Message From The Author
Jim Butcher: Wizard Maker
THE DRESDEN FILES AUTHOR CHARTS A COURSE FOR SUCCESS
By Faygie Levy
Jim Butcher was celebrating when he spoke with Romantic Times. Given the success of his books about a wizard named Harry that wasn't surprising. But we're not talking about Potter -- we mean Dresden, a wise-cracking Chicago P.I. who fights to save humanity, and who's also the protagonist of the Sci-Fi Channel's TV series The Dresden Files, based on his books.
What was surprising was what he was celebrating -- his wife Shannon's debut romantic suspense novel, No Regrets (Feb., Warner), had moved into the top 100 of a popular book list.
"I'm taking her out to get ice cream" when the interview is done, he told RT. "When something good happens to her we get ice cream or go to a nice restaurant; when something good happens to me we go for a burger."
That's how it is for these onetime high school sweethearts, who still live in their hometown of Independence, Mo., where they write and raise their teenage son.
While Shannon is just getting to know the ins and outs of the book biz, her husband's had plenty of practice. The urban fantasy star author has released nearly a dozen novels in recent years. Book nine of the successful Dresden Files series, White Night (Roc), was released last month, and the third book in his Codex Alera fantasy series, Cursor's Fury (Ace), came out in December.
Butcher's love of sci-fi and fantasy stems back to childhood, when his two older sisters entertained him with everything the genre had to offer. When he was
6, they took him to see Star Wars. When The Empire Strikes Back was released a few years later, they took him out of school, telling the staff that he had a doctor's appointment, so he could be with them when they saw the film's first showing. And when Butcher got sick as a child his sisters bought him two boxed book sets -- the Han Solo series and Lord of the Rings. Says Butcher with a laugh, "I didn't have a chance with that kind of guidance."
Though his love of the genre grew, the desire to be a writer came later,
at age 19, when a paucity of books
he favored left him starved for a
good read. "I kept looking for the kinds books I wanted to read, but
I couldn't find them. So finally I just decided that I'm going to have to write them, and I wrote my first novel. It was terrible." The author adds that his next few stabs at writing weren't much better.
Butcher, who was living in Oklahoma at the time, then enrolled in a writing class at the University of Oklahoma taught by Deborah Chester, a prolific novelist with some 35 books to her credit. Unfortunately, he didn't always listen to his new teacher.
"She was giving lots of very good advice, which I didn't listen to because I had a literature degree -- which," he says with the dry humor indicative of his popular hero, "is the default degree you get when you don't know what else you want to be."
Chester continued giving Butcher advice that he promptly ignored until the semester he decided to prove his teacher wrong by following her advice and showing her how bad the work would be. It turned out to be his undoing and his good fortune. The work laid out the map for Harry Dresden's life and world.
Thinking back on the day he turned in his assignment, he recalls, "She said, 'Congratulations, this is going to sell. It may not be your first book, but it will sell.'"
Over the next few years, Butcher continued writing and began looking for an agent. His big break came almost by accident. At
a writing conference Butcher introduced himself to Laurell K. Hamilton and the two began chatting, not about her Anita Blake series but about the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5.
When Hamilton saw him again the next day, she invited him to join her group for lunch. Among those at lunch were editors and agents, two of whom offered to represent him.
Butcher says that Harry Dresden "is very much a regular person ... someone you'll invite to the barbecue. It just happens to be that he has all these powers and responsibility. Harry doesn't want to be the guy that goes out and gets all this stuff done, but he has to be the guy. He'd just as soon stay home with a good book and a steak."
Though readers may eagerly await each new book to see
how things unfold, Butcher already knows all, including
the endgame. He envisions Harry's life as spanning about
20 books, along with a three-book apocalyptic finale.
"Harry is a finite character. His story has a beginning,
a middle and an end. I never intended him to be an open-
Does that mean Harry is ultimately doomed?
"I don't see how he can possibly survive," says Butcher, "but it doesn't mean it won't be happily ever after."
But who he might have the happily ever after with is unknown -- even to Butcher. "Dresden's romantic life is the one thing I didn't plan out. I know what the big over-arching stuff is, but I wanted that to stay fluid and more organic. I didn't want it scripted because love doesn't work like that."
One possible contender for love (which fans are split about) is Harry's partner in crime, so to speak: Chicago police detective Karrin Murphy, known as Connie in the TV series. "Harry and Murph are, I can't say the odd couple, because they're not a couple, but there's some mutual attraction," explains the author. "They are very close friends and rely on each other but are conflicted over what they want in the future."
One thing there's no conflict about is
the burgeoning urban fantasy genre.
"Urban fantasy has gone national," says Butcher. "While it was previously characterized by an almost universal lower-economy, skyscraper-lined street setting, and mostly starred cynical, rather angsty punk-type protagonists, it's expanded in almost every sense, including nearly any type of modern setting and a broader variety of characters.
"A few years ago, Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books may not have been considered 'real' urban fantasy. They're set in rural Louisiana, starring a character who is very anti-punk/goth. (Sookie sunbathes, for heaven's sake.) There's hardly a skyscraper to be seen. Other writers were putting out books that were then classified simply as 'horror.' But books like Darkfall or Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz, if they were making their first appearance today, would probably be considered urban fantasies."
"That's why I've always liked the term 'contemporary fantasy,'" explains the
author. "Not everyone is working in the concrete jungle, but we're all taking fantastic
elements and using them in a modern
JIM'S FIVE FAVORITE CHEESY MOVIES
1. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
2. PUMPKINHEAD Says Butcher: "It's so bad, it's good."
3. CAST A DEADLY SPELL
4. KRULL "It's a terribly cheesy movie."
5. LAKE PLACID "It's a cheesy movie but very aware of itself."
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