Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ZA Maxfield

A big welcome to Z.A. Maxwell. She shares her thoughts on reading today and we get insight on how reading helps her own wiritng grow. Whether you write or not, you'll find it interesting to get a view on how reading helps.

The Wearing O’ The Green

As an author it’s not uncommon for me to spend about half my day writing and half my day reading. That’s normal, I think, particularly at times when one is looking to build skill. I read books by literary authors I read books in different genres, I read mystery, science fiction and fantasy. I read blog articles and newspaper articles and fan fiction.

Through all this, I have a sense of where I am on the writerly continuum. There are authors I see as my peers and those whose work is so much better it helps me be humble and work harder on craft. I read authors, even good ones, who may have published a hot mess once or twice in an otherwise great career.

Sometimes I read books that fail.

Spectacular failures are often my favorite reads, because they both enlighten and amuse me when I’m tempted to dip my pen in the purple ink or I’m tired and don’t want to challenge myself. I maintain that there is as much to learn – more to learn – from a book that fails than from a book that is brilliant. In a brilliant book, it’s sometimes hard to see a skillful writer’s hand; at least that’s true for me. Maybe one needs an equal set of skills to discern it.

Through all this reading, it’s easy to get caught up in envy of another writer’s skill. It’s easy for me to look at someone’s work and wish I’d written it, easier still to become discouraged because I didn’t.

Maybe I didn’t have that perfectly fresh idea, or the skill I perceive in the work. Maybe they are extraordinary world-builders, maybe they create sexual tension that melts my panties, or they build so much suspense I can’t turn the bedroom light off.
I have to take my hat off to a great author.

Sometimes it feels as though I’ll never measure up. And right there is where the needle goes GZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzt across the record on the jukebox of my personal soundtrack. (For those of you under say, thirty, we used to listen to vinyl records via a needle that…never mind. Old technology. Think that’s when the iPod playing my song displays that ‘charge me’ message.)

I’m grateful for this because it’s exactly moments like these when there’s a possibility for growth. It’s a humble and teachable moment. That’s when I start hitting bookstores for books on craft. That’s when I start de-constructing the work of writers I love, when I can spend hours examining a passage that particularly speaks to me to see what it’s made of.

Is it time for me to change tone for a bit? Is it word choice that’s feeling stale? Are my plots starting to feel too similar, so that I’m in need of a firm editorial hand or a road trip or a new way to outline so that I can see a problem before it crops up? Am I relying on the same old descriptions and would a judicious visit to the poetry shelf at the library liven them up a little?

Sure, it could be the case that some authors are geniuses and I’ll never get anywhere near their level of skill. I have faced that particular possibility and put it right where it belongs, with the color of Liz Taylor’s eyes and the way Heidi Klum bounces back from a pregnancy.

That said, a little green is good for keeping things fresh. I realize that my voice is unique, and I like it that way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stretch. That I can’t grow. And who among us doesn’t need a little reminder to keep striving. An alarm clock that let’s us know it’s time to build skill. We all need a little nudge toward artistic growth and – even more important – a reason for trying out new things every now and again.

So my St. Patrick’s Day message this year is this: if I’m going to try on a little green I’m going to let it move me forward. I plan to read great books and let them inspire me, not intimidate me. I plan to let fabulous authors teach me by example, and I am determined to spend more time learning and growing through other means.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I am proudly wearing my green!

About ZA Maxwell

I have no excuses. I started reading Yaoi when my kids decided they had to read every manga ever published and I got tired of little ninja boys and magical girls. I sat in the corner with Descendants of Darkness and my world was officially rocked.

I started to read love stories between men, and my official position is that if one hot guy in a book is good, then two is arguably better. If you add to that the fact that I believe everyone should have a happy ending? Well, this is the end result.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories. Each one is carefully hand crafted with love, humor, and just the right touch of… er… touching.

