Jim C. Hines’ writing is so varied, it makes him a difficult author to label. His first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings and the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies.
Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan.
Every now and then, an author breaks new ground. In today’s publishing world filled with thematic repetition—galactic conquest, defeating a dragon, an evil wizard—it’s refreshing to encounter something untried. When he introduces us to Isaac Vainio, a libiomancer, in his Magic ex Libris series, he takes us onto untrodden soil. I asked Jim to tell us about Revisionary, his latest release and the fourth in the series. He describes it as follows:
When Isaac Vainio helped to reveal magic to the world, he dreamed of a utopian future, a new millennium of magical prosperity. One year later, things aren’t going quite as he’d hoped. An organization known as Vanguard, made up of magical creatures and ex-Porters, wants open war with the mundane world. Isaac’s own government is incarcerating “potential supernatural enemies” in prisons and internment camps. And Isaac finds himself targeted by all sides.
It’s a war that will soon envelop the world, and the key to victory may lie with Isaac himself, as he struggles to incorporate everything he’s learned into a new, more powerful form of libriomancy. Surrounded by betrayal and political intrigue, Isaac and a ragtag group of allies must evade pursuit both magical and mundane, expose a conspiracy by some of the most powerful people in the world, and find a path to a better future.
But what will that future cost Isaac and the ones he loves?
Will you tell us something more about it?
This is the fourth and final (for now) book in the Magic ex Libris series, which is based on the premise that a small number of people can reach into the pages of books and pull out the objects described in the story. As long as they physically fit through the book. Isaac Vainio is a librarian and libriomancer from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and an unabashed fan of all things magical. He’s very enthusiastic, which tends to get him into trouble, and very bright, which helps him to get back out of it again. Also, he has a pet spider who can set things on fire.
I am intrigued by your Magic ex Libris series and find the concept of a librarian being able to draw magic from a book, or step from a taxi that had been skirting Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere only to emerge from a pizza delivery truck in our nation’s capitol both enticing and delightful. Will you fill us in on how that concept came about?
The seed of the series was planted at a convention in Chicago many years ago, when an editor asked me to write a short story that took Smudge the fire-spider from my goblin books and brought him into the real world. So I had to figure out how to set that up, which led to a character who could pull things out of books.
The story was published in Gamer Fantastic, but the idea had so much more potential. Imagine all the things, good and bad, you could create with our collective literature. So I fleshed it out, added more characters like Lena the dryad and Johannes Gutenberg and more, and just ran with it.
I’ve been looking at the other books you have written. I must say it’s rare that someone’s book blurb brings me to laughter, but Goblin Hero’s description did just that. How much fun did you have producing your Goblin Quest series?
Jig and Smudge and the rest were great to write about. I’m a long time D&D player, and this series was a chance to go back and mess with some of those old tropes, to change up the traditional stories, and to just really play. I really enjoyed the characters, and the goblins in general. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gone back a few times to write shorter stories in that world.
I was delighted when Gregory Maguire spun off the 1939 the movie classic, The Wizard of Oz, with his Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Now—and I admit I am frightfully behind the reading curve—I encounter your princess series where you expand on Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. What was the spark that ignited that series?
Those books began when my daughter was a lot younger, and was going through a princess phase. A lot of the toys and merchandise she collected showed these characters as pretty, but… not much else. Some of the movies did a decent job of giving the characters strength and agency. Others, not so much.
So I decided to go all out and write a series that turned these traditional fairy tale princesses into action heroes. Snow White would get her mother’s magic mirror and be the sorceress. Sleeping Beauty and her fairy gifts of grace would become the ninja/assassin character. And Cinderella would receive an enchanted glass sword from her mother’s ghost.
Basically, I wrote it because I wanted more stories like this to be out there for my daughter and everyone else.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
It depends on the day. I quit my full-time day job last fall. Before then, I wrote every day on my lunch hour. Now my schedule is a lot more flexible…and at times, a lot more complicated. Some days I’ll put in four hours or more at the keyboard. Others I’m running kids to doctor appointments and dealing with calls from the school and chasing after the dog who got through the gate in the back yard again.
Most writers will envy your new situation. Why do you write and when did you first realize you were a writer?
I write because I enjoy it. I love inventing stories and sharing them with people. There are days when it’s frustrating or painful trying to get the story in your head onto the screen, and it’s just not coming out right. But then there are the moments when it comes together, or when you come up with a clever twist or idea, or you hit on something powerful. Those moments are amazing.
Plus I like fantasizing about swords and magic and robots and all that other cool, shiny stuff.
When did I realize I was a writer? That’s hard to say. I toyed with writing a bit as a kid. Started doing it more seriously toward the end of my undergraduate degree. To some extent, I started to really feel like a writer after my first fantasy novel Goblin Quest came out.
And then there are the days when I still don’t entirely feel like A Real Writer. Like I’ve been playing a trick on the world for 20+ years and having a blast with it, but sooner or later someone’s going to catch on.
You have blogged about some unfortunate incidents pertaining to sexual and racial harassment at several Cons. I think these occurrences are appalling and I applaud you for calling attention to them. Would you care to discuss this?
There’s so much to discuss, but in short, this stuff happens. At cons, at schools, at workplaces, and more. For a long time, there’s been pressure not to talk about it, but that’s one of the reasons it keeps happening. I’m encouraged by the shift I’ve seen in some areas to say no, we are going to talk about it, we are going to let people know this behavior is not acceptable, and we are going to take steps when and if it happens.
