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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Keith R.A. DeCandido - "Blackout" & "The Deathless" Books - Slayerlit.us Interview

Thursday 7 December 2006, by Webmaster

SlayerLit: Hiya, would you like to provide some of the background to your writing career for those not in the know?

Keith R.A. DeCandido: I’ve been writing since I was six years old, but they didn’t start paying me for it until much later. I started out writing nonfiction for magazines like Library Journal, The Comics Journal, and Creem before finally selling my first short story in 1994 and my first novel in 1998. Most of my fiction has been in the world of media tie-ins like Buffy...I’ve written novels, comic books, short stories, and eBooks based on Star Trek, Serenity, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Resident Evil, Marvel Comics, Farscape, Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, and others.

::: The Deathless :::

SL: You have revealed that THE DEATHLESS is "traditional Buffy fare, a third-season adventure that involves Ring Day at Sunnydale High School and the arrival of several people from Russian folklore, including Koschei the Deathless and Baba Yaga." For the benefit of anyone not familiar or outside the US, what is ’Ring Day,’ and What led you to revolve your story around this school event?

KRAD: Because it wasn’t taken, honestly. There were very few high school events that hadn’t been covered by the show. Ring Day is the day when high schoolers get their class rings. Not every school has it, even in the U.S., but it can be a rite of passage.

SL: Where precisely in the Buffyverse continuity does the novel fit, and why did you choose this spot as a suitable point to slot your story?

KRAD: It takes place between "The Zeppo" and "Bad Girls." It takes place in the third season because senior year is often when Ring Day is. I had it take place there for a variety of reasons. It had to take place after "Gingerbread," because that episode was the first time the Scooby Gang encountered the notion of fairy tales come to life, so this story about meeting figures from Russian folklore had to take place later. I wanted it to take place prior to "Bad Girls" because I wanted to use Faith as a good guy and also not deal with the end-of-season buildup to Graduation Day, so it had to be before "Bad Girls." Finally, "The Zeppo" ends with Giles and Willow badly injured, but they’re fine in "Bad Girls," which means there has to be a few weeks between those two episodes, which was enough time for my novel to happen.

SL: This is the first time you have been able to use Faith in a Buffy novel. Did you have fun writing for the rogue Slayer? Have you read the recent Faith-centric novel, GO ASK MALICE, and if so did it affect the way you used her in THE DEATHLESS?

KRAD: Faith was an absolute blast to write. I have indeed read GO ASK MALICE, and even used some details from it in the Faith scenes in THE DEATHLESS. It was a great book, and I felt really nervous being the followup book (BLACKOUT was released two months after ...MALICE).

SL: Were you familiar with Russian folklore before writing, or did you discover it while you researched for the novel? What led you to use the figures, Koschei, Bulat the Brave and Baba Yaga? Are there any other influences that helped in the creation of the book?

KRAD: My ex-wife is Russian by birth, and when we were married, she and I collaborated on a short story called "A Bone to Pick," which appeared in the anthology DID YOU SAY CHICKS!? That story utilized Baba Yaga, and it inspired my interest in Russian folklore. In fact, I originally pitched THE DEATHLESS to Pocket Books in 1999, not too long after Marina and I wrote the story. But the primary inspiration was those stories about Baba Yaga and Koschei and Bulat and the rest.

SL: The idea of folklore coming alive is seen in Buffy’s "Ginger Bread", and many narratives explore stories coming to life (Neil Gaiman’s work for example is filled with such themes). Why do writers use this device, and does it reveal anything about the storytellers themselves and their feelings about their craft?

KRAD: Folklore are the stories that we tell over and over for a reason. They resonate with something in our very souls. They’re stories that people have been coming back to for centuries...people like me and Neil (and there are very few ways in which I deserve to be in the same breath as Neil) are simply carrying on in the same tradition.

(THE DEATHLESS is due out on April 24, 2007, and can be pre-ordered now online: at AMAZON.COM

::: Blackout :::

BLACKOUT blurb: New York City in 1977 is vampire heaven. Serial killer Son of Sam is often blamed for their hits, and a citywide blackout gives them free reign of the streets, allowing them to get away with murder. Spike and his beloved Drusilla are in the Big Apple taking advantage of the situation, as is Vampire Slayer Nikki Wood, who has hunkered down with her son, Robin, in a Times Square apartment where she thinks they’ll be safe. But no matter where she goes, Nikki has to watch her back. Spike has only one thing on his mind: to slay a slayer. Adding to Spike’s list of challenges is a corrupt local vampire community that catches wind of his presence, and when they start messing with him, things get bloody interesting.

