Jim Butcher, bestselling author of the The Dresden Files and The Codex Alera, is back for Dragon Con 2013. Butcher is continuing the urban fantasy escapades of wizard P.I. extraordinaire Harry Dresden and embarking on a new steampunk series. He has also found the time to pen a collection of Dresden short stories titled Side Jobs, seven Dresden graphic novels, and Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours. The Daily Dragon met with Butcher to discuss his latest news and continuing successes.
Daily Dragon (DD): Can you give us any tidbits about The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in your new steampunk fantasy series, The Cinder Spires?
Jim Butcher (JB): The series is basically Hornblower meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We’re getting the band together in the first book. The title is a reference to the ship of the aeroship captain, who is going to be central to the story. He’s a privateer, and the ship becomes severely damaged in the first book. In order to be able to afford the repairs, he’s got to do some work for the lord of the spire. Otherwise, all his ship is going to be able to do is to go up and down the spire, hauling cargo, like a glorified elevator or a windlass. The title, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, comes from the captain’s determination to get the ship back into the sky again.
DD: What are your long-range plans for the Cinder Spires series?
JB: For the time being, I’ve got three books outlined. I think it’ll be about a nine-book series. We’ll have to see how well it does. I’ve had a really, really strong positive reaction from my beta readers on it—to a greater degree than even The Dresden Files. We’ll see if it takes off as well as some of the readers think it will.
DD: What drew you to the steampunk genre?
JB: I’d been considering writing steampunk for a long time. Mostly what drew me was the costumes. You can get all kinds of really groovy steampunk costumes and props at conventions. I like that a lot.
I was driving home from a LARP one morning. We had left before 4 AM and the sun was just starting to come up as we were going home. I had a van full of sleeping boys, and a lightning storm started coming in parallel to the course we were driving. It was a really good lightning storm—a Kansas prairie lightning storm—where you can see the bolts coming down. I wanted to be in front of that before it crossed the trail, so I wound up racing the lightning storm.
I remember being very tired and turning up the CD player to full blast. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails was in there. The album has very heavy, metallic, industrial sound. That was when the first chapter of The Cinder Spires came into my mind. I composed it, put it together in my head, and I said, “What am I going to do with this because I’m not writing anything that I can vaguely assign this to.” Then I thought, “Well, it’s time for a new series.”
DD: What is most challenging about creating a new series?
JB: When you set up a new series, you spend a whole lot of time figuring out all the things you know about that world. Once your characters start going places and doing things, that’s when you find out all the things that you don’t know. The characters sit down, they’re having a drink, and what is it they drink in this world? Because it’s not Earth. You’ve got to figure out exactly what they’re imbibing, or what kind of food they have there—all these small details that you need for verisimilitude but you can’t really put into your head until you need them.
To a degree I think all writers are frantically racing about 30 seconds ahead of the story. We’re trying to build things so that our characters can walk into it as if it’s already there, even though as the writer you know it wasn’t. You’re trying to lay out flooring before they walk off of it. That’s the hardest part, particularly in a fantasy series, where you’re setting it in a different world and you’ve got to give it the feel of a different world while still making it seem like a world that somebody could go to.
DD: You also mentioned a new fantasy trilogy as a prelude to a future epic fantasy. Why did you decide to write a trilogy prequel first?
JB: Last year I floated several different projects past my beta readers. The one that got the strongest reaction was The Cinder Spires. The [trilogy] didn’t get as strong a reaction. It was a much darker, grittier story, and people didn’t like it nearly as well.
I’ll wait until I’m a little bit better writer, until I can handle it better. It was going to be a very different style of writing from what I normally do, and I was consciously making an effort to make it seem different, which is probably why it wasn’t as well received. But as with any kind of artist, you have to keep trying to stretch your abilities and do something a little bit more complex or a little bit more difficult than you think you can do. Otherwise, you never grow.
DD: In your bestselling The Dresden Files series, Harry Dresden gets himself into increasingly difficult situations. It must be tempting to let magic solve his problems. How do you balance magical versus mundane solutions?
JB: Fortunately for me in The Dresden Files, magic has never been a quasi-sentient force that goes off and does thing on its own the way that it is in some other books. I always viewed magic as a parallel set of physics that had laws and rules it had to behave by. So even though Dresden can get a lot of cool, groovy things done with magic, it doesn’t necessarily help him solve problems.
We can do all kinds of amazing things with technology, but it still doesn’t help us solve problems. The Internet is a wonderful tool, and yet there are still people sick, there are still people starving, there are still people who face injustice. Just because we’ve got these amazing abilities, it doesn’t really help—which is something I learned in my experience with martial arts.
