I had the amazing opportunity to meet 1:1 with Jim Butcher at DragonCon this year. We were in the bar of the Westin Hotel at lunch so it was really noisy. I have done the best I can to remove some of the background noise and I think Jim comes through loud and clear.
We talk about the Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in his new Cinder Spires series, a little bit about writing process, and I ask one question about The Dresden Files.
The photo above is of me, Jim and his lovely wife-to-be, Kitty. They were dressed as Morticia and Gomez. I was dressed as me.
The photo to the right is the beautiful Kitty as Mrs. Cavendish, a main character in the book.
Visit Jim’s website to learn more. The book’s release date is September 29.
Transcript of Interview (thank you to the awesome Julie P!)
Transcript – AN EXCLUSIVE ONE ON ONE INTERVIEW WITH JIM BUTCHER
DragonCon, September 15, 2015
Joelle Reizes – Slippery Words (All rights reserved)
Transcription by Julie Plamondon. Italics and underline used to indicate speaker emphasis. Verbatim transcription.
JB – Jim Butcher
JR – Joelle Reizes
JR: Hi! Okay, this is Joelle Reizes of Slippery Words, and I have the one, the only Jim Butcher with me today.
JB: Hi! How ya doing?
JR: I’m doing good, and I thank you for doing this. We are at DragonCon, so there’s most likely… a lot of noise in the background, but we’re doing the… We’re gonna do the best.
JR: So I actually was given a manuscript that was titled “Kitty’s Copy.” So I don’t… I’m not even sure if what I read was the last version.
JB: Uhh, no, it was, uhh… It was the version really, more the, uh copy of the copy editor.
JR: Okay, so what we’re talking about, I just realized I didn’t say, is the Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in the Cinder Spires series, which I’m really, really excited about. So, one of the things that you do *so* well, so well (and I’m so incredibly jealous of you, because you do this so well), is you are great at telling the story through action. Uh, you have really mastered that “showing” the story versus “telling” the story.
JR: And that… Uh, can you give me, and any writer out there listening, insight into that?
JB: Uh, it, it’s largely a matter of practice; it’s something that you have to do in every part of the story that you’re telling. Uh, so no matter whether you’re telling a story that is about a character, or you’re dealing with something about your story plot, uh, uh, you’ve got to find ways to show, um, who that character is and what the plot means. Uh, it’s not just enough to be able to say “Well, there’s a war that’s going to happen,” you have to be able to show the intents and results of that.
JB: Uh, so… Really, it, it’s just one of those things that you have to practice, and you practice it over and over again. Uh, one of the ways, one of the things that I really found useful as a writer is, uh, DMing (Dungeon Mastering). D&D, uh, you know the role-playing games, because you got other people that are handling all your characters for you (you know, you’re very busy, you have to build your world), but you also have to show your story in action. You can’t just tell characters or players things. It gets very involved very quickly and you get feedback very rapidly, which you don’t get as a writer.
JB: As a writer, when you work, and you might get feedback a week later, a month later, a year, later. When you’re doing it right there, with people right there, it changes everything, because you can tell immediately when you’re losing somebody’s interest.
JR: Yeah, well, it’s act… I’m a newer writer… Well. I’m a writer, I’ve been writing my whole life, I wrote my first short story at seven. But I’ve been doing other things like raising children and earning money…
JB: Yes. Yes, those things.
JR: Yeah. So, I’m really, I’ve only been working very hard on it seriously for the last year. I’ve done my first reading here, actually…
JB: [Enthusiastic] Very cool! Very cool, congratulations!
JR: …just yesterday, so… [conversation overlaps] Um, thank you! So that, um, I find that that’s the dream I’m working on the most, and that’s the hardest.
JB: Yes. [Emphatic]
JR: So… I’m very dedicated to not giving away any spoilers, but… How much fun what it to write “Engineering report!” “Evasive action!”?
JB: [Laughs] Uh, uh. Yeah, getting to write the… There’s a lot of… There’s airships in the book. Uh, it’s a steampunk book, and there’s, so, we gotta have airships, because that’s just necessary.
JR: Right! It’s absolutely important.
