Tag Archives: Ad Astra

My interview with Patricia Briggs

First off — I would like to apologize. I conducted this interview back in April, the same weekend as the Steven Erikson one. I’ve been out of the country, and haven’t really had the time to sit down and prepare this.

Back at Ad Astra in Toronto, I had the chance to chat with the lovely Patricia Briggs, where she spoke of convincing her husband that she was a serial killer, her future projects and imaginary friends, research, coyotes and a myriad of other topics.

I hope you enjoy the listen!

One thing that I’ve noticed from the stats of previous interviews I’ve posted, is that the audio gets listened to much more than the transcripts get read. That being said, unless it’s requested, I won’t be posting the transcripts.

[Note — I don’t mind making up the transcripts, but it does take a couple hours. If it’s something people want, I’m perfectly happy doing it. Just that if it’s not necessary.. I won’t.]

Interview with Steven Erikson

Last weekend at Ad Astra, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Steven Erikson, author of the Malazan series. We talked about his future publications, Malazan, art, his favourite novel and more. It’s fairly lengthy, but I suppose that’s rather appropriate!

As I did with the interview I did last year at Ad Astra, I’m also providing the audio recording to the interview I did with Mr. Erikson. If you can forgive both my awkwardness and the background noise, I encourage you to take a listen! There’s a bit more in there than there is in the transcript — just some of the small off-topic remarks and such like that.



[As per usual, R = Myself, and S = Steven Erikson]

R: Hello, I’m here with Steven Erikson, author of the Malazan series.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

S: I used to be an archaeologist, working for about 20 seasons in the field in central Canada, mostly, as well as Central America (and the States). I was in a Masters program for archaeology when I dropped out to take a writing program at the University of Victoria. From there, I went onto a writing program at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Curiously, I think I learned more in the undergraduate at University of Victoria than I did in Iowa. But Iowa gave me two more years in which to write, which was great.

I was not writing fantasy – the closest thing I came to writing in terms of fantasy would be what they call magic realism. Beyond that, I’ve been writing full time for about 15 years, and by last count, I had 22 books published.

R: Very nice.

So, has your experience as an archaeologist at all influenced your writing?

S: Massively, yes. The Malazan world is actually co-created between myself and Ian C. Esslemont, or Cam as I know him. We were both archaeologists, and we met on a project in north-west Ontario. We became close friends, and ended up sharing a flat in Victoria, and we gamed a lot. In the gaming, we started to build this secondary world, this Malazan world, and its history. We did that for years.

We played through a lot of characters, and it certainly gave some depth to the world we were creating. As archaeologists and anthropologists we were both interested in a kind of realistic portrayal of this other world, so the geography, geology, history, cultures, everything’s based on what we knew about the dynamics of social evolution.

R: Very interesting.

And you wrote your magic realism under your real name, so why ‘Erikson’?

S: My second book was published when I was in the UK, and it’s been re-released under Erikson, it’s This River Awakens. At the time though, it was published under Steve Lundin. And then I signed for publishing Gardens of the Moon with a different publisher, and the publishers of the original book, This River Awakens, contacted my agent and said “Well, we don’t want the same name for this genre versus contemporary fiction”, so I had to come up with a pseudonym.

R: Alright

S: Which I did, which was my mother’s maiden name.

R: That works.

So, it was Gollancz that approached you right?

S: You mean for the original book?

R: Yes.

S: No, I’d written Gardens of the Moon eight years previously, and I could not find a publisher. I’d tried, I sent it (without an agent) from Canada to New York to Del Rey, Tor, and a number of others. It would sit there for 12-18 months, and then it’d come back to me.

So I shelved it, and went back to contemporary fiction. But then, when I was living in the UK, I sort of polished it up, and got it to my agent. He started marketing it, and Bantam UK picked it up. It was after that, when I was finishing the second book, that I had one of my first conventions I ever went to, my Bantam editor could not come. So I was left on my own, basically, at the convention… So the people at Gollancz kind of took me up under their wing and took me out for Chinese, or whatever it was. In the course of that evening, I was asked when Bantam was publishing the second book. So I said “Well, I don’t know, they haven’t signed it yet.” That’s when the rival bid came in, pretty much the next day.

R: That’s sweet.

S: Yeah, but I stayed with Bantam… They matched the bid. That signed me up for nine years and nine books.

R: Alright.

You were part of a writing group, I believe…

S: Very early on, yeah.

R: Have any of them had any success? Who was in it?

S: Two have had fair success. Ian Ross, who is one of them, he’s known throughout Canada… and David Keck has published his first two books through Tor of his fantasy series, and I think he’s hoping to finish the third and final one this summer.

R: Ah, alright.

Now, I’ve mostly been trying to steer away from Malazan questions—but there are a couple—because I know you’re pretty much inundated by those questions all the time… but what are your thoughts on it ever being adapted to the small or big screen?

S: It’s a huge series, with a lot of characters… and I actually think it’s probably impossible. It’s unlike, for example, Game of Thrones which is kind of inwardly focused on a particular group of characters, which is a very manageable approach to a storyline… mine just sprawls. It sprawls across continents, multiple cities, it’s absolutely massive.

