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From Cityofangel.com


Nikki Stafford - ’Once Bitten’ Book - Cityofangel.com Interview

By Kristy Bratton

Saturday 2 April 2005, by Webmaster

"Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of Angel."

Following on the stylish, yet affordable boots of "Bite Me! An Unofficial Guide to the World of Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in 2002, Canadian author Nikki Stafford continues her writing success in the Joss-verse with "Once Bitten: An Unofficial Guide to the World of Angel." Within the original pages of "Bite Me!", Nikki covered the majority of the Buffy series up until its sixth season with highlights on its cast and crew and included the opening three seasons of Angel as well as fan oriented events such as the Posting Board Parties. With the fan pressure on Nikki chose to compile a new companion book that would be its equal for Angel providing more insight, detailed analysis and her own unique humorous style which readers were accustomed to. Nikki has been an intricate part of the Joss-verse being, not only, an early admirer of both the Buffy and Angel series but by attending many of the industry events that have given her an uncommon perspective on what made both these shows cult hits with critics, their viewers and within academic institutions all over the world. Her skills as a writer and humorist take front page, no pun intended, allowing her to provide for her readers and the fans of Angel that perspective and keen observation of the ’whys’ and ’how fors’ that captured so many in front of their TV sets on Wednesday nights. Here’s just one example from "Once Bitten": In the season three episode, Carpe Noctem, Did You Notice? This is the second time someone has called Angel a eunuch; the first time was in Guise Will Be Guise, when Virginia’s father says he hired Angel because he was a eunuch and Virginia would remain a virgin that way.

Nikki took time from her recently (and always) busy schedule, which included being in the middle of buying a house with her husband Rob, and the arrival of their new addition, a baby daughter named Sydney, to sit down with CoA and talk about what it’s like to be...once bitten, eh?

Once Bitten a look inside the pages:

# An exclusive interview with Alexis Denisof with insight into the character arc of his alter ego Wesley Wyndam-Pryce
# Interviews with the cast and crew of Angel focusing on their episodic comments - including Amy Acker (Fred), Christian Kane (Lindsey), David Fury (producer/write), and many more.
# Revisit the Buffy Posting Board Party of 2003 along with the cast of both Buffy and Angel
# A history of the series and how it has changed over the years.
# A look at how the academic communities embrace both series in their high school and university studies.
# A complete episode guide on all five seasons of Angel detailed with summary highlights, behind-the-scene facts, and music.
# Dedicated Angel websites over the Internet # Photos, and more.


One can often wonder what inspires the very young to put their imaginings to paper and which may one day lead to a more lucrative outcome on the road to writing in the professional arena. Nikki wasn’t one to surround herself with Fairies and Unicorns though but took a more realistic approach. "You know, I never wrote about unicorns... I always seemed to be far too grounded in reality and always wrote these stories where my brother and I featured as the main characters," she begins with a laugh. "When I was about five I ’wrote’ my first book, which was basically a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with drawings; and since I never pursued an art career, I can only imagine they were less than brilliant illustrations. Then, to make it look like a real book, I got some Scotch tape and began taping the pages together on the spine, because in my head I figured that must be how it was done. Then my mother showed me how to put three staples in the pages and I was amazed... it had never occurred to me to do that! I was only five, so my mom handled the stapler, while I sat and churned out these fairy-tale-based little books for myself. Sadly, I haven’t a clue where any of them are."

After the experience of researching and writing "Bite Me! An Unofficial Guide to the World of Buffy the Vampire Slayer", compiling a similar companion book for Angel would seem easier the second time around to some. "In some ways it was easier," admits Nikki, "in others it was the same, and in still others, it was harder. Nice way to answer your question, eh? Yes, I’m Canadian," she laughs. "It was easier because I’d come up with a format, and was able to work within that format. But getting into the episodes was like starting right from the beginning because I had published Bite Me! in 2002, and it was now two years later and I was out of practice. Also, Angel the series has a different feel and aesthetic to it than Buffy, so I had to come at it from a different angle. It was harder than Bite Me!, because I was actually working on a companion guide to Alias at the same time, with another writer, and found out I was pregnant shortly after signing a contract for both of them, so as the months wore on, it became increasingly difficult to sit in front of the computer for long periods of time and just type."

