Christie Golden, Micky Neilson discuss newest novel, War Crimes

War Crimes, Christie Golden's latest Warcraft novel, officially hit the shelves today. The novel details the trial of Garrosh Hellscream for his crimes against Alliance, Horde, and Pandaria alike. We were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and chat with Christie Golden, as well as Lead Story Developer Micky Neilson, about the novel, the feedback, and even some upcoming projects that are on the way.

War Crimes is a different kind of book -- it features a gigantic cast. Can you tell us a little about the challenges involved in writing and keeping track of so many familiar faces?

Christie: It definitely is. I had kind of done a run at something like this with The Shattering, that was my first experiencing writing for both Horde and Alliance, trying to weave in various characters and their story lines and still make it fast paced and entertaining. This really was a chance for me to, with the Vision of Time at my disposal, to kind of go through and not just address Garrosh, but sneak in some of the history of Azeroth. What made these factions who they are, how they thought of each other, and a lot of old hurts, as well as new things. I actually just posted on Twitter a picture of the colorful index cards that I laid out on my dining room table at work at one point just to keep track of it!

I don't usually do that, I can usually kind of keep track of it in my head and with the outline, but it got so complicated that I wanted to make sure that everything was balanced. I didn't want to have way too much focus on the Jaina thread, and be heavy on that without interspersing it with some of the other things that were going on. There are four or five major plot threads going on. And I picked point of view characters to get in their heads, make them very intimate recollections rather than omniscient point of view. That's a good way, I think, to stay grounded in a storyline and not feel dispersed about it.

Those were a few things that I did to try and stay on top of it all. But it was a challenge. This is definitely the most challenging Warcraft book to date, with the exception of the very first one, which I had to do in six weeks -- and didn't know anything about the franchise. But this one is ... this was a lot of balls to keep in the air.

One of the other major differences is the story itself. It's not so much an action kind of novel. Did that make it more challenging for you?

Well that was something -- Micky, you'll recall in our meeting that was one of the first things, the main concern I had was -- you know, I'm all about character and dialog. I'm happy to do that. But I also know that our readers expect action, and strong visuals as well, because this is after all a video game, that's the basis. And we were all very aware that that needed to be addressed. I love the whole Vision of Time idea, I can't remember who came up with that, but to be able to show, don't tell, in certain scenes, was a way I thought to bring more of the action in it.

There's also a subplot which I don't want to spoil for anybody, it's real time action that's actually happening during the trial and isn't a flashback as shown through the Vision of Time. And there's certainly a culmination that's pretty action-packed as well. So I was definitely aware, and I looked for as many opportunities to bring something fast paced and dynamic into what would otherwise be a courtroom drama. I didn't want this to just be that, I wanted it to be that and. Hopefully readers will think I did a pretty good balance.

Micky: Yeah, it's something -- when Metzen, myself, and some of the folks on our side were talking about the story, we -- it started off as just kind of an interesting sidebar. As a discussion that maybe the book should be Thrall and Varian, and Garrosh has escaped after the events of Siege of Orgrimmar. Okay, let's follow him, right? Thrall and Varian are trying to track him down, and they're having discussions with each other as they're going to find him. We went back and forth on that and we talked about it and thought well, maybe that's not exciting enough. And it's Thrall and Varian again -- is there too much Thrall and Varian out there? Do we always go back to the same characters?

And then it started to shift into a conversation of "Okay, well what if it's Garrosh on trial," and that brought up this whole new set of ideas. If you bring in these other characters, and they're witnesses at the trial, and then the theme kind of came out of that -- that nobody is truly one hundred percent innocent, and how can we get into that. That was very interesting to us. We loved all those things about it, but one of the things we recognized early on was okay, this is very different from any other kind of book that we've ever done, especially in the Warcraft universe. There's no giant krakens at the end, there's no Deathwing in here, there's no huge threat. As we brought Christie in and we started talking about those things, that was certainly something that we talked about and we wanted to address.

One of the things I really liked about the novel was the whole flashback presentation -- it tied in the other games and novels into a cohesive line of story. Was that choice intentional?

Christie: Absolutely, yeah. There have been so many books that covered so much. One of my favorite quotes is "We are the sum of all our experiences." And every person who testified at that trial is the sum of everything that's happened to them. And until you know that, at least somewhat, you can't really understand them. I think there's a theme, and I said this early on -- Garrosh is not really the focus of the trial. It's what he did and the repercussions, how people feel about them, how they feel about themselves, what they have done in the past, and what they bring to their testimony.

