Christopher Golden is a critically acclaimed and bestselling author of a range of work from books to comics, including The Ghosts of Albion with Amber Benson (Tara on Buffy) and The Secret Journeys of Jack London. He has also written many Buffy and Angel novels and comics and is the co-author of the first Buffy novel, Halloween Rain with Nancy Holder. He recently shared his thoughts on Buffy and Angel, and writing strong female characters.
What was the first thing that popped into your head when you heard the words: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?
I have a friend whose childhood nickname was Buffy, so I thought of her. And I thought it sounded like the stupidest thing in existence…until I read about it and I realized that they were taking it seriously, and then I was intrigued.
What is it about Buffy that made you a fan?
I don’t think it was any one thing. I loved the writing and the casting and the tone, right from the beginning. The characters are wonderful. And, of course, from the start I loved the fact that the driving force of the show was this girl who was a reluctant hero, and that she was going to be the one the rest of them turned to when something needed to be done. Not an adult. Not a boy. It’s hard to imagine now, but that was far from typical in those days.
Who are your favorite female characters in the show?
It’s not really a fair question. My first instinct is to say, well, duh, Willow and Tara. Their relationship is really the best thing about the middle arc of the series because it was so sweet and genuine, and that’s a testament to the abilities of Amber and Alyson, as well as Joss and his writing staff. With Willow, you can go back to the very first season and see that sweetness. Everyone talks about Zooey Deschanel, but Alyson Hannigan really introduced “adorkable” to American television. But one of the greatest things about this show is that you had Willow and Tara, you had Buffy and her anguish and her smart-alecky wit, you had Cordelia showing that she was more than a stereotype, you had Jenny Callendar, you had Joyce Summers being a great, funny, smart, capable mother, you had mad Drusilla. Really, the only female character who wasn’t one of my favorites was Dawn, because she was usually pretty annoying. But even Dawn had some moments when I loved her.
The female (and male characters) have all become iconic, cult figures in our pop culture. What is it, do you think, about these female characters that have enraptured audiences so and made them legendary to their fans?
They’re all people. In television, so often you don’t connect with characters on a personal level. You look at them as characters. But thanks to the writing and acting on that show, Willow exists as an individual separate from the actress who portrays her. Buffy is vulnerable and multi-faceted and you understand her emotional motivations. Cordelia starts out as a typical bitchy “popular girl,” but in time you come to see that there’s more to her than that. This is why the show touched so many people and why I, personally, was so passionate about it. Characters grew. When things happened, it changed them in a fundamental way. You saw their relationships and personalities evolve in an organic way. That’s also why I felt so let down by season seven, especially, and to a lesser extent by season six. When we get to the point where Willow and Xander are freezing Buffy out, then letting her run off in anger and sadness without trying to explain to her what they’re doing—trying to reach her—the show just lost me. The relationships had been so well-defined that when the characters stopped behaving like themselves, I couldn’t remain invested. Yes, people change. We change our attitude toward certain friends as we grow older, but not without reason and even then not without regret.
Do you think that fantasy, sci-fi, and genre fiction in general tend to have a stronger concentration of confident, heroic women? Why do you think that is?
No question. Ripley paved the way for Sarah Conner and Sarah paved the way for Buffy and Buffy paved the way for a thousand WannaBuffyBe’s. And let’s not forget Starbuck. Confidence was never as sexy as Kara Thrace. So, yeah, no question. As for why genre has more take-charge women, I don’t know the answer to that. Are genre fans more liberal? More intelligent? No idea. But I do know that we have more imagination, and maybe that means we’re better at visualizing things the way they ought to be. One thing I do know is that I will encourage my own daughter to read and watch fantasy and sci-fi because I want her to be inspired by the examples available there, just as I want her to be inspired by the examples she can find in real life.
In your titles for young women, did you find yourself thinking differently about the choices your female characters make?
Honestly, I don’t even know how to answer that question. My parents were divorced when I was young and I was raised by a strong, hard-working mother who never backed down from a fight. When she wasn’t around, my babysitters were my sister and her girlfriends. I grew up surrounded by formidable females and all my life I have gotten along better with women than men. I don’t really understand a lot of typical male behavior. In interviews, I’ve been asked which of my characters is most like me, and the answer is Jenna Blake, the star of my ten book Body of Evidence series. She’s an eighteen year old girl, but who she is in her heart, the way she feels about her friends and the way she approaches the world…that comes from me, and it has nothing to do with her gender. I never stop to think about gender; I just write what comes out.
Who were your favorite writers on Buffy and Angel when it came to female characters and why?
Oh, come on. Joss. Always Joss.
You’ve written a lot of Buffy tie-in novels. Was it ever difficult? Were there stories you wish you could have told that weren’t compatible with either the rules set out by the publisher or with overall ratings for the books? More adult or darker themes?
We never had a problem getting the adult stuff out there. Immortal is very much an adult novel, to the point that I was really unnerved that so many stores were racking it in YA and it was really not appropriate for the age group. Same thing for Pretty Maids All in A Row. As for stories getting rejected, I tended to find a way to tell those stories. I pitched The Lost Slayer four or five times before it was accepted. Originally it did not have the framing sequence that takes place in the “present.” It was just supposed to be one possible future, but Fox was concerned that readers would think we were saying this WAS the definite future of the series, and that worried them. So I added a present day framing device, and that made the difference. The only thing I can recall wanting to do but never being able to get off the ground was a full-length Faith novel.
One of the favorite tie-ins of one of our staff was The Lost Slayer saga (later sold as an omnibus). She asks: It could be I like dystopian views of the future, but I also thought you were very clever with how Willow figured out transmutation. Was that idea given to you by the publisher or was it something you had been playing with and they wanted to go with? What do you think that revealed about Buffy’s character at the time?
I’m assuming that last question is not related to the overall query about Willow and transmutation. So, last question first. When I decided to add the framing device of the present day plot, I didn’t want it to be just a throwaway thing but something that was interesting in its own right. And though it was done on the show more than once, the idea of Buffy taking stock and realizing her life is too dangerous for the people she loves…and simultaneously that she can’t really do it without them…was appealing to me. It was also an opportunity to show that they really can take care of themselves, which leads into the transmutation part of the question. I loved the evolution of Willow as a witch, how it combined growing confidence with her intellectual prowess. The introduction of alchemy sprang from that.
Similarly, you did tie-ins for the Angel series. Can you tell us what you think about the women of that show? Did you get a chance to ever write during the Conner arc and explore Darla who was so flushed out on that series as opposed to her short run on Buffy?
I hated adult Conner with a fiery passion. He was just so damned irritating. And post-ascension Cordelia didn’t interest me, either. But I loved Cordelia on Angel’s early seasons. I thought the promise of the character in Buffy had finally been realized, and then the ascension thing happened and the character was ruined, at least for me. I also adored Fred. Writing a scene where Fred meets Tara was one of my favorite things about Buffy/Angel: Monster Island. Beyond that, I never felt as invested in the female characters on Angel as I did with those on Buffy.
I think it’s the other way around, actually. My love for strong female characters was what made me want to write Buffy tie-in novels from the moment the credits rolled on the first episode.
Thank you, Christopher for answering our questions! For another interview with Christopher Golden on his writing check out Open Book Society.