Nancy Holder is a New York Times Bestselling author and co-author of the first Buffy, The Vampire Slayer novel, Halloween Rain, with Christopher Golden. She recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for Legendary Women for our Buffy-themed month.
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What was your first thought when you heard/read the words: Buffy, The Vampire Slayer?
I had seen the movie, which I didn’t think was very good. But there was a lot of buzz in Los Angeles building up to the TV show (I live in San Diego, which is about two hours south of L.A.) A writer friend named Scott Ciencin told me that they were looking for writers for the books. I was so excited. I bought a copy of the movie soundtrack for good luck.
Can you distill your love for Buffy and Angel into a few words? Or many words (g) I know so many fans who would love to hear your thoughts on what it is about both these shows that captured your imagination.
It’s so hard to put into words why I love Buffy and Angel (and Spike!) so much. When I watched the series premiere, I started to cry because I felt like this was “my” show--something that spoke to me on a deep level; something I connected with. I had a sense that there was a “more-ness” to this universe in all its hybrid glory. When I would read the scripts I would just be agog. Such smart, clever dialogue. Even the stage directions were funny. These shows were/are clever without being precious. They never flinched. And Joss and all the writers constantly stretched. They got to take chances and took advantage of that. Buffy and Angel sum up the human condition for me--characters with flaws who grow into true heroes.
Which are your favorite female character/s in each show?
That’s a hard question. I always “see” Buffy when I talk about Buffy. Willow, Tara, Anya, Drusilla, Harmony, and Joyce and Faith--who went to hell and back--all had my love, too.
Angel: I started out as a Cordelia girl and wound up really savoring the Fred/Illyria character(s). Wow, what acting chops Amy Acker has to pull that off! And I loved seeing Harmony and Darla in the mix. Now I’m getting weepy.
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 all started out as very teen-like, with hopes, fears, flaws and weaknesses. Not a one among them wanted to be a champion. Not even Angel--he warned Buffy about the Harvest but didn’t stick with her. But they really did “feel the fear and do it anyway”--night after scary night in Sunnydale and L.A.. They made terrible mistakes, and then they learned and grew. They descended to the depths, but then they came back up into the light.
The bravest was the most ordinary--Xander. He was Buffy’s #2 from the beginning, and I think he’s a wonderful character. But they all are.
When you began writing the very first Buffy novel, Halloween Rain, with Christopher Golden what was the most difficult thing you found about writing for this show and for writing Buffy in particular?
Well, all we had to go on was the scripts. There was no show bible per se. And we only had 3 ½ weeks to write the novel. We said yes the same day my babysitter quit. My daughter was an infant and I was terrified that we wouldn’t make it. But we did!
Before the show got into post-series comics, you were commissioned to write Queen of the Slayers to explore what happened after it faded to black in “Chosen.” Was that overwhelming? How do you feel about the world you created there compared to what happened in the official seasons 8 and 9 if you’ve kept up with them?
I kept a running list of all the things that had been mentioned on Angel--Willow and Kennedy in Brazil; Buffy with the Immortal, all those kinds of things. It took me a while to think up a storyline that would contain all those elements. But I loved doing it.
I read the comics and am amazed and a bit awestruck by how much broader Joss envisioned the Buffyverse--with giants and centaurs and a command central. He used his limitless imagination and unlimited budget and really delivered.
You’ve also written The Watcher’s Guide companion for the series. What was that like being able to interview cast and creators as the show was unfurling? How did you decide what worked best to explain Buffy briefly in a series encyclopedia essentially?
Going on set and talking to all the actors, staff and crew was one of the highlights of my life. I added it up once and I think I was on set about a month. I was given very free rein to wander around and ask questions. It’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve done. The first time I walked onto the high school set, I lost my breath. Joss came up and I said, “This is an awful lot like a real high school. I’m getting kind of depressed.” He grinned.
You attended the first Slayage conference for Buffy studies in the States and gave out their awards for papers and presentations, the Mr. Pointy. What was that like?
I was absolutely amazed by the scholarly attention and true fan dedication of the academics surrounding me. Almost two hundred papers were presented. I was also abashed to discover that my word is cited as a primary source. I had a fantastic time. After the awards and my keynote, we all sang Once More with Feeling. I went to the third Slayage, did the keynote, and then we sang Once More with Feeling, the theme song from Firefly, and Jayne’s song. I’m going to the fifth Slayage in July, and I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll add Dr. Horrible to our repertoire.
Fantasy, sci-fi, and genre fiction in general tends to have a stronger concentration of confident, heroic women. Why do you think that is?
I think people who like those genres are people with big imaginations and a sense of adventure. They’re the dreamers and visionaries. I love what Joss said when someone asked him when he would stop writing about strong women characters. He said something to the effect of, “When you stop asking me about them.” In other words, when they are commonplace.
In writing primarily for young women, do you find it makes you look harder at the choices your female characters make?
Yes. I’m a mom now and I’m aware that my daughter’s friends read my books. For a while I was very self-conscious about it. In Queen of the Slayers, there’s a Belle the Vampire Slayer--that’s my daughter--and her bestie,Haley the Vampire Slayer, who goes bad. I really had to apologize to Haley for that. But I don’t want to shrink from talking about serious issues that are important to teens and adults alike. They need to be heard when their stepmoms don’t like them, or they cut, or they’re afraid that they can’t take on the world. And they need to hear that they are lovable and that they can take on the world! They are Potentials and they can be Slayers.
You taught a class for university that involved a cultural investigation of Buffy. Can you tell us a little about your student’s perspectives about the female characters of Buffy from that class?
My students were so fun. We had wacky nights where we would stay after to watch an episode together and have snacks. Most of them had come to Buffy after the show went off the air. A couple of them pointed out that especially in the early seasons, Buffy dressed very provocatively. They debated about if that undermined the feminism inherent in the show. I remembered that same debate when Buffy was in its broadcast run.
What do you think draws academics to studying Buffy and that universe even nine years, essentially, since it went off the air? Do you think its ties to feminism affect that?
There is so much subtext, and depth, and brilliance in Buffy that academics from all kinds of fields are fascinated by it. There are books about the linguistics of Buffy, about spirituality and psychology. Joss and his writers were very intentional about exploring issues, and academics are delighting to particpate in that exploration via their own fields of expertise.
In your interaction with Buffy and Angel fans and, perhaps the students in your class, what was the most surprising thing that you learned about how either group viewed the female characters of both shows?
They were skeptical about exactly how feminist Buffy could be considered to be, and still go to school barely clothed. The opposing side argued that Buffy was “post-feminist” in that she could wear whatever she wanted to without fear of reprisals (getting attacked in a dark alley, for example.) These kinds of conversations could get very heated.
There was a lot of anger toward the writers when Spike tried to rape Buffy and she was too injured to defend herself. They felt that it was out of character for her.
Who were your favorite writers on the show/s when it came to female characters and why?
It would be hard for me to say that X writer’s work on X character was my favorite, since I know the writers often helped each other out in uncredited polishes, and Joss and/or Marti Noxon did a polish on most, if not all, of the scripts. I loved the sincere superficiality of Harmony, Darla’s fantastic arc, and how Illyria could turn on a dime to be Fred. There’s so much to love in the work of these amazing Buffy and Angel writers.
Thank you, Nancy for answering our questions! Check out a further interview with her, and other authors, at Open Book Society.
Article written by Verushka Byrow