Jim Butcher chats about Pokemon, responsibility, and Changes

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWe’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!

Beth & Gert: Now that you’ve finished CODEX ALERA (and what a finish, too), the question that springs to mind first is, what’s next? And have you thought about going back to Alera at some point?fantasy and science fiction book reviews

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.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIt raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSo 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSomething 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSpeaking 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsOf 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsExcept, of course, when I’m telling knock-knock jokes. If I don’t get the courtesy of a “Who’s there?”, we may have to throw down.

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!

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BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

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  1. I LOVE the Dresden Files. Probably my favorite series ever. The Codex Alera was also quite awesome, but it wasn’t the same. I’d be content with 2 Dresden books a year, but that means the series would end that much sooner…

    Oh, for any gamers out there, the Dresden Files RPG looks like it’s all sorts of distilled awesome, too…

  2. I have not read Butcher yet (terrible, I know), but I recently acquired both the first Dresden Files and the first Alera books on audio. They’re on my list!

  3. I am about a third of a way through the third Alera book. I read each of the first two in a day a piece, I seriously couldn’t put them down! My brother has all the Dresden Files books and will find them ‘mysteriously’ missing from his apartment as soon I finish the Alera books. Its almost a little scary when people say that they are better than the Alera books. That blows my mind that he got the idea from Pokemon and the lost Roman Legion on a dare.

  4. My BF has promised to loan me his Dresden Files books and I am really looking forward to that. I really enjoyed the Codex Alera & finding out that it’s based on a dare regarding the Lost Roman Legion & Pokemon makes me giggle in a disturbing way. :crazy:

    Jim, do you have any writing projects in mind alongside or after the Dresden files? Any more ‘pure’ fantasy? :whip:

  5. Now that you’ve proven yourself up for the challenge, you should do a book based on three terrible ideas. Then four. Then five. Keep challenging yourself!

  6. Anonymous /

    I have not read any of Jim Butcher’s books yet but I definitely plan on going out to buy some soon. I have heard a lot of great things about them.

  7. I haven’t read any Dresden books yet, either, but I know I want to! It’s just that my TBR list is so long… and those books in my TBR Stack come first… so if I win, Dresden gets moved up the list, lol. :laugh:

    Great giveaway, though. And I loved the Pokemon / Roman Legion challenge. Ridiculously awesome! Kudos for using it as inspiration! :-))

  8. My husband and I love the Dresden files, too, but haven’t read his other series. This was a great interview. He sounds like a funny, easy to talk to person.

  9. Mmmm, I love Dresden…

    Great interview.


  10. Jim is the only reason I even acknowledged Urban Fantasy as a legitimate sub-genre of Fantasy. His books were the gateway for me to so many great authors. When asked who my favorite author is, it’s an easy choice. Butcher’s books bring me more entertainment/joy/fun than anything I’ve ever read. I’ll be picking up Changes this weekend. I have learned that I must buy new Dresdens over a weekend, cause I am unable to put them down. Thank you Beth and Gert, a wonderful interview. A very big thanks to Mr. Butcher for taking the time to answer our [fanlit] questions

  11. Jim is going to make a decision about what to do next with the Codex Alera series this summer? ohhhh… something to look forward to! :chase:

    Re-posted your contest at: http://contests-freebies.blogspot.com/2010/04/win-changes-at-fantasy-literature.html

    Retwitted: http://twitter.com/cherrymischivus/status/11709282865

  12. I love this series! I have all the books and I’m doing a mini catch up to be prepared for Changes. There are so many interesting story arcs in these books.

  13. I love the Dresden books. Haven’t read the Codex ones yet. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Changes.

  14. A friend of mine recommended the Dresden Files series to me a few years ago and ever since I read the first one, I haven’t been able to stop! I enjoyed the short-lived series based on the books, as well, and was sad to see it cancelled. Thanks for hosting this interview, Fantasy Lit! :-) I enjoyed reading it a lot, especially when Jim asserted that he’s a “low maintenance” sort of guy, and explained about his experiences with martial arts :-)

  15. Anonymous /

    Awesome interview. Very entertaining and enjoyable. I love the Dresdon Files, only wish the TV series had lasted longer too. Looking forward to reading Changes.

