Writer Quest -- An Interview with
By Russell Gifford
Copyright © 2007 by Russell Gifford, All Rights Reserved
was fortunate to catch writer Jim C. Hines for this issue's interview.
Jim is the author of the trilogy of stories featuring humorous
misadventures of Jig, the runt goblin, now published by DAW Books.
Starting with GOBLIN QUEST, which hit the shelves in November of last
year, GOBLIN HERO is publishing this month (May 2007). The story follows
Jig into a messy situation where if the bad guys don't kill him, his own
pals might! The Jig trilogy will close with GOBLIN WAR in 2008.
Another series, this time designed to
set fairy tale stories back a few hundred years, is next on Jim's hit
list, starting with THE STEPSISTER SCHEME. These are scheduled for late
2008 or early 2009.
Hines made his first professional
fiction sale in 1998 with "Blade of the Bunny," an award-winning story
chosen for Writers of the Future XV. His short fiction has since
appeared in over 30 magazines and anthologies, including Realms of
Fantasy, TURN THE OTHER CHICK, and SWORD & SORCERESS XXI.
His anthology HEROES IN TRAINING,
co-edited with Martin Greenberg, is due out in September of 2007 from
DAW. So, as you can guess, Jim Hines is a very busy fellow these days!
Jim lives in Michigan with his wife and
two children. Vision interrupted him hard at work plotting a sequel to
THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, and asked him if he would share some insights on
writing and getting published with the readers of Vision. He graciously
agreed, and the resulting interview offers some important thoughts for
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What started you on this
career path? Has your career progressed the way you thought it would?
I started writing back in 1995. I
had a friend who wrote fantasy stories, and I thought I'd try it
myself. I was in college at the time, and a semester later, I had
written a very long (and very bad) fantasy novel about a
wisecracking elf wizard. I had a lot of fun doing it, so I thought
I'd keep going.
At the time, I didn't have any real
visions for a writing career. I did think it would be pretty cool
to sell a book and run around signing autographs while basking in
the adoring glow of my millions of fans. Mostly though, I just
enjoyed writing and wanted to improve and write more.
Any "if I'd known then what I know now" thoughts? Are there things you
could have done that would have made it easier for you to reach this
point in your career?
Be more patient, and have more
faith in myself. I spent a few years marketing Goblin Quest, and
then gave up. There were several top publishers I didn't even
bother to submit to. Instead, I ended up selling it to a smaller
press. Five Star did wonderful things for me, and I'm grateful that
they got me started. But they're a specialty market, and their
print runs are far smaller than places like Tor and DAW and Ace.
If not for a fluke of luck, the
book would have stayed with Five Star, and that would have been the
end of it. Instead, I ended up with offers from not one but two
major publishers. The book really was good enough. Had I continued
pursuing publishers and agents, it's very possible I would have
broken in several years sooner than I did.
Writing is hard. It's painful and
frustrating, and it's easy to give up. But after what I went
through, I believe very strongly in aiming high and sending your
work to the top markets. Sure, there's a greater chance of
rejection, and the process can be very slow. But if you don't send
it, you're basically rejecting yourself.
Any things you can recommend to would-be writers that you think could
help them move forward in their careers? Are there skills you should
have sharpened, habits you wish you would have developed? Did you have
any special background or training that helped you?
I think the best thing I ever did
was to marry a counselor. Writers are nuts. If you're not nuts
when you start, just give it a few years. I can't say that my wife
keeps me completely sane, but she helps.
I went to grad school and got a
Master's degree in English, with a concentration in creative
writing. Those two years taught me a lot about critically analyzing
a text, and it did wonders for my non-fiction writing. I also
taught Freshman Composition as a graduate assistant, so I learned a
lot about teaching. But working with other writers in critique
groups and the Writers of the Future workshop did a lot more for my
fiction skills than graduate school did.
I made plenty of mistakes along the
way, but I think the things I got right were to push myself to write
almost every day, and to seek out feedback from people who were both
skilled and honest enough to offer useful criticism.
The first book in your Goblin series, GOBLIN QUEST, featuring Jig the
runt goblin, arrived on the shelves last year from DAW. When did you
develop this storyline? How long has it taken to reach the point of
I wrote GOBLIN QUEST at the end of
2000. I spent the next few years collecting rejection letters before
selling it to Five Star, a small publisher that produces very nice
hardcovers for the library market. Their edition came out at the end of
2004. Then, after a bit of messiness and sheer dumb luck, my agent and
I sold GOBLIN QUEST and GOBLIN HERO to DAW. So it was about six years
from writing the book to seeing it in the bookstores.
Your newest saga of Jig Dragonslayer's life, GOBLIN HERO, is due out
this month (May 2007) again from DAW. The preview I read looks fun and
funny, but Jig is in the middle of a mess! What's the trick to keeping
people reading a series? Or is it more challenging to keep it
interesting to you, the author?
One of my biggest fears is that the
series would become stale or repetitive. I think it's important to
allow the characters to change and grow. Jig will always be a
cowardly little runt, but he learns a lot in the first book, and it
wouldn't be right to pretend otherwise. He's gained some new powers
and earned a bit of prestige, so people treat him differently. Not
necessarily better, mind you, but differently. Which means
GOBLIN HERO has to tell a different story than GOBLIN QUEST.
Likewise, the third book will tell a very different story than the
Everything has consequences. I try
to give each book a true ending as opposed to a cliffhanger, so that
if I'm hit by a bus tomorrow, I won't leave my readers feeling
ripped off. But there are always unanswered questions, and each new
book builds on the consequences of what came before.
Was this the first continuing series you've written? Did it start out as
a series when you first conceived of Jig's story? How many more stories
to you see in Jig's future?
GOBLIN QUEST was originally a
standalone novel. I had no idea if it would sell, or if it would be
successful enough to warrant a second book. But Jig and his fellow
goblins are a lot of fun, and I kept asking myself questions . . .
like how would the other goblins treat a runt who actually survived
an adventure? At this point, DAW has purchased three books: GOBLIN
QUEST, GOBLIN HERO, and GOBLIN WAR. I've also written four goblin
I have no immediate plans for more
books in the series. As I mentioned, I don't want things to get
stale or repetitive. I also don't want to be "that goblin guy"
forever. On the other hand, the end of the trilogy leaves Jig in a
very different situation, one that has a great deal of potential for
fun and exploration. (Fun for me, at any rate. Jig will probably
The Jig Dragonslayer stories certainly have large amounts of humor, and
seem very accessible to all ages. Do the stories reflect the vision of
the story you started with, or did the humor evolve over time? Did you
purposely feel you'd written a story that could be enjoyed at many age
levels, or is that just your nature?
I had no particular age group in
mind when I wrote the story; I just wanted to write from the
monsters' perspective, and I loved my nearsighted goblin runt
character. I've been a little surprised at how the book has been
received. My youngest fan (that I'm aware of) is seven years old,
but I also have great grandmothers telling me how much they enjoyed
The humor has definitely evolved a
bit. GOBLIN QUEST has a fair number of gaming jokes. That wanes a
little in the second and third books, as the stories become more
complex. But they're goblins, and goblins are always fun. Humans
shake hands as a gesture of respect and friendship. Goblins do it
to check how much meat you've got on your bones.
You mention you have written four goblin short stories. Are those
published, or soon to be published? Are they Jig stories? If so, where
would someone find these?
Don't you know it's dangerous to
ask a writer to promote his own stuff? But since you asked. . . .
"Goblin Lullaby" came out last fall
in the DAW anthology FANTASY GONE WRONG. In a lot of ways, that one
was my favorite. It tells the story of baby Jig (inspired by my
then-four-month-old son). It also introduces a few of the
characters from GOBLIN HERO, and even sets a few elements into place
for GOBLIN WAR.
A short story named "Goblin Hero"
will be out Very Soon in BASH DOWN THE DOOR AND SLICE OPEN THE
BADGUY. This one tells how Jig and his fire-spider Smudge first
"The Haunting of Jig's Ear" will be
out later this year in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
The title is self-explanatory, if a bit goofy.
