Interview with Jim ButcherOctober, 2015
Storm Front was released back in 2000. You've obviously found phenomenal critical and commercial success in the last 15 years with Harry Dresden as well as Codex Alera, but from this reviewer's humble perspective, The Aeronaut's Windlass is easily your best work to date. I mean, it's a 630-page novel that I couldn't put down! I haven't read a novel this good in a long, long time. When you were plotting out the story line and actually writing this novel, at what point did you realize that you were creating something singularly unique?
Jim Butcher: Um, what? Don't get me wrong, that's all very flattering, but mostly I was just doing what I do. Write a story, have fun with it, try to make sure that the reader is going to have fun, too. Sometimes I find out things I didn't know before along the way, which is a big part of what makes the process worthwhile for me. You're right, though. It's really, really long. The longest novel I've written so far. It might be able to stop small-caliber rounds. If you drop it, pets and small children could be endangered—and there will be a whole bunch of copies of it. I must use this power only for good.
GR: Goodreads member Jonathan Schmidt (and literally hundreds of others) had questions regarding your initial inspiration behind writing this Cinder Spires saga. What attracted you to the steampunk backdrop?
JB: I was looking for my next project, and I thought to myself, "Self, you should try several things and see what twigs with the beta readers most effectively." So I dropped several project beginnings on them and looked carefully at their reactions, and when I found one that made them all go, "You should do more of this one, what's next?" I said, "Right, that one!" And it happened to be the steampunk, because I sat down and started writing a world where goggles would be an absolute necessity as an exercise—and it got completely out of hand.
GR: Here's an obvious question, but one I feel I need to ask. Highly principled, heroic, and largely misunderstood, disgraced airship captain Francis Madison Grimm is a fascinatingly complex character. How similar are you to Grimm?
JB: I have his outfit. No, seriously. I wanted to be able to cosplay something from one of my books, so I made his outfit one that I literally already owned. Yes, I really am that petty. Beyond that, I hesitate to make any assessment of a real person's character in relation to one of my imaginary friends. I've had some experiences that parallel some of Grimm's, and at times I look around and am somewhat bewildered that this crew of rogues and weirdos and nerds seems to be following me about. They seem to be more or less decent folks, but there's a lot of weird-colored hair out there. And no matter how utterly nerdy a reference I make, be it something as obscure as naming an ancient mathematician, SOMEBODY GETS IT.
GR: One scene in particular struck me. Inside the Monastery of the Way, there is a meandering path that has been used so much over the years that it has worn down the stone and created a twisting depression across the floor. When Gwen follows the serpentine track instead of walking in a straight line, one of the Brothers asks, "Do you feel you should walk the same path because so many have walked it before you came?" I immediately related this to you and your career. You are definitely not a follower. Any comment about this scene and how it symbolizes your life philosophy?
JB: Philosophy? I just watched way too many reruns of Kung Fu. And even more of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. And struggled as hard as I could to get a job where I wouldn't have to wear a freaking tie. Seriously, it's like strapping a noose on yourself. I don't know how anyone can stand it. Those who do, you have my somewhat mystified admiration. I'd lose my mind. I also really liked working tech support. Taking calls, shooting problems, getting people's problems fixed and them back onto their favorite video game? That was satisfying. And I had a really excellent boss, which really helped.
Though, thinking about it, you're probably right. I'm not really a "joiner."
GR: In a novel replete with brilliant characters, it was the cats that stole the show. I loved Rowl of the Silent Paws tribe—and his catspeak. It's obvious you adore cats...
JB: Those horrid little monsters? Are you kidding? They're predators, you know. They'd kill us and eat us if they could. And be adorable the whole stupid time. I'm only saying this because the real-life Mirl [another cat character in The Aeronaut's Windlass] has made me leap up twice during the answering of this question to prevent her from knocking things off of a table. She means to drive me mad before she kills and eats me. But as characters, oh my word, so much fun to write. Rowl is one of my favorites in quite a while.
GR: Is the Cinder Spires an open-ended series at this point or do you have a conclusion already plotted out? Any tentative date scheduled yet for the sequel?
JB: I've got a three-book contract, and I plotted points where I could cut off at 3, 6, or 9. Obviously, I'd prefer to do the entire story. No date yet for the next book.
Rob Jacobs has a question for you: "You've said before that you want the Dresden Files to consist of 21 case files, then a big apocalyptic trilogy to cap it off. Are you still on track for that number? Thanks for everything you've written, and please keep it up."
JB: 20 or 21 casebooks, I'm still deciding. Then the big three book trilogy for the endcap. And I have to keep it up, Rob, or they'll take my house away.
GR: Goodreads member Brandon S. Graham had an indirect question about your writing process: "A number of writers I have read over the years state that they are martial artists. Is there a special correlation for you between martial arts and your creative life?"
JB: Occasionally my creative life makes me really, really want to hit something—but other than that, not so much. Sometimes I have a little bit of insight into what physical combat is about, though it's important to remember that very few martial arts prepare you for the very sudden and rapid brutality of real combat. Martial arts is very good for balance, though, and balance is a lesson that is excellent for every part of life.
GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?
JB: Practically everything from the mid-1970s nerddom on. Star Wars, obviously, but also all the bad attempts at Star Wars that came along after. Trek, of course, and the mixed bag of attempted Treks that came along after that. Tolkien, Marvel, Buffy, D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Axis and Allies, way too many weekends out LARPing, David and Goliath, Gideon, years of reading through the entire mythology section of the school library, everything I could get my hands on about Bigfoot, Legos, my Atari 2600, wrangling horses at summer camp, performance stunt and exhibition riding, the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, hours and hours of usenet arguments over which superhero would defeat which superhero from a different franchise universe, Robotech, Star Blazers, Big Trouble in Little China, all the old Godzilla monster-movies they used to play on Saturday afternoons, and a childhood of nightmares, courtesy of a hyperactive imagination and way too much reading. Man, I never think about this stuff. I just go do what I'm going to do, mostly.
JB: Tribal Bigfoot by David Paulides and the first Powder Mage book [Promise of Blood] by Brian McClellan.
GR: Jim, I know you're busy getting ready for the book tour, so I appreciate the time you took to answer these questions for all of your Goodreads fans. And a personal "thank you" from me for blowing me away with The Aeronaut's Windlass—after 20 years of reviewing, I've become a little jaded and it's hard to really surprise me anymore. But you did exactly that...
JB: You're welcome. But my goal remains the same as it has always been. I've been very fortunate to find a warm and wonderful audience who are willing to support my efforts with actual cash money. My job is to tell them a good story that will make them stay up until four in the morning reading when they have work the next day, when they will blearily curse me, and then ask when the next one will be out. So far, it's worked out pretty well for everyone, so I'm just going to keep on doing that.
Interview by Paul Goat Allen for Goodreads. Paul has been a genre fiction book reviewer for the last 20 years, working for companies like BN.com, PW, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus, and BlueInk, to name a few. He has written more than 8,000 reviews and interviewed hundreds of writers, including Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, Dean Koontz, Terry Goodkind, Laurell K. Hamilton, Patrick Rothfuss, and Charlaine Harris. He also works as an adjunct faculty member in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program.
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