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Jim Butcher discusses the Dresden Files with fans at the Buzzy Multimedia booth at DragonCon 2003. Sales of Butcher's books and related CDs (narrated by James Marsters) were so brisk at the Atlanta convention, Buzzy Multimedia needed to ship in additional boxes of books to meet customer demand. (Photo by Jean Marie Ward)

Jim Butcher: [Alera] has a technology that's based around magic. The magic that they have is a symbiotic relationship with spirits that inhabit the elements of the land. They call them Furies. Then all the technology that they used is based around the use of these Furies. Your station in the world is, by and large, determined by how well you relate to the Furies. How well you can use the Furies or use them in Fury crafting.

So, if you're a dirt crafter, you have some kind of empathy with the spirits of the earth, and you can perform feats of superhuman strength. You have an empathy with animals, and you can do other things that relate to an empathy with the earth.

If you're an air crafter, you can affect the winds, you can foretell the weather, and if you're skilled enough, you can even fly. Flame crafters use flames for, well, the obviously pyrotechnic military burning things up stuff, as well as for emotional, inspirational, leadership type abilities. Water crafters are skilled at healing other people through the use of Furies and a certain sense of human empathy.

Metal crafters tend to make the best swordsmen, who can ignore tremendous pain and have incredible force of will to get done what they want to get done and to wield a blade. And wood crafters have an empathy with wood spirits of the land. They make able archers and they're able to see and to know things that are around them and to pass through the wilderness unseen.

To a large degree the society is built up from what is essentially a Roman culture that then became based on technology. Their noble classes arose [based] on how well they could use Furies.

You have the First Lord of the Realm who is in charge of everything. He's the one who can wield the most powers -- he can call up volcanoes or crush you with tornadoes whatever he needs to do. He's quite mighty. Then, as you go down the sociological tree, you got people who just use the Furies for normal stuff like cooking and telling the water furies to come out of the spigot and stuff like that

Crescent Blues: How many books do you foresee for this series?

Jim Butcher: I've got a contract for three. If I get to do everything I want to do I'll get five books, possibly six.

Crescent Blues: Who will be the publisher?

Book: Jim Butcher, summer knight

Jim Butcher: This is with Ace.

Crescent Blues: When did you first start writing?

Jim Butcher: Probably when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was always a voracious reader and I had a long battle of wills with my fourth grade teacher where she kept taking my books away. I'd be reading and she'd come and take the book and put it in the office and I didn't get it back until the end of the semester or the year or something like that. So eventually, I started writing because they couldn't take it away if I was writing and maybe it would look like I was working or something. I wound up doing that as sort of something else to do besides reading. I got bored easily.

It went off and on like that until my senior year of high school. This next will tell how cool I am. My senior year of high school I was cool enough to be skipping class, but I was such a nerd that I was skipping class to go to the library. I was in the library when Margaret Weis, who also grew up in Independence, Missouri, came in to speak to students. And so I just kind of sat in on it and she talked about being an author.

Of course, I had read all the DragonLance books, and I thought she was really neat, and I thought I was really lucky to happen to be in there, and I thought: "Gee, maybe I could be a writing type. Maybe I could be a writer one of these days." Off I went to college and eventually decided, yeah, that's what I want to do. I want to be a writer.

Crescent Blues: What was your first sale?

Jim Butcher: My first sale was the first book of the Dresden Files. I sold three books at once, Storm Front, Fool Moon and Grave Peril.

Crescent Blues: That was great.

Jim Butcher: It was fortunate. There were a lot of factors that came together, not the least of which was that I had them all finished. Said the editor, "Oh, they're finished. I don't have to wait for any."

Oh, okay, that's a good idea.

Crescent Blues: So you didn't live up to your Internet nickname.

Jim Butcher: What, "Longshot?" Oh, I don't know -- the actual statistics for people who are trying to become novelists are really formidable. I read somewhere -- and these statistics are all from my writing teacher, so they're seven or eight years old already (and they might be older than that) -- that publishers get something like 100,000 novels every year, and of those, they only accept about three from new novelists.

