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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Kirsten Beyer - "Buffy : One Thing or Your Mother" Novel - Slayerlit.us Interview

Shiai Mata

Monday 2 July 2007, by Webmaster

Although a new voice in the world of Buffy novels, Kirsten Beyer is already an established name with readers of Star Trek and Star Wars books. And now, she’s realizing her "dream job" of playing in Joss Whedon’s sandbox with her upcoming novel, ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER, set for release on January 1, 2008!

Kirsten kindly took the time to speak with SlayerLit about her book, Buffy, canon, and how a vampire named Spike took her by surprise.

(Special thanks to Simon & Schuster, which has given Kirsten permission to reveal information about ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER here first, in a SlayerLit exclusive!)

SLAYERLIT: Kirsten, welcome to SlayerLit... and for that matter, welcome to the Buffyverse! KIRSTEN BEYER: Thanks! Thrilled to be here.

SL: How about a quick bio? KB: Well, let’s see. It’s the “quick” part that has me stymied at the moment. I’m an actor and a writer. I studied English Literature and Theater Arts at LMU and got my Master of Fine Arts in Acting at UCLA. I’ve done lots of LA theater and some TV and film. I live in LA with my husband and a very fat cat named Owen. (I like to think of him as big-boned.)

I started writing about 12 years ago. Initially I was working in the teleplay format, writing specifically for Star Trek Voyager. I was invited to pitch to the show several times but never made a sale there. I branched out into original TV, features and novel adaptations and about five years ago was offered my first paying job, which was the novel FUSION, the second novel in a trilogy celebrating Voyager’s 10th anniversary.

To be completely honest, I didn’t dream about being a writer when I was a kid. I dreamed about telling stories, and since I started on the stage pretty young, performance was kind of all I knew. Only once I’d finished school and realized how much down time there would be between acting jobs did it occur to me that writing would be a satisfying way to continue to work those creative muscles. Once I started, I never really stopped. There were a lot of years of developing my writing style and voice and learning as I went how to create characters and how to plot a story. Hell, I’m still learning that. But the piles of unsold material have served me well now that I have a chance to do it professionally.

SL: This is your first Buffy book, but you’ve written other media tie-in novels. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’ve done before? KB: As I mentioned, the first was STRING THEORY, BOOK 2: FUSION. At the same time I was invited to write a short story called “Isabo’s Shirt” for DISTANT SHORES, which was the Voyager anthology also released for the 10th Anniversary. Then came ALIAS: ONCE LOST, and now ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER.

In between the tie-in work I’ve done a number of screenplays, the most recent of which should be starting pre-production in the next few months.

SL: Your upcoming book (due in January of 2008), is, as you’ve said, called ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER. How much of the story can you share with us in advance? KB: Probably not as much as either of us would like. It’s set toward the end of Season Two, just after the episode “I Only Have Eyes for You.” So we’re dealing with the Buffy who is still coming to grips with the loss of Angel and struggling with the fact that Angelus is going to make her life a living hell until she finds it in herself to kill him.

She’s got her typical school and friend issues to deal with. As her grades are decidedly sub-par Principal Snyder has asked the school board place her in a special category of academic probation, and she’s assigned a tutor to work with several nights a week until finals... which cramps her style in more ways than one. Xander and Cordelia are now openly making everyone ill with their now out-of-the-closet romance, and Willow and Oz have just started dating so Buffy’s feeling kind of like a fifth wheel among her friends.

A freshman at Sunnydale High who has his own troubling issues decides, unwisely, that the solution might be to raise a demon to protect him. That demon ends up having a personal connection with a major recurring character in Buffy’s world, and its actions have a fairly devastating impact on the good people of Sunnydale as they all begin to suffer from sleep-depravation as part of a spell the demon casts.

At the same time, all is not well in the mansion home of Angelus, Spike and Drusilla. Spike’s frustration with Angelus and his proximity to Spike’s beloved Drusilla is palpable, but he’s still not ready to show all of his cards. Spike actually gets an interesting surprise when Drusilla decides she wants a child of her own and sires an eight year old girl. Angelus, who is still plotting the best way to really destroy Buffy before he allows himself the exquisite pleasure of killing her, has less than no time for the child vampire, but Spike finds something of a kindred spirit in the little girl.

Beyond that, I will tell you that you’re going to learn a lot more about Principal Snyder in this book than ever before, including his first name which, to my knowledge, hasn’t been revealed elsewhere.