Since Angel, the series was able to break apart from the world of Buffy and create its own mythos that ’different angle’ would create its own challenges for Nikki. "In many ways the shows are very similar, with the same witty writing, epic storylines, and character-driven seasonal arcs. But in another way, as I said earlier, Angel is darker, and has a much, much different feel to it, and therefore I had to slightly shift the way I was working on it to accommodate that. On Buffy the characters are all dealing with the transition to adulthood, where in Angel the characters tend to be dealing with the harsh world that forces them to grow up early, in the case of Gunn, and they don’t have the luxury of missing their childhood. Los Angeles is a much darker place than Sunnydale." Nikki continues, "I think Angel perhaps was even riper for character development than Buffy could be, because it had the three years of Buffy behind it, plus the five years of the actual series. So where Buffy begins in 1997, and we eventually learn what happened in the past, Angel had the three seasons of Buffy as a foundation and built on that. Where Willow is the character who changed the most on Buffy, Wesley and Cordelia both undergo massive character changes over the course of Angel, and Fred and Gunn, in the short term, also change tremendously."

"Pretty much every time Wesley fell over in Season One I loved. I just loved the physical humor." Alexis on his favorite moments.

Nikki joins in the feelings of many fans when she comments, "I can only imagine how much more they could have changed, had the series been allowed to continue." For "Once Bitten" Nikki had, not only, to include all five seasons of Angel in one complete book but she also had to put a close to "Bite Me!" by adding the final seventh season of Buffy as well. With Buffy having ended the previous year and the additional time span between the two books she also had to balance shifting informational gears between the two series. "I wrote the first four seasons of Angel first, season five was still on, and I never start writing a season until I’ve seen all of the episodes; that way I have a sense of where the season is going to end up," she explains. "Then, when I was finished Angel, I took a break before I wrote season seven of Buffy. It wasn’t too much of a gear shift; I actually found the transition fairly easy. Because I’d written six seasons of Buffy already, it was like returning to an old friend working on that season, and I really enjoyed doing it."

One of the outstanding elements of Nikki’s books in general - and why fans admire them so much - is their diversity. It’s not just an episode guide; it’s not just the chronology of the characters or the story but a full on, wide ranging, exploration of the series and its creators. They read almost as if they are two or three different books in one which allows Nikki a variety of writing styles within each chapter. "It does, actually," she agrees, "The writing on Angel is so diverse - there are funny episodes, and there are sad episodes; action-packed episodes and quiet character-driven episodes. Thus, when I’m writing about them, I’m able to be serious, crack jokes, roll my eyes at the episodes I don’t like, which is rare, and rave about the ones I do. I love writing the episode guides, and I was able to add an extra dimension to them this time by interviewing several cast members and asking them to comment on specific episodes, and then including their comments within the guide. I think it’s important to step back from the show every once in a while and muse on how much the characters have changed, the series has evolved, and the writing has matured. And, of course, how much the actors have developed as their characters became more well rounded. So that’s what I try to do aside from writing about the individual episodes, is look at that episode’s place within the series."

One of the features fan enjoy reading are the recaps of the Posting Board Parties and "Once Bitten" provides an insightful look into the event of 2003, which for the first time got to offer fans/attendees their behind the scenes look into the world of Angel. For the first time the Angel cast and crew were well represented and received much of the admiration they so deserved, but were the fans were able to bridge that transition from Buffy to Angel and support the show on even ground. "I think that really happened when Angel was in season five, actually," Nikki reflects, "Suddenly there was no Buffy to compare it to; fans and critics alike were finally tuning in to Angel, rather than watching Angel because they also watched Buffy. For the first time, Angel was suddenly getting reviewed very regularly by the critics, and wasn’t being compared - either favorably or unfavorably - to the show from which it was spun off. Not to mention several Buffy fans who didn’t watch Angel, something I never understood, now watched it to fill the void that the end of Buffy had left. And it seemed to be at that moment that everyone realized Angel really was its own show even though I believe that happened partway through season two, to be cemented in season three. It helped that season five was such a fantastic year."