Of the books that weren't accepted, nine out of ten didn't really clear a profit, and that nine out of ten writers weren't able to make a living actually doing writing. Since my goal was to go out and be a professional novelist, we wound up calculating my odds to be one out of 33,000. As a result, when I got on the Internet my nickname was "Longshot" whenever we had to have an Internet alias (which was much more prevalent in the early 'Nineties than today). That's still my address now.

Crescent Blues: Who inspires you?

Book: jim butcher, fool moon

Jim Butcher: I have to credit, in general, my dad and then after that, my family. My father was not a war hero. He was not really anyone who had gone out and conquered worlds but he was the sort of guy who would show up and if your world was shaking he'd settle it down again. He was just a damn decent man. I admire him very much to this day. It was his faith. He was very pleased that I was trying to become a writer. I still miss him very much.

Other than that, my wife is very inspiring. She's inspiring -- and not just from the nagging. My son, as well. My son inspires me to new heights of affection and frustration. And occasionally rage. He's been a great growing experience.

Crescent Blues: What writers have inspired you?

Jim Butcher: Writers I have really loved are Laurel K. Hamilton, the first several Anita Blake books. Loved them to death. They were some of the books that really made me want to write in the genre. Similarly I have loved lots of Joss Whedon's work that I've seen.

In straight fantasy I like David Eddings, I like [J.R.R.] Tolkien, and Glen Cook's Black Company books are very good. I read through [Robert] Jordan and the early Jordan books. I just loved them, but I just wasn't able to sustain learning all the names as I went along. I finally picked up a Jordan book and I started counting characters that I didn't know their names -- in the prologue -- and I got up to about 78 characters that I'd forgotten what their whole deal was.

At the time I was actually studying for a history test, and my history text was much shorter than the Jordan book. I had to go, "Well, okay, I'm going to have to wait until the series is finished."

I also like George R. R. Martin, who writes like pouring molten gold down someone's throat. And I like Spiderman.

I almost got killed myself once trying to save a camper from getting killed. But fortunately I had a friend there who helped me out.

Okay I like Spiderman a lot. I'm a big Spiderman fan. I've loved Spiderman from the time I was a teenager. For about six years I bought every title Marvel put out except Transformers and G.I Joe. And collected them, but Spiderman was always my major favorite superhero of ever. When the movie came out I was so happy, because it was like a geeky old friend made good.

Crescent Blues: You've got a pretty large Internet presence. How has the Internet influenced you with your writing? Or has it?

Jim Butcher: Oh, absolutely it has. It's hard to quantify how it has. When you get on the 'Net you get so many perspectives. Not only if you're in a discussion group about somebody else's work, but getting perspectives from folks on my own work.

It's bewildering at times how someone can look at what I've written and see something so different than what I thought I was writing. Just by virtue of the fact they have a different point of view or a different set of life experiences, they interpret one small thing much differently than I might have when I was writing it. And it changes meanings for them later on.

I try and listen to people when they send me an email on the 'Net about my books. I try and listen to them because I'm not writing the books strictly for me. There's an audience out there, and I know that, and I want people to read [my books] and to have a good time. I like hearing back from folks about what they liked, what they hated, and what was just confusing. And I try and do what I can to accommodate the audience. It's been great, because people can just call me up and say "I'm furious about this!" Or, "I'm desolate about that." Or, "I love this."

Crescent Blues: How do you keep track of all your characters and the continuity of your plots?

Jim Butcher: Well, I draw up a big half circle and then I put in the plot elements I want to happen along the way. And then I try and take each little section and say, "Well, what are some of the kind of emotional developments that might be going on with the character as I go forward?"

Some things I can see from planning way ahead of time, and some things I don't see until I'm actually at the keyboard writing things. What I try and do is make sure that the events that happen in each book are discrete to themselves.

