What Buffy Gave Me
You’re going to see a lot of a posts, blogs, tweets, and essays today reminiscing or waxing lyrical about the impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and rightly so. But I’ve been talking about the show off and on throughout those two decades, and I’d like to take a different approach today. In my introduction to the upcoming Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20 Years of Slaying: The Watcher’s Guide, I wrote about the way the series changed pop culture, fandom, and culture in general. But today, it seems appropriate to remember how it changed me. What it gave me.
Beginning March 11th, 1997 (the day after the debut), I started a journey with the character that would lead to me writing—or co-writing with Nancy Holder and Tom Sniegoski—thirteen Buffy novels. I also co-wrote (with Nancy, Tom, Steve Bissette, and Keith DeCandido) four Buffy non-fiction books, co-wrote (with Sniegoski) both Buffy video games, and wrote or co-wrote (with Sniegoski, Amber Benson, and James Marsters) a boatload of Buffy and Angel comics.
But all of that work was just the beginning of what the show gave me. Thanks to my work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—
–I met Lisa Clancy. Then editor at Simon & Schuster, Lisa is one of the very best editors it has ever been my pleasure to work with. So smart, so funny, so perceptive, and so good with the red pen that she spoiled me for other editors. I’ve worked with a few at the same level as Lisa, but none better. If you’re among the many thousands of fans worldwide who loved the Buffy novel line, as much as we authors appreciate the enthusiasm, I’m sure all of us who were edited by Lisa would tell you that you should reserve a share of that appreciation for her.
–I wrote the Prowlers quartet and the ten-book Body of Evidence series (the last five with Rick Hautala). Not only was Lisa Clancy my editor on those books…the concept of Body of Evidence came from Lisa, who asked me to come up with a pitch for a series that would be something like “Dana Scully in college.” Jenna Blake turned out not to be much like Scully after all, but the series’ weird science mystery/thriller format sprang from that prompt.
–I optioned the rights to Body of Evidence for television several times, most notably to the CW, who paid me and Stephanie K. Smith to write a pilot for the series. Though the pilot did not get made, I was told that it came down to our show and The Beautiful Life starring Mischa Barton. When the CW went with the latter and it was canceled after two airings…well, let’s just call it bittersweet.
–I met friends through the fan community who have remained my friends for the twenty years since, most importantly the brilliant L.A.-based playwright/actress Allie Costa (aka Little Willow), who built my first ever website and has been providing web and promotional support for me ever since. Even as her short plays are chosen for festivals and performed literally around the world, Allie remains one of the most genuine friends anyone could ask for. Given that she’s an actress, it’s ironic that she often prefers to avoid the spotlight, but it’s only right to shine it on her here.
–Through Allie, I met Amber Benson, who would become my collaborator on many writing projects, and more importantly one of my dearest friends. Amber and I started our collaboration with Willow & Tara: WannaBlessedBe one-shot comic from Dark Horse, illustrated by Terry Moore. (More on Terry below.) Amber and I later did a two-issue story called Willow & Tara: Wilderness. She’s been part of my family ever since and continues to be an important collaborator in my life.
–Here’s where a variety of Buffy threads begin to come together. Thanks to the massive success of the series in the U.K., I made several trips across the pond on somebody else’s dime (for conventions, for signings, working on the Buffy video games). I’m terrible at keeping track of chronology, but on one of those trips, I met with a gent named Rob Francis. We got on very well, Rob and I, beginning a friendship that endures to this day (another thing for which I have Buffy to thank). I had just done a signing in Norwich, on the coast of England (traveling with my friend and UK editor Sally Partington), when I found myself on the phone with Rob. He was working for BBC Interactive at the time, and he’d pitched in-house the idea of hiring Amber and me to write an original animated web-series for them. They wanted Victorian era Buffy, really, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. I told Rob I might have a better idea. I called Amber, and Ghosts of Albion was born. It involved a real world interactive contest, a regular blog by the fictional protagonist, and two one-hour “seasons” (Legacy and Embers). Amber and I traveled to London for one of the greatest creative experiences of my life, working with the BBC staff to cast and record the audio for the first hour of the series. And what an extraordinary cast we had, including Anthony Daniels, Emma Samms, Rory Kinnear, Roy Skelton, Leslie Phillips, and our heroine, Jasmine Hyde, who remains a friend all these years later. Ghosts of Albion grew to include a short story, the novella Astray, and two full-length novels, Accursed and Witchery. And who knows? There may be more to come.
–A further note about Terry Moore. Since I first read his groundbreaking comics series Strangers in Paradise, Terry has been one of my favorite comics creators. SiP remains my favorite modern comics series. When I was on the phone with Dark Horse editor Scott Allie talking about WannaBlessedBe, he asked who Amber and I were thinking about to illustrate it. I said I’d love to get Terry Moore and Scott scoffed at the idea. Terry would be great, he agreed, but he would never do this project. I happened to have Terry’s phone number. When Scott and I hung up, I rang Terry and asked him, and he agreed immediately. Not only was he a Buffy fan, but he had young women in his life who would never forgive him if he turned the job down. So, thanks to Buffy, I got to work with Terry Moore.
