[Note from Chris Brant: Tracy sent this to me with the intention that it would go up on December 27th. I didn’t get it up in time. But it’s a fun read, and so here it is.]
The weather outside may be frightful, but the books and a wee dash of whisky in my cocoa are so delightful while I’m here curled up on my sofa to write this week’s column (so forgive any typos please). I hope you had a fantastic Christmas, and, as the old year dies, I hope you are ready for a new year of great new books.
You all know that I am far too lazy to compile a comprehensive list of all the new releases in any given month, and certainly don’t have the energy to follow up with everything that is going on in the self published realm, but there are a few self published authors I do follow (including Josiah Bancroft, and if you haven’t read his amazing debut ‘Senlin Ascends’ just do yourself a favor and go get it, it’s fantastic) and one of them, the delightfully grimdarky (grimdarkly?) Sean Rodden is finally gearing up to release a sequel to his first book ‘Whispers of War’, for 2017 called ‘Roars of War’ which may lack the first books alliterative title, but promises an amp up in the violence and death. It’s coming in April, so if you’re looking for your next grimdark adventure, there you go.
If you’re looking for just the opposite, something glorious and amazing and wonderful and rare is headed our way. As I mentioned briefly last week, the legendary Peter Beagle will be releasing his second new book in less than a year when ‘In Calabria’ arrives on Valentines Day. Here is the cover copy the whet your appetite:
‘Claudio Bianchi has lived alone for many years on a hillside in Southern Italy’s scenic Calabria. Set in his ways and suspicious of outsiders, Claudio has always resisted change, preferring farming and writing poetry. But one chilly morning, as though from a dream, an impossible visitor appears at the farm. When Claudio comes to her aid, an act of kindness throws his world into chaos. Suddenly he must stave off inquisitive onlookers, invasive media, and even more sinister influences’
And if you didn’t pick up his lovely ‘Summerlong’ when it came out in September, then you shouldn’t wait any longer as it was a wonderful and notably adult fantasy in the sense that the characters are adults, with adult lives and responses rather than teenagers or early twentysomethings. Refreshingly different and fabulously written.
Next week in the first of the 2017 posts, I’ll be talking about my 2016 year in review in books (and will no doubt completely omit something staggeringly good that I loved). But I do want to compliment the media side of 2016 for a stellar year. ‘Arrival’ may well be the best scifi movie I’ve ever seen (and I continue to eat crow for the years of saying the source novella was unfilmable), and ‘Game of Thrones’ gave us a brilliant season while ‘Westworld’ gave us a new series to obsess over (while we wait impatiently for it to return in 2018). ‘The Expanse’ and ‘The Magicians’ made SYFY channel shockingly relevant again as well, and I’m already excited for the second season of both, and while The Shannara Chronicles on MTV didn’t nearly live up to it’s potential (though Austin Butler’s abs should be nominated for something this awards season), I’ll still give season two a chance in the summer in case the showrunners pull off a miracle and right that ship.
This next year we will see the launch of several new properties including ‘Hunted’ where we will also see the adorable (though surprisingly short in person) Myke Cole switching up his career yet again. In addition to having a new book coming out. Where does he find the time?!?
Also in the coming year, as if the coming Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s popular novel about the world of gods and the conflict amongst them weren’t enough, Dark Horse Comics will be adapting the same work into a new limited 27 issue comic series in three major arcs. The story will will begin in American Gods #1 on March 15, 2017. Including a fabulous alternate cover by P Craig Russell (who I once randomly met in a elevator, and it took me 20 minutes to realize who I had just met, so imagine my embarrassment).
That about wraps up my space for the week, but I’ll be back next week with some highlights from 2016. Ta-ta for now, and I’m off to get a little freshener for this drink. Be safe out there, and have a Happy New Year!
My Shopping Cart This Week was an Embarrassment of Riches
What a busy busy week!
I feel like everything came out this week, not one, not two, not three, but FOUR new books I simply must read. Plus a bonus novella that was both a surprise and a delight. And now comes the hard part, where I am going to SIMPLY RAVE to you about how amazing two (and a half) of these books are.
Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
As the faithful reader here knows, I was not a huge fan of the original Mistborn trilogy, though my issue was rather singular to me, and not a problem with the books themselves. Namely, I deeply dislike both Kelsior and Vin (though for rather different reasons). But this is a mark of Sanderson’s success not of his failure, as he wrote characters real enough that I could hate them, and not because they’re poorly written.