The only time I thought it could actually make it, would be to turn every novel into a trilogy of films, and then film like crazy and produce (and release) ten films a year, for three years. That would do it… In terms of television, it would be a challenge.

R: Alright, I was just wondering, because a couple of your works were optioned, weren’t they, at one point?

S: No not really, I’ve had screenplays optioned, and rights sold… Not really any of the Malazan stuff.

R: Ahh, okay.

What are you planning on writing in the future? I know you’ve got your Kharkanas trilogy, what else is there for you?

S: I’m presently writing the second book of the Kharkanas trilogy, and it is just taking longer than any of the other books I’ve ever written. Stephen Donaldson talks of not ‘writer’s block’, but of ‘life block’. It’s basically other things in your life getting in the way of the actual writing process. When I sit down and write, it comes out just fine, but I’ve had so many other unexpected barriers to actually sitting down to write. I’m hoping to get it done by the end of this summer though.

If my agent or my editor hears this, he’s going to be screaming and tearing his hair out. It is running late, but it’s just what it does. And, I did take a break from it because I felt I needed it. So, I wrote a 75,000 word science fiction spoof called Willful Child, which is coming out in November. [Read the first chapter here] I had so much fun with that, I’m certainly planning on more volumes in that.

R: So that’s more humour based?

S: Oh yeah. I’m paying homage to Star Trek specifically. Especially The Original Series. I had a lot of fun with it.

R: Does sound like it could be a fun one.

Do you think the second Kharkanas book will end up being postponed? Or do you still think it’ll be on target for the 2015 release date?

S: I hope we can get it out for the 2015 release date.

R: Alright.

Also, would you suggest that readers, who haven’t read any of your Malazan, start with that?

S: It’s hard to say, I mean, I was hoping that with the first one, Forge of Darkness, that somebody new to my writing would be able to step in. I don’t know how many people have done that. Most of my readers, from what I can understand, are coming from the Malazan series. So, it’s hard to say. I mean, it’s written so that you could just step in, if you wanted to.

R: Ah, cause yeah, your writing is known for being intimidating, and for being hard to get into. So, I’m guessing it could also just be people who haven’t started reading your writing yet, may be a bit wary..

S: Maybe. It might be… But my sense is that a lot of people waited for me to finish the series, and they’re buying the Malazan series now, because it is done.

I don’t blame them. I mean, there are a lot of writers out there who have begun series but for whatever reason have not, or could not finish… and that’s hard for a reader, because you invest so much into it. So, I’m relieved that I could finish the series more or less on time. Now it’s there for anyone to pick up and read.

R: Yeah, and with the trilogy it’s also easier to just wait for it to be done and pick it up then.

S: I think that’s what’s going to happen. Have you read Forge of Darkness?

R: Yep.

S: It’s a very different style, wasn’t it?

R: Quite.

S: And I am signed for three more after that, which will return us to the Malazan world, and the story of Karsa Orlong.

R: Well, that answers my two next questions.

S: Yep. Three books, picking up where we left off with Karsa, more or less. And of course, Cam has signed for (I think) three books to do the early empire stuff.

R: Alright, so you’re not at all finished with that universe or anything.

S: No, I don’t think so. Though, I could never do another ten book series. Even three books may end up proving more of a challenge than I expect. It’s a world that still has room for exploration.

R: Definitely. When you create a vast world like that, I think there’s always going to be more room for exploration.

Do you have any new publications coming out under Steve Lundin?

S: No, I’ve pretty much stopped that. Most of the stuff I’d written under that name has now been reissued under Steven Erikson.

R: Alright… and your Warren’s magic system, what was the process of creating that? Or the inspiration for that? It’s very different.

S: It was a very organic creation between Cam and myself through the gaming systems. We started out very early on doing D&D, and we abandoned it and picked it up on GURPS (the Generic Universal RolePlaying System), Steve Jackson’s system, which we found much more flexible. Using their magic system as it stood, worked fine in the games, but we actually wanted to create more options. So we thought of the notions of rather than having four elements, have multiple elements. Some of those elements would be light, shadow, darkness, life and death… So all of these became the aspect of Warren’s that the characters could draw from, in terms of building up a list of spells.

It was generated out of the need of gaming, more than anything else. It also suited very well in what we were doing when we finally sat down to write in that world. It seemed to be a very good system. And the other thing was to just use it, and don’t explain it. That keeps the mystery.

R: Yeah, and I feel like that does make it a bit more real. Like, you don’t explain why light’s work, when you turn on a light switch… It’s just there, it’s part of the culture, and everything.

Alright.. and the ‘evil’ question. What is your favourite book?

S: Probably Grendel which is written by John Gardner, primarily for what it did for me when I first read it. Because I was in the University of Victoria. I was struggling with all the demands it placed on writing and how you actually find your voice, and how you find your way through it, and how you manage language. I was having a hard time with that.

Well, my instructor, Jack Hodgins, directed me towards John Gardner’s writing, and his non-fiction, what he called “moral fiction”, which moved in opposition to William Gass’s position. Where Gass would say that you have no responsibility towards your characters, and that they can do whatever they want; there’s no moral or ethical framework with which to create a story.

