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{March 26, 2012}   Jim Butcher Interview!!!

Oh, hell yes! You read that right. Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and one badass Spider-Man adaption took a few hours out of his busy day and let me interview him for a class paper. This guy is probably one of the coolest and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I unabashedly admire him. For your viewing pleasure, I’m posting it here.

Vicious Ink

1)      Can you remember the first thing you ever wrote? How old were you when you wrote it?

I wrote my first short story in the fifth grade for my English teacher, Mrs. Bruns.  It was about what you’d expect from a fifth-grader.  There were an absurd amount of cartoon references and in the end the whole thing turned out to be a dream.  I was about ten, I think.

2)      Who would you say your favorite writer is, and why? What were some of your favorite books as a kid/teenager, and what do you read when you aren’t writing?

If we go by the number of titles I own, we’d have to say that Robert B. Parker was my favorite.  He was a steady and prolific writer, and masterful at creating characters and revealing those characters to the reader.  His prose was always tight, clean and intelligent, and he never, ever talked down to his reader.  If we go by the sheer amount of joy I’ve taken in another’s work, I think I’d have to say Lois McMaster Bujold is my favorite writer.  She is absolutely unbelievable in her ability to put the reader into the viewpoint of the character, in subsuming every portion of story and prose into the unique perspective of her characters.

Both writers are brilliant craftsmen.  When it comes to telling a story professionally, cleanly, and elegantly, both writers are paragons.  I don’t think either is going to join the rolls of the literary giants–they made the mistake of writing stories that are fun to read. 🙂  But if you want to know how to tell a good story, you could do worse than to emulate either of them.

3)      What do you think you’d have done as a career if you hadn’t become a novelist?

I’d probably still be working as a support tech somewhere.  Oh, though I guess by now, I might have gotten moved up to managing support techs.  I’d have been an awesome tech manager.  I’d be the boss who didn’t care if you were playing the new Battlefield release, as long as you were getting the job done.  The best computer techs operate that way–their job is almost indivisible from their play, and they bring the same energy to work as they do to their games.  Corporate would be glowering down at me for letting my crew be a bunch of wacky oddballs, but I’d be able to point at the crew’s efficiency rating and ask them what more they wanted?

Man, my theoretical department really rocks! 😀

4)      You’ve often said that “you don’t have writer’s block, you have a mortgage.” What do you do when you have trouble feeling inspired to write? How do force yourself to write when it’s hard?

You put your butt in the chair and /do/ it.  There’s no secret to it.  You just put your nose to the grindstone and /work/.

The key thing to understand is this:  you don’t need to /feel/ good about your writing, as you’re writing it, in order for it to /be/ good.  There are many times when I have written a scene and absolutely hated it as I did–but I did it anyway, because I had a quota to meet.  But later, when you go back and look at your book, you can’t tell the difference between the prose you wrote when you “felt” it was really good, and the prose you wrote when you “felt” it sucked.

This is how you get enough words on the page:  give yourself permission to suck.  But do NOT give yourself permission to quit.

5)      I’ll be honest, I’ve never read the Codex Alera (love the name, though). I know that the Codex books are wildly different than the Dresden Files, so do you think it’s harder to write High Fantasy or Urban Fantasy?

I don’t think it’s any easier to do one than the other.  There are simply tradeoffs.  Some things about High Fantasy are more difficult: for example, in a completely original fantasy world, you’ve got to create absolutely everything that exists, right there in front of the reader.  In Urban Fantasy, you don’t have that problem: you can use existing reality to fill in all kinds of blanks for the reader.  You can set a scene in a Wal-Mart, and most of your readers are immediately aware of the setting.  You don’t need to give them that kind of intensive description you need in High Fantasy.  On the other hand, in Urban Fantasy, you’ve got a lot more research to do:  you have to find out things about police procedure, guns, cars, medical trauma, you name it.  The down side of using the real world as a model for your story world is that you’ve got to work to make sure things are consistent.  In your High Fantasy world, you can make up any old thing you want, and as long as it seems to be logically consistent, no one can gainsay you.

6)      I’ve started two novels, and never finished either. How does it feel when you finish a novel? Are you relieved or sad to end a book? What did you feel about finishing a book series?

Finishing a book isn’t a relief or a sadness, for me.  There’s a very intense feeling of… I don’t know, maybe “completion” is the right word.  A very deep satisfaction.  It’s difficult to describe, but I suspect the emotional reward for completing any long-term, difficult project in life is much the same.

7)      Do you ever find the demands of being a writer frustrating? Do you have a fixed schedule for writing, or do you just write when you have ideas?

As I’ve gotten more popular and successful, there has been a steadily increasing amount of demand for my time from various places–conventions, interviews, requests for support for charity organizations, public appearances, additional business proposals, et cetera.  That’s been very frustrating, because all of it takes the one resource I really can’t afford to spare–time.  All that additional time has to come out of either my personal time, my writing time, or my sleeping time, and it can be very frustrating to attempt to find balance between those various demands.

When I’m working on a contract, I have a weekly quota I try to meet.  If I can beat the quota early, I can take some time off if I really hate the idea of writing tonight, or if I just really, really want to play video games instead. 🙂  Mostly, though, it’s just a matter of putting in steady effort on a regular basis.  Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.  It takes discipline and time.

8)      In high school, apathy toward reading is reaching epidemic proportions (believe me, I was there). What do you think when you hear kids or teenagers say that they hate to read?

