I first read prolific author Christopher Golden on the suggestion of my wife who loaned me his first novel, Of Saints and Shadows, back when we were dating. I became hooked pretty quick, and at our old home, The Creature Corner, we had a total of three interviews with the man discussing the various stages of his career.
On January 31st his latest epic in the making, The Myth Hunters hit shelves, and we (from left to right, my wife Girlcreeture, Chris, and myself) agreed to meet up for dinner to do our first face-to-face interview, as he is a Massachusetts local like myself. Great food and great conversation make for a lengthy interview, covering all the aspects of his inspiration for The Myth Hunters, as well as the various other exciting projects he has in the works. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did interviewing the man!
Johnny Butane: Where did the idea for The Myth Hunters come from?
Christopher Golden: I actually haven’t been asked that yet… I think it came to me one day when I was thinking about how I’ve always loved mythology and folklore and legends. I got to thinking about doing something more fantasy based… Strangewood is my personal favorite of all of my books because it has that one world/other world dynamic, and I was trying to figure out a way I could use my passion for mythology and folklore in the setting of a novel.
I had already had one other idea, as is usually the case I just see an image that I wanted to incorporate into a story. Most of the time the genesis of my ideas is fragmentary like that. So the other thing going around in my head took place the night before a young man was supposed to be married. The character is very nervous about the impending vows and is not sure if he should go through with it because as much as he loves his fiancée, marrying her means that he’s surrendered to all the demands of his family and community, and he hasn’t really done all the things he wanted to do in his life.
This takes place in Maine, where he lives, and it’s the night before the wedding and there’s a blizzard and … something is out in the snow, and somehow he gets pulled away from his wedding and goes on this adventure, and during the course of his adventure he has to work all the issues he has with his family, his fiancée, and himself.
So that was one idea, and the mythology exploration was another and, as so often happens with me, I realized if I took A and merged it with B I could have one story, and that’s when it all clicked into place.
JB: Why did you decide, with all the characters in folklore and mythology, to make Jack Frost one of the primary characters?
CG: Well, the most obvious reason was that my idea for the guy who was supposed to be getting married had a blizzard in it. But the second reason was that I wanted something that was familiar but not ridiculous, like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.
CG: And I couldn’t use the Sandman as my primary character because of Neil Gaiman. So I wanted to have a character that was really interesting as a presence, something that people would be able to visualize that would be kind of creepy…
JB: Which he is!
CG: And he would remain a constant, I wouldn’t’ have to spend a lot of time reminding you how odd it is to have him there, but yet not so over the top that you have too much belief you have to suspend.
Actually, Jack Frost had another name in the first draft. At his appearance I acknowledged he was Jack Frost but then he was called something else for the rest of the book. It wasn’t even my editor, but myself who decided to keep his name as Jack Frost. It seemed contrived to me when I was going over it because, even though this thing is so out there in the fantasy sense, all of the creatures in it are either actual beings from myth and folklore, or they’re things that I created who are loosely based on stories from myth and folklore. All their names are either the actual names from myth or really close to the name, so the idea that I would make up a name for Jack Frost didn’t work for me.
JB: Since we’re on the subject of the other characters; how much research did you have to do for all of the variety of characters?
CG: A lot!
JB: Personally I was blown away when I read it because I figured you would stick to more conventional, recognizable characters, but instead you had creatures from all variety of cultures and backgrounds.
CG: But what would’ve been boring! The variety gets even bigger in the second Veil book, because they travel to the other Kingdom, which is more South American and African and the like.
For research, what I did was I bought a whole bunch of books and did a lot internet research, and read as much as I could on all sorts of cultures. I had an idea of where I wanted to go with a lot of the creatures, so I just found the ones that appealed to me or seemed to fit. I would say very few of the legendary creatures are exactly like they are in the myth; I did take some liberties. The only one I would say is closest is Aerico, the demon in the cherry tree…
JB: Which was a really cool character, I should say.
CG: You know what’s interesting about that, and this is sort of the story of the whole Veil trilogy and the reason why it’s been the most exciting writing adventure for me. The characters completely rule the story. What wasn’t in my outline find its way in usually without me even knowing it was going to happen. For example, Kitsune was not in the outline.
JB: At all?
CG: Not at all. I’ll tell you what happened, and maybe you can make sense of it. Oliver and Frost are walking through the woods, and they have a sense that something is following them, and at this point it’s literally writing itself… I know writers say that all the time but it’s never really happened to be me quite like this… so they know something is following them, and it had this sense of weirdness that I couldn’t really put my finger on. Literally I didn’t know who or what it was going to be until they turned around and saw her.
So I started writing her, figuring she’d be along for a few chapters and then I’d kill her off, but the further I went with her, and the more she kept giving Oliver those looks that indicated she found him a bit more interesting than you might think at first, it completely changed the whole book.
JB: I noticed when I was reading it that he seems to accept his other world pretty easily, rarely giving much thought to the ones he left behind on this side of the Veil. Before Kitsune came along and changed the story, did he spend more time thinking about the real world?
CG: Believe it or not there was actually less, and that’s for two reasons. The first one is that the connection the two of them have was something I hadn’t foreseen at all. I know this sounds like bullshit, but I swear to God it completely took me by surprise and I didn’t know it was going to happen. In the outline, the character of Professor Koenig has a granddaughter, and in the outline Oliver is meant to hook up with her in the second and third books, and Juliana (Oliver’s fiancée) is not a character pretty much at all in the overall story, she was just a person left behind. But both Kitsune’s relationship with Oliver and what Detective Holliwell’s doing in the real world made Juliana much more important to the tale. So she becomes a much more pivotal character in the second book.
JB: For a while there I thought she was going to be written out, because it’s a while before you really hear from her once Oliver disappears.
CG: That’s just organic. She had to be brought it when the time was right, because before that she would’ve just been sitting around worrying or being upset, and that would’ve been boring. It’s about the perspective from which you choose to tell the story.
Borderkind, the second book, is told from the point of view of several characters because they’re not all together all the time, and you’ve got a number of characters whose stories need to be told. While writing that one, which I just finished the other day, all kinds of weird stuff has been happening to me. There are characters that keep coming back that I wasn’t expecting, characters like Coyote, who is mentioned in Myth Hunters but you meet in Borderkind, and I have a feeling he might be come very important in the third book, though I don’t actually know for sure yet. That’s the way this trilogy has been happening for me, it’s all been very surprising.
One of my characters from Strangewood, Grumbler, appears in Myth Hunters briefly when they’re in the city of Perninthia, which is a way I think that my story is hinting at larger things, that maybe all of these places are actually connected in some way, shape, or form, which is something else that’s been forming on it’s own, as well.
JB: Going back a bit, if I may; how long have you been a professional author?
CG: Almost 14 years.
JB: Wow! What was the first book that made you realize you could do this for a living? And what were you doing before that for a job?
CG: Let me answer that in reverse; my first job out of college was at Billboard magazine.
JB: Not a bad place to start!
CG: No, it was pretty cool, actually. To be specific I was working for the company that owned Billboard Magazine, which at the time was EPI Communications. It was an amazing job. I was really fortunate because I worked for the Vice President of EPI, started off doing press releases and the in-house newsletter, and within 9 months I was Licensing Manager for the entire corporation. I worked on the first Billboard Music Awards TV program, went out to L.A. to troubleshoot the script when I was 22. I also worked on Top 40 radio, and it was just really cool.
JB: So if the writing thing didn’t work out, you were in good shape anyway.
CG: Definitely. Not only could I have made a career there, I would’ve really liked to make a career there. Wonderful people, and I had the greatest boss you could possibly imagine. I reported to her and she reported to the CEO, that was it. So I could go into his office anytime, and day, ask him about whatever…. so it was really hard to leave.
It was also a hard time to quit. So hard that my aunt, at our family Christmas party, said to my brother “Tell me what really happened, he got fired, didn’t he?” (laughs). I had been there for three years and we were in the middle of a rescission, so no one could believe that I’d actually quit a job that good.
But I had a deal with my wife. I promised her if she came down to New York and we got married, we’d live there until I sold my first novel and then we could go home (Massachusetts). She agreed to that, I gave her my word, so there was nothing to be done about it.
My first book was not fiction, it was called Cut: Horror Writers on Horror Film, which is the book I won the Stoker for. So that came out, but the in June or July of ’92, Ginger Buchanan at Ace bought Of Saints and Shadows with a sequel built into the contract, and I resigned from my position at EPI. It took me a few months, but by the end of October I was moving back to Massachusetts.
That first year I made a $13,000.
CG: That was with the freelance work in the comics industry, writing all sorts of articles and reviews, anything for extra cash; that’s what you do when you’re a freelance writer. The best paying gig I ever had in my career, still to this day, was writing for Disney Adventures, the kid’s magazine; they paid $1 per word. So for six or seven months, I probably did about $2500 a month just off of Disney Adventures. And hey, I’d still do it to this day if they asked me! (laughs)
JB: Are you still with the same publisher?
CG: I work with a lot of different publishers, as any writer who’s not making Steve King money has to, but I do still work with Ace on the series I’m doing with Tom Sniegoski, The Menagerie, which is our supernatural X-Men as we like to call it. She’s also the editor on the Octavian books, the Shadow Saga, which is another series I come back to every few years with a new idea for, and Ginger always says okay.
That series is actually the thing I get asked about more than anything else, now that the Buffy furor has died down. I get at least a few e-mails a week and get asked when I’m doing another Shadow book, which how the fourth one came about. I was going to conventions and people would always ask me about the Saga, so eventually I went back to it. It’s a nice feeling to know the people care about these characters and what happens to them, that they have a vested interest in them.
I’ve also got a series that I worked on with Tom called Outcast, which recently had the film rights for it optioned. That’s a young adult fantasy series, which was four books and is now done. The first draft of the script was turned in on Friday, with the second draft already underway, I believe.
JB: Who’s the writer on it?
CG: A guy named Charlie Mitchell, or C. Gaby Mitchell, who did (I believe) first drafts of Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man; he’s a good writer.
JB: Sounds pretty cool, I hope it works out. Anything else of interest you have coming up?
CG: The thing I’m about to start, which will separate my work on the second and third books of The Veil, is a project I’m doing with Mike Mignola… have I told you about this at all?
CG: Mike’s been talking for years about a pet project he’s wanted to do, a vampire project, and he was originally going to do it as a graphic novel. I think he eventually he slowed down because he’s been getting much more particular about his own work and thinking about getting into different mediums. So we were talking one day and he suggested we should do it as a novel.
We agreed that I would take all his notes and his first draft of the plot, I would do a full synopsis and then we’d try to sell it. I would write it based upon our outline, and he would do meticulously profuse illustrations, like the old pulps had. We’re talking easily over 100 illustrations, including full page, spot illustrations, half page… all kinds of stuff. The idea is that the illustrations will actually help tell the story, whereas most of the time an illustration is visualizing what you just read. What we wanted to do is a book where the illustrations actually move the story along. So there’s information in the artwork that you’re not actually getting in the text. There will be the entire mood and atmosphere and all that, but there will also be moments that you need to see the pictures to move on with the narrative.
It’s a really unique project, and it’ll out in hardcover in the summer of ’07 from Bantam. It’s called Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. It’s an alternate history, World War I-esque, very gothic vampire hunter story about plagues, and it owes a lot to Stoker, Shelley and Poe… it’s also completely fucked up! (laughs) The great thing about work with Mike is that I don’t ever have to say why when fucked up shit happens, it just does. For some reason Mike makes that okay.
Bantam is talking about doing a chapbook with the first two chapters to give away at San Diego Comic Con this summer.
JB: That’s going to be huge. It’s really the first original thing Mignola’s done since Hellboy…
CG: It is, and I hope it will be huge. I would say that about 85% of the outline is Mike, but once the book is done I think it’ll be more even because there’s so much that I’m looking forward to bringing to it. Without giving too much away, I can say there’s just so much texture to it, and so much of it is like writing an illustration, if that makes any sense.
Mostly three different guys tell the story, and at the beginning of the tale they all gather together at an inn in a European city during a World Word I-ish area. They’ve all been asked to gather there by the title character, Baltimore, but they don’t know why. None of them know each other, but they all know Baltimore. You learn most of the life story of Baltimore through the stories these three men tell each other about themselves, and their three stories are just as fucked up as Baltimore’s story.
They’ve each had a run in with the supernatural. Two of the three stories are ones that I came up with, and third one Mike did, and the one that Mike did…. Might just be the most fucked up thing that I’ll ever write.
Girlcreeture: That is great to hear! When an author can only describe something as “fucked up”…
CG: Right, I mean I could say it’s brilliant, but I don’t mean it’s brilliant, I mean it’s just plain fucked up (laughs).
What we gave them to sell it was sample art and a very specific outline, and we had five publishers bidding for it, and the coolest thing is that not one person said “…but you’re going to explain all this, right?”. It does have it’s own internal logic, don’t get me wrong, but because it’s so heavily influenced by folklore, things just happen, as is the case with most folk tales. They have a message they’re trying to communicate, but they never try and explain to you why things happen. If something weird or supernatural goes on, they never bother to explain why it happened, and that’s what Baltimore is like.
GC: That makes me think of the Masters of Horror episode called “Deer Woman”, which John Landis did. There’s a scene in it where the two leads are discussing the possible existence of the Deer Woman to a Native American, and he tells them their Deer Woman myth. When they ask him what happens at the end, the Indian says, “Nothing, man, she just kills some guys and goes back in the woods”.
CG: That’s exactly what it’s like, yeah!
I have this novella coming out from Cemetery Dance called The Shell Collector; it takes place in the New England area, near Gloucester, and it’s about a monster that just shows up, kills people, and takes the dead bodies. It’s just that sort of thing that it is what it is, and an explanation isn’t needed to still make it a good story.
Did you hear about Blood Stained Oz at all?
JB: No, doesn’t sound familiar…
CG: It’s a novella I wrote with Serenity Falls author James A. Moore. We come up with the idea for it on the elevator at the last World Horror Convention. As these things so often happen, we were kidding around about Strangewood, which came about because of the over saturation of Whinnie the Pooh I was experiencing at the time of it’s writing. I was saying how I loved Whinnie the Pooh, but I was so sick of it that I’d like to see armed hunters on horseback descend on the Hundred Acre Woods and skin those fuckers and nail their pelts to the trees.
So we were joking about that, and we started discussing the Wizard of Oz, and we said that someone should do a vampire Wizard of Oz story… then we just kind of looked at each other…
Glen Chadbourne, who just did Stephen King’s Secretary of Dreams, illustrated it fantastically and it features an intro by Ray Garton. It takes place in Kansas in 1933, in the dust bowl. A dirt storm comes through, and all this crazy shit comes out of the tornadoes. You see, vampires have overrun Oz, so most of the creatures of Oz have been turned into vampires. When the tornado comes through it dumps all these vampiric creatures into 1933 Kansas.
JB: Now does this happen before or after Dorothy’s adventures…?
CG: Nope, there is no Dorothy at all; it’s a stand-alone story. We had so much fun putting it together, let me tell you. It also contains the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever written.
Here’s how we wrote it; Glen wanted to see what kind of illustrations we had in mind, so Jim and I came up with some really sick stuff, gave Glen a list of what the illustrations were, then we wrote the book around the illustrations. One of my favorite bits is at the very beginning; as the dust storm comes this little girl named Gail sees the scarecrow in their raggedy little cornfield get knocked down, but the next morning there’s a scarecrow there again. He gives her this really cryptic warning and then he dies, and that’s how it starts.
We’ve already had several film inquires on it, too!
JB: Who’s putting it out?
CG: Earthling, who’re based out of Northbrook, Massachusetts. They do really nice work.
JB: Getting back to The Myth Hunters for a moment; how did you approach Bantam with the idea for a dark fantasy book, since it’s not really what you’re best known for?
CG: I wrote the first two chapters. I had my relationship with them, they put out The Boys Are Back in Town and Wildwood Road, but what really had attracted them to me was Strangewood. While I’m sure they want me to go back and do more of the mainstream thrillers for them, which I have several ideas for that I really want to write, the Veil story had been percolating for a while, so I set out to make sure it got done.
The one drawback about working on The Veil is that I need to write about real people, you know? The Boys Are Back in Town is about something… Wildwood Road is about something, and I need that. But I had been spending lot of time in the “real world” in my fiction, so I wanted to do something completely out there. As you know, since you read the book, that there’s still a lot going on in the real world, as well.
We then chatted a bit about specific characters in Myth Hunters, and some things were discussed that it’s best you not read about until you give the book a go, which I highly suggest. Eventually, though, while discussing the last book in the Veil series, Golden explained how he approaches his endings…
CG: Writing the Shadow Saga, I go out of my way to make sure that the world at the end of the book is completely different than the world I started with, that way in the next book I’ve painted myself in a corner that I have to figure out how to get out of. This (Myth Hunters) isn’t quite as drastic, but you get the idea. You find out by the end of the second book that… nevermind (laughs).
JB: All right, thank you! Don’t want to know how it ends.
So where did the concept that only public, unowned areas of land in our world made up the world on the other side of The Veil?
CG: I don’t know, but I think that there’s probably some kind of conservationist concept behind it. I think somewhere in my heart there’s a correlation between imagination, magic, and the things we all care about and those places that exist in the real world where there’s still some magic left, as corny as that my sound.
JB: Not at all…
CG: But it’s basically the concept that by destroying this, nature and what have you, you’re also destroying this, which is imagination and magic. As we destroy public lands and wilderness, their world is being destroyed as well. There’s definitely a message there, but I don’t’ think it’s heavy-handed at all…
JB: It’s not, and that’s an example of what I liked so much about the book. There aren’t any overlong expositions explaining this strange new world, we’re just told just enough to get us through the story, which helps to propel it along.
CG: Right, because what’s the point of the dump, you know? I so wanted to avoid that, which is why when Kitsune tells Oliver he’s going to go to the Sand Castle, and Oliver wonders what the hell it is, he realizes he’ll figure it out eventually. When he’s driven to ask a question, that’s when you’ll get your answer.
JB: It actually amazed me how many times Oliver didn’t ask a question when you thought he might, which is refreshing because he realizes he’ll figure it out, and we will as well.
CG: Right, I really didn’t want to overload the reader with information, most of it being useless to the rest of the story. It’s not until about two-thirds of the way through Borderkind that the reader gets an inkling that there are other lands besides the Two Kingdoms. We might never go there, as the information is just not important to the overall story, so if we go there we’ll learn about it then.
That’s one of the things I loved about the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it’s all about the journey. Tolkein lets you in on the history of Middle Earth as you need to know it, and never before, you learn it all as you journey with the characters, which I think is so much more effective.
As soon as I start to build the world in a way that feels constructive, you’re going to feel that much more divorced from the real world and the connection is lost. If I was writing a pure fantasy novel that didn’t’ have any real world element, I might be tempted to do more world building, but I like to stick with the characters.
I really hope the readers have half as much fun reading this as I had writing it, cause there are a lot of cool characters in the second book. I’ve got Jezzy-Baba, she’s a witch… Lucan the Jackulas… there are all kinds of characters, some with names I can’t even pronounce… there’s even a big frog dude (laughs).
JB: I hope he has a better name than that…
CG: He does, but Big Frog Dude would’ve been kind of fun…
GC: Did you run into any myths or legends in you research that were just way too far out? Stuff you couldn’t figure out how to incorporate?
CG: You know what, if I used a big frog dude, the answer is no (laughs). To me that’s the challenge; how to put the big frog dude in the story and not have the reader go “Come on!” For example, a portion of the way through the next book we run into these characters that you will see more of in the third book, these things called Battle Swine. In doing research for a book like this you can’t come across something called Battle Swine and not use them…
JB: No, you really can’t!
So how do you straddle the horror/fantasy line?
CG: I’ve always been right in the middle. One reviewer said that for my entire career you could always see he fantasy writer trying to come out, and it’s true. All of my stuff is in the gray area.
As I said in a recent interview, I’m happy to be called a horror writer, what a great job description that is, but technically I’ve only written a few novels that are pure horror. Most of my stuff is firmly entrenched somewhere in between, and even in this one I can still see horror in the rearview mirror. I think Myth Hunters is probably as far as I’ll ever go, in adult fiction, away from the horror roots.
I’ve never worked on something that’s grown so organically as this book… this book is so little about intent and all about necessity and instinct. I’ve seen this analogy before and probably thought it was bullshit, but it’s kind of like archeology; it’s under there, and I’m scrapping away… or sculpting, when artists say they can see the form in the raw material.
JB: I think with the right talent and drive, there are certain stories just waiting to be told through the right conduit, and it seems like for this one you are it.
CG: Honestly, I’ve never hid any of my influences; the kind of fantasy I like is Tim Powers, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, and they’re all fantasy writers with a streak of horror, so I’m never hesitant to say that there’s so much of their influence in this. But at the same time it doesn’t feel to me like something I’ve read before, and that may be because of the real world side of it. What the presence of the real world does in this story is remind you that that there are things at stake. So instead of being some fantasy realm, it’s going to cost you something.
Big thanks to Chris for taking the time to meet up with us (on a very cold night), for being such a great interview, and for suggesting such a memorable restaurant. The Myth Hunters is in stores now, and you can click here to get it through Evilshop. When you’re all done with that, be sure to visit Chris’s official site for the latest on all his numerous projects!
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