But the new Mistborn books are a whole new cut of cloth. I adore Waxillium, and Wayne is a delight. ‘Alloy of Law’ was a fun return to the world, and then there was ‘Shadows of Self’, which stunned me. Oh was it good! And now the latest, ‘Bands of Mourning’ which is just WOWWWWWWW!! Now can it just be 2017 already so I can read the last book in the new sequence The Lost Metal.
City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
So, a confession: I read this book months ago. AND I LOVED IT. I mean, I knew I would, since I adored the first book in the series, and Bennett might be incapable of writing a bad book. But ‘City of Blades’ is a great read in a very different way than ‘City of Stairs’, and while it might not be a better book, it’s also not a worse book; and that says something since ‘City of Stairs’ was my favorite book of 2015. The nice thing about these books is they stand apart from each other. You don’t need to know what happened in ‘City of Stairs’ to get any part of ‘City of Blades’. I suspect that next year’s ‘City of Miracles’ will be the same. Though I do hope for a return of a couple of VERY SPECIFIC CHARACTERS from City of Stairs in Miracles. RJB, if you read this, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHO I MEAN.
There’s cookies in it for you if you make it happen.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
So since we’re all friends here, I have a confession. I haven’t finished this one yet. So my review is not on the completed book, but only the first half.
When I started this book, I kind of expected All the Birds in the Sky to be one of those over hyped books by an new author which was going to be good as a first novel, but not actually as good as the hype. And the hype has been ABUNDANT. And in a way, it IS very much a first novel. The beginning of the book is a lot of telling without showing, and it has a strangely slow build up to where the action really starts. But, in spite of that, I am really loving it. There’s something strange and beautiful about it that reminds me slightly of Patricia McKillip and Charles de Lint, with more than a hint of the pre-apocalyptic dread of Sheri Tepper’s ‘Beauty’.
All in all, I hope the book finishes as well as it is going right now, because I want it to be one of those instances where the buzz is deserved.
Up next, besides finishing All the Birds in the Sky and the poor neglected Trial of Intentions by Peter Orullian which I keep setting aside to read more current books so I can write about them for you all (Do you see the sacrifices I make for you?); I also have two books I am so excited about that I can barely speak. Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold are new books by two of my favorite writers in the business, and if I hadn’t gotten an advance copy of ‘Gentleman Jolie’ (Thank you lovely Chris, for coming through!)
This isn’t the book I’d recommend starting Bujold with, especially not the Vorkosigan Saga, as it depends heavily on what has come before.Much of the weight of this book comes from emerging from the shadow of a character that isn’t present in this book at all, though his absence is constant. If you’re looking to start the Vorkosigan books, good places to start are Shards of Honor and The Warriors Apprentice. If you prefer fantasy, her Curse of Chalion is superb. All of three will stand alone very well.
Patricia McKillip was one of the first writers I really fell in love with (her writing, not her, I’ve only met her briefly though she seemed lovely) and is one of the finest writers of fantasy alive, in more opinions than just mine. Each of her books is like a little gem; perfect and lovely. Kingfisher will no doubt be another lovely book. If you’re not familiar with her, her books are beautifully written compact stories, and not sprawling epics (though when she turned her hand to epic fantasy, she produced one of the classics of the style, her acclaimed Riddlemaster Trilogy). Excellent places to start with her are The Book of Atrix Wolf and The Forests of Serre, or if you want something a little more epic, the previously mentioned Riddlemaster trilogy.
Alright my lovelies, I am off to read some more, or possibly sneak in some of this week’s ‘Shannara Chronicles’. I promise not to write anymore fan fiction about that adorable Will Ohmsford.
This week at least.
This is a new kind of post for us. As you may know, a part of The Butcher Block’s goal is to 1) compile and transcribe interviews with Jim Butcher, and 2) earn our own interview with the author. Here is the so-called “table of contents” for that goal, starting with the most recent and continuing on further back.
This one does not have new Dresden information, but since a lot of us are aspiring writers, this is writing advice gold:
Interviews from The Aeronaut’s Windlass Tour:
Several of these interviews contain a lot of information about The Aeronaut’s Windlass (as they should). We look forward to someday analyzing the crap out of the Cinder Spires, but we will have to wait until several more are published. If you have not yet read it, you are in for a treat. In almost every interview, he mentions how much fun he had writing it, and it shows. It’s breathless, breath-taking, fun, and generally any positive adjective you can think of.