Certainly a highlight was Nikki’s interview with actor Alexis Denisof. He tends to stay under the radar from interviews and appearances but when he does make himself available, he shines through as a very honest and spiritual individual. And there was much to enjoy when talking to him and about his own explorations into the development of his closer-than-kin Wesley. "He was wonderful," admits Nikki without hesitation. "I was coming down to the wire on my deadline, and his publicist was trying to get in touch with him to set this up, knowing that I was very close to having to hand in the manuscript. She was so lovely and kept apologizing to me, but I managed to get an extension on the hand-in date, provided I could get this interview. In the meantime he was reading Bite Me!, he wanted to make sure I was the sort of writer that he would actually want to talk to," she confessed, "and after he finished the book, he gave the green light and his publicist set it up. I phoned him at his home in London, England, and he picked up and immediately apologized for having pushed my deadline so far and reassured me that he had set aside a huge chunk of time for the interview. He was thoughtful, forthright, funny, and so sincere that, where I originally intended to incorporate his comments the way I had the others, I changed my mind and decided to run the entire interview on its own. This isn’t to say the interviews with J. August Richards or Amy Acker or Christian Kane or any of the others that I spoke to weren’t as enjoyable," Nikki rushes to clarify, "It’s just that as the interview was happening, I began realizing he was providing me with this amazing overview of Wesley and his development as a character, and to break that up would have meant losing so much of what Mr. Denisof was saying, so I kept it all together."

nother unique addition to the book was Nikki’s inclusion of a chapter on CityofAngel.com. With all the fan support and imaginative websites on the internet these days, she chose to focus on CoA, not that we minded! We never went out of our way for critical approval when designing or expanding on the site, it was more of an internal interest for those who worked on it; providing fans, as well as ourselves, with what we wanted in a website. "Well, I think it’s the best Angel site out there," states Nikki. "I’d reviewed it in Bite Me! as the best Angel site I knew of, and then got to know the CoA people in the meantime. By the time I was working on Once Bitten, the site had grown tremendously and was even better, so rather than just give it another entry like I’d done in Bite Me!, I gave it its own chapter." Reading the book one discovers several enjoyable perspectives of Angel, the series; from breaking down its mythos and the world that Joss Whedon has created to the humor and poking-your-own-fun at the characters. Then there is the fan point of view which everyone can relate too. As a writer and a fan herself, Nikki surmises which is the most enjoyable for herself. "I think both aspects are enjoyable, and I don’t really see them as separate, since when discussing an episode I just immediately do both things. The fan point of view is fun to write, but I’m always careful to include a disclaimer saying these are strictly my opinions, and may not be shared by all. As I discovered when Bite Me! came out, there’s a legion of fans who think ’Beer Bad’ was great. I am not one of them," she laughs, "But it always sparks discussion with people when I’m doing signings or chatting with fans, whether or not they agreed with me."

As with many writers, there is always one section of the book that they enjoy creating most, and with Nikki it was no different. "The episode guides are always great fun for me to write, despite being so much work. I love coming up with the sidebars, which I work on as I’m watching the episodes. It’s a little stressful having to keep so many things going at once - I watch the episodes all the way through all seasons, taking copious notes as I go. Then I make a list of sidebars I think will work, and as I go through them a second time I’m making the lists for each sidebars when I find the appropriate thing in each episode. So I have to keep all of these sheets of paper in front of me at all times... let’s just say my husband complained more than once about the state of our living room!" she laughs.

