[GUEST INTERVIEW] : Bradley Beaulieu asks Amber Benson Five Questions

Amber Benson co-wrote and directed the animated webseries Ghosts of Albion with Christopher Golden for the BBC. The duo then novelized the series in two books for Random House. She has written five novels about Calliope Reaper-Jones, beginning with Death’s Daughter, which were published by Penguin Books. As an actress, Benson spent three seasons as Tara Maclay on the cult show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has also written, produced, and directed three feature films, including Drones, which she co-directed with Adam Busch.

Photo by Luigi Novi.

Bradley Beaulieu:  1. The tone of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series is light and fun with a touch of gallows humor (how can there not be with books about Death, Inc.?), and it seems to me that it matches your personality. But as writers there are any number of places where we’re pushed out of our comfort zones. Where in the writing of The Golden Age of Death were you pushed out of your comfort zone?

Amber Benson:  I’m always accused of being earnest, but secretly I’m a total nut ball – so I’m glad you picked up on that! Well, if we’re talking ‘out of my comfort zone’ here then I should tell you that I actually imposed a whole bunch of that on myself when I conceived The Golden Age Of Death. The first four Death’s Daughter books were written entirely in first person – which was really starting to get boring for me – so I decided to mix it up a little. You still get Callie’s POV, but since I knew this was going to be the last book in the series, I wanted to give the fans some insight into the supporting characters. So Callie’s Executive Assistant, Jarvis, gets some play, as well as Callie’s little sister, Clio. It was scary to write that way, but I enjoyed the challenge. Hopefully it works out – that’s always the rub of experimenting.

BB:  2. With the release of The Golden Age of Death, the Calliope Reaper-Jones series has now reached its fifth installment. It seems to me that one of the more challenging parts of writing an open-ended series is keeping the characters fresh for both you and the reader. Do you look to have the primary characters change over the course each book? Do you find that it’s difficult to do so without retreading the same ground? And if so, how do you find news ways to keep things fresh?

AB:  Well, mixing up the perspectives was a key way that I made this book interesting for myself. It IS difficult to maintain ‘the fun’ when you’re writing a long-term series. I just tried to find weird scenarios to put my characters in that were fun to write – I set the fourth book at a bastardized version of Hearst Castle replete with a bacchanal orgy that took place on an All Hallow’s Eve Eve where magic and death got put on hold for 24-hours. It was really fun. I’ve also tried to give my main character, Callie, a real and fallible protagonist. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them – I really believe she has grown into someone special over the past five books.

BB:  3. One of the more common themes in my own fiction is death and what it means, to those who die, to those who are left behind, and so on. What were some of your personal goals for writing a series about death? Did you, either in the initial conception of the series or later during the writing of the books, want to explore some of your own personal thoughts about death.

AB:  Oh, I am a hardcore thanatophobic – fear of death was a big reason I wrote these books. Plus, I’ve always been annoyed by the idea that we have all these world religions and they all scream that only they are the true word of god/the creator. I wanted to create an alternate universe where all religions were right, where every believer/non-believer had a place in the hierarchy of death/life and where Death was run like a corporation – autonomous and impartial. In my books, everyone gets a chance to learn and move up through the system. To me, death was just the beginning.

BB:  4. It’s interesting to me that while there’s been a certain trend lately to feature girls on covers in death or deathlike poses, your series is about death and it features a young woman on the cover who looks empowered without resorting to sexing her up. Have you had much input on the covers? Are you pleased with how Calliope has been portrayed on them?

AB:  She is definitely a hardy character. She doesn’t wilt like a lot of ladies in the romance genres, but she’s not a total badass like what the urban fantasy world normally champions. I wanted to create a real girl, who was not perfect. I wanted her to screw up stuff and make bad choices – just like I do as a real person. I think that has been embodied in the covers. She’s not swooning over some dude, she stands on her own two feet – and I really love that, that she has been represented that way on the books.

BB:  5. I don’t know if you’ve seen the recent backlash against sexism in books, comics, and video games from folks like Jim Hines, Escher Girls, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. What are your thoughts on this? In today’s media-driven world, is there room for sex and sexiness without relying on it to sell?

AB:  I get really frustrated that female protagonists don’t get to be assholes. It’s the sister, daughter, mother, whore, best friend conundrum and it leaves no room for women to be human and imperfect. No one is pure saint or pure villain, but that seems to be what the media and a lot of the world audience want to see. I have been become really obsessed recently with that line from Macbeth: “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…” That’s what I want. I want to create as a woman, but I want to be unsexed when my work is consumed. I want to be judged against myself, not against my gender or sexuality. As far as sex selling things…I am all for owning my own sexuality and using it to create. It’s not because I particularly think it sells things, but it is a weapon in my creative arsenal and I want to be able to use it, unencumbered.

Bradley P. Beaulieu is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo, The Straits of Galahesh and the upcoming novel The Flames of Shadam Khoreh. He fell in love with fantasy the moment he started reading The Hobbit in third grade. From that point on, though he tried reading many other things, fantasy became his touchstone. It was always what he came back to, and when he started to dabble in writing, fantasy–epic fantasy especially–was the type of story he most dearly wished to share. In 2006, his story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat”, was voted a Notable Story by the Million Writers Award, and in 2004, he became a winner in the Writers of the Future 20 contest. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and several DAW anthologies. Brad lives in Racine, Wisconsin, with his wife, daughter, and two cats, where he enjoys cooking spicy dishes and hiding out on the weekends with his family. For more, please visit www.quillings.com.