Christopher Golden -- The 2009 Oak King Interview
Writer, editor, and all-around genuinely nice human being, Christopher Golden is also one of the folks who helps put together the legendary NECON every year. In 2009, he was kind enough to take some time out at the conference to sit down and answer some questions for Green Man Review. It’s a wide-ranging interview that touches on everything from the writing inspirations of his youth to what it takes to write a Hellboy novel, not to mention how he got to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s dark future, why he’ll probably never write a twelve hundred page novel, and when he realized the true identity of the Peanut Butter General. Many thanks are due Chris for his generosity with both his time and his stories.
Green Man Review You have a reputation as one of the most prolific people in the speculative fiction field, in terms of the output you've created. How do you do that? How do you keep the pace going so well?
Christopher Golden: Out of necessity. You know, I think it's really interesting, because if you tally up page count, I'm not writing more than a lot of other people. King, the legend that he always told was that he did six pages a day, every day, bam bam bam, and then in On Writing he actually admitted it's more like ten. And if you only work five days a week, if you can manage to do ten pages a day, that's fifty pages a week. That's a lot of pages, twenty five hundred pages per year. I actually don't write that much. Once upon a time, I was doing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and assorted other things, I frequently did anywhere from ten to fifteen pages a day. That's a shitload. But I think the average for me, on an average day I do seven pages, so in an average week that's thirty five to forty pages in a week, and that adds up pretty quickly. You know, honestly, I really feel like if you're doing this job full time, and you're NOT doing seven or eight pages a day, it's either because you're lazy or because you don't need to. You know what I mean? You either have plenty of money or you're fooling yourself.
Although I shouldn't say that. I'm sure that there are writers who struggle and manage to eke out a couple of pages, and lots of days, that's all I can manage. But then there are days when I do twelve or fourteen. And in actually, I probably only spend about half my day writing because so much of it is taken up in phone calls and emails and things like that.
But I think it's just been my persistence. I'm always working on several things. I'm always trying to sell ahead of time and make sure I know what my schedule is going to be like for the following year, because I'm the sole support for my family. I have three kids, and so I'm thinking ahead. I'm not content to say, "You know, I've got a book under contract. I'll finish that and then see what happens next." Because I've seen what happens next could be months where I'm not working, I'm not selling. I'll write a few short stories or what have you.
I can't afford to live like that. So, to me it is certainly art, but it's art and commerce.
GMR: Do you enjoy that pace?
CG: Most of the time I actually do. Most of the time I like it, and it's funny because when I start to bemoan the busy-ness of it. There are times when it's too much and I'll go through periods of a few months at a time where it's just overwhelming, but most of the time I do like it, and when I complain about it, everybody just laughs at me. Because what if I do have time? The only product of that is more ideas. I think "Oh, I should do this," or "I want to do this," or "What about this idea," and then I just have to write stuff down. For me, it's staying on focus, staying on purpose, making sure that I put all my effort -- my creative spark -- into the thing I'm working on at the moment and postpone the excitement over the new thing. And I think a lot of writers have difficulty with that.
Not getting carried away with enthusiasm, and losing enthusiasm for the thing they're currently writing.
GMR: So when you sell "Christopher Golden's Twilight" and it's no longer a question of the business model, would you still find yourself writing at this level?
CG: I would like to slow down, no question. If I could afford to do less, I would do less, but I don't think I would do dramatically less, if that makes sense. And I would like to do less mainly because I would like to spend a little bit more time with my wife and kids -- and I'm home with them all the time, that's a huge benefit of being freelance, but I would like to be able to not work as often on the weekend, or as often at night as I do. But yeah, I don't think there'd ever be a time when I was only -- I'm often only working on one novel at a time, or one project at a time but invariably there are two or three other things waiting for my attention, and I can't imagine a time when that wasn't the case, when I was solely focused on one thing, and finished it, and then had to sit and think about what I wanted to do next. That's just not my nature.
GMR: A lot of your projects are, for lack of a better way of putting it, relatively short compared to some of the stuff that's out there, and the giant cinderblock novels, things like that. Have you ever thought about doing fewer projects and moving to something that's more of an epic scope? Or do you enjoy telling a lot of different stories in a shorter format?
