|A Conversation with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon|
| January 2006 |
Tim Lebbon: Hi Chris, good to see you again. While I get the beers in -- and you're trying a real British real ale, I insist -- here's a question for you to to mull over: The Myth Hunters is very overtly fantasy, yet it seems to be tied to 'this world' by its use of recognised fantasy creatures. Why is this?
Regarding The Myth Hunters, I'd say that's fairly true, though it goes deeper than that. The story begins in the real world and returns there over and over again throughout the trilogy, which is called The Veil. The thing is, on the other side of the Veil are all the creatures of folklore and legend from all of the world's cultures, or at least, the ones that have survived. But, also, there are loads of people over there, and they're those who've disappeared from this world, or their descendants. So, in addition to giants and the Sandman and Jack Frost and Kitsune and Blue Jay and Jezi-Baba, there are the offspring of Amelia Earhardt and the Mayans and the lost colony of Roanoke. Your real question, though, is why.
When I write fantasy -- all of it dark -- I need a bridge to get there. I've rarely written fantasy that doesn't begin in the real world or at least have significant roots there. It's not that I don't enjoy reading that sort of story, but as a writer, I want to get my hooks into the reader as deeply as I can, and I find that the real world connections and settings, the characters they can really identify with, give me the bridge I need for that. It allows me to feel more intimately knowledgeable about my characters, and hopefully that means we'll all care more about them.
Now, to the question: I don't think any fantasy world is invented from the ground up. There has to be a rooting in reality, and generally it's that the characters are human. They may look, talk and act strangely -- they may have differing religions, social hierarchies, race histories, and unfeasibly large ears -- but they're essentially humans in a strange world. That's where the reader's acceptance comes in: they read about these strange new characters, but there's still love and death, war and hate, birth and betrayal. It would be very, very difficult writing a fantasy novel concerning slug creatures that don't interact, talk or fight wars, wouldn't it?
And so to Dusk and Dawn... The books contain new religions, creatures, races of humans, geographies, drugs, food, drinks and histories... but the main characters are very humans in their actions. That said, I had great fun building this world, because it was immensely liberating not being constrained by the world we know. I could write about tumblers, which resemble sentient tumbleweed. I could write about fledge mines, where the mind-transferring drug fledge is excavated by fledgers who spend their whole lives below ground. I could even mess with the laws of physics! I loved it!
Now, research for The Myth Hunters must have been a bugger! You've tied in mythologies from several cultures, did you spend a lot of time immersing yourself in myths and legends from around the world?
What I truly relish when writing this series, though, is the opportunity to take bits of folklore and embellish, taking and creating what I need for this story, sometimes crashing disparate legends together to make one thing, or a new version. For instance, in the world of The Veil, there's the Sandman -- and the various facets of his legend, including the Dustman and La Dormette and Wee Willie Winkee and all of that -- and then there are the Sandmen, which are a bunch of Red Caps (aka Bloody Caps), who went to work for him a long time ago in an effort to save their own butts and help sanitize his legend.
But there's a lot more to it besides, and much of the landscapes and events in the novels are also influenced by my love of, and concern for nature. The basic jist of the novels is that magic has been withdrawn from humanity because of misuse, and the land is now winding down. In a way, I guess this reflects my concern over the environment, although that's certainly not the main thrust of the novel. Another influence: my fiction often contains characters that are both good and bad -- emphasising the idea that there's no dark or light, only different shades of grey -- and that's an idea I enjoyed exploring deeper than ever in Dusk. One of my main characters is a thief who has been caught and punished. A criminal, but ultimately a good man.
Now then, you've said that The Myth Hunters is probably more of a fantasy novel than anything you've ever written, although in novels from The Ferryman to Wildwood Road there's always been that fantastical, other-worldly element. It seems to me that with The Veil you're actually constucting more of an alternate world than ever before, rather than simply dipping into an alternate reality in the other novels. Was this a fun thing for you to do? Was there a sense of creative freedom in doing this? And how 'alive' did that world feel for you?
