Monday, November 5, 2007

Q and A with Christie Golden: Metzen, Golden collaborated as 'Thrall's parents'

This is Part Two in a two part series of questions and answers with author Christie Golden from the Shadow Council community! You can read her introduction here, and the first part of the Q and A here. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Q. As an amateur writer myself, I understand it's quite easy to get the basic emotion down, but when I read the scene where Thrall saw Taretha's severed head, I felt like I was there, feeling his emotions course through me. How hard was it for you to portray those emotions that the future Orc Chieftan felt? --Callaghan

A. That's a tough one! All writers have strengths and weaknesses, I think--my strengths are dialogue and characterizations, especially when it comes to conveying emotions and being really "in" the character. My weakness is description, I had to work hard on that and it still is a challenge. I knew that part was coming, and I knew it would be really juicy to get into and I had to do it "right." I wanted to link up with the "tears" speech Taretha had said to Thrall earlier, that this was what first made this powerful, tough individual weep. Blackthorne saw it as a weakness, but really, the ability to love, to care about someone or something so deeply--that's a strength. Thrall took his pain and turned it into a weapon against his enemies, rather than being crippled by it. So knowing all that I did about Thrall, I really tried to dive into the character and feel it myself. I believe it was Robert Frost who said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader," and when I write something that gives me a lump in my throat, I know I've done my job well.

Q. When writing the story, did you have full creative control? Or was Blizzard (Or Chris Metzen) constantly in-touch, checking in on the story and making sure it was going as planned? Or in other words, were YOU able to create Thrall's past, or was it set in stone and Blizzard just needed a writer to bring it to words? --Callaghan

A. It's important to understand how tie-in fiction generally works, so that you all appreciate how remarkable my experience with Blizzard is. As I said earlier, it usually goes one way--from the product to the novelist. The way it works is generally an author submits an idea, it's approved, an outline is fleshed out, that's approved by both the publisher and the license holder, and then the author writes the book. Pretty much by herself, with no ability to contact anyone to get questions answered or so on. We do our best, and if there are problems (hopefully not) they get hashed out in the first draft. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but it can be frustrating if you have a question and have to put it in the book without knowing if it's what's wanted or not. From the very beginning, Chris Metzen made himself available to me. "LORD OF THE CLANS" had a very solid outline to start with, as it was a game that never got developed but that Chris had always wanted to see "live" in some form. So there were a lot of things that were indeed set in stone. However, we had discussions about the color of orc eyes and skin tones and blood hues.

Sometimes I'd have a big idea that most companies wouldn't want to implement...say, Thrall having a human adopted sister. :D Blizzard was more than happy to hear my input with an open mind. Chris is an author himself, so he understands that what makes a great game doesn't necessarily make for a great read, and vice verse, so he was willing to hear what I had to say. Too, I understand the needs of tie-in fiction, and I know that it's very different from writing one's one original storylines. It's much more collaborative, and because it's their property, they always (and should!) have the final say.

Chris and I jokingly refer to ourselves as "Thrall's parents." True story--the first time I saw the trailer for Warcraft III and saw the scene where Thrall bolts upright, blinking those blue eyes, I got tears in my eyes and exclaimed, "That's my boy!" And believe me, when I first ran Old Hillsbrad, I was pretty damn giddy. :)

Q. About the time of the release of Lord of the Clans, Shadow Council suddenly went from a medium capacity realm to a full and locked realm. A lot of people blamed this on the release of your novel, as you openly admitted to playing on Shadow Council. What do you have to say to this? --Thienna

A. Ah, indeed, I remember that quite well. All kinds of things led to the queues, the least of which was likely my dedicating the book to some RPers and thanking Shadow Council. Let's remember all that was going on at that point!

Naturally Pocket Books and Blizzard wanted a novel that would get people excited about the expansion to be published shortly before the expansion itself. Media tie-in books are a sort of advertising, and with Burning Crusade due out in January, a book out in December that was all about Draenor would fan the flame for sure. That was planned a long time ago--books take a while to get from contract to bookshelf. So, out comes "RISE OF THE HORDE" in December 2006 (I was in Australia at the time, I'm not sure of the exact pub date, but it was December for sure).

December is also Christmas time, and if I recall correctly, there was a special deal in which you could purchase World of Warcraft for $19.95 and get a free month....again, trying to get people into the game in time for Burning Crusade. And playing time cards for WoW make GREAT gifts--I've given out several in my day. So I'm sure a lot of people got those and renewed their membership because of it.

