Jim C. Hines wrote his first story fifteen years ago. (Over at his website, he’s written an interesting reflection on the changes in publishing since the mid-1990s.) After three years of trading submissions for rejection letters, Hines broke through the brick wall with a story called “Blade of the Bunny” that appeared in Writers of the Future XV. Since then his humorous fantasy fiction has appeared regularly in places like Realms of Fantasy and Clarkesworld Magazine, as well as in many anthologies.
In 2006, eleven years after starting out, Hines began publishing novels with DAW. First came the Goblin series and then the Princess series. In his six novels (and, I assume, the seventh which is on the way), Hines takes tried-and-true fantasy tropes and turns them upside down and inside out. He does so with a combination of affection and biting wit. He doesn’t mock the genre, no, he just doesn’t let it takes itself too seriously.
Hines and I spoke last summer for an interview in Clarkesworld Magazine called “Doing Crappy Things to Good Characters,” the title of which should tell you an awful lot about Hines and his writing.
Below, we pick up our conversation in the wake of his most successful novel, Red Hood’s Revenge.
The last time we spoke you were awaiting the release of Red Hood’s Revenge, which is out now and ready to be read by the masses. How is Red Hood doing? Anything about its reception, here or abroad, that’s surprised you?
Jim C. Hines: Barnes & Noble featured Red Hood’s Revenge in a floor display with two other Penguin titles, and the first week’s sales were the highest of any of my books, ever. So I’d say it’s doing okay. So far, I’ve been very happy with the reception. There’s no book that’s perfect for everyone, but with this one, it seems like the people who like it really like it.
The biggest surprise is that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody’s banned these books yet. What’s an author got to do? Harry Potter got banned all over the place, and I’ve got just as much magic plus lesbian love plus that scene where Talia rides up and kicks Fred Phelps in the nuts. (Okay, one of these things may not be entirely true, but the others are.)
In what ways have you re-imagined Red Riding Hood?
Jim C. Hines: Roudette, aka the Lady of the Red Hood, started with a single throwaway line in The Stepsister Scheme where Talia describes her as growing up to become the most feared assassin in the land. I took some liberties with her story, but kept the core elements: the wolf, the hunter, the little girl who strays from the path . . . but the wolf is a weapon, the hunter is a part of the Wild Hunt, and The Path is the core of the Church of the Fey, the religion Roudette was raised in.
Roudette has a long history, and is older than the other characters. In many ways, I wrote her as a mirror to
Talia (Sleeping Beauty). Talia could very easily have followed Roudette’s path, becoming an angry, violent, frighteningly efficient killer. As she interacts with my three heroines, I believe she starts to see an alternate possibility for her life . . . but she’s reached the point where it’s very difficult to change. I’d tell you what she ultimately decides, but I don’t want to ruin things.
What PR strategies have you used to promote Red Hood’s Revenge and your other novels?
Jim C. Hines: Full body tattoo. Subliminal messages inserted into reruns of Friends. Happy Meal toys. The usual.
I’ve tried a lot of things over the years, and very little has had any significant impact. In the long term though, I think going to conventions and building an online presence has made a difference. I’m on Facebook, LiveJournal, and Twitter, in addition to my web site. I don’t think of it as promotion much these days; it’s more a community (or several communities) of readers, writers, and generally cool people that I get to chat with. But it also helps spread awareness of the books, which is very nice too.
Which comes first: story or humor? Character or story?
Jim C. Hines: It depends, but usually story. One of my favorite characters from The Mermaid’s Madness, the dryad captain Hephyra, didn’t even show up until the second draft. I tend to be pretty plot/story oriented with my first drafts. I’m not sure what you mean about humor, though. My writing is deeply serious literary fiction. Take the nose-picking scene from Goblin Hero, that was clearly a metaphor for the environmental dangers of over-mining the land. . . .
How do you keep a series fresh and vital? How do you keep yourself fresh and vital?
Jim C. Hines: With books, the key for me has been to try to let the characters change. I don’t want to keep telling the same story over and over. As characters change, so do their goals and desires, which then changes the shape of the next story. The other thing I’ve done with both of my series so far is to let them end once I’m done telling the stories I want to tell. I’ve had a lot of requests for more goblin books, and people are already unhappy that the next princess book will probably be the last . . . but I’d rather end things now then drag it on when I don’t have anything to say.
As for keeping myself fresh? Daily showers, mostly. Yes, even at cons.
Sure, sure, this is all well and good, but what’s Talia the Warrior Princess up to these days?
Jim C. Hines: I’m working on the third draft of the final book, The Snow Queen’s Shadow. Given what I do to Talia and her friends in that one, I’d say she’s spending most of her time cursing my name and plotting my death.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor. Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.