CG: I think that's maybe a byproduct of several things. First of all, while I always read all kids of books, I've never necessarily been a fan of giant fantasy novels and things like that. I'm not interested in that. So if I do something that's epic, it's usually only epic in the sense that it's a serial project, and that's also because I'm a child of comics, and I'm a child of television. My mind works in serialized form a lot of times when it comes to stories. Not always, but sometimes.
I just did this trilogy, the Veil trilogy, and that's pretty epic. I mean, there's about twelve or thirteen hundred pages, or more in total in that, and it really is just one book. It's just not a book that I would have done in just one go for a variety of reasons, not least of which is financial. I can't afford to spend the time it would take to write a thirteen hundred page novel for what they would pay me for one book. That's just the way it goes a lot of times, if you think about the practicality of doing that. And also I just think that the fun for me is in painting myself into a corner and then trying to get out of it. And so again, writing a fifteen hundred page novel would take away from that. And also, I can't help looking at some of those things and thinking "That guy must be a fucking blowhard," to think that I want that much about that. That's not in every case, but I'm sure a lot of those things are heavily padded, and I'd much rather tell you the story than meander about in the world for the sake of meandering. Although, I've done a novel recently that's long for me. [It's] I don't know, almost five hundred pages, and that's pretty long for me.
But you're never going to get one of those twelve hundred page "opii" from me.
GMR: I think I can live with that [laughter]. You mentioned you see yourself a child of comic books, of television, of that sort of serialized media. What sort of material inspired you to write?
CG: Everything. I look back and I think about the things -- we talked about this earlier, a little bit -- I think about the things that were significant mile markers for me, the things that were a particular influence for me. Without question, Kolchak the Night Stalker. Huge, huge influence on me. I didn't see it in its first run, but the following year they showed it at 11:30 at night. I was seven, I think, and my dad would actually wake me up. I would go to bed, and the deal was he would wake me up in time for Kolchak. I'll never be able to thank him for that, but that was a huge thing for me.
Tomb of Dracula. The Marvel comic Tomb of Dracula, and all of that stuff that Marvel was doing at that time, but in particular Tomb of Dracula was another huge influence. My first novel features a vampire detective called Peter Octavian.and when It was published in 1994. I think there was only one other book series out there involving anything relating to a vampire detective, and it was the P.N. Elrod thing, which I didn't know about at the time I was writing the book -- I think that was being written about the same time. But mine was absolutely, positively influenced 100% by Hannibal King from the Tomb of Dracula series.
I'm trying to think of the other things -- Doc Savage, a huge influence. And then we get into the other things. Jack London was a huge influence on me. I loved Call of the Wild, the short stories and all of that.
Then, of course, you get to the things in horror, even though I've never really technically been a, quote, horror writer, although I don't say that like certain people do as a way to avoid the tag. I'm proud to be called that if people want to call me that, though I've never perceived myself in that fashion, because I think horror is in what the purpose is. It's in what you set out to accomplish, and that's very rarely been my agenda in my writing. But I'm happy with it, because most of what I read growing up was in that genre, and the writing community where I feel most comfortable is in that genre. The horror people are my people..
Huge influences on me -- Stephen King, when I first read Stephen King, I think The Stand may have been the first thing I read. I bought it in an airport bookstore. I remember being in Liam's Irish Tavern in Framingham, and seeing the bouncer reading a hardcover copy of The Dead Zone, and getting giddy over the fact that that book was out. So clearly I was reading King before that, and I think that The Stand was the first one.
And then Charlie Grant's anthology series. The first one I bought was Terrors, which I read on a beach on Cape Cod. I was probably 11. And even earlier than Kolchak, the thing that was a huge influence on me was The Twilight Zone, which I obviously saw in reruns. I remember the first one I saw which I only subsequently learned, and I'm 99% sure this is true, is the last episode they ever aired, which is called "The Drowning Pool" or "The Swimming Pool" -- I can't remember which. [Ed: "The Bewitching Pool"] It's about these two kids who live in the country who think their parents are mean to them. They go for a swim in their pool, and when they come up, they're in a lake or a pond, and there are these sort of Huckleberry Finn-esque kid characters there with them. I don't really remember what the episode's about beyond that, but I remember that was my first one.
It wasn't really a horror story. It was one of the more nostalgic of the Serling things.
GMR: Jumping back to a comment you made, that you don't consider yourself a horror writer -- that's something you explicitly call out in the introduction to the recent edition of Strangewood. I, at least, probably consider Strangewood to be your best work so far. It's certainly the most moving. What went into that book that you think gave it its power?
