We passed the $150k goal for the interview a long time ago, but the interview ending up being a lot of fun, and took longer to finish because of that.
As an added bonus, at the end of the interview, we announce our $450k stretch goal, so make sure to stay till the end.
So here it is: my interview with Amber Benson.
P: Heya Amber. Thanks so much for being willing to help out with Worldbuilders this year.
A: Howdy, Mr. Rothfuss, Sir. I just want to take this pre-introduction to say thank you for the opportunity, Sir. Thank you.
P: Okay. I’m notoriously bad at introductions. So how about we do it this way…
Let’s say you’re at a party and you meet someone you desperately wanted to impress. What sort of things about yourself would you casually drop into the conversation to prove you’re one of the cool kids?
A: I’m such a dork when it comes to interjecting myself into other people’s conversations – I slowly edge my way in physically and when no one blocks me out I might offer a few head nods and a laugh – I’ve been accused of laughing at stuff that’s not funny just to make people feel more comfortable or to fit in – and then when you add in someone I’m impressed by, well, I’m less verbal, more stare. That’s my contribution to coolness…the direct stare. Like if I’m silent I’m cooler.
P: Is that the key to being cool? No wonder I’m no good at it. I talk too much.
A: Yes, the silent stare is the key to being cool…or making everyone think you’re a homicidal maniac. I’m not sure which.
P: Ok we still need to do something like an introduction here. How about this. Let’s take turns listing your notable accomplishments, with the understanding that some of the things we say might be complete lies.
I’ll start with an easy one: you played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for about four years.
A: I played Amaziah, a male dwarf––which totally threw off all the little girls in the audience, in the Birmingham Children’s Theater production of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs when I was nine.
P: I think I saw that on IMDB.
You worked as a fortune teller in a traveling circus for a summer.
A: I have sold Magic Spin Art art and lemonade on the sidewalk in front of my house––though the lemonade was the bigger seller.
P: Once, on a drunken bet, you recorded a youtube video declaring your undying love for Orlando Bloom. It got a quarter million views before you took it down.
A: ORLANDO BLOOM!!! Get your facts straight, Mister! It was Don Knotts…jeez louise.
I co-directed a movie about aliens in an office that is called Drones and it’s on Netflix streaming. (I guess that’s more of a plug than a notable accomplishment, though I did notably accomplish it.)
P: And, lastly, you’re the author of the Calliope Reaper-Jones novels. Is that how you like to refer to the series?
A: Yeah, I guess that’s the best way to refer to them or I could just call them the Death is a PMS-y little biatch series…that could work, too.
P: Okay. On to the hard-hitting qua-journalistic type questions:
Are you a native Californian, or a transplant?
A: I am a transplanted Alabamian. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but my formative teenage years were spent in the San Fernando Valley. So that makes me a Southern Valley girl…Like gag me with a spoon, ya’ll.
P: What are you reading right now?
A: I just read Gillian Flynn’s ‘Dark Places’ – like finished it last night – I’m slightly obsessed with dark thrillers/mysteries with twisted female protagonists. I think it’s cause I’m all lily white bread boring girl in real life – I want to get myself all wrapped up in dark stuff to counteract my typicalness.
The book before that one was Anton Strout’s ‘Dark Waters’… apparently I have a thing for books with “dark” in the titles.
P: If you had to pick your favorite book of all time, what would it be?
A: Not bloody fair!!!! Argh…too many….beautiful books…uhm…okay, probably Hermann Hesse’s “Journey To The East”. I want to live in that book.
P: Wow. Heavier stuff than I’m used to. I have a copy of Siddhartha on my shelf, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I’ll admit I have a bit of an irrational aversion to reading capital-L Literature. If it’s a classic of some sort, it’s hard for me to pick it up.
A: I like capital-L literature. Mostly because at some point I realized that a lot of it is just Harlequin Romance, but with flowerier writing.
All the same angst, but from a different time period.
Jane Eyre – flowerier writing, but a straight up (implied sex) bodice ripper.
Sense and Sensibility – flowerier writing, but straight up YA romance (with marriage and implied sex).
Siddhartha – Eat, Pray, Love took a few things from Herman Hesse.
War and Peace – all the conniving of that movie Mean Girls…bitchy women, manipulative men, naïve newbies.
P: You just saved me a whole lot of time with those summaries. Could you give me something for the Brothers Karamozov, too?
A: Damn you, Rothfuss! I’m gonna spin that question on its head and give you a run down on The Idiot (my fav Dostoevsky novel) instead:
The Idiot – uhm, a whole bunch of messiah action. So if you’re a fan of the Bible, and there are a number of you out there, you’ll love it. See the BIBLE – New Testament – for further reference.
P: Okay. Under your advisement, I’ll bump The Idiot up over Brothers Karmozov on my reading list.
A: You had better bump it up, yo. I’m in no mood for your dilly-dallying around with the whole Russian Literature canon, dude.
P: So you’re relatively new to the publishing world. Has anything about the process surprised you?