The FAQs right off the top. The next book of the Dresden Files is I’m working on it.and I was supposed to turn it in this Christmas and if that happens on time, then I’ll reckon you’ll see sometime early next spring. So there, now you know that. Cuz everybody always asks me that like first thing. I just thought I was gonna beat you to the punch to that tonight.
Q: Are you still planning on doing a kids book with Maggie and Mouse?
A: Am I still planning on doing the young adult book with Maggie and Mouse when Maggie goes off to school? Yeah.
Q: Is there an HBO show still in the works?
A: No there is a possible show in the works. It doesn’t necessarily belong to HBO or anybody else. In my dream world, it goes to Netflix but we’ll see what happens or if it happens.
Q: When are we going to get some mermaids? And how is Nemesis spread from person to person?
A: Probably not until the big trilogy at the end because wizards don’t like to go in the ocean and they don’t do unless they’re desperate. How is Nemesis spread from person to person? ::sing song voice: I’m not going to tell you. That would make it way too easy But I will tell you that it go to Lea through the dagger.
Q: Any Cider Spires short stories?
A: No, I still have too way much world build before I can start spinning off little stories about the place. And much more to do on this book, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’m almost like Hey Dresden, c’mon get out of the way, I want to go to this new place that I haven’t seen before. And you know, Dresden is over here going “But we still have to do awesome”. yeah you’re right – we do have to do awesome. I’m so sorry about the city, but you know Just stay out of town on Midsummer and you’ll be fine.
Q: Do you work on multiple projects at once or one thing at a time?
A: I work on one thing at a time. I’m writing the short story which is Butters’ first mission as a knight. It’s kind of awesome; he’s out training with Michael and they’re doing cardio training and he pulls up and stops. Michael’s like “what’s wrong?” Butter’s’ is like “that guy”. Michael says “what guy?” Butters’ is like “the bum asleep on the bench. There’s a giant yellow exclamation point floating over his head. What? You don’t see that?”It kind of starts from there. Butters- Knight of WoW. I’ve gotta finish that up and send outlines for a couple graphic novels to Dynamite. One of those will be Harry Dresden vs the Joker, pretty much. Although in this case, he’s called Puck. Cuz Puck is an awful person – he really is, in the Dresden Files. He doesn’t run around being cool; he’s terrible. And fun. And there’s another one where we’re gonna go catch up with the all folks who went off to form their Feng Shui out in California after Blood Rites. There’s a problem and so Lara is hiring Harry to resolve her problem for her so she doesn’t lose her grip on the White Court and that’s the other graphic novel. After I get those two projects knocked off, then the rest of the year, it’s back to Peace Talks. It’s Peace Talks, Peace Talks, Peace Talks. Which is really winding up looking like a royal rumble of who would win this fight.
Q: Is Harry going to allow Bob any role in raising the new spirit baby?
A: No, Harry is going have that “Dad with shotgun” talk with Bob. Is what it amounts to. You’ll see more of that with the book. We start off early with Bonnie.
Q: In Proven Guilty, Harry is run off the road by a car and it never goes back to who ran him off the road Are you ever going to tell what happened?
A: Yeah, that’s weird right? Yeah.
Q: I heard once that you had a conspiracy theory about the show. I can’t find it anywhere. Mind telling us about it?
A: You gotta understand that I have no proof behind this. Because if you have proof, it’s not a conspiracy theory. And in fact, it makes it a worse conspiracy theory if there’s proof. What you need for a conspiracy theory is pictures and yarn and thumbtacks. That’s what you need for a conspiracy theory!
So this is my conspiracy theory. Set the wayback machine for 2007. Bonnie Hammer is the president of the Science Fiction channel Bonnie Hammer, who does not like science fiction. They put her in charge of it. I can only assume that it was corporate Siberia. I assume she made enemies and that was the result. So she’s in charge of the Science Fiction channel and she’s giving them GhostHunters and Extreme Wrestling. Which don’t get me wrong – I like wrestling. I watch it for the writing. But maybe not on the Science Fiction channel?
Meanwhile, her vice president comes along, a guy named David Howe, and he was the one who was behind bringing the SciFi channel’s Battlestar Galactica to immediate and popular acclaim. So when you’re the president of a company who works for somebody else and your subordinate comes up and does something awesome, that does not necessarily reflect well on you. And certainly not in Hollywood, where the motto is “it’s not good enough to succeed; you also have to make sure your friends fail.”
He gets behind the next project and his next project is the Dresden Files It was coming together pretty well. Just about two weeks before the show started shooting, all of a sudden all these changes got made to the internal structure of the show. I suspect it was Bonnie Hammer that was behind it, but I don’t know. That’s why it’s a conspiracy theory.
Originally the show was going to be a serial. It was going to cover the events of Storm Front and Fool Moon in the first season, and kind of interweave the plots. And the big showdown would have been extremely crazy because it would have been wizard-Loup Garou- Shadowman all at once. It would have been insane. But, two weeks before, they said we’re going to get this producer from Charmed on and he’s gonna be in charge now. And the guy from Charmed came on and said, “we’re not going to do a serial. We’re going to do episodes – nobody likes a serial.” And everybody was like, “Wait? Are you using the same word? Are you talking about breakfast cereal maybe? Because people dig serials.” We told him that we didn’t have time to re-write all these episodes. They were built to be one right after the other, which was where they get their punch from. And the Charmed guy is lke, “oh it’s not a big deal. We’ll just change the names of characters and disconnect all the episodes and do them out of order and it’ll be fine.” (At this point, Jim gives us all the eyebrow.) And that’s what happened. Plus he was the boss from Los Angeles, when they were filming in Toronto. You imagine how well that worked out.
Lots of little things would happen that would sandbag the show. For example, by the time the guy in California would write changes to a script, he’d turn them in by 9. But 9 in California is midnight in Toronto. So by the time changes came, and scripts got printed out and taken around by exhausted production assistants, it would be two in the morning.
Q: With Harry being a nerd who loves movies and sci-fi, how has he managed to go this far without making some sort of Zuul or Vinz Clortho reference to Rashid the Gatekeeper?
A: Uh, partly it’s the Gatekeeper and the Gatekeeper is really scary. Also, I haven’t gotten there yet. It hasn’t been right. I gotta feel it. I gotta feel the nerd come on or it doesn’t work. You must feel the nerd come around you…
Q: Are we going to revisit the inmates in Demonreach and see who some on those people are?
A: Those people are there to be locked up there forever and ever. The only way you would ever see who any of them were is if something horrible went wrong. So no, cuz that would be awfu!
Q: Would you write any more short stories for anthologies or with other people?
A: I actually edited a book this year. I wanted to try something new. so I tried on my editor hat and I edited a series called Shadowed Souls. Which actually has the short story of Molly on her first mission as the Winter Lady and so you get to see what her job is and what her position is within Winter Court and why it’s so important that she does what she does And it’s also her team up with Ramirez, so those shippers.. Toot Toot!
Writing with other people, not so much. I agreed to write a short story for Correia, in his Monster Hunter International universe, because I think the janitor at MHI would have a really interesting job. So I want to write that story. And there are also several of us who are putting together a story about a bad guy that goes through multiple realities, so everyone’s characters are interacting with him for a bit. Basically, each of the author’s get like ten thousand words of the story that we’re supposed to handle. So Harry Dresden will be involved with part of it and then wash his hands of it and walk away shaking his head.
Q: What is the difference between wizards and muggles in the Dresden Files?
A: First of all, you have to be born with a certain amount of talent to be able to touch magic at all. Sometimes that talent is greater and sometimes it’s lesser. But you’ve got to have one particular gene that flips the switch and says, “Yes. Weird.” Once you’ve got that, then you’ve got to be in a position where you can develop that talent and be in a position where you have the intelligence and the drive and the focus to make something of it. It’s just like any other talent, actually. Some people are born with a really great genetic setup to play basketball. That doesn’t necessarily make them Michael Jordan, because not only do they have to have the gift, but they also have to be in the situation to express it. If you were born with the awesome basketball gene spread and you were also born Inuit, probably you aren’t going to get a chance to express that. I always built magic in the Dresden Files as something was a talent like any other. You’re born with it, but that doesn’t make you a wizard without a lot of hard work as well.
