NYCC 2014: Amber Benson talks books, vampires, and Buffy


By Joshua Kaye

Amber Benson, known for her role as Tara Maclay on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is an established writer. She has written several supernatural/fantasy novels including Among the Ghosts, How to be Death, and The Golden Age of Death. Her upcoming book The Witches of Echo Park is set to be released in January. We got to talk to her at New York Comic Con about the book.

NR: So what brings you to Comic Con this year?

Benson: I am here because I have written a new series of books for Penguin. The first book is called Witches of Echo Park and we’re doing a giveaway of galleys today and tomorrow at Comic Con.

NR: Can you talk a bit about the book?

Benson: Yeah, it’s about a young woman who lives in Georgia and she gets a phone call from her Great Aunt and finds out her Great Aunt is dying and her Great Aunt wants her to come home. But when she gets there she discovers that her Great Aunt is actually the Coven Master of the coven of witches in Echo Park, California, and that they want her to join the coven.

NR: That’s nice.

Benson: Yeah! “Welcome home! And you’re a witch!”

amber benson

NR: How did you come up with that idea?

Benson: For me the reason I wanted to write this series of books is to talk about women’s relationships with each other. To me, it was really important to sort of…I wanted to highlight those wonderful relationships I have with my lady friends. It’s not about gossip or talking about dudes or whatever, it’s like helping each other, supporting each other, we’re there for each other. I just feel like my lady friends are the unsung heroes of my life and I wanted to write them a mash note.

NR: That makes sense, that’s nice.

Benson: So, what better way to do that in that urban fantasy environment than to set it around a coven of witches where these women are sort of, by proxy, forced to be intimate with each other in a very specific way and to have each other backs.

NR: So, for the last 10 or so years you’ve been pretty busy. You’ve written books and movies, you’ve directed and co-directed, and you’ve acted. How do you go about juggling all of that at once?

Benson: It’s called don’t want to be broke in the street. No, you know, I think if you’re an artist you have to diversify. It’s really hard to make a living with just one thing these days. So if you want to continue to be an artist and you don’t want to have to take a 2nd and 3rd job to support yourself you kind of have to do lots of different things and for me, I get bored very easily so I’m always interested in trying new things. If someone says, “Hey, come and write a comic book.” I’m like, “Alright I’ll try it. I may suck at it but I’ll try it.” Invariably, you do it enough times and it becomes something that you’re pretty decent at after a while. You just have to do it.

NR: Is there any medium you prefer over the other or do you like them all the same?

Benson: That’s such a, like, 3rd grade question.

NR: Yeah I know.

Benson: Which of your friends do you like more? Or do you like them all the same? I like them all the same. No, I enjoy them all and they all have their perks but the thing I enjoy probably most is directing because it’s sort of…it’s a hodge-podge of all the other things put together. So you’re not just bossing people around, you’re also…you know, you’re working with actors so being an actor comes into play. A lot of times I write things or work on re-writes on the things that I direct. And it’s very collaborative and being a writer is very lonesome, so I enjoy the collaboration of filmmaking.

NR: Are you gonna be directing anything soon? The last thing I saw you direct I believe was Drones in 2010.

Benson: Yeah, Drones was the last feature that I made. I just directed a horror short, we’ll see what happens with that. And yeah, mostly the books have sort of swallowed up my time. They’re very time intensive.

NR: I could imagine!

Benson: You sit down and you gotta write 100,000 words or 90,000 words. You’re kind of like, “AHHHH,” so daunted by this process!

NR: Aside from just the book though, you’re also attached to the role of Amelie in the web-series Morganville.

Benson: I am indeed! The woman who wrote the YA series the Morganville Vampire Series, Rachel Caine is a friend because we are both Penguin authors and I would see her at events all the time. She was like, “I’m doing a Kickstarter for my YA series. I’ve written it into a web series. Would you like to help us and would you like to play Amelie?” I was like, “Uh, yes and yes!” So that’s how we sort of started working on the web series for Geek and Sundry. And it was a blast, I had such a good time. It was really neat because the principle cast, they’re high schoolers. Or actually, one is a high schooler and the others are in their first year of college. And so we have this four kids who, three of them were from Texas where we shot and this was their first big thing. And to see them be on this real deal set and have such a good time and like really embrace their characters like–they were tweeting as their characters. It was such a wonderful experience to be able to be a part of that.

NR: How was it to actually be playing a vampire instead of just running away from them?