Physical Therapy
St. Nacho's Series, Book 2
Loose Id
Contemporary GBLT
Available in Ebook and print:
Buy at Loose Id (Ebook):

When Jordan Jensen moves to St. Nacho’s he has one goal in mind: starting over. He wants to reconnect with best friends Cooper and Shawn yet is uncertain of his welcome. He has the skills to get a job, but isn’t sure any prospective employer can get past the time he spent in jail for alcohol-related vehicular homicide. He’s past the worst part of his life but knows it will haunt him forever. So Jordan plans a life of quiet service. One thing he knows for sure: finding love is entirely too much to ask.

On the first day of his new job, Jordan meets Ken Ashton. Ken has every reason to hate Jordan for his past and only one to seek him out: Ken’s baseball career was shattered in a drunk-driving accident. But for some reason he can’t explain, Ken needs Jordan’s touch and finds healing within Jordan’s warmth and strength. Jordan wants to give Ken everything his new partner needs.

Without entirely understanding it, Ken and Jordan develop a powerful emotional and erotic connection, but Ken must help Jordan find the faith to trust it. Unexpected help comes from the people of Santo Ignacio–and the town itself–a place where Physical Therapy can be a path toward spiritual healing and powerful, passionate love.

Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations some readers may find objectionable: Anal play/intercourse, male/male sexual practices.


He was slipping his arms through the sleeves of a dark blue and tan Hawaiian shirt, pulling it closed over strong muscles and skin that was firm but pale. Crisp dark hair whorled around pink nipples. His neck still had the ghost of a tan where it met the collar of his shirt.

When I looked at his face, his eyes were red and puffy, and he didn’t seem to know where they should land.

“Thank you,” he said. “Sorry, I—”

“No worries,” I told him.

“I’ll get out of your hair.” He turned away.

“Seriously, Ken. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about; that happens to a lot of people.”

“Not to me.” He started for the door.

I put a hand on his arm to stop him. “People really do have emotional responses to massage. It isn’t uncommon.”

“I thought you were just saying that.” He slumped back down onto the massage table and let out a breath. “You’re the first person I’ve met since the accident that I don’t mind touching me.”

“Me?” That was odd.

“I find you… People are touching me all the time. It’s like I’m a slab of beef they’re preparing for a meal. They make me nervous and angry. I find you…peaceful.”

I snorted. “Okay, I know you’re the first person who’s ever called me peaceful.” I sat down on a stool near him, letting him know that he wasn’t odd for his reaction and supporting him through the aftermath as best I could.

For a minute, he seemed content to sit there with me in silence. I watched an amazing number of emotions play over his handsome face, most of which I couldn’t begin to decipher. It was a good face—intelligent and open—and I tried very hard not to succumb to my attraction to it.

“Have you ever met anyone and right away you thought you’d like to spend time with them? Like they were tranquil water and you wanted to dive in? The minute you put your hands on me—”

I still had my hand on his arm, and I tried not to jerk it away. “Whoa. You don’t know anything about me, Ken,” I warned him. “I’m not who you think I am.”

Izzie might not be happy about it, but I decided that whether she liked it or not, Ken deserved to be told about my past. I had the strongest feeling that if I didn’t tell him—if he revealed any more of himself—he would feel betrayed. If I told him about myself—about the accident—and he left and never spoke to me again, so be it. Better that than him thinking I was hiding something.

“Look,” I said. “There’s something you need to know. I really want to help you, and I think I have something to offer you as you recover from your accident. But if you find out later rather than sooner, I think you’ll—”

“Izzie told me you’re gay,” he interrupted. “If that’s what this is about, I don’t have a problem with that.”

I was speechless for a minute. “No. That’s not it.” Why had she told him that? “No. I was in an accident.”

“You too?” He pulled back and looked me over as though trying to see where I’d been injured.

“Yes, but… I mean…” I closed my eyes. It never, ever got easier. “This is so fucking hard. I was the cause of the accident, Ken. I was drunk. I cost someone their life. I’m the reason someone is grieving for a child. I went to jail for it.”