CG: A couple of things. To start with, I had been in Atlanta at DragonCon, and Clive Barker was a guest. He was doing a presentation, a little Q&A and some talk with fans, and things like that. He was talking about writing with an unfettered imagination -- not ever telling yourself something was too weird or too silly or too hard or any of those things; just to go with whatever your ideas were, and let it go where it would. So prior to that, lots of things in Strangewood, lots of really weird things in Strangewood that I might have either thought were too silly or that I wouldn't have had faith in myself to carry them off without making them seem silly. And so his talk that day was really inspirational for me to let myself go to the places that book goes.
Actually, I think the success of the book relies not on the story that I told, or on the characters in Strangewood -- all of whom I love, and I'm really proud of the weirdness of them, things like the Orange Peelers and all of that stuff, the Peanut Butter General. But I was already about halfway through the book, as so often happens for me, it's when I'm in the shower or in the car or whenever -- a lot of times in the shower -- when you can't be working, that my mind does its best work. All of a sudden I start unraveling things, and I can remember the "Eureka!" moment when I realized that the Peanut Butter General was Thomas' father. I'd already written half the book, and I just thought to myself "If I go back and make sure this all works within the context of the story, and here's my backstory, and here's why it all makes sense and connects -- This story's about so much more, the book is about so much more. My dad died when I was nineteen, and at the time [the book was written] my son was five, and so it wouldn't have been the book I think it is. I mean, to me, that's what makes it. If it's a successful book, if it's more than just a run-of-the-mill dark fantasy or whatever it is, I think that that's the reason why.
And that wasn't part of it at the beginning. I think you have those "Eureka!" moments where you finally realize what it is you've been writing about [laughs] . . . and sometimes you don't.
GMR: I think Charles Grant actually had a similar story about something like that with Jackals
GMR: The last line of the book reversed what he thought he'd been doing. When he went back and checked, it made sense with everything he'd written all the way along.
GMR: But jumping back to Strangewood again, it's obviously about fatherhood and the responsibilities of fatherhood. There also seems to be a question there about the responsibilities to your creations [you have] as an artist. Do you feel that's something that needs to be taken more seriously, that you do take seriously?
CG: You know, I've sinned against my creations a couple of times. Yeah, I think you have to take it seriously, and that you owe it to yourself and the readers not to take the easy way out, to not take the shortcuts, to not make it easy for them. Just because a character is popular doesn't mean that you have to let them live. In fact, I think it's incumbent upon you to kill some of them because I feel like there needs to be a cost. I feel like any good story is fueled by the price that the protagonist will have to pay in order to survive it. And I don't necessarily mean "survive it" in the sense of actual physical survival, but if you're not telling a story that has an element of potential loss, actual loss or striving for something, then what's the point of telling the story?
If you are telling a story about those things, well, the truth about life is that we rarely win without losing, and I think it's sort of incumbent on you to reflect that. As far as the more commercial end of things is concerned, I will fight as much as is within my power to preserve the things I love about my material if it's going to be adapted to another medium, but the magic phrase there is "within my power," and once it's beyond the parameters of what I can control, it doesn't matter to me any more, because the book exists. You know, King said it, but I'm sure somebody else said it -- has been saying it since the beginning of time -- that the book is the book is the book is the book. Sometimes the movie's made and it's better than the book, but that's a rare beast. So I think all the Hollywood shit is copacetic. Whatever happens, happens. Maybe you'll get lucky and the thing that they make will be something worth seeing, but you have to resign yourself to the knowledge that it's beyond your control.
GMR: Above and beyond the Baltimore project, is there anything you'd love to see as a film, or translated into another medium?
CG: There are very few things I wouldn't like to see as a film, but the one I've been thinking about lately and I've been talking to some friends about is trying to get up a little money and actually making a short film out of a story I wrote for Pete Crowther last year called "The Hiss of Escaping Air," which I think would make a dynamite short film. It's rare that I feel that, rare that I have a piece of fiction I've written that I say, "I'd really like to do that" [about]. My manager has been wanting to make Strangewood into a movie since I met him, fifteen years ago or whatever it is. Twelve years? I don't remember exactly, I'm terrible with stuff like that.
