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Never Challenge a Goblin to a Game of Rakachak: An Interview with Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines, author of the incredibly witty and full-of-pizazz* Goblin trilogy (Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, and the forthcoming Goblin War, all from DAW books), talks with me about Jig Dragonslayer, writing, and a favorite role playing session.

Grasping for the Wind: Why is humor such an important part of a story?

Jim C. Hines: Without humor, the goblin books could get awfully depressing. Goblins are the underdogs. They lose nine out of ten battles, and they live short, violent lives. If I wrote the stories without humor, it would be nothing but a band of depressed emo goblins singing the blues while they wait to die. You need humor and … let’s call it pluck. Jig is far from thrilled about his situation, but he never gives up. The goblins are always scheming and plotting and defying their role as the underdogs of fantasy. That makes them a lot more fun to write about, and hopefully to read as well.

GFTW: Jig Dragonslayer is a self-deprecating character. His own heroism comes as a surprise to him. Why do you think causes characters like Jig to resonate with readers?

Jim: We might enjoy the superheroes, the unstoppable barbarians and uber-powerful wizards, but I think we can relate more to characters like Jig. He’s the Charlie Brown of fantasy. Watching this poor runt fight and somehow manage to survive is a lot more inspiring than when Rambo-with-a-Broadsword does the same thing.

GFTW: Smudge is a non-speaking character, but he has a lot of personality. Did you find it difficult to make sure he didn�t drop out of the story?

Jim: I love that fire-spider, but there were a few times when I’d finish a scene and realize I had completely forgotten about poor Smudge. He’s a great character, but he’s also limited in what he can do, plotwise. I mean, there’s only so much for him to set on fire. But Smudge is important, not only as a kind of organic Zippo lighter, but also because he’s Jig’s best friend. I might forget about Smudge, but Jig never will.

GFTW: How would you describe your writing process?

Jim: Ugly? Unstable? Painful? My path from idea to finished manuscript varies a bit depending on the story, but usually it involves a few outlines, a first draft of pure chaos and confusion, and several rewrites to finally figure out what the story’s about and get it down right. But it works for me.

GFTW: Where did the idea come from to do the Monday LOL books at your blog?

Jim: Heh … I had just discovered Cat Macros, and I was bored, so I decided to slap a few captions on books by myself and my friends. I posted them on LiveJournal, and the reaction was very positive, so I did a few more. If something makes people grin or laugh, I tend to keep doing it. I think I’ve done about 40 books all total. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll meet people at booksignings who say, “Nope, I’ve never heard of the goblin books. But aren’t you the LOL Book guy?”

GFTW: Why do you choose to write primarily fantasy, even though your mainstream fiction has been well-received?

Jim: I haven’t actually written a lot of mainstream stuff. One novel and a handful of short stories. I’m proud of them, but I have a lot more fun with fantasy. I love the magic and the wonder. I even love the clich�s, the dragons and the shiny swords and the wizards. There are other genres and subgenres where I might be able to make more money, but I figure you’ve got to write what you love.

GFTW: You have said that you are taking a break from the Goblin stories to work with different characters. How are The Stepsister Scheme and the other Princess novels different from the stories of Jig?

Jim: The princess books are a bit more serious. Not completely serious, of course. I’m basically writing a mashup of fairy tale princesses and Charlie’s Angels. But the characters are more complex, and I think the stories have a little more depth and power. Also, it was kind of fun to switch from Jig the anti-warrior to one of my princesses who’s skilled enough to kill an armed and armored warrior with a spoon.

GFTW: You attend a lot of conventions. What do you like most about attending?

Jim: I mostly do the local conventions, for budgetary and family reasons. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, so the first few times I went, I felt completely overwhelmed. These days, having met some of my fans and fellow writers, I love the cons. I love getting together with “my people,” being able to make goofy jokes about Babel fish or quote Firefly with people who actually get it and don’t look at you like you’re from another planet. Watching your book sell out in the dealer’s room is a nice bonus, and a good boost for the ego.

GFTW: You have mentioned that you used to play role playing games quite often. What is your favorite role playing game memory?

Jim: A friend spent a long time planning a major battle between our party and a Kraken. We had our little charms to let us breathe and move underwater. Each player was allowed to choose one other magical item for the battle. So after watching the rest of the party hack, slash, and fireball this huge monster to little effect, I swam up and tapped it with a wand of polymorph. Kraken fails magic resistance and saving throw, and I turn him into a butterfly. The gamemaster glares at me, hate searing the air between us, and mutters, “It drowns.” I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which scene was partly inspired by that game.

GFTW: Any parting thoughts?

Jim: If a goblin challenges you to a game of rakachak, just say no. Trust me on this. Thanks for the great questions. I hope folks enjoy the books!

Keep the belly laughs coming by reading Jim’s blog.

Also, read a pdf excerpt from his forthcoming novel Goblin War, set for release in March 2008.


*Jim says it is okay for me (a man) to use the word pizazz, “but the Code of Testosterone requires that you grunt a few times and scratch yourself while doing so. Belching is optional :-).”

(Author Photo &copy Craig Hebert)