Book: jim butcher, storm front

I want people to be able to pick up a book and read it and get it. And not have to go, "I don't understand half of what's going on." I want the reader to be able to pick up any of the novels and pretty much understand what's going on. Aha! This characters an ally, this character is kind of shady at this point, this character is an enemy. I can see that, and that's all I need to understand to go forward in the story and have a good time.

Crescent Blues: Do your Internet fans help you track the details?

Jim Butcher: They do. They help me. A lot of times they pick up small details and things before the book will get out to the general public. I've got some beta readers and they will say: "Hey! It wasn't winter during this last book, it was early autumn." Or, "No, it wasn't his right arm he got shot in, it was his left." "You got the colors on the blue needle wrong." "The door was green and the book was red, not the other way around."

So they help me out with that in tracking the small stuff. The large stuff I try to keep a good rein on myself, but they help me out with the small details. They are invaluable.

Crescent Blues: How many cons have you attended as a guest?

Jim Butcher: DragonCon 2003 [was] the fourth. I've many, many, many, more cons under my belt as an attendee than as a guest. Many multiple times more. Being the guest is way more flattering. It really is. It's much worse for my ego.

Fortunately, I have family and friends and my dear wife who can help me deal. They follow me around going, "Remember, Jim, you too are mortal."

It's really very nice. I get to hang out and talk to people. I make jokes and they laugh. That is so gratifying. I make jokes and people laugh -- I enjoy that more than anything.

Crescent Blues: Don't your friends laugh?

Jim Butcher: They do but it's more that laugh of: "We'll get you later."

Shannon Butcher: They laugh at him, rather than with him.

Jim Butcher: Well, yeah, they do that too. At home, there's more stuff like things getting knocked down and lots of falling over. I do a lot of sputtering in my humor at home.

Crescent Blues: No man is a hero to his valet.

Jim Butcher (laughing): Something like that.

Crescent Blues: You've had some rather unusual jobs in your development as a writer.

... I saw a guy take a lance that went right through his armor and right out his back.

Jim Butcher: Well there are some jobs that you just can't be very proud of. I was actually a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman for a while, and I'm not proud of that. You know, I thought they were great vacuum cleaners, but even when I sold one, I wasn't proud.

We were one of those companies where they would call people up and say, "You've won either a car or a European vacation or a new grill! All you have to do is let us come talk about vacuum cleaners." And the grill would be so small, you couldn't have cooked a hamburger on it. One of these little tiny things that maybe you could put a couple of briquettes in.

Then you would try to sell them a vacuum. The company had all these tests that were designed to make people who were compulsively cleanly just freak out and buy the vacuum out of desperation. So I had to stop that one.

Also, when I was a teenager, I was a wrangler at a summer ranch. I would ride along with the campers and make sure they didn't get killed.

I almost got killled myself once trying to save a camper from getting killed. But fortunately I had a friend there who helped me out. The poor camper's horse panicked, and she had one foot through the stirrup and was bouncing around wildly, and she couldn't possibly stay on the horse as she'd never ridden one before. So I went riding after her.

Now I was very small and wiry when I was younger. I got a growth spurt late, but up until then I was just this short little person with this shock of hair. And I went riding after her and caught up to her and was hanging on to her, and she was slowly dragging me down. Finally, one of my buddies rode up and caught the horse from the other side and stopped the horse. And I got into trouble because the camper fell off the horse into some cactus.

But that led to another job where I was doing stunt riding with a rodeo company. They were a production company called Rodeo Kids, and we did stunt riding and drill riding and exhibition riding. I was doing stuff like bouncing off horses, and I would like hop off and do a cartwheel and hang on to a bit of the saddle and come flying back on.

We did competition racing, where we did pick-up racing. We'd have three or four people in a line. Your partners would charge you with horses, and you'd swing up behind them. Then you'd have to race around and there'd be one person eliminated every time.

They liked me for that, 'cause I wasn't good at it. But it was interesting. I remember once, at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, I was with my partner, who was a girl who was bigger and stronger than me. I got pulled up onto the horse and went too far. And I was falling over this way and my nose was like right up against the plexiglass. I was like, "Aaaaaargh!" And everybody was going "Whooo!" But the girl was a vastly good rider and had a fast horse, so I survived.

