|Jim Butcher: "Longshot" Makes Good|
Pity the poor citizen living in Harry Dresden's Windy City. Vampires, of varying persuasions and degrees of lethality, inhabit trendy clubs and posh nightspots. Werewolves vie with poodles and rottweilers for leg-lifting room at local fire hydrants. Ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night jostle for elbow space on the El and on every street corner. Where can beset Chicagoans turn for surcease from all these horrors?
The Yellow Pages, of course. That's where they'll find Harry Dresden, Chicago's only listed working wizard, and hero extraordinaire of Jim Butcher's enormously popular series, the Dresden Files. Harry, a noir-ish cross between Sam Spade and Gandalf the Grey, is the wise-cracking creation (and sometimes alter-ego) of author Jim Butcher. In addition to the Dresden Files, Butcher is working on a second series, Codex Alera (tentatively set for publication by Ace in late 2004) and somehow trying to find the time to level his Everquest ranger. Alas, poor ranger….
Crescent Blues: In Death Masks one of the characters calls Harry a man of many shades of gray. What is it about a character that is neither all white nor all black that appeals to you?
Jim Butcher: I tried to write Harry not as a shining hero or as a villain, but as somebody you might actually meet or know -- or at least as somebody that you can understand why he makes the decisions he makes. So if he winds up making a decision that [makes it look like he's doing] something really bad there's usually something behind it that is motivating him. Harry is basically a decent guy but he doesn't always make the right choices. He tries.
Jim Butcher: [Decisions] that are a little bit over the top or too violent. Yeah, in Death Masks Harry is faced with a choice in a situation where there is a villain who is the bleakest, blackest kind of villain you can have: despicable. And Harry knows if they let him go the guy's going to turn around and stab him in the back and its not going to be just Harry who's in danger but his two friends, the Knights of the Cross, who are with him.
Harry knows that the Knights of the Cross are too good to put this guy down. They won't harm him, in fact, they kind of go a step beyond that -- in terms of, they feel like they are there to protect even that guy's freedom to choose between being a good guy or a bad guy.
Harry decides that there's no way he can leave the guy where the guy might come back to hurt his friends. And in good conscience, he can't do that, but at the same time, in good conscience, he can't kill the guy either, and he understands why his friends don't want to do it. But he's willing to try and find somewhere in the middle, somewhere where there is some gray area. So he attacks the guy pretty viciously and cripples him to the point to where he won't be a threat. "
Harry doesn't kill him but he does remove him from the equation of the story. And in doing that he feels it's the only thing he can do it to protect his friends as well as himself, but he's really thinking more of them than of himself. He doesn't like doing it but he does it, because he thinks it's necessary. He just has to hope that his friends will forgive him for it later. He doesn't really care much what the villain thinks because that guy's a jerk.
Crescent Blues: Harry's world is a blend of traditional fairytales and biblical nightmares. Where did you come up with it?
Jim Butcher: Much of it from Scooby Doo. When I was a kid there were all kinds of things that I would watch on TV that would be interesting or intriguing to me or scary, like Damian and The Omen. When I was young, they were just the scariest thing ever. [Those movies] gave me nightmares.
Watching something like Scooby Doo was something that I thought was fun as a kid. You know, you get to the end and, ha ha ha, it's not actually a hideous bog monster, its Old Man Witherspoon. "And I'd have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids."
But in the Dresden world it isn't Old Man Witherspoon, it is the hideous bog monster, and that very real monster is something that Harry has to face and deal with. I think in one of the early books I call science one of the most successful religions of the 20th century because everybody believes that there's a rational explanation for everything. In Dresden's world there isn't one. Sometimes the thing underneath the mask might be even worse than you thought it was. And it's not usually an old man, and there are nasty evil things that are still out there and they're just as dangerous even if people don't want to believe that they're real.
