I had the great good fortune this past week (April 3) of listening to Jim Butcher, of Harry Dresden fame, speak and answer questions at the University Bookstore in Seattle. I thought that I’d actually read some of the Dresden File novels, mainly because I’ve read so much Science Fiction and Fantasy in the past 40 years that it’s easy for me to get authors and book titles/characters mixed up. To be fair, I have the same problem with actors faces and historical events. Anyway, what I got mixed up with Harry Dresden was Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series that I read in the late 1980s.
I began my interest in Dresden when watching the premier showing of the SciFi Channels series “The Dresden Files” as I enjoyed the performance of the luscious Paul Blackthorne as Harry Dresden, sidekicked by an old friend from Florida, Terence Mann, whom I interviewed for Tampa Bay/The Suncoasts Magazine back in 87. He had long brown curly hair back then, was married to a Brit that his mother disapproved of, and had the sexiest voice I’d ever heard. Seriously, the type of voice that, in conjunction with a gorgeous smile and wickedly twinkling eyes can make your kneecaps melt and your blood pressure rise in 7 seconds or less. When I mentioned to Butcher that I was surprised that Mann had short white hair in the show, he said, “Ah yes, but the man has had children since you spoke to him, and that tends to age you.” Indeed.
I happened across a copy of “Proven Guilty” which was the Dresden Files novel published last year, at the Library Guild sale, and I snapped it up. After reading and enjoying it, though it had a much higher body count and gore factor than I like, I decided to go to the UW Bookstore to hear the man who created these fascinating characters explain himself. I figured anyone who creates a funky Midwestern wizard with a talking ghost in a skull for a buddy HAS to have a good story or three to tell.
I was not disappointed.
Other than the fact that I was in the “standing room only” part of the large group listening to Butcher, and had to ask the linebacker standing next to me what questions people were asking, I was perfectly enchanted with Butcher and his charming, witty personality. It was obvious that the man is not only a creative genius, he’s also cynical, wise and has a rather tart sense of humor. He started the talk by saying he is happy with the SciFi Channel’s version of his books, though he wished there were more “dinosaurs and Kung Fu” involved, because he happens to love those two things. Butcher is a martial arts enthusiast who, though he looks svelte and harmless, could probably kick the butt of everyone in the room, including the human wall of meat that was standing next to me. Butcher said that he’s done some riding and fencing, and that this past Sunday’s “Dresden Files” (which was by far the most violent one yet) must have been approved by the fans, because this Monday was the first one in which he didn’t receive angry emails from said fans. Butcher said he has the Dresden File books planned out through number 23 (and I have just finished the latest book, number 9 in the series, “The White Knight”) and that the only thing he doesn’t have planned out in advance is Dresden’s love life.
Butcher mentioned that while he writes he listens to “lots of righteously angry music” and Weird Al Yankovic’s Polka album.
Apparently the Dresden Files began as a writing project for a class at the U of Oklahoma called “How to Write a Genre Novel” that Butcher took years ago. Butcher lives in Missouri (just below Iowa, therefore a target for Iowan jokes, just as Minnesota natives target Iowa for jokes), but his writing teacher wouldn’t allow him to place Dresden in Kansas City, I would assume because she felt that might not stretch him as a writer. Anyway, he looked at her desk, found a paper that said “LA, New York and Chicago” on it and chose Chicago as the closest city of the three. Butcher mentioned that he has contact now with a number of people in Chicago who help him keep his mileau real. “Chicago is one of the oldest cities in America,” he said. “What is it they say, people in America think 100 years is a long time, while people in Europe think 100 miles is a long drive.”
Butcher got into a long story about how he created his Codex series of books, by being an “internet loudmouth” and betting with a guy online who said he’d give Butcher two terrible ideas that he was then challenged to write into a book. He took those ideas and turned them into the Codex books. As I am not a fan of the Romans or Pokemon, I’ve decided to skip that series and focus on the first 7 books of the Dresden Files that I just bought from the Science Fiction Book Club.Butcher also said that he has a 25 pound Bisson Friche (I don’t think I am spelling that right) who thinks he’s a Rottweiler, the “ultimate macho dog.” The dog’s name is Frostbite Doomseeker McBain.
