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CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN
Golden Grows Up

November 1999
By Paula Guran

Chris Golden Christopher Golden has written or co-written dozens of books -- the three-volume Shadow Saga (OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS, ANGEL SOULS AND DEVIL HEARTS, OF MASQUES AND MARTYRS); graphic novel HELLBOY: THE LOST ARMY; novels and non-fiction based on the popular TV series, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER; the Body of Evidence series of teen thrillers (which is currently being developed for television) and numerous other YA titles; Star Wars junior novelizations and choose-your-own-adventures; comic books (including stories for WOLVERINE/PUNISHER: REVELATION, THE CROW. SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, BATMAN: REAL WORLDS) and hardcover comic character tie-in (X-Men, Daredevil) novels. He also edited the Bram Stoker Award-winning book of film criticism, CUT!: HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM.

But his new novel STRANGEWOOD represents a milestone for the author. "Even though I've written a LOT of books, if you look at my output of original, adult novels, STRANGEWOOD is only the fourth one. And, actually, since the other three were a trilogy [ the Shadow Saga], it's only the second wholly new idea. That's one way in which it's a milestone for me."

STRANGEWOOD is the story of Thomas Randall, the creator of the most popular series of children's books in the world -- Adventures in Strangewood. His young son's life is endangered and Randall must save both the child and the supposedly fictional world he has created.

"More importantly, though," he continues, "I really feel as though this is my first 'grown-up' book, which is ironic considering it's about a writer of children's books. My books usually have quite a bit of bombast to them, but in spite of that, I've tried to make the characters feel as real as possible. This is something different. These are real people, without anything particularly special about them. My goal was to make THEIR story as interesting as possible, their emotions as true and real as I could, and then to reveal the way an infusion of oddity and crisis would impact on those relationships.

"That sort of thing is what interests me these days. I've never been a 'horror writer' in the sense of trying to make you jump. I've always felt the best horror is more unnerving or disturbing on the one hand, or epic supernatural adventure on the other. Or both, if it can be managed. I've also become much more interested, over time, in stories that walk the border between horror and fantasy. Clive Barker and Tim Powers and Robert Holdstock and Jonathan Carroll are all good examples. Of course, Stephen King and Peter Straub as well.

"Post-Tolkien sword and sorcery has never really interested me. I also have no interest in stories about fairies in general. But fairies who'll tear your throat out with their teeth? Oh yeah. That sounds like fun.

"In addition to all of that, though (and this is where that whole' grown-up' thing comes in), I really need a human story these days. Most of my ideas now are about real people, normal people, whose lives are touched by something horrible or wonderful. I guess I want to believe there's magic in the world."

book cover STRANGEWOOD travels to some interesting places examining father/son relationships. In the book, Randall's young son, Nathan, is threatened by an evil that is, to an extent, of this father's own making. Randall's father, too, plays a role in the story. Golden himself is a father and, of course, a son. "The idea for the fantasy element of the story came from a conversation I had with [reviewer and horror maven] Hank Wagner when my older son was three. We watched Winnie the Pooh round the clock back then. I love Pooh, but there's a limit to everything. I told Hank that I'd reached the point where I wouldn't mind seeing armed warriors ride down into the Hundred Acre Wood, skin the motherfuckers and nail their pelts to trees. Bam. Strangewood was born. But that was the fantasy story. The human story of it absolutely came from my feelings as a father, and as a son. My sons were three and one at that time. They needed me for everything. Absolutely everything. There is no greater fear than that of a new parent anxious for the safety of his or her children. Nothing in the world matters more than that. But we get so caught up in our lives, and our other relationships, that sometimes it's easy to overlook those little moments when a child needs your attention. I still do it. I think we all do. We can only try to do better. On the other hand, my own father split with my mother when I was eleven, and died shortly before my twentieth birthday. I loved him, but I never really understood him, and there's a lot of that in here as well."

Golden says he was a dreamer as a child. "Always had my nose in a book, or in comic books, or watching old black and white monster movies on TV. My parents fought a lot, so I retreated into other worlds. I had all those Mego Marvel comics superhero action figures, and the Planet of the Apes playset was one of my favorite things. My friends all thought I was weird, but I think since I didn't have any friends who were into the things I was into, I stayed pretty mainstream. I always loved horror and monsters, and of course, everyone thought I was weird. But to me, I was pretty normal. We had a seance at one of my birthday parties -- my mother was into that sort of thing, and it was very cool and certainly unique. I doubt any of those kids had ever been to a party where there was a seance, before. When other kids were reading RUMBLE FISH, in school, I read FIRESTARTER. (Though I'd read Rumble Fish, too, of course.)"

As a small child, he had several recurring nightmares. "In one, an alligator wanted to eat my pillow. In another, when I was a little older, I was in the car with my family at night and it was raining. My father had to stop the car quickly because there was a seven-foot reptile monster standing in the middle of the street. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, and I remember always being afraid that something or someone was out there, trying to get in. I definitely had my fears, but overall, I wasn't really a fearful little kid."

At age 32, Golden is one of the few under 40 -- especially in genre-writing -- to have established a career as a full-time writer the "old-fashioned way" -- by being versatile, talented, and working his butt off. "A friend of mine gave me a great compliment a few months ago, though he cautioned me that I might not think of it that way. He told me that he felt that if I had lived in an earlier time, I would have been a great pulp writer, because he felt I had the ability to convincingly write about just about anything. I can see where some writers, particularly those who think there are types of writing that are unworthy of a writer, might take that as a bad thing, but I thought it was one hell of a compliment. I work. Plain and simple. I get a lot of people asking how I write as much as I do. The answer is: I just do. I have my goals and dreams, just like everyone, and up until I burn myself out, or reach those goals, I will keep burning the candle at both ends to get there. You never know which thing is going to be the one that makes your career, that provides the financial security to sit back and do the work purely for its own sake. One day, I hope I'll have that."

Golden's initial break as a writer came about at least partially through a unique little summer gathering, the Northeastern Writers' Conference -- affectionately known as "Camp" Necon. (As a matter of fact it's where I first met Golden.) "As a junior in college, I taught a course for freshman (we had an Experimental College at Tufts University, where such things were possible)," he explains. "Craig Shaw Gardner, who lived in the area, agreed to come and speak to the class. Later, when I wanted to try to break in, Craig agreed to let me interview him for STARLOG. Not long after that, he told me about NECON, a little convention held in Rhode Island every summer which is attended mostly by horror and fantasy professionals in the Northeast. [The year 2000 will mark the con's 20th year.] I went. I've only ever missed it once since then. But that first year, not only did I meet a lot of the writers I had admired, but I met Lori Perkins, who would shortly thereafter become my agent, and [currently Ace Senior Executive Editor] Ginjer Buchanan, who bought my first books."

Golden graduated college, moved to New York, and got a job at BILLBOARD magazine. While there, he also did some freelance journalism, including an interview with Clive Barker. Golden asked Barker if he would write an essay for a book he was hoping to edit called CUT!: HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM. Craig Gardner had already agreed to write one, and Barker promised that even if he didn't have time to do it, he'd find a way to make it happen. Barker's name helped bring other writers on board, and Ginjer Buchanan bought the book for Berkley. The young author won the Horror Writers Association's Stoker for the book. By that time, Golden had been working on his first novel off an on for several years after starting it as a senior in college. In the summer of 1992, Ginjer Buchanan bought it as well as its sequel.

"As for the work for hire stuff, it's just been the way things have gone. The people at Byron Preiss knew I loved comics, and at one point, asked me to be a consulting editor on the soon-to-launch Marvel comics line. I said I'd do it, and that I wanted to write one of the novels: DAREDEVIL. While they eventually didn't hire an outside consultant, they did hire me to write DAREDEVIL. Later, when I found out they had the X-Men license, I literally went over to the office and said: 'look, I know the X-Men like they're family, I've written epic fantasy adventure. Hire me' And they did. Right place at the right time, I think."

It's been like that ever since. His agent, Lori Perkins, snagged the Star Wars kids books for him just as his wife was going on maternity leave and they particularly needed the income. "I love Star Wars, but that came in at just the right time. On the Buffy front, it's simpler. I loved the series. Lori called Pocket Books. Eight novels later, I still love it."

Has he ever met "Buffy" herself? "I've met Sarah Michelle Gellar, though only in passing. It was during a visit to the set while working on THE WATCHER'S GUIDE. The coolest story there is that I was watching a night shoot in the lot, and sitting with James Marsters (Spike) and he had me run his lines with him. I knew then he was a damned good actor, because here I was reading Buffy's lines, if you can picture that, and James was totally focused, despite how silly I'm sure it looked and sounded."

Writing such a variety of material, according to Golden, require a wholly different discipline and sense of story structure for different projects. "With teen books and media-tie-ins, I certainly write faster. It's a looser style, a more direct, matter-of-fact style than my original adult books. That's both because it has to be, given my deadlines, but also because that seems to work very well for both of those things. I labor much more over things like STRANGEWOOD. I've always considered myself a storyteller first, but with some things, there's more to it than just telling an effective story. Everything else, I do for my own pleasure. But with STRANGEWOOD and the book I'm working on now, there are ideas I hope to communicate that are more than just stories or atmosphere."

Golden has also called STRANGEWOOD a "vindication of a sort" as there have been writers who have publicly taken him to task ("and even a couple who have crucified me") for doing work for hire and young adult books. Their point was that a "serious writer "should not do such things because they are somehow unworthy and a waste -- possibly a destroyer -- of talent.

"To hell with that," says Golden. "In today's publishing industry, anything goes. As a kid, I loved the X-Men and Daredevil with a passion. I got to write the X-MEN and DAREDEVIL. As an adult, I love Hellboy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I got to write both of those as well. And truth be told, I don't see a downside. Daredevil got me X-Men. X-Men helped to get me Buffy. Buffy got me my new original teen series, Body of Evidence, and Body of Evidence was just optioned by Viacom for television. How is that unworthy?"

With novels intended for teenagers, Golden takes out most of the profanity, the very graphic stuff, most of the sex, and makes it a shorter story. "Other than that," he says, "any adult can read a Body of Evidence book and probably not even notice it was targeted to 16- to 22-year-olds. I'm writing books that I wish were available when I was 16. Things that are 'for' teens and 'about' teens, but not about babysitting and who's going to the dance with whom."

Golden has just sold a brand new teen horror series to Pocket, which will debut sometime in 2001. "It isn't anything like any of the supposed horror stuff we've seen for Teens, and I think that's a good thing."

Right now the author is working on a new novel for Signet called STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING. "It's a coming-of-age story and a horror novel, set in the summer of 1981, when I turned fourteen. It deals with a boy in love with a girl who is both older and his best friend, and his dismay when she falls for another guy, a local badass, who is more than he seems. A great deal of the foundation of the story is autobiographical, which is the first time I've really done that. I'm thrilled about the book, and it should be out next fall.

Will there be a sequel for STRANGEWOOD? "Not really, he says. "At least, not now. At first I thought I'd never write a sequel, though I've since had a couple of interesting ideas that I might get to someday. Same with my vampire novels. I've written three, and I'm always asked if there will be more. Probably someday."


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