But another time we were doing the same race, and I was falling, and I knew I was going to be killed, so I grabbed at whatever I could. And I grabbed the girl's shirt. She was wearing a western button-up shirt and I ripped her shirt off in front of 15,000 visiting African students and businessmen. Which was popular, but not, of course, with her. She didn't forgive me for the longest time, but she was a decent person and let me live. Eventually she even quit knocking me down

Crescent Blues: Some of this stuff sounds like it was training for your new series.

Book: Jim Butcher, Fool Moon

Jim Butcher: Um, well yeah. I got strep throat when I was in first grade. I was like eight years old and I was in bed for three days and my parents got me the boxed set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. And after that it was hobbit, hobbit, dwarf, dwarf, Gandalf, wizards, rangers -- and nobody else knew a thing about it.

Eventually because of my love of fantasy and epic fantasy, I got into horses. In epic fantasy you always have a horse. So I fell in love with horses and I wound up getting involved in horses because of that. And then later on, because I love fantasy so much, I got involved in martial arts and into fencing and into doing all sorts of other ridiculous things.

Crescent Blues: Walking on tightropes, how did that happen?

Jim Butcher: That happened on a bet between a fencing buddy and me. A guy who was actually a very, very good fencer was trying to teach me. I was getting a crash course one summer in learning how to defend myself. And one of the things we did was to learn walking on tightropes.

We worked on walking on tightropes until we were actually walking on slack ropes which is much harder. At one point, as part of a game, when we were going across the ropes course, I looked at one of those ropes and said, "I bet I can walk that."

Somebody said, "No, you can't."

And I said, "Oh, sure I can."

This is the same sort of thing that had me falling off my fence, hurting my wrist, and slamming my head on the ground a couple of weeks ago. Kind of the same attitude. At that point I was young enough to get away with it. So I got to hop up on the rope and walk a twenty-foot tightrope. Just for fun. With people who were in game production panicking, because they were sure I was going to fall and brain myself and sue them horribly.

Crescent Blues: Did you ever think of doing Renaissance fairs? You certainly seem to have most of the skills.

Jim Butcher: Actually, I tried out for a Renn Faire, but didn't make it. I eventually acquired the skills, but it took a really long time for them to actually congeal into one place. By that time I enjoyed going to the Renn Faire just for fun.

I think, also, at one of the early Renn Faires I went to, they were doing a jousting demonstration, and I saw a guy take a lance that went right through his armor and right out his back.

He comes flying off the horse, and he's lying there on the ground. I'm sitting there looking and there's blood on the lance and over everything and then all the court ladies come out and spread their skirts in front of him, smiling. And I'm going: "I'm going to throw up."

Book: jim butcher, death masks

Okay, I can draw the line at lancing. I might have been fool enough to actually go riding into that at one time, but now I'm like, "Hmmm. Maybe not."

Crescent Blues: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

Jim Butcher: You don't want to ask a question that open ended do you?

Crescent Blues (smiling evilly): We do.

Jim Butcher: Oh my gosh.

Crescent Blues: Piers Anthony gave us nearly six pages. Go for it.

Jim Butcher: Really? Wow. Piers Anthony was one of the guys I read. He's one of the guys my son has picked up and has really gotten my son interested in reading fantasy. So bless you, Piers Anthony, for the early Xanth books, I love 'em. I don't know.

I'm really enjoying getting out and meeting people. It's somewhat startling. People come up and they're so friendly and nice, and I've never met them before and they think I'm cool. Which is weird, cause like I said, I was cool enough to skip class, but too much of a geek to be anywhere else but the library.

Click here to learn more about Jim Butcher.

Click here to learn more about Buzzy Multimedia and their Dresden Chronicles audio-books, Storm Front and Fool Moon, narrated by James Marsters.

Click here to read Teri Smith's review of Grave Peril.

Teri Smith