It was John Gardner who said it was actually the other way around, and that you have an immense responsibility toward your characters, and towards your story, and by extension to that, the audience. I really took to that.

One of his books deconstructed the opening of Grendel, in terms of use of language, and sentence patterns, sentence rhythms, cadence, and reading that was an utter revelation to me. Because, it showed me what was possible with the language. That you could actually frame a sentence… if you have a sentence describing an awkward thought, you can frame it awkwardly, which I really like. Once I realized that you’re free to do these things and that you can mess with language to that extent, it just set me on my way basically.

The novel then just holds that place for me in my heart. This is where my eyes opened, it’s my book of revelations.

R: Definitely sounds good. It’s a good reason.

S: Have you read it?

R: Nope, I’ll look it up later though.

S: It’s a short book that’s utterly brilliant.

R: Alright, I’m always looking for more book recommendations. Especially since I’ve got a long flight coming up in a few days.

S: Oh, right! Well, it’s basically Beowulf from the point of view of the monster. It’s the monster’s voice. It’s Grendel’s voice.

R: Fantastic.

You know, I’m used to a more “How could you ask that question?” response to that question, ‘what’s your favourite book’. Most don’t like it at all.

S: Really? Interesting.

I mean, we grow up with certain books that for whatever reason, they reach us at the right time. For a lot of fantasy fans, that would have been Tolkien in their teens, or Jordan, or anything along those lines. Those become our gateway drugs. And it’s funny because if you go back, when I first started reading, really. It was Burroughs’ Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars, and mostly I actually bought books originally because of the covers which were painted by Frank Frazetta. Phenomenal art. I started as an illustrator, so I was interested in the art rather than the content.

I was of that age though, 12 or 13, that I got caught up in the romantic adventures that Burroughs was writing really took me. But you go back to it, it’s very difficult to read now. And I was talking with a podcast for Gary Wolfe and Ian MacDonald, and we were talking just about this… about going back to the early works that inspired us. It occurred to me, that when we go back and read these things, we’re actually (and we’re often disappointed by what we’re reading) because what inspired us when we were 13 or 14, now we get to see the bones of the construction of the story or whatever. But what I think what we strive to go back towards, and the reason for rereading all of it, involves a nostalgia for a sense for wonder and discovery. So that’s what we keep trying to find again, and when new books arrive and we go into the bookstore, you’re hoping to capture that sense of discovery all over again in a new book.

Because going back, as much as you’ve read something that’s familiar from when you were 13 or 14, you can capture it, but it’s a very nostalgic sense. But I think that’s what drives us to buy new books again and again. It’s that sense of discovery.

R: Yeah, because even if it’s the same basic plot line, and everything it’s still.. a new book, a new world, and anything can happen.

Do you have any favourite authors? Other than Gardner?

S: Well, Glen Cook definitely… He was a huge inspiration for me. Stephen Donaldson was probably the biggest because I came to it in my late teens, early twenties… the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and suddenly it was as if, with that series, fantasy had grown up. It was no longer straddling YA sort of approach to the genre. With Donaldson, it really grew up. So those two definitely were huge inspirations for me.

R: And did you attend any conventions before you became an author?

S: One, David Keck, myself and Ian Ross – that little writing group, we did the World Fantasy Awards Con when it was in Winnipeg. We published a little chapbook, in that, there’s actually a scene from Gardens of the Moon. It’s a very early scene, on the rooftops.

R: Cool. Have you noticed your experience at conventions changing as you’ve become more well known, or just gotten more experience going to them?

S: I suppose. Once you start arriving as a guest of honour, everything changes. But I’ve been going to the WFC for many years, just as a writer. I don’t think that’s changed in a huge respect. It’s just you now meet writers and you can sit and chat with them. It’s great fun.

R: Authors do tend to be good people, from what I’ve noticed.

S: We certainly try. It’s important to pay attention – and it goes back to what Gardner said about respecting your audiences… You do have to respect your audience. If you don’t, it shows. It shows in the stories you write, and that can burn you in the long run.

R: You’ve been inundated by questions for years now, but are there any questions you’ve been wanting to have been asked, or topics you’ve been wanting to explore in interviews, but haven’t been asked about?

S: I don’t think so. I mean, I do like Q&A’s and stuff after I’ve done a reading, and when people want to talk about the process of writing. I’ve written on that on a site called lifeasahuman.com. All about the process and mechanics of writing.

Workshops and programs for writing, they’re not to create talent, it’s what you bring to it. Your proclivities. It’s all about craft. Once you sort of understand the terminology for narrative structure, then that’s when you can come to realize the potential of what you can do with your story. So, I like those kind of questions, deconstructive questions, on the language that you can use.

R: Alright. I figured those would be among the main questions that you’d always be asked.. The process of writing, outlining and everything.

S: Outlining, yes. But I’ve never really had in a Q&A someone reading back a line I’d written, and have them say “How did you put that together?”

R: Well then! Let’s see….

S: Obviously find an evocative line..