Finally, remember all those people who said "Bye for now, I'll be back for the expansion?" December was probably when they came back as well, to check on their characters and get them ready for the road to 70.

I have an ego like everyone else. It'd be awesome to think my book was so wildly popular that literally thousands of people had to come join Shadow Council just because of me and my mention of the server. I'd be writing this from my estate in Italy or something. But the numbers just don't support that. I remember the first time I had a queue--my husband jokingly said "It's all your fault!" and we laughed at the absurdity of such an idea. Remember, there are nine million people playing this game, and book sales, even WoW books, only number in the thousands. The percentage of people who then actually read a dedication is a tiny fragment of that. The percentage of people who read that dedication and took it to the point of rolling a character on Shadow Council because of it probably number in the...twenties. Seriously. And that's a generous estimate. For what it's worth, I've yet to get an email or hear from anyone who actually rolled on this server around that time solely because of that dedication.

So unfortunately, I think I ended up being a bit of a scapegoat because I had a name and face. People (including me, I sat in a queue along with everyone else) got frustrated at the lengthy queue times. Someone assumed the queues were because of the book and started a thread to vent their frustration, and others hopped on the bandwagon because a single person is easier to blame than something as nebulous as Christmas + expansion in a month + inexpensive original game. And I have to admit, I'm human--it stung a bit, particularly as the whole point of the dedication was to do something to thank the server. Ah, bitter irony! :) What was lovely about this situation was that there were people who realized early on that there were other factors involved in the queues and who came to my defense who didn't even know me personally. (Mahley, if you're reading this, no, it wasn't me who thanked you in game. But I'm thanking you and the others now!) And a bit later, a second thread came on the forums, and most of those who posted on it said that yes, looking back, it probably WAS Christmas and the Burning Crusade rather than my dedication, and yes, other servers were affected just as severely, some even worse.

However, I don't think I'll be mentioning specific servers in dedications again any time soon. *laughs*

Q. Reading both your novels about Thrall and his parents have given me a huge insight on Orcish mannerisms, the history of Outland before the Burning Legion, and of some stories I barely knew. Where did you find this information and what sort of resources did you use? They'd be handy for helping my Orcish guildmates! --Theinna

A. I'm glad you enjoyed that! The bad news is there's no real resources out there...because most of that I had the honor of being able to create myself. The good news is, it's all right there in "RISE OF THE HORDE." It's canon and you're free to use whatever appeals to you. I'm a big fan of myths and legends and I love learning about other cultures and history. I got to bring that to creating the orcs before they were corrupted and their culture so badly damaged. It was a lot of fun--the courtship hunt, the pool of the ancestors--all very enjoyable to ponder over and try to shape.

Q. What do you think of the Caverns of Time: Durnholde instance? If you were able to change anything about it, what would you do? (And did you notice the stack of books in Thrall's cell? Nifty!) --Theinna

A. Truly, I wouldn't change a single thing about the escape. I loved it! The actual escape in the book was not a very big scene although it was important, so it was fun to see the developers take a simple thing like using fire as a distraction and make something really major out of it. I have a shot of my character standing next to Thrall and Taretha. Hee hee! And yes...I saw the books. That made me smile. Another great example of Blizzard's attention to detail.

Q. Do you intend to write more about Thrall? There's so much up in the air about his and Jaina's relationship between the end of WC3 and the release of WoW that I know I'd love to see actually set down in writing. --Thienna

I'm very, very fond of Thrall. The cool thing about him is he's not just a good orc leader, or a good Horde leader--he's a good leader, plain and simple. He's reasoned and thougthful but he won't be pushed around. He has an understanding of other races than his own and knows when to compromise and when to stand firm. Nothing is definite yet, but I wouldn't rule out future explorations of such an interesting character.

Q. What first attracted you to role play in WoW?

A. Nice people RPing with me! I had started the game to play with some friends in February of 2005. This was the first video computer game I'd EVER played. ZOMG u nub, hehehe. We'd started on another server and never even attempted RP there; it never occurred to me to do so. I had a simple backstory for my character, but mostly, it was just playing the game. Though it was an RP server I never saw much RP there. When my friends and I decided to try the other faction, we took it to another server--Shadow Council. One evening, someone started RPing with me, and I RPed back, somewhat nervously (it's like being in improv theater!). It was so much fun that I embraced it whole heartedly. I met a wonderful circle of friends and we've all leveled together. That I enjoy RP, as an author, is not unexpected. What is a surprise to me is just how much I enjoy the game as a game. It's a lot of fun to play.