Conversely, you could be born without a really awesome spread of talent and yet if you work hard enough, you can really make something of yourself. Most people can probably use a little magic. Most people could probably be dangerous in the Dresden Files world if they had enough training and worked on it for years and year and years. But there’s only a few who are really born ready to go to the NBA draft. And of those people, that’s who you see on the White Council. Those people who are born with that and who then developed it as well.
Q: How do thorn manacles work?
A: Do I explain that to you? Yeah, it won’t hurt anything. Why not? Essentially, what it does is when a wizard is drawing magic in, the thorn manacles divert it to somewhere else. Wizards have to give a little bit of energy from inside themselves, but mostly they have to pull it in from the outside. Mostly, the thorn manacles take the magic and shunt it out into the NeverNever and you don’t get to use it. The pain is the result of the energy that’s going by and going elsewhere. It’s inefficiency of transfer, if you want to put it in engineering terms. That’s really nerdy, so I won’t do that.
Q: Why did you base the Dresden Files in Chicago?
A: Because my writing teacher would not allow me to set them in Kansas City. They started off as a school project and were originally set in Kansas City. She read them and said, “You’ll sell this. I don’t know if this will be the first thing you’ll sell, but this is of professional quality and you’ll eventually sell it. But one thing: You can’t set it in Kansas City.” I asked why not. She said, “You’re already walking close enough to Laurell Hamilton’s toes that you don’t need to set this book in Missouri. So set it somewhere else.” There’s a globe in her office. On the globe, in America, there are four cities. One of them is New York City, which I don’t want to use because superheroes have that place all sewn up. And my editors lives there and would catch every city mistake I made. And sneer at me. D.C. was one of the other cities. And I didn’t want to write D.C. because then you have to write politics and you’re gonna piss off somebody. That’s how it works. LA was there and I didn’t want to use LA because it’s Los Angeles. And that left Chicago.
Q: Mac’s Ale. I’m a homebrewer and I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of beer this is. And I really need to know what you based this on.
A: Mac’s Ale is based off of my imagination and my brain. I’m not actually a beer drinker. I don’t like beer a whole lot. I”m more of a cider guy. It mostly came from my imagination and my beer drinking friends and from their descriptions.
Q: Are we going to see Mac actually do something other than what he’s done so far? Like actually pull some things off?
A: Maaaaaaaaaaybe. You’ll get to find out more about him, at any rate, Whether you’ll actually get to see him doing stuff is still a really serious question. I don’t know. I’ll figure that out as we go.
Q: How do I come up my names for people, places, things?
A: Mostly I look at the meaning of the name. I’ve got a giant book of names and their meanings and I generally try and find something that is either appropriate to the character for the name or completely inappropriate to the character for the name. One of the two.
Q: How did Harry get anywhere in Chicago in 20 minutes during Dead Beat?
A: Hey, when you’re on a T-rex, you don’t have to wait for lights!! As we all know, we clocked the T-rex at 35 miles per hour.
Q: When are we going to see dragons again?
A: Dude, I can’t possibly do a dragon thing unless it’s a whole book. So that would be book 20 or 21. Something like that. Probably 21. I think 21. That seems about right.
Q: Speaking of Molly and Ramirez, at least going into the short story you reference earlier about Molly’s first job as Winter Lady, what’s the status of their technical or non-technical virginities?
A: That’s awfully personal, don’t you think? Molly’s is still technically intact. Ramirez, we don’t really know. And I don’t think it becomes clear during the course of the story. Well, it kind of does, but you’ll have to read it.
Q: Will we ever find out who keeps letting the coins loose?
A: Kind of, yeah. But at the same time, it’s sort of necessary for them to be out in the world. They’re not designed to be kept in a vault somewhere and locked up. So it’s very very difficult for anyone to guard them, for example. Because the coins just do the One Ring thing to them until they get loose But yeah, they’ve been spread out in in all kinds of different place. And the best you can do is to pick a guy who you hope is as close to incorruptible as humanly possible and then leave him in charge.
Q: How much of Hannah Ascher’s precision magic was hers and how much was Lasciel’s?
A: Much of it was Lasciel. Hannah was basically just providing the muscle and Lasciel was providing the direction. So she was way better than she would have been otherwise without Lasciel there advising her.
Q: How much will Bonnie know?