R: Not just “Quick Ben entered the room beyond.”?

S: No.

R: You’ve got great imagery, so it’s like, how to choose one?

S: Well, I’m very cinematic because I started as an illustrator. But I found that most of my artwork had an inherent narrative of some form. So I had a thought, well, maybe I’ll go into comic books. Back then though, comic books and comic book art was hard. You needed the equipment. There was stuff out there that I just couldn’t get a hold of, and couldn’t afford even if I wanted to. So that sort of got me into just writing it instead of illustrating it.

The creative process though is exactly the same, it’s very visual. I become a camera, and I’ll sit on someone’s shoulder or whatever and enter into any scene. It’s not a question of relaying every detail we see in a room. Those details you choose have to serve the story. Not only the details you choose, but the details you choose not to mention serve the story. Because by choosing certain details in a room, you’re actually putting a lot of emphasis on them, so they need to serve more than one function generally.

R: Are comic books something you’ve considered going back to, or ever thought of, now that it’s a bit more accessible and there’s more ways to do it?

S: No. Illustrating, drawing, painting… I think it’s similar to writing in the sense that if you get out of practise, you get out of practise. I’d basically have to stop writing. They come out of the same creative well. If I’m painting, for example, I’m not writing. And when I’m writing, I’m certainly not painting.

So, I’d have to go back and spend 2-3 years becoming familiar with drawing and illustrating in and of it self. Again, it’s not something I’ve really thought of doing, I’m having too much fun with writing.

R: Going back to your imagery, I do like this sentence… “Her laughter had been the final punctuation to all his dreams.” It’s a beautiful sentence.

S: Hm.. What can I say to that one? Well, so much of what I’m sort of obsessed with in a sense is point of view. By anchoring the point of view to a specific character, you’re closing a lot of doors, but you’re also creating a situation whereby you can actually tell and show far less than you would have to if your point of view was an omniscient one. Then you start playing games like “What does this character know?” and “What does the character believe?” And if you stay close to it, you realize that every point of view is an unreliable source of narration.

Once you’ve created all these characters with their own points of view, that’s how you build your world. With each character though, it’s a limited and sometimes erroneous view of the world. I mentioned last night in a panel that it’s as if you’ve got this invisible rock, and in order to give it shape, you slap clay on it. And that’s what all these points of view are. Underneath all that, your rock remains invisible. That’s the world itself. All I’m doing is slapping clay on it from various angles, points of views, and thickness. In terms of sensibility and sensitivity of the characters, and that’s what creates that world. I think the effect it has is to actually make the world seem bigger and much more filled with detail. Even though you don’t have to provide all that detail. You echo it, you create connotation rather than the denotation.

R: Yeah, because everyone has a different perspective on the world, different view points…

S: Of course, with that close point of view, you sit on their shoulder, you can dip into their heads and then slip back out. So long as you’re consistent, and you do a one point of view per character kind of thing.

R: You close doors, but open windows, kinda thing.

S: In a way, yeah.

R: So, are your next three, that are going to be set in this universe… are they going to be much the same style, where you either love it, or can’t get through it?

S: I think they will fall back to the 10 book style. Because what I’m doing with the Kharkanas trilogy is quite self-contained. It’s a bit more Shakespearean. There’s an intensity to the language, a poetic bias to it. Which is well suited to what I’m doing right now, but would not be suited to Karsa Orlong. It’s a bit more headlong.

R: Ah, yeah, there’s a bit of a steep learning curve for when you’re getting into the series. I remember when I first picked Gardens of the Moon up, and I read the introduction.

S: It’s a perennial question. In a sense, Gardens of the Moon is a kind of instruction manual as well on how to read me, and how to immerse yourself in the world. I guess in that respect, it’s the litmus test for the reader. You either stay with it, or you don’t. Might as well find out in the first book, rather than five books later.

R: Yeah… That would be a bit tough, getting five books then…

S: It’s important for me that people are prepared… you know, if I’m going to reach out, I want to take their hand and guide them through this. We’ll come out the other side, and that’s a promise because I finished the series. I expected there would be people stopping half way, or part way through or whatever… but it’s a loss for me, in the sense that I could not keep hold of that reader.

R: It’s inevitable to happen though, with any series… But you know, if people do stick through it to the end, it is worth it.

S: I hope so!

R: Well, as a reader and reviewer, I do say it’s worth it.

And… Veering way off topic from what we’ve been talking about for the past 10 minutes or so.. What are your thoughts on the digital revolution, ebooks, and e-piracy and all that?

S: The e-piracy is always going to be frustrating for an author, because, from what I understand… writers these days, who can make a living at writing is down to about 1-2%. And yet, the desire for original material is bigger than ever. So, those who feel entitled to just pick up whatever they want and pay nothing for it are shooting themselves in the foot, because they’re going to run out of their writers.

It’s a tough one. It’s one area that we really need to… I don’t know how you’d fix it, to be perfectly honest. Because the notion of the value you place on things in our society, our civilization, is a bit skewed to begin with. The fact that we pay bankers enormous amounts of money, but not child care workers, just tells you how skewed the whole thing is. So how do you fight that sense of entitlement? I don’t know.