  16. Anonymous /

    I love novellas about other characters in the series so please ignore the negative and keep writing.

  17. What an amazing interview. I look forward to the novella’s as well. Don’t let the negativity get to you. I would say that Jim is up on my top ten list of favourite authors (and high up I might add!). I enjoy reading all of his books and have already picked up Changes (in that event, you don’t need to enter me into the contest). Is it sad that I already can’t wait until the next book comes out? :)

  18. Anonymous /

    Great interview. Love the song at the end… lol My father is a fan of the show, and now I’m trying to get him into the book series.

  19. Great intreview!

    I love the Dresden books and plan on reading the Codex series (I have all but the most recently book because I know they are going to be good). I think after reading the first book in the Dresden files I was raving about it to my sister in law. She read the first one, went out and bought all the rest of them and read them in a matter of weeks – after which they were passed to me and I read them in a matter of weeks. Great urban fantasy and I’ve been told I will do the same thing once I start reading the Codex books.

  20. Oh holy crap, this is awesome. I love the Dresden Files so much. I’ve gotten 3-4 friends hooked on them, causing them to stay up all night finishing these books.

  21. I would love a copy. This would be a new author for me!

  22. Awesome interview. I am on book #2 on the Dresden files and I really loved the first one. I am kicking myself for not reading this series sooner. I even watched all the Dresden Files on Hulu when it was on tv. What a shame that show didn’t get to continue, it was sweet.

  23. Anonymous /

    I would love to win this one. I haven’t read any of the books yet, but I intend to start soon.. I also was a big fan of the Dresden Files on tv.

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

  24. Anonymous /

    I have only seen a couple of the episodes of the TV series and haven’t read the books yet !

    Hope I can change that by winning here.

    That is, if the giveaway is open worldwide.

    Neville T

  25. I enjoyed the tv series too despite of some interesting casting choices. I love the books and have my sister hooked on them too. Glad to hear there will be many more books to come (want a happy(ish) ending especially for Thomas).

  26. Wow! Thanks Jim, Beth and Gert. I just finished reading Changes. What an ending! Especially the part where… (heh heh). I can’t wait for more. The first two books were fine/good/great, but it was about book 3 or 4 when I decided it was one of the truly great series. So, Kat, I know UF isn’t you’re thing but if you like the first books at all, make sure to keep going through book 4 before making a judgment on the overall series.


  27. Great interview! I love the Dresden files and I am looking forward to reading Changes.

  28. Fun & great interview. Anything new w/ Dresden cartoon or is it just comics?

  29. Wonderful interview! Normally you feel like answers are giving your deja vu but these were hysterical! Wonderful interview and looking forward to reading Changes! Though probably not as much as my fianc’e who is checking on his library re-order almost daily! Wonderful writing!

    Emma Michaels

    Hope I win!!!!

  30. The Dresden Files books are fantastic and I look forward to picking up Changes as soon as I can.

  31. great interview. I ‘ve only had the pleasure of reading the first of your Harry books. I seriously need to catch up. Will do it soon I hope.

  32. What a cool interview! I’m a big Jim Butcher fan, and so is my 16 year old. It’s fun to talk about the books and be nerds together:) He came home one day THRILLED that the high school library had gotten in a bunch of the Dresden File books and he was the first person to sign one out. LOL Like I said, nerds:)

  33. Anonymous /

    Pokemon and Lost Roman Legion?

    Oh, dear. I’ll never be able to look at the Codex Alera the same way again. (Now to go back and see if I can’t find ‘Team Rocket’ somewhere in the series.)


  34. I would LOVE to win this!
    Thanks! :D:D:D



  35. Our lucky winners are…….SincerelyEmmaM and Christa Holland

    Please contact Justin within 5 days after contest ends.


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