But I don't know, you know? I could talk about every single thing I've ever written in the context of what I'd love to see done with it for film or television. One thing that I think is just a total no-brainer, that I think would make a fantastic movie is The Boys Are Back In Town. The funny thing is -- and sadly, this is how Hollywood functions -- we had people who really liked it, and what we've gotten as feedback is, "Well, you can't ask the audience to accept two leaps. The first leap is that magic exists. But then, to also say time travel exists is a second leap, and you can't do that." And I'm like, "Why? That's really sort of -- silly." But I'd love to see that made. I think, frankly, of all the things that I've ever written, that might make the best movie.
GMR: So they can't buy magical time travel, or is that too much?
CG: Well, that's my point. It's actually just really -- silly. [laughs]
GMR: What are you going to do? They are Hollywood. They Know Things.
GMR: So, The Boys Are Back In Town, Strangewood -- a lot of your books are set in what I call "Route 9 Gothic," for lack of a better term for it. [Ed: An East-West state highway in Massachusetts that passes through Framingham and Worcester]
CG: Uh-huh [laughs]
GMR: It's very much a working class, middle-class New England horror.
GMR: And it's distinct from your traditional Hawthornre-Lovecraft sort of aristocratic, elite bookish horror. Where does that come from?
CG: Probably the best way to answer that question is to talk about Straight On Til Morning. I did Straight On Til Morning as a coming-of-age book, and I wrote it because I'd read some fantastic coming-of-age books -- probably Robert McCammon's Boy's Life and Dan Simmons' -- what was the Dan Simmons one?
GMR: Summer of Night
CG: Summer of Night, and obviously "The Body," by Stephen King. But those guys are actually significantly older than me, and so I'd never read a coming-of-age supernatural story from my age, from my generation. So that one I did, set in the summer of '81. Obviously now there are guys writing horror and fantasy that are much younger than I am, but for me, I'd never seen it, and I wanted to do that. I think so much of it, probably everything I write was percolating at the age of 10 or 12. Not the particular plots, but all of it springs from me wandering the woods, or wandering the streets of my suburban neighborhood. I had the best of both worlds. I lived in a suburban neighborhood, but at the top of the hill, which is very well described in Straight on Til Morning, there was a state forest, that my brother and I and my friends would build tree forts in. We'd wander for hours and get lost on these paths.
So I had both. And most people hated their high school experience. I had a great time in high school. I loved it. That isn't to say that there weren't people I fucking hated, but I had a great time. I enjoyed almost every minute of it, and I loved the kids I went to school with when I was ten years old.
So think it springs -- all of that stuff that you call the "Route 9 Gothic" -- it springs from my internal atmosphere from that age, from feeling like being the weird one, the kid who liked the weird stuff. From feeling the potential for weirdness in the settings in which I grew up, if you know what I mean. So it was one thing to read something that was in Maine or was in England or was in wherever, but I think it came from how it made me feel to read those things. So I'm combining what I felt with my surroundings. And again -- The Boys Are Back In Town, Wildwood Road, Straight On Til Morning is set there. Strangewood is set in Tarrytown, New York, which is where I lived for a while, but similar. The tone of it is similar.
GMR: The Taconic Parkway is sort of a similar road.
CG: Yeah, there you go.
GMR: You mentioned your first novel, Of Saints and Shadows, with its vampire detective. Obviously, vampires have sort of taken off since then.
GMR: Do you look at that and say, "Wow, I could have done some of that stuff" or "God, I'm bored with vampires" or "I'd love to return to that material"?
CG: You know what is funny? It's that I've never done the "smart thing," ever. I've been really, really lucky in that there's almost never been anything that I really wanted to do that I haven't been able to sell. And some of the stuff I've sold and written has been really sort of odd and difficult to categorize.
So I've been really fortunate in that sense, because there's very little that I've written that I felt like I was writing for any reason other than that I wanted to -- and that I needed to pay my bills. You know, I've never been a huge fan of vampires, which is to say I love Dracula, and I love Hammer Dracula movies, and I love Tomb of Dracula, and I enjoyed the first few Anne Rice books. It isn't to say I don't like those things, but it's never been my "thing." The fact that my first novel was a vampire novel, then I went on to do Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that Baltimore is a vampire story is sheer happenstance. I don't have a particular affection for them over any other creature.