Finally, I sold "School Spirit" to
the Wizards of the Coast anthology MAGIC IN THE MIRRORSTONE, which
is scheduled for 2008. That's the only goblin story that doesn't
include Jig. Instead, we follow Veka and find out what happened to
her after the events of the second goblin book.
Your bio says your fiction has appeared in thirty magazines and anthologies.
Thirty? Over five years? Ten years? No matter which, it seems like a
heck of an achievement! So, your writing career obviously did well in
the time between 1998 and the book. Can you talk about that a little
bit? And where did "Blade of the Bunny" fit into this apparently very
"Blade of the Bunny" was my first
professional sale. I came away from Writers of the Future with the
naive expectation that all of the top markets would now be fighting
over me. After all, I was a Writers of the Future winner! Sadly,
most editors turned out to be perfectly willing to reject a WotF
I've always aimed high with my
short fiction. My first submission to Fantasy and Science
Fiction was back in 1995. (After 41 submissions, I still
haven't cracked that market. But someday Gordon Van Gelder will
send me a contract, darn it!) Anyway, my approach was to send my
stories to all of the top markets and work my way down until I sold
it or ran out of markets. This meant I could have 20 or more
stories out at the same time, which was a good feeling.
Around 2002 or 2003, I changed
strategies. I wanted to build a name as a writer, and that meant I
needed to get into the pro markets where you had much wider
distribution. At the time, SFWA defined pro markets as those paying
3 cents/word, so I adopted that as my cutoff point.
The effect was immediate: I got
started collecting even more rejections. But it worked for me. I
had to push myself as a writer, and I gradually got to the point
where I was writing well enough to sell to places like Realms of
Fantasy or Sword & Sorceress.
These days I'm not doing as much
short fiction, and I'm not quite as militant about pay rates. I
sold one of the goblin stories to Andromeda Spaceways because
I love those guys, and it's a fun magazine, even if the pay rate is
significantly less than F&SF.
So, is the short fiction market still the way to 'break in?' (Since you
still went the way of the small press, it does not sound like it was a
huge help to you getting into the novel arena? Or not? Did it help you
get an agent?)
Write what you want to write. None
of the agents I talked to knew anything about my short fiction work.
I do think short fiction can teach
a lot about the craft of writing. You learn dialogue and plotting
and character development and world-building, and it's far easier to
rewrite and analyze a 4000-word story than it is a 100,000-word
novel. At the same time, novels and short stories are different
beasts. Writing a short story won't teach you how to juggle a
novel's worth of subplots, or how to foreshadow events six chapters
ahead of time, or how to control pacing over 20 chapters.
I don't think short fiction is the
path to novel success as much as it used to be. Short fiction can
certainly help, of course. A query letter that mentions sales to
Asimov's and Analog is going to get a closer look by a
would-be agent or editor.
Someone who works as an agent or
editor would be a better person to ask, but in my opinion, the best
way to break in as a novelist is to write a really good novel. And
if that doesn't work, write a better one. (In most cases you'll
also need to learn to write a really good query letter.)
Besides heroic and humorous fantasy, what genres do you write in, and
why? And would you like to try your hand at any others?
My novels with DAW are all quirky
fantasies. My fourth book, THE STEPSISTER SCHEME, is a bit more
serious than the goblin trilogy, but it's still a lot of fun. I've
written much more widely in my short fiction, though. I've done the
occasional science fiction story, dabbled in horror, and done
everything from classic sword & sorcery to the alternate history
piece I'm working on right now. I do like to push myself to try new
things, but I also have a lot of fun writing lighter, humorous
Who has influenced your writing?
Um ... everyone? Even when I hate
a book, I try to learn from it, if only to say, "I have to make sure
I don't do that." I love Ursula LeGuin's skill with
language. I love the way Spider Robinson evokes a sense of wonder
in some of his books. I love the way Peter David can put humor and
tragedy on the same page, and make you feel them both. Zelazny does
a wonderful job with the sheer marvelousness of his worlds. Julie
Czerneda has taught me a lot about developing better alien
characters. And from Snoopy of Peanuts fame, I've learned to
persevere through rejection.