SL: How/why did you come to write a novel that revolved around Nikki Wood, and barely featured Buffy Summers? What are the advantages of writing novels that do not revolve around the core Scooby Gang? Are we likely to more novels that play out on the fringes of the Buffyverse from Pocket Books?

KRAD: The character of Nikki Wood interested me from the get-go when "Fool for Love" first aired in 2000. I’m a New Yorker, born and bred, and I grew up in the 1970s, so this character was right in my wheelhouse. When I first pitched the notion to the editors at Pocket, they were thrilled at the notion. I think the presence of BLACKOUT and GO ASK MALICE shows that they’re willing to push the envelope a bit, and will continue to do so.

SL: I really enjoyed your use of the 1970s backdrop, and after I read the annotations to the novel saw that much of the detail was written to be as historically accurate as possible. Did that involve much research, or a really good memory? Did you enjoy writing about your hometown, New York?

KRAD: I love writing about my hometown. I’ve written several pieces of fiction that take place in New York, ranging from a Doctor Who short story to both my Spider-Man novels. As for BLACKOUT, some of it came from memory, but I was only eight years old at the time, so I backed it up with lots of research, including spending a couple of days going through old issues of the New York Daily News, New York Post, and Village Voice from July 1977.

SL: You have said that in preparation for writing you watched "Shaft", "Foxy Brown", "Cleopatra Jones", "Superfly", "The Black Godfather", "Hell Up in Harlem", "Across 110th Street", and "Shaft’s Big Score!" After watching all those, did the retro-style 70s dialogue come easy? Which characters did you find easiest to write dialogue for, and which characters the most challenging (and why)?

KRAD: Once I got into the rhythm of things, the 70s slang came fairly easily, actually. That was why I focused on movies and TV shows produced at the time, as opposed to contemporary films and TV shows that look back like Summer of Sam and That 70s Show, which don’t get it remotely right. As for dialogue, everyone was pretty easy except for Drusilla. It’s easy to fall into the trap with her of just writing random nonsense, but if you pay attention, everything she says means something, and generally ties into her precognitive abilities. So you have to be extra careful with her dialogue, and it’s incredibly difficult, because she also has to be totally bugnuts.

(BLACKOUT is out now, and available online: at AMAZON.COM

::: Xander Years :::

THE XANDER YEARS blurb: Unfulfilled crushes. Awkward first conversations. A date who wants you...dead. Having a Y-chromosome in Sunnydale is never easy. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s friend Xander Harris seems to find more than his share of trouble with the opposite sex. At first Xander is happy being the teacher’s pet - until his schoolboy crush brings out her true animal instincts. Then his whirlwind romance with the exotic foreign exchange student falters when she demands the ultimate sacrifice. Some members of the Slaying squad might say that dating Cordelia Chase could kill a guy. But Xander’s relationship with the high-maintenance Cordy actually seems to be working out - until she decides he’s seriously harming her social standing. His crafty plan to win her back may earn him more love than one guy can handle.

SL: Why did Fox nix the title, THE XANDER FILES in 1999 (instead opting for THE XANDER YEARS), and yet approve the title for the Willow novilizations, THE WILLOW FILES in 2000 (The ’W’-Files?!)?

KRAD: You’d have to ask them. I wanted to call it XANDER THE GREAT.

SL: You chose to pitch a book of Xander-related novilizations, why Xander rather than another character? You have said your "goal was to do the one thing a TV show could not, to hear the characters’ thoughts. Each scene is from a particular character’s point of view." I would have to congratulate that effort. I loved the way that Xander is making jokes in his head even as Inca Mummy Girl is sucking the life out of him ("He’d heard about kisses that could take your breath away but this was ridiculous"). Did you find it easy to enter the headspace of Alexander LaVelle Harris and if so, why or why not? How did you feel about the way the character developed in the final seasons of "Buffy"?

KRAD: I chose Xander in part because that was the next character Pocket was looking at after they’d done two Angel volumes, and in part because I was Xander in high school...which also made it pretty easy to enter his headspace. As for how he developed, I thought one of the biggest missteps Buffy made in its later years was splitting Xander and Anya up. It served no purpose whatsoever except to do angst for angst’s sake, and it did so at the expense of Xander’s character.