A: You do a lot of stuff for yourself – which I’m used to in the independent film world, but I thought publishing would be more hands on. Sadly, it’s just like independent film – you’re the first, last and only stop as far as getting people to fall in love with your work.
P: Speaking of indi film, I was curious to talk about Drones a bit…. Can we do that?
A: Yes. Yes, we can.
P: First, I have to say that I loved it.
A: Woohoo!! Everyone go check it out on Netflix streaming – just knowing about this movie makes you way cooler than all your un-clued in friends.
P: I seem to have developed a bit of a man-crush on Johnathan Woodward. I liked him well enough before this, but now it’s more than that. I blame you.
A: For those of you who do not know the esteemed Jonathan Woodward…well, all I have to say is “if you snooze, you lose”. No, just kidding. I feel like, in Drones, Woodso (you can call him ‘Woodso’, too, now, Pat, ’cause you are in the know!) actually channels a young Bill Murray post-Meatballs, but pre-Ghostbusters…it’s kind of uncanny.
P: How did you get involved in the project?
A: My co-director, Adam Busch, and our producer, Jordan Kessler, were looking to make a film together – one they could shoot in Jordan’s office in Louisiana. So they got our friends Acker and Blacker to write a script. The script was really good and the guys realized it needed to be made on a real set, not in Jordan’s office and they needed some directing help, so they asked me to jump on board – and that’s how it happened.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There were no drugs or prostitutes involved with the making of this film. I swear on a stack of Acme Bibles.
P: Which do you prefer: The relatively solo nature of writing, where you’re in absolute control, but you also have to do all the work. Or the collaborative nature of TV and film where you have more help but less overall control of the finished product?
A: That’s no fair! I love them both – writing is amazing because I am God when I’m sitting at my computer. I am the Master of that Universe – the Big Banger – the Decider – and that’s a really, really nice feeling. Especially since real life is all about accepting that you have zero control over most things…and even the things you kinda have control over, you still end up ceding your power more often than you like.
On the other hand, making moves, TV, Web stuff is fucking amazing. To see something in your head and then to have it come to life is a feeling I liken to crack. Crack cocaine…a highly addictive substance. It’s super collaborative, but if you pick your circle of collaborators wisely, and trust them and their taste implicitly then you kinda can’t go wrong.
P: Since I’ve never been involved in it, it’s hard for me to understand how collaborative storytelling in TV and film really works. I end up thinking of the script writer as the creator, the actors as interpreters (of sorts), and the director as an extremely hands-on editor.
How horribly off-base is that comparison?
A: There is some truth to what you just said. I always likened being an actor to being a pawn in someone else’s chess game. I get bored easily and I like to move in lots of different directions––I’m just cool like that-Ha!––so being a pawn wasn’t the most exciting thing for me. Although, it is the pawn alone of all the chess pieces who has the ability to one day become a Queen (or a knight or a bishop or a rook)…so there’s that.
In television, they say the writer is King. In film, it’s the director…and I kind of agree with this supposition. For me, it’s just all about working with people I love and respect and trusting that the ideas they bring to the table up the game on the project.
I like to pretend to be in charge when I direct, but really, being in charge is all about letting the people around you shine…protecting them when things get tough…and not being afraid of letting the buck stop with you. I maybe the captain of the ship, but I can’t do everything.
P: At this point, you’ve done work in each of those areas: writer, actor, and director. All other things being equal, which one do you enjoy the most?
A: I guess…even though I should dither around and pretend like I think they are all equal…that directing gives me the most joy. I like leading an army and that’s what the director (if they’re a good one) does. I’ll ride into battle with my men and if I am wounded in the pursuit of creative passion then so be it.
P: Okay. Back to some book talk. How often do you check your Amazon sales rank?
A: I go a long time ignoring it…then I’ll check it obsessively for like a week and then I’ll ignore it again. It’s like being a sex addict…only there’s no sex. Just numbers and mean reviews.
P: Oh man. Tell me about it. I fell off the wagon just a couple days ago.
The Amazon wagon, I mean. Not the sex wagon.
A: There’s a sex wagon?
P: Not here in Wisconsin. We don’t go in for that sort of thing. More’s the pity.
A: I live in LA – the home of the Sex Wagon, apparently. (Got that from googling sex wagon on my computer.)
P: You’re just fucking with me at this point, aren’t you? You’re trying to trick me into googling “sex wagon” and then I’m going to see something that will leave me a gibbering wreck.
I’m not going to do it. I refuse.
A: You will either find…if you google sex wagon (in quotes) A DJ named DJ Sex Wagon or that the car with the Sex Wagon distinction is…drum roll…station wagon!!!!!
P: I’m still not falling for it.
You mentioned the mean reviews. Do they stick in your teeth too? A while back when I broke down I saw my last four Amazon reviews were all 2 and 3 stars. It took a remarkable shit on my otherwise good day.
P: Total bastards. Sharing their honest opinions in a public forum. Who do they think they are?