As for ebooks in general, I have a Kindle, but I’ve never actually used it. I think I have some books on there, but the hardcovers, or actual physical books to hold in my hand is wonderful.

R: Alright, and one last question… The audiobooks, what did you think of the pronunciations and such?

S: Well, it was a bit strange because they switched readers I think at House of Chains, and the original reader never contacted me regarding pronunciation. So he set up his standard. The new reader, they got in touch with me very early on, so we’ve had to decide whether we’re going to hold on to some of convention set up by the first reader, and we’ve had to do that in some areas..

But all new characters, and new terminology now is now properly pronounced from my position. The irony is of course, is that some of Cam’s pronunciations are different from mine. He’s left-handed though, that’s my excuse. I’ve had fans tell me that I’m pronouncing things wrong. So, it just is how it is.

R: Yeah, that’s one thing I’ve noticed in general in fantasy. Names in general tend to be a point of contention for pronunciation.

Anyways, I think that’s it. So, thank you very much! It was a pleasure and I hope you enjoyed yourself.

S: Yep, I was losing my voice but I knew that was coming.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading! Thank you again to Mr. Erikson for taking the time to answer these questions.


My Interview with Jim Butcher

Last weekend at Ad Astra, a convention here in Toronto, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Jim Butcher, bestselling author of The Dresden Files and Codex AleraWe talked about all manner of things from talking cats, epically epic epic fantasy epics, and zombie t-rex’s.

Now, I’ve done something slightly different with this interview. Attached below is the audio recording for this interview (with some minor edits to it, but it’s largely untouched). I encourage you to take a listen (and ignore how awkward I sound). There are a couple off-topic moments on there which didn’t make it into the transcript, but I think it’ll be much more fun to have a listen than to read. Let me know your thoughts!

Anyways, as per usual: J = Jim Butcher and = Myself (Rebecca).

R: I’m here with Jim Butcher, bestselling author of The Dresden Files. Jim, can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?

J: Hm.. That you might not know.. The people at both of the Burger Kings near my house know who I am by sight and will say “Hey Jim, how’s it going?” and “How’s the next book coming along?” whenever I go there. That’s how often I’m at Burger King.

R: Alright, that’s certainly interesting. Now, you have The Dresden Files which was adapted into a TV series, which you weren’t a huge fan of, or there were some issues there… How would you have envisioned it if HBO or someone else had the rights for it, or if you had made it into an anime?

J: As an anime I think it’d be great; in my head it’s an animated thing anyways. But if HBO was going to do it? I don’t know, I wonder what would happen if HBO did it. I would probably just sit back and smile regardless of what happened.

It would be really neat for something with a bit more production value to take over on something like that. That would be completely awesome. That was one of the big problems with the SyFy series was the budget was low enough that it was difficult to get enough actual magic magic into the show.

R: Yeah, I noticed that… And this next question is one that another fan asked me to ask you, but will we ever see Faith from the Restoration of Faith short story in a mainstream Dresden Files book?

J: Yes, we will, but not until the big ending. Faith was the first character and more or less the first client of Dresden’s that I ever wrote in that first little short story. So she will show up again to kick off the big apocalyptic trilogy at the end.

R: Alright, and can you tell us a bit about this next novel?

J: The next novel is called Skin Game. In it, we find out that Mab has various debts which she has incurred over the years and Mab is very keen on getting her debts paid, and when one of the people she owes shows up and asks for a favour, she loans him Harry Dresden in order to help him. So Harry is going to find himself, by command of Queen Mab, assisting Nicodemus Archleon in a heist. They’re going on a bank job, and they’re going to knock over the vault of Hades — the Lord of the Underworld.

Harry is going to be very far out of his element because he’s going to be working with this crew of nasties that Nicodemus has recruited and having to survive that situation, and it’s going to make him look so good to the White Council and everyone else that he’s running around with this crew.

R: Of course!

J: Yeah, cause that’s his life… So that’s going to be our general plot, we’ll have to see what happens from there. I have a general idea of the mayhem that’s going to work out, but I’ll have to get to the nuts and bolts of it as I write, and I haven’t opened it up yet.

R: Yeah, though you’re expected to have the first two chapters in a few weeks, I think?

J: I have to have the first two chapters done by the end of April so that they can go into the back of the paperback of Cold Days.

R: Good luck with that! Now, this is going to be the 15th book, how has your outline process changed since the first one? And how do you keep readers interested, and keep coming up with ideas for these books?

J: When I first outlined the series, I outlined 20 books and I said: “Here’s the kind of plots that I want to have … here are the kind of bad guys that are going to be showing up … the kind of big events that are going to be happening…” And I’ve still got the outline at home which is something I wrote as a class project long ago, and now, as we’ve gone on the books have done very well. I see no reason to fix it if it isn’t broken, so I’m still using those outlines. Which is just stuff I came up with a while back, and basically it’s just fun, like: “I want to have Dresden in prison in this story!” or “I want him in an insane asylum with no magic”. You know, and these are things that I’m hoping to have happen as the series goes on.

