If you are a fan of Warcraft lore, chances are you have heard of Christie Golden. Golden’s work has done much to expand the lore and has introduced a plethora of characters to an already expansive universe. After a hiatus from the franchise, the New York Times best-selling author is back to tackle one of the most controversial characters in gaming history, Sylvanas Windrunner. In Sylvanas, author Golden takes readers back through the Banshee Queen’s childhood and up through the recent events of Shadowlands that provide insight into the choices she has made throughout her life. We got the opportunity to discuss these intricacies as well as Golden’s experience as an author of some of the biggest sci-fi franchises.
BUT WHY THO: Your name has become all but synonymous with the Warcraft lore and novelizations, but long-time fans know that you have worked in all kinds of popular franchises from StarCraft to Assassins Creed to Star Trek to even Star Wars. What’s it like being able to be such a pivotal storyteller in so many universes? Was this always the plan as an author?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: Not at all! 🙂 Back in high school/college I wrote a manuscript I shopped around for 7 years. I got the “good” rejection letters (they are a real thing) that said essentially not for us, but show us your next. (Don’t do what Christie does–write that next book). Reader, I did NOT show them my next, I was certain that book was IT. While waiting, I used my job as a magazine writer to get on an email list for auditions for TSR novels. I was contacted and invited to submit the first chapter and an outline, which would be read blind. Shortly afterward, I was contracted to write VAMPIRE OF THE MISTS. My next tie-in book was for Star Trek. Turns out my love for acting gave me the “ear” to capture characters and their voices, and we were off to the races.
BUT WHY THO: What would you say is the biggest difference between writing a story between these massive franchises? Do you approach a story in a galaxy far, far away differently than one on Azeroth?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: The plot of the story is usually worked out in meetings between myself and my contacts at the publisher who works with the IP. For sure, the tone is different. Even third person POV is different. You can pick up a Star Wars book and a StarCraft book and while they’re both about space adventures, they will read, “sound”, and feel very different. The voice should suit the franchise; but at the same time, authors have their own distinct voices too.
BUT WHY THO: When looking at the characters that you create yourself and or established characters you expand upon, what would you say is your biggest influence in the way you are able to make the most morally complex characters relatable to the reader? How much room do you have to write with your own interpretations of the character?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: Every franchise I’ve worked with so far has understood the importance of the character, especially a well-known one. It’s important to capture them well. In earlier years I would say “I don’t know,” but recently, through writing scripts and working with voice actors, I’ve had a realization that my theater background helps immeasurably. I kind of mentally “act” the character, so their lines and feelings get internalized in a way that’s similar to an actor performing a role. Sometimes I even get a sort of jump–one character says something, and the responding character’s words pop into my head in a way that surprises or moves me. Not always, but it’s a joy when it happens.
BUT WHY THO: As the novelizations have expanded, so too has the number of authors who are tackling these stories. For characters that you have created or taken over for many years, how did it feel to have to stop writing for them or directing them? Did you still talk to the new writers about the character’s development?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: While it can be frustrating when an IP takes a character I’ve created and does something that feels out of character to me (doesn’t happen that often), that’s the nature of this business. You borrow the characters for a while, but you do not own them. Because my fellow writers are skilled professionals, more often than not I really enjoy reading someone else’s take on a character I’ve either created or worked with deeply. Of course I miss writing them, but they belong to so many people other than myself. It can be very nice to just enjoy reading their stories and not having to come up with them! It is VERY rare that I am asked by an editor or author about a character, that’s just not how it works (imagine trying to get feedback from every person who’s ever worked with a tie-in character!) but of course it’s always lovely when it does happen.
BUT WHY THO: It’s been four years since Before the Storm was released. How does it feel jumping back into the saddle for a major tie-in story like Sylvanas?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: When I was a novelist full time, I wrote lean, and was always asked, “Can you make it longer?” Now that I often work on cinematics, I’m asked, “Can you make it shorter?” xD Took a bit to get into the rhythm, but not long. I’ve been writing novels for 30 years, so it came back quickly. As for the characters, I’ve been lucky enough to work with them on projects other than novels (I write stories, cinematics, etc. for all the game teams), so I never lost their “voices.”