Crescent Blues: Do you have a specific destination for Harry? Do you know where he's going?Jim Butcher: Very much so. I set out and was sure I knew where he was going in the beginning and while my perceptions of his world and the kind of things that he faces have changed, Harry is pretty much on course. If I get to do what I want, I'll get to do about twenty case books. And then at the end I'll do a big old apocalyptic trilogy because big old apocalyptic trilogies are fun.
Crescent Blues: Will Harry survive?
Jim Butcher: He will. You know, I don't see how he could possibly get through this whole thing alive. But then again there's all these heroes getting killed and coming back now so I may have to come up with something better than that…
Crescent Blues: How far ahead have you plotted the Dresden Files? Have you plotted the entire arc or are you taking it book by book?
Jim Butcher: I've got a good idea where I want the overall story to go. I've got an over-story for the entire series. A lot of it is tied into Harry's origins -- his parents and the kind of lives they led early on. I keep dropping small hints and stuff about what's been going on in the past. Which should become more important as the series goes on.
I've got sort of stepping stones -- where I want the character to be at any given point in the story arc. So far I'm doing all right. So far he's on track. The thing I don't have planned out is his romance. His love life is something that is more organic. I don't really have anything blocked out for that. I like playing with it, I like having that as something that I don't know exactly what's going to happen and as a result I think I've got some good stuff to work with.
Crescent Blues: I understand that the Dresden Files have been optioned.
Jim Butcher: The books were optioned to an experienced Hollywood producer [Morgan Gendel]. He's won a Hugo award and spent a long time working as a regular writer for Law and Order. He has produced some other things more recently, and it looks like he is in position to go for a first big production. I wish him all the best, and I hope he'll be able to do it.t.
Crescent Blues: What's your dream cast for the Dresden Files?
Jim Butcher: My dream cast…. For Harry, Nick Brendan and James Marsters are both people I could see in my mind. That's Xander and Spike from Buffy, of course.
I've also thought of Vince Ventresca who played Darien Fawkes on The Invisible Man, because poor Darien could never catch a break. He [Darien] was always totally outclassed. He wouldn't just get beaten up; he'd get humiliated. And every opening teaser section before they played the intro would always end with him saying "Oh crap." He [Ventresca] would just be perfect for Dresden from that angle.
And then I've also thought, before I thought of that, maybe someone like Will Smith could do Dresden, because Will Smith can be insouciant and people outclass him so well. He'd save the world a lot in every sequel, but yeah, if it was a dream cast he might be there.
Crescent Blues: Speaking of James Marsters, how did you, Marsters and the Dresden Files audio-books (Storm Front and Fool Moon) manage to come together?
Jim Butcher: For me it was real easy. The folks at Buzzy Multimedia called me up and said, "Hey, we'd like to do an audio." And I thought that was a great idea. And they said, "And we'd like to get James Marsters to do the reading for it." And I thought that was an even greater idea. And I said, "Yes, that would be wonderful."
So we signed up to do it and they went out and got James, and it worked out. I thought he did a great job reading the books. I've been nothing but happy. Other than actually writing the books, my only contribution has been going "Yeah!" on the other end of the phone. They've really done a great job. I've been very happy.
Crescent Blues: Marsters has narrated the first two books in the Dresden Files. Will he do any more?
Jim Butcher: He's talked about doing more work, [but] there's not a contract set up right now. But we're looking forward to the future and we're hoping to be able to do some more.
Crescent Blues: When you are writing do you have a specific vision of who your characters are? We talked about casting, do you see Will Smith, or James Marsters, or whoever, as you're writing Harry?
Crescent Blues: I wonder why….
Jim Butcher: As I said, I like Spiderman. Spiderman is very cool.
Crescent Blues: Do you ever write about any people that you know?
Jim Butcher: Not so far. Occasionally, I'll write in characters that I really loved. When I was a kid, my sister took me to see The Karate Kid with Pat Morita. I loved that movie. It really sparked my interest in martial arts. Not that Daniel learnt karate and beat people up, but how he was taught and the kind of thought that went behind it. I admire that so much. So, when I write a character and I've got a character that's calling for an elderly Japanese samurai type character and I gotta borrow from that, because I can't deny that, that was part of my past that was great fun. So I got to borrow from that when I was writing that character in Death Masks.
