Wormholes and Swords is a blog dedicated to Science Fiction and Fantasy, with a bit of real world technical stuff thrown in from time to time. It is managed by T.D. Wilson, author of the Science Fiction book series, The Epherium Chronicles.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Interview with NYT Best Selling Author Jim Butcher

Today, I'm continuing my interview series with my favorite authors.  This time around it's New York Times Best Selling Author, Jim Butcher.  I have been a huge fan of The Dresden Files since the first book, Storm Frontwas published. I had originally scheduled to complete this interview in 15-20 minutes, but we went a full 25, not including the time he had to pause to answer the door.  I learned several things about Mr. Butcher and we shared some laughs.  All in all, a great interview.  Anyway, let's get to it.

T.D. Wilson: Mr. Butcher, thank you for agreeing to this interview. It's a honor to be able to talk with you for my blog.

Mr. Butcher: No problem.  Glad to help out a fan.

T.D. Wilson: I have several questions for you today. I don't want to keep you too long, so let's begin. What was your journey to becoming an author?  Was it something you always wanted to be?

Mr. Butcher: Well, I pretty much always wanted to be an author.  I originally thought I was going to be a computer programmer.  Mostly because I liked video games a lot. But after I took some programming classes, I realized I was going to drive myself freakin' insane if I tried to create video games

T.D. Wilson: I think I have a bit of a kindred experience with you there.  I started off college as a computer engineering major.  After I took my first programming class, which was an experiment of two PASCAL classes thrown together, I didn't want to do it anymore.  So I changed to electrical engineering and still took seven programming classes.

Mr. Butcher: Exactly.  Like an EE major could get you out of programming. LOL.  My college didn't have a computer science program, it was electrical engineering. It was physics for engineers that really killed me.  Once I downgraded to physics for poets I was fine.  I downgraded to management information systems and from there I was still in despair of doing that for a living and trying to stay sane.  So I moved to education.  I went out and observed teachers in the field as part of my education training, but some of them were the most miserable SOB's I had ever seen.  So I bogged down in English and that's when I decided I wanted to be an author.  I had actually written my first novel before that.  It was a swords and horses fantasy novel.  That's what I was going to write, swords and horses fantasy.  By the time I finished my English degree, which was the only one degree I had time left on my scholarship to complete, I thought I knew all I needed to know about creative writing.  Because, you know, I had my degree in English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing.  So in my last semester, I started taking a class in Germany call Writing a Genre Fiction Novel. I had a teacher there who was trying to tell me very good things about writing, but I knew she was wrong.  I had my degree, where as she had merely published forty novels.  I spent a lot of my time not listening to her, but I did get some useful things in the class.  In grad school for professional writing, I took the class again. One semester during that year and a half, I decided I was going to prove to her how wrong she was.  My method I chose to employ was to do everything she told me to do.  I filled out all of her little worksheets and forms and be her good little writing monkey.  Then she would see what terrible and awful cookie cutter crap would come out.  And so I wrote the first book of The Dresden Files.

T.D.Wilson: That's a great journey.  So, when you start a new novel project, what is your process?  Can you walk through how you plan or orchestrate what you’re about to create?

Mr. Butcher: When I start a new project, I always need to know the beginning and the end. In need good high point in the middle, about five or six scenes or situations and some good jokes along the way to get it started.

T.D. Wilson: Terrific.  In my writing projects, my editors always tell me stay away from the cliche's.  But then I read other works from terrific authors and there everywhere.

Mr. Butcher: Right.  It's all in presentation.  If it's wrong, it's a cliche, but if it's done right, you're employing an archetype.

T.D. Wilson: Exactly. Now, for those who haven’t read The Dresden Files, can you explain how you came up with Harry Dresden’s character?

Mr. Butcher: Harry is a self conscious fusion of famous wizards and detectives.  He is essentially the love child of Gandalf and Sherlock Holmes, with a little Uncle Spencer thrown in there for good measure.

T.D. Wilson: Of all the settings in the world today, why Chicago?  Did you envision encompassing your series there or did you research lots of alternatives?

Mr. Butcher: My first choice was Kansas City.  My writing instructor wouldn't let me keep it.  She said you're already writing something close enough to Laurell Hamilton's toes, you don't need to set it in Missouri.  I asked where and she said pick a city. There was a globe in her office and there were four American cities printed boldly on it.  I didn't want to use New York, because super heroes had it all sown up.  Washington, DC was out, because then you had to write politics.  No matter what your write, you'd lose a chunk of your audience.  I didn't want to do Los Angeles, because I would have to write about Los Angeles, so that left Chicago. 