R: It is certainly interesting, because they’re each all unique while they have the same feel.

J: Yeah, and that’s kind of the point. It’s one of those things you have to do as a writer; if I just wrote the same thing over and over and over again, I’d shortly grow sick of Harry and throw him over Reichenbach Falls. Instead I try to throw these slightly different stories and try and give it a bit of a twist every time.

R: And is there a main source of inspiration you got for all of these ideas?

J: I give Harry the beatings of Indiana Jones… as far as the main source of the ideas, it was pretty much just ‘Monster of the Week’: what kind of monster do I want to deal with this week? Book 1: Evil wizards; we have good wizards, and so we’ll have evil ones and that’ll be the first bad guy. The next bad guy? Werewolves, and the next one ghosts, then I want to do fairies, then I want to get into demonic evil guys, cause I’ve come up with these Knights of the Coin and so on, and then more vampires in Book 6, and I want zombies in book seven, and that was kind of how far as the outlines went for a long time. Then, the challenge was to take those outlines and these fun things I wanted to have the character do, and work those into the story in such a way that they’d be a good time for the reader as well.

R: Definitely, and it’s interesting… It’s always just like “Okay, he’s already dealt with so much, what’s going to be thrown at him next?”

J: Yeah, and there’s no upper limit to how much crap I can dump on Harry Dresden, the poor guy. I mean, generally anything that can make his day more miserable needs to get written in and then I get to think of a way to make it even worse, or at least even more insulting as it happens.

R: Delightful… Challenge your rage at him much?

J: Oh it’s not my rage! I love the character, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be doing this.

R: Now, what’s your opinion on the transformation of books into the digital age where e-piracy is becoming of a thing, and people can just download a book, and upload it elsewhere for free?

J: Well, I actually tracked three different sites which were major torrent sites, to see how many people grabbed the torrent for The Dresden Files. As it turns out, about ten times as many people steal the book as buy the book, and after asking around the industry, they’re like “Yeah, that’s pretty normal”.

For a long time that bugged me, but at the point I’m kind of at now is that a lot of people who steal the book wouldn’t have paid for it anyways. And if some of those people read the books and are like “Oh, hey man, these are really good; I need to go get some more of these.” or “I need to actually pay for these.” then I’ve picked up customers I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I like to think of it as involuntary promotional copies that are going out over the internet, and try not to let it stress me out too much. It’s not something that I want to do, or want to encourage, or that I think is good, but I can’t do anything about it anyway so I might as well not give myself ulcers worrying about it.

R: Alright, cause I know some authors who actively go “Oh yes, here’s a free copy of my book.”

J: Right, well, that’s something I’ve never had a problem doing. I’ve occasionally gotten a fan letter from someone who’s serving over seas – especially if they’re actually in service, and I’d say “Hey, dude, here’s the next book. It’s already finished, it won’t be out for eight months but here you go.” and I have no problem doing stuff like that.

R: Yeah, it’s always nice when authors actually do that, you know?

J: Yeah, or sometimes I’ll get word that people are sick, and maybe too sick to be able to be around when the next book comes around, and I’ll be like “No, I will give you this book, here you go.” It’s not a big deal, and doing stuff like that… I mean, when you’re just trying to be kind to people, that doesn’t cost you; that pays in the long run.

R: Yeah.

J: And it’s much more Machiavellian to do it that way. “I’m going to be nice, and then they will owe me!”

R: Indeed! And it’s good, you’re harbouring good will with the readers, and you seem like the kind of guy who, enjoys spending time with fans.

J: Exactly, they’re real people. At the end of the day, my readers are my patrons. Artists have always had to have patrons to be able to do what they do, and it used to be that you had one particular lord that you had to please, and then you’d be alright. Instead, I’ve got a couple hundred thousand patrons that I make sure I try to take care of. As long as I do that, I’ve got the support of all of these readers which is a fantastic thing.

That’s why I try to pay attention to them, and sometimes ask: “What would you like to see more of in the books?” and put that in there, on account of: I want to keep eating.

R: Yeah, eating, paying rent, bills… Kinda important… Burger King.

J: Yes.. Shakespeare’s gotta eat.

R: They’d miss you if you weren’t there!

J: They’ probably would, “We haven’t seen you in a while, Jim, what happened? We were worried that you’d decided to start eating healthy!”

R: Oh dear, the thought!

J: Yeah.

R: So… Epic epic fantasy epic? Anything you’re willing to say or share about that?

J: I’ve always wanted to write an epic epic fantasy epic. When I started off I wanted to be an epic fantasy writer; that’s what I wanted to do. So, I’ve got this in mind – this epic epic fantasy epic that I want to write one day. It’s humans, elves, hobbits and dwarves, although it might not look like that, really, it’s a Tolkienesque kind of epic, or at least, it starts off that shape.

I want to write that when I’m good enough; it’s not something that I’m ready to do yet, so instead I’ve just been running roleplaying campaigns in it for the past many years. Which is great, because I’ll pick another part of the world and I’ll have some vague idea of what it looks like. Then I’ll start running the campaign there, and of course if you’ve got player characters they never do what you expect them to do – they never do the smart thing. They do the thing that seems appropriate to them based on what they know. So then I feel like I’m frantically running ahead of them with a load of lumber, canvas and paint, building these sets six feet in front of them just before they open the door. It’s a good creative exercise which has helped me get this world established in my brain.