Jim Butcher: I've done some fencing -- epee and saber. Then I got involved in a number of live role-playing groups that have various amounts of swordplay and derring-do involved in them.
Crescent Blues: What kind of character do you role-play?
Jim Butcher: The guy I played this last weekend was a loud-mouthed troublemaker who gets frustrated when things are really complicated and who gets to do much kicking down of doors and hacking up of people. The game was this wonderfully intricate game based around Dante's Inferno and all these different demon lords that were plotting against one another. I was like: "Fine, let's just start killing everybody and we'll figure out who the real powerful one is when we can't kill him." And people said, "We can't do that, that's not a good rule."
I like to play rakish loudmouths who get into a lot of trouble. I've played these types of characters and actually get to fence people on like balance beams and stuff like that. That's really the kind of character I tend to get into. I can limp off and not feel too bad about it 'til later.
Crescent Blues: Sounds a lot like Harry.
Jim Butcher: Yeah, there's some of that that leaks through.
Crescent Blues: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jim Butcher: Oh my gosh. Well, my Everquest ranger should be at least 65th level by then.
Crescent Blues: How much does your gaming influence your writing?
Jim Butcher: I think I've done a lot of computer gaming online, face to face gaming with every gaming system that you can think of. And one of the things [playing the game master] forces you to do is come up with a world that is consistent and makes sense.
If you can go to your players and say, "Okay, this world is consistent and makes sense," they can approach you and say, "Well, if your world is consistent, then this should happen." I have to be flexible enough to go: "All right, you're right, that should happen. Let's figure out what goes from there."
I think that's done a lot for me when it comes to the books. When I'm writing, I want that world to be consistent, and I want the readers to trust me the way my players will. Then they can say "If this world is consistent then this should be like that."
"You're right, it should."
You know, folks have come up to me and said "Won't this affect this and won't this detail you've mentioned here interact with that one over there." And I have to go, "Hmmm, yes. It probably would." There have been many times people have come up and asked those kind of questions that made me give them answers that were like, "Oooh, that's really neat! I could put that in a book."
Crescent Blues: Since we're talking about games, the Dresden Files: Playstation2 or online?
Jim Butcher: Playstation2, where he could just have a blasting rod in one hand and a staff in the other and blow up everything. That would be fun, that's the kind of game I would enjoy, 'cause I wouldn't have to balance anything, or worry about characters or ask: Is this a black, white or a gray decision? Is Harry taking a step towards the dark side, and oh my gosh, shouldn't he have known not to put his hand on that coin? If he could just blow things up, that would be fun.
Crescent Blues: You write about the supernatural. Have you ever experienced the supernatural yourself?
Jim Butcher: I've known people who have had things happen that they told me about and I trust them enough that I just can't blow them off. And I've had a couple of things happen to me that are odd. But which I can't really go, "Ah, that was really something strange." The closest thing I think I have is when my son was very young. He was two years old, and I could only understand about half of what he was saying. And he was taking a bath. There wasn't enough water in the tub to worry about, and he'd been taking baths on his own for awhile, so I had no problem being in the next room. So, he was in there splashing in the bath, and I was in the next room talking to my family, and I hear him in there talking.
After a while I came in and said: "Hey there, what's going on?"
He said, "I'm talking to Grandpa."
"Grandpa" had died a couple of years before.
I said, "Grandpa, huh?"
He said, "Uh huh."
"What's Grandpa doing?"
"Grandpa's going fishing and going to college. He said he didn't get to go to college."
And it was like "Aaaargh!" It was very strange, because one of the things my father always wanted to do was go to Alaska on a fishing trip but he had put it off year after year and finally didn't get to.
Another of the things he'd said that he'd always regretted was that he'd never gone to college, and it got in his way -- that he could have done much better in life if he'd had a college degree. So that, coming from my son who was not old enough to have known that about my dad and was certainly not savvy enough to put it all together -- being at that kind of just-babble-back-things-he'd-heard age -- that was quite odd.