So yeah, that was definitely planned to be able to bring people up to speed and to remind them of things. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where I was able to get in the head of an observer hearing the testimony rather than the testifier. There's quite a bit of Anduin, and some of this he's learning for the first time, or it's old history to him, and now he gets to see it. And because he's so young, there's a lot that he hasn't seen yet. To be in his mind as he learns these things about people and events is -- I really enjoyed that even more than being in the mind of somebody who knows what they are saying, or is familiar and has experience with what they're talking about. It was fun to play around with point of view for that.

I love that we've finally gotten a fairly substantial storyline involving Sylvanas. What was it like writing the character?

I did get to get a little bit into her point of view before, with Arthas. I like her, I love Sylvanas, I think she is wonderfully ... she's like chocolate, dark and bittersweet. She's just a wonderful character and there really hadn't been that much -- at least I hadn't gotten to do very much lore on her. Actually, when we were in discussions, the Blizzard folk had one -- again I don't want to spoil too much -- but they had a particular plot thread that they wanted, and I said well, what if we had something on the other side? So I suggested the Sylvanas subplot. I was thrilled when they OK'd it, I was like "This is going to be a blast, this is just going to be all kinds of fun to write."

Micky: I think that was one of the most pleasant surprises in the process and in the book. When you brought that up, everyone kind of just went "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense!" It's great, and it's certainly one of my favorite subplots in the book.

Christie: Just to follow up briefly on that -- I got to write Alleria as well, in Beyond the Dark Portal, so it was really -- it felt really nice to visit that whole Windrunner sister dynamic.

There's been some confusion, maybe even controversy regarding the book excerpt involving the list of charges Garrosh was accused of -- specifically the forced pregnancy charge. Without going too much into spoiler territory, can you talk about the nature of that particular charge, and maybe clear the air?

Micky: I think there were a couple of things, right -- I think there was maybe confusion from some people who hadn't heard that before, and thought "Oh, what is this?" as if it was new lore, which it's not -- it's existing lore. And then I think there were people who were just offended by it in general, but it's a huge part of Alexstrasza, being another one of the main characters in the book. It's a huge part of who she is, when Christie talks about people being the sum of their experiences. I mean that's a massive, horrific experience in Alexstrasza's life, it wouldn't feel right to just ignore it, in my opinion. And Christie, you can talk more as well about some of the war crimes and that kind of inspiration, I thought that was interesting when you were telling us about that earlier.

Christie: This is a big, weighty subject, and I wanted to approach it respectfully. So I did research on the Nuremberg trials because that's where the whole crimes against humanity first entered our lexicon, and these are crimes against Azeroth. This is a big thing that affects everybody. When I was researching that, I actually got chills on how many could be applied to Garrosh and the situation, who he chose as allies, the decisions that he made. I believe -- I'd have to double check this, but if I recall correctly, I believe that every one of those charges actually did have a tragic origin in real life. It was interesting to me to see how many could be seen as reflecting that.

And since we did have this major, major lore point with Alexstrasza, I thought this was a good time to bring that up. I know that many people have a sensitivity around that. I totally understand and respect that, and I do want to assure readers that this was one of the scenes that we chose not to -- I just talked earlier about showing vs. telling by using the Vision of Time -- this was simple dialog. Because I wanted to respect all of what happened to Alexstrasza, and also to be aware of the sensitivities of others that might find that distressing.

Micky: There were some people who I think were confused also as to why Garrosh was being charged with that, and that is something that will be answered in the book.

Let's talk about Anduin Wrynn. He's a really interesting character, and I know you had a large part in fleshing him out. A lot of people see him as taking Jaina's place as a peacekeeper of sorts – what do you think about that?

You know, one of the great delights of this book was I got to revisit some old friends. I really felt like I was hanging out with them rather than being so busy fighting alongside them that we couldn't talk, you know what I mean? I got to just kind of visit with them and get into their minds a bit. Anduin's 15, and I think a lot of his development is looking at -- again, sum of all his experiences -- who he is, what does he want. Garrosh actually kind of forces him to look deep within himself -- did he choose the Light or did the Light choose him, for example, from the excerpt. Things like that.