A: You’ll have to see. The problem with Bonnie is not that she knows a lot; it’s that she doesn’t know how to apply anything. LIke she can tell you all about green and how many nanometers the wave of lenght of light that the color green is and so on, but she doesn’t understand that grass is green yet. Because she hasn’t seen it. When we first join Peace Talks, Harry comes home and Maggie and Bonnie are in the kitchen making pancakes. Bonnie has informed Maggie that she knows 317 recipes for pancakes and the ingredients that they have make 17 of them possible. And so they’re trying to make pancakes. But they don’t know how to tell when it’s time to fip the pancake over. Well, you wait until it’s golden brown. Well, what’s golden brown? It’s on the pan. It looks white from here. Harry gets to walk in and Bonnie turns to him and says, “Pancakes are inanimate!” excitedly because she just figured out that they’re inanimate objects. Bonnie has a long way to go before she’ll be anything. But she’s where Bob started.
Q: When are we going to see more of Ivy and Kincaid? Does Ivy know that Kincaid is the one who technically shot Harry?
A: We’ll see more of them next book and I won’t tell you that.
Q: Why do Justine and Murphy both smell like strawberries?
A: They use the same shampoo. They use that green Suave. And that’s why. It’s really good shampoo if you want to grow your hair long. It’s got no silicates in, so it doesn’t abrade the hair. Don’t ask me how I know that.
Q: One of the things I love about the series is when I recognize Chicago landmarks. How are you able to be so accurate with that?
A: These days I can actually afford to come to Chicago and look. So I do that to a degree. Originally, I had a couple guidebooks of Chicago and that was all I had to go on. After a couple of the books came out, I had some readers who lived here. So I could ask them. And now I have Google Maps. And more importantly, Google Street View. That’s useful to the point that I actually had a member of CPD SWAT approach me and say, “Listen, this scene that you set up in the short story ‘The Warrior,’ where you have the guy on the roof and you said specifically which lights were out in order to have the approach and so on. So that the sniper would have the best point of view. I checked that out and you were right. And I need to know who you consulted about that kind of information. Because we sort of like to keep track of people with that kind of knowledge.” And I said, “I just played Call of Duty and looked at Google Maps. And Google Street View. I’m sorry.” And the CPD SWAT guy is like, “Oh God.”
Q: Any more info on the young adult series with Maggie and Mouse?
A: No. I’ve got to have enough time to write it. I’m still trying to get caught up this year. It’ll be hopefully not before too much longer because that’ll be fun. Plus I’ve been planning on writing that one with my sister, so I would only have to do half of it. Maggie is a great character because she’s been through alot and she has a lot of social anxiety issues. She genuinely needs Mouse as a service dog next to her to help her stay cool and deal with people. So she has trouble in close spaces, in open spaces. She’s got a lot on her mind. Except when everything is totally going to hell and is on fire. At which point, she is completely normal. Because she’s Harry Dresden’s daughter
Q: Are we ever going to find out which of the Fallen said those seven words to Harry?
A: You’ve probably gotten all the answers you’re gonna get as far as that goes, as far as which Fallen said that. I mean, I’m not saying that Lasciel lied about everything but she could’ve. Or it could have been one of the others. But Lasciel was the one with the axe to grind.
I have spent the last day listening to and reading interviews with Jim Butcher, and I have to admit that some of them are frustrating in the repetition of standard questions. But I should have known that Google would have something special – not only did the interviewer push beyond the stock questions, but she obviously read and was delighted by The Aeronaut’s Windlass. She is savvy about promotion, and she kept her questions about TAW. She was great!
GOOGLE:“What book are you reading right now?”
Jim Butcher: “I just got done reading Tribal Bigfoot by David Paulides for my nonfiction which is a book that compiles Bigfoot sightings and encounters in connection with Native Americans. And I’m reading the first Powder Mage book by Brian McClellan.”
GOOGLE:“Does the nonfiction book have anything to do with Dresden?”
JB: “No, I’ve just been fascinated by Bigfoot since I was a small child, I used to have nightmares about him.”
GOOGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER I FELL IN LOVE WITH:“I’ve read all the Dresden Files, and I’ve recommended them to friends, and I say: “But the first two… they seem a little… like he didn’t know where he was going”. And then Summer Knight happens, about book three or four, and it seems to just gel and all of a sudden there’s this major arc. Is that a correct assessment, or is that incorrect? At what point did you have that big arc that you’re building now? And I hope I’m not offending you.”
JB: “Oh, not at all. Okay. When I first wrote the first Dresden Files book, I turned in the first couple of chapters and my teacher told me I did it. It was publishable. Then she told me I needed to plan out the rest of it. She meant the rest of the book—I took it to mean the rest of the series. […] As I’ve continued writing, I’ve learned to trust the readers a whole lot more. When I first started setting up the story, I was only dropping one or two little hints and a couple little things that were going to continue into the long haul and otherwise trying to focus on Harry’s immediate surroundings, basically. And then I realized – oh, wait a minute, readers are much better at putting all these things together than I thought. So I started incorporating more and more, more subplots, more characters, more hints to the future, and more pay off from the past. I’m basically writing for people like me, for nerds. Nerds are smart, they can work this stuff out. As I learned to trust the audience more, the books got better.”
GOOGLE AUDIENCE:“I love the Dresden Files, the arc, the payoffs. Normally I would never ask this, but it’s driving me nuts. Every time a new Dresden File comes out, I reread the entire series and take notes. In Proven Guilty, when Harry’s driving back, he gets hit by a drive-by, and there’s some hints, and that never gets resolved in that book and I haven’t seen a resolution since. Is that – will that—“
JB: “YEEEEEEEEEAH, THAT’S WEIRD, RIGHT? There’s a lot of little stuff like that that’s been seeded through, actually, and will get answered eventually but hasn’t been yet. And that’s cool. It’ll be more fun later.”
GOOGLE AUDIENCE: “Back to the role-playing thing. We as readers love to see characters level up. But I’ve seen many authors that level up too much. The campaign goes Monty Hall and it ceases to be fun, almost. In your books, thankfully, you don’t seem to have an issue with that. Is it hard not to write yourself in a corner that way, though?”
JB: “No, because I know what the end is. The reason why series get too long, and people get too powerful, they get handed the dagger of Cain or whatever and it just keeps going and going… the story was supposed to end before that, but they didn’t end it. Stories aren’t stories unless they have an ending to them. I don’t believe in a neverending story. It’s easy to keep Harry in check in terms of where he’s getting at as he gets more buff and more contacts. It’s because I know what he’s going to be fighting, you know, like in the next book or down the line. I can kind of gauge – oh, he needs to be about this far here, so that he is never the super overpowered guy who just smashes things. It’s all about pacing and where we’re going to wind up.”
GOOGLE AUDIENCE:“Silly Dresden Files question. I remember in Cold Days the shenanigans regarding the origin of Demonreach. And can we expect more time shenanigans in future books?”
JB: “More time shenanigans? SIR, one of the Laws of Magic states that you cannot mess with time like that! OF COURSE, there will be more time shenanigans! I only established the seven Laws of Magic so I could have Dresden methodically break them one by one!”
I have mentioned this before in my Why-I-Love-Dresden post. Whenever I recommend the series to anyone, whether they are close family members, people who have friended me on facebook, or people I meet on the street, I always mention one thing: The first two and a half books are not representative of the writing in the rest of the series. Fool Moon is especially hard to get through, but it is so worth it. So, so worth it.
Two problems in Storm Front (which is still a very engaging and fun read) are the arcs of the characters Monica Sells and Linda Randall. There is nothing wrong with them in description or deed. The characters in and of themselves make sense. The problem? They’re cliché.
When Harry is initially brain-storming with Murphy and Carmichael as to who could possibly do this, he is pretty confident that the person involved would be a witch:
“’Yes. The killer knew the victims. And I’m thinking it was a woman.’…’Because you can’t do something that bad without a whole lot of hate,’ I said. ‘Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.'”
This supposition is later discarded, caught up as Harry is in discovering that Victor Sells very much wants to kill him for getting in his way, for investigating him. The set-up in Storm Front thus remains no different than in a lot of crime fiction: a victim comes to the hero, a mystery is introduced, there is an alternate mystery that turns out to be connected to the first, etc. It’s a formula, and it’s one that works. So why don’t I quite believe that Monica Sells is exactly as she appears to be: a damsel in distress, a total victim of her husband’s quest for power?
For one, Butcher eats clichés for breakfast. The story of how Storm Front came to be is a story oft-repeated:
“ In 1996 he enrolled in a writing class where he was encouraged to write a novel similar to the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, rather than the more traditional high fantasy that had been his focus in the past, as Butcher had previously stated that he enjoyed the Anita Blake series. Despite initial resistance, he wrote the first book that semester, closely following the instructions of his teacher, author Deborah Chester: ‘When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.’ ”.
After that first chapter was written, he envisioned the entire series (well, the big huge plot points, anyway). Butcher has always maintained – always – that he likes to subvert tropes, and make clichés his bitch.
For another, if one follows the story with a suspicious eye pointed at Monica Sells, it reads like Monica is setting Harry Dresden up to take the fall for her husband. She gets Harry involved in the background to a major SI investigation. She gives him just enough information to get him to suspicious places at suspicious times, she dangles her own distress like a carrot, and chivalrous Harry Dresden is none the wiser.
But what about the soulgaze? Harry saw that she was mama bear protecting her children. If Monica was setting Harry up for a fall, and hoping he’d take out her husband while doing it, that technically counts as protecting her kids from being known children of a warlock, of a legal mess, or undue scrutiny. I think when Harry found innocence, it was nothing more than a mask. My bet is that Monica Sells will show up again, and some of the aspects of Harry’s first case up against the series-wide threat will be made clear.
Linda Randall is another case entirely.
The White Court is introduced—spectacularly so—in Grave Peril. Thomas Raith attends the utterly important masquerade, and though we don’t yet know he and Harry are brothers, his scenes pop from the page. The White Court is an entirely different breed of vampire than the Reds and the Blacks—they feed off strong emotions. They are inhumanly beautiful, physically powerful beings that can also manipulate pretty much anyone they want to into doing pretty much anything they want. I have a theory that the White King was responsible for a lot of the earlier events in the series, like Sells being taught magic, the FBI guys getting the wolf belts, etc. But that is for another essay, now we are focusing specifically on certain oddities in a character from Storm Front: Linda Randall. One of my favorite moments in the series comes from Blood Rites, and in it one of Harry’s favorite enemies is introduced:
“The newcomer was the real thing. She was grace. Beauty. Art. As such, she was not so easily quantified.
She would have been tall, even without the heeled faux-Victorian boots of Italian leather. Her hair was so dark that its highlights were nearly blue, a torrent of glossy curls held partially in check with a pair of milky ivory combs. She had eyes of dark grey with hints of violet twilight at their centers. Her clothes were all effortless style: natural fabrics, black skirt and jacket embroidered with abstract dark crimson roses with a white blouse.
Thinking back later, I couldn’t clearly remember her facial features or her body, beyond a notion that they were superb. Her looks were almost extraneous. They weren’t any more important to her appeal than a glass was to wine. It was at its best when invisible and showing the spirit contained within. Beyond mere physical presence, I could sense the nature of the woman—strength of will, intelligence, blended with a sardonic wit and edged with a lazy, sensuous hunger.”
Lara Raith (married name Lara Romany) is one of Harry’s favorite enemies. In fact, he reveals to Thomas that when he was deciding on how to kill himself, it crossed his mind that he could do worse than allowing Lara to eat him all up. He may not trust her, he may not like her, he may regard her as one of the scariest beings he has ever come across, but he (and we, the readers) can’t deny the attraction he feels whenever he is in her presence. She is beauty, grace, and dangerous sexuality all in one.
Compare this description to Linda Randall, another dark-haired, grey-eyed beauty to whom Dresden was drawn to intensely.
“It buzzed down, and a woman in her mid-twenties arched an eyebrow at me. She had beautiful eyes the color of rain clouds, a little too much eye shadow, and brilliant scarlet lipstick on her cupid’s-bow lips. Her hair was a medium brown, drawn back into a tight braid that made her cheeks look almost sharp, severe, except for her forelocks, which hung down close to her eyes in insolent disarray. She had a predatory look to her, harsh, sharp. She wore a crisp white shirt, grey slacks, and held a lit cigarette in one hand.[…] She was nervous. Nervous enough to be shaking, and now I could see what she was up to. She was wearing the alley-cat mask, appealing to my glands instead of my brain, and trying to distract me with it, trying to keep me from finding something out.”
We’ve got a working theory here at the Wampus that one of the main Big Bads of the series (and, in fact, the cause of Harry’s first few cases) is the White King. We will delve into that next week, but for now we will just say that it’s possible Monica Sells was influenced by the White King in the attempt to neutralize Dresden, and that Linda Randall was a plant from the White Court who met a bad, bad end.