Exclusive: An Interview with Author Nancy Holder – Part 1

As a first-generation splatterpunk author, Nancy Holder made her name with a string of edgy short stories and novels like Dead in the Water (for which she won one of her four Bram Stoker Awards). But Holder is also well known for her media tie-in fiction, particularly her Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels, which predated today's paranormal teen romance craze. I recently caught up with Holder to discuss horror trends past and present, and how she manages to balance the subgenres in which she works. Read our conversation after the jump.

It seems you were ahead of your time when it comes to the paranormal romance genre…

I started our writing a lot of short horror fiction. And I wrote nothing but short stories for four years. If I could make a living doing that, I would do that. But I was probably one of the first women splatterpunks, and I really liked being ahead of the game, or a little bit ahead. So now watching the boom is a thrill. I love it. When I was writing all my Buffy books, when the show was ending and when Angel was cancelled, I was so bummed out, because I thought it was the coolest gig I would ever have. I absolutely loved writing Buffy books. Some people think that writing tie-in books is somehow demeaning or limiting; I never felt that way. Just because I loved the show so much. Reading the scripts was eye-opening. The writers on Buffy and Angel were genius-level writers. People tend to discount TV writers and people who write on assignment, but for that reason I was really sad when Buffy ended. Because I so admired the writing of it. Then I thought, "That's probably the coolest thing that will ever happen to me." And it hasn't been. It's continued to be cool. So I think that would be my reaction – "Yay, there's still more opportunity and there's more of that urban fantasy/paranormal stuff going on." So yay for that.

You've managed to balance your media tie-in work with your original projects. How difficult is that? Is there a philosophy you apply?

What I think I always return to in terms of getting my ya-ya's out is short fiction. That's where I kind of let it really hang out. I can do that safely. I just wrote a short story for an anthology called Zombieesque called "Zombie Zero". It was very stream-of-consciousness, kind of avant-garde for me and I really loved doing it. So then I'll kind of go back and behave. When I get a short fiction assignment and I think I can try something new, that's where I kind of let it go. I keep thinking, "Okay, I'll stay in my commercial phase for a while; then when I get old I'll go back to my true extreme horror roots." That's kind of how I look at it.

I love what I'm doing, and I don't mean to discount it. I put everything I have into it. But some day I'm just gonna go back to my black t-shirts. [Laughs.] Someone said, "When are you gonna write adult horror again?" And I thought, "Well, I am." But I know what she meant… Yeah, that's the big plan. That's gonna be the reward.

It's often said that short fiction is the ideal medium for horror. I'm not sure I disagree with that. Even Stephen King's best novels read like short stories, with the same sense of urgency.  

I write a lot of young adult – we call it epic dark fantasy – it's so funny to me they use the word "epic". Because it sounds like "mega wonderful." Not epic fantasy. [Laughs.] But we use a lot of character point of views. So we have, with each section, where it's taking place and who's in the scene. We call them sequences. I think that King, when he writes his novels, they're in sequences. I guess because I've done so much TV tie-in work, I think of things in terms of scenes or sequences now. Versus how I used to think about chapters or a story. So I think what you're saying is a hundred percent right. I would say that he writes in sequences.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on the second novel in a young adult dark fantasy series with my co-author Debbie Vigue (with an accent mark over the e). Our book is called Hotblooded, and it's the second book in a werewolf trilogy. We just turned in our last young adult dark fantasy novel for Simon & Shuster, called Vanquished. Then I'm writing a novella for a YA dystopian anthology. And I've got a tie-in project, but I haven't signed the papers yet, so I don't want to say what it is. But it's very cool. It's gonna be a cool project.

Are there a great many opportunities now for people who do media tie-in books, especially in the dark fantasy or horror realm? Those genres are particularly hot on TV these days. The fact that there's even talk of having two weekly zombie TV shows…

What a glorious age we live in! It's funny because I tend to think, "Oh, this must have been my last tie-in book, because I haven't heard anything or gotten any work for a while." I keep thinking there must not be any work. Then I get a call when I'm about ready for something or I have a little time. So I think it's still going, and I'm absolutely thrilled how much speculative TV there is. I guess it just keeps going. I think there is opportunity. At first I was worried, because when I did Buffy we did a lot of novelizations of existing episodes and script books. That kind of writing doesn't seem to be as prevalent as it used to be. I'm wondering if it's because people can access their shows much more directly. Everybody can download a show, so you don't even have to buy the DVDs anymore… I wrote two books based on the show Saving Grace. I loved that show. TNT was the network, and they wanted to renew it and the production company said no; they weren't making enough money off of it. One of the death knells of the show was that they weren't making any DVD sales. Because I guess people were downloading. They didn't have a lot of foreign sales. I don't really know about that, but I faithfully bought my season passes on iTunes. I had multiple venues, but when I'm writing a show, or working on a show, I watch the episodes so much that I have to have access to them however. I have a MacBook Air and I don't have a hard drive, so now I have to make sure I can download them. That was really sad, but we didn't novelize existing episodes, and when I did Buffy and Angel and those shows… It used to be very common, and I don't see that anymore.

The boom that seems to be happening right now, do you think it's still growing?

I keep waiting for the bubble to burst. I keep holding my breath and waiting. Someone said, "There's just too much vampire stuff now." And somebody else said, "No, vampires are the new vampires." I think I agree with that. I think vampires will always be with us. I moderated a zombie panel last night, and we were talking about how we kept thinking, "Well, now the glee of having zombies is over." But it's never over. It's not ending. That is really weird to me. I mean I'm happy about it, but I can't figure out what's propelling it. There are zombie walks and zombie shows and zombie joke books in bookstores now, and that really surprises me. So I'm not sure how things get driven anymore.

For all the attention paid to them by fans, it seems zombie have just begun to infest the mainstream. It's like a huge chunk of America only just discovered zombies through The Walking Dead TV show.

With so many more channels and venues for people to watch things… There was a book called The Long Tail; and he suggested that a lot of people will be selling one thing a day versus a million at one time. I'm not sure that's true, because you have to have a certain number of ratings to keep anything on the air. I subscribed to the Long Tail philosophy, but now I'm not sure that he's right. It's like with Twilight. Twilight became the mainstreaming of vampires. Then The Walking Dead is the mainstreaming of zombies. And somehow people take on these things. There's a fashion trend now with black and pink skulls and bows, and things like that. Where did that come from? The little baby gothic. A lot of people call my co-author a pink Goth. She's very sunny and bright, but she writes very dark. So they give her Goth things that are pink. I just gave her something with a pink skull on it. So I'm not sure how that all happened. I'm glad of it. I'm really happy…I keep thinking people will get tired of zombies, but they don't seem to. So I don't know. I keep thinking there are so many genre shows on now, that certainly something will die. But nothing has yet. Though Harry Dresden didn't make it, which amazes me. What was that about? I don't know.

It seems they've finally found a way to make zombies attractive to to people. Whereas vampires were always an easy sell.

I think people feel really dangerous. Like, "Wow, I'm so hip. I like a zombie show!"

Right, it makes them feel transgressive.

Yeah, exactly. I think that's the allure of mainstream zombieness.

The whole millennial thing helps too.

Yes. And people are pissed. The economy sucks. Everybody's economy sucks, it's not fair. So let's go crazy. Zombies are rage without consequences.

If mass media was as advanced during the Great Depression as it is now, there would have been much more than the Universal monsters for horror fans in the ‘30s.

They had all those Ziegfeld Follies and madcap Manhattan weekend kind of movies, where people could vicariously live. Like we do with the Kardashians now.

[Laughs.] It's true. Man, give me the ‘30s form of escapism any day…