Interview: Schooled's Christa Charter (aka Trixie 360)
For the longest time, Christa Charter was known as one of the main people to talk to over at Microsoft, as she basically went under the moniker 'Trixie 360.' For years, she worked with the community and appeared in programming as part of the Xbox Live Marketplace.
She's since moved on, now working as the CEO and Founder of Trixieland Consulting. Even better, she's become an author, as she's written the first of many mystery books featuring a video game community manager named Lexy Cooper. Titled Schooled: A Lexy Cooper Videogame Mystery, the story revolves around the discovering of a young woman's body at the Xenon Corporation corporate campus. Working with her uncle, homicide detective Mike Malick, Lexy tries to get to the bottom of things.
Schooled features a number of video game references and nods, even as the story visits the "seedy underbelly" beneath it all. We managed to catch up with Christa for an interview regarding the book, as well as her time at Microsoft.
GameZone: So tell us the background on Lexy Cooper. Were you just trying to create a Nancy Drew for this generation, or someone that fit a bit more in with today's video game scene?
Christa Charter: She's not much like Nancy Drew, honestly. Besides being female, they don't have a lot in common. My goal with Lexy was to create a character through whose eyes the reader can get an insider's look at the video game industry. She's stubborn, smart, fiercely independent, and usually inappropriately dressed. She dislikes authority and feels compelled to push limits. If I've done my job right, readers will see her as a complex, flawed human being... and still root for her success.
GZ: What's the plot behind Schooled? How does Lexy get involved with solving the mystery? You don't need to spoil it for us.
CC: Lexy is the community manager at Xenon Corporation, a company that makes the Xenon24/7 video game console and Xenonline gaming service. One of her co-workers, a PR manager, is found murdered on the Xenon campus and her homicide detective uncle is assigned to the case. Lexy's inside knowledge of Xenon and Detective Malick's police work combine to investigate the murder.
GZ: Are there references that video game fans will definitely smile over?
CC: I hope so. I think they'll smile at things that are familiar and say "Oh, sh*t!" at things they never would have thought happened on the inside of the gaming world.
GZ: Do you think there are many other stories that you'll be able to tell in the video game industry? Perhaps even a crooked company owner? Heh.
CC: Oh yeah, I've got 17 years of stories to draw from. Lexy is on deck for a trilogy, but if I just can't let her go by the end you may see a Book Four or even more.
GZ: You used to work for Xbox.com under the moniker Trixie for the longest time. How was the experience for you overall? What do you think made you grow tired of it and search for something new?
CC: It was a great experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, but after eight years, the culture had become too corporate for my liking and the shift away from a community focus to "we need to monetize everything" was frustrating. When you find yourself dreading going to work instead of being excited and happy, it's time to move on.
GZ: After you left, you formed Trixieland Consulting. How's work going for you there?
CC: It's been fantastic. I wish I'd done this years ago. I actually turn down a lot of work so that I have time to write and spend time with my kids. The most surprising part has been that whenever a project or contract comes to an end, something new always comes up. In a year and a half I've never had to go looking for work... it just comes to me. I've been extraordinarily fortunate.
GZ: So you haven't left the video game industry entirely, it seems. Do you still play often, or are you on a break until, dare I say it, Halo 4 arrives?
CC: I don't really play games anymore. I was never a hardcore gamer, and Halo-type games were never my thing. I've always been much more interested in gamers than games.
GZ: Do you still keep in touch with a lot of people in the industry? Do they provide you solid feedback on Schooled?
CC: I have kept in touch with a lot of industry folks, mostly because over the course of a couple decades you form real friendships with people that transcend what you do for a living. The games industry is interesting in that people never seem to leave it. Once you're in, you stay in. People bounce around from company to company, but you rarely hear of anyone just saying, "F**k it, I'm done with games. I'm going to go sell insurance." A couple of my early readers have been industry insiders, and the feedback I got was that my depiction of the industry was "eerily accurate."
GZ: What has been the response so far from fans of the book? Is it making you even more pumped up to write the next one?
CC: Everyone who has read it so far has told me that they read it in just a few sittings, if not straight through. I haven't had any negative responses, but I'm sure I'll see my share of complaints and quibbles once Schooled is released in the wild. And yes, the positive response is very gratifying and encouraging. I'm working on the second book right now, and it's a pleasure to know that there are people waiting to find out what Lexy is going to do next.
GZ: Is there room in your Schooled series for guest stars? I have a feeling that Rob the DCD Bold could lend a hand in a future tale... :D
CC: Haha! It's interesting to me how many people have asked me if they're in my book. I tend to keep my cast of characters pretty lean because I believe it keeps the plot tight and the action moving. But I do slip in names of friends and enemies here and there.
GZ: You don't consider me an enemy, do you? Hehe.
CC: LOL I wouldn't be talking to you if you were an enemy. Here's an example: The manager I had at Microsoft before I left was a horrible, backstabbing bitchwhistle. So I gave a slutty cocktail waitress her name.
GZ: Did you have a moment when you were writing the book when you stopped everything and laughed out loud? I've seen folks do that.
CC: There are a couple parts in the book that still make me laugh even though I've read it dozens of times. I especially love when readers tell me they laughed out loud on the first page.
Schooled releases November 6th. You can learn more about the book here: http://www.facebook.com/LexyCooperMystery.