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Code Name: Golden - A Conversation with X-MEN Author Christopher Golden
Code Name Wolverine comes out in paperback on May 1.
By Denise Dumars
April 05, 2000
The X-Men film may not be out until July 14, but Christopher Golden is already excited. After all, the paperback version of his X-Men novel, X-MEN: CODE NAME WOLVERINE, will be out May 1. 'Of all the media tie-in stuff I've done, it's one of the books I'm proudest of,' says the author of several BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER books. 'It's an espionage novel. Wolverine has a mysterious past...he was a member of a covert operations group during the Cold War. So I have a story that takes place twenty years ago behind the Iron Curtain, and in the present day. And it flashes back and forth between those two things. It features a wide array of characters from the Marvel universe, not just the X-Men. It has the Black Widow, Banshee from Generation X, Sabre Tooth, Mystique, Nick Fury...that's all I can think of at the moment!'
Golden describes the book as being a spy novel with superheroes. 'Wolverine and a group that was referred to then as Team X were involved in a covert op during the Cold War that resulted in certain deaths, and now the repercussions of that act are coming back to haunt them.'
Golden has a long history with the X-Men, and he explains their appeal for him. 'I've really enjoyed working on the X-Men books because I was a big fan of the comics when I was a kid. The X-Men are interesting because they're painted on a grander scale than most comics. It's really a big metaphor for racial or gender or sexual preference or creed bigotry. They are Homo Sapiens Superior; they are the next evolutionary stage of humanity, but they all have certain abilities or appearances that make them different from the rest of humankind, so not only are they discriminated against, but they are also universally hated because they are dangerous. Professor Xavier, who will be played by Patrick Stewart in the film, is very much the Martin Luther King of the X-Men universe. His archenemy, Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, is the Malcolm X of that universe. In fact, when I wrote MUTANT EMPIRE, which is the big trilogy that I did when I first wrote about the X-Men, that was how I interpreted those two characters, and the entire trilogy examined the difference between their two philosophies.'
As much as this reader loves the name of Magneto's group, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Golden shies away from it. 'I tried to avoid it in the book because throwing the word 'evil' in there is just silly. It works in comic books, but in no other medium.' When I point out that certain fictional characters should be proud of being evil, like Spike is in BUFFY, Golden laughs. 'Magneto would be the founder of the Brotherhood. That's what they would call it; Magneto's original version of it was disbanded years ago. Other people have had different versions of it, and he currently has a group of followers called the Acolytes, although that won't be reflected in the movie.'
Golden has seen no spoilers on the film. 'All I've seen are the coming attractions. I know that Joss Whedon, the creator of BUFFY, did a pass on the script and apparently they chose not to use a good portion of what he had done. And knowing that Joss is a big comics fan and hearing from his right-hand man about many of the things Joss wanted to add to the movie, I was very disappointed to hear about that. He was trying to get to the essence of the characters, and I hope the movie accomplishes that.'
Golden waxes poetic about the X-Men. 'The guy who made the X-Men what they are today is Chris Claremont. He's a good writer, but when he does X-Men he's a great writer. About 10 years ago he had creative differences with Marvel and departed the X-Men titles after many years. He really defined all those characters and their relationships; he co-created many of them. Over time, without Chris, the books degenerated. The editors of the X-books decided that they were going to make the decisions on what would happen in the titles, plot-wise and everything like that. The books became disjointed and slack. All of that changed recently--because Chris Claremont is now back on the X-Men.'
Speaking of comics, Golden tells of a unique court battle now being waged over a popular comics title by a popular writer. 'Marv Wolfman, who created BLADE, is in the midst of a court battle with Marvel Comics, because he claimed he never signed any documents that agreed to a work-for-hire status. If he wins, that's gonna open the floodgates. I'm gonna be considered a heretic by a lot of people for saying this, but the work-for-hire system is wrong, and that has always been the status quo. However, he worked on that comic book for 70 issues. And I have no doubt that all that time he knew that he was working for hire, and only because they made a successful movie of BLADE is he pursuing any legal recourse. I'm not saying the work for hire system is something that doesn't need to be torn down; it does. We all get screwed in this.'
This reminds Golden of another problem that almost all writers face. He now launches into a litany that any writerthis interviewer includedcan empathize with. 'I can't tell you how often I've been stolen from. You remember the TV show FOREVER KNIGHT?' he asks, and then drops a bombshell. 'I've never told this story in an interview before. I'll simply tell the story, and you can draw your own conclusions. The first novel I ever wrote is called OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS; it's a vampire novel. When I was a senior in college at Tufts I wanted to get involved in either the publishing or the film and television industry. So I called alumni working in those fields. One of the people I called was Eric Tannenbaum, who was working at that time at New World Pictures. I had a conversation with him, and he was very nice, and I told him about my novel. I told him it was about a PI who was a vampire--a good vampire--working on cases, trying to make up for the fact that he was a vampire, and he was about the only good vampire and his best friend was the coroner and that's who got him the blood, who stole blood from the hospital for him. I hadn't gotten any further in the book than that. I'd only written about the first 80 pages.
