Amber Benson is the type of person commonly referred to as a bootstrapper, a go-getter. Never comfortable to just sit about waiting for the phone to ring she has taken the time between acting jobs to become a producer and a writer. I'm sure she'll be wearing more hats down the road. Her latest piece is a short story in the anthology 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology. In this final part of our trilogy we discuss some of her working methods.
"When somebody calls and says do you want to do a job I say, ‘Yeah.’ I love acting and if I can make enough money to cover my insurance then great. But the writing is paying the bills right now. If somebody calls and says ‘Here's money to go to the convention,’ I'll go do it. Because you know what? I don't want to have to go get a real job. If I didn't have all of this stuff that I was doing I would have to nine-to-five. I would have to get a nine to five job. Because just being an actor doesn't pay. I would be so miserable. I'm not built that way. Some people need structure. I'm a self-starter. I get stuff done within my own framework."
So is it while you are at these conventions or traveling somewhere that you get your story ideas?
"I find myself filing away information, like somebody will say something and I'll think that's a great line or somebody's name will be really interesting and I'll think I'm going to use that in a book.
"I keep notes on my iPhone. Dreams are amazing. I have really weird, really bizarre, really lucid dreams. I've had black and white dreams but that's how I know I dream in color because I take notice. Wow, I had a dream in black and white! They are very real and I've gotten some ideas from dreams. I think writers have AHA! moments all the time. Constantly. What I think it is, is that you have got to go out and live your life. You have to go out and experience things. The more you experience the more you are going to find your creative muse."
I once heard William F. Nolan say that as a writer you should read everything you can get your hands on except whatever genre you are writing in at the time.
"That's exactly it. It's so true. You have to listen to what you are reading. Otherwise you miss it if you don't.
"In my writing I see all of it. I know how it looks. It's like a storyboard for a film. I know what the characters look like. I know how they move. It's all there. It's like taking my brain and putting it on paper. I have to tell you that for me the process of sitting down and writing...I'm a music person. I have to have music. I think it quiets some part of my brain so I can work. I'll put in something and it has to be the right thing for each thing I'm writing. It becomes like white noise. For me that's when I'm on the mark. That's when I feel like a real writer, when I'm so lost in the writing that it feels like reality. I'm seeing it. I'm there. I'm part of it. It's a never-ending story. You are transported into your book. Sometimes I look at my writing and I think, ‘I did that? Really?’"
So now you've written four books over a period of four years featuring your character Calliope Reaper-Jones who just happens to be Death's daughter. How has she changed over that period of time?
"A little bit. Mostly her hair is longer. She is more staid, more centered. She is not as flibbity-jibbity as she was."
Do you ever find yourself laughing at your own sense of humor but then worrying that other folks might not get it?
"Oh yes. I like to work in coffee shops. I'll be sitting there writing and I'll start laughing. People will be looking at me like who is the crazy lady? I'll have my headphones on and I'll be sitting there giggling about the stuff, "Hee, Hee, Hee". My sense of humor is very weird. It's like the humor of a twelve year old boy. Things like potty jokes. My whole thing is that if I can make people laugh then I've done something right."
Do you reread you stuff after publication?
"No, no. I'm done with that. I'm going to learn from it and move forward. I think that's being a real writer, that fear and that need to be constantly better than what you've done. It's like golf. You are playing against yourself. Nobody cares. Just you. We're not writing literature we are engaging the reader. Preston Sturges made the film Sullivan's Travels about this filmmaker who wants to make this epic film and finds ultimately that humor and engaging another human being took them out of their miserable existence for a couple of hours and it's the greatest gift you can give somebody. That's what I think is really important with writing or filmmaking or acting or any of it. You are taking people out of their existence and putting them into another realm for a little while and it's exciting.
"Because in the doing I am satisfied. Once I'm done I'm not satisfied anymore. In the doing I am totally wholly satisfied for that time. You know, when you write something it lives on. I don't have kids so it's my work that lives on. But that too will go at some point. I guess it's a way of trying to beat death a little bit. We're all chasing that.
"I wanted to be Dostoyevsky but I don't think that's going to happen. It would be lovely to be Kerouac or Anne Rice or...it would be lovely to be those people but that's not really what I do, I guess. I don't know what I do."
So in the end what is it you are really left with?
"Satisfaction in my work, but I think I will always doubt. I do that as a filmmaker and as an actor. I think that everything I do is ‘Oh my God it's awful. It's terrible!’ I'm never satisfied, never."
You can find Amber Benson occasionally making comments at her blog spot - http://amberbensonwrotethis.blogspot.com/ or on her Facebook site.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies “The Home of Horror” in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com. If you have any information on the optioning of horror books he would love to hear from you