JB: Uh, and if you got airships, you have to have the airships fly because that’s also necessary. Uh, so that means, that meant, I had to whip out the old nautical terms. Uhh, so, I’m somebody who’s read a bunch of the Hornblower books and the Aubry(spl?) Mann books, and Honor Harrington, and of course I watched Star Trek, uh, endlessly.
JR: Endlessly, right! [Laughs] That was definitely it, because you have a Scotty-like engineering character in there.
JB: Yeah! Well, uh, engineers are a specific type. And, uhh, if you’re going to have an engineer, who didn’t quite fit in to the military, there’s only a few of those guys, because you really need the engineers. Uhh, so, if you’re going to be that irascible that you just didn’t fit into the regular military, there’s going to be a limited number of personality types that you’re going to work with.
JR: I thought it was great; I loved that.
JB: Yeah, I had a lot of fun with that character.
JR: I can tell you did, it was just so awesome! So, you have a main character in this who is a cat.
JR: And I love him.
JB: Yeah, getting to write the cats was kinda… Was so much fun.
JR: But are you betraying Mouse? It’s like dogs, cats, living together, in the same author’s head…
JB: Yeah! Yeah, total anarchy, yep. No, no I had a great time writing those, because, I’ve never been a cat… Uhh, my fiancée has some cats, so it was going to be a cat, it seems. It seems.
JR: Yeah. It’s time to get in the mindset.
JB: Yeah, at this point… Uh, but I do know lots of people who have cats. And I know cat owners but I don’t know cats very well, so I knew the kind of things that they were going to want to see and want to hear in a cat.
JR: He is so wonderful.
JB: He was so much fun to write! The character’s name is Rowl, he’s over the top. He’s one of these characters who’s just convinced that he can do no wrong and he’s almost right.
JB: You know, he’s very nearly as good as he thinks he is, which is what makes him so annoying. ‘Cause otherwise, you could ignore him.
JR: Because there’s a moment in time, I won’t say where or why, where he’s like sorta perfecting The Brood. That was great!
JB: Oh! Thank you. Thank you very much. [Smiling!]
JR: But my favourite Rowl line, and I won’t give anything away, comes very close to the beginning of the book. And that’s because I’m a cat owner and he says “Perhaps I will compose a song for her.”
JR: [giggles] I just… As a cat owner, I was like “Oh my God, what is that going to sound like?!”
JB: [gleeful] It’s going to be awful, you know it’s going to be awful… Uh, cats that go singing to courtship, they don’t… They don’t… Yeah.
JR: Yeah, no. Not good.
JB: It’s not a melodious sound.
JR: So this takes place, obviously, in the steampunk universe. You now, in this book, have moved from a single point of view to multiple points of view.
JR: How was that, changing?…
JB: Oh, it’s a relief! Because you can tell the story so many more ways when you have multiple viewpoint characters. But at the same time, it’s more work because you gotta stop and say “Okay, this part of the story is coming up; which character is going to be the most effective to tell the story?” Uh, because you have to balance “well, this character is more emotionally involved in what’s going on;” “this character is the one that actually has all the power in the scene…” You know, so how do I convey that to the readers?
JR: Yeah, I thought that must have been either very challenging, or as you said, a relief.
JB: It’s a great deal of fun, because you have so many more options, which you can use to tell your story. At the same time, it’s a great deal more intimidating, because you’ve got so much more rope with which to hang yourself…
JR: [Bursts out laughing] Sure!
JB: … and do the story, and do it wrong. That’s… I’ve always enjoyed writing multiple viewpoint stories as my off-stories to whatever Dresden I’m working on at the moment, because by the time I get all the multiple viewpoint stories, I’m so relieved to be back in the saddle with Dresden, where I don’t have to make those sorts of choices, and I’ve got a whole different slew of problems, because everything has to come from only one point of view over there. And then, by the time I’m done dealing with Dresden’s problems, I’m like “Oh, thank goodness I can do something with a bit more flexibility and a lot more… I’ve got more creativity than this!” And then switch over to somebody else.
JR: That’s awesome; I love that you did it. It had to be a little bit of a Codex Alera flair, like, just like, you pulled… Like, that you had so many characters and things we could see, and that you’re…
JR: … you had sort of gone back to that multiverse world.