What happened with Of Saints and Shadows was the idea for that book came out of the fact that I thought vampire lore was really stupid. The idea that you could transform into fog -- I should say "mist" -- or a wolf or a bat or a rat, and that's all you could transform into is really lame. You change yourself on a molecular level but you can only choose from these four options. So in video game parlance, I thought I would "unlock" a few more. That made sense to me. I just like to turn myths on their heads, which I did there, and in Prowlers, and in Soulless -- the zombie novel I just did. I'm attracted to inverting things and exploring them in a different way.
But as far as timing is concerned, in the fall of next year, Ace is going to re-issue Of Saints and Shadows, with a little introduction by Charlaine Harris, all re-covered in the urban fantasy milieu with new packaging and everything, and they're going to release the whole series again, a few months apart, leading up to a fifth book in the series. So it may be mummies by then that are popular, but I'm jumping back in. I've always said I wanted to go back to it. Ginjer [Buchanan] and I talk about it every time I see her, and we finally found the right time and the right story.
GMR: I think Ginjer actually said yetis are going to be next, so if you do a vampire yeti you may be onto something.
CG: [laughs] Yes. That's a good idea.
GMR: Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you've collaborated extensively with Amber Benson, you've collaborated with Tom Sniegoski, with Jim Moore, and with a bunch of other people. You seem to do a lot of collaborative work. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you?
CG: My answer to that is that writing is a solitary business and I'm not a solitary person. Beyond that, so much of the appeal of collaboration to me is that you get to work with your friends. I liked working in an office, which I did for three years when I graduated from college. I had a great job and I really liked my colleagues -- well, most of them -- and so what happens for me is that collaborations usually come about by accident. I'm with a friend and we're talking about something completely different, and all of a sudden one of us will say something outrageous and funny or weird, as that always happens. And we'll just look at each other and go, "You know, that could be kind of cool."
Which is how Lebbon's and mine Secret Journeys of Jack London came about, it's how Bloodstained Oz came about, it's how The Menagerie came about with Tom Sniegoski. It's Outcast and a lot of the other stuff I've done with Tom.
With Amber, I was out to dinner with her and a whole bunch of other people in L.A. one night, when I was doing a bunch of Buffy comics and she was on the series. Her mother was there, and she said, "You know, Amber writes." And I said, "Oh, really?" as she was telling me that Amber was a playwright. I said, "If you ever are interested" -- I'd done a comic already with James Marsters -- "If you ever want to write, maybe we could do a Willow and Tara comic together, just sort of off the cuff." And we left it at that.
A few days later she sent me this play that she had written, and it was really good. I got back to her again and I said, having read the play, "this is really good. If you ever want to do that, let me know, because I'm sure we can do it." She said she'd love to, and that's how that started.
Ghosts of Albion came about purely by accident because the BBC contacted me, having read the Willow and Tara comics: "Would you and Amber be interested in coming and doing this thing for us?" They had this idea for what they wanted us to do. They wanted to do a Victorian supernatural series as an online animated thing, but their idea was essentially Buffy. We said, "No we can't do that, because we'll get sued and you'll get sued and we have no interest in doing it anyway, but we have this other idea," which is essentially something I had come up with. It's kind of an interesting story, which I'll bore you with here for a second.
GMR: Not boring at all.
CG: I had come up with an idea that I thought was really cool called "Ghosts of Hollywood" and the structure of it was essentially the same as the structure of Ghosts of Albion, but it was this girl who was a bartender in LA and her brother who was a gay Hollywood superstar who was still in the closet. They discover that they are the spiritual protectors of Los Angeles. Their grandfather, when he dies, they discover that he protected Los Angeles from demons, and he was assisted by the ghosts of Lou Costello, Grace Kelly and Bogart. Now it was going to be the brother and sister, and the brother was really reluctant, and those three ghosts -- and then Coldheart Canyon came out, from Barker. While the two have nothing to do with each other, they're both stories about Hollywood and ghosts and stuff like that, and I just felt that anyone I pitched it to would think that I was riffing off of Barker. In fact, I was in Paris in the apartment of the dearly departed editor Patrice Duvic, who was my editor there and who was Barker's editor there. When I told him the story, he handed me a copy of Coldheart Canyon, and I looked at it and I was like "Fuck!" It was an advance proof and I was like, "Huh."
So I just threw it away. It got pushed aside, like so many other things are pushed aside. But as soon as they contacted me from the BBC, I said, "Well, we might have something else."
