Monday, September 27, 2010

DragonCon Report, Day 3: All Butcher, All Day

DragonCon: the world's largest science fiction and fantasy convention. Ever. Period. Official numbers: over 35,000. But that's what we tell the fire marshal.

The following will be a series of reports made about my visit to DragonCon, mostly broken down panel by panel. I will not spend time complaining about the scheduling, the presentation thereof, the audio equipment, etc. Each panel will be taken down and put together in transcript fashion. There will be some inaccuracies, since I lacked recording equipment... even if I had recorded it, there is a chance that any and all videos of DragonCon posted online may be taken down without warning. This way is safer.

However, there will be some lines that are unattributed, and there may be inaccuracies scattered throughout. Most of what is written down is what was said, accurately quoted and attributed.

Day 3

Panel 1: Spotlight on Jim Butcher

“It turns out there really is a ten in the morning... who knew.”

“I initially started writing because there weren't enough books out there that I wanted to read. I started writing my first book at nineteen. It was awful. Then I wrote my second. It was awful. My third and forth books were hideous. I rewrote the first one, and it was a different kind of awful. I went to get a degree at the State University of Oklahoma, and got a bachelors degree in English literature. And one writing class... they told me some ridiculous things about writing. They must have set me back about two or three years. I mean, I had a bachelors in English lit, and the professor had only published about forty books. And I looked at this stuff, and I was going to prove her wrong. I was going to be a good little writing monkey, and show her that it would turn out the same exactly kind of cookie cutter crap. I handed it in and she said 'It's good.' 'Wazzat?' 'I think you can sell this down the line.' And that was the first book of the Dresden files. So, I showed her.”

Q: Tell us about Codex Alera.
Butcher: Alera started out as a bet on an online writers workshop forum. One side had the premise of the “Holy Idea.” That a book can be a successful novel no matter how bad the writing was, as long as the idea behind it was good. Just look at Jurassic Park.

On the other side were the people who focused on craft. That no matter how old the idea, it could still form something cool and fun. Just look at how many times they've redone Romeo and Juliet. And, basically, at the end of the day, it came down to one mouthy guy on my side and one mouthy guy on the other. Obviously, I was one of the the mouthy guys.

And one day the other guy says “Okay, pal, show us. I'll give you an idea and you write something about it.”

And of course, I said, “No, give me two ideas.”

He said, “Fine. One: Lost roman legions. I'm sick of hearing about them. It's been two thousand years, all of the legions should be found by now.” For those of you who don't know, the lost legion marched off one day into a thunderstorm and was never seen or heard from again.

I said, “Okay, fine, what's the next one?”


… For those of you who don't know Pokemon very well, it started out of two concepts. One was the Shinto religion's believe that everything in nature has a divine spirit, or a Kami. And you don't mess with the Kami of a mountain because it will crush you, and you do the same with a pebble... actually you can step on it all you like, it's a pebble, what's it going to do to you? And the other side to Pokemon was pro wrestling.

So, I basically had the Roman Legion lost in the land of the Pokemon, had it ferment for two thousand years, and you get Alera. When I started writing it, I thought “Wow, this is good,” and I posted that “I think this is too good to post here, I'm actually going to try and get it published.”

Their guy said “You you admit I'm right.” Yeah, whatever, the best revenge is living well.

Q: What do you think about the role playing games for Dresden?
Butcher: I think they're great, like a Dresden Wiki. I don't need to go hunting for information anymore... you have to realize, for every Dresden book, I have rewrites, beta readers, editors, line editors, and a final copy. By the time I'm done, I've gone through seven to nine variations on the book, and fans only get the one final version. So you probably know some of this stuff better than I do. In fact, the guy who made the RPG actually found some stuff I had planted in book one, and I asked him not to write it down, otherwise it would give stuff away in the later novels... he was creepy good about finding those details.

Q: What's your next project now that Alera is done?
Butcher: When I sold Alera, I was halfway through a science fiction series. My protagonist had ejected, falling through a planets atmosphere during a solar flare, and he's been there for three years.

[Time for audience Q+A.... the line backs up.] Butcher: “It looks like we should just give you guys a belt and a coupla knives so you can sort yourselves out.”

Q: What loose threads are left in Dresden Files?
Butcher: I can't really tell you, mainly because there are no loose threads in my head. But I put stuff in Storm Front [his first book] that will come out in the last trilogy. Because my teacher told me I had to.

Q: I have a defective copy of Changes, it doesn't seem to have an ending
Butcher: Okay, I can do that right now. Harry says he will die to protect his daughter, he does, the end.
“There was one cartoon that said, Oh, well, everything looks likes it's turning out all right. I just want to read the last few pages of changes. And it ended with 'I heard the voices of thousands of nerds crying out, and were silenced.' …. By the way, there are some people who are bothered by the phrase nerd. I own my nerdom.”

