Three years ago, The Dresden Files author Jim Butcher revealed in a Reddit AMA that he had a new series in the works: The Cinder Spires, a steampunk series that he described as “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower.” The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first Cinder Spires book, is out September 29 from Roc Books and Orbit Books UK, so Butcher has returned to Reddit for another AMA.
While readers wanted to know how Butcher found writing steampunk, there were also plenty of questions about consulting wizard Harry Dresden, last seen in 2014’s Skin Game. Plus, Butcher talks his influences (more Call of Cthulhu game than Lovecraft himself), and a couple shares their adorable Dresden-inspired engagement. Check out the highlights!
Rebooting The Dresden Files?
Butcher fielded two interesting questions from OFTHEHILLPEOPLE about the structure of his Dresden Files series as compared to/inspired by other media:
1: If you could have a say in a Dresden Files TV show reboot, what changes would you make?
2: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but have any of the elements in Dresden Files been influenced by the White Wolf RPG World of Darkness setting? I’m an avid player and see quite a lot of parallels with slight twists.
1) I’d really love to see it done as a feature-production serial, and I’d love to see it done by one of the new companies like Netflix, who seem to have a slightly longer-term viewpoint when it comes to judging the success of a given series.
2) Probably some, but only as unconscious background stuff. I was never a huge White Wolf fan, apart from playing a couple of characters sporadically on some MUSHes in the early 90s. The whole basis of White Wolf is taking supernatural monsters and applying the same model as human political interaction, and that’s little different than what any number of creators have done. Once you’re using that model, you’re bound to accumulate a certain number of similarities.
How to Level Up Your Characters
Pointing out how Dresden has gone from “regular Wizard to semi-immortal” over the past few books, DaedalusMinion asked if Butcher had actively planned this character evolution. Butcher’s answer brought up the notion of power and advertising said abilities:
Oh, he’s been leveling up since the very first short story I wrote him in, “Restoration of Faith.”
And yeah, he’s doing what I meant him to do from the get-go. :) We’ve got a ways to go yet, even now.
Though technically, he’s nowhere close to immortal. He’s a lot more formidable than he was when he got started, but honestly, most of the older wizards have got their own crazy background of powerups which they do not advertise. Listens-To-Wind’s shapeshifting isn’t purely a matter of wizardly skill (though his healing abilities are), for example.
But here’s the key thing about people of power in the Dresden universe (and in the real world): the truly dangerous folks do not advertise. Not ever. They have no need to show off, and constantly displaying how scary they are would be counter to their own interests. You generally only find out that that little old lady is a spooky-bizarro master of wing-chun when you actually break into her house and try to hurt her granddaughter. Or that the quiet little guy with the receding hairline and glasses is a former Navy Seal when you grab his wife and try to drag her into an alley.
All the senior wizards have got something up their sleeve, and every single one of them is hiding it from all the others. If they don’t know about it, they can’t plan for it, and the “knowledge is power” wizard crowd is all about planning for things.
But we are coming up on the time when people are going to have their backs to the wall and we’re going to start seeing what they’ve got. And I’ve been looking forward to writing it for nearly twenty years. >:)
Similarly, devils_advocate36 asked how Butcher deals with “power creep,” i.e., ensuring that your hero isn’t so omnipotent that he can just overpower any obstacle:
You deal with power creep by having the story have an end.
I’m one of those people who thinks that stories aren’t stories unless they end, and that a “neverending story” is kind of an oxymoron. Harry has what he needs to thrash and scream and wriggle on the hook against whatever foe he has facing him, and he’ll continue to have just enough power to get himself well and truly into deep trouble, all the way through.
But, I know what the end game is, where he’s going to wind up, and what he’s going to wind up doing. So it’s not hard to make sure that he grows at more or less the right pace.
Making characters relate to an audience has nothing to do with how much power they have. It’s all about how much they love, and what they want and can’t have, and about how much they hurt.
Related: SingingStars wanted to know how much of The Dresden Files Butcher actually planned out. His response brought up more than one AU Harry Dresden…
Harry as the Winter Knight, though, was one of only a few options he could have taken at that point. That was a big cross-roads of the series, where I could have gone several different ways with it. Any of them could have played out well into the over-story, but the Harry who reluctantly embraced Lasciel would have been a very different guy than the one who reluctantly embraced Mab, would have been a very different guy than the one who reluctantly caused an ecological disaster to employ the Word of Kemmler.
Because Steampunk Has to Have Airships!
HalcyonKnights: What was the most challenging thing about writing the Cinder Spires, as compared to your previous works? The most enjoyable?
JB: It was long. The longest book I’ve ever written. The most viewpoint characters I’ve ever written. Juggling all those characters and trying to make the book’s climax come as an emotionally satisfying experience was extremely difficult. The best part about it was writing the airship battles–and the cats. :)
An Endless Cycle of Feels
hkdharmon‘s question about what to read if you want to write led to very valuable writing advice:
Things that give you /FEELS/.
Then you go back and you go back and you go back over and over and over again, until you figure out why and how they gave you feels.
Tells you a lot about yourself. Tells you a lot about people. Then you steal the technique and give people feels yourself. :)
End of the day, conveying and inspiring emotions in the reader is what makes you a success as a writer. Different people respond to different sorts of things, with different sorts of feels, which is why we have such a huge argument about what is or is not “good writing.” But you really can’t write for a living without being able to bring that emotion into your own work.
To do that, learn from the people who do it to you.
Magical Easter Eggs
Recent Dresden Files reader iamrade4ever wanted to know if there are any Easter eggs that readers have missed. Butcher responded:
There’s always someone that gets everything that goes by. Someone always guesses where things are headed, just by virtue of their being many thousands of people guessing.
That said, there are always things I dropped in the past that you couldn’t possibly know had a relationship to the future because you aren’t me. See, for example, Butters comment about fighting one of the Einherjaren in the practice ring. :)
The Many Ways to Love Books
Tarcos: What have you been reading lately? Whats your favorite book of the last couple years?
JB: My favorite of the past couple years is tough to say because I love different books for different reasons. Robert Parker’s books for their dialog and emotional subtext and wiseassery, Sanderson for sheer climactic emotional and action sequences, Novik for her deft weaving of history and gorgeously deluded fantasy, Ringo for sheer madcap action, Correia for his juxtaposition of iron principles and testosterone-fueled mayhem, Scalzi for his blend of classic high SF ideas and thoughts with very messy human emotions, Pratchett for wry humor and deft observation of human nature.
But honestly, it was Lois Bujold’s most recent Vorkosigan-universe book that made me happiest. Lois is the overall most skilled writer working today, in my opinion.
MagnusValentin wanted to know what would happen if Harry Dresden and Tavi from Codex Alera had to work together—a question that momentarily stymied Butcher, until he came up with the only possible answer:
I would have to write a book to answer that question.
I would have to write a /book/ to answer that question.
Damn you sir. As if I didn’t have enough to do.