JB: It was. It was nice getting back to that, although for these books, I try to keep, um… I try to keep more of a Dresden Files sense of pace for what’s in store. So the story is much more compressed than the Codex Alera story was, it’s much less long.
JR: Mmm-hmm. You know, you have lots of action too, your battle scenes are fantastic, I love them.
JB: Oh! Thank you.
JR: Again, I can’t say, but they’re amazing, you can really picture them. I have a question about, um, Albion. You describe Albion, which is a setting, a place in the book, as “black spire.” You use the word. Why isn’t Albion white?
JB: Um, you’ll find out more about that later.
JR: Oh! Okay, good question Joelle! [Laughs]
JB: Yes. It’s a good question, and I can’t answer without being very spoiler-y. Uh, and that’s no fun for anybody.
JR: No! All right, okay, I’m writing like all these little notes down, and that was definitely one that surfaced. O-kayyyy!
JB: No, no! Good call, nice observation.
JR: Good question! Okay, here’s my good question for you. Are you ready?
JR: Where do you stand on adverbs? Because we use adverbs, and every single time I am told something about writing by an “expert writer,” I’m told “Don’t use adverbs!” But you use adverbs actually fairly liberally.
JB: Yes, I do. Yes, I use them liberally. Yes.
JR: [Giggles] Yeah, well I’m gonna call you on one, though.
JR: “Completely(?) devouring.” I’m pretty sure you can get rid of the “completely.” [giggles]
JB: Um, okay.
JR: But you do use them.
JB: I do use adverbs, because as a writer, I am not a writer who’s terribly focused on the words. I am focused on the story.
JR: Your words are the tool with which to tell the story.
JB: Exactly. Ideally, for me, the words should be somethings that are essentially transparent to the reader. Um, really, words are just… The only reason that they exist is to get an idea that is inside my head over to inside your head. And that’s the entire thing of what I’m doing with the writing. I don’t want you to read one of my stories and go through it and say “Ooo, that sentence was a wonderful sentence!” And I feel if I’ve done… If you’ve done… If that happens, I’ve somehow failed, because you’re paying attention to the words of the sentence, which is like paying attention to the plumbing that the water is flowing through and not the water itself.
JR: Okay, so you’re saying you don’t want the writing to be distracting from the story.
JB: Exactly! I want the writing to be something that, uh, that you don’t even really notice. I want there to be a movie playing out there in your head, and for the words basically to not really exist for you on a conscious level. And if that happens, then (unintelligible). So… I know there are some writers who feel very differently, but I have my own goals for what I do in telling a story, and that’s what I want. I want to create that movie in your head. Storytelling is the original virtual reality. That’s what I tell the crazies that are Legion.
JR: I really tell that you did that with that book, with this book. Like I said, I think the fight scenes, the aerial fight scenes are…
JB: Oh, those are so much fun to write! Oh my gosh, you’re going to have… There’s going to be so many forums talking about them and various people arguing. I’ve already had engineers, uh, uh, get together and start talking theoretical, uh, you know, theoretical engineering and physics in the books and everything. “Have you thought about using this as a weapon?? Because this would be amazing!” So yeah, I’m having a lot of fun with that.
JR: It was great. Okay, so I know you’re pressed for time, so I’m going to ask one Dresden question.
JR: And I hope it’s not one you’ve gotten.
JR: In the beginning, the very beginning of Skin Game, which I have (it’s a sign), um, in the very beginning of Skin Game, we hear from a somewhat British-sounding, rather annoyed prisoner on Demonreach. Is he ever coming back?
JB: Yes! Yeah, I’m, I’m fundamentally a lazy writer. Uh, I don’t ever want to put something in the book that I’m not gonna use in something at some point. Uh, which is not to say that every tiny detail will ever be used, but if I take the time to introduce a character and have him do things, it’s for a reason.
JR: That was what I thought. I couldn’t imagine why you would waste… “Waste,” you know what I mean, time in the book…
JB: Not in the opening chapter.
JR: Right, opening chapter, introducing this cool character and then, you don’t see him for the rest of the book, but then “Oh, he’s gotta come back!”
JB: You see him for a reason, yeah.
JR: Okay, fantastic, that’s great. Thank you soo much for this, I really appreciated it.
JB: No problem!
JR: Okay, Thank you.
– END –