“When I started working on the Dresden files, I went down to the bookstore and grabbed books on magic and forensics, for background, and because it's cool. I recommend the writer's guides. There was one called Deadly Doses, on poisons. That was neat. It was during research like that where I discovered that there were so many kinds of werewolves, none of which looks like the wolfman. If you ever have to do research on that sort of thing, go to the children's section of the library, they'll tell you the stories. If you go into the adult's, all of the books you find there won't go three pages without mentioning Jung or Feud. Or you can do on location research.”

Q: You ever going to explain how Nicodemus and Tessa got together?
Butcher: The romance between the two of them covers thousands of years, murder, chaos, and cities abandoned. It'll take someone with a stronger constitution than me to do it.

Q: Would you like to talk about Ghost Story?
Butcher: Harry is dead. And he has to solve his own murder, as a ghost. I can't tell you too much, but he will have the line “I always wondered why ghosts were always moaning and screaming when they went through floors and walls. That stuff hurts.”

Q: What did you think of the Scifi channel Dresden? Sorry, I guess I should say Syfy [pronounced "Siffy"].
Butcher: You mean the syphilis channel? It coulda been worse. They only started making them like the books after Howe's kid took some swag home from the press briefing, and told his father, the owner of the channel “Why couldn't this be more like the books?”

Q: Some stories are not in Side Jobs?
Butcher: There are some contract problems. The contracts expire sometime next year, so I'm going to have to write more so I can fill out the anthology.

Q; Where did Bob the Skull come from?
Butcher: It was actually an inside joke with my writing professor. After the first few chapters, she asked me what I was going to do next with Harry. I said I was going to bring him back to his lab, and he'll talk with his personal assistant, who was like a cross between a lab tech and a PC. She told me “Okay, but don't make him a talking head.” A talking head, if you ever saw those old black and white movies, was the science guy who would come on and say “As you know, Jack,” dispenses info, and disappears. And I always wondered “If Jack knows this already, why's he explaining it.” So when she told me not to make Bob a talking head, I made him a literal talking head.

She got to that part of the story, looked at me, and said “You think you're funny, don't you?”

But, yeah, Bob is my inner fourteen year old.

Q: Are there people in your life you used for Dresden characters?
Butcher: Yes. Shiro was actually based on my dojo instructor. He actually grew up being taught martial arts by monks, while he was in hiding during the war. When he was growing up, he had some problems with the Yakuza. They tried to kill him about five times, and he kept killing their guys. After a while, they said “Hey, you want to work for us?” He said, “No, I want you guys off of my street.” It was cheaper in the long run to leave him alone. So they did. And he's more like Mr. Miagi than he has any right to be.

Anna, in White Night, was someone who won a charity auction to earn a horrible death in one of my books.

Most of my female characters I base off of my wife. [Audience “Awwwww”]. Do you people remember how many women are villains in my books?

Q: Is there going to be another attempt at the Dresden files as a movie or tv show?
Butcher: Not yet. As of now, Lionsgate still has the rights for a year, nine months, and twenty some-odd days.

“I'm going to have a final apocalyptic trilogy to end the series. They'll be titled Hells Bells, Stars and Stones, and Empty Night. Despite that Harry just keeps saying them as phrases, they actually mean something.”

Q: Why does Harry have a hat on the covers?
Butcher: Because the artist thinks that a staff and a fedora says “Wizard PI.” I'm actually thinking of giving him a hat later on, just so he can destroy it. Either that, or I'm going to have someone ask him why he doesn't wear a hat. “Because once your hat gets knocked off, you're out of fate points.”

“Lily, the Archive, is like a grown up version of Bob, with better bandwidth.”

“I just tell the characters that You Work For Me. If they don't agree with what I want, then I'll go back and make them. And then I have a rush of power as a godlike creator. MUAHAHAHAHAHA. Next question?”

Q: Why do you have magic screw up electronics? Won't that screw them up as technology becomes more and more prevalent?
Butcher: Magic has always had side effects, and every three hundred years, the effect changes. It used to make cream go sour, or make flames turn color. Harry will eventually say that “Maybe in another hundred years, using magic will make the user attractive and popular with the opposite sex, though I'm not holding my breath.”

“2012 will either be a bumper year for Harry, or it's a time he's going to want to be on another planet.”

“I gave up on my old college when the Dean invited me to give my opinion of the school. And I thought he meant it.”

“I was initially interested in the martial arts because I was not only the smart nerdy kid, but I had a tendency to mouth off in school-- go figure, right? My dad said no. But one day, I was on my bike, and someone pulled a knife on me. So I picked up my bike and hit him with it. Of course I was the crazy kid who beat someone with a bike. I don't my dad about it, it was awful. He said that now I could go train.

“When I was heading off to college, my instructor told me: 'No spar. Other student want to spar with you. You no spar with them.' I told you he sounded like Mr. Miagi. After a while, I finally sparred with someone just to get them off my case. I caged up, blocked everything, until I had one good mid-line punch. And I think I got him on an inhale, he was doubled over and vomiting. I didn't mean to hit him that hard. When I came back and told my instructor he said, 'You make incorrect punch. Correct punch would have killed him. I show you how to make proper punch.'”

