Today, in between the panels and the announcements at BlizzCon 2010, we had the distinct pleasure of meeting Christie Golden, author of the latest World of Warcraft novel The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm. Christie was kind enough to give us a few minutes and talk about her writing, her latest work and some glimpses at the behind-the-scenes work of novel writing.
WoW Insider: Christie, thank you so much for joining us. The WoW Insider readers are big fans of your books, especially The Shattering. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges about writing within the Warcraft universe?
Christie Golden: One of the biggest challenges is that it's constantly growing and changing; with every new patch there's something new that comes along -- it's almost a living entity. Books take about a year from start to finish, so we're a little bit more locked in to our schedules. So there's a lot of back and forth. Things will change sometimes from one draft to another, so there'll be something new -- it's like, "Oh by the way, this character blahblahblah, can you update." Unfortunately, a book can't be tinkered with right up to the release date like a game can.
You can't hotfix a book, then?
I'm sure a lot of authors would love that! That's probably the biggest challenge, though. But the creativity and the appreciation I get from working with Blizzard certainly makes up for the inconveniences.
WARNING: This interview does contain some spoilers for The Shattering. Caution is advised!
What would you say is the most rewarding part about writing about Warcraft and the other Blizzard universes? What draws you to it?
I think [that] like I said, working with Blizzard is unlike working with any other media franchise in that they are so passionate about what they do, and I'm part of the team. I'm not just somebody who's writing something to advertise the game. I am an integral part of this and they love my input; they welcome my input. I remember I had this idea and I just dropped a line off to Evelyn (Fredericksen, creative development historian of Blizzard Entertainment), and I said, "You know what would be really cool is if we could have Invincible's grave in the game." And the next patch, that next week it was in -- that was so cool. It's rewarding; you feel like you're seen and appreciated and valued, and that energy and creativity includes the writers of this world as well as the people who are creating it -- and that's a wonderful thing.
Arthas: Rise of the Lich King was both yours and Blizzard's first New York Times bestseller. How did that make you feel?
It was really exciting! We kept looking at the numbers and crossing our fingers, and I talked to my editor and she said, "Oh, I've got a good feeling about this!" And I remember she tried to contact me and I was out, so I came home to a message on the answering machine and I just whooped in the kitchen! That's a lifetime dream. And also it was especially important because of my great relationship with Blizzard to have my first bestseller be with their product and to have their first bestseller to be my book. It was really an honor and very, very exciting.
I understand that Arthas was written in a relatively short period of time. How long did it take to write The Shattering?
I had a good four months on that, and that was needed I think, because of all the different storylines. There's a multitude of plot threads in this book, Horde and Alliance weaving back and forth. I do think I had a really good chunk of time to sit with it and develop it and bring it to fruition.
The book sees a lot of character development from a number of different characters. What was your favorite story arc within the book?
That's a really difficult question.You know, I really liked the whole Baine and Anduin arc. I love Anduin.
We were pleased to see a real Horde/Alliance friendship going on there. The fact that a tauren warrior is carrying a dwarven weapon given to him by a human prince -- that's a big deal.
It really was. That was something that resonated with me very early on, and when we were bouncing ideas back and forth, that was actually going to be a book on its own. It ended up being part of a bigger book because there were just so many things we wanted to do, so we took all our biggest ideas that we were really excited about and tried to layer them in. But I really, really loved that, because I really like both of those characters a lot and they have such similar storylines without my having to manipulate anything. I'd have to say that was my favorite.
On the subject of Anduin, what was your influence for writing him? You nailed the character incredibly well.
I have no idea why I can write teenage boys so well. I have always been able to do that. For a long time, I was a little frustrated because I would try to write my original fiction and it never took off the way my media work did. Then I realized that my media work is read mostly by teenage boys. I write very deeply emotional stuff. I don't pull any punches -- I've put action and stuff in there, but it's stuff from the heart. And who better to feel things, to deal with their emotions, than teenage boys? So I feel kind of blessed to be able to bring that to my readership.
But I don't think there was anybody I modeled Anduin on -- I just read the comics and I saw how he developed. When I nail a character, they do start speaking to me and I can hear what they say and I can see what they do very easily. He came through pretty loud and clear.
How much freedom do you have when you're writing the story to add extra characters or side stories or to put new material in to the universe?
They're willing to listen to everything I have to say. And with a lot of things they go, "Oh that's a great idea," and a then a lot of things, they say, "We can't because we want to go in this direction." But I'm certainly never censored. I bring up anything that occurs to me because I just don't know where they're going, if it's going to work or not. But they're very open to suggestions and ideas.
You had some significant fan reaction to The Shattering. Some people were really upset about Thrall having his very own love interest that is not Jaina Proudmoore. How do you feel about killing off that contingent?
You know, I never thought it was there to begin with. It never was there, and too many people have read far too much into "too bad Jaina's not an orc." To me, that just makes perfect sense, because these are the qualities you are looking for in a mate -- she's not an appropriate mate, it's too bad. But it was never -- they were friends, the way he and Taretha were friends. I'm sorry to dash any hopes out there, and of course people are free to imagine whatever they would like, but for me, I certainly did not put that in there.
One character that you had in the novel has had a lot of negative reactions in the past from both factions, and you had the opportunity to flesh him out -- Garrosh Hellscream. What was the biggest challenge writing Garrosh? It feels like it would be difficult to make him into a sympathetic figure.
That was a challenge. Because as we were presented -- of course the game is not a novel, so it gets kind of a ... I don't want to say skimpy treatment, but a sliver. So you can't quite go into the depth that you can with books. That's their role; that's what they're there for. But we started talking about Garrosh, who he was, where he was from and where his heart was, and we talked about the fact that some of the fans do not like him very much. But there's nothing wrong with an antagonist or an antihero, and what I hoped to do was if not make him sympathetic, at least make him understandable. You could see where he was coming from -- you might not agree with it, but you could see it. And if I've done that, then I've done my job.
Garrosh had a run in with Cairne Bloodhoof, and of course the Alliance lost a leader in Magni Bronzebeard. Was it emotional writing that for you? We know that you play the game.
I love Cairne. I love the tauren very much and when I was told what was going to happen, I thought, "Oh no! No I don't want to do that!" But I hope I gave him a dramatic, if ignoble because of how it happened, ending -- I'm very proud of that last line. When he realizes what's going on, he says, "And so I, who have lived my whole life with honor, die betrayed." That was very powerful for me.
It was nice to see that Cairne didn't die thinking Garrosh had done that to him.
He's smarter than that. He's a wise old bull.
As you must know, when Cataclysm comes out we'll have two new factions joining – the goblins and the worgen. Are you looking forward to writing about them if you get the opportunity?
Oh I would love to do worgen. I'm in the beta and I'm excited about it and I finally got to see the female -- they're so cute! I would love to do something else. The goblins are a blast to write. One of my favorite lines in the book is Gazlowe. They ask him if he can rebuild it and he says, "Well of course we can do it. I mean we're goblins, we can do it."
There have been rumors and differing reports, particularly from Amazon, that lists The Shattering as "Book One." Is this an indication that The Shattering part of a trilogy, or is it a standalone book?
You know I can't even definitively say that right now because I'm not sure I know. I am working on another project for them, but I'm not at liberty to discuss it. Maybe where the trilogy thing came from was that I did have a contract with them for three books.
Who would you really like to write about that you haven't gotten to yet?
I would have said Anduin, but now I've gotten to do him, so I can't really think of anyone off the top of my head! I've been really lucky.
As a final question, would you say playing WoW helps you write in the universe?
I'd say 110 percent. My history with Blizzard was that I was approached to do Lord of the Clans and I knew nothing about the world -- but they were wonderful, they were accessible, they'd return my emails and answer my questions immediately. I did that in six weeks. My experience was wonderful. I remember when WoW came out, a friend of mine said, "Oh Christie! Would you like to see Thrall?" I said of course I'd love to see Thrall, and so he logs on his character and rides in and shows me. It was so cool. I'd never played a video game before, not ever -- and I said, "Oh no, I can't I'll lose myself in this game!" I held out for two months and then I got the game. That made me tell my agent that we should go back to Blizzard, see if they want some more books, because I'm really enjoying it. That's when I got Rise of the Horde.
Thank you so much for sitting with us!
Thank you -- I appreciate your support with the books!
BlizzCon 2010 is upon us! WoW Insider has all the latest news and information. We're bringing you liveblogging of the WoW panels, interviews with WoW celebrities and attendees and of course, lots of pictures of people in costumes. It's all here at WoW Insider!