We’re pleased to welcome today one of the defining authors of epic and urban fantasy. Jim Butcher has thrilled fans for a decade and Beth and her husband Gert were happy to chat with him about his work. Mr. Butcher recently published the final volume of his high-fantasy series CODEX ALERA. The twelfth volume of THE DRESDEN FILES, entitled Changes, comes out today! So, two lucky commenters on this post will win a copy of Changes!
Jim Butcher: I’m not quite sure what will be next. I’ll be making that decision after I finish writing the thirteenth book of THE DRESDEN FILES, sometime this summer.
How did you come up with the original idea for CODEX ALERA? We’ve heard rumours that it involved a bet on whether you could combine the Roman empire and Pokémon… is that true?
The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.
It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.
Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”
The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed.
So it is true! :-D Okay, the next upcoming book of yours is Changes, the twelfth of THE DRESDEN FILES. The title seems apt; judging by what’s been let out so far, there are big things afoot. Even the title itself is a departure — previous books have all had titles of two words of equal length. It starts to seem like the series is entering its second phase. Is this an accurate assumption? And what changes will this entail for readers?
I would actually call this the series’ third or even fourth phase, if I was going to use words like “phase” to describe the progression. I tend to work on a event-by-event basis.
I decline to ruin anyone’s fun by describing what changes will be entailed for the reader. But Changes is certainly a significant milestone in the story.
THE DRESDEN FILES feature a large and well-developed cast. Are you planning on putting out any more novellas exploring this cast, in the vein of Backup?
I’ve already written one for Murphy, which will appear in Side Jobs, the first DRESDEN FILES short-story collection. But as far as single novellas go… no, I’m not at all sure I’ll be writing any of those again. A number of fans were extremely upset with Backup for a number of reasons, and their reaction has made me more than a little wary about pursuing more of the same.
Something a lot of readers enjoy about THE DRESDEN FILES is that while the books stand alone, they also build a larger story — an overall arc. Now, you’ve previously mentioned a plan involving twenty books capped by an apocalyptic trilogy. How is that plan holding up so far?
I’m a couple of books behind my original outline. At this point, I’m telling everyone that the series will be twenty-ish books, followed by a trilogy. The net result is that there will probably be at least a couple more “case” books, like we’ve seen so far.
You’ve put out a writing guide to help aspiring authors. Any chance of seeing more of this, perhaps a full-sized guide book of your experiences and what you’ve learned as an author?
It’s one of those things I sincerely intend to get around to doing, one of these days — which is not quite the same thing as “never” but it might be close.
Honestly, all of the craft I know is essentially the same material explored by Jack Bickham and Dwight Swain, only dumbed down to the level where I was able to understand and apply it. The work of both of them is available from a number of vendors. I would encourage any aspiring writers to check out what Bickham and Swain have to say, rather than waiting for me to get organized enough to write the Denny’s menu version of the same material.
Speaking of other authors… In academia, you know you’ve achieved something when your article is quoted by someone else. It’s rarer to see quotations like this in fiction, but how do you feel about this? Would you call it an accolade to have a book of yours mentioned by someone else’s fictional character?
Absolutely! Writers are one of the toughest audiences to please, and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside to get a shout out from your fellow professional storytellers.
A topic that has garnered a lot of discussion recently is the relationship between authors and fans. Do you think you have “responsibilities” towards your fans?
Frankly? I don’t have any responsibility to the fans, beyond writing a book. They, in turn, don’t have any responsibility to me, other than acquiring the book legitimately.
Of course, I also think it’s professionally and personally stupid to leave the writer/fan relationship at that. It’s smart for me to produce books in a timely and regular fashion, just like it’s smart for me to provide the means of getting a book autographed. It’s smart for me to appear in public occasionally, and get to actually meet the readers face to face, and to be as friendly and courteous as I can when I do. It’s smart for me to tell a fun and satisfying tale. It’s even smart for me to talk with fans about the story thus far, and to hear their opinions on various characters and story events. And I try to do all of that, whenever I can.
To me, a fan/writer relationship isn’t about obligation, about who owes what to whom. It’s about giving, and it’s about pride. I try to give the readers my best effort with everything I write, and every time I finish a project, I want it to be something in which I can feel proud.
But to any fans reading this — don’t worry. I don’t expect anything from you guys beyond acquiring the book legitimately. I’m low maintenance.
Your author bio mentions you’re a martial artist. Would you tell us more about that?
I’ve always preferred the term “martial arts enthusiast.” “Martial artist” implies that I am a skilled and dedicated practitioner. “Enthusiast” just means that I really, really like them. And it’s by far a better description.
I’ve trained in Ryukyu Kempo, Shorin Ryu, Tae Kwan Do, a little Aikido and a little Kung Fu, but it’s not as though I’m a master — or even a serious student — of those arts. Mostly I just punched or kicked stuff, sparred with others in the class, cracked jokes at inappropriate moments, and generally enjoyed myself.
Okay, Beth always likes to ask: Is there one question you wish somebody would ask you, but nobody ever does? If so, what is it, why, and what is the answer?
Not so much! See above, re: low maintenance… But seriously, I just take the questions as they come, rather than grinding gears in my brain thinking of the question I want someone to ask.
And Gert especially wants to know: Is it true that Butters is next in line for becoming a Knight of the Cross?
I always answer this way to questions about the future storylines of the series: that I refuse to answer on the grounds that it will spoil someone’s fun.
Besides, I take perverse glee in sing-songing, “I’m not gonna tell you, I’m not gonna tell you!” It’s like heroin for writers!
This year, particularly, promises to be chock-full of writer heroin…
Thanks once again to Mr. Butcher for stopping by! Remember: two lucky commenters will win copies of Changes. But don’t let that stop you from buying it!