'Literally 8 weeks later, I read VARIETY and New World had just announced that they're making a two-hour TV movie called NICK KNIGHT, starring Rick Springfield, which is about a vampire detective whose best friend is a coroner who steals from the hospital to provide for him, etc. And the producer of that TV movie was Eric Tannenbaum. And that TV movie went on to be a TV series, FOREVER KNIGHT, which is books and merchandise and etc. In the course of this conversation I have made no claims, but you can draw from that what conclusions you will.'
This is an all-too common story in Hollywood, kids.
STRANGEWOOD is Golden's most current original novel. It's about T.J. Randall, a guy who writes children's books; as such, the book is an oddity, in that the beginning of this horror novel enmeshes the reader in a children's fantasy. 'HARRY POTTER hadn't come out in America when I was writing this book,' Golden says. 'There's a lot of A. A. Milne and a lot of C. S. Lewis in the world he's created. I went out of my way to try to create something that was truly odd.'
What kind of a novel was Golden setting out to write with STRANGEWOOD? 'I was in the midst of an interview with a friend of mine for CEMETERY DANCE, and we were talking about my son, who at the time was about 2 1/2. I had bought about 25 WINNIE THE POOH tapes, and we had watched them for hours and hours and hours for months and months and months. I told my friend, 'I love POOH, but I'm at the point where I'd love to see armored riders on horseback ride into the Hundred-Acre Wood, skin the fuckers and burn the trees.' And as soon as I said it, I thought, ain't that the greatest idea? Thus far I've never done anything that I'm as proud of as I am of STRANGEWOOD. I humbly assert that it succeeds on more levels than anything I've ever been involved with. There's an intimacy and a interpersonal content amongst the characters in the book that resonates more and more. While it's about children's books and the kinds of things we teach our children and the kind of entertainment we provide them with, and as such has childish aspects to it, it's also the most mature thing I've ever done.'
Perhaps exemplifying the fact that publishing still looks askance at horror titles, STRANGEWOOD was published as a paperback by Signet. 'I had hoped that Signet would buy STRANGEWOOD and publish it in hardcover as a mainstream novel,' says the author. 'As far as I'm concerned, that's what it is. It's horror and it's dark fantasy but also it's a novel about people and how these extraordinary things effect their ordinary lives. 'I'm hoping a limited edition hardcover will come out' my hope is that one of these days it will happen.'
The cover of the book mentions that Golden won the Stoker award. 'The first book I ever did was a nonfiction book called CUT: HORROR WRITERS ON HORROR FILM, way back in 1991 or 1992. I won the Stoker for nonfiction! Ever since then, the publishers put 'Winner of the Bram Stoker Award' on the backs of the books.' CUT: HORROR WRITERS OF HORROR FILM is currently out of print, but it's a fine book of film commentary that deserves to come out again.
'STRANGEWOOD made the preliminary Stoker ballot, but I can't imagine it will make the final ballot. The competition is ruthless this year! I'm happy to just be on there, though. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is on there, and it's brilliant. MR. X is a great book, and it probably will win. I looked at the list and said, 'Oh, hell, I don't have a chance!''
When publishers don't promote a book, it can get all but lost on the shelf, even when great writers give it great blurbs. 'Peter [Straub] read STRANGEWOOD and sent me a great quote. Kevin J. Anderson and F. Paul Wilson gave me great quotes, and I have notes from Gahan Wilson and some other people, and that's great but it's like, well, what about all the other people? That's the tough part,' Golden says, referring to how difficult it is to get a title to capture the book-buying public's eye.
STRANGEWOOD, unlike the stereotype some have of genre fiction, is a character-driven novel. In it, a man must save his son when he is kidnapped into a world that everyone had thought fictional. 'STRANGEWOOD is actually a three-generation book. The influence of the main character's father is felt deeply over the course of the book, and that's something you're unaware of at first. I really think that I looked at relationships and the way things echoes through people's lives. The plot is important and fun, but the horror and fantasy elements of the book are primarily important for the way in which they affect the characters. In my vampire series, which I still enjoy greatly, I think those stories are intended to have the reader go, 'whoa,' to the story and the action, whereas in STRANGEWOOD if I get the reader to go 'whoa' I hope it's an emotional reaction. I want people to cry when they read STRANGEWOOD. When I get email from people who've said they cried when one character died, and then cried again the second time, then I've succeeded.'
