CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN, author of THE MYTH HUNTERS, and TIM LEBBON, author of DUSK, have a few pints too many and chat about their upcoming Bantam Spectra releases . . .
Interview with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
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 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?
GOLDEN: First of all, Tim, last time we were together, you and your mates were drinking Budweiser, so let’s not talk about real British ale. Heh heh. Budweiser. All of that respect I had for Brit pubs is out the window, amigo. 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.
GOLDEN: Woo. That was long-winded. How about that ale, now? And while I’m quenching my thirst, I’ll turn the tables on you. With DUSK and its sequel,DAWN, you’ve done precisely the opposite. You’ve built a world from scratch with no connection to the “real” world, and done an extraordinary job of it. I did a lot of inventing for THE MYTH HUNTERS, but it’s all built on top of more familiar things. How do you go about inventing from the ground up, and did you find it more or less difficult than you imagined?
LEBBON: Here you are, a pint of Old Waddlestrop’s Fludgemuffler. And if you spread that Budweiser story, I have to warn you I know people who will make sure you’re never heard from again. 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 belowground. I could even mess with the laws of physics! I loved it!
LEBBON: You finishing that pint? Want another? I’d recommend the Badger’s Furbat. 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?
GOLDEN: Absolutely, but it was an utter pleasure. In fact, you’d have to look at the research from two perspectives. First, yes of course I did research specifically for this book, everything from vanished armies from Nanking to world folklore on harvest deities to South American frog gods. But that’s only the recent research. I’ve been interested in this sort of thing from a very young age and of course have read for pleasure and for research all of this wonderful stuff throughout my life. So what ended up in THE MYTH HUNTERS and the rest of THE VEIL is an accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of weirdness. 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 Winker 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.
GOLDEN: Getting back to the world building in DUSK, what sorts of influences did you draw on in the process? You’re known primarily as a horror writer, but are you a fantasy reader?
LEBBON: Big admission here—I don’t read much fantasy. I read a little …. but it’s not my usual fayre. Now, I think that’s a healthy place to be for someone who’s just written two fantasy novels, and it means that I approached much of the world-building with my own ideas pressing to be developed on the page, rather than conglomerations of other ideas I’ve read about. Of course there’s always a background awareness, and thinking about it now I guess that a lot of the landscape of Noreela—the world where DUSK and DAWN are set—resembles my native Wales, with mountains, mines, valleys and lakes. 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 inDUSK. One of my main characters is a thief who has been caught and punished. A criminal, but ultimately a good man.
LEBBON: You’ve got beer foam on your beard. That shows it’s a good pint. No, don’t rub it off! 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 constructing 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?
GOLDEN: Nearly everything I’ve ever written I’d consider more dark fantasy than horror. Only THE FERRYMAN, PROWLERS, and THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN really seem to me to fall more on the horror side of the fence. (Though I’m not one of those writers who tries to escape the label. ‘Horror Writer’ is just about the finest job description I can imagine.) Novels like STRANGEWOOD and STRAIGHT ON ‘TIL MORNING have ventured far afield from horror, but not so far that I couldn’t still see horror in the rear-view mirror. With THE MYTH HUNTERS and the rest of THE VEIL trilogy, that’s no longer true. Certainly this story is loaded with the horrific. There is a lot of very nasty, very unpleasant business, including demons in cherry trees and child mutilation murders. But this is fantasy as seen through my eyes. Like you, I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but what I do read, I love. Charles de Lint. Tim Powers. Robert Holdstock. Neil Gaiman. You’ll see the influence of every one of those writers in THE MYTH HUNTERS, and others as well. 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.
GOLDEN: So, I’m off to buy the third round. Meanwhile, though, here’s something to ponder, as it’s something that readers are certainly going to be thinking about. Both DUSK and THE MYTH HUNTERS are definitely fantasy novels with seriously horrific elements. Is this just the way you’re wired, unable to escape the darkness? What would you say to fantasy readers who don’t like horror but might be intrigued by DUSK?