SL: Were you a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before you landed this assignment? KB: I was a HUGE fan of Buffy and Angel and really all things Joss Whedon for many years. Joss is one of the writers I admire most in the world and one I’ve often prayed to in times of literary need. I came to the series early in Season Four when it was originally airing, and was able to catch the previous seasons in re-runs on FX as I was keeping up with the continuing story. Season Five of Buffy completely blew my mind. “The Gift” remains one of my all-time favorite episodes, along with “Once More, with Feeling,“ which I believe is pure genius. I’ve owned all of Buffy and Angel on DVD since they were released and re-watch them often for fun and inspiration. I simply can’t say enough positive things about the world that Joss created or the depth of the mythology and complexity of the characters. Sure, like everything else that epic, it has its highs and lows, but on balance it’s simply fabulous storytelling, and to this day I adore it. For my last birthday a dear friend gave me a subscription to the new comic series for Buffy and I devour each one the moment it arrives in my hands.

SL: And had you read any of the other novels? KB: A few. I tend to be kind of obsessive about complete and thorough research in any series I write for but the harsh reality of this project was that I was given the assignment after only having read a couple of the novels and when I discovered just how many of the damned things were out there I just had to accept the fact that I could either read as many as I could get my hands on or I could meet my deadline. I opted for the latter.

I have to say that of those I did read, Keith DeCandido’s BLACKOUT was a real treat. I was unabashedly jealous after reading that and told him so.

SL: Is Season Two a period of time in the series that you particularly enjoy working in? KB: It wouldn’t have been my first choice. I would have naturally gravitated to Season Five or Seven, probably because there was so much more story under everyone’s belt by that time from which to draw inspiration. I do enjoy referencing little points of continuity when they’re relevant and since season one was so short it feels like your hands are a little tied in Season Two, especially when you know just how many more amazingly cool revelations and characters are coming. Oh, to have written a little Anya... .

But I was limited to seasons Two or Three when I was pitching, and so I chose the point that was filled with the most conflict I could find. Though Season Three had its fair share of angst, especially once Faith turned bad, I was more interested in focusing on Buffy. When I re-watched “Becoming” in preparation for my proposal, I was really struck by how much pain Buffy was in when it was coming time for her to face the fact that Angel wasn’t coming back. That’s really fertile ground for character development. I’ve also always loved Spike and he’s in a really tough spot at this point. He’s kind of been demoted from resident Big Bad and it’s eating away at him slowly. I also had a hunch that Angelus would be more interesting to write than Season Two Angel, and that also proved quite true.

SL: How do you feel about canon and continuity? For instance, as the writer of this book, did you attempt to hew closely to events depicted in certain episodes, or even in other BtVS novels, or did you feel free to take some artistic liberties? KB: I’m as much of a freak about continuity as my time and memory will allow me to be, particularly when it comes to the emotional arc of a character. Of course I care about the details and facts, but those ultimately less interesting to me than the character’s journey and the specifics of how they move through that. In my original proposal there was a relatively major plot point that in all of my research I honestly believed had never been discussed in the series. My editor didn’t notice it immediately either, but when the proposal was sent to the licensor they slammed me down hard on it right away. Fortunately it was very easy to re-work, but I was surprised at myself for not remembering the episode that dealt with the issue (it had to do with child vampires) and equally pleased that someone found it before we moved forward. I know the fans would have kicked my ass over it and just as well to avoid that over something silly.

So, yes, canon absolutely guides my writing. Those aren’t liberties I’m interested in taking. Because we get to write Buffy in prose form rather than teleplay form we already have freedoms the TV writers don’t. We get to go inside the characters thoughts and feelings moment to moment. On screen, that’s the actor’s job. And with something as rich as Buffy, there is more than enough material to explore without deviating from the established universe. Continuity is equally precious to me because as a reader, I don’t enjoy seeing a choice that is clearly there to serve the story or the author at the expense of what I already know as a fan. I really try and honor that in my media tie-in work. Those are the rules of the game, so to speak. It’s also the fun part of the challenge. You’re adding a little piece to this huge puzzle and it needs to feel and sound like the rest of the puzzle or it’s not worth anybody’s time. Of course you also want to add something that’s yours. I certainly got to do that on this project and I was pleasantly surprised to be granted as much freedom as I was to expand on a well-established character. Often times in developing tie-ins, you’re looking for that little unexplored gem; something the original creators never had the time or interest in developing further but something that’s worth more thought. Given that Joss and his staff were brilliant, there aren’t as many of those in the Buffyverse as in some other universes I’ve worked in. They really developed all of the main characters within an inch of their lives. But that just made it more interesting to explore and when I hit upon my little gem, it definitely felt like an achievement.

Having said all that, I have to add that I’m often shocked and occasionally amused at the discussions I see across many universes about the relevance of canon for the readers. Canon is not personal. It’s not subjective. Neither I nor any other fan of the show has any say at all in what is canon. For the purposes of this work it is simply all of the events that were portrayed on screen. While there have been other glorious additions to the universe of Buffy in prose form, they are not and never will be canon, nor will most writers feel obligated to reference or avoid contradicting them where necessary or appropriate. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not going to go out of our way to piss on someone else’s creation. It’s bad form. But we are only obligated, and I think, rightfully so, to work within the boundaries that were established on the series as it was aired. And that alone is enough of a headache, believe me. If an editor or licensor feels that a story element that has been covered only in one of the novels is relevant to what we’re doing (which also did happen in my book and thankfully I had read the novel in question so I got the significance) we’re going to tread lightly and do the best we can, but contradictions will happen. It’s the nature of the beast.

As I mentioned earlier, even had I wanted to include references to other novels in this story, I simply didn’t have the time to cover that material. The obsessive compulsive part of me that creates databases and timelines would have loved to. I might have found a richness and depth that the fans of the books would have enjoyed, but ultimately, it wasn‘t practical for me to do so, and at the end of the day I don’t think this book suffers at all because of it.

As a fan, I’m going to get tweaked if an author dismisses something major or tries to muck around with something we know as canon. I honestly can’t imagine an editor or licensor intentionally allowing that. But fans also have to understand that we’re all human and far from perfect. No matter how hard we try to honor the canon and the continuity sometimes things are going to get by us. It’s a big frigging universe. We’re sorry. It happens. If at the end of the day a reader is more worried about a tiny detail that might be questionable, I probably haven’t done my job well anyway.

Wow that was a long answer. Sorry about that.

SL: Well, you’re passionate about your work, and that’s certainly nothing to apologize for!

How did you come to be chosen to write this book? Did you submit a plot, or were you asked to do the assignment? KB: The nice man who edited my Alias novel had told me a while back that if I ever wanted to write for Alias again I should feel welcome. By the time I got around to following up on that there were no more Alias novels to be written. He mentioned that they were also working on a couple of other series, including Buffy, and put me in touch with the editor handling Buffy who very graciously invited me to send her a proposal. I gave her an outline of the novel and one sample chapter (it turned out to be chapter two of the novel if anyone cares) and once we’d hashed out a few relatively minor issues with the licensor I was on deadline.

SL: When you write, do you work from a detailed outline? And do you set benchmarks for yourself as to the number of words written each day, or the number of hours daily spent working? KB: With both Alias and Buffy I was required to submit a very detailed outline of the novel as the proposal. For me on a book this size, those tend to run around 25 pages or so. But they’re an absolute Godsend to have once the writing begins. I learned the hard way when writing FUSION that outlines are really, really, really super important. It’s incredibly easy to lose track of story and pacing when you’re shooting for a hundred thousand words, and I was in the tall grass for weeks without the kind of detailed outline I tend to work from now.

Once the proposal is done and approved, the writing is pretty easy. It kind of becomes a math issue. I have this many days to write this many words. The outline gets broken down into chapters so I have nice, manageable bite sized chunks to attack each day. Depending upon how long I futz around before I make myself sit down and start writing, I usually end up needing to write about 1,000 words a day to comfortably meet my deadline. Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, a normal writing session of three or four hours a day (which is usually all the stamina I have right now but I’m working on that) produces closer to 2,500 hundred words which puts me nicely ahead of schedule and leaves room for planned and unplanned days off. I like to finish my books ahead of deadline. I’ve noticed that the editors are usually pleasantly surprised when I manage to do it. I absolutely refuse to leave things to the last minute. I get that life happens and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but it’s a professional standard for me and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

SL: Is there a particular Scooby Gang character whose “voice” you most enjoyed writing? KB: I do love them all in their own way. Of the Scoobies, my favorites to create dialogue for were Oz and Cordelia. Of course they do very little in this book so that was unfortunate for me. At this point you couldn’t count Spike as a Scooby, but he was far and away the most fun to write. I had no idea when I started the project that this was going to be the case, but holy cow was that a blast.