T.D. Wilson: I remember walking into the bookstore before leaving on a business trip.  I was looking for a good book to read and came across Storm Front.  It had just been released.  No one at the time had really heard of a genre called Urban Fantasy before.  Do you consider yourself a pioneer in creating this new brand of fantasy for readers?

Mr. Butcher: Oh God no.  Joss Weedon was the one who really started it, though mainly on TV.  There were others in front of me.  I happened to be one of the first people that got it rolling to a large audience with a sustained storyline.  I think Laurell Hamilton had helped define that before me and Charlaine Harris and I started about the same time.

T.D. Wilson: Most people consider Nicodemus to be the most fearsome antagonist for Harry and he will appear again in your upcoming book, Skin Game.  Can you provide a more in depth preview of what we can expect?

Mr. Butcher: Oh God, Nicodemus is so much fun.  Not matter how much over the top you can go, it's never too much for him.  I love that about him.  In this book, Harry is in the service of Queen Mab now as the Winter Knight.  Which means he's going to have to do a whole lot of things he'd rather not do.  Mab is trying to get all of her old debts paid off.  As it happens, Mab owes a debt to Anduriel, the fallen angel in Nicodemus's coin.  At one point, Anduriel loaned Mab one of it's associates, so Mab is offering up Harry for a job.  Nicodemus is assembling a team of evil people to knock over a vault, which happens to belong to Hades and he needs Harry's help to get it done.  Harry, of course, thinks it's a terrible idea, but really doesn't have a choice.  If he doesn't do it, Mab will make sure he dies horribly.  So off he goes to try and figure out to get this job done, but Mab doesn't really want him to help Nicodemus.  She wants Harry to betray him.  Harry tells Mab that he knows Nicodemus will try to betray me at some point.  She tells him, "Of course.  As my Knight, I expect superior and more creative treachery on your part. You better not make me look bad."

T.D. Wilson: Yeah, she's telling him you need to adapt and overcome, so get to it.

Mr. Butcher: Exactly.  So Harry sets out to try and foil the heist without breaking Mab's word.  It's a very dangerous game and Harry's disgusted, but like I said, he doesn't have much choice.

T.D. Wilson:  It sounds like a thrill a minute adventure. I can't wait to read it.  Okay, next question.  Killing off characters can be a difficult thing for authors.  Several characters in The Dresden Files and even Harry have died at different points in the story.  How do you approach it?

Mr. Butcher: Yeah, I mean it can be tough, but I plan for those.  The plan is for that character to not to survive.  The problem isn't really handling, but making the character have a true and meaningful death.

T.D. Wilson: I know the original Dresden Files TV series only went 12 episodes and other than the Storm Front one, diverged from the books and back stories you've created.  Do you envision a reboot of the series, maybe a mini-series, or a few motion pictures to more accurately portray Harry Dresden’s adventures?

Mr. Butcher: Oh, I would love a Game of Thrones style production series.  I not sure if that would ever happen, but you never know.  There are always talks in progress and until the final check is cleared, you just never know.

T.D. Wilson:  I would love to see a new series set up like that.  Now, the Knights of the Cross have been some of my favorite recurring characters in the story.  I have one question.  When is Murphy going to take up a Sword?  Of anyone in Harry’s world, she deserves it, but I can see she doesn’t think so. 

Mr. Butcher: Right.  I agree, but what kind of question is that?  That's what the books are for..LOL

T.D. Wilson:  I know I didn't want to be blunt, but it's a question myself and a few others have always wanted to ask.

Mr. Butcher:  Yeah.  I agree she deserves it, but keep reading. 

T.D. Wilson: I know you’ve mentioned you envision 20 or so books for the Dresden Files, but with the recent growth of many of the characters, do you envision a spinoff series?

Mr. Butcher:  Oh yeah, I got several ideas for several different spinoffs with some of the characters. I'll have to see what ones I still like when I'm done with this one.

T.D. Wilson: I want to shift gears a moment and talk about your Codex Alera series.  Creating the fantasy world here had to be different since you didn’t have as many real life elements to draw upon.  What this more of a challenge or did your creative mind just take over and go with it?