SL: I noticed that in the novilization of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", Willow’s line to Xander, "Force is okay" was omitted. Was this self-editing, or were you required to remove this suggestive dialogue? I have noticed in my hometown in the past few years, several bookshops have relocated the Buffy novels from ’Teen’ sections to ’Horror’ or ’Fantasy’. Anyone who started following "Buffy" from the start (back in 1997) at the age of twelve-years is now around 21 years-old and much of the fan base was significantly older even during those early years, and have since grown even older. What are your feelings about the ’Young Adult’ description still being applied to some Buffy novels, does it deter older fans or is there a need for some Buffy novels to continue to be published in this category?

KRAD: I wasn’t the one who made that change. THE XANDER YEARS was very much a YA book, so that line was cut by someone else. When Pocket first acquired the Buffy license, it was marketed as YA because it was assumed (not unreasonably) that a show featuring teenagers on the WB would mostly appeal to teenagers. They later started up a more adult line, but the most recent books have all been YA, including BLACKOUT. I honestly don’t know the rationale one way or the other, but I assume they feel that it maximizes the sales potential.

(THE XANDER YEARS is out now, and can be purchased online: HERE

::: Canon and Continuity :::

SL: What is ’Buffyverse canon’ to authors such as yourself? Does it include materials written by Whedon outside the TV series (e.g. FRAY), and what about stories written by Buffy script-writers?

KRAD: Oh sweet Jesus, not the canon discussion. Canon is a totally, thoroughly, and in all ways irrelevant concern unless you’re actually writing for the property. It’s a stupid discussion and serves no purpose whatsoever. I do not understand why people get bent out of shape over what’s "real" in a fictional construct.

SL: Are there people at Fox, who try to maintain continuity amongst the many stories where possible, or is it the author’s choice and responsibility?

KRAD: It’s the job of everyone involved, really.

SL: During my travels on the internet, I have come across Buffyverse fans who sadly won’t read the novels because they reject them as ’uncanon’. Would the Buffy/Angel novels sell better amongst some fans if a system was used for the Buffyverse that is in place for Star Wars (SW novels are semi-canon where they don’t contradict the films)? Or are there significant problems with Fox licensing introducing a similar system for Whedon’s world? Should Buffyverse fans be concerned with trying to maintain some kind of consistent canon? Or is that placing too much emphasis on an attempt to create a single elaborate suspension of disbelief?

KRAD: Buffyverse fans should stop worrying about irrelevant nonsense like this and just enjoy the damn stories. Again, who cares about what’s "real" in a fictional construct?

::: Untold Stories :::

SL: I noticed your mother is a big fan of Giles; she wrote the essay, "Rupert Giles and Search Tools for Wisdom in Buffy", and "Buffy" author, Robert Joseph Levy recently said in an interview on this site that "I would love to see a writer do their take on the ’lost pilot episode’ of ’The Watcher’ with Giles large and in charge", are you that writer?

KRAD: I certainly wouldn’t mind taking a shot at it. I’ve always liked Giles, and thought there were untapped depths there.

SL: Do you have Buffy story proposals you might have made to Pocket Books which for any particular reason will not be further developed? Or ideas you had for Buffy novels which you realized could never happen?

KRAD: Well, I had a couple of other things I pitched back in 1999 that didn’t go anywhere that I wouldn’t mind doing at some point. I’d rather not say what they are in case they do go somewhere some day. After all, THE DEATHLESS finally happened after seven years!

SL: Your annotations for BLACKOUT revealed that "the first draft had more specifics of Nikki’s encounter with Dracula, but wiser editorial heads prevailed, and it was cut. That’s another story, I wouldn’t mind telling someday." Have you read Peter David’s SPIKE VS. DRACULA (if so what did you think)? And is there a chance we might see you someday write "Nikki Vs Dracula" in a comic or novel?

KRAD: I didn’t read SPIKE VS. DRACULA until after BLACKOUT was published, but I enjoyed it a great deal. And I hope there’s a chance of seeing NIKKI VS DRACULA!

SL: You also referenced a past confrontation between Nikki and Darla (a clash which you say "has yet to be fully recounted") and you even hinted at the past of the largely unexplored Chinese Slayer (from "Fool For Love" and the comic, SPIKE & DRU: ALL’S FAIR which names her Xin Rong). Are these tales which you hope to someday expand?

KRAD: You betcha.

SL: What kind of Buffy stories would you like to tell in the future?

KRAD: All kinds. I’d rather not give specifics.

SL: Thanks very much for the interview!