Yet I also think -- and to finally get around to answering your question (that's what taking me to a pub will get you) -- that the world of The Veil is unique, because it's uniquely me. It's been perhaps the hardest work of any fiction I've ever written, and yet also the most fun, and both of those things spring from the total creative freedom that comes when you've got a world where literally EVERYTHING is true, in some ways, and anything is possible. As to how "alive" the world felt... let's just say this: alive enough that characters NOT in the outline keep appearing in the story, writing themselves in, and completely altering it.
One of the major, pivotal characters in the tale was not in the outline, and in the fourth or fifth chapter she literally just walks up and inserts herself in the story, and pretty soon forced me to jettison the entire structure of the various romantic entanglements that were in the outline, and create on the fly. And she's just one of numerous characters who have made themselves important to the story. Items that might have been a paragraph have stretched to chapters. I love this sort of thing in writing because if I don't know what's going to happen next, chances are pretty good the reader won't either.
The Myth Hunters also contains a mystery/detective sort of element. Did you find this more reality-based thread difficult to weave into a story that's primarily fantasy? And does it continue throughout the trilogy?
At first he thinks that Oliver murdered his own father and then took off, but the more he looks at the case -- and when other horrible murders similar to the elder Bascombe's come to light -- the more Halliwell becomes determined to find the answers, even if they take him places he never dreamed. And yes, the connection to the real world continues throughout the story, with characters traveling back and forth across the Veil, and repercussions on the real world echoing throughout.
And so, onto the characters from Dusk. They're a mixed and varied bunch. In the planning stages of the novel -- which consisted of an idea, a theme and a few pages of notes -- I had a rough idea of the two main characters I wanted to write about: Rafe and Kosar. Rafe is the young, naïve farm boy in whom magic once again seeds itself, prior to blossoming out into the world once more. I wanted to use someone like him for this because he knows so little about Noreela -- he's never even left his home valley -- and so it's a voyage of discovery for him as well as the reader. Kosar is a thief, but he's a good man (that moral grey area again). He has no real place in society -- ironically, mainly because his thief's brands mark him as someone who was caught -- and even though he's settled in Rafe's village for a while, deep in his heart he's still adrift. He's cynical and downbeat, but in reality he starts to enjoy the adventure thrust upon him. It gets him travelling again. Gives him purpose.
And then once I started writing the book several other main characters introduced themselves, pretty similar to your own experience with The Myth Hunters. Hope, a witch and a whore, is a woman who's spent her long life looking for signs of magic. She's mad, and dangerous, and pretty single-minded. There's Alishia, a librarian whose entire knoweldge of Noreela comes from her reading. There's A'Meer, Kosar's ex-lover, who to my surprise revealed herself to be much more than even Kosar ever believed. And then Trey, the fledge miner who has spent his whole life living underground, mining the strange drug fledge that allows the user to project their mind. His own life is violently interrupted by magic's miniscule reappearance in the world, when the deadly fledge demons -- the Nax -- wake up and attack his community. And one of my favourites is Lenora, the battle-scarred warrior of the Mages. She's very, very mean, and she became so much more integral to the whole vast story than I ever guessed.
I think something that's true of virtually all of my characters is that they start the novel alone, victim's of nature's decline and the apathy that engenders, but they all change a huge amount throughout the two books. They become friends, whole people, and they all find a common cause that gives them hope.
The night before the wedding comes the first snowfall of the year, a real doozy. That night, from the blizzard, there comes a creature made of ice, wounded and in need of his help. It's Frost. Jack Frost. He's being hunted by a monster called The Falconer and if Oliver does not help him, he will die.
Numb with disbelief, Oliver doesn't know what to do, but he ends up helping . . . and is dragged through the Veil into another world, where ancient "lost" civilizations still exist, where Amelia Earhardt opened a bar and started a family, where every bit of legend and folklore is real. The thing is, Frost is one of a special breed, called Borderkind, who can move back and forth across the Veil. But humans are NEVER supposed to do that. Those who slip through, the Lost Ones, are touched by the Veil's magic and can never return. But because Frost brought Oliver through, he CAN go back. And that makes him an Intruder. A fugitive.
So while Frost is trying to figure out why the Myth Hunters are slaughtering the Borderkind and who's behind that conspiracy, Oliver is being hunted with him, and also has a death warrant sworn out for him throughout the Two Kingdoms beyond the Veil. And that's only the beginning.
When an ancient horror is released after centuries and slips back into the human world, Oliver's loved ones are in terrible danger, and the more he learns about this new world the more he realizes that no one can be fully trusted and nothing is what it seems.
Now, the oddness to which you allude -- am I odd? I don't know. Lots of the people I mix with in my part-time day job spend their lives supporting teams of blokes who kick a leather ball around a big field, drinking bad gassy lager like Budweiser, watching soap operas and believing all the characters are real, arguing about who has got the fastest car, and the only books they're likely to read are autobiographies by nineteen-year-old 'celebrities' who earned their fame by stripping naked in a reality TV show. And you call me odd? Now, if I didn't manage to write and get all these ideas down on paper, then I believe I'd rapidly turn to oddness. Oh yes.
I was always the odd kid, but mostly in my head. Not that others didn't think me strange, but I didn't look the part. Never shaved my head or got tattooed or went goth or punk or anything of the sort. I suspect that's because I never felt different. I just didn't understand why everyone else didn't also think all of this cool shit was... cool.
I dragged my friends into the bookstore every single time we went out. My mother held a seance at one of my birthday parties. I tried reading my friends scary stuff out loud by candlelight at another -- can you even begin to imagine how embarrassing? Yes, they teased me, but not nearly as much as you can imagine. For the most part, they understood how much I loved all the weird stuff.
At the same time, I think I might have been prevented from being even more odd by the fact that none of my friends were interested. Always wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, but NEVER got the chance, because I didn't know a single other person who would play. As for a single book or film that set me on the path, if anything, it would be the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which ran only twenty episodes in the U.S. That show had a huge influence on me.
Then there was Marvel Comics' Tomb of Dracula and the local monster/horror movie showcase, Creature Feature (which on Saturdays was Creature Double Feature). Creature Feature gave me everything from Universal and Hammer and Toho monster movies to classic 50s science fiction, to The Day of the Triffids, really anything you can think of. In books, a bit later than Kolchak and Tomb of Dracula, it was the works of Stephen King and the horror short story anthologies, Shadows, edited by Charles L. Grant. Those two guys laid the groundwork for me, for everything that would come after.
I was nervous; I thought I'd watch it and be disappointed. But later that evening he and I dimmed the lights, and I'm delighted to admit that it scared the living crap out of me once again, a quarter of a century after first watching it. Other TV shows contributed: Doctor Who, Children of the Stones, Tales of the Unexpected, many more. As for books, I started off reading mystery books, moved on to Willard Price's Adventure series, then when I was nine years old I read The Rats by James Herbert. That warped my impressionable young mind, make no mistake, and here I am today! My family have always been great about what I do, my friends also. In fact one of my best friends from the age of eleven onward is a sreenwriter and novelist, and he and I share many of the same macabre interests.
Dusk hits January 31st. Tell me about the follow up, Dawn, and everything else you've got coming up.
Also next year I'll have several novellas out, including an e-serial downloadable from my website at www.noreela.com. This will be an original novella set in the world of Noreela, and it'll be published by Necessary Evil Press. Other novellas include a new instalment of the Assassin Series from Necessary Evil Press, and a novella in an anthology called "And Death Followed With Them." I'll be doing some screenplay work too, and I'm hoping to be writing another novel set in Noreela. I'm also hoping to find a few hours to sleep around September.
Meanwhile, earlier this year I wrote two novellas that will be out soon. One The Shell Collector, hits shortly from Cemetery Dance, and the other, a short novel called Bloodstained Oz that I've co-written with James A. Moore, will be out from Earthling Publications to coincide with the World Horror Convention in the spring.
Tim Lebbon: Hear that? Last call. They'll be kicking us out soon. You're a big bloke, Chris, I don't think I can carry you, so close one eye and concentrate! Hey, do you think we should talk about the project we're working on together next year? Nah ... maybe not. Let's leave that for another evening. Hic!
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