When Amber Benson posted the following tongue-in-cheek comment on Facebook a few days ago, I've finally made it - seriously, life is complete, she wasn't referring to landing the part of a lifetime or even writing the great American novel. She was talking about being a clue in the newspaper crossword puzzle. It referenced her role in the popular television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that comment alone you can pretty well wrap up the essence of Amber.
Engagingly self-depreciating with an approach to life that includes doing the best she can and being thankful for what delights and opportunities she receives along the way. She is a creator and a builder, an idea person who loves to see it come to fruition.
With an exotic face that reveals insights beyond her years and a wicked sense of timing in her acting, she should be employed non-stop. But the new economy of film making has made the probability of being offered a choice part less of a possibility and the opportunities have either downsized or become less common and disappeared altogether. So she has turned to her second love - writing. During a break at a recent signing at Dark Delicacies for the fourth book in her Calliope Reaper-Jones series, How to be Death (her seventh book overall), she sat down with me and spoke of her life as an author, an entertainer, and her feelings about her personal growth and direction.
"I've written two books with Chris Golden, then I have Among the Ghosts which is a young adult novel, and then I have these four in the Death's Daughter series. So that's seven and I'm working on (number) eight right now. Chris and I did the three Willow/Tara comics together. We also did a couple of novellas and we have a new novel that we wrote.
"Yeah," she says introspectively, "you know writing is paying the bills right now. I love acting, but frankly it's hard to make a living being an actor. Who'da thunk? With these new independent contracts of making $100 a day, it is really difficult to survive."
So was the stint on Buffy the Vampire Slayer a double-edged sword? How has it effected her writing and efforts in areas other than acting?
"I hope that being on my fourth book in the series is changing that perception. I still know that when I go to signings people are much more there to get a boxed set signed for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are a few people there that say "I love the book!" but there are a lot of people there that are "I like the book but I'd really want my Buffy boxed set signed." So there's that balance. I'm hoping that as I continue to write that the number will be greater, people that want the book signed versus the boxed set. But I appreciate all of it and I'm happy to do it."
There it is again, that optimism, that smile in her soul that just beams out, I'm so thankful for what I've received in my life. She loves whatever she is doing at the moment and at this moment she's an author. She writes because she loves it and hopes her audience does too. They are nice-sized books worthy of a summer read.
"They are close to 100,000 words…95,000 - 100,000 words. Not until you are done does it feel like you are close to something.
"I've learned to be an outliner, not fly by the seat of my pants which is what I preferred before. Now I've worked with Chris Golden and he's beat it into me that you have to do an outline. Especially if you are working with somebody else. So I kind of took that. I sort of know where I'm going. I know how many chapters I'm going to have and how many sections each chapter has. I preferred discovery writing until I started outlining and I still kind of prefer that. I feel stifled sometimes. However, I've learned to not be a slave to my outline if things want to change. Like if characters end up doing this or that then..."
Aha, there's that sense of discovery, of letting the project run a little ways with itself to see what happens. Even her main character Calliope Reaper-Jones has that sense about her.
"Oh, she's always done that. She's always been a wily character. She's never wanted to do what I tell her to do. It's interesting. When I'm writing stuff that isn't for somebody, that doesn't have a deadline, I do go for it in a discovery sort of aspect. But when I'm writing for a deadline it is really tough. You're sort of limited. You've got to go, This has got to be done in nine months or whatever. You'd better get cracking. If you don't know what you are doing then you are in trouble."
Has Calliope has changed over the course of the books?
"A little bit. Mostly her hair is longer. She is more staid, more centered. She is not as flibbity-jibbity as she was."
How much of Amber is in Calliope?
"So much. It's hard when people tell me, She's unlikable. I don't like her. I think You don't like her because she makes mistakes? That's like saying you don't like me because I'm her partly. I make a lot of mistakes.
"She's become more mature and less self-involved over the series. For me that was the whole beauty of doing five books or three books to begin with. I wanted her to have an arc. I get so tired of these urban fantasies or paranormal romances where these women are thrust into these fantastical situations and they never once say, Wait a minute! I don't want to do this. I want out! It's that hero's journey and I wanted to take a female protagonist on that hero's journey. I wanted the call-to-arms and then No way! I'm out. I just want to be normal. Like Buffy was beautiful for that. To me that is really interesting and I like anti-heroes. I like people who make mistakes and aren't perfect.
"I was talking to my friend Sara Kuhns, she's a writer and she's great. Her protagonists are not the very sweet, perfect kind of ladies. We were talking about how it's tough to get that I don't like her because she's not perfect. She said, "They are aspirational characters." I feel like a lot of times readers feel like they just want to put themselves into that character so they don't want to make mistakes and be a mess or do things wrong. They want to make all the right choices and be perfect and lead this fantastical existence. I understand, especially with women's stuff, our fantasies are all about all this good stuff happening. All that princess stuff. Nobody wants to be the scullery maid. It's a journey. It's not A to B and getting to B is the end-all be-all. It's A and the journey to B."
In part two of our discussion we will explore Amber ambitions in the entertainment field.
You can find Amber Benson occasionally making comments at her blog spot.
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.