Relatively few kids enjoyed reading when I was in high school, either, and I suspect that the actual numbers haven’t changed nearly as much.  I find it unsurprising that reading isn’t a huge youth activity, though: there are so many fast-paced forms of entertainment to be enjoyed instead.  Movies, sports, TV, video games, various online communities–they’re a much larger part of our culture than they were only a couple of decades ago.  Our education system isn’t what it probably should be, and the kinds of reading most kids are required to do in school don’t exactly introduce them to the most exciting and interesting portions of the written word.

Writing has been the king of storytelling media for centuries, but that’s changing.  Storytelling is being done in all kinds of media now: graphic novels, films, and video games are rising to dominance over simple text.  Books were the original virtual reality, but technology is allowing us to create that same kind of mental “story space” in many, many different ways.  It’s a very exciting time to be a storyteller!

9)      In between the time you finished Storm Front and got it published, how did you deal with rejection? How did you manage to stay encouraged and/or optimistic?

I tried to celebrate the little steps forward.  If I got a personalized rejection letter rather than a form letter, that was worth a celebration.  If I got to meet an agent or editor at a convention, that was worth celebrating.  If I got a “let me think about it” response, instead of an outright “no,” that was worth celebrating.  But mostly, I passed the time by getting to work on the next book.  I was halfway through Grave Peril when Storm Front finally sold.

Breaking into the writing business isn’t about creating any given kind of feeling for yourself: it’s about typing the next word, one after another, and deciding that you simply aren’t going to quit.

10)  While I think you’re pretty much the most talented writer on the planet, I’ve seen people who disagree. How do you deal with criticism and “haters”? How do you keep a cool head about it? What would you say the worst experience with a detractor was to date, and how did you cope?

Haters gonna hate. 🙂  I can’t control that, I can’t stop it, and there’s really no sense in letting myself get too stressed about it.

Criticism is something entirely different: good critical analysis is invaluable, and I’m always interested when someone holds up something I’ve written to the light and points out genuine flaws and weaknesses in my technique.  I’ll never be a perfect writer.  Every time I start a new book, I bring things that I learned from the last book with me, and I strive to improve my prose, my plotting, my characters, and my storytelling technique in general.  A good critical reader is enormously helpful to me!

11)  Dresden Files is set in a fictionalized version of a real city. Have you ever toyed with the idea of working current events or very resent history into stories? What line do you put between the reality and the fantasy when you’re writing?

Oh, I always want the Dresden Files world to be one that is pretty much like our own.  All the major things that happen here have also happened in the Dresden Files.  There are only two really hard lines I avoid crossing:  First, I don’t want to put real people in the Dresden Files.  Second, I don’t really want to put actual real-world locations into the books, since it might result in problems and annoyance for the people who actually live there.

12)  What is your absolute favorite part of being a writer, and what – if anything – do you wish you could cut out of the experience?

I love the fact that I can go to work in my pajamas, and I love the fact that I don’t EVER have to wear a tie.  Man, I hate ties.

I wish I could write books as fast as I think of them.  It takes me months to write a book, but only hours for a reader to enjoy it!

13)  Having written some twenty-odd books, is there anything you’ve looked back on and wished you could change? Do you have any favorite scenes that you’ve written, and what?

There are always things you wish you could change.  That’s just a constant of writing, no matter how well you do it.  Inevitably, my brain will pop up with an idea on how to improve any given book or story–about twenty seconds after I’ve fired off the final draft to my editor.  You learn to live with it, and to keep your eyes focused on the book you’re writing right now, not the one you wrote five years ago.

Of all the scenes I’ve written, I think I dig Tyrannosaur Sue the most.  That was just too much fun for words, and I’d been waiting for about six years to actually write that scene, with Harry riding the big stompy dinozombie through downtown Chicago. 🙂

14)  Whenever I’ve seen people ask authors what advice they’d give young writers, I always see the exact same answer: “Read. Read, read, read – write, practice – read.” Is there any unconventional or additional advice you’d give an aspiring writer?

Wow, I would never give the read, read, read advice.  WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.  If you want to be a professional musician, you don’t do it by spending time listening to music.  You do it by /creating/ the music, by practicing endlessly.  Sure, read, absolutely, I think everyone should.  But writers write.

One more thing an aspiring writer should do: experience stuff.  Go out and involve yourself with things that touch you on an emotional level.  Go out to the country at sunset and sit down in the woods and just wait while it slowly gets dark around you.  Experience that fear and excitement.  Watch movies that make you cry.  Watch TV shows that make you laugh.  Listen to music that makes you get up and dance or that brings tears to your eyes–and try to figure out WHY all those things effect you the way they do.  Being a good writer means being able to write about emotion.  It means understanding how people think, and how they react to what they feel.  And one of the best ways to learn about it is to experience it.

~X~

Once Again, Jim Butcher, Author of the Dresden Files. If you don’t know him, check him the fuck out at his website: http://www.jim-butcher.com/ ! Or, if High Fantasy is your bit, check out his Codex Alera novels. Also, “Spider-Man the Darkest Days” is everything you love about Spidey with 100% less Toby Maguire. Worth the read, and when I’ve worked up enough NerdRage I’m gonna post a rant about why TM was the worst Spidey EVER. It’ll be fun. Don’t miss it.

Vicious Ink

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