Yet, at the same time, it was okay. Yeah my dad can hang around and make sure the kid's all right in the bathtub, no problem. That's fine by me. That's a positive experience of something that was just too wild.
However, there is one that was really, really odd. I can't honestly say that it was something weird or supernatural. One night though, I'm in Norman, Oklahoma, driving home. I was probably coming home from a gaming store, or something frivolous like that. And it's dark, not quite dark yet, with the sky just a little bit light, but there's lots of shadow, and the street lights haven't quite all come on. That weird kind of in-between twilight light, where you can't see things very well.
I'm driving down the street, and I see this woman stumble out of the bushes, and she's wearing shorts and a tank top, which were appropriate to the season. It was late summer and blistering hot. And she's covered in blood. Down one side, all the way down one leg, one of her shoes was soaked with it and she had a hand up to one side of her chest and she was reaching out towards the cars as they went by. And I remember going by and being so totally freaked out by seeing it. On the next street, not twenty yards later, I slammed on the brake and turned in a driveway, turned around and went back. There was no one there, there were no cars stopping, there was no fuss, there was no anything.
And I was like, okay, well, either something has either just dragged her back into the bushes or that was something really weird. So I just kind of started whistling the theme from Kolchak, the Nightstalker, and moved on. But that was something that really creeped me out for a long time. You see people when they're acting in a slasher movie, and they're covered with blood, and they're acting, and you think that's what fear looks like. When you see someone who's really afraid, who's really in pain, it's not pretty. It's not dramatic like it is on the screen. It's really horrifying. I was genuinely scared. I was sure that was real but when I went back, nothing there.
Crescent Blues: Did you ever drive that street again?
Jim Butcher: All the time. I went back all the time and never had anything else like that happen. I would get freaked out occasionally. I mean, it was right by my home. It was not a couple of hundred yards from my house.
Crescent Blues: Nothing was ever reported?
Jim Butcher: No, nothing ever came up. In a little town like Norman, where nothing ever happened except bikes being stolen from the university, or something like that. Well, except once in a while someone would get their head cut off. I mean, there was something like a decapitated head found with no body. You know, such a friendly little town except for that occasional psychopath with that decapitated head thing. Gosh, and we moved away from there. I can't believe it.
Jim Butcher: Oh it's true, it's true. That was my weird thing. That was my creepy one, and then there was the good one with my kid, which I really put a lot more faith in. Because, maybe, I was just had by someone playing a joke cause it was a college town.
Crescent Blues: You have a second series coming out. What's it called?
Jim Butcher: It's titled the Codex Alera, the first book is called The Furies of Calderon. The codex is a book, and Alera is the name of the realm where everyone lives. Calderon is this big rich valley out in the middle of nowhere in Alera. It's where the characters that are involved in the first book live.
Crescent Blues: What's the book about?
Jim Butcher: The story is about a boy who gets asked to do a favor by a girl and against his better judgment agrees, and as a result, winds up nearly wrecking his country. There is a large plot going on in a large and politically complex realm, and the events of it are centered in this valley out in the middle of nowhere that's on the border between the realm proper and a nation of barbarians who live next door.
As a result of the hero agreeing to the girl's request, he finds himself embroiled in the midst of this plot which could result in a great number of deaths and a great deal of hardship for the peoples of the land. The story is about how he gets involved in it and how the other folks who are involved, the folks who are really right up in the teeth of the gears, so to speak, of what's going on, how those folks deal with what's at hand and it all affects how the situation comes out.
Crescent Blues: Could you tell us something about this series' hero?
Jim Butcher: My hero lives in a world where your social status is based on how well you can use the Furies, and Fury crafting. And my new hero is a freak who can't use any Fury crafting at all. He has utterly no ability to use any of them whatsoever.
Crescent Blues: How is the magic in Alera different from the magic in Harry Dresden's world?