Also new from Golden is MEETS THE EYE, part of the 'Body of Evidence' series of thrillers from Pocket Pulse, an imprint aimed at the true young adult--age 16 to 24, as opposed to the category 'young adult,' which is actually aimed at much younger readers. ''Body of Evidence' was developed in conjunction with Pocket as a first salvo in their effort to blow out a new segment of readership. The YA category was initially aimed at an older audience than it's currently aimed at, and over time it's been sliding. Now, YA is essentially 10-14. So 'Body of Evidence' was an effort to aim something at the teen audience. In some ways it launched the Pulse line. The first book shipped twice as many copies as the average non-media-tie-in book from Pocket. It's been optioned by Viacom for television. It's not horror, but it is horrific. There's nothing supernatural in the books, but there's something weird in each of them.'
MEETS THE EYE is a zombie story, but not a supernatural one. 'They're zombies made in the traditional of SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW,' Golden says of the film based on Wade Davis's ground-breaking study of the pharmacological properties of Haitian zombie powder. MEETS THE EYE is the fourth book in the series about Jenna Blake, a college student who works as a pathology assistant. 'As of book six, which I'm currently writing, Rick Hautala is coming on to co-write the series, at least for two or three books, which is great, because I've always wanted to work with him and I think his style is a perfect fit with what I'm trying to do with the series.'
The first 'Body of Evidence' novel, BODY BAGS, came out in May 1999. Three months later came THIEF OF HEARTS, and then in November, SOUL SURVIVOR. 'The fifth book will be HEAD GAMES, out in June. We were doing them every three months, but now we're spreading them out more. I can write a 'Body of Evidence' book in eight weeks. I work 35-70 hours a week on my writing.
'I'm about to start writing the first book in another series for Pocket, which is called PROWLERS,' he adds, 'which is an out-and-out supernatural horror series I'm starting for them. It's also gonna be Pocket Pulse.'
So, is horror back, perhaps? 'As far as I'm concerned, horror never went away. But we have to look at it in a more realistic way, from a publisher's stance. I don't think THE SIXTH SENSE made horror come back. But I think that savvy publishers and editors and filmmakers are going to have to start realizing that this audience never left. R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike--for better or worse--created a whole new generation of people receptive to this kind of material. However, there was a glut ten years ago of absolute dross, and it turned off a generation of readers. That generation is still there waiting for the good stuff.
Golden also writes comic books and nonfiction. 'I'm placing a moratorium on nonfiction books for awhile, because this last one was a real ball-buster. I found myself with these varied careers as a writer, and I don't want to give any of them up. So it's a question of juggling, slowing down, being choosier. 1999 was an unbelievable busy year for me; early 2000 has been busy. I have two reprints coming out: the paperbacks of CODE NAME: WOLVERINE and the Buffy book IMMORTAL [cowritten with Nancy Holder].'
Golden is still also writing Buffy books. He has a new hardcover coming out in October called SPIKE AND DRU: PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW. 'It's a solo novel. It is an historical horror novel set in 1940 with Spike and Drusilla as the protagonists, although they're as evil as they've ever been, and it does not have Buffy. It has the Council of Watchers, and has a Slayer, and it explores the mythology, but it does not have any of the other Buffy characters. I'm excited about that. In late summer 2001, is a thing called BUFFY THE LOST SLAYER. And it's going to be a serial novel, like THE GREEN MILE. The story explores one possible horrible dystopian near-future of Buffy and the gang that results from something that she does that she obviously shouldn't have done.'
Nancy Holder, who collaborated with Golden on several Buffy books, is not cowriting with him for the foreseeable future. 'We had over-committed. When we started these books, we were not nearly as busy as we are now. We worked it out, but as we got to IMMORTAL, we had committed ourselves beyond the pale. At that point, it pretty much fell apart. We knew we had to stop and get a little bit more control over our time. For the moment, we have nothing scheduled, but I wouldn't say we'd never work together again.'
Golden will be at DragonCon in Atlanta; at Necon in Rhode Island; which Golden calls 'Summer camp for horror professionals'; and the big comics convention in Chicago. 'I'm curtailing travel this year,' he says, and it's no wonder, with a writing schedule like this. 'I have another horror-fantasy I'm working on for Signet, called STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING. It's in a similar vein with STRANGEWOOD. It's my coming of age book. This book takes place in the summer of 1981, because that's when I turned 14. Almost everything in the first half of the book really happened.'
Stay tuned. Your horror bookshelf will not go begging for a new Christopher Golden book for some time to come.