Amber Benson is, of course, better known for her acting, especially as Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she has also paid her dues and entertained fans as a writer. Her first solo novel, Death’s Daughter (Ace), was released as a paperback earlier this year. As Benson puts it, “Having spent three years of my life living in Sunnydale, CA as a member of the Scooby Gang on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I guess it wasn’t a very far leap for me to start writing urban fantasy, with a strong female protagonist who has (I hope) a sense of humor.”
Even before writing fiction for publication, Amber Benson has always been a reader, even in between takes on sets. Ray Bradbury, J.K. Rowling, Susan Cooper and Marion Zimmer Bradley are among her favorites. She started getting published while collaborating with Christopher Golden, an award-winning and prolific author who writes in many different styles but whose work is most often compared to Peter Straub or Stephen King.
First Benson and Golden did Buffy the Vampire Slayer-related comics, based on Benson’s Tara character and her relationship with Willow Rosenberg. Then Benson and Golden continued working together on a BBC web movie (Ghosts of Albion) that Benson also directed. The success of that web movie led to limited edition books based on Ghosts of Albion for Subterranean Press and then two tie-in novels from Del Rey. The success of those led to The Seven Whistlers, a horror novella that was also from Subterranean Press.
In Death’s Daughter, the heroine, young up-and-coming career woman Calliope Reaper-Jones, just wants designer shoes and dates. Instead, when her father is kidnapped, she has to return home. Eventually, she remembers that her father was Death and she has no choice but to take over the family business in order to save him. From there, wackiness ensues (even a Bollywood dance number). An excerpt can be found here.
For the uninitiated, what is Ghosts of Albion and how did you end up writing and directing for the BBC?
Basically, Chris and I had written a few Willow and Tara comics for Dark Horse and because of that the guys at the BBC approached us to create a Buffy-themed web series for them. We didn’t want to be derivative, so we pitched them Ghosts—which was about siblings living in Victorian London who were the magical protectors of Albion (England). Chris and I talked them into letting us come to London and kind of run the show and that’s how we ended up producing the series.
Death’s Daughter is first person and chatty, did you read it out loud or think of it as a monologue?
I think first person narratives really let you peek inside of a character’s head. I wanted the reader to have an intimate relationship with Callie. I wanted them to be privy to her inner monologue, to really understand where she was coming from.
A bio mentions your love of Russian literature. What would Chekhov think of Death’s Daughter?
I think Chekhov would laugh and think I was a very silly girl, indeed.
Your protagonist, Calliope Reaper-Jones, ends up filling in for her Dad, Death, and has to travel through hell. What was it like to “build” hell? Did it tie into a belief structure you were raised in or was it an eclectic mishmash?
I wanted to create a universe where all religions existed alongside each other; where no one was wrong in their choice of belief system. I love the idea of Maya, or illusion. I think in Callie’s universe Maya makes it possible for everything to co-exist in such a manner.
You’ve written films and for the stage. How is writing for the page different? How is it similar?
Writing prose is harder for me. I love writing dialogue. It just seems to flow more easily, while writing paragraphs of description is more difficult. Besides that, I have the attention span of a gnat, so writing a novel requires me to treat each chapter like a short story. It’s the only way I can get through the process in a timely fashion.
You’ve written multiple collaborations with Christopher Golden. What led to your working with him and what was it like for your first published novels to be collaborative?
I went to Chris Golden University and got my degree in prose writing. Just kidding, but seriously, I do feel like I learned how to write prose properly from working with Chris. He is an amazing editor and he really taught me how to be more efficient in the way I used words.
This is your first solo novel. Did it feel different to write? Freeing? Without a safety net?
It was terrifying to write Death’s Daughter. There was no one to call if I got stuck on a plot point or with character development. I felt like I had really achieved something when I was done. It was very liberating.
Have you always written?
Since I was a kid. Mostly bad poetry and plays, though.
How did The Seven Whistlers come about?
Chris and I had worked with Subterranean and had had a really good experience, so we really wanted to work with them again. We pitched them the Seven Whistlers novella and the rest is history.
What are some of your favorite depictions of Hell? How about Death?
For Hell, I have to say that Dante’s Inferno is one of my all time favorites. As far as Death goes, I love the film, Death Takes a Holiday, and then the Christopher Moore book, A Dirty Job.
You’ve also written for comics. How did “Demon Father John’s Pinwheel Blues” in Shadowplay come about?
I was originally going to write something for Steve Niles and the 30 Days of Night series, but when that didn’t end up working out, Ben Templesmith and I did it as a stand alone piece for IDW.
Do you have any other upcoming comics work?
No comic book stuff at the moment, but I would love to do more in the future.
What draws you to writing about the supernatural? Some of your writing (like Chance) seems quite grounded in slice-of-life realism (as does Calliope’s life until things start happening) but many of your pieces veer into darker territories.
I am a scifi/horror lover and I think that bleeds into my work.
Who do you love to read?
Christopher Moore, Dostoyevsky, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Jane Austen.
You seem busy. How do you find time to fit everything you do into the day?
I’m just trying to pay the bills :)
And you’re everywhere online. Are you sure you’re getting enough sleep?
The last few months have been super busy promoting Death’s Daughter, but I think things will calm down this summer.
What else should people know about your writing?
I have a lot of fun writing. I just hope that they enjoy reading my stuff as much as I enjoy writing it.