I called Amber and I said, "Listen: The BBC is interested in doing this, what would you think about doing this?" We talked about adapting that idea to Victorian England, and she loved that. Then it was a point of her putting her spin on my story, and us deciding together on who our ghosts would be. That's how that all came about. It's collaboration.
It's not always fun. A lot of times it's actually more work than writing the book yourself, but the reward for it is that usually it's entertaining. You're spending time with your friends, you're brainstorming with your friends. It is that thing that Tom was talking about. I always use this reference to an article I read in Rolling Stone when I was aboug fifteen about Lynyrd Skynrd, who had three lead guitarists. The interviewer asked them if they didn't think it was a bit of overkill to have three lead guitarists. One of them said, "No. We'll be in the studio and I'll do a lick. And then Alan will do a lick, and he'll try to top me. And Gary will do a lick, and he'll try to top me." I think about that, because in many ways, that's the fun of collaborating. Instead of writing for the audience, I'm writing for myself and for one person. I'm writing to amuse Tom or Amber or Tim or Jim. I'm writing to make them go "Ooh, that's cool, fucker. I'm going to have to come up with something better."
There's a great old Molière quote, that I've quoted many times. "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for yourself, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money." Now, frankly, I'm always doing it both for myself and for the money, because I need the money to survive, and I'm doing it for myself because it's what I love and what makes me feel good. But the middle one, that's what collaboration is about. When you're doing it for a few friends, and that really is like you're doing it to entertain your friends. Not the readers out there, not your editor -- you're doing it for that.
GMR: So it's almost more immediate feedback from someone you like and whose tastes you like?
CG: Yeah. Yeah.
GMR: You can get a response right there.
CG: In a lot of ways it's like an extended conversation. It's, "Here, what do you think of that?" and then you get the next bit back. That's what's valuable for me.
GMR: You mentioned that you like turning things on their heads.
GMR: You also do a lot of licensed work with properties. Obviously Hellboy is the big one, and you work with Buffy and lots of comic book stuff. Where do those two things come into play?
CG: They don't always come into play. I'm also still that ten or twelve year old kid. I think the last licensed thing I did, other than editing the Hellboy stuff -- I did a Hellboy novel a few years ago called The Dragon Pool, and I did a Buffy novel two-three years ago called Dark Congress. Those are the last two that I did. Before that, the novelization of King Kong. It's been a while since I did any of that stuff.
For me, it's "Is it something that I want to play with? Something that I'm passionate about, that I care about." I've been offered a lot of things over the years that I really didn't want to do. I was offered JAG. I was offered, and foolishly turned down C.S.I. when the show was first on, and they went to Max Allan Collins after me. I was doing Body of Evidence at the time for Pocket, and they came to me and asked if I wanted to do C.S.I. There was one Star Trek idea that Tom and I had, and we said, "How about this?" And they said "No," and we said, "That's all we've got." We're not going to do Star Trek because, literally, that was our one idea that we cared about.
So it's not about that. But once in a while, if you're really lucky, you can do something that does mess things up, that does subvert the code. Probably the best example for me was when I got to do Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Lost Slayer. Those who speak the parlance will understand when I say my entire pitch was "Buffy: The Dark Knight." All wanted to do was this story set in a possible future. It was this big, sprawling epic thing, that I wanted to do as a serialized novel.
My editors pitched it to Fox, and Fox said, "No." We rejiggered it a little bit and pitched it again, and Fox said, "No." My editor said, "Why?" and they said, "Because people will think this is the future of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer." We said, "You can put this little thing on the first page that says this is one possible future," and they said "No." And we said, "Joss loves The Dark Knight Returns, and will immediately get this. Have you asked him?" They said, "No," and they had no intention of asking him.
So we went back, because we were determined, and I wrote a brand new outline, a very long outline which created a framing device, a framing sequence that took place in the present day, so that the events at the beginning of the story could set up Buffy being psychically propelled into her own body, five years in the future in such a way that there would be a mechanism for her to get back at the end of the story in time to prevent that future from ever happening.
Which is not what I wanted to do, but it enabled me to tell the story I wanted to tell, which was totally fucked. It was "Giles is the king of the vampires" and Faith is murdered, and I don't remember who else dies, but a bunch of them die. It was really fun to be able to break all the toys.
Nancy Holder and I killed Xander in the Gatekeeper trilogy at the end of one of the books. Of course we brought him back to life, and everybody knew we could, because you can't kill one of the major characters in a licensed book, but those things are fun. Being able to go off the track, which does happen. It isn't that it doesn't happen, and when it does, that's when it's the most interesting.