Out of curiosity, do you experience any of the same thing when you act? Would you occasionally go looking for reviews when you were doing Buffy and then obsess about them in the same way?
A: I learned not to give a shit about what people think of my acting. I act for myself, not for them and if they don’t like it, they can go find the sex wagon and get stuffed. (Wow, that analogy worked out well for me.)
P: What’s the most hurtful thing someone has ever said in a review of your book?
A: Oh, there are way too many bad things that have been said to fixate on just one. I actually had to stop looking at the reviews…uhm, immature is a nice word that gets used quite a bit, shallow…whiny….oh, joy. Yeah, I guess I’m a teenage girl – ‘cause those adjectives I just said, well, they’re used mostly to describe teenage girls.
P: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
A: “You made me snort my milk, I was laughing so hard.” I am all about entertaining the peeps – my writing is the opposite of brain surgery – it should just make you laugh. Then I’ve done my whiny, shallow, immature best.
P: Do you have a particular piece of grammar that you screw up regularly?
A: “Get on a stick.” Apparently, it’s: “Get on the stick.” Which makes me think of being on the rag for some reason, so I’m never gonna use it again, I’ve decided. I also misuse semi-colons on a regular basis. I like them an awful lot, so I try and use them wherever and whenever I can.
P: Ah hell. We were getting along so well. I happen to be a staunch anti-semicolonite. (Anti-semi-coloner?)
A: I am an Anti-semi-colonic-er, too! Hehehehe. I don’t like either of them. I try not to use semi-colons or semi-colonics, but sometimes I am forced to and invariably I screw them up. Both of them.
P: If you could punch one author in the face, who would it be?
A: Myself…sometimes…but mostly I would like to baby tap Stephen King on the chin for being so damned creative. More of an annoyed punch, really, that one person can be so prolific. As far as a full on punch in the face, I reserve that for some of those Rush Limbaugh wannabe, right wing, conservative journalists/bloggers. They make my hackles rise.
P: Heh. Okay. We’re good again. I can overlook our semi-colon differences in light of that.
Rumor has it that Voltare wrote on the naked backs of his lovers. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?
A: Hmmm…I knew I liked Voltaire. I like to check into a motel on the beach for a weekend to start each book I’m working on. It’s like a ‘start-cation’. It helps me get the book going – that is, until my dad comes to visit ‘cause I always stay at a motel near him…and then I get no work done.
P: A while back I made a joke about “transition putty” on my blog. That being, of course, the stuff we writers buy at Home Depot to smooth out our rough transitions.
If you could have some sort of handyman tool like that, something like Plot Spackle or a Character Level. What would it be?
A: I would like to get a Rewrite Snake – it helps to get rid of all the crap you know doesn’t really need to be in the book.
P: So while I was doing a little research online for this interview, I was googling around and was kinda stunned at the number of pictures there were for you online. There’s fan pages… people put up Amber Benson wallpaper images for their computers….
Does all that kinda weird you out? Or is it old hat at this point?
A: It’s a little weird. I get annoyed looking at myself in the mirror. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to look at my googily face all day long on their computer. I know for fact that if you stare at my face too long it will open up a doorway to another dimension where the Fluffy-Froth people live – and no one wants to do that…unless you’re in to Sex Wagons. They all have their own Sex Wagons in Fluffy-Froth Land.
P: It’s true. I went there on spring break. I’d move there if it wasn’t for the high property taxes.
A: Great place, right? Lots of cute boys.
P: Speaking of the sex wagon, are you writing anything steamy in your next book? Because if you are, we could do another team reading at Comic Con this year….
A: The fifth and final Calliope Reaper-Jones book “The Golden Age of Death” is pretty sexless…but I could write something naughty on a napkin and read that! I promise that it is a clean napkin…not a kleenex.
P: I’ve done a ton of readings in these last few years, but that one might have been the most flat-out fun I’d had in ages….
For those of you who don’t know. Amber and I did a co-reading of a sex scene out of one of her books back in the day. The long version of the story and a video are over here.
A: I have to agree that it was balls to the wall my favorite reading. Really, it was just your accent that made the whole thing so amazing. It was SPOT ON!
P: Has writing sex scenes gotten any easier for you?
A: Yeah, a lil’ bit. I’ve found that it’s easier to write naughty bits in serious stories than in comedic ones.
By the way, I have had it up to HERE with ‘then’ and ‘than.’ From now on I’m just going to use ‘thane’ for both of them…it’s got the ‘a’ and the ‘e’, so there’s that thane.
Sorry for the digression. But seriously, when I’m writing straight up drama, I feel like I’m not allowed to laugh when I use the words “glittering woman hole” or “shining man member”, it just cheapens those glamorous, golden phrases of lasciviousness.
P: No way would you ever write something that uses the phrase “Shining Man Member.” I dare you to write a piece of erotica including that. I double-dare you….
A: Now, I don’t know if you were aware of this…but there is something physiologically wrong with my brain that makes me incapable of turning down a dare. It’s been a real problem for me, especially during those troubled adolescent, playground years when dares can make or break