Jul 25 2008 12:36am

SDCC: Jim Butcher Interview

Jim Butcher at San Diego Comic-Con

Jim Butcher, New York Times-bestselling author of The Dresden Files, as well as the Codex Alera series, sat down with me for an interview in a cozy nook of the convention center—OK, it was a storage area.

I have to say, Butcher met a series of technical gaffes on my end with a degree of patience that would have filled his most famous creation, Chicago wizard detective Harry Dresden, with pride.

I asked Butcher about the origins of the Dresden Files: "I was in a writing class taught by Deborah Chester," he explained. "I had a degree in English literature, so I felt like I had to prove all her born-in-the-trenches theories of novel-writing wrong."

Butcher, who began the class set on writing a novel of sword-and-sorcery, struggled mightily until deciding (out of frustration) to reverse course and follow Chester's rigorous writing techniques to the letter, doing all the plot outlining and character background sheets and so on that the English literature folks often scoff at as the workmanlike tools of genre hacks. But in trying to prove Chester wrong, he ended up vindicating her theories.

"She looked at the first chapter and said, 'You did it. You're going to sell this.' " And Chester was right—Butcher had, out of sheer passive aggressiveness, given birth to the character that would make his name: Harry Dresden, a curmudgeonly professional wizard operating out of modern-day Chicago and listed in the Yellow Pages.

It took 5 years to go from that draft in the writing class to a finished book, but since then things have accelerated: the most recent novel in the series, Small Favor, debuted at #2 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, Butcher's highest spot yet.

"When a young writer comes up to me with an ambitious idea for a 20-book series," Butcher said, "I usually tell him to maybe try something smaller to start off with. But being ambitious worked for me because I didn't know how hard it is to get something like this published. That's why I celebrate ignorance—it's gotten me far."

I asked Butcher why his author bio identifies him first-off as a martial arts "enthusiast"—did he read books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Karate like I do, or was he a trained killer being modest? The latter: "I've gotten into two fights since I've begun studying the martial arts, and each time I was worried I'd kill the guy. One of my teachers always told me I had good power, but bad control."

Sounds to me a lot like Butcher's hero Dresden, whose raw destructive power sometimes gets him into trouble (burning down a mansion filled with vampires, and maybe humans, at one point).

Butcher has studied several forms of Okinawan karate, judo, jujitsu, kempo, kung fu, and tae kwan do, among others. He actually used the martial arts as inspiration for the way magic works in the Dresden Files. (In fact, I recall that at one point in the books Dresden describes membership in the wizardly White Council as equivalent to a "black belt" for wizards.)

If you haven't read the books, or if last year's one-season television adaptation on SciFi turned you off, I urge you to give them a try. They're great reads. Butcher actually recommends beginning with book 7, Dead Beat—it's his favorite—but I've enjoyed them from the beginning.

Special Bonus Video:

For those who've read the books, here's a quick video of Butcher explaining the "soulgaze" from the Dresden Files:

(Butcher was doing the rounds at Comic-Con with his friend Cam Banks, author of The Sellsword, a new Dragonlance novel. If you're a Dragonlance fan, go check it out.)

Larry Scroggins
1. LeisureSuitLarry
Nice article. Jim Butcher is one of my favorite authors and one of the few who are on my "buy everything in hardcover" list. I don't love the Codex Alera series, but the Dresden Files was just what I was looking for while going through Harry Potter withdrawal. Even the TV series wasn't bad. I'd have TiVo'd the second season if they had filmed one.
Laurie Ashton
2. LMAshton
Personally, I loved the television series and wished it had continued. Granted, there were some problems with it, but it had great potential and I would have loved to see more.

The paperbooks aren't here in Sri Lanka yet, so I haven't read the books, but am anxious to. Probably on our next out-of-country trip we'll hunt down as many as we can find. :)
3. Stormy70
I love the Codex Alera series because it is "fun" fantasy. This edgy kick fantasy is on is kind of getting on my nerves. Jim Butcher has humor and action, which makes reading his books a pleasure.
Paul Howard
4. DrakBibliophile
I haven't gotten into the Codex Alera series but wish I could get more of the Dresdsen Files books in eformat. A couple of the early ones aren't available as ebooks.
Kate Baker
5. Kate_Baker
I've actually read my way through the series up to Dead Beat. If it's his favorite, I'm now eager to finish it.

As far as the television series is concerned; it would have worked had it not been an adaptation of the novels. There were too many things that were changed from the stories to really make it resonate. It was actually annoying in some cases as the things they changed were the kind of stupid that tries to pass itself off as clever.

The only good change was the actor, Terrence Mann, who played Bob the skull. It took some getting used to, but I actually enjoyed that aspect of the show.

The TV show would have stood on its own, had it not drawn from the Butcher universe. In fact, trying to "Frankenstein it" made it worse.

As far as the books are concerned, I have recommended them to many people. If you're looking for some fun, they'll definitely take you for a ride.

Aw well, back to reading!
Kerry Kuhn
6. Kerry
I read both of Jim's series and like them. I just don't have the physical space in my house to collect hardcover books, so I'm always a year or so behind (Hmmm...wonder if my library carries them) *wanders off*
Susanne Zur Freiheit
7. Susanne
I'm a HUGE fan of the Codex Alera* but I've not read single Dresden book. Judging from some of these comments, I reckon I should!

Thanks for posting this, David. Did you talk about the Codex at all? Is the 5th on schedule? The waiting, it is painful...
8. ehadams
I love Jim Butcher! I am going to be at his panel on Saturday- can't wait. I just wish he would release the Dresden books faster- he is killing me here!
9. Lomax_Lamat
I have been a fan of Jim's since his first Dresden book, I've read the fantasy books and i am really looking forward to the sci-novel he talkes about from time to time that he is writing. I reall like the audio books too. i have them in mp3 format and listen to them from time to time when i know i am going on a long trip. I am glad that there was a comic prequill to stormfront that the dabble brothers did. I really like that.

David Moldawer
10. Dave
@Susanne--no, we didn't get to it. But I have invited Jim to do another interview later on if he wants, and we'd definitely go in depth on Codex if that happened. But I have to read them first myself!
Jen Hill
11. greybon
Great article. :) Book 7 really is a stellar read and yeah, I have to agree that it is the best. The fact that it's Butcher’s favorite really shows in his writing. I’m only on book 8 now so I haven’t read them all yet. Not only are these books fun to read (and on my list of favorite books), I love looking for the D&D elements he adds here and there. Plus, I think every book has some Tolkien reference too. It’s like a treasure hunt finding those pieces.

James Marsters read for those that have audio versions out there. I recommend checking those out as well since hearing Spike as Harry is a lot of fun.

I haven’t read the Codex books yet but from what I’ve heard, the first part of the series is a little clunky because he runs into the having too many characters problem. But that smoothes out as you go on. Well, at least that’s what I’ve heard. Hah. I have to read them to see if that’s true. :P
12. Jimmy the Hand
Love both series. The TV series was a total bust. One of the main characters (Murphy) was totally miscast. I'm sure a little searching would have found a short Sharon Stone type to fill the role. Bob the skull should have been left as Bob the SKULL.
13. mcb - sacramento
Thanks for posting. I'm a huge JB fan and cant wait for First Lords Fury in a couple of weeks. All the best, mcb

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