Mr. Butcher: It's much more of a challenge, since it's told from a different perspective.  This series is done in third person viewpoint.  When you're writing a story that way, you have many more choices on how you can portray your story.  You have more places to put your camera.  Many more characters you decide to tell the story with. It gives you more of a chance to shine as a writer, but can give you more rope to hang yourself with as a writer. It's much easier to pick the wrong person or wrong place. The great masters always said that first person is the perfect viewpoint.  You can't pick the wrong viewpoint, but it can be limiting and frustrating times.  I think you have more potential to tell enhancing stories in third person and it is also a more difficult art.

T.D. Wilson: Yeah, my editor is always on me to watch my POV.  It's like stay on target, stay on target.  So how did you come up with the animals in The Dresden Files, Mister and Mouse?

Mr. Butcher: Mister was based on a cat that belonged to a friend of mine I used to chat with in an online MUSH channel in the early 90's.  Every now and then, a line of jibberish would scroll across the screen.  Everyone would then yell, "Hail Mister!"  Everyone knew who Mister was and loved him.  I wanted to honor Mister by putting him in the books.  Mister has since passed on, but he will forever live in The Dresden Files.  Now Mouse is the dog that my dog thinks he is.  I have a little Bichon Frise, but you wouldn't know it.  From the way he handles himself, he's sure he's a temple dog who could take you out. I've haven't had the heart to tell him otherwise.  He is busy being Captain of the Guard around here, so Mouse is the dog my dog thinks he is.

T.D. Wilson: So how do you handle reviews, both good and bad?

Mr. Butcher: Well, I used to read them all.  It's more difficult now, since there are so many more of them.  They're also much more passionate.  Whenever I feel my ego getting too big, I can go Google "Jim Butcher Hack".  There are a depressing number of hits. But, that keeps me from thinking to much about looking at all the reviews.

T.D. Wilson: I've always been told to write something back to a positive reviewer and thank them, but stay away from the negative ones, since it might inflame the situation.  I always just to ask them to tell me what I did wrong that you didn't like.

Mr. Butcher:  Yeah, negative critiques are great.  I love critiques where someone gives me some feedback.  Maybe I'll agree or maybe I won't, but I can normally see when someone is trying to state a point.  But when someone goes the extra mile to be malicious because my author picture reminds them of their bad ex-boyfriend.  That kind of review gets frustrating,but it's also one that I may actually respond to.
T.D. Wilson: What new projects are you working on now?  Is there something else beyond your current series of books you would love to do?

Mr. Butcher: Right now, I working on a new Steampunk series, The Cinder Spires, which is contracted to Ace and will be out sometime later this year or early next year.

T.D. Wilson: I was active RPG gamer for a long time.  I haven’t done table top games in a while, but online has been all I seem to have time for these days.  My boys and I love Lord of the Rings Online, mainly because it's free.  I know R.A. Salvatore is creating his DemonWars gaming system and Margaret Weiss has her company creating new games.  What was it like creating a game system based on The Dresden Files?

Mr. Butcher: It was wonderful, I didn't have to do a thing.  I just had to hang out and answer questions from the game crew.  It was a lot of questions, but it was mostly about the story world.  Those guys had to create it. They did a great job.  When I picked up the proof with my red pen, I expected to do a lot of slashing, but instead I found myself laughing and  was amazed how well their dialogue was with my character.

T.D. Wilson: Which online games have you enjoyed the most?

Mr. Butcher: Lately, I've been playing League of Legends and Battlefield 4.

T.D. Wilson: My son really likes Battlefield 4.  Both my kids and I liked Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 over Ghosts.  I know we can't wait until Elder Scrolls Online comes out for Xbox, but it has to be on Xbox One.

Mr. Butcher: Oh yeah, all the talk is about Elder Scrolls.

T.D. Wilson: We loved Skyrim and the new one will be a blast to play.  Well, that's all the questions I have for you today.  I'll make sure I pick up Skin Game and I'll be sure to post a review for you.

Mr. Butcher: Thanks for the interview.  It was fun.

About Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and a new steampunk series, the Cinder Spires. His resume includes a laundry list of skills which were useful a couple of centuries ago, and he plays guitar quite badly. An avid gamer, he plays tabletop games in varying systems, a variety of video games on PC and console, and LARPs whenever he can make time for it. Jim currently resides mostly inside his own head, but his head can generally be found in his home town of Independence, Missouri.
Jim goes by the moniker Longshot in a number of online locales. He came by this name in the early 1990′s when he decided he would become a published author. Usually only 3 in 1000 who make such an attempt actually manage to become published; of those, only 1 in 10 make enough money to call it a living. The sale of a second series was the breakthrough that let him beat the long odds against attaining a career as a novelist.
All the same, he refuses to change his nickname.

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