He is going to be the proverbial sadder but wiser at the end of this. I think that where he is, at the end of this book, is not where he was at the beginning. He's gone on a journey too, and I think honestly everybody who's got a major role in this book goes on a sort of journey. Everybody's changed by this trial, by what they've learned, by what they've had to reveal. Some majorly, some in a more minor way. And Anduin -- there's a lot of goody two shoes about him, and yeah, he is a pretty wholesome kid, but he's going to need to have a few hard knocks before he's ready to roll. I think we're starting to see him get some of those hard knocks in this book.

Micky: Yeah, and I would just add that Anduin -- there is a plan for Anduin. The things that he's going through now and in the game and everything else, it's part of an arc for his character. We're still kind of early on in the Anduin arc, there are great things to come.

What do you think Anduin's biggest challenges are going to be in the future?

Micky: Probably his demeanor and the way that he handles thing, right, and it's -- Christie's kind of touching on that, that there's a lot of reality that's going to hit him really hard. It's not going to be easy for him to deal with, there are a lot of lessons that he's going to learn. They're going to be difficult lessons. All of that is going to change who he is. I mean already you're starting to see a little bit of it in this book and like Christie said, he goes through his own kind of trial. And he is changed because of it.

You've been writing the character for a very long time – what do you think motivates Garrosh? Do you think he's an evil character?

Christie: You know it really is - I was thinking about that the other day, "Wow, Garrosh has been with us for a very, very long time!" In game and in the book he has been a character who has had this huge, huge run as it were. Most of that development took place with the Blizzard writers for the game. So I really kind of just tried to -- how do I put this. We'd have a development with him that would take him in one direction, and I would need to kind of say "Well that's cool, now why?" And then my job is to tell y'all why, right -- so he's kind of grown, he's gone one way, and another, and he's kind of finding his footing.

And I've addressed this before -- I still don't know that he knows who he is at his core. I think that I don't know -- okay, Blizzard gives me "need to know information," and that's fine because I don't like spoilers. I'm happy to learn many, many things right along with everyone else, that enhances my experience in the game. So I don't know what's in store with a lot of Warlords. I'm excited to find out. But I have a feeling that with Garrosh, he's finally -- again, sum of all his experiences -- this is going to be a way for him to really meld where he's come from, where he's going, and what his purpose is. We have a lot of thing that are hinted at. And I left a lot of that up for the reader as well, because again, I didn't really want to focus on it. This isn't Garrosh and his trial. This is how the trial of Garrosh affects everybody else.

Micky: Yeah, and he's all about the pride of the orcs as a race and where they come from and everything else. And his methods absolutely are reprehensible at times for what he's trying to accomplish. But one of the things that I thought was very interesting early on in the book, when we were having our discussions, was that question of "OK, how much is Garrosh going to learn out of this?" And I won't say much more than that, but that's another favorite thread of mine in the book. You see this person and all these charges being leveled against him, and what affect is that going to have? What is the outcome of that?

Micky, there were a lot of major players in the novel. How many are we likely to see in Warlords?

I can't talk too much about Warlords or about specific characters beyond anything that's already been announced.

Tides of War included some scenes that were meant to set up the Theramore scenarios in game. Are we likely to see anything in-game directly tied in to what we've seen in War Crimes -- will we see any of the aftermath of War Crimes reflected in game?

Micky: In some ways yes, and I can't explain what those ways are! (laughs) I hate to be so cryptic but yeah, Lyndsi (Associate PR Manager) has a sniper rifle and the scope is aimed at my head right now and her finger's on the trigger.

Lyndsi: I don't know what you're talking about! (laughs)

Micky: I can actually feel the cross hairs on my forehead!

Micky, how do you feel the Theramore scenario did in terms of tying the novel into the game?

That's something that we've talked about, and Dave Kosak has talked about. We feel that we didn't do a great job and we -- meaning Blizzard -- it's something that we're taking away lessons from as far as the book and how it tied in and was reflected in the game. That's something that Dave has talked about a bit, I know that they wanted to do more and they felt like people had a lot of questions. Especially if people didn't read the book and then they played through the Theramore experience, it felt like there were some things missing, and that's something that Dave is aware of, and Team 2 (the Warcraft team) is aware of, and definitely something that we've talked about as far as lessons learned.

Are there any plans to do more in the way of novel tie-ins?

