Emily S. Whitten: Dresden Files’ Jim Butcher Talks Peace Talks

jim-butcher-emily-whittenI am, as I have previously noted, a big fan of Jim Butcher’s long-running series about the modern-day wizard Harry Dresden, a.k.a. The Dresden Files. The stories and characters are great fun and the books just keep getting better, and more complex, and deeper overall. If you haven’t encountered the series before, I highly recommend it; and of course Wikipedia has a handy list of all of the books if you need to see where to start.

At Dragon Con in 2013, I sat down with Jim to hear more about book fifteen of the series, Skin Game. It was a delight talking with Jim and getting to learn the latest on a world I’ve grown to love. And now, fortunately, I’ve gotten to have that experience again – this time, at Dragon Con 2016 and with book sixteen, a.k.a. Peace Talks. Jim shared all kinds of great information on what we’ll be seeing in this latest Harry Dresden adventure – as well as a couple of tidbits about Dresden-adjacent character stories that will be coming our way soon. So read on to find out all the juicy details! And, if you are so inclined, you can also watch the interview here.

ESW: Jim, Skin Game left us with so many characters with potential storylines that could be the next focus. The next book is titled Peace Talks. Please tell us about how everyone sits down, holds hands, and has a little peace talk. What are we going to be seeing?

JB: For the past several years within the storyline there’s been a lot of unrest in the supernatural world, because some lunatic destroyed the Red Court of vampires, who were one of the major players in the supernatural world. As a result of that, a power that has been lying low and quiet for a long time has started asserting itself into the vacuum that the Red Court left behind.

ESW: And that is the Fomor? I was wondering when we were going to see more about what they’re doing.

JB: Yes; who are not just the Fomorians of legend; but the Fomorians got driven back into the sea long ago, so they’ve been collecting the refuse from all the other pantheons of bad guys who’ve managed to survive whatever conflicts were going on at that point. So they’ve been causing a lot of trouble, and they’re getting everyone together for peace talks. They want to establish themselves and they’ve requested a summit.

ESW: So they’re the instigators of this.

JB: They are.

ESW: Because so far from what we’ve seen of them, they’re mostly just hostile.

JB: Yes, they’ve been universally hostile and suddenly they show up and say “Let’s sit down and talk.” And everybody’s like “…Okay. We’ll do that.” So of course Harry’s going to be involved in it. Generally speaking, it’s going to be a meeting under the Accords. All these different powers, all these supernatural influences are coming to Chicago. Harry gets to see that coming and say, “Man, I feel bad for whatever city that’s going to happen in. Because nothing could go wrong with that!”

“Yeah, it’s going to be here.”


ESW: Of course it’s good for the storyline for it to be in his town, but on the other hand you’re going, “Hmmm, why would they pick Chicago? I wonder…”

JB: Chicago is one of the great crossroads of the world.

ESW: It’s a major hub.

JB: For all kinds of travel, for shipping, for railroads and air; so it is the place in the middle of this continent. But anyway, so they’re having the meeting there; I’m sure everything will be fine.

ESW: Hah! I’m really bummed that Harry no longer has his giant map of the city that he built, because that would be really handy to have in this situation.

JB: It would. It would be totally awesome to have.

ESW: Perhaps he could be tinkering with another one while all of this is going on?

JB: Oh, well he would, but he’s busy being a dad!

ESW: Yes! I was going to ask, because at the end of Skin Game we have Maggie, who is so precious, and Mouse (who is so gigantic), and now Harry kind of seems to be settling into his role as a dad. What’s going on, is she still with the Carpenters?

JB: The way that Harry’s going to set it up is, he’s going to keep Maggie all summer. During the school year, she’s going to go to a boarding school in town, St. Marks Academy for the Gifted and Talented; it’s sort of where the supernatural folks all send their kids. And my intention is, in the next few years I’m going to write kind of a young adult series about Maggie Dresden at the Academy. She’ll be there with Mouse; because she seriously does have all kinds of problems and issues that are challenges for her. She’s got bad social anxiety; she’s got several phobias – which are understandable given her past.

ESW: I can imagine! And does she have, also, some special talents – I would assume?

JB: Well, she’s got Mouse, who’s kind of like the super-assistance dog. But really her main talent is that when everything’s on fire and people are screaming, she’s completely normal. You know – being Harry Dresden’s daughter, it’s like, “Oh, chaos. I feel a little more comfortable and secure for some reason.” And then the kids all have this pantheon of monsters that they have to deal with, that you don’t remember after you become a grown-up. So as the kids age out of school, they forget – they can’t interact with the monsters anymore. They don’t remember that they were there. It’s just like, “Oh, that was a game that we used to play when we were kids.”

ESW: That is really cool; I love it!