It was as if he couldn’t comprehend it, but when he finally did, he blew out a breath. “You?”


He yanked his arm away from me. “You fucking bastard. Mr. Compassion.”

While not unexpected, a man of his size barking at me like that in an enclosed space was a lot to take in. I backed up against the door. “What the hell—”

He held his body rigid as he looked me over contemptuously. “So now you’re out, and it’s over? You’ve done your time and you can move on, and we’re all supposed to play like nothing ever happened? How does that feel, to start over with a new slate after you killed someone?”

“How do you think?” I tried to keep my voice down. “How do you fucking think it feels?”

“I think it must feel a helluva lot better than waking up from a coma and remembering your best friend is dead.”

I closed my eyes. “I imagine it does.” I spoke so softly I doubted he heard me over his agitated breathing.

“And now you’re what? Giving free massages? Pretending to know what people are going through? Giving advice?”

“That’s not what this is. I just want to help. I’m sorry, Ken.”

“Damn fucking straight you’re sorry. For a minute, I could remember what it was like to feel again.” He put his head in his hands. “It was like being human. I’ve felt like meat for so long.”

Ken was breathing as though he’d run a mile. I swallowed hard. “What do you mean ‘meat’?”

“I was conscious for a few minutes while they cut us out of the car. My friend Amy was dead. Staring. Her chest had been crushed. She… I’ll never forget it. I realized then we’re only meat.”

“We’re more than just that.” But I knew. I knew exactly what he meant. There were people who never find that out, but I wasn’t one of them.

“But when it’s all over, that’s all that’s left, isn’t it? Since then, I feel like walking meat.” I couldn’t begin to know what to say to that. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of both hands, looking so tired my heart broke for him. “I’ve been so angry. I’ve made everyone who ever loved me miserable, and here you come along, the embodiment of everything I hate, and you’re the one person I’m drawn to.”

“I can help you, if you’ll let me,” I tried approaching him and put a hand back on his arm.

Buy Link: for ebook of Physical Therapy:

ZA Maxfield’s links






Manlove Romance Press:

Torquere Press:

Aspen Mountain Press:

Loose Id:

Samhain Publishing:


Jaime Samms said...

It's like you opened up my head and peeked inside, ZAM. I have those moments when I kinda think I am never going to be that good. But then, truth is, I might never be, and then, I might just be different. Good in a different way. You're right, though. Whenever I catch myself thinking I've run into a brilliant writer I can never measure up to, I tend to sit down and start tearing it apart to see how it works. Not so different from my seven yr old son and his broken Bakugon. (sp?) The more I learn, the more I realize there's so much out there to learn. Thanks for this post. Glad to know I'm not alone there.

C. Zampa said...

I spend much of my time being envious, and there are so many whose talents I DO envy, for different reasons. The strengths of the characters they write, their ability to create intricate plots, their talent for making humor in words, strengths in research.

Hopefully I can, like your post says, use this appreciation to strengthen my own writing. Not by emulating, but by cultivating my own talent.

Good post.

Jo said...

Great post, ZAM, and I love the excerpt. Adding the St. Nacho's books to my list now.

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Great post, Zam. You gave me lots to think about. lol. I guess we all have a certain amount of envy, and as long as it's the good will help us grow as writers.

Lauralyn said...

@Jaime, there is never going to be a time when we'll be able to sit on our toadstools, light up a pipe, and say, "Yep. I'm here, at the top of my game." I think writers strive. It's cool to have something to work toward, and it's never boring. I'm glad I'm not alone there either, though... :D

@Carol, one of the nice things to notice is that very few people have IT ALL... We are each blessed with the gift of certain talents, and the trick is to recognize what they are and build on those things. There's always room for growth!

@Jo Thanks, honey!

@ Lisa, I guess if I'm going to have a flaw, I should probably use it for my own good. :D