Yeah, it's an ongoing discussion that we're always having -- how much do we do in books, how much do we do in the game? We're constantly refining that and going back and asking that question again, saying "OK, are we accomplishing what we want to accomplish? Should we change the way that we're doing things? And if so, what are those changes going to be?"

For War Crimes, I would say a lot of people have said "Well, you know, why didn't instead of doing Garrosh's trial in a book, why didn't you just do it in game"' And it's really one of those things -- it really lends itself to a great book, because you can get inside the heads of all these characters. In the game, you know, a trial in the game just ... it's not all that exciting, right? I don't know that a lot of people would want to play through that, just sit in a courtroom and listen or even watch those things playing out. Whereas in the book it's a very deep, very immersive experience.

It's not really a dynamic kind of thing.

Yeah, exactly. It doesn't lend itself to game play as much. When we sat down and we talked about it, we said this is a great book. Very different from anything we've done before, but that was something that really excited us about it.

Christie: I don't know that anyone has done anything like this before, certainly not as a game tie in. This was pretty awesome that you all wanted to do this -- and I'm so thrilled to have been able to be a part of it.

Micky: Yeah, and we're so happy with it too! It's really breaking new ground, I think.

There have been a lot of spoilers about the book already released online – do you have anything you'd like to say about that?

Micky: So spoilers for War Crimes -- yeah, so some people, they'll read the book, and then they'll post in forums and they'll re-post -- they'll kind of lay out the major beats of the book for people to read in forums. People can formulate opinions based on reading that, but I would just encourage folks to read the book, because there's a lot more that's going to come through in reading the book. The subtleties in the book, and the way it's explained, and everything else. Hold off on forming opinions based on what somebody else is saying and what they are posting and just read the book yourself and form your own opinion.

Christie: It kind of gets like a game of telephone. (laughs) People are not reacting to the actual book, they're reacting to what someone said the book said.

Micky: They're reacting to a reaction of the book. (laughs)

Christie: Someone posted a spoiler that was supposedly from War Crimes, and it was just their own fan fiction -- it was pretty entertaining. (laughs)

Micky, are there any future plans for published works you can let us know about?

There's something that we were talking about as far as people having questions about the upcoming expansion -- certainly, read War Crimes, you're going to get information there, a lot of good information. But then we're also working on a short story that we're going to put out ahead of the expansion, and the events of the short story follow the end of the book. So if you read War Crimes, you get to the end of the book, and then can you read this short story that we're going to put up for free on the website. And even if you haven't read the book, you can still read this short story and it's going to answer a lot of questions about the upcoming expansion that people have right now. For the full experience, read the book, read the short story, play the game, and then you're one hundred percent fully informed. That's definitely one that I wanted to talk about.

Beyond that we are working on, I've announced on Twitter that we're working on a set of villains short stories. We did the leaders short stories, now we're doing villains, and we've got some really, really cool, fun villains that we're going to be showcasing. Three of those stories I can say directly tie into the upcoming expansion. Some of the other stories are just great villain stories. Iconic, marquee characters. Kael'thas is one that I've announced, that I'm working on, that's going to be a lot of fun. Illidan makes an appearance in there. We're just having a blast with all of that and digging into these characters and parts of their history that we haven't really talked about before.

Christie, anything you're working on that you'd like people to know about?

Well ... I have been told it's okay, as long as I do not detail, to say that I am doing another project with Blizzard. I can't say what! I'm -- this is going to be a crazy, crazy year for me. I've got War Crimes coming out, I've also done a book with Assassin's Creed, it's sort of a coffee table tie in book, it's called Blackbeard: The Lost Journal, and it ties in with Black Flag and purports to be Blackbeard's lost journal, and that was an awful lot of fun to do. And I'm going to be doing another one of those types of collaborations with Assassin's Creed for the upcoming Unity, and that should actually be out later this year. So I'm going to have three projects out this year! Kind of busy, busy for me!

Micky: And if folks haven't read it by the way, read Paragons! It's the bind up of the leader short stories and it has Blood of the Highborne in it.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!

Christie: My pleasure!

Micky: Absolutely! It was a lot of fun, as always!

War Crimes is now available! Be sure to check out last week's spoiler-free review of the novel. To order the hardcover edition, head to Amazon and get your copy for $19.71. If you're more of an ebook type, you can pick up the Kindle edition from Amazon, or the Nook edition from Barnes and Noble for $13.99. The audiobook is now available as well -- the Audible audio edition is $19.84.