LEBBON: DUSK is a dark fantasy in which lots of horrific things happen. So is THE LORD OF THE RINGS. By the very nature of DUSK’s story, lots of nasty things are going to happen, and there are lots of unpleasant people and creatures out for their own profit. It’s a novel about conflict, and as a species we unfortunately know an awful lot about that I didn’t set out to write an horrific novel but it turned out very dark indeed. But I like that. There aren’t any cuddly dragons or fluffy faeries in DUSK, and I think it’s more honest for that. But it is very definitely a fantasy novel, with a whole new world and a whole new set of rules. For me, the definition of a fantasy novel is more to do with setting than tone.
LEBBON: What have you got there? Oh no, you bought yourself Platypus Blatter’s Skull-Rooter! Do you actually expect to finish this interview in any state of coherence? We’d best move on … 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?
GOLDEN: One of the things that was important to me was rooting it all in reality, having an anchor in the mundane world. When Oliver Bascombe gets dragged through The Veil, he sets into motion what is essentially the destruction of his family and the home he knew. His father is murdered, horribly, and that’s how we meet Sheriff’s Detective Ted Halliwell. He’s a weary man with a cynical shell over a wounded heart, divorced, and estranged from his daughter. 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.
GOLDEN: Before you started getting bleary-eyed (after three watered-down Budweisers, Lebbon, shame on you. And you call yourself a Welshman!) you were talking about your characters existing in a sort of moral grey area, which of course is one of the things that makes the story you’re telling so compelling. It isn’t just the world of Noreela, but these characters. So…why don’t you talk a little about the major characters in DUSK and, if you can, some of what prompted their creation. Where do they come from?
LEBBON: Bleary-eyed? That’s grief at seeing you spill most of your last pint, Golden! I’ve killed a man for less. 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, naive 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 knowledge 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.
LEBBON: So, I’ve shown you mine, now show me yours! Give me the set up for THE MYTH HUNTERS and the whole trilogy. How does it all get started.
GOLDEN: Oliver Bascombe is an attorney from a very wealthy old New England family. He’s struggled all his life with his controlling father, made worse after his mother’s death when he and his sister were just children. Oliver never wanted this life, never wanted to be an attorney. He wanted to be an actor. He loves myth and story, and remembers a time when he believed in magic. But he’s become everything his father wanted him to be. He’s very much in love with his fiancée, but the problem is, her father is also one of the founders of the law firm they all work for, old New England money, and marrying her is the final surrender to becoming the man his own father wants him to be. Oliver loves her, but he doesn’t want to become that. 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.
GOLDEN: You’re from Wales (in case you’d forgotten—on your third Budweiser as you are), which I’m told is pretty country. You’ve got a lovely family, a talent with words, and an impish grin. Women love you (well, AMERICAN women—they like the accent and rubbing your stubbly bald head like it’s Aladdin’s lamp — but I won’t tell your wife) and men at the very least don’t tend to want to break your legs. Why on earth would a regular, decent-seeming guy want to do this sort of thing for a living? In other words, how did you become so odd?
LEBBON: Shut about the Budweiser, dammit! I have a reputation to uphold here! And as for the American ladies, none of them have ever seen my genie. 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’s 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.
LEBBON: Before you finish that pint, I’d like to ask what started you along this dark and exciting path? You’ve written many novels, ranging from vampire books to fantasy to tales bordering on science fiction. Is there a book or film that you recall from your early years that set you on this road? Or have you always been worryingly, yet endearingly twisted?
GOLDEN: (drunken slurring edited out for the sake of coherence): As you imply, what defines normal? It’s like that bit in Stephen King’s STAND BY MEwhen Gordy asks if Chris thinks he’s weird, and Chris says “yeah, but who’d want to be normal?” 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 séance 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 fifties science fiction, to 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 edited by Charles L. Grant. Those two guys laid the groundwork for me, for everything that would come after.
GOLDEN: I’ll turn the tables on you, now, Tim. What were your early influences, and how did your friends and family react to your interests while you were growing up?