In the Buffy things, probably the most fun I had aside from Lost Slayer, was a book I did called Pretty Maids All In A Row, which was Spike and Drusilla in World War II. No Buffy, no other characters from the TV series besides Spike and Drusilla, and that was a blast, because then I could do whatever the hell I wanted.
Sometimes you just want to borrow other people's nice, shiny toys. I haven't done that in a while. Actually, I was offered something this week, and if I don't do it, it's only because of schedule because it's something I'd like to do.
GMR: One of the ones that I've read recently was your Justice League novel, Exterminators.
CG: Yeah, that was fun.
GMR: When you read it, you expect it's going to be a lot of "punch 'em inna face," a lot of Superman and Martian Manhunter. And instead it's really a meditation on thinking before you act.
CG: The whole book is about that. That was right after I pitched the Star Trek idea and they said, "Naah, we don't think we can do that one." I was like, "Yeah, I'm done." And it was the same editor, and he said, "You know, we need somebody to write Justice League." I just said, "Yes!" Because I figured that would probably be the only time I would get an opportunity to write those characters, and who doesn't want to write Batman and Superman? I loved writing Batman, but I had the most fun writing Green Lantern and Flash, and the variety. Actually, there's this bit I remember really well, when Superman and Wonder Woman are standing in the air above the Seine in France over Paris, and that is sort of a meditative scene.
Just little things intrigued me, like The Flash having to wait in line at the ATM. What must go through his mind during the ten minutes, when every minute is an eternity? Waiting in line at the ATM is this mundane thing, and he cannot circumvent this or else he's robbing the bank. Stuff like that is really fun to be able to do.
That's why there are so many superheroes in that book. I figured I'm never going to have a[nother] chance to write them. I don't even like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, but they're funny. I figured it would be fun. They're only in a couple of scenes, but they're there.
GMR: So you were cheering when they killed Blue Beetle off?
CG: No, because I think this new Blue Beetle is really stupid. I liked Blue Beetle in Birds of Prey. I liked Ted Kord as a character for the first time.
GMR: Are there any particular characters who have been favorites to write? Is there anything out there that makes you go, "If only I could write that."
CG: In comics?
GMR: Comics, or in other media.
CG: There always are. I think, more than anything else, what I would really like is to write a novel or a comic book mini-series, but I really, I think some ways I'd rather do it as a novel in which Marvel would give me carte blanche to use all of their supernatural characters. To find some way to construct a book using all of them, because I love those characters. The stupider, the better. I don't care. Because I'll tell you something: Brother Voodoo is a joke, but those Brother Voodoo stories in Strange Tales, they were good. So I love Brother Voodoo and I love Daimon Hellstrom and I love Jack Russell, you name it.
CG: Morbius. A funny story is that the last time Morbius had a monthly comic, which is when they did the Nightstalkers thing, I was actually hired to write Morbius montly. And the book was cancelled about two weeks after they hired me. I hadn't even turned anything in yet, but the numbers were so bad. I was like, "Come on, are you kidding me?" Ever since I was ten years old I wanted to write this stuff and -- it was not to be.
But yeah, all that stuff. I mean, Morbius technically isn't a supernatural character, but he's a vampire, so they play him that way.
GMR: Close enough for jazz.
CG: Exactly. All that stuff.
GMR: Which forces me to ask: would you bring in Sister Voodoo as well?
CG: Sister Voodoo?
CMR: The Fred Hembeck takeoff on Brother Voodoo
CG: No, I wouldn't bring in Sister Voodoo, but I would bring in Satana, and Lilith, the Daughter of Dracula, and I would bring in -- I don't know if I'd use the Man-Thing. I probably would have to. All that stuff. I love it.
GMR: And now the big one, Hellboy. How do you think something like Hellboy, which started as, for lack of a better way of putting it, almost a fringe property -- this very esoteric occult stuff, very dark, very stylized, with such a strange protagonist - became such a mass-market phenomenon?
