Jim Butcher came out on the stage of the Unity Temple looking like an aged rock star who personally is over the hype with his lightly salted dark hair just passed his shoulders and his leather vest adorned with silver buttons. However, his dad jeans ruined the illusion. Jim Butcher did not look like the New York Times bestselling author that he is. With the sixteenth Dresden Files book being released next spring, a six-book series finished, and a one-season television series with movie rights being optioned in Hollywood, Butcher is quite comfortable in front of a crowd – especially this crowd.
Because he lives in Independence, Missouri, he has a book signing with local bookstore Rainy Day Books, and locals know to order their tickets in advance. The event was nearly sold out and filled the grand hall of the Unity Temple.
Butcher is one author who puts his audience first by cutting the part where he lectures about his current book. He knows his audience has hundreds of questions and he wants to give them the time to ask them.
This was the book launch of his new series “The Aeronaut’s Windlass,” marketed as steampunk because his publisher wouldn’t let him create the new category of “steam opera.” His book signings are always one part nerd convention and one part stand-up comedy act. One person asked Butcher if anyone ever figured out who he was dressed as at the Dragon Con (because he was dressed as one of the main characters of his yet-to-be-released brand new series).
“It was the most hipster cosplay ever. I’m dressed as Captain Grimm from Cinder Spires,” he said, pausing to thumb his nose. “You’ve probably never read it.”
When randomly asked what motorcycle he would ride, he said it would have to be the “hoverboard” he bought at the St. Louis ComicCon. He talked about how he wanted to add a silver disc around it, dress like Magneto and glide through crowds saying, “Make way for the future, Homo sapiens.”
Since The Aeronaut’s Windlass went on sale that morning, people couldn’t ask many questions about it. One person asked why, after exploring high fantasy and urban fantasy, he traveled into steampunk territory.
Steampunk is an alternate version of the Victorian era that has more advanced forms of 19th-century steam-technology. The aesthetic of this genre often explores the issues of technology and features a lot of copper, gears and goggles.
“People kept telling me that I should write a steampunk novel,” Butcher told the crowd, “and I said I can’t because there has to be a real reason to wear goggles all the time. So by the time I figured out the answer to that question, I had a whole universe.”
By answering one question, he came up with a whole universe and plans for a nine-book series, with cutouts planned at books three and six in case it isn’t successful. The audience laughed, but he insisted that he only wanted to write books people wanted to read. This odd pragmatism reared its head occasionally. When he was asked why he was writing two series at the same time after insisting that he would never do that again, Butcher answered, “Alimony.” People laughed and someone called out, “Are you serious?” He insisted he was, however he was also happy to report that you can find a video of his proposal to his now fiancé at a renaissance festival where he was relieved that he didn’t fall off his horse.
Most of the questions asked were ones that could only be thought of by the most dedicated Dresden Files fans, such as a possible romance between two spirits of intellect who live in skulls, the properties of magic and its limitations in the book—which led to a mini lecture of the impracticalities of riding a broom—and what favor an archangel owed Queen Mab of Faerie.
When asked about Harry Dresden’s dismal love life, and if there was something big coming, Butcher gave bad news to the audience.
“When you say ‘something big’ do you mean that in a positive sense or negative? Yes, something big is coming.” He chuckled ominously and then said something that made the whole audience groan: “Poor Murphy.”
Murphy and Dresden have been friends and slightly attracted to each other for 15 books, and are finally about to give their relationship a chance in this new book. He answered the groans by saying, “Nanana-na-na. I don’t have to tell you.”
He did get more serious when he talked about writing—well, a bit more serious. He was asked about how he researched Chicago—where the Dresden Files series is set—and he explained the wonders of the Google Street View. Before this modern miracle, he was too poor to travel to Chicago and relied on tourist guides and the few people he knew who lived there.
“I actually had a SWAT guy come up to me after reading a short story [where a character] was shot from the roof top. He said, ‘I just want to know who you talked to because the way you set it up, with specifying where the streetlights were and knowing exactly the only way to approach are things only a shooter can know and we like to keep track of people with that kind of knowledge.’ I had to look at him and say, ‘I just use my experience from Call of Duty and Google Maps.’ And the poor guy was like, ‘Aw man, I hate the internet.’”
His writing has evolved through the years as he experimented and explored what he could do in 22 books. Butcher has killed Harry Dresden, his main character, half-way through the series, kept him a ghost for an entire book, and even had him ride an undead T-Rex into a zombie battle.
This year he is also edited a collection of short stories for the first time.
“At one point, I fired off a critique to an author, and then I stopped and realized that I just told Nora Roberts to cut ten pages from her short story. Oh, my God. She’s like the pro-ist pro that ever pro-ed a pro and I told her to drop ten pages.”
He also explained how he truly believed that anyone could become a writer. He wrote his first novel, “Storm Front,” to prove his teacher, Debbie Chester, wrong. She had his class fill out character worksheets and fill out story arcs and such and he was going to do it to show her how her formulas would never create an interesting story…and he ended up with “Storm Front,” which led him to a successful writing career.
One person asked, why, despite such a successful writing career, was he still living in Independence. The audience, proud of the area but not delusional, laughed.
“I once,” Butcher replied, “had that same question about a martial arts instructor I had as a teenager who was literally a world-class martial artist guy. He could catch arrows out of the air. He was asked by the CIA to train them and he told them to go fly a kite. I asked my teacher, who worked for him, ‘why does he live in Independence, of all places?’ The guy looked back at me and said, ‘because he wants to.’ And that is my answer as well.”
There aren’t many local authors as successful as Jim Butcher and it is a shame that UMKC’s writing program has never invited him to speak to the students or do a guest workshop, especially as genre fiction is becoming more successful in literary circles. If they want to get him, they need to act quickly because he is going to start splitting his time between Missouri and Colorado to be with his fiancé and we might eventually lose him. #BringButchertoUMKC