I really loved martial arts and studied a lot. One day when I was at the DMV—and DMVs are always the most cheerful places in the world—this guy just brazenly blew right in front of me in line. I thought, “I could tear this guy apart.” I was grumpy and it was a really hot afternoon. But then I stopped and said to myself, “Yeah, but what good would that do you? That wouldn’t get you to the counter any faster. It’s not going to make you happy. It’s not going to make him make him happy. You’ll probably cause more problems than anything else.” You may have this ability that’s greater than most other people who haven’t trained, but the ability to beat somebody up does not help you much on a daily basis.
With The Dresden Files, Harry’s got a lot of ability with magic, but it doesn’t really help him a lot on his everyday level. Dresden’s problems are always problems of the mind and problems of the heart. It’s more about who you are than what you can do.
DD: Along with Harry’s talent for wise cracks, he often displays a keen understanding of the human condition, like his observations on consequences, loss, and mother/daughter relationships in Proven Guilty. What inspires you to develop a particular theme in a book?
JB: Oh, I don’t consciously do themes. I just write stories. A lot of times I don’t really understand why characters are doing something until I’m in the middle of writing it. Then I’ll go, “Oh. That makes total sense. Of course that’s how it is.” But generally speaking, I never stop and think, “Okay, this is going to be the theme of this book.” I just take the story and think, “Where are the characters emotionally? Where are they psychologically?” I start from there. The theme just happens.
DD: Which Dresden Files book would you say is your favorite, and why?
JB: Dead Beat, because I got to do a zombie T-Rex. Zombie T-Rex! That’s all you gotta say right there. I’d been waiting for five years to write that scene. I saw a special about the actual skeleton at the museum in Chicago, and I thought, “Really? Really? There’s an actual T-Rex there? (Gasp) I’ve got to use that. Zombie T-Rex! Yes!”
DD: What new adventures will Harry face next?
JB: There’s lots of fun stuff to come. The next book is titled, Skin Game. It’s the Ocean’s Eleven installment of The Dresden Files. Harry Dresden has been farmed out to the bad guys by Mab to help them run a heist. Harry is working for Nicodemus Archleone, the head of the Denarians. They’re off to rob the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
Dresden has to do it or the parasite in his head is going to rip its way out and destroy him. All kinds of horrible things are going to happen if he doesn’t. Mab will kill him if he doesn’t live up to her end of the agreement with Nicodemus, yet he knows Nicodemus is going to betray him. He goes to Mab and says, “You know Nicodemus is just going to stab me in the back,” and Mab replies, “Of course he is. I expect superior and more creative treachery on your part. I would have loved a game like this when I was your age. Go play.”
Harry is working with a crew of bad guys and villains who have appeared from over the course of the series, and some new villains. They’re going to go face some epic challenges. His friends get involved, and we’ll have a new Knight of the Sword before this is over. We’re going to have a good time.
DD: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your future plans?
JB: I have a lot of short stories out that have appeared in various anthologies. Before too much longer, I’m going to be writing a couple more short stories and maybe a novella and bundling them all together into another collection, like Side Jobs. I’m such an original guy, I’m probably going to name it More Jobs. Hopefully I’ll do that next year or the year after.
Plus we’ve got The Cinder Spires books coming out, so I’m a busy guy. The comic books are continuing to be released, and there’s ongoing interest from various people about doing something else with The Dresden Files. Nothing has materialized yet, but there’s buzz and talk about a possible movie or TV series. But it’s buzz and talk. It’s not real until the check clears the bank, as the saying goes.
DD: Thank you so much for your time. We hope you enjoy Dragon Con.
Visit Jim Butcher’s website for more about the author and his work.
Jim Butcher’s Dragon Con 2013 Schedule:
- Autographs Fri 2:30PM International S (M)
- “The Clockwork Century and the Cinder Spires” Fri 5:30PM, Peachtree Ballroom A-F (W)
- “The Men of Urban Fantasy” Fri 8:30PM, International BC (W)
- “Fightin’ and Writin’” Fri 10PM, Embassy D-F (Hy)
- “Mighty Men of Fantasy and SF” Sat 11:30AM, Regency VI-VII (Hy)
- “Sword and Laser Podcast LIVE” Sat 2:30PM, A601-A602 (M)
- Autographs Sat 6PM, Missing Volume, Booth 2604, 2505, 2507 America’s Mart
- “Spellbound: The Use of Magic in Urban Fantasy” Sat 4PM, Peachtree Ballroom A-F (W)
- Autographs Sun 10AM, International S (M)
- Autographs Sun 11:30AM, International S (M)
- “An Hour with Jim Butcher” Sun 4PM, Peachtree Ballroom A-F (W)
- Autographs Mon 10AM, International S (M)
- “The Fae: Friend or Foe” Mon 1PM, International BC, (W)