JB: Well, it’s fun because there’s this culture among children that stays alive, that no grown-up attempts to keep alive, but it’s still there. Every kid knows the lyrics to “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg…” And there’s not an adult in the world who would teach their kids those lyrics. The kids teach each other, and they keep it alive, kind of in this school setting. It’s this little separate world that kids are in. As grown-ups, we kind of forget what that world is like. Because you know, we’re busy with taxes and bills and stuff.

ESW: I love the way that you, as a writer, see those things and put them into your work. There was a part where you were talking about the power of night in magic – through Harry – and Harry was saying, “Go out in the middle of a field somewhere away from the city, and sit down…” and I thought, “I bet you Jim’s done that. He has to have done that to have described it that way.” I love the way you use that stuff – our everyday observations, because at some point we’ve probably all been out in the middle of nowhere in the dark, and we’re going, “Oh, I remember what that feels like. Oh, but I never thought about it like that – in terms of magic, and how it works in The Dresden Files.”

JB: Doing stuff like that is…doing things that make you feel emotions. It is something that is absolutely critical to being a writer. Because the hardest thing to do is to get people to feel those emotions when they’re reading your work. And if you can make people feel that then you win. That’s the goal.

ESW: I think in The Dresden Files you tap into these shared remembrances that all of us have at different points. We might be all different people, but in our lives, we’ve all been children, or sat in the field, or been really scared, or whatever, and you’ve tapped into that with Harry’s character. I love the way you do that.

JB: That poor guy. That poor guy!

ESW: Talking about that poor guy – the thing about Harry is that I love when you write him from other people’s perspectives. I’ve heard there are a few short stories coming out from other perspectives, and I’d love to talk about that. But one of the things I love is – he’s so much more powerful when you see him from someone else’s view. Like when Karrin Murphy is describing him and you’re like, “Yeah, I already knew Harry was kind of a badass, but now I think, ‘holy crap, he walks into the room and you’re like – whaaat?’”

JB: Yeah, from the exterior he looks way different than he does from the interior. From his own viewpoint, he’s Charlie Brown.

ESW: Yeah, he’s this tall, gangling guy who kind of has bad fashion sense sometimes. Unsure of what’s going on sometimes. And then you see him from the outside and you’re like, “Whoooaaa.

JB: Yeah, from the outside, he’s huge, and weird, and can do all these different things that nobody else can do. He doesn’t make eye contact with anybody…

ESW: Right, and he’ll scare you. I love the way you’ve done that because it would be so easy to just write the hero that everyone wants to be, or to marry, or to be best friends with, or whatever. But Harry is a weird amalgam of a lot of issues. It would be easy to Mary Sue him – give him more and more powers. But instead you’ve developed him. Are we going to see further interesting magical developments, and how do you keep that balance?

JB: Yes, you’re going to see more. The way I like to keep it balanced is…the big advantage that I have for The Dresden Files is that I’ve always planned for there to be an end to the story. So I know what the end is going to be like, and what I’m going to need him to be able to do, to do the big stuff at the end. So I’ve been able to sort of scale him up appropriately as I go along. Plus, he’s been scaling up into new and better villains. A higher quality of asshole for him to go up against. So that’s what we’ve been doing all along. So that sort of makes it easy, when you know what your end target is, that makes it a lot simpler, to get it done that way. I’m planning on twenty, maybe twenty-one of the casebooks like we’ve had so far; and then there’s going to be a big ol’ apocalyptic trilogy at the end. And we’ve still got all kinds of fun stuff to do, that I’ve been looking forward to for fifteen years. It’s occasionally maddening. But yeah – we’ve still got professional wrestling, and dragons, and kaiju and all kinds of cool stuff ahead of us.

ESW: Of course – as you would have! Now, are the Maggie books going to start coming out before all of that goes through, or are you working in tandem on those?

JB: Hopefully I’ll be working in tandem. I’m going to be writing them along with my sister, who has had six children of her own and knows the child interaction thing better than I do. I only have the one, so there was no cross-conflict going on there. Hopefully that will be something we can write. She’ll be able to come up and visit for three weeks, and we’ll work on the thing together and just get it done. Because the advantage of writing a young adult book is you can write it a lot shorter. It’s only about a quarter of a full length novel. Which makes it a project I can do on a fairly rapid basis. So that will be fun, doing it like that.

ESW: Excellent. Speaking of other projects, we’ve got at least three short stories I’ve heard about. There’s a book, Shadowed Souls, that’s coming out, and there will be a Dresden story in that. Is it the Butters one, or the Molly one?

JB: Shadowed Souls is an anthology of short stories. I actually edited the anthology alongside Kerrie L. Hughes. We put that together, and it’s a bunch of different authors throwing in characters from their series’ and so on. So it will be a really good sampler for, “If you like this author, you might enjoy something by this author.” So you can read it and see. That’s got the Molly story – Molly’s first mission as The Winter Lady. And you get to find out what her job actually is; and it’s not nice, what she’s gotta do.

ESW: Right, because she can’t tell Harry about everything, so we don’t get as much of that, and I would love to see it.

JB: Exactly. She’s got operational security she has to worry about now. So she doesn’t tell Harry, and there are all these things she’s hiding from him, and different things that are now available to her; and different pressures that she has to deal with as The Winter Lady. There’s a reason that her predecessor Maeve was completely bugnuts. Once she’s getting into it she’s like, “Oh. Ohhhhh.” So that’s what she’s facing, so we get to see her doing that.

ESW: I love Molly, so I’m looking forward to that.

JB: She’s such a fun character to write; because in many ways as The Winter Lady, she’s in a place where she’s very comfortable – because as the eldest daughter in a large family, it was essentially her job to be deputy mom, and wrangle all the little brothers and sisters; and that’s what she’s doing now. But at the same time, she’s got Mab as the mother figure now, instead of Charity – and Molly has issues with authority figures. So you get to see some of that conflict. It’s fun to write. I love writing the stories from the perspectives of the different characters, because they all see the world so differently. The Dresden Files world changes completely based on whose eyes you’re looking through to see.

ESW: I loved the one where it was Karrin telling the story. So is there a Butters one coming out as well?

JB: Yes; Butters’ first mission as a Knight of the Cross. He’s out doing cardio with Michael; he’s doing the Rocky thing, he’s doing his training montage. And he sees something and trips over a trash can, and Michael says, “What’s wrong?” And Butters looks at him and says, “You don’t see that?” And Michael’s like, “See what?” And Butters says, “That bum on the bench over there, there’s a big yellow exclamation point floating over him.” And Michael’s like, “No, I don’t see that.” And Butters gets to be like, “I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested.” Michael’s like, “Well what does that mean to you?” And Butters says, “Well that’s what you see over an NPC in an MMORPG any time there’s a quest that you need to go do.”

ESW: I love it! Because we’ve got the sword already being Star Wars – it’s a light saber; and so he’s seeing everything in geek.

JB: Yeah, it’s coming up as an MMORPG quest for him. And Michael’s like, “You used a lot of letters there, and I did not understand anything you said – but it sounds like that’s what the quest is.” And Butters is like, “God speaks video game?” And Michael’s like, “God speaks whatever it is you understand. So maybe you should go talk to that guy.” And that’s where it gets started; and then he winds up in all kinds of trouble after that.

ESW: That is so great! So in our very last minute I’m going to go through a few characters. Please tell me if we’re going to see any significant development of them in Peace TalksThomas and Justine?

JB: Yes.

ESW: Because there was the whole, “Justine is pregnant” tweet… Were you kidding? Were you trolling? Was it real?

JB: No no, that’s the first sentence of the book. “Thomas said Justine is pregnant.”

ESW: Speaking of Harry and his family – do we hear more about his mother and her background?

JB: Probably not in this book.

ESW: What about Demonreach? Is Harry still living there when Maggie lives with him, or has he moved back into Chicago?

JB: He’s living with the svartalves in Molly’s apartment. He’s Molly’s vassal, so Molly said he gets to go there, and the svartalves are like, “Yeah, fine.” And they like Maggie and Mouse.

ESW: Well who wouldn’t?

JB: Yeah, Mouse has got better people skills than Dresden does.

ESW: Of course! What about Uriel and the other angels and characters from the last book. Do they come into this one, or are they taking a backseat to the Accords?

JB: They won’t be as involved in this one. The angels can only get so involved in things that are going on, because there’s this whole issue of human free will.

ESW: Right – so about Harry’s family again, sort of – what about the spirit of intellect, whose name is…?

JB: He is calling her Bonea, because the word Bone is in the name, and Harry’s not got a sophisticated sense of humor. Bonea or Bonnie. And Bonnie is learning. She’s got enormous amounts of information at her disposal, and no perspective on how it works in the actual world. It’s the most ridiculous character. I’m having a lot of fun writing her.

ESW: I’m excited about that. We’ve talked about a bunch – and I wish I had more time. But: is there one final thing you’d like people to know about the book?

JB: I’m working on it!!

ESW: Hah, said with just the right expression. Is there a release date yet?

JB: No, there isn’t. They want me to finish writing it first!

ESW: Okay; it will be out when Jim is done writing it!

Thank you, as always, Jim Butcher, for your time and sharing all of this great information with us. I’m really looking forward to Peace Talks!

And until next time, ComicMix readers, Servo Lectio!