BUT WHY THO: Over the course of Shadowlands, much has been made about the decisions with Sylvanas Windrunner’s character and her overall arc. I personally think when people pick up Sylvanas, even the staunchest Windrunner detractors will come away with a new appreciation for the Banshee Queen. How does it feel getting back to fleshing out the characterization of the Dark Lady?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: Thank you! That’s my hope, too. It’s lovely to have the room to flesh out her character. I particularly enjoyed writing her younger years. The Windrunners are such an interesting family. While of course everything was created and shared with the game team, I was allowed a lot of freedom for the events and new characters. Sylvanas is, if an exacting personality, definitely someone it was great to spend time with.
BUT WHY THO: After the aftermath of Shadowlands, many may not expect to get a story that takes readers back through Windrunner’s childhood. What was the motivation to make that such a pivotal part of the novel instead of say focusing entirely on the events following the last cinematic we see the Banshee Queen in?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: This was designed to be a story of her whole life. So much of it is known, and sometimes deeply known in the case of long-time players, that we didn’t want to simply rehash events. Also, it was important to show who she was before she died. It was fascinating to me to play with the idea of her personality in life versus that in death–and how much was and wasn’t always intrinsic to who she was.
BUT WHY THO: When reading Sylvanas, I couldn’t help but think back to how you made me feel about Asajj Ventress in Dark Disciple. Like the Sith Assassin, the Dark Lady is so much more than she is made out to be. How similar do you think these two characters are? Is there a commonality in the way that you set out to tell their stories?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: The energy and passion of both of them is very similar, but they come from quite different experiences. Asajj left her home world as an infant and raised as a slave. She lost everyone when she was very young and turned to darkness early from a wounded place. She served much of her life before truly choosing her own path. Sylvanas, by contrast, was born into nobility, loved by a large family, and had a position of respect and power. She was plunged into real darkness only by death, though later choices were her own. That being said, I think these two women would have a lot to say to each other over a cup of coffee, and wouldn’t we love to be a fly on the wall.
BUT WHY THO: Despite all the discourse behind this obviously complex character, what are you hoping fans of the franchise get out of the story you put forth when they put Sylvanas down when it’s all said and done?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: I’d like for them to feel they understand Sylvanas Windrunner a little better as a person, and have more insight into what shaped her and why she made the choices she did throughout her life. I also hope they enjoy the ride!
Rapid Fun Questions – Don’t require anything in-depth!
BUT WHY THO: If you had to grab brunch with one of the characters from the Warcraft universe, who would it be?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: Thrall, because my first Blizzard novel was the story of his past from his birth to becoming leader of the Horde. 😀
BUT WHY THO: If you could have a vacation home in any location in the Warcraft universe, where would it be?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: SO MANY. I love Mulgore, though, because my first character was a tauren. Can I have many fictitious vacation homes please?
BUT WHY THO: Who is your favorite character to write for in the Warcraft universe or is there a character that you hope you get to focus on in the future?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: It’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child! Usually my favorite character is the one I’m spending the most time with at the moment, because that’s where creation occurs.
BUT WHY THO: If you could be a fly on the wall of any major moment in Warcraft lore, which would it be?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: Too many. Let me ask Chromie how many moments I can see without messing things up too much.
BUT WHY THO: Is there a franchise that you are hoping to get the chance to delve into?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: I would give a very great deal to write for Marvel’s Loki. Just sayin’. mouths “call me”
BUT WHY THO: At But Why Tho? A Geek Community, we pride ourselves on expressing why pop culture (video games, movies, comics, etc) is so important and why it matters so much to us. Why does pop culture matter to you?
CHRISTIE GOLDEN: My first book came out in 1991; a Ravenloft D&D Novel at a time when D&D was considered Satanic (not even kidding, sweet summer children, go look it up). No one knew what gryphons were, science fiction was weird, fantasy and comics were for children. It still boggles my mind that this has all become mainstream pop culture. I feel so validated, and I imagine others feel similarly. What I would love to see is some of the toxicity recede (in all fandoms) and an increase in appreciation for the incredible things we now have access to and for our fellow fans. There’s so much to love out there now! Let’s revel in it!
Christie Golden’s passion for Sylvanas and the Warcraft universe shines through in not only this interview but her development of Sylvanas. Much has been made about the direction that Sylvanas Windrunner’s character has been going. Golden has given a perfect look into why the Banshee Queen is the way she is and the internal battles that she struggles with. This deep dive into her past and her external motivations has given us a greater appreciation for the character and what possibilities may be in store for the Dark Lady’s future. Golden’s passion for Sylvanas and the Warcraft universe shines through in not only this interview but her development of Sylvanas.