Corridors of Communication

Dance of the DeadChristie Golden first came to my attention through my interest in TSR and its Ravenloft series. I found her novels--especially Dance of the Dead--thoroughly enjoyable. Imagine my surprise and joy when I discovered that she'd written fantasy novels set in a world of her own devising. It took me a while to find her books--as opposed to those set in already established series--what with Hawaii's limited availability, but found them I did, and I'm glad!
Christie Golden has a site on the Internet where you can find out more about what she's written, what she's doing, and what her future plans are.
The interview that follows comes from e-mail messages sent back and forth between myself and Ms. Golden. I've filtered the interview down somewhat, but all with her approval. Enjoy!--XS
Note: cover graphics used with Ms. Golden's permission.

XS=Xerxes Starfire, CG=Christie Golden

XS: First off, is your real name Christie Golden?

CG: Christie Golden is indeed my real, given name. There is also a Christopher Golden out there--and that is indeed his real, given name. It has caused no end of confusion, especially as we both write speculative fiction. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction!

XS: Your works are right next to his on the shelves at the bookstore, so it is definitely confusing, especially when someone puts a book back in the wrong place. So, have you ever considered writing under a psuedonym?

CG: I am in fact writing a novel under a pen name at the present moment. While the book, tentatively titled "999," is a fantasy novel, it is unlike anything else I have done before. My editor and I decided that a new name might bring in new readers. So, in winter of 1999, look for "999," an historical fantasy novel by Jadrien Bell!

XS: That's a cool name!

CG: I am also dabbling in the world of mystery fiction. The way this business works is, bookstores place orders based on your last sale. If you are trying something very new, you don't want to jeopardize your good sales if this experiment doesn't work. In other words, if highly successful science fiction writer Jane Schmoe sells 100,000 copies of her SF work, she's not going to write mystery (or horror, or romance) under the same name. Suppose her mystery novel flops and sells only 5,000 copies? When she puts out her next book, another SF novel, the bookstores will only order 5,000 copies of the "next Jane Schmoe" novel. Whereas if she is "Jane Smith," it doesn't matter if her mysery novel flops. The next Jane Schmoe novel will still sell 100,000 copies. Not that I sell 100,000 copies of my orginal work, more's the pity!

XS: Now I understand about the psuedonym business. And it is a pity you're not selling 100,000 copies of your original works, because they are stupendous! But I'm getting ahead of myself. What was your family life like as you grew up?

CG: Pretty normal. Mom stayed home, Dad went to work, had an older brother, an older sister, and a dog. Oh, and gerbils.

XS: Where was home for you then?

CG: I was born in Georgia, spent four years from age four to eight in Michigan, then moved to Virginia. I lived there most of my life.

XS: Who was the biggest influence on your life as you grew up?

CG: My parents.

XS: What level of education did you complete?

CG: I graduated from the University of Virginia in 1995.

XS: Any degrees?

CG: Bachelor of Arts. I was an English major.

XS: Oh, we have something in common then. Who was your favorite...oops, got carried away there. What are your views on education in general?

CG: I'm in favor of getting as much as you can, as high a quality as you can. DON'T DROP OUT!

XS: My sentiments exactly. Now then, have you held--or do you hold--any job positions besides being a writer?

CG: Yes. I was an unpaid intern at the Play Development Department at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. right out of college. I later was employed there for a while and left to become the transcriber for the Editorial Page at USA Today. I then moved on to become an associate editor at Orbit Video, a video review magazine, and my last "out in the real world job" was that of Associate Editor of The Retired Officer Association magazine.

XS: That's quite a resume. Considering all the work in publishing that you did, I have to ask: what were your ambitions as a child, and was the writing/publishing industry one of them?

CG: I wanted to be an actress. Musicals, actually. I did a lot of that in high school. It was harder in college--more and better competition.

XS: Well, I'm glad you went into writing; otherwise you'd be depriving the world of a stupendous author. So tell me, what is your family life like now?

CG: I'm married. We've got two cats and we're getting a puppy in October [of 1998--XS].

