Jim Butcher: A Self-Proclaimed Nerd & We Love It!
Interview by Suspense Magazine
To not know author, Jim Butcher, and his amazing universe found within the best-selling, incredibly popular series, The Dresden Files, seems an impossibility. But that is not the “only thing” Jim has in his repertoire. Being the visionary behind the fantasy series, Codex Alera, as well as the steampunk series, The Cinder Spires, this is one imagination that continues to expand.
Recently, Jim did Suspense Magazine the honor of sitting down and talking about his newest release, an anthology of stories from The Dresden Files entitled, “Brief Cases.” In addition, he answered the questions fans truly want to know about; from whether or not the TV series has a chance of being resurrected, to the unforgettable story behind how the idea for the long-running fiction series first came into being. So sit back and have a good time, as Jim reveals some little known facts about his background, how and why he classifies himself as a true “nerd,” and what the future holds.
Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): We wish to thank you, Jim, for joining us today. Let us jump right into the book. Tell us a little bit about “Brief Cases” and its inception.
Jim Butcher (J.B.): I have to say, at the end of the day, I am just a giant nerd. And as we all know, the defining trait of nerds is unbridled enthusiasm. I am an absolute nerd when it comes to writing, so when other writers come up to me and state that they have this idea and they’re thinking about doing a short story collection, and they’ll say, “What do you think about writing one for us?” I will definitely geek out and respond, “That sounds fantastic! Let’s do a story!”
I’ll get all these stories written and get to write the viewpoints of other characters and so on, but then these stories end up spread out over a dozen or so anthologies. And not everyone has enough money to go buy all that. Such as, I have students who are readers and so on and can’t afford to purchase all of these things. So I like to get these stories collected in one place, produce one book, and be able to give it to the fans. You know, like telling them, here are some various stories that they might have missed from The Dresden Files universe. And for all those who did buy all the various anthologies out there, I add an extra novella published for the first time, so at least they get something new as well.
As far as the short stories, the inspirations for those can come from just about anywhere, but usually they’re things that are too short to go into a novel, or they are a little too complex to make into a novel. When I have an idea like that, I know it needs a novella or short story of its very own.
MAG.: As fans, we definitely appreciate the fact that you collect them, and the extra novella is a great bonus. I do wish to ask you aboutThe Dresden FilesTV show. I thought the talent was remarkable and the stories were fantastic. Is there any hope at all for resurrection when it comes to the show?
J.B.: I don’t think there’s any hope for resurrection, but I do believe there may be hope for reincarnation. What I mean by that is we could see it as something else. Either as a longer, more serialized story that would take a network like HBO or Netflix in order to do it properly; or, I have to say I think it would be a great animated series. Not like a kid series, mind you, but like a proper adult animated series. I’m not sure if you have seen the recent Suicide Squad movie that just came out, but it was very well done. And for Dresden, that could be a lot of fun to create. Not only that, but if that direction was taken we could perhaps get James Marsters to do the voice of Harry Dresden, which would be so cool. Can you imagine that? Kevin Conroy as Nicodemus…Clancy Brown as John Marcone…you know? That would be so cool.
MAG.: When it comes to “Brief Cases,” I would like you to look at this from the consumer or fan’s point of view. Which story in the anthology would be the first you’d want to read?
J.B.: For me, this is an unfair question (LOL). Because for me, it’s personal. Like when I wrote, “Jury Duty,” it was written when I was sent to jury duty and we were all sitting around waiting to see if we would be selected. I was furious; I thought it was just a huge waste of time. So then I thought, don’t make it a waste of time, start taking notes and build a story out of all this. Therefore, it’s more personal for me than anyone else. That said, however, I love the novella. I have to say I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s called “Zoo Day” and it’s a story of Harry Dresden’s first day with his daughter. It doesn’t have very much to do with the greater overall universe of The Dresden Files; it’s really a personal story about him and the family he’s trying to build.
MAG.: They tell beginning writers that they need to “know” what genre they write in. I still don’t really classify or know what exact genre Jim Butcher falls under, and I love that. I’m wondering if you could define the differences between say, fantasy, dark fantasy, and steampunk, and how you label the genre in which you currently write?
