An Interview with Amber Benson (Part 2)
Last month, actress and author Amber Benson talked to us about YA horror, literacy, her love of gory books and movies, and her writing process. This month we hit on those topics some more, plus some new ones as well.
JG: Why do you think horror/dark fiction strikes such a chord with teen readers?
AB: I think human beings like to be scared – and doing it within the framework of a book is the safest way to work up the adrenaline.
JG: How do you keep in touch with the YA audience? While some issues teens face are universal – hormones, insecurity, peer pressure, sex, etc. – there are also new ones that have appeared over the past few years, such as date rape, school violence, highly dangerous drugs, and changing social structures. Do you have friends or relatives with teenage children, or nieces/nephews/cousins in those age groups?
AB: I don’t write much ‘issue’ related stuff, so I just try and write the stories I want to read, without talking down to a younger audience. Especially in fantasy, it’s less about modern issues and more about fantastical story-telling.
JG: We’ve both written stories about young girls who can talk to ghosts. In yours, Among the Ghosts, the heroine is only 11. Because of this, you had to simplify the writing to that middle grades level, but you still managed to work in some adult – or at least older teen – content, things that a typical 11-year-old wouldn’t be familiar with, such as aphid farming, salamander mating habits, and theories of electricity. That’s a fine line to balance, pushing the reader to go beyond their educational comfort zone while at the same time not overwhelming them to the point where they don’t understand the book. Was writing for this younger age group harder or easier than writing for YA or adult readers?
AB: It wasn’t harder than writing for an older audience, but I did have to be aware of who my audience was. I don’t think simplifying things for a younger audience is really necessary. Kids are much smarter and more aware than we give them credit for. It’s when you start talking down to them that you lose them as your audience.
JG: Have you ever had the opportunity to do a reading or presentation to teens or children, such as in a library or school? If so, what was the experience like?
AB: I have read for kids a few times and it’s a wonderful experience. The look of wonder on their faces as you take them to a new world is just priceless.
JG: Most of your novels would be considered either urban paranormal romance or urban fantasy; is this a genre of literature you enjoy reading?
AB: I read everything from hard science fiction to mystery to romance – an everything in between. I am equal opportunity book whore.
JG: What books and writers did you enjoy growing up?
AB: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Christopher Pike, The Bronte Sisters, Dostoevsky.
JG: The Seven Whistlers, which you co-wrote with Christopher Golden, is more a novella rather than a novel. Was it more difficult writing in this shorter format after having done several novels?
AB: It was conceived as a novella, but we treated it like a novel. Giving it the same structure and character development we would a full-length novel. So, it wasn’t harder to do, per say, but it was a more meticulous process because we had fewer words to play with.
JG: In addition to your own novels, you’ve also co-written some Buffy comics. What was it like to work with someone else’s characters instead of your own?
AB: Doing the Buffy comics was fun – especially working with Chris Golden, but I really do prefer writing my own stuff. You aren’t held to the same rigorous constraints with your own work as you are with someone else’s.
JG: You’ve stated in the past that frequently when you find yourself thinking about someone, soon after that they’ll either call you or you’ll run into them. Do you believe this is a psychic or paranormal talent, or do you chalk it up to coincidence?
AB: That’s what my witch book is about – the fine line between what is coincidence and what can be attributed to psychic means. I think it’s a fascinating subject. One I don’t have any real answers to, so that makes it ripe for playing with in my work.
JG: In a related question, what psychic or paranormal phenomena do you believe in, and have you had any other unexplainable experiences?
AB: I think there is more out there than just what we can discern with our five senses – what it is, I don’t know, but I truly believe there is more than just this plane of existence. As far as experiences I’ve had with psychic phenomena…mostly it’s simple stuff like thinking about someone and then having them call me…but I once went to a place called The Limp Mansion in St Louis – and I felt some heavy vibes in the air there. Really unsettling – especially when you remembered that three people had committed suicide there.
JG: Since becoming an author, have you found that your practice and study of writing has impaired your ability to enjoy reading other peoples’ books?
AB: A good book is still a joy to read…but I have a hard time with poorly-written stuff. It’s hard to get through.
JG: What trends in horror – either books, graphic novels, or movies – do you not enjoy or are tired of?
AB: I hate this glut of aspirational female protagonists who aren’t flawed and who don’t change and grow as they story progresses – and this applies to all genres.
JG: You belong to a local writers’ group. Do you share as you’re writing, or wait until a book is finished before letting your group read it?
AB: Depends on the book. The Witches of Echo Park has already been shared with my critique group, but I never shared the Calliope books.
JG: Are you a big Halloween fan (the holiday, not the movie)?
AB: Halloween is my favorite holiday, hands down. Just thinking about October gives me goose bumps.
JG: What things really scare you, and do you work those feelings/situations into your books?
AB: Death scares me. So I write a five book series about it, starting with Death’s Daughter.
JG: With the popularity of social media, actors and writers are interacting in creative, fun ways not only with fans, but also with each other. An example of this is Wil Wheaton’s web page/blog, where he does skits and plays video games with other actors. A while back, you were a guest to play Gloom. Do you enjoy video games? And do you think it’s important for celebrities to use these new tools for public relations and brand recognition?
AB: I think all authors are their own publicists. If you don’t spread the word about your stuff, you will get lost in the shuffle. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
I enjoy games/video games, but I definitely don’t play them much these days. Long live Pitfall!!
JG: What is one book you would recommend to teens if they are looking for the ultimate horror novel?
AB: The Alienist by Caleb Carr.
JG: What advice would you give to children or teens who are interested in writing fiction?
AB: Sit down and put pen to paper. It’s all about just doing it. Write and the stories will come.
JG: What would you say to parents who don’t want their children to read or watch horror?
AB:I think horror is an aspect of life – and to pretend like it isn’t, is short-sighted. Just turn on the news, it’s more horrific than anything a horror writer can come up with.
JG: What projects do you have coming up next? (plug any upcoming gigs, albums, writing projects, films, etc. here)
AB: Just working on The Witches Of Echo Park 🙂
10 Quick Questions
1. Books or ebooks (Kindle, Nook, iPad), which do you prefer and why?
AB: Books. I’m a spine cracker
2. Who are your current favorite authors?
AB: PD James, Henning Mankell
3. Favorite monster and why?
AB: the killer in The Alienist.
4. What book would you love to see turned into a movie, and why?
AB: The Secret History by Donna Tart – I love that book and I think it’s so twisty-turny that it would make a great movie.
5. Favorite drink, and favorite drink while you’re writing?
AB: Coffee and coffee
6. Favorite guilty pleasure?
AB: Reading pulp mysteries
7. Music, talk radio, TV, or silence when you’re writing?
8. If you could have dinner with any writer, who would it be and why?
AB: Ray Bradbury. His stories made me dream.
9. Favorite horror film, and why?
AB: THE SHINING – it’s just a damn good scary movie!
10. What do you find easier to develop, a good hero/heroine, or a good villain/monster?
AB: I’m all about the villain/monsters!
JG: I just want to say thank you for this interview, it’s been a blast!
AB: My pleasure!
You can follow Amber Benson on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/amber_benson), at her blog (http://amberbensonwrotethis.blogspot.com), and at her You Tube page (http://www.youtube.com/user/aloanhere?feature=guide)