But yeah, I do want to write a big ol’ Martinesque huge fantasy one of these days. I don’t know when, but I’m going to do it. My epic epic fantasy epic.

R: Yeah, I wasn’t sure I got all the “epics” in there.

J: I thought about calling it an epic epic epic fantasy epic, but that seemed a bit over the top.

R: An epically epic epic fantasy epic?

J: Epically epic? Well I don’t know if I could be epically epic, I mean, I’ll be happy to just be moderate epic… but you can’t call it a moderate epic fantasy epic, it doesn’t work.

R: No, and you’ve always got to exaggerate.

J: It’s one of the first laws of writing.

R: Exactly!

Now, you did recently sign an agreement for a steampunk trilogy… Is there anything you can say about The Cinder Spires?

J: The Cinder Spires has gotten a better response from my readers than anything that I’ve done recently, just in terms of them thinking it’s something cool. These are my beta readers, from the beta asylum, which I call the asylum because you have to be a bit crazy to be there, because I’m just a bear for cliffhanging chapters, and sometimes they’ll have to wait a couple of weeks between them. So, there’s something wrong with those people, but there they are.

They think it’s pretty great, it’s kind of “Hornblower” meets “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, it’s very focused on the characters, with very strong influence from Firefly I think.

R: Awesome.

J: Yeah, if you’re going to steal from somewhere, you know, pick a good spot. But yeah, we start off with a disaffected ship captain who used to be part of the navy buy got drummed out of it for being an up-right honourable guy, who’s now running his own ship. We’ve got some other characters who are scattered around who are being drawn together by the lord of the spire.

Everyone lives in these enormous spires that spire for miles above the ground below; the surface is this deadly place you don’t want to go. The lord of Spire Albion, which is where the story begins, is assembling what is essentially a team for critical missions. That’s what this first story is, it’s him drawing this team together, and dispatching them as this war is beginning with a neighbouring spire of jerks.

So that’s kind of where we get going. One of the team members is the daughter of one of the young noble houses, and one of them is her cousin who is warriorborn. They don’t know quite how it happened but a certain percentage of the popular seems to be born with what seems like genetic modification to be faster and stronger and better and cooler. As well, there are cats in the Spires who talk and who are just the most arrogant, annoying little bullies.

R: Well, yes… They’re cats.

J: They’re cats, exactly, but these cats can talk, and they have opposable thumbs and matches. So, these are cats who are along the lines of: “I see that you enjoy having no rodents in your warehouse. Perhaps you would continue to enjoy having no rodents in your warehouse. Perhaps there will be a bowl of cream sitting out for me… or it might all catch on fire.” You never know what’s going to happen, but one of the characters actually has a close relationship with a cat and can speak cat. The cats speak their own language, they probably could speak the human language, but why would they? They’re cats. Why would they stoop to that? They understand humans, perfectly, except for when they don’t… and that can all happen within the same morning. They can choose who to ignore and who not to. The cats are horrible.

Then we’ve got these wizard figures. All the technology is based around these crystals that can channel various forms of energy, steampower and a kind of Frankensteinian electricity. They’re engineers who can do all kinds of cool stuff, but they’re also these figures called etherealists who work with the crystals. The etherealists are all completely nuts, I mean, over-the-top hair on fire nuts. Except for the ones that aren’t, and those are the ones you really have to worry about, because there’s something really wrong with them.

You know, the guy who’s sort of dribbling and walking in circles in the corner, who’s an etherealist? Okay, he’s probably not a threat. The one who’s inviting you to high tea? Forget it, you don’t even want to go near that one.

R: Here be danger.

J: Exactly; you know they’re crazy, the question is: how? And if you can see they’re crazy, they’re less dangerous.

But yeah, that’s sort of them getting this team together and figuring out how they’re going to get things done. I’m having a great deal of fun with the book, it’s been a tremendous good time for me, so my beta readers have been tortured extra. Which I think is good for readers.

R: Of course, especially beta readers, they deserve it. This sounds like it’s going to have quite a bit of a different feel compared to Dresden.

J: Very much so. It’s going to be closer to Alera than anything else… Multiple character viewpoints, so it’ll have much more of that feel.

R: Alright, sounds interesting!

J: I hope so!

R: Now, how has your writing process changed? You said you already had the outline done for The Dresden Files, but over the years have you found that your writing process has since that first one compared to your latest novel?

J: I use outlines a lot more — when I’m being smart — to get things laid out ahead of time, and avoid those long stretches of “Why isn’t this chapter working?”. It’s really handy if you have an outline, it helps avoid that.

I don’t drink coke so much anymore; the caffeine and sugar were doing bad things to me and eventually started catching up. So, there’s less coke. Other than that, it hasn’t really changed.