NYTimes Bestselling Authors

Panel: Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake seris); Sherrilyn Kenyon (Dark Hunters); Jim Butcher (Dresden Files); Kevin J. Anderson (Misc Star Wars); Jonathan Maberry (Co author: Marvel Zombies Return.)

Laurell K. Hamilton: Wow, this is my fourth year at DragonCon, and it's the first time I've actually seen it. It looks like fun. My tenth book, Narcisscus in Chains, was the first one to make it to the bestsellers list. I've had decades of fan buildup... and going whole hog into sex might've had something to do with it.

Kevin J. Anderson: My first three bestsellers were within a month of each other. MY first Star Wars trilogy, with the Jedi Academy books. Before that, I had published nine books in eight years.

Jonathan Maberry: My first bestseller was the novelization of the movie The Wolfman. Before that I had written books on judo. When they gave me the screenplay, it had virtually no details, so I had to add a lot of my own. When the reviews came out, they said “Read the book.” Which proves if you sacrifice goats, God will listen.

Sherrilyn Kenyon: Goats work. As do chickens.

Laurell K. Hamilton: I got in at a good time, right after the Buffy television series kicked off.

Kevin J. Anderson: Sometimes you get lucky, when you ride the wave of a trend's popularity. Da Vinci Code was the last gasp for Dan Brown. His previous novel, Angels and Demons, didn't sell. And suddenly, people are buying books that the industry didn't know the public wanted.

Q: What is your favorite book, what you've written and what you read?
Jim Butcher: My favorite book that I've written, Dead Beat, because you can't beat the zombie dinosaur marching down Chicago. Or, the last five pages of Changes. And I like Lois Bujold's Mirror Dance.

Q: What is your most embarrassing experience as an author?

Kevin J. Anderson: Sherrilyn, you can answer this one.
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Laurel?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Thanks Kevin. Well, there was the first time someone asked me to sign their penis.
Jim Butcher: The first time?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Yes. Now, never feed the crazies. I simply told him that it was illegal to expose himself in public in that state, and that he'd go to prison. And that there were children in the store, did he really want to do that? I sometimes have some really over excited fans, who take the sex in my books way too seriously. I can only assume that he didn't really think it through. I mean, I'm using a ballpoint, did you really think it was a good idea.?
Jim Butcher: And you have a really long name.
Laurell K. Hamilton: That sometimes doesn't help.
Kevin J. Anderson: Crap, now I have to top that.
Laurell K. Hamilton: You wanted me to go first.

Jonathan Maberry: My best moment was at a convention. Someone in an elevator looked at my nametag and said “Oh, you're a guest. And I never heard of you. You must be a writer.”

Kevin J. Anderson: I had one time written an X-Files novel. I went to a bookstore for a signing, and security told me that a guy in a tinfoil hat was waiting for me. Never a good sign. This guy in the tinfoil hat came up to me and said that he really needed my home number, because he knew what was going on, and what the government was covering up. When I told him I couldn't, he said, “I understand the need for a secret bunker. I'll give you my number.” If I were a different person, I would call him up at two in the morning and say “You've been talking to people, haven't you?”

Jim Butcher: As for me, to be embarrassed, you have to have a minimum amount of dignity. I generally don't have that problem. However, one time during an interview with me and Shannon, my kid wanted into the living room. The interviewer asked him if he thought it was impressive that his parents were both authors. My son said “Eh, if these two can pull it off, how hard can it be.” My wife gave him a look that promised death for the boy later.

Jonathan Maberry: I had the problem once that I was jealous of myself. When I was asked to do a novel, I used a penname to write it, because I had written technical books before that. When I decided to write under my real name, I was told that I was ripping off Shane McDougal. But I was Shane Mcdougal. I twas actually an acrimonious relationship after a while. Finally, I killed the bastard. I showed up to a Halloween party dressed as a dead author. I went as Shane McDougal. He's officially dead.
Jim Butcher: I now have to nominate you for the funniest use of the word acrimonious.

Sherrilyn Kenyon: One time my brother was at one of my signings. And he was impatient, and I owed him twenty dollars, and he wanted to go to dinner. After a while, he started telling the line that “She sucks, go home.” “She owes me money.” “What are you people bothering with her for?” We finally got out of there. Later that evening, he called me up at home at two in the morning and said, “Guess what I did.” It was two in the morning, I didn't want to think about what he was doing. He told me “I just finished one of your books. It's pretty good.” “Oh good, you can read, mama had doubts for a while there.”

Q: What is the best advice you ever got from an author?
Kevin J. Anderson: Dean Koontz told me that the first million words you write are just practice.
Jim Butcher: Roger Zelazny told me “Write a bit each day. It adds up. Eventually, you get a book.”
Jonathan Maberry: David Morrell told me that “Writing is an art, but publishing is a business. Just remember that you can't ignore the business end.”
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Harlan Ellison told me “You want to be a writer?  Go home and write.”

1 comment:

  1. Jim you really believe you left no threads drooping in the Alera books? Well my friends and I feel there is a minimum of 3. Some came up with more but I thought they were being a bit aggresive. so 3 is the number we have.


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