Please give some mention of your work as crisis councilor, especially as the Male Outreach Coordinator at Michigan State University.
I spent a total of about five years volunteering at the Listening Ear crisis center in East Lansing, working on the phone hotline for all kinds of crisis calls, as well as working in (and at one point, helping to coordinate) the sexual assault counseling program. In another position, I worked as the Male Outreach Coordinator for Safe Place, the domestic violence shelter and program at MSU.
A lot of that second position involved outreach and education, talking to men about consent and power and abuse, things a lot of guys may not be that aware of. It’s hard to solve a problem when a large number of people won’t even acknowledge the problem exists.
It was intense work at times, but also very powerful and eye-opening. I certainly learned a lot about the world that I hadn’t seen growing up.
Would you care to share how your work led you to write Goldfish Dreams?
Basically, Goldfish Dreams was a mainstream novel I wrote about rape and recovery, based on some of the things I learned and experienced during my time at Listening Ear. It’s not based on an actual person or anything like that. But it was a way for me to take all of those stories I’d heard and turn them into something I hope is both honest and, ultimately, hopeful.
Do you have anything else in the works you are free to discuss?
A few short stories, and a new three-book humorous SF series I’m writing for DAW (who published my fantasy books).
What motivates or inspires you (not necessarily as regards your writing)?
A sense of wonder, and wanting to share that sense with family, friends, fans, and anyone else who’d like to get some.
Would you care to share something about your home life?
We have a cat who likes to wake me up in the morning by jumping onto the bed and licking my scalp. It’s a bizarre and disturbing way to wake up.
I always conclude each interview with what I call a Lightning Round, because it often yields unexpected insights. Answer as many as you care to in as few words as possible.:
My best friend would tell you I’m a … Turtle.
The one thing I cannot do without is: Insulin.
The one thing I would change about my life: Fewer chronic illnesses for me and my family.
My biggest peeve is: Coconut.
The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: Mister Rogers.
Before I provide links to your books and social media, I’m going to insert an excerpt from Revisionary:
Joint Committee on Magical Security
U.S. House of Representatives
Chairman: Alexander Keeler
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Magical Security
Derek Vaughn, Louisiana
Tammy Hoeve, Michigan
Timothy Hoffman, Ohio
Anthony Hays, Colorado
Susan Brown, Florida
Elizabeth Garcia, Oklahoma
John Senn, Nevada
Committee on Magical Security
Alexander Keeler, Illinois
Kenneth Tindill, Rhode Island
Mary Pat Clarke, Maryland
Kent Childress, Oregon
Testimony and Questioning of Witness Number 18: Isaac Vainio
The CHAIRMAN: This hearing will come to order.
It’s my privilege and honor to welcome the members of the Joint Committee on Magical Security, as well as the witnesses who have been called to testify as we help to shape the future of this great nation during this time of worldwide turmoil and conflict.
Mister Vainio, thank you for taking time from your work with New Millennium to join us today.
Mr. VAINIO: Your invitation made it clear I didn’t have a choice.
The CHAIRMAN: Do you affirm that the testimony you will give before this committee is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Mr. VAINIO: Aren’t I supposed to be sworn in on a Bible?
The CHAIRMAN: For security reasons, no books will be permitted in the chamber during your testimony.
Mr. VAINIO: Don’t worry, I’m not about to try libriomancy with a Bible, or any other religious text. Gutenberg might have been able to handle that kind of intensity and belief, but—oh, sorry. Yes, I do so affirm.
The CHAIRMAN: Thank you. You may be seated. Mr. Vainio, would you please—what is that?
Mr. VAINIO: His name is Smudge. He’s a fire-spider. He’s perfectly safe as long as he’s in his cage. Don’t go poking your fingers in there, though. He’s my service animal. My lawyer advised me this was permitted under disability law.
Mr. CHILDRESS: You have a service spider?
Mr. VAINIO: He senses danger. Like Spider-Man. Having him around helps me with some…anxiety issues. It’s been a traumatic few years. I have a letter from my therapist if you’d like to see it.
The CHAIRMAN: That won’t be necessary. For the record, please state your history and current role with the organization known as the Porters.
Mr. VAINIO: I’ve been a member of the Porters—intermittently—for about seven years, working to protect the world from magical threats. I’ve been a cataloguer, field agent, and researcher. Ten months back, I helped to found the New Millennium project in Nevada, where I currently work as Director of Research and Development.
The CHAIRMAN: Ten months. That would be shortly after you announced the existence of magic to the world.
Mr. VAINIO: Correct.
The CHAIRMAN: You constructed New Millennium in the United States. You yourself are an American citizen, born and raised in Michigan. Are you loyal to this country, Isaac?
Mr. VAINIO: How do you mean?
The CHAIRMAN: There are hundreds of you libriomancers scattered throughout the world, and thousands of other creatures. Vampires and merfolk and werewolves and bigfoots and Heaven knows what else. What assurances does this committee have that you won’t turn against the United States of America? How do we prevent people like you from selling your abilities to the highest bidder?
Mr. VAINIO: Maybe you could start by not treating us all like potential criminals and terrorists.
Thanks, Jim, for taking the time to tell us about yourself. Those visitors who would like to learn more about Jim or purchase his books can do so here: