Interview: Christopher Golden: BALTIMORE and so much more!
by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 31 August 2007 /
Although we interviewed Christopher Golden in February 2006, the man simply will not rest-- there is always more to discuss, always new projects in the works.
With the new release Baltimore: Or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, Chris teams up with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola for a very alternate World War I fable of monster-hunting and fighting the supernatural in the last century.
SFRevu: Tell us a little about BALTIMORE. From the subtitle, should I figure it's based on the "Steadfast Tin Soldier" story by Hans Christian Andersen...?
Chris Golden: Actually, it's not based on the Andersen story at all, but thematically, it does mirror The Steadfast Tin Soldier quite a bit. Mike Mignola found some inspiration in the way his original ideas for the story were echoed when the Andersen story was added as a kind of undercurrent. We riffed off of it a great deal but that's mostly in the background.
Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire is about a young army officer early in World War One (or this alternate history version of WWI) who leads his men into a nighttime slaughter. He's the only survivor, but when he regains consciousness, before dawn, these carrion creatures are feasting on the dead. Baltimore fends one off, scarring it with a bayonet, and in doing so, awakens an ancient evil that has been more or less hibernating for a very long time. In the same moment, he earns the enmity of a bitterly vengeful vampire and that creature sets out to ruin Baltimore's life. That's really just a summary of the first chapter.
Beyond that, it features three men in an inn, all of whom knew Baltimore at different times of his life and have had supernatural experiences of their own. Through them, we learn how this young man became a grim, legendary figure, even as they wonder why they have been called here to meet him.
SFRevu: This isn't the first time you've worked with Mike Mignola (or is it?); you've done many novels and short stories set in the Hellboy universe. How was this project different?
Chris:I've written three Hellboy novels, edited two Hellboy anthologies, co-written the first BPRD miniseries, and am the consulting editor on the Hellboy series of novels.
But all of that is quite a bit different from what happened here. While Mike has put a lot of faith in me with Hellboy-related things, those are work for hire projects. I'm a hired gun on all of that stuff.
With Baltimore, Mike had 85% of the story worked out and knew so much of what he wanted visually and tonally, but he knew he would never do it as a graphic novel and that to do it as a novel, he would need a collaborator.
We're very different people, but have a great deal in common when it comes to our influences and interests, and we talk about our respective work often, so working together turned out to be very smooth.
SFRevu: Do you have a favorite character in BALTIMORE?
Chris: Aside from Baltimore himself, I'd have to say Dr. Lemuel Rose. He's a very odd guy and, visually, very interesting, a small man with missing fingers, smoking incessantly. I've described him with fox-like features and reddish hair, but in my mind, now, he's a Paul Giamatti character.
SFRevu: What motivates you as a storyteller? Is there anything in particular that lights your creative fires?
Chris: Everything. The ideas come from dreams, from happenstance or inspiration, from effort and research. They just happen. Though I love a good high concept idea, more and more I'm interested in characters, in who they are and how changing their circumstances changes who they are. I'm interested in what people believe about the world and themselves, which dovetails nicely with my passion for folklore and mythology. I'm pursuing the latter more and more, but coming at it from non-traditional angles.
SFRevu: You've worked primarily in horror (or its sub-genres). What is horror all about for you? Do you prefer certain kinds of horror over others?
Chris: Actually, most of my work has been in a kind of gray area between fantasy and horror. Even things like Of Saints and Shadows, which is ostensibly a vampire novel, is about examining a certain set of legends and sort of subverting them.
As a reader, I love mystery and suspense novels, and of course horror and fantasy as well, but what I like best is when something doesn't fit comfortably in any of those categories. My favorite mystery novels have something in common with my favorite fantasy or horror novels, I think, which is that they're about characters who are forged and changed and driven by their environment.
That's not to say that I don't enjoy horror novels. I do. I think horror is the most versatile genre, because within its parameters you can write so many different kinds of stories. What bores me is when people write horror but confine themselves only to one kind of horror story--the typical story, the one everyone else is writing. The same can be said for fantasy and mystery.
Now, I have things I want to do with mystery and suspense novels in the future, and I wrote a ten book teen thriller series called Body of Evidence that has no supernatural elements at all. But horror is about fear, and fear is often fear of monsters (fear of the unknown) or fear of monstrosity (which could be the behavior of ourselves or others, or of physical monstrosity in ourselves our others). If that's the sort of horror that appeals to me, you could take that thread and follow it all the way through much of what I like in suspense, mystery, fantasy, you name it. It's all very human.
Sometimes I just like a good monster story, but horror is most effective to me when it explores grief or sorrow or hope--something intimate.
SFRevu: THE BORDERKIND has just recently been released, the sequel to The Myth Hunters. When we left off, Oliver and his companions were dealing with a murderous Sandman. How are they faring in this new volume?
Chris: They're screwed, man. Read the book. :) In The Borderkind, Oliver begins to discover that maybe he's more capable of looking after himself than he's ever realized. His sister is in the clutches of the Sandman, the Borderkind are all trying to figure out who's slaughtering them, and the whole conspiracy ties together in ways that are going to make them more and more screwed, both in our world and beyond the Veil.
I take Oliver apart...and then in the third one, The Lost Ones, which comes out in March, I take him apart some more, then put him back together again, but the pieces don't fit quite the same way. They never do.
SFRevu: You've also written several MENAGERIE novels with Tom Sniegoski. Do these books (and the co-writing element) give you a chance to flex new muscles as a writer? What is co-writing like, and what are the benefits/drawbacks?
Chris: I always say writing is a solitary occupation and I'm not a solitary person. Collaborative novels, with few exceptions, are never as personal as those I've written on my own. But they can be a lot more fun. The Menagerie series is the best example of that.
Sniegoski and I talk every weekday morning and have been doing so for a dozen years or so. These are characters who've been developed over the course of those years and stories we have just had a blast writing. I don't know about flexing new muscles, but there is a certain challenge to every collaboration, which is in getting a book to sound like it was written by one author instead of two.
Also, when Tom and I write the Menagerie series, it's about entertaining each other, one-upping each other, coming up with something every chapter that makes the other one go, "hey, that's pretty cool." As much as we want to do more Menagerie novels, we'd also really love to do a comic book series with the characters. Maybe that'll come about someday.
SFRevu: What's coming next?
Chris: Next? A nap, I think. There's a great line in M*A*S*H where Hawkeye says that when the war is over, he's going to go home and sleep for a year, and then go over to Europe and sleep there for six months. That sounds good to me.
In reality, of course, there are more novels, plus a bunch of movie and TV stuff percolating. Tim Lebbon and I have written a novel together called Mind the Gap that will be out from Bantam in May, I think. I've recently finished a teen supernatural thriller called Poison Ink that will be out next July.
SFRevu: What advice would you give a wannabe novelist? Chris: Finish. Stop talking about writing, or blogging about writing, or angsting about writing. Sit down and finish a novel. THEN worry about editors and agents and publishers.
SFRevu: Great advice. And it's always great talking with Chris. Look for BALTIMORE, in stores now--and look for our review of THE BORDERKIND, coming soon!