Maxwell Alexander Drake has longer hair than most of the men and women he meets. He regularly dresses in cargo shorts and a T-shirt. In a loud clear voice, he tells his students, “Let’s get started.”
Drake is a sci-fi and fantasy writer. His stories take place in worlds where the supernatural is natural, names and places are fictitious, and characters in conflict include superheroes, villains and creatures terrifying and tender. He says writing fantasy gives him complete freedom as a storyteller.
Two years ago, when Drake was scheduled to teach eight hours of writing classes at San Diego’s Comic-Con International, he received an email: “I want to take your classes, but who are you?”
Drake is 44 and lives in North Las Vegas. He has written two published fantasy novels: “Farmers &Mercenaries” and “Mortals &Dieties,” along with fantasy-inspired e-books, short stories and graphic novels. He is also one of the country’s most popular writing teachers at fan gatherings and writers conferences.
To promote his novels, part of a planned six-book “Genesis of Oblivion” saga, Drake is on the road 100 days a year. He is sorry so many people have yet to know him. He has learned that writers must be their own promoters, in many cases being in places where authors can physically sell books. For the past five years, he has driven and flown coast-to-coast to meet potential fans.
Drake developed his first writing class so that he could offer to teach in return for a break on rental costs and travel expenses associated with book promotion. His goal in classes was not to talk like a professor or to spend an hour promoting his own books. He wanted to relate to students and impart useful information. Then, if students liked his classes, maybe they’d be interested in his books.
Drake’s first class was well-received. So were his second and third classes, the results of experience mixed with copious research. Student Carlos Perez of Las Vegas says Drake as a teacher “tells us the rules, but lets us find our own way. He’s also very entertaining.”
Perez says he is also grateful that Drake is a working writer.
“Lots of people teach writing classes, but Drake is actually writing for a living.”
UNLV student Jacob Mason met Drake through a Comic-Con International writing class. Mason is a business major who aims to design video games. He attends repeat Drake classes “so I learn through repetition.”
Drake now has 14 different writing classes. Subjects include “Plot Structure: Building the Foundation to a Page-Turning Story” and “eBooks 101.” In Las Vegas, he’s entering his fourth year of teaching monthly writing classes at the Centennial Hills Library.
Kristine Segura, Centennial Hills Library’s adult services librarian, says Drake’s classes draw 40 to 50 students each month. He appears regularly at the Vegas Valley Book Festival and other local writing conferences. And he leads the largest local Meet-Up group for writers, called simply, “Las Vegas Creative Writing Class,” with 561 members.
Drake is self-taught as a speaker and writer because he mostly hated school and never considered college. He believes his dislike of school “probably” was related to his mild dyslexia, though he has never been officially diagnosed.
Drake, a Dungeons &Dragons fan who always loved fantasy video games and storytelling, graduated from high school and went to work where he could pursue his information technology interests. He married, owned a couple of businesses, divorced and worked for a large corporation. Fifteen years ago, he met and married his wife, Joy, the woman he says he can’t imagine life without.
Through it all, Drake continued writing stories, a hobby he has loved since childhood.
“I wrote my first novel at 12,” he says, “and continued writing, mostly for my friends and family, even after high school.”
Drake had written eight unpublished novels before moving to Las Vegas with Joy, and their children, Maxwell and Alexander, in 2007. Drake came west because his grandparents and mother had retired here. Drake had grown up with his grandparents; his mother was just 16 when Drake was born. His grandparents and his mother had owned successful McDonald’s franchises on the East Coast.
Drake’s mother offered her son and his family the chance to move to Las Vegas so Drake could pursue writing full time. Mom said she would pay the family’s living expenses for a year. Joy, previously a stay-at-home mom, agreed to return to teaching to provide a steady income for other expenses.
“I was optimistic,” Drake says. “Like many writers, I figured that within a year I’d be making enough money that my wife could quit her job. Instead, Joy is still working and in fact, after that first year, I went to work part time as well. I became a full-time writer again when my first book was published in 2009.”
Drake’s first book was well-received: “master storyteller,” “solid story lines,” “impressed” and “mesmerized,” reviewers gushed. The book also won the 2009 Moonbeam Young Adult Fantasy Award and was Dragonroots Magazine’s Best New Fantasy Saga of 2009.
“Sci-fi and fantasy stories are becoming more and more popular, so I’m in the right genre,” he says, “but my publisher is local and doesn’t have a big budget for promotions. I’m driven to succeed, so I knew I had to make my own destiny.”
Drake first changed his hairstyle and wardrobe.
“When I had my buzzcut and dressed nice, it seemed no one took me seriously as a writer and they would ask me what I did to earn a real living,” he says. “Once I let my hair grow and wore comfortable clothing, nobody asked that question, they just assumed I was a full-time writer.”
Drake has made valuable contacts in his classes. A couple of years ago, because of his Comic-Con sessions, Drake was asked to bring several of his classes to the Sony Online Entertainment offices in San Diego where a creative staff helps design new video games.
The classes went well; executives there read Drake’s work and liked it. Later Drake was asked to write a series of short stories and novellas to coincide with EverQuest Next, Sony’s hotly anticipated multiplayer online role-playing game.
The game may be two more years in development, but Drake’s stories are already being released on the EverQuest Next website. Drake expects more work from Sony related to the game.
Next year, Drake will launch a website selling the art that accompanies fantasy books and graphic novels. He hopes to have the work of 250 fantasy artists in his stable with more than 30,000 works of art available.
If the new website succeeds, Drake’s wife will return to full-time homemaking. He will finish the six books in his saga. He will also, finally, go to college.
“One of my sons is likely to enter college early, and I plan to go with him,” Drake says. “I have worked hard to learn all I can about writing, and I know a lot, but I still feel something is missing from my background. So yes, the plan is for me to enter college with my son. I’ll study creative writing.”