BlizzCon 2009: interviews Christie Golden

Alex Ziebart
A. Ziebart|08.26.09

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BlizzCon 2009: interviews Christie Golden
During Day One of BlizzCon this past weekend, I was given the opportunity to sit down and talk with author/novelist Christie Golden, the woman behind the best selling Warcraft novel Arthas and the upcoming Cataclysm novel(s) which we learned about in this very interview. I asked her questions about her personal background in Warcraft, her writing process, and what it's like to work with Blizzard's worlds.
If you don't mind, we'll kick things off with a question I pretty much ask everyone... Horde or Alliance?

Christie Golden: Yes. Good answer!

Golden: Seriously, I play both, and I love them both. I have characters on both sides, I don't prefer one over the other. That definitely comes through in what you've written in the universe, starting with Horde material and then moving onto Arthas. When you say you've played both, how far? Are any of them level 80?

Golden: I've been so busy with all of the writing I've been doing lately that I haven't been able to hit 80, I haven't seen as much of Northrend as I've wanted to. Around 70 is where I'm stuck for now. Stuck in the Burning Crusade era, huh?

Golden: Yeah, I've been going from book to book so I haven't had much time to level. And you play on a roleplaying server, right? Don't worry, I won't ask your character names, but do you still roleplay often?

Golden: You know, I used to do it all of the time, but I've been so busy that it's not really a priority. I miss doing it, and when I actually get to log on I always get friends saying, "Christie, come RP! Let's go RP!" But you know, after you've been doing so much working and writing, you just want to do some quests. I know what you mean. I don't quite do what you do, but when you're having a busy week, roleplay is one of the last things you want to do. You just want to grind out a few levels on your own, you know?

Golden: Yeah, exactly. Though sometimes roleplay reenergizes you. After you've been writing for months on end, sometimes you just get into a funk and roleplaying with a group of other creative people in the world can bring back that spark. Like right now, I've been going from one book to the next almost constantly. Getting some good RP in can be really refreshing. Have you been playing the
Warcraft games for long? Obviously you play WoW, but did you play the RTS games, too? You were familiar with the Arthas character.

Golden: I haven't played much before World of Warcraft. I watched all of the earlier games be played, I know the story of them, but I didn't really play them. It's funny, I actually got into WoW through a friend. I really loved Thrall, so my friend said, "Christie, you have to check out this game." So he showed it to me, and took a character right up to Thrall. I really loved that, being able to be in the world and stand right there in front of Thrall. I ended up playing around with the game, and it took me in. That's usually how it goes, yeah. Once you get a little taste, you're stuck.

Golden: Yeah. [laughs] Let's actually get into that writing a little bit.
Arthas was released a few months ago, which was great. I've noticed that you seem to work specifically on expanding existing lore, whereas some of the other authors working on this universe, such as Richard Knaak, tend to add new things to it. Is that an active decision you've made or just how it worked out? Given the opportunity, would you like to do something completely original?

Golden: Well, I have done a little bit of original content for Warcraft in the Warcraft: Legends manga, and I've done a lot of it for the other companies I've written for. I've done Star Trek novels, some Star Wars, and a lot of my own material. It's just a lot of fun to do retellings as well, and those are the projects that I happen to be doing lately. So you would be interested in doing more original content in
Warcraft, if the opportunity came along?

Golden: Absolutely. I have a lot of ideas, it's just a matter of when or if they get used. Okay, then let's say you get the opportunity to write about anything in the
Warcraft universe that you wanted. Any character, any story. What kind of thing would you want to pursue?

Golden: The Arthas novel came very close to that. It was something I really wanted to do and was really excited about, and I was so happy I was given the chance to do it. Anything besides that? Anything at all. Go ahead into the theoretical. You've been given free reign to do whatever you want to do.

Golden: The problem with that is I never know what's theoretical. I never know what ideas will or won't happen. I was able to do the Arthas novel because I asked Chris if they were planning on doing anything with Arthas for Wrath of the Lich King. They weren't really planning much yet, so they asked me if I wanted to do it since I mentioned it. Alright, fair enough. Is there anything else you're working on right now?

Golden: Actually, there is something I can tell you about. I was just given word today that I can tell people about it, the NDA just cleared. I'm actually working on a story that goes along with Cataclysm. I can't give any spoilers, but that's what I'm working on. Aw, no spoilers? That's alright, I'm sure it will be great. We loved your
Arthas novel and a lot of other people did, too.

Golden: Thank you, that means a lot. One thing I've always been curious about, I've always heard that Chris Metzen is very hands-on with his worlds, keeping a very close eye on what people are doing with them. In your experiences, has that been true? Is it nerve wracking, or is he pretty cool?