J.B.: Well, in the first place, to me, genres are not for writers; they are really for bookstores and then for readers. As far as writers go, writers write because if they didn’t they would probably lose their minds. I really think that’s the motivation for why they do it. You know there’s a story within you and it has gotta get out, and it doesn’t care about genre conventions. The only consideration for genres I take when I’m writing is when I think about how I’m going to market the book to an editor. For example: with The Cinder Spires I would say it’s a steampunk story but it has fantasy elements to it. At the same time, however, I have to consider how I will talk about this, or present this, to the fans. I believe that The Cinder Spires is like a steampunk opera. A space opera meets steampunk. But there is no actual section for a “steam opera” in the bookstore. I know it will land in science fiction and we’ll call it steampunk. But what I really rely on is the fan. It is their word of mouth that makes the story. Those fans out there are the ones that are on your side and the best marketing, I believe, you can have. Which makes the genre conventions not really applicable. That said, The Dresden Files is classified as urban fantasy, which is good enough to get people started. You introduce them to the world and then they look around for themselves and make their own decisions.
MAG.: When you finished “Brief Cases,” and stepped back from the finished product, which character, besides Harry Dresden, resonated with you? Do you have one where you wish to expand on them further in the future?
J.B.: Oh, sure. That happens all the time, with many of the characters, actually. Like Molly, for instance. When I wrote about Molly, immediately two dozen Molly stories popped up in my head.
Take Marcone, as well. Looking back, I realized that he isn’t quite the guy I originally thought he was. I mean he is this fairly horrible person who does run the gangs in Chicago, but there’s also this code of honor there. He’s really less of a mob boss and more of a medieval baron who happened to find himself in charge of a mob.
The strongest character when it comes to this book was probably Anastasia Luccio. For her story, I teamed her up with Wyatt Earp. At the start of the story, she’s pursuing this “man in black” across the desert. He’s a warlock, but as she catches up to him, she realizes that he’s only a lackey for Kemmler—one of the big, bad necromancers of the story. He’s not involved in the current story but he is this dark shadow from the past. And I suddenly realized I could write this story about her pursuing Kemmler back and forth across the west with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday… I don’t know if I could ever do the research needed in order to do the story justice, but, man, it would be a good time!
MAG.: When you beganThe Dresden Files, did you have an end game in mind? And if you did, has that ever changed as you moved forward with the series?
J.B.: Actually, you should know that I wrote The Dresden Files to prove to my writing teacher how wrong she was about writing. She had been giving me good advice for a long time, so I thought I would teach her a lesson by following that advice to the letter and showing how wrong she actually was. She would be able to see the horrible result. But when I turned in the first couple of chapters, she said: “You did it!” She wasn’t sure if it would be the first I ever published, but she commended it as a “professional quality” piece and thought I would have no trouble selling it. Then she told me to go home and write up an outline for the rest of it. Of course…she meant an outline for the novel.
Well, I came back with an outline for a 20-book series with this three book trilogy at the end of it all. I was all excited about it and I just remember the look on her face. She didn’t want to tell me that there was no way an unpublished author was going to sell a 20-book series, but she didn’t want to discourage me either. And because she didn’t tell me, I kind of went out and did it because I didn’t actually know it was impossible
I have pretty much stuck to that outline the whole way through. I might need 21 instead of 20 books before I hit the trilogy at the end, but I have never altered my “plan” since writing that outline when I was 25. I believe that’s the reason it has done so well. Because I know the end game, I can scale the story up appropriately and keep raising the stakes as I write. I can build and introduce new, more dangerous people and monsters to go up against, and I keep finding those complex moral battles that Harry has to face.
In addition, I think I’m at that point where I’m just superstitious of changing anything around. If it’s not broke, why should I attempt to fix it? So what I’m doing is sticking to the outline and just trying to make sure that every installment is the best it possibly can be.
All readers and fans will tell you that Jim Butcher has done just that! Collectively, we should also send a big “thank you” to that writing teacher of his for keeping the word “impossible” to herself. To find out more about Jim, check out www.jim-butcher.com.