Harry Dresden the character is based on a British friend of Butchers named Charlie who is 6ft 9 and a “very comforting person to have with you in a dark alley.” The character Anna Ash in “White Knight” is also a real person who paid $3,600 in an auction for a childrens cancer charity for the priviledge of getting killed off in a gruesome fashion in print. Lucky gal.“Mouse” the mountain of a dog is a real breed, apparently, called a Caucusus Mountain Dog that is “huge, aggressive, and will knock you down and say, “Show me your ID,” according to Butcher.Butcher said he’d like a “Spiderman/Dresden” crossover novel, but that he’s been approached by the people who own Kolchak, the Night Stalker rights and they want a Kolchak/Dresden crossover, but Butcher has to find the time to write it, which is a problem.“I have a story to be told and Harry has to do it, which is probably why he gets bludgeoned so often,” said Butcher.
Bob started out as a joke, he said, between himself and his writing teacher, when Butcher wanted to do an info dump that wouldn’t be boring, he said he’d have the skull talk about it, and the teacher said, “That’s okay as long as you don’t make Bob a talking head.” Ha, ha. “I wish I had something cooler behind that, like Proust,” Butcher said. “I come up with these wonderful ideas, and two years later I’m watching Boomerang (a channel that shows TV shows and cartoons from the 60s and 70s) and I’ll say, “Oh man, I got that from Johnny Quest.”Butcher is currently reading “The 10 Most Evil Men and Women in History” and books on philosophy, poetry and martial arts instruction. He’s seen the movie “The 300” three times, and said “You’ve got to give the Spartans credit for the first pithy line in action film history, “We will fight in the shade!”
He said that when SciFi approached him about making a two hour movie of the Dresden Files for Saturday night, he was freaked out because it’s a tradition in his family to watch “terrible movies” on Saturday night and “MST 3K the heck out of them,” with Butcher himself on the defense, trying to get his family to believe it’s the best movie ever.He said “I realized that (the SciFi TV series) was going to be a two hour commercial in front of a captive audience, for my books. Even if it’s a total piece of crap, I’m still going to be up there with Dean Koontz and Stephen King.” Butcher said that the TV show producers decided to roll his characters of Ebineezer and Bob together, which turned out okay in his book, “Because I like Terence Mann. He’s a great guy, and he plays Felix to Harry’s Oscar. I like him better than the flaming head (skull) they had in the pilot and way better than the puppet head in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Bob also channels Butchers “inner letch,” he said. He also mentioned that the show is an alternate version of his books, and if it’s a “lite” version, as a fan suggested, that is because it takes background to build a show up, to create gravitas, if you will.
Butcher was influenced by reading books like the Belgariad (David Eddings)Elizabeth Moons “Paksenarrion” series, CS Lewis’ Narnia and, of course, Tolkiens Middle Earth works.Butcher had to cease his discussions with the audience because he needed at least an hour or more to sign all the books of all the folks lining up to meet him. I felt the photo of Butcher on his books dust jacket did not do him justice. He’s youthful looking in a way that suggests he has a portrait in the attic at home somewhere that is aging for him, ala “Dorian Grey.”
I made the mistake of mentioning that I found the TV Murphy the cop to be a drug-addicted shrew, and Butcher sprang to her defense, saying “Yes, but she also took drugs and was nasty in the books.” Uhm, okay, I will have to take his word for it, as I’ve yet to read those first seven novels. Murphy must have gone into rehab at some point, because in the two latest Dresden novels, which I have read, she’s not shrewish and she’s not on drugs. I rather liked her in the books, sans child.And I have to say that I still love Harry Dresdens sense of humor and his funky way with magic. He makes it all seem somehow normal. My only quibble is the gruesome death scenes and the body count, which is fairly high for both the novels I read. But Harry and Mouse make it all worthwhile, in the end.