XS: Where is home for you now?

CG: Colorado. I love it out here--feel like a Western girl who mistakenly was born into an East Coast family.

XS: What is your greatest dream in life?

CG: My greatest be happy and to give happiness through my work.

XS: Well, you succeeded with this fan. How about your worst fear?

CG: Losing everything I've worked so hard for and one day waking up and finding out I can't write anymore.

XS: Brr! That's a terrible thing to contemplate! I think I'd better drop that train of thought. Okay, what sort of awards or accomplishments are you proud of?

CG: I won a ton of little things in school and at summer camp. In college, I won the Clay E. Delauney Playwriting Award. I'm very proud that I stuck with it long enough to be published and actually see some success with my work. It took me five years to write my first manuscript, seven years to get published, and five years after that to be able to sell an original novel. And I'm only 34.

XS: Those are great accomplishments. I wish I were so lucky. Sigh. Well, let's continue. What are your favorite topics to write about? I'd assume horror and sci-fi, but...

Instrument of FateCG: I started out being interested in the genre of fantasy and, later, science fiction. However, the more I write, the more I realize it isn't the field that interests me, it's the characters and storyline. Some things you'll always find in my books: a triumph of the human spirit, no reluctance to do really bad things to really good characters, and, hopefully, a rousing good story, whether it's set in the world of Verold, on board Voyager, or right here on good old Earth.

XS: Not the field but the characters and storyline...I'll have to remember that. When is it easiest for you to write?

CG: Acquiring a new puppy has really helped me stick to a schedule! I write in the mornings on weekdays; not quite disciplined enough to write on weekends. Generally between 8:30 and 11:00 are my best times. That's so that if I don't make my page count, I always have the afternoon to fall back on. And if I do, I can relax.

XS: Well, you have better discipline than I do. How about an ideal setting?

CG: There's no ideal setting--I'm lucky enough to have a bright sunny office now, but I hammered out my first three novels in a dark corner of my bedroom on a tiny typing table.

XS: An office? How heavenly that sounds. Is researching your novels a tedious task or are there rewards and benefits to it besides crafting a factually accurate text?

CG: It depends. Sometimes it's a lot of fun. For On the Run, my Invasion America original novel, I had to research ebola, so I curled up with The Hot Zone. WOW! Talk about a scary book! And the kicker--at the time of the Ebola scare in Reston in the late '80s, I lived in a condominium not fifty yards from the "Monkey House"! I ate at the McDonald's across the street, and got gas at the gas station where they exchanged infected monkeys in open cages.

XS: Stop! Now you're making my skin crawl!

CG: The book I'm researching now, working title "999," is a lot harder and less fun. The book is set in the year 999, and believe me, it's hard finding things like floor plans for churches that were destroyed eight hundred years ago!

XS: I can imagine.

CG: But history has a lot to teach us, and research always teaches me stuff I never knew--some of it really interesting.

XS: How did you get into writing? With short stories?

CG: The answer to that depends on how far back you want to go.

XS: Your call.

CG: I wrote "books" for my teachers in the first grade--stapled together that manilla paper and wrote and illustrated stories.

XS: I remember doing that!

CG: I wrote Star Trek scripts in my high school math classes--came close to failing Geometry!

XS: I remember doing that, too, only it was poetry in English and Physics.

CG: I started my first novel in high school and finished it after college. Rewrote it a billion times, shopped it around for seven years. It never did get published, but it was a foundation for the books set in my fantasy world of Verold--Instrument of Fate and King's Man & Thief. It told the story of King Tach, the one mortal who had all four Magics. His wife, Ariel, makes a cameo appearance in Instrument of Fate.

XS: I hope you're still shopping that one around. I think I'd like to read King Tach's story. Now, you said you majored in English. Did you take any creative writing courses?

CG: No, UVa wasn't particularly strong in that. I did do a lot of essay writing for classes, and took several playwriting classes.

XS: Did all the essays and the playwriting classes help to guide you to writing novels?

CG: Any writing you do helps you to be a better writer.

XS: Has writing become any easier or more difficult since you started writing?