Golden: I don't think that's so much the case now, simply out of necessity. Chris is a very busy man, and he has a lot on his plate with all of the games they're working on now, and all of his other projects. He still does it to some extent, and I also work a lot with Evelyn Fredericksen, who is just amazing. I've never had a chance to meet Evelyn, but she seems very cool.

Golden: She really is. I still do communicate with Chris a lot. When I started writing Rise of the Horde, I wasn't as familiar with the world and I only had 6 weeks to write it. Chris said to me, "If you have any questions, just ask." He opened that communication up for me. If I had questions, I just needed to email him and he would get back to me with an answer. He would answer me that day, which was really nice. I had a lot of silly questions like, "What color is orc blood?" It didn't take him 3 weeks to get back to me, it would be the same day. With only 6 weeks to get the whole novel written, that was great.

What's funny is that I've worked with game companies before and it wasn't the greatest experience, and Chris was a little iffy about me, too. I wasn't really sure what I was getting into when I took the job, but it was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. It does seem like a really good arrangement. Do they give you a lot of freedom with your stories, or do they basically give you a framework?

Golden: Not all companies I've worked for give you a lot of freedom, some of them are very strict with what you can or can't do. They have good reasons for that, but they're still very strict. With Blizzard, if you have a good idea, they'll work with you on it. You have a lot more room to be creative. There are limits, but you get to change the world. Are there any other resources you reference beyond asking Chris and Evelyn and their team what you need to know?

Golden: There's a lot of research involved to make sure I'm using what's been established as best I can. Not just the games and books, but other resources. Do you spend as many hours on as we do?

Golden: Oh yeah. [laughs] What about the other authors that Blizzard works with on their novels? How much collaboration have you done with them?

Golden: Beyond the Dark Portal was a collaborative effort with Aaron Rosenberg. It went through me as sort of the final pass of the script. I've known Keith DeCandido for years, and we've done a little together. I speak with Richard Knaak pretty often. I know it's a bit awkward to pick favorites sometimes, but out of all of the rest of the work done in the Blizzard universe that you haven't written yourself, what do you enjoy the most?

Golden: I really liked Speed of Darkness from StarCraft. It was just overall well written, I really enjoyed it. And from Warcraft itself?

Christie: I don't want to sound like I'm sucking up, but I really like the book that Chris wrote, Of Blood and Honor. I was expecting that, actually. It's a pretty common sentiment, I don't think it's sucking up at all.

Christie: It's just an amazing story, and Chris did a really good job with it. Absolutely. You've done other work in the Blizzard universes, right? Would you like to do more of that?

Christie: I've done some work in the StarCraft universe with The Dark Templar Saga. If I get a chance to do more of it, I would like to do that. StarCraft is just such a dark and gritty universe, it's a lot of fun. Since we're running out of time, I'll get to a few key questions. Going back to Arthas, some of the staff was curious about the inspiration for the horse subplot in the novel. How did that come about?

Christie: Invincible? Right, Invincible.

Christie: I have two major themes that I enjoy when I write. The first one is that I like to explore is, "What makes good people go bad?" The other is the power of the human spirit. I know they're cliche, but oh well. The idea is that Arthas doesn't really like to fail. He's a good kid, but he's not above lying or doing wrong things. With Invincible, he's put in a situation where an animal is completely reliant on him, and he does something wrong which ends in failure for him. He knows he shouldn't have done it, but he sort of lets it happen. He also has a bit of an ego, and he needs to justify what happened to himself.

Once he's fallen in with the Lich King, what does he do? He brings back Invincible. That's his justification. He didn't do anything wrong anymore. If Invincible hadn't died, he wouldn't have been able to raise it in undeath to be his steed later. That's the basis for a lot of what Arthas does. He's trying to justify himself and what he's done. He refuses the fact that he might have failed. This was the ultimate justification. Alright, that makes a lot of sense. That's very fitting for Arthas, all things considered.

Christie: Have you been to the Balnir Farmstead? [grinning] With the grave? Yeah, I've seen it.

Christie: When I came up with the idea for Invincible, I brought that up with Blizzard and they put that in there for me. The first time I saw it, it was really confusing. Like, has this always been here? How didn't I notice it before? Then when I started reading the novel it clicked. Very cool.

Christie: It was really cool that they did that for me. To wrap this up, do you have any tips for anybody that might want to write for Blizzard themselves?

Christie: You need to establish yourself. Blizzard isn't really looking for the fresh faces and amateurs, they look for people that they know will finish what they start. They want people that can hit a deadline, and will have a finished product in the end. There's no better way to prove to Blizzard that you can do that besides establishing yourself first. Get some material out there. I'm not quite sure how closely they look at their contests, like the writing contest, but you could try entering those, too. If you win, they know what you can do and your name is out there. That might be a good way to establish yourself with Blizzard. I could ask you questions all day long, but it looks like your signing is starting in a few minutes, so I'll let you get to your fans. Thank you for talking to us!

Christie: You're welcome. Thank you.

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