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Amber Benson

Amber Benson - "Death’s Daughter" Novel - Ifmagazine.com Interview Part 1

Wednesday 1 April 2009, by Webmaster


Amber Benson talks about her new book, new movie, social networking and more

Amber Benson is known for a whole lot of things these days. As an actress, she’s still famous for playing the loving witch Tara on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, as well as her award-winning turn in the indie drama RACE YOU TO THE BOTTOM and a host of roles in movies, telefilms and guest shots on TV series. As a filmmaker, she’s written, produced and directed the features CHANCE and LOVERS, LIARS AND LUNATICS, along with directing and co-writing – with Christopher Golden – the BBC web series THE GHOSTS OF ALBION. Benson and Golden also co-wrote two novels and a novella in their GHOSTS OF ALBION series. The new DEATH’S DAUGHTER (from Penguin/Roc) marks Benson’s debut as a solo novelist.

AMBER BENSON: I like to say that if you if you took Neil Gaiman and you took THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and you made it have babies, that would be DEATH’S DAUGHTER [laughs]. Basically what happened is, I really wanted to do something along the lines of the Hero Quest, but told from a female point of view. So often, in mythology and literature, women are sort of subsidiary characters, they don’t go on quests, they don’t have the call. I really wanted to see a woman go on this hero’s journey. Especially in urban contemporary fiction for women, there’s this supernatural stuff [where] they’re much more fighting the bad guys right off the bat. There’s really no genesis of how they got to their power, or if you do see that, it’s in a much later book, or told over the course of a number of books. I really wanted to do this hero quest, I want everyone to see why she is the way she is. That’s where the idea came from. And then when I had that down, [DEATH’S DAUGHTER protagonist Calliope Reaper-Jones] sort of appeared. When I started writing, she just came into my head, fully formed. I like to say it’s like Athena springing from Zeus’ head fully formed. That’s Calliope. She just was.

iF MAGAZINE: Was it the kind of headache you’d have if you gave birth to a child from your head?

BENSON: It’s been a lot of headaches. It’s been a lot of writing. Writing prose is so much different than writing dialogue and scripts or comic books. On the GHOSTS OF ALBION stuff, I split the writing with Chris, so it was a lot easier. If there was a problem, or I couldn’t get out of something, I could just say, "Hey, Chris, why don’t you take a look at this scene and see what you can do?" Here I had that luxury not at all. [laughs] I was forced to do it myself and so any time there was a place where I couldn’t figure out what to do, I really was between a rock and a hard place. No one can help me here.

iF: Did that experience of needing to rescue yourself become an analogy in Calliope’s story?

BENSON: A little bit. [So was] the idea of letting other people help you. This was her hero quest, this was her call to find out who she is, yet she’s helped by all these people along the way. Really, that’s kind of how the book happened. I like to say that I went to Chris Golden University. I learned how to write at Chris Golden Writing Novels 101. Just writing the stuff for GHOSTS OF ALBION with him was instructive to me. There were things that I would do wrong or that I didn’t know and he would be, "Okay, this is actually how you do it," talking in a writer/writing way. I feel like I learned so much from him. I feel indebted to him. He and his family are like a second family to us, they’re just wonderful people and he really is my mentor in this. He’s really the reason that I’m writing novels. Blame Chris. You don’t like the book, it’s Chris’ fault [laughs]. Through Chris, I got my literary manager, Brendan Deneen, and through Brendan and Chris, I met [editor] Ginjer [Buchanan], and then Brendan and I put this thing together with Ginjer. All these different people helped to make this happen. Without one of them, it wouldn’t have happened.

iF: Did you have a book deal in place before you started?

BENSON: Basically, I started writing the book and I had no idea if I would ever see the light of day with this book, because I didn’t have a literary manager. I knew some editors, Ginjer included, through Chris, but I really didn’t have the framework in which to do it properly. I told Chris I was working on it. He had read some of it and had some ideas for me and then he said, "Well, I have this friend who’s getting into the lit managing world and I think you should talk to him." And then we took the first ten chapters out and we didn’t hear anything for awhile and I said to Adam [Busch], "Well, I can’t not finish this book. I can’t let whether someone is interested in buying it or not color doing it. I need to do it for myself." I made the choice that, regardless if nobody ever wants it, I was doing this for myself. If nobody ever bought it, it didn’t matter. I would have just put it away in a dresser drawer somewhere and maybe looked at it a few years down the way. I was going to finish it. And once I made that decision, Ginjer called and said, "I love it, I want it, and I want three books."

iF: There’s a kind of SEX IN THE CITY quality to Calliope’s life in New York when the book begins. Was making Calliope an aspiring fashion editor the most contrasting ambition you could give her in terms of her birthright as Death’s Daughter?

BENSON: Well, I loved THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. I thought it was such a cool book, I thought the movie was fun. And I thought, "That’s an interesting world that somebody would want to be part of, can’t quite get into that world, but still is obsessed with it and loves it." A lot of women love SEX AND THE CITY and I enjoyed it, and I thought, "This is something that women can relate to and I can make it part of her personality. Other women will relate to it and they’ll be willing to go on this crazy journey with us," because, "She could be me. I want to know what Carrie is wearing from SEX AND THE CITY, I’m curious what Manolo Blahnik shoes she has on, okay, I’m interested in what kind of dog Cerberus is." They’re willing to go on the journey with you if you make her a real person [with] wants and needs. I hope [laughs].

iF: There are a lot of mythological elements in DEATH’S DAUGHTER. Were you familiar with them already, or did you come across them doing research for the book?

BENSON: It’s really funny, because I knew more about mythology than I do about Marc Jacobs and the clothing stuff [laughs]. I had to do a lot of research on what kind of shoes, and who the cool designers were and what I would want if I were looking for something on the sale rack. I knew a lot more about the mythology. I love mythology, I love religion, I loved Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. That was stuff I was really interested in as an adolescent, so I was really excited to bring that world to life, where many different religions can coexist as one.