Find out more about Christie Golden's books at

Q and A with Christie Golden: 'Ink barely dry' on new Warcraft contract

This is Part One in a two part series of questions and answers with author Christie Golden from the Shadow Council community! Thank you to everyone who participated! You can read her introduction here. Stay tuned this week for the rest of the Q and A!

Q. What is your favorite in-game silly? --Zothique

A. Haha! I like the female gnome silly, "I apologize for any inconvenience my murderous rampage may have caused." And I like the female human flirt, "I need a hero." But then again, the Tauren female "laughed so hard I milked all over the floor" is pretty hilarious too...obviously, I play a lot of races. And classes. There's just a lot out there to experience.

Q. Will you be writing any more WoW books? --Kinu, Moonguard

A. A resounding yes. The ink is barely dry on a contract I've signed for a Warcraft trilogy! I'll be working on that over the next year and a half.We haven't nailed down specifics yet, but from initial conversations with Chris, I can tell you I'm very, VERY excited about this. I truly do love the game, and Blizzard has been very supportive of me and my work. I'm a very lucky writer!

Q. How much of The Burning Crusade did you get to have input on? Were you given access to beta builds in order to build your story, or was it more that Outland was built around your story? --Hectara

A. I was brought in before all of it was nailed down, but when a lot of it was also already in place. So we really worked together a great deal on certain aspects. I was given some concept art and the ability to query about specific things, and encouraged to go all out when creating ritual, customs, creatures and so on. When the first draft was done, Chris Metzen told me he had had it printed out and given to the developers. They particularly liked the idea of the Ata'mal crystals and some of the creatures I created.

I was invited to play in Alpha and Beta and I remember well the quest in which a draenei says "By the Seven Ata'amal Crystals!" Even more fun was when I got to Outland and saw clefthooves and olemba trees. And when I saw someone riding a talbuk, you could have knocked me over with a feather I was so surprised. They never let on they'd done that! They like to surprise me with things. I think the talbuks look really cool! I have one of my own now! And no, Blizzard didn't just give it to me, I did a lot of ogre-killing just like everyone else. :)

While Blizzard had created the idea of Oshu'gun, I got to flesh it out more, and then in turn continued to develop it based on the directions I'd gone in the game. So while they definitely made most of it, I felt very welcome in "interweaving," and it was a huge kick to see things I'd specifically created envisioned by the designers. It was a real collaboration in certain areas. What I'd like to stress is how rare such things are. Usually things go in one direction in media tie-ins--from the product (a game, a movie, a TV show) to the authors doing novels. What we do is hardly ever considered "canon." I thought I had been lucky and honored when I learned that Taretha's necklace was part of a quest can imagine how pleased I was to see talbuks, clefthooves, and Old Hillsbrad.

Q. I read on your website that you got started by shopping around a manuscript of your own, and while it didn't sell, you made excellent contacts. Was that the first piece you wrote publicly? Or did you submit stories to fanfic magazines, or perhaps do other non-profit work first? --Vulpecula, Ysera

A. You know, most authors have a manuscript lying around that they cut their teeth on but that never got published. It's so common a thing that there's a term for it--"Trunk novel." Because you lock it away in a trunk and hope your descendants never decide to publish it. That was the first piece of fiction I wrote, yes. Interestingly enough, while that book was never published, I did sell two novels set in that world, "INSTRUMENT OF FATE" and "KING'S MAN AND THIEF." I had twelve books planned in that series--I was ambitious! Who knows, maybe I'll revisit that world someday. Prior to that, however, I'd had a lot of experience selling non-fiction because I'd worked for USA Today as well as two other magazines as an editor and contributor. I never did do any fanfic, unless you count the Star Trek scripts I covertly wrote in my math classes in junior high school.

Q. Do you have any advice for new writers just starting out? --Vulpecula

A. Write. It sounds flip, but it isn't. Set aside a time and place to write and do it regularly. Investigate the benefits of outlining (and by that, I don't mean the A) 1, a) b) stuff, I mean summarizing your storyline.) It's not for everyone, but it can save you so much time and headaches if you can adapt yourself to it. Nothing worse then getting halfway through a novel and petering out because you took a wrong plot turn around page 50. Tony Hillerman just goes--my mind boggles, I need an outline. Give this the importance it deserves. Make a little ritual of it... maybe you play certain music, or light certain candles (scent is a BIG part of memory). Your brain will start to recognize these signals and drop into "writing mode" more quickly and easily. Read a wonderful book called "Bird By Bird," by Anne Lamott. Realize that you will get rejection letters, and some of them will be nasty. Attend science fiction conventions and writer's conferences. But in the end...just keep writing.