-hundred year old ghost witch who’s on a mission to kill Glorious, the dragon of the sun, wanting to lock the world into the perfect stillness of an eternal winter’s night. To achieve this end, the witch, Purity, is sailing across the Great Sea Above in a walrus skin boat, hunting for Glorious so she can stab him with an enchanted harpoon. As I was writing, I had several moments where I thought, “Well, this is plausible!” The surprising thing was, it usually was. Hush follows the logic of myths, an old and enduring gut level understanding of the world that still shapes our daily lives. Reality can be counterintuitive and is under no obligation to make sense. Learning that winter comes because we live on a tilted ball of rock orbiting a very hot ball of gas might be accurate, but it’s not exactly a stirring foundation for drama. But when the sun is a dragon locked in constant war with his jilted lover, whose icy heart chills the earth as she seeks to drive him from the sky, you’ve got an epic love story.
And yet, despite all of the big picture mythology that frames the story, Hush is grounded by a much more human tale. Stagger and Infidel are husband and wife, a pair of charming rogues who made their living looting ancient ruins. Alas, Stagger doesn’t survive the first book. (This isn’t a spoiler. Stagger dies in the very first chapter of Greatshadow, but his ghost carries on as the novel’s narrator.) As a disembodied spirit, Stagger doesn’t see a lot of action in the first book. But, in the second book, a witch named Sorrow builds a wooden golem to serve her and captures a ghost to animate it. Stagger is that hapless ghost. Fortunately, Sorrow and Infidel wind up as passengers on the same boat, bringing Stagger close to his wife once more, but trapped inside a body with no tongue and no power of movement beyond obeying Sorrow’s commands. Worse, his soul is like a battery for the golem, an energy source that gives psuedo-life to his wooden limbs. The more Sorrow commands him, the closer he comes to the final extinction of his soul.
When Sorrow discovers that the soul inside her golem might know the location of a lost sacred site she’s been seeking, she builds the golem a paper tongue, and grants him the power to write so he can draw her a map. Stagger winds up with the opportunity to write his wife the love letter he never wrote her in life, a final message to both her and their yet to be born daughter. That scene, where he’s given a second chance to say the things he never got to say in life, stands out for me.
Several years ago, I fell in love with a woman named Laura, and fairly early in our relationship she developed breast cancer. For most of the remaining years I knew her, there were certain conversations that were off limits for us. She was determined to fight the cancer until her very last breath, but knew her prognosis had started bad and was only getting worse. She was determined to draw as much wonder from every day of life as possible, but one trade off of living in the now was that we just never brought up hopes and dreams for ten years out, or five, or even two. Only after she was gone did I regret not broaching these topics. I wonder, absent the disease, what her long term goals would have been. Stagger’s abrupt death also robbed him of the chance to talk about his hopes and dreams. In giving him the chance to write a letter from beyond the grave, I give at least his dreams a chance to survive.
There’s a lot of golly-gee whiz, larger-than-life action swirling across every page of Hush. The ship sails across the afterlife of sailors, the Sea of Wine. Before they reach Hush, they’re hunted by Rott, the primal dragon of decay. My super-powered sailors fight yetis and ice-wyrms, flying whales and naked giants, and, of course, some huge freakin’ dragons. I’m bringing the epic to epic fantasy. But, despite all the wonders, if you’ve ever loved, and especially if you’ve ever loved and lost, I’m betting that the thing that haunts you about this book is going to be the ghost who gets his second chance.
In 1954, psychologist Fredric Wertham published his influential work, Seduction of the Innocent, which argued that comic books were dangerous for children. Exaggerated portrayals of violence and sexual deviancy weakened morals, and crude art and simplistic writing weakened intellectual development. James Maxey’s mother never read this book.
As a result, James was allowed to read 103,619 comic books before the age of 18. As an adult, he spends an unhealthy portion of his income on these fetish objects, compulsively sealing them in plastic bags and hoarding them in towering stacks of boxes.
A lifelong consumption of the adventures of costumed crimefighters has left James unable to secure a respectable job. He survives by writing his violent fantasies of dragons, supermen, and women with unrealistic body proportions. His inability to stop daydreaming has resulted in the publication of a score of short stories and several novels. His warped misunderstanding of both morality and physics is on full display in his superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, while his mutated sense of reality is explored in his epic fantasy trilogy of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed. Most disturbing of all is his Dragon Apocalypse series. In the first three books (Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker), James presents a world in which medieval supermen battle elemental dragons who stand in judgment of humanity. When a grown man spends months on end imagining invulnerable women punching fire-breathing lizards in the nose, all hope of recovery is lost. One can’t help but see a grim ending for James. No doubt his body will one day be found crushed beneath a mound of brightly colored pages. Assuming his numerous cats don’t devour him first.
If the loved ones in your life display any interest in comics, or the equally dangerous addictions of science fiction or fantasy, please have them visit Maxey’s blog at dragonprophet.blogspot.com, where they can shake their heads in horror as they discover more about his writing. If nothing else, Maxey’s life can at least have some value as a cautionary tale.