CG: There's actually a really simple answer to that question. Hellboy is just a guy, and at the end of the day, people love that. They love to see the guy going up against insurmountable odds who doesn't think he's anything special, who has the capacity to be -- and is -- much more than he believes himself to be. Of course, in his case he also has the capacity to be something awful. But I think the reason people love Hellboy is that he's a guy. A guy in a trench coat, trying to do his best, and that's appealing. That whole noir thing. He's Humphrey Bogart. You can pick out so many characters like that. He's appealing because despite the fact that he's an eight foot tall red demon with sawed-off horns and a really long tail, at the end of the day he's everyman. He's you and me, just trying to get by.
GMR: You've spent so much time doing the tie-in books and so forth and now you're one of the gatekeepers on this property -- this big property. How's that switch been for you?
CG: You know, it's not always easy. I've enjoyed editing the anthologies, but I've grown up a lot in the time since I first started doing that. Mike [Mignola, creator of Hellboy] is very content in the anthologies to let people do their own thing with Hellboy, and by that I mean he's more than happy to have it not really be that close to the real thing. In the novels, he's very happy to have the atmosphere and the tone and the voice be individualized. When Tom Piccirilli did Emerald Hell, Mike was very happy for it to be a Tom Piccirilli Southern Gothic -- that's what it ought to be.
At the same time, it has to hew much more closely to established Hellboy continuity, even though those books aren't considered to be in continuity. It's amazing how, without even realizing it, the movie pollutes people's brains, so that they think Hellboy smokes cigars -- which he doesn/t. He smokes cigarettes, or he used to smoke cigarettes. He doesn't now. That he has cats everywhere and that he likes cats. These things are from the movie, and we eschew any connection to the movie continuity completely so we have to be careful about that.
It's been an interesting thing for me to mature as a creative person and editor, to be going to be merciless to my friends. The people who end up writing these books aren't always my friends, but they're certainly my acquaintances and colleagues. I ask for pitches from people I know are up to the challenge, or that Mike particularly likes. Mark Morris was the only one who was asked to do a Hellboy novel who hadn't first written a Hellboy short story. So the anthologies have been the testing ground, literally. Piccirilli got asked to do a novel because of his short story. Sniegoski and everybody, it was about what did they do in the short story format that was adaptable, that we thought could fit.
But [it's] having to go in and not pull any punches with people whom I either had a relationship with as a friend or as a respected colleague and not worry about what their response was going to be. And with the lineup that we've had, which is a fairly significant lineup -- I know we've had Lebbon a couple of times, Brian Hodge, Piccirilli, Mark Morris, Mark Chadbourn -- there have definitely been a couple of times when people have been very unhappy with my editorial revisions request. Both times subsequently they've come back and said, "I'm really glad you made me do all that."
But once upon a time, when I was twenty-five years old or thirty years old, I probably wouldn't have been editing the way that I'm willing to edit now. I would have been afraid of stepping on toes. In the anthologies, I've edited some people whose work I hold in very high regard, because all of these things are perception. They're all subjective. And I have no hesitation now. I don't care if it's Guillermo del Toro or if it's Frank Darabont or if it's whoever, you have to do the job. So it's been a really positive growth and learning experience for me, as cheesy as that sounds.
Also I've found -- and again, this sounds a little cheesy -- that I'm really good at it. At seeing where everything connects, the strings and the structural elements and stuff like that. I actually really enjoy it. It appeals to me from a creative viewpoint. I would never want to do it instead of [writing], but if there were ever a time when there was an opportunity for me to be a freelance editor working on a line in a similar fashion, I would probably do it. I love books, I love to see sombody's work whom I'm not familiar with, I just read Lucy Snyder's first novel, and it's fucking great. It's really, really good, and it's so much fun. I blurbed her for it, but it was just such a pleasure to read, because I was going "Wow, this is really good."
So I've really enjoyed the process. It's an interesting thing.
GMR: That almost seems to come back to what we were talking about earlier, with the responsibility of the artist to their creations.
CG: In this case, I'm responsible to Mike. I can't let somebody slide because they're my friend or because I'm intimidated by them if they're a person whose work I hold in high regard. Not only is Mike my friend, but in this case, he's the employer, and I have a responsibility to him and to his creation not to let anything slide like that.
GMR: I don't want to steal any more of your NECON. You've been very gracious with your time.
CG: No problem. It was a lot of fun.
GMR: Any closing thoughts?
CG: I don't know. Do I have any closing thoughts? I don't think so. I'm doing a book this year that I think will be very appealing to the Green Man audience. It's a YA, and it's called When Rose Wakes, and I'll leave it at that.
GMR: Thank you very much.
CG: No problem