CG: Easier, definitely. It's a skill, like anything else. The talent was always there--if you take as a given that I have talent!

XS: I do.

CG: And the skills just help it to come through more easily.

XS: What is the easiest thing about writing for you

CG: Dialogue.

XS: And the most difficult?

CG: Description.

XS: I'd beg to differ, but we should continue on. What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about becoming a writer?

CG: Don't!

XS: What!

CG: Ha! Just kidding. My advice to you is read widely in your field. Discover which publishers publish the sort of books most like your own work. Write as often as you can, and make sure you finish a manuscript before you send anything out. When your first manuscript is in the mail, start a second one. Join a writing group. Be your own worst critic and your own biggest fan.

Vampire of the MistsXS: That makes tons of sense. Okay, then. You have several titles to your credit, including works in TSR's Ravenloft series and the Star Trek Voyager line. First, how did you come to write for TSR?

CG: I got in when they were doing "auditions" for writers. They don't do that any more and, like every tie-in line I can think of nowadays, they want already-published authors.

XS: Sigh. Another lost opportunity. And I guess I won't ask about the Star Trek books since they're probably the same way. Anyway, what do you think are the advantages--or drawbacks, I suppose--to writing in shared-world universes like those you wrote in?

CG: The advantages are, many times, especially with media books like Star Trek, your readers are already familiar with the characters and the universes. You don't have to spend a lot of time getting readers acquainted with them. And if you really enjoy the show/game/whatever, it can be a lot of fun to "play in the sandbox," as it were. Another advantage is you've got a built-in audience. And, of course, often, the headiest advantage of all--they often pay very well.

XS: I feel hope trickling back in.

CG: The disadvantages are many as well, the chief one being that you do not own what you have created. That's right: TSR owns Jander Sunstar [Vampire of the Mists--XS], Paramount owns the Skedans [Star Trek Voyager: Seven of Nine--XS], and DreamWorks owns Dr. Eddie Rainsinger [Invasion America: On the Run--XS]. I can't use these characters without their permission. And if they want another author to write with these characters, there's nothing I can do about it, even if that writer totally screws up. Also, you don't get a lot of respect in the field of fantasy and science fiction writing by doing tie-ins.

XS: Never mind. The trickle stopped. But did you enjoy your forays into these two series?

CG: Yes, for the most part, the Star Trek books probably more than the TSR books.

XS: Now, you have many titles to your credit. Three for TSR's Ravenloft line, three for the Star Trek Voyager series, and two based on Invasion America. What I'd really like to talk about, though, are your novels. I thought we could begin by discussing the world. Tell me a little about the world of Verold. For example, perhaps you could tell me how many different races there are, something about the seven deities, the people, the different types of magic...

CG: To begin with, the humans call the world "Verold" and the elves "Aerthe". Both are actually very old versions of the English word "world" and "earth".

XS: I should have known that. I toiled through two semester of Old English literature. Grr!

CG: Dictionaries are wonderful things. I wanted names that sounded familiar but strange. The races, let's see. The Seven Gods of Mortal Kind, the Elven Gods (the Lord and the Lady), humans, the Fala (elves, silver-eyed and blond-haired), the Sa (elves, lavender-eyed, white-haired), the Kir (elves, black-skinned, copper-haired and copper-eyed), the Ilsi (more akin to faerie folk than elves, very delicate and smaller), the People of the Sea (water-dwelling elven folk, able to shape-shift into dolphin form), the Ghil (giant rat-like marsupials, intelligent and violent), Nightlands demons (creatures literally crafted from dreams), and the Changers. Now, the Lady and the Lord gave birth to the Seven Gods of Mortal King, but humans have forsaken them (that's a tale in itself!) and elevated the Seven Gods.

XS: Oh, another story I want to hear! You have to go back to Verold!

CG: The gods are Light (personified as a beautiful young man), Traveler (an ugly, comical, and kindly deity), Love (a little girl), Death (a beautiful white-haired woman), Health (a kindly, comely adult woman), Vengeance (whose dark face is never seen), and Hope/Despair (twin-natured god personified as a child and a crone). There are four types of magic: hand magic (most common, transforming or creating objects), heart magic (practicied only by women Healers), mind magic (controls illusions, reads thoughts, etc.), and spirit magic (can give power of life and death--only granted to a god's avatar).

XS: Thank you, thank you, thank you for clearing all this up for me! It really helps me out. Now, how did it feel to be working on your novel set in your world as opposed to the shared-worlds of Ravenloft and Star Trek Voyager?

CG: WONDERFUL! I'd been working on the world of Verold off and on since I was sixteen. It was a real thrill to actually see this world and its people in print.

XS: Okay, let's focus in a bit more, shall we? We'll start with Instrument of Fate. Where did the basis of the Changers come from? What inspired them?

CG: The basic idea of Instrument of Fate was "bard on the run". Who worse to be chasing you than someone who could turn into anybody?

XS: Who indeed?

CG: Most folktales have the Devil or another spirit being able to assume any form, but something always wouldn't change--cloven feet, a long tail, something by which you could tell it. The Navajo believe that a man's spirit is in his fingerprints. I picked a little of this, a little of that--voila, the Changers.

XS: You make it sound so simple. I think you handled all the racial tensions with extreme sophistication. I really understood where the different characters--elves, humans, and changers--were coming from.

CG: I have a great interest in religions, and the conflicts that they can sometimes pose. Racial tensions, the issue of genocide--all of these are things contemporary readers are familiar with. And like Star Trek did in the '60s, I wanted to address these issues without getting into Islam vs. Christianity or Caucasian versus black. And of course, like with real-world issues, people are people--even if they're elves.

XS: Moving on, the reader has an emotional investment with Daric, but he/she also has an investment in Singer as well. How did you decide which person to pair Gillien with?

CG: Originally, she was supposed to be with Singer. But along the way, as I wrote the first draft, it became apparent who she was really in love with. And who needed her the most.

XS: Are there any parts of Instrument of Fate that, after looking back, you'd like to rewrite?

CG: Oh, sure, you always find things you'd like a second crack at doing. I think any changes would be technical--a little toned down here, a little more graphic there, more polished metaphors, and so on.

XS: Now, if you don't mind some private sentiments, why did you wait until the very end to reveal the secret of the love of elves? It seemed jarring to me; I think I wanted to know about it sooner. Perhaps it was there before and I missed it, but I think it would have helped me if there had been more about Tach and Ariel.

CG: Well, I had hoped, as I told you, that Tach and Ariel would get their own book someday--with some interesting surprises, such as they were not each other's true love!! But unfortunately sales were not good enough for Instrument of Fate or King's Man & Thief for Ace to want another book in the Verold universe, so unless something unusual happens, all the books I'd planned for the series (12 in all!) won't ever get published. It's a rough business! That book would delve into the reason why elves could fall in love only once, and then forever. Keep in mind, most humans don't know all that much about elves, and we never really had an elven character's point of view other than Jencir's, and his mind was pretty much on just staying alive...!

King's Man & ThiefXS: Maybe Ace should...never mind. Well, let's start in on King's Man & Thief. What was your inspiration for writing it? That is, did it come about as a result of a dream, or research (perhaps into bubonic plague), or something else entirely?

CG: The outline was actually written as a TSR novel, but it was rejected. I revamped the characters, renamed them, created new ones, and shaped the storyline to fit into my world. We call this "filing off the serial numbers."

XS: "Filing off..." Oh. I get it. Okay. Now, I like Deveren, and not merely because he's the main character. Was there a specific model you had in mind when you conceived him, or were there certain characteristics you specifically wanted him to have, or is he meant to represent certain ideals, or...?

CG: I wanted Deveren to be the sort of character everybody likes, men and women. He's a good guy, but not overly so; very human, very real, he cries, he bleeds, he hurts, he laughs. I am, I think, known for my characeters; I care a lot about them and I want my readers to, as well.

XS: Well, I care. Anyway, the synopsis on the back of the book initially threw me. I kept waiting for Deveren to start healing people with his hand magic, but it didn't happen until the end. Why wait so long? I mean, I understand about only women being Health's Blessers, but does that just mean they are stronger than ordinary people or are they the only ones capable of healing? On second thought, perhaps you should explain about the Blessers in general, and of Health in particular.

CG: Well, first, I don't write the stuff on the back of the books, so you can't blame me (authors hardly ever do; that's the marketing department). The song "Deveren's Ride" of course focuses on that, but there's so much more to the story than just the final conflict.

XS: No offense, but I think the marketing department needs to read the books they're writing synopses for more carefully.

CG: To continue, throughout history, men are the ones who fight and are injured; the women have always been the Healers. There are studies that prove that women have a higher pain threshhold than men; childbirth has always been recognized as agonizing. I took that a step further. In a rather sexist society such as Byrn, women have little power. The gods compensate by granting women the power to Heal--to mend, to make whole, as a god can make whole.

XS: Well, okay. Like I said, I like Devern, and I like the way you wrote him. I could feel the pain he felt more than I expected, and it didn't involve blatant emotional manipulation.

CG: I think--this is so hard to figure out, honestly--but I really care about my characters. I cry over them when I write certain scenes. I think that honest, genuine caring comes out in the work in a way that bored, deliberate manipulation can't.

XS: I think I'll step away from the emotional stuff. The manifestations of the avatars was inspired! How did you come up with it, and how many avatars actually appeared? I think it was only three, but were there more, and how would you classify the manifestaion of Death herself?

CG: Ah, I like Lady Death. She's not really evil, you know. If you are familiar with certain customs, you will recognize the term "crone" to describe the old wise woman, the herbalist, who has undergone menopause and passed beyond the "mother" phase. Personifying this darkness, the dark of the moon, of death--wich of course leads to rebirth--in a woman gentles it, I think; makes it less frightening. Death is in the end a part of life, and in many cultures just a phase of it on the way to rebirth. Making her gorgeous was pretty fun, too.

XS: Now about the avatars...

CG: It's been a long time. I know that Death herself manifested, that Vengeance appeared kind of offstage, and the Health worked directly through Deveren.

XS: I guess that tallies with my count. Sigh. I was sure there was at least one more in there! Anyway, what lies in store for you now?

CG: I've just finished up a collaboration with Michael Jan Friedman on the sixth book in the Double Helix crossover series. It's called The First Virtue and should be out in August. Next up, look for the historical fantasy called A.D. 999 [formerly known as just "999"--XS]. PLEASE NOTE that this will be under a pen name, Jadrien Bell. It'll be out from Ace in December 1999. I'm very excited about this book--it was a lot of difficult research but I think it's the very best thing I've ever done.

XS: I'll be sure to watch for both. Anything else?

CG: I'll be working through the rest of the year on a Star Trek Voyager trilogy; still waiting for the final go-ahead before starting it. Look for those books in 2000. After that, I hope to do another Jadrien Bell historical fantasy, and then there's the mystery series I've been dying to write...

XS: Hmm. Are you where you want to be in life? Have you achieved what you sought?

CG: No. My dreams were a bit unrealistic, and my goal now is to be satisfied where I am.

XS: Are you happy being a writer?

CG: Being a writer? Yes. Being a published author is fraught with disappointments, but I'm learning to be Zen about it and be grateful for that fact that I am still able, mostly, to write what I want and have it published.

XS: Any parting comments?

CG: The readers are the BEST. You complete the cycle. Thank you.

XS: And thank you, Ms. Golden, for your time and patience in doing this interview. It's been most informative. I greatly appreciate it.

Communicating with authors is always an educational and enjoyable experience, and this one was very enlightening. Christie Golden is a fine writer, and I hope you'll give her works a chance to demonstrate her mastery. Don't forget to visit her site for more information on her and her works!

Comments? Suggestions? Just click here to send me e-mail.
Also, if this interview prompted you to read some of Christie Golden's works, then let me know. I appreciate knowing I made a difference in somebody's life.

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