LEBBON: I can think of one TV episode that scared me utterly witless, and made me realise not only that I enjoyed being scared, but that I’d like to create stories like that as well. My reaction to this programme was so strong that the power of stories was revealed to me there and then. I didn’t just watch, I experienced. The programme was Nigel Kneale’s BEASTS, and the episode was called (I believe), ‘Baby’. I must have watched this in the late Seventies, and until recently I had no idea what it was called or where it came from. And then, whilst staying at a friend’s house, I mentioned how much this show had affected me … and minutes later he produced it on video! 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 screenwriter and novelist, and he and I share many of the same macabre interests.
LEBBON: You’re incredibly prolific, yet to me THE VEIL seems like a huge undertaking. A trilogy of novels, research-heavy, ambitious, original, beautifully crafted. How do you view THE VEIL? Is it your most important work to date?
GOLDEN: Ah, hell, amigo, you know there’s no way I can KNOW that. Is it a huge undertaking? Absolutely. And I’m thrilled with the characters and the worlds in this thing—it FEELS right to me, very much a product of my heart. But really, it’s still about the journey. I shoulder my backpack and set off on the road, living the classic Indiana Jones approach of making it up as I go along, and the real difference between THE VEIL and other things I’ve written is that with this, I know that I’m going to be away from home for longer than ever before, that the journey is going to take me places I never expected or imagined. I can’t say if the work will be important to anyone else, but it’s damned important to me. I’ve rarely given myself so completely over to the ebb and flow of fiction and the creative process . . . it’s extraordinarily liberating, actually. And I’m drunk now, aren’t I?
GOLDEN: One last round, sir, and then it’s time for darts! I think I’m drunk enough to whip sharp projectiles blindly around the room. DUSK hits January 31st. Tell me about the follow up, DAWN, and everything else you’ve got coming up.
LEBBON: DAWN is finished and I delivered it on January 18th 2006. I’m absolutely delighted with both books, and I’m nervously awaiting reaction from readers. Also out now is a novel from Leisure called BERSERK, a very fast-pace action horror novel that has had some great feedback from its limited edition publication.
Then in April there’s HELLBOY: UNNATURAL SELECTION from Pocket, which I had great fun writing. 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 byNecessary 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.
LEBBON: Your eyes have developed that real-ale stare. The one that says, ‘I thought I was here, now I’m not so sure’. So maybe it’s time for you to tell me how THE VEIL is going, and what other projects you’re working on.
GOLDEN: I’m just wrapping up THE BORDERKIND, which is the second book of THE VEIL, then immediately heading into a very cool new project that I’m doing with HELLBOY creator MIKE MIGNOLA, also for Bantam. BALTIMORE; OR, THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER AND THE VAMPIRE will be written by me from an outline Mike and I have done, and then profusely illustrated by Mike. We’re talking more than one hundred illustrations and a cover by Mignola and a gothic alternate history horror story with all of his sensibilities intact. I can’t wait to get started.
The moment that’s done, it’s right into the third VEIL book. 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.
GOLDEN: All right, Tim, a couple of quick ones just to wrap up. Of all of your works, what’s your personal favorite?
LEBBON: I’m going to be boring here and pull the card that most writers pull: it’s the book I’m working on right now. For me, DUSK and DAWN are the major achievement of my career so far. They’re ambitious, have huge scope and they tackle many issues which resonate through my work. I love these books, and I can’t wait to see and hear reaction from readers.
LEBBON: Same question back to you, Chris. Your personal favourite? (Notice the proper spelling of the word?)
GOLDEN: THE VEIL may very well become my favorite, but I don’t think I can decide until the whole trilogy is written. Until then, though, STRANGEWOODis still my favorite. It means a great deal to me and was a real milestone for me as a writer.
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!
Chris Golden: www.christophergolden.com
Tim Lebbon: www.noreela.com
(…transcribed by Hobbit, January 2006)
Copyright Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon