An Interview With Hugo-Winning Best Fan Writer & Author Jim C. Hines

Best Fan Writer Hugo-winner Jim C. Hines nominated me to moderate the first panel I was ever on. He loves breaking in new writers. His Jig The Dragonslayer trilogy, now out in a Daw omnibus, is a humorous sword and sorcery tale about a goblin. He followed that with the four book Princess cycle which are fairy tales gone awry crossing Disney princesses with Charlie’s Angels. Published by Daw Books, his latest book Libriomancer starts a new trilogy, Magic Ex-Libris, about a librarian hunting a killer. Because he likes to stretch himself, being as he lives in Lansing, he set this series in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s an urban fantasy with a lot of humor, involving dryads, wizards, vampires, automatons and more. Jim’s short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Fantasy, Andromeda Spaceways, Writers of the Future and several anthologies. He can be found online at Facebook, Twitter via his website at and his blog.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt talks to Jim C. Hines about his career and his exciting future projects.


SFFWRTCHT: Starting at the beginning, Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Jim C. Hines: Ahem. Is this thing on? My interest in SF/F comes from the fact that swords and magic and spaceships and lightsabers are awesome.

SFFWRTCHT: Besides the cool toys then, who were some of your favorite authors and books?

JCH: Good Omens ranks up there as a favorite. I loved Janet Kagan’s stuff. LeGuin is brilliant. Pratchett, Butler, and so many more. Lately, I’ve been enjoying books by Karen Lord, N.K. Jemisin, Elizabeth Bear, Marie Brennan, Cat Valente, and Stina Leicht.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you develop an interest in writing and how did you pursue that? Classes? Workshops? Learn on your own?

JCH: Honestly, I started writing because it looked like fun. I did workshops and an MA in English, but mostly it’s all about practice. There’s no substitute for sitting down, writing, failing, and figuring out how to spin those failed stories into something golden.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write before making your first sale?

JCH: I think it was three or four years. I wrote a story about an enchanted bunny dagger. It won first place at Writers of the Future. Nobody was more surprised than I was when I won.  Blade of the Bunny isn’t on the website, but is in my e-book collection Kitemaster & Other Stories.

SFFWRTCHT: Well hearty congrats to you for that win! Did you get involved with Cons and costuming before you were an author?

JCH: I didn’t, and I wish I had. I started going to cons because I thought I was supposed to do that as an author. Once I got involved with cons and found my tribe and realized what I’d been missing, I wished I’d started decades ago.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, I’m in the same boat, so I can relate. Do you usually start with characters or plot?

JCH: It depends, but usually the plot comes first.

SFFWRTCHT: You use a lot of humor in your work. Is that a natural extension of your own sense of humor or desire to fill a niche? And what’s the trick to writing humor well?

JCH: Oh, the humor is all me. When I started out, I was trying to write only serious, meaningful stories.  I finally said the heck with it and started having fun. Coincidentally, that’s when I sold my first story. The secret to writing humor well? Mostly, I think it comes down to being funny. Writing humor well is hard. I’m not sure there’s really a secret, though. Except maybe practice.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you think you need esp. well-drawn characters to carry off humor?

JCH: It depends. A lot of my humor comes through character, so for me it helps a lot. But I don’t think it’s required.

SFFWRTCHT: It’s interesting because humor can be so culturally specific. I wonder if there’s anything that’s universally funny?

JCH: You mean aside from nose-picking jokes?

SFFWRTCHT: Have you always written SFF fiction? No other form or genre?

JCH:  I’ve done a few mainstream stories, but it’s been 99% SF/F. I published one humorous sonnet, and have a few other unpublished poems, but that’s about it.

SFFWRTCHT: Your Jig series has just come out in omnibus this summer. Where’d the idea for Jig the Dragonslayer come from?

JCH: I wanted to poke at some of the fantasy tropes and cliches I was seeing, and Jig was the perfect vehicle to do that. Also, I just wanted an excuse to write nose-picking jokes.

SFFWRTCHT: And everyone says Jim C. hines is the go to guy for authentic goblin nose-picking scenes to this day! What mythos did you use as a basis for your goblins? There are so many different descriptions, etc.

JCH: A little Tolkien, a little D&D, a little generic fantasy mishmash. Goblin society draws a bit on Junior High bullying, too.

SFFWRTCHT: Just from the cover and blurbs I knew D&D might have been an influence How much were you involved with Role Playing Games growing up?

JCH:  Yeah, I’ve been playing D&D for a quarter of a century now. I had the old dice you had to color with a crayon and everything. Did Author D&D at ConFusion earlier this year. Best convention experience ever!

SFFWRTCHT: To my chagrin, I totally missed out on ConFusion and those dice. What to your mind are the core elements of a good adventure fantasy?

JCH:  Real characters. Real conflicts. Real tension. Good worldbuilding. And something that makes the reader go, “Oh, cool!!!”

SFFWRTCHT: Can a monster be a hero? What are the tools one uses to keep them other and still make them relatable to readers?

JCH: Sure. But you have to understand them. Why do they fight? What do they care about? Don’t just make them funny-looking humans. I think Jig works because he’s smart and just wants to be left alone, but he’s also unapologetically goblin.

SFFWRTCHT: You followed the Jig books with Princesses. Was that inspired by being a dad? Irritation with how women are portrayed?

JCH: A bit of both. My daughter was going through a princess phase, and I got fed up with passive female characters always needing to be rescued, with women being turned into trophies to be won.  Sun, Moon, and Talia. Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Aschenputtel. The Crystal Casket. Older, pre-Disney stuff.

SFFWRTCHT: As a male writer, how do you about getting inside women’s heads to write believable characters?

JCH:  How do I write believable female characters? People ask me that a lot. Nobody ever asks me how I write believable goblins. Hm… But the real secret…come closer, everyone…the big secret is that women … are people.  I flipped the gender of a character in one of my stories years ago. It forced me to see a lot of my own invisible assumptions and sexism. I recommend it as an exercise.

SFFWRTCHT: Now that he’s freed princesses frm cliche, he does the same for Librarians. What’s a Libriomancer where’d that idea start?

JCH: A libriomancer is someone with the ability to reach into books and create things from their pages. The idea came from a train of thought that went, “Omg! Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If I Could Really Do This???”

SFFWRTCHT: The premise is that vampires are sending someone to kill Porters, of which you hero is a member. And he’s drawn into investigating. For me, it borders on horror and urban fantasy as well as comedy and adventure fantasy. What you were shooting for?

JCH: I was playing with some urban fantasy tropes, and I definitely wanted some fun and humor. Not sure about the horror, but sure, I’ll take it! It’s the book that has everything for everyone!

SFFWRTCHT: Well, it’s got the vampires and some related horror elements. They are not used to invoke terror generally but still they are often horror tropes. The Princess novels are 3rd person but Libriomancer is 1st person POV. Why the switch?

JCH: I wanted to do something new, and LIBRIOMANCER just felt like a first-person story.

SFFWRTCHT: What are porters and how does magic from books work exactly?

JCH: Porter is the common term for members of Die Zwelf Portenaere, an organization created by Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg was the 1st known libriomancer. He learned to use mass-produced books to tap into the collective belief of the readers. In my universe, he’s also kind of a jerk.

SFFWRTCHT: Ah but a jerk with automatons though. Tell us about those bad boys, please.

JCH: Gutenberg had many enemies, so he whipped up some bodyguards. The automatons are nasty. The protagonist Isaac’s both fascinated and scared of ‘em.  I love the secrets Isaac discovers about the automatons, but I can’t talk about that without spoiling things.

SFFWRTCHT: No right. But I like the way they are woven with biblical verses as spells and the invincibility of the magic. You make interesting use of vampire culture. Combining the various mythos into a community. What gave you the idea?

JCH:  It was a logical extension of libriomancy. If you can reach into books, you also risk bringing things out unintentionally. As a result, most species of vampire are actually book-born. From Stoker, Rice, Hamilton, Huff, etc. There’s even a vampire species called Sanguinarius Meyerii, informally known as sparklers… I’ll be doing something a little different with werewolves in book two also.

SFFWRTCHT: Yeah, the sparklers were a nice touch, and the ones that eat insects… It’s clever and it totally removes your need to pick a mythos. They all exist! As for the characters, the female lead, Lena is a dryad, she’s in human form but one with trees and nature, magical, powerful, and yet complicated.  Isaac is a bit of a failed Porter working in a library who longs for adventure and to redeem himself and winds up called upon to save the day. They make an interesting combination, especially the surprising love triangle which I won’t spoil and Isaac’s growth arc is quite well developed also. Do you outline or pants it? Do you plan your trilogies in advance before writing or outline as you go? 

JCH: Outline. My brain isn’t big enough to hold an entire novel. I do some planning for the series, but like my book outlines, a fair amount changes as I go, too.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use Scrivener or other “writing software tools”? Write to music? Any rituals?

JCH: Microsoft Word with Pandora playing a Lord of the Rings station during my lunch hour every day.

SFFWRTCHT: So that answers the question: What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?

JCH: I write during my lunch break at work every day and squeeze in a bit of evening and weekend time when I can.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

JCH: So much to choose from! Bad Advice: You MUST write short fiction before you try novels. Good Advice: Don’t try to chase the market.

SFFWRTCHT: What trends or directions in SFF do see as most interesting/most filled with possibilities at the moment?

JCH: I’m seeing more diversity in SFF, and I think (I Hope!) that will continue to grow. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m seeing signs of hope and progress.

SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

JCH: Right now, most of my energy is going into the Magic ex Libris series.

SFFWRTCHT: When can we expect book 2? Does it have a title? Does it pick up where Libriomancer left off?

JCH: My deadline for book two is 3/1/2013. I’m guessing it will be out toward the end of 2013. No title yet, but I have been emailing my editor about cover art ideas. We’ll probably see Lena on the cover of book two.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press, headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, a Ray Gun Revival Best Of Collection for Every Day Publishing and World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

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