Amber Benson is best known for Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and her role as Tara Maclay, the shy witch who made up half of a lesbian couple considered pioneering in its portrayal. But now, the actress, director and comics writer is making a name for herself in the world of young adult fiction. Benson’s latest novel, “How to Be Death,” is the fourth installment in her Calliope Reaper-Jones series, which follows a young woman forced to take over the family business: Death, Inc. Hero Complex caught up with Benson, who talked about her writing career and project on the horizon. She was also pleased, as you’ll see below, to hear that the reporter was named Noelene Clark.
HC: How did you make the transition from acting to writing? Have you always wanted to write novels?
AB: I got into prose writing via comics. I actually was approached by Christopher Golden to write some Willow and Tara comics for “Buffy.” They did really well. Terry Moore actually did the art for some of them, and they’re just beautiful. They’re real women, too, which was nice. They have real bodies. They’re not, like, skinny, anorexic-looking characters, which drive me nuts. Willow and Tara, the comics look beautiful and real. And then the BBC approached us about creating a show for them, so Chris and I wrote this thing called “Ghosts of Albion,” which was an animated show with Emma Samms and Anthony Daniels, who was C-3PO in the “Star Wars” movies, and then we novelized that universe for Random House. I was terrified, because I had never written full-blown prose before. I’d only written really weird little short stories and bad poetry. Really bad poetry about flowers dying and blood flowing. But Chris was like, “You have to write prose now.” It was sort of like going to Chris Golden University. I learned how to be a prose writer from him. Then I wanted to write something on my own, and I came up with this Calliope Reaper-Jones series. And then we have to talk about the fact that you have “Noelene” as your name! That is the name of the character from my middle-grade series “Among the Ghosts.” Noleen-Anne. It’s really awesome. It’s a ghost story that takes place at a boarding school, about a girl who can see the ghosts of all the kids that have died while attending the school, and she has to solve a mystery, and she’s really cool and smart. They call her “Noh” for short.
HC: Can you tell us a little about Calliope? What sets her story apart from others in the genre?
AB: I wanted to create a character who was flawed. Because I feel like especially with urban fantasy and paranormal romance, there’s a lot of characters, a lot of protagonists who are given these supernatural powers, and they immediately accept the call to duty, and there’s never a question. And that was what was so great about Buffy is that she was sort of like, “I don’t know if I want to do this. I think maybe I just want to be a normal girl.” And so I wanted to bring that into my character. I wanted a character who was like, “I don’t think I want to, like, be death. I don’t think I want to run a giant supernatural corporate entity. I want to be like a normal girl. I’m interested in fashion and shopping and boys and food. And I don’t want to be immortal and see everybody I love that’s mortal die around me as I stay alive for the rest of eternity.”
HC: A corporation is an interesting take on death.
AB: There’s this sort of fear of death that we all have as human beings, the loss of self. I wanted to address that in this book, also. Because there are all these different religions, and all these different ways of living, and maybe they all can exist together, and that’s what the books are kind of about. All these sort of realities and these mythological characters and religions coexist, and they’re all right and they’re all wrong at the same time.
HC: Is there a common thread between the characters you play and the characters you write? A common characteristic that you feel drawn to?
AB: People who don’t fit in. That’s what I want to write about. Because I’ve always felt like I don’t fit in. I’ve always felt like that odd man out. I feel like the missing piece, looking for the whole. I think that’s what’s engaging for me when I write. I want a character that’s searching for something. ‘Cause I think we’re all looking. And I feel like we all don’t quite fit. Even though there are people out there who say that they fit, I don’t know if they actually do, or if inside, they really feel that they do. So I wanted to talk about that with my characters. My characters are always on the lookout for their crew.
HC: And that’s very much Calliope.
AB: That’s very much Calliope, and that’s Tara from “Buffy,” too. She was looking, and she was open to finding her family and finding friends that treated her with respect and liked her for who she was, and they weren’t looking for anything other than what she was. That was what was appealing about that character and playing that character, and writing those kind of characters. Because I think we can all identify for that search for finding other people like us.
HC: What else do you have coming up?
AB: I’m working on a Web series right now with ["Buffy" actor] Adam Busch. He and I co-directed it. It’s called “Girl on Girl,” which I know sounds like pornography, but it is not. It’s about a couple of girls who live in Los Angeles, and they’re trying to meet men. It’s very much in the vein of “Absolutely Fabulous.” They sort of are a mess and their own worst enemies. They undercut themselves and they never quite get to hook it up with the dudes they want to hook it up with. It’s really cute.
– Noelene Clark
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