–While working on the first Watcher’s Guide, and later at various conventions, I met many of the writers, producers, and of course cast members of both Buffy and Angel. I have so many wonderful memories from those various encounters. Running lines on the set with James Marsters (with me reading Buffy’s lines). Doing interviews with Seth Green and John Ritter that turned very dirty, as they knew Fox would never allow Pocket to print some of the things they said. Signing books with Anthony Stewart Head for four hours at a bookstore in southern England. Doing karaoke with Andy Hallett (we sang “New York, New York,” and then James C. Leary and the Soup Nazi got up and sang backup for us). Sitting around a green room table with Danny Strong and Robin Sachs. Persuading Amber to join me (unannounced) for a signing at a Paris comics shop and having teenage girls break down in tears at the sight of her. Being berated by Erika Amato of Velvet Chain for my love of the band Barenaked Ladies. Watching Stuntc*cks at Moonlight Rising, laughing my ass off with dear friend Ashleigh Bergh (who was fourteen at the time) while other guests alternated between laughing and glancing in horror at Ashleigh, no doubt thinking this kid should NOT be watching this short film. Not so wonderful was the DragonCon where I scheduled breakfast with Jane Espenson and Tim Minear, only to have insomnia for only the second time in my life, fall asleep at six a.m., and completely miss breakfast. (I’m sure they thought I was an asshole, and unprofessional as well.) But life (and insomnia) goes on. There are so many other moments, and I’m grateful for all of them.
–Further to the above…There are so many people in my life who are only there because of Buffy, from fans who are now friends to professional colleagues in publishing or at the BBC or in other areas. I remain friendly with some of the cast members I met in those days, but aside from Amber, I should especially mention two others. The first is Robin Sachs, who played Ethan Rayne. Robin and I became friends at a UK convention, talked on the phone from time to time, went out to dinner in LA. He was smart, funny, wise, and always a little sad. Robin died far too young. On a brighter note…look, if you’ve met James C. Leary, you know. Jimmy and I first met at Moonlight Rising, a Buffy con in New York state that became legendary (or perhaps “notorious” is a better word). Someday I should write the story of that weekend, of the dripping ceilings and broken beds, of the buzzing flies and dozens of cases of food poisoning, of sharing the place (The Shining meets Dirty Dancing) with a National Rifle Association Convention, of the late night room party…okay, wait, I’ll tell that one in a second. In any case, somehow Jimmy Leary and I were asked to co-host the charity auction during the event. I have the video somewhere and it’s absolutely hysterical. It bonded us forever, laughing through that auction “for the children,” as we said over and over. Suffice to say that the highlight was persuading Tony Head to let us auction off a “ten-second, double-handed squeeze” of his ass for charity. And then, when two bidders kept going higher and higher, persuading Tony to allow TWO winners. For twenty seconds of demeaning pawing in front of an audience, Tony’s ass raised nearly four thousand dollars, all by itself. True story. Jimmy Leary is a talented writer, actor, and comedian, and he should move to New England, where he belongs.
NOTE–I tried to post video from the auction, but couldn’t do it. I’ll put a tiny clip on Facebook, just in case some of you don’t believe the story about us auctioning Tony Head’s ass. 🙂
–That after-party story. This is a list of things Buffy gave me, so it’s only fair to say it gave me one of the most awkward moments of my life. The con organizers had a suite party one night. Some of the guests were there, including James Marsters, Amber, Tony Head, and myself, but at a certain point, there were about a dozen people left. Amber and her mom and sister had just taken off and I was about to do the same. Tony Head was sitting on the edge of the bed playing somebody’s guitar, mostly to himself, quietly. Back in London, Amber had coined her nickname for me (the Big Hairy Lesbian) in conversation with one of our producers, our good friend Jelena Djordjevic. At Moonlight Rising, she shared this with a roomful of seven hundred or so Buffy fans, a good number of whom were lesbian fans of Willow and Tara. At least a handful of them brought the nickname to “the Kitten board,” an online forum dedicated to Willow and Tara’s relationship. In any case…you know when you feel a little comfortable, like you’re in a safe environment with people who “get you?” At that after-party, we were talking about conventions, and William Shatner’s famous SNL appearance came up. The one where he looks at an audience of Star Trek fans and says “haven’t you ever kissed a girl?” I made a crack about the differences between Buffy fans and Trek fans, including that with Buffy fans, they’d all kissed a girl. The comment killed the room. These people didn’t know me, were maybe thinking I’d just denigrated lesbians. In the quiet, I glanced at Tony Head, who only looked bemusedly up from his guitar at me and said, “don’t look at me, man. You’re on your own.” I slunk out of the room with my tail between my legs. Trying to protest whatever image I’d just given them of myself would only have made it worse. I still cringe.
–Common Rotation. I first saw Adam Busch, Eric Kufs, and Jordan Katz play at the fortieth birthday party for my friend Wendy Schapiro, whom I met through Buffy fandom and remains a dear friend. That was the first time, but far from the last. I saw them play at Moonlight Rising and later at various house parties and concerts at Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I loved their music then and I love it now. Though the guys haven’t toured in a very long time, if the chance arises, I’ll be first in line.
I’m sure there’s more. So much more. My work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me establish a fan base in a variety of countries around the world, saw my writing translated into many different languages for the first time, and landed me on the SFX magazine list of favorite genre writers (above Neil Gaiman—which is just silly). It became a touchstone for conversations with many other writers and, especially, editors who were Buffy fans and appreciated my work on the tie-in books. Directly or indirectly, it led me to dozens of opportunities in book and comics publishing, and in film and TV development, that wouldn’t have come otherwise. And it continues. My work on that upcoming 20th anniversary Watcher’s Guide reconnected me with people I hadn’t been in touch with for quite some time, leading to some great conversations, and to some very interesting TV development related things I can’t talk about yet.
As wonderful as all of that is, though, I can honestly say it’s the relationships Buffy has led to that I appreciate the most.
I’m sure I’ve left out people and things I ought to have included. I’m sure as soon as I post this, I’ll curse myself for forgetting. So apologies in advance.
Happy 20th anniversary to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Joss Whedon, and to everyone who contributed to making this series the cultural milestone that it was.
Thank you for all that you’ve given me.
I wish you monsters.