Are there common mistakes you see new writers making? What suggestions
would you give them?
I've run a fair number of writing
workshops at conventions and such over the years. A lot of the
things I see most clearly are mistakes I make myself. Starting the
story too early is a big one. One of the suggestions I make most
often is to cut the first 5 or 10 pages. In a novel, sometimes I
cut an entire chapter or more. The beginning needs to grab and hold
a reader's interest, especially if you're a new writer. If you're
Stephen King, people will keep reading because they trust you. For
a new writer, if you don't grab the editor after the first page,
they may not read the second.
Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers? How should
they be using it, if it is?
Like a lot of things, the Internet
can be both a wonderful tool or an awful one. At a bare minimum, I
believe every author needs a professional-looking web site with
contact information. It doesn't have to be big and fancy, but if
someone wants to pay you $100 to speak at a local college or
interview you for the local paper, you want them to be able to
In terms of promotion, I've posted
the first chapters of my books, as well as some "Easter Eggs" and
deleted scenes. I maintain a presence at LiveJournal and MySpace,
as well as some Yahoo! Groups discussion lists, all of which give me
the opportunity to interact with readers and writers. The down side
of all this is that time spent online is time not spent working on
your fiction. . . .
It's easy to go overboard with
promotion, which can alienate the very people you're trying to
attract. MySpace pages that are absolutely nothing but a commercial
tend to annoy me. Lots of authors will also spam mailing lists and
discussion forums with information about their books. "Oh, you're
talking about pizza? Well, the protagonist of my book, MARY SUE AND
ME eats lots of pizza, so you should all read it!" I've had far
more success simply being myself, chatting with folks, and letting
them ask me if they're interested in learning about my books.
How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there
themes that matter most to you?
The most obvious change is that
it's harder for me to read a book or watch a show without critiquing
the writing. For a while, I couldn't sit through a movie without
muttering about foreshadowing or poor character development or how
the writers were deliberately manipulating our sympathies. I've
gotten a bit better. I still do a lot of analysis, but I've learned
to keep my mouth shut and not bug everyone else about it. Mostly.
As for themes, family has become
much more important to me over the past years, and I'm seeing that
reflected in my writing. The Stepsister Scheme will be dedicated to
my daughter when it comes out, and one of the themes of the book is
three women creating a new family after escaping the nastiness of
their old families. The short story I'm currently writing has
family dysfunction dripping from every page. (It also has elves
with semi-automatic weapons, but that's not really thematic, just
What is your average day like? Do you write every day?
I took a job for the state back in
2001, because I knew it was the kind of job that would mesh with my
writing goals. It's a lower-stress position, which means I'm not
mentally burnt out at the end of the day. For six years now, I've
used my lunch hour to work on my writing. I can do close to 1000
words during lunch on a good day. (Let's not get into what the bad
days are like.)
I have two young children at home,
which means it's difficult to write in the evenings or on weekends.
If I'm on a deadline, I can usually squeeze in an extra hour here or
there, but the lunch hour has been my primary writing time. One
hour a day, five days a week can add up to a lot of words over the
course of a year. As long as you're consistent, you'd be surprised
at how much writing you can get done.
What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things
do you plan, or hope, to write in the future?
Goblin Hero, the second book
in my goblin series, just came out on May 1. We're hoping to get Goblin
War into bookstores in early 2008. DAW will also be publishing The
Stepsister Scheme in late 2008 or early 2009. I'm hoping Stepsister
will be the first in a new series of butt-kicking fairy tale princess
books. I'm disavowing any knowledge of the Disney fairy tale movies,
and going back to some of the earlier stories. Cross those with
Charlie's Angels, and you'll get a rough idea what the books are like.
For the future, mostly I hope to
keep on writing. And if I'm very fortunate, readers will keep on
buying what I write.
Thank you for taking this time for this interview. Any last words you'd
like to say to our readers?
I want to say thanks to Lazette for
inviting me to come talk to your readers. To everyone, I generally
hang out over at
http://www.jimchines.com. Stop by and say hello!