There’s TV, I work at night, I don’t know why that’s when the magic happens, sometime between 11PM and dawn. There’s always a bad movie on in the background that I keep track of. So that I don’t have to look up except for the parts that I really like, and otherwise I can be focused on the work. For this particular book in The Cinder Spires, it’s been Star Trek 2 because it’s as Napoleonic as I could get in terms of ship-to-ship combat stuff.

R: I approve.

J: Yeah, I only have to look up for “I don’t like to lose” and “KHAANNNNNN!”

R: Yeah, best parts really… Only reasons to actually watch it.

J: That and Spock’s death scene, which is one of the better character death scenes ever done. If you’re going to kill a character, that’s a good way to go; that was very well executed.

R: Now, out of all your stories from The Dresden Files, Codex Alera, or anything else, which one was your favourite to write?

J: Specific favourite book is going to be a toss-up between Dead Beat and Cursor‘s Fury. Cursor’s Fury was a lot of fun for me to write, and it was where the Alera books finally took off for me, in terms of “Oh! This is all happening easily in my imagination.”

Dead Beat: Zombie T-Rex. I’d been writing like five years to write the zombie t-rex scene, and when I finally got to it, it was like “Finally, yes! I’ve been putting this off for so long!”

R: Every book needs a bit more zombie t-rex. There’s a disturbing lack of them.

J: Yeah, there is, and I don’t see why it isn’t happening more often.

R: We’ll have to change that.

Now, which was your least favourite to write?

J: My least favourite book to write? Ghost Story was really hard because it was so different from the other Dresden books. Not that it wasn’t fun, but it didn’t feel as natural as the other books. The Spider-Man book was really difficult to write because the time constraints were so strict. I think I had about thirty days to write that thing. That was a pretty serious challenge.

But that was the year that I wrote three novels and a comic book, the comic book wound up being like 124 pages which was ridiculous.

R: You wrote that in thirty days?

J: Well, not all of that, just the Spider-Man book had to be done in thirty days, and it was over Christmas too, so that made me so popular with my family.

R: Oh yes, of course.

So, you’re a bit of a geek

J: Yeah, a little bit.

R: I’m not sure if you attended conventions before you were an author, but how has your experience changed so far, now that you’re on the “other side”?

J: The only place that’s really different is when I come to a con. If I go out gaming, it’s still the same. If I go out LARPing, LARPing is still pretty much the same stuff. I’m not really famous anywhere except for conventions and sometimes at bookstores. I think I’ve been recognized in public once, ever.

So really, the only place that’s different is conventions… Coming to cons is cool, because everyone laughs at my jokes, which is a nice change of pace. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same experience.

Sometimes people are nervous to meet me, which seems strange because I know I’m just as big of a nerd as I always was. It’s like these guys don’t know; they never saw me sword fighting with boffer weapons up and down the hallways of conventions when I was eighteen. So that’s sometimes sort of strange. I’m the last person in the world you need to be nervous around; I’ve done far more embarrassing things around you. But you just try to be nice around folks, smile and nod a lot, and they’ll offer to buy you dinner. Sometimes it’s dinner number three, but I’ll get some fries or something like that.

As far as the actual experience being different? Not too much, really.

R: Just more of a sore wrist?

J: Yeah, after about three hours I had to go back to the hotel room and pack it in ice or it’d be swollen up tomorrow and I wouldn’t be able to sign. But really, what a great problem to have.

R: Ah yeah.. Like “Oh.. Too popular”

J: Yes, it’s awful! But I mean, I feel like I’m just as awkward as I always was. I guess I can kind of go into “Author Mode” a little bit easier where I’m doing the talk in front of people, doing the jokes and the one-liners, and that’s fun. That’s not really something I do because it’s fun for me, I like making people laugh, and that’s a good thing; to be able to put a smile on somebody’s face… That’s worth doing.

R: And do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into writing?

J: Yeah, go by my Livejournal at http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/. There are all kinds of articles that are geared towards beginning writers which is the stuff that my teacher taught me when I was bound and determined to prove to her how wrong she was about writing, and as a result, wrote the first book of The Dresden Files. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there.

The main thing though, is that you just have to write and ignore when people walk up to you at your family holiday gatherings and say, “When are you going to get a real job?” Oh man. I had a cousin and that was his favourite thing to say for like twelve years. Finally when I got my second series sold, and started being able to support the family on the writing, you know, I decided not to get a ‘real’ job. I’m just going to keep this job.

R: I think you’ve made a good choice.

J: Yeah, I was pleased with it, and man… It took so long for that pay-off, but it was so worth it when I finally got it. I think that’s the thing I would tell beginning writers: Everything you go through to become a writer – it all seems horribly hard when it’s happening to you, and when you can’t get somebody to read your book, and you’re getting nothing but rejection letters and it just seems awful… Once you’ve finally gotten in though – and getting in is just a matter of time and practice, you look back at it, and it’s like “Oh, that was more than worth it.”

The rejection process is one of those you kind of transcend and look back at it and go, “Why did I make such a big deal out of that?” But anyways… Write, write, write. That’s my first advice to newbie writers. Keep writing; don’t stop.

R: Alright, thank you, and I think that’s it… Thank you!

J: No problem!

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