The ’Nitpicks’ sections within the Episode Guide are most enjoyable from an analytical point of view - which tends to be the perspective of most Buffy/Angel fans and as a result, Nikki has received a tremendous amount of fan response saying, "Ah ha! I thought that too!" or "That explains a lot." But providing such details can be a nightmare in itself. "Oh yes, I definitely talk to a lot of people who agree with them or who tell me in person that they hadn’t noticed the connection or nitpick until they’d read it in my book," she confesses. "Often I’ll also get emails or have people tell me in person a nitpick that they had caught, and that I had missed, which are always fun for me to hear. And occasionally someone will give me their explanation of what happened in the episode in an effort to explain away the nitpick and show me that actually, what I was nitpicking was actually OK." She adds laughing, "And a couple of times I’ve been convinced of what they told me. Occasionally I also get emails from people vehemently disagreeing with me or accusing me of being very nitpicky, it’s the nature of criticism: when people like something, they keep it to themselves; when they don’t, they let you know about it. So if you go on Amazon and look at the reader’s comments, the negative ones will no doubt point out some nitpick that I listed and say it ruined the whole book for them that I’d had this one criticism in it or something - and often they’ve misinterpreted the nitpick by saying I was complaining about something, when in fact I was simply pointing it out as something to be noticed." Nikki laughs recalling, "I received one email from someone who called me a bigot because I’d referred to Lindsey’s ’hickness’ and she said that it was a shameful word to use. The thing is, I grew up in a small, small rural town, and we all referred to ourselves as hicks, so for me that word was one I regularly used to describe myself, and never thought of it as being a bigoted term. So when you write a book, you definitely discover things about your writing that will bother other people that you just took for granted, and it does help shape your style. I appreciate the good and the negative feedback because it helps me hone my writing." Laughing at herself, Nikki states, "Let’s just say I certainly won’t be using that word again!"

"All of a sudden I got a script where I was kissing Gunn, so I thought, ’Oh, maybe I should have been doing this differently.’" Amy on Fred and Wesley

There are many highlights of her writing experience over the years for Nikki, having been involved with not only Angel but Buffy, and she recalls a couple of them for us. "Having the opportunity to meet all of the fans who’ve read the book, and whenever anyone tells me how much they enjoyed the book, it never ceases to delight me. I’ve made so many good friends through this, and I absolutely love the Buffyverse and everything that comes with it. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting several cast members and/or interviewing them over the phone, and that, too, has been absolutely wonderful, and an opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise had." After hundreds of hours of watching and re-watching entire seasons, detailing story arcs and character developments, finding goofs and constructing continuity, you would think that Nikki would consider herself a Buffy/Angel trivia expert at this point. "No!" she laughs as she admits, "Sure, I can answer a lot of questions, and if someone gives me a line of dialogue I can probably tell them the episode title, and what number in the season it appeared, and who said it, etc. But I would never go toe-to-toe with some of the real trivia experts out there. I’m amazed by what some of the fans know. As I’ve said many times before, if I actually tried to take the trivia quiz I wrote in Bite Me!, I’d fail miserably." Nikki goes on to inform us that, "When I brought out the first edition of Bite Me! in 1998, it just had the first 2 seasons of episode guides, I included a trivia quiz that I thought was challenging but not impossible, and received dozens of emails from people saying, ’Wow, do you think we’re stupid? I scored a 96 on that!’ or something like that. They asked for a killer quiz, and so for the second edition of Bite Me!, I gave them one; asking what Angel’s license plate number is, for example. Then I had people come up to me in person and say, ’Whoa, I failed that one, why did you make it so hard?’ while others seemed to love the difficulty factor. So, for Once Bitten I made it far more challenging than the original quiz had been, but not impossible, and I think I finally found a good middle ground. At least I hope I did!"

Now with the Angel series over after a successful five season run and Whedon moving on to feature films with Serenity and Wonder Woman, we asked Nikki to reflect on the one thing about Angel she would have changed about the show and if, like Buffy, it will continue to hold a firm footing in television culture or just ’fade away’ like a dusted vampire. "Um... it would still be on the air?" she muses, "I’m so saddened every time I sit down and watch a season five episode because it had so much potential. When talking to the various cast members for the book, several of them dropped hints about what was coming up in season six, had the series continued. It was just so good in that final season that it’s a shame the WB executives decided that was the time to get rid of it, and honestly, have they really found anything nearly as good to replace it with? But if you’re referring to the actual series that we have, rather than a fantasy in my head, I would say parts of season four. I thought the buildup to the Beast was amazing, but then Connor and Cordy," she shudders jokingly, "coupled with Cordelia being evil, was just too much to bear. And for it all to culminate in the Jasmine storyline was just a little disappointing to me. I love Gina Torres, so I wouldn’t change that casting for the world, but I wish it had been a little bit different. All of that ’I bring you peace’ stuff reminded me way too much of that X-Files episode of The Simpsons. The end of the season was satisfying, and I liked the difficult way they ended the Connor storyline, and giving us the happier ending in season five was even better. But after the incredible third season, I wish season four had lived up to it. Thankfully, season five was even better." Nikki adds, "No, I don’t think the series will ever fade away. The websites might gradually disappear one by one until there are only a few left; the mailing lists will become obsolete, and there won’t be any more conventions, but the fans will remain, and they will continue watching their DVDs and becoming nostalgic about this great show that they loved."

Having also recently completed an "Unofficial Guide to the World of Alias", what could possibly be ’waiting in the wings’ for Nikki now? Pun-pun. "Well," she laughs, "right now, it’s motherhood. And what a full-time job that is. I barely have time to watch Alias, much less write about it!" Nikki jokes. "Usually I take a couple of years between books (Bite Me! was 2002, Alias and Angel were 2004) because it takes me some time to find a show that I really like and want to write about again, so I probably won’t be writing anything for a while. I do have my eye on a couple of shows right now, but we’ll see if anything comes of that."

As a certain Slayer once said, "Hell of a ride!" and although Unicorns never played a part in Nikki’s inspirations, there has always been a certain drive and determination that has gotten her through the deadlines, the writer’s block and the overwhelming challenges that come with such an undertaking as Once Bitten. In closing, Nikki shares with us what she considers her most consistent inspirations. "Well, I guess it’s like I said, the fan response and getting to meet new people. With each book I feel I have a better idea of what people want, because of the great feedback I get with each one. The shows themselves obviously also offer inspiration; I can’t write about something I don’t love, and I love Angel and Buffy. Both shows had a tremendous staff of writers who not only inspire me, but the fans. It’s hard to have long, interesting discussions about a show that is simple and poorly written. Joss Whedon and his writers created an entire universe and epic story that allowed us to enter a new world each week. By the time both series were finished, they had accomplished an incredibly difficult task: they made these characters feel real to us."

As a true fan herself, Nikki reflects, "We got caught up in the world of Buffy and Angel, and week after week tuned in, worried about these ’friends’ and ’family’. Would Buffy ever be happy? Would Angel get the chance to be human again? Is Willow safe from herself? Can Wesley ever feel whole again? So when both of these shows ended, it was like moving far away from one’s friends and knowing you’ll never be in touch with them again. The end of Buffy was a sad moment, and I remember feeling empty, but there was this glimmer of hope that maybe, on Angel, we could still hear tidbits about what was happening with the Scooby gang and perhaps get some crossovers. But when Angel ended, it was final. And yet, in a strange way, that incredible finale left me feeling complete, not empty." Finally, Nikki confesses, "Despite what some fans thought, I thought Not Fade Away was a beautiful, perfect ending to the series, to both series, in a way, and it left me feeling satisfied. In September 2004, there was a massive, Jossless void on my television set, and I’m dying for him to come up with another series to fill it. But until then, I have my DVDs, and will be watching them for many, many years to come." As will we!