SL: What is it about Buffy the Vampire Slayer that resonates so strongly with so many people, do you think? KB: It’s going to be different for everyone, isn’t it? I can only tell you what resonates with me. It’s there in all of the best “hero” stories we read and watch. We’re given someone we can relate to, someone gifted perhaps, and with good intentions, but eminently human with plenty of baggage and weaknesses. And week after week we watch that person struggle with themselves to find more than they think they have to give as they overcome what seem like impossible obstacles. Along the way, we learn. And we think about ourselves. It’s really not about the outcome, which in this format tends to be pretty standard. It’s about the journey; how in the world are they going to solve this? So that when we meet our own impossible obstacles in life we have a larger frame of reference for what is actually possible in our lives. If you decide that no matter what you’re not going to give up until you’ve seen it through, it’s amazing to see what you can actually accomplish. Buffy is a fantastic hero, not because she always succeeds or always does the right thing, but because she approaches the challenges she’s given with her best efforts and when she’s wrong, she takes responsibility for her wrongness and moves on without letting failure dim her spirit. She fights the good fight, and in the end, that’s all any of us can do. It also doesn’t hurt that Buffy and all of the Scoobies manage to accept their struggles with humility and humor. They don’t see how remarkable they are because they’re in the middle of it. And always in the darkest times, someone finds the funny. There are worse ways to go through life.

SL: Can you tell us what books are on your reading list right now? And which authors do you recommend to people? KB: I’ve always got too many books going at the same time. I’ve just finished my final re-reading of Harry Potter books 1 to 6 in joyful anticipation of July 21. I’m positively dying to get the final book into my hot little hands. I’m reading two novels at the moment for research purposes, as well as the new biography of Einstein by Walter Isaacson, and Al Gore’s THE ASSAULT ON REASON. If I had the money I’d buy a copy for every single American citizen, and if I had the time I’d sit with each and every one of them while they read it so we could discuss it as they went along. It’s not that I think everyone needs to agree with all of the conclusions, but many of the premises are well taken. I’ve got an old biography of Henry VIII by my bed on top of HOMER’S ILIAD, both of which are slow going. I realized a couple of years back that despite my English degree, my background in some of the classics is too weak so I’m working to remedy that. Authors I recommend: A.S. Byatt, John Irving, Leif Enger, Jane Austen, and Sharon Kay Penman.

SL: I have to reluctantly mention that ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER will hold a very singular distinction, won’t it? KB: Yes, apparently... though I was unaware of this when I was writing it... ONE THING OR YOUR MOTHER will be the last Buffy novel. I have no idea why this decision was made. I didn‘t find out until my editor and I started revising the manuscript. Once I knew, however, it did inspire me to rewrite the epilogue in order to expand a bit on the information presented and really bring the novel to the most satisfying close I possibly could.

On a personal note, I’m sad to know that this is the end. Of course it had to happen at some point. But I would gladly have written more Buffy had the opportunity presented itself. As it is, I’m really glad I got to play in this sandbox before it was over.

SL: You’ve written Star Trek, Alias, and now Buffy. What’s the one dream tie-in character you’d most like to get a crack at? KB: Honestly, it was Buffy. I don’t think I knew before I did the project how much it would mean to me that I got to spend a little time in Sunnydale. Now, even though this part of the story is over, it’s really nice to have worked on this one and to feel that in my own little way, I added something to the mythos.

SL: Do you have any other planned projects you can share with us now? KB: I’m optimistic that my next tie-in work will be a return to Star Trek, though we’re still in the discussion stage. In the meantime I’m working on an original novel that I believe fans of Buffy might find intriguing. It’s definitely cut from similar cloth, but this time I get to create the rules of the game and so far, it‘s going really well. Finally, I expect to be picking up the screenplay I’ve been working on since last October to do final revisions before production begins late in the Fall. That’s a romantic comedy with a bit of a supernatural twist. Definitely meant to be good clean fun for the whole family. The working title is “Directing for Dummies“, but I believe that will change.

SL: Kirsten, thank you for taking the time to speak with us! KB: My pleasure. I truly hope that Buffy fans who love the novels will feel I did justice to the characters and their creators, and that the series is ending on a high note.