Benson: You mean hiding in a corner or behind doors doing spells from afar? I was always like, “Why is Tara in the corner?! Who put Tara in the corner?! Why is she doing spells from over there?!” Yeah it was really fun. I played a vampire once before in Supernatural.

NR: I haven’t watched that show yet, I’ve been meaning to.

Benson: It’s a lot of fun! Supernatural is a lot of fun. Those guys are very sweet as well. I was a good vampire on Supernatural. This one… Amelie is very much large and in charge. She is intense and she does not take anything from anybody. She is hardcore. She looks like Grace Kelly. She’s why I’m blonde right now. She’s very blonde and like, ice queen, and wears really trashy suits.

NR: That sounds fun.

Benson: It was so much fun! And, I got to be mean to Robert Picardo. To boss him around. He was my minion. He’s the loveliest man, what a sweetheart.

NR: I have to ask at least a couple of questions about Buffy. Just cause if I didn’t I would die a little inside.

Benson: I find it so funny everyone is always so apologetic and like, Buffy is the reason I get to write books and do all of this other stuff. I love talking about Buffy.

NR: I did actually want to ask, how has being on Buffy really impacted your career?

Benson: For better or for worse it brought me to this sort of Comic Con world. I’m a book nerd, I’m like nerdy-geeky, sci-fi fantasy, but I was never about Comic Con. I didn’t know anything about that. It wasn’t something that I grew up in Alabama. When we were on Buffy, Joss was like, “We should all go to Comic Con!” So that was my first entry into this world. So I knew I never would have had this experience if I hadn’t been on Buffy. And you know, it was tough after playing a lesbian character. There were a lot of doors that got shut in my face. “Oh, you played a lesbian on… middle America isn’t gonna wanna see you.” And my feeling at the time, and still is, I would do it all over again because what we did was important. And so I didn’t get the dinky pilot that went nowhere because middle America wasn’t ready for Amber. But we changed the world a little bit, Alyson and I and Joss. It was really important. It’s worth it. I’d take it all, the good and the bad.

NR: You also had one of the most memorable, or one of them, most memorable death scenes in any Joss Whedon work. Can you talk about that moment where you found out that you have been smited by the hand of Joss?

Benson: Well, it’s really funny. We were doing the finale of season five and I remember seeing, they had the Michelle doll up on the tower, they had her strapped to the tower. They were doing all of these second unit stuff, and Joss and his assistant were like, “Hey! Come back to the trailer we wanna talk to you! We have something really exciting to tell you!” And I get there and he’s like, “So! We’re gonna kill your character! Isn’t that great?!” And I’m like, “Oh yeah. That’s wonderful. Yay?” But he was so excited and, for him, it was all about the addiction storyline. He is all about the story and taking characters through their paces and the only way an addict like Willow would actually hit bottom was to lose the most important thing in her life, which was Tara. I think had he known the backlash that he would put himself in line to get, I don’t know if he would have done it quite the same way. But I think he would have done something that was similar, but maybe not as abrupt.

NR: He would have found another way to kill you.

Benson: Yes. In a nicer way probably. Or in a supernatural way probably. Adam always said that it was so shocking since it wasn’t a supernatural death, it was a guy with a shotgun. Or a guy with a whatever, you know.

NR: It’s just…you never saw it coming.

Benson: No, and I think that’s what was so overwhelming for people. And you know, you create this beautiful relationship between Willow and Tara and then you take it away. So many people connected with that and found their voice because of them and felt they weren’t alone because of them and to have it sort of…like having the door slammed in their face it was painful. It was one of the reasons I didn’t wanna come back. I was like, “I don’t want her to be the Big Bad! She’s gonna be The First!” And people are gonna be destroyed! People are already destroyed.

NR: I don’t know how I would have felt if Tara showed up as The First.

Benson: To me it was like being on a see-saw, it could have gone in either direction. And I was kind of like, I’m going to London I’m directing this animated show that I wrote and it’s just not working out and we couldn’t make it work. It was just like…well there’s a reason and you’ve gotta follow that. I think there’s a reason for everything, as awful as some of it is.

NR: After Morganville, after The Witches of Echo Park, what do you have coming up next?

Benson: I’m writing the second book in The Witches series and then eventually I want to run a television show. I’ve been working in that direction, I’ve been doing a lot of writing on that sort of vein. That’s the next thing. I want to be the boss of something.

NR: Joss 2.0. Just kill every character people love.

Benson: Hehe, yes. Totally. I always said I want to be like Joss when I grow up. I want to be in control of my own destiny like he is. I always found that very appealing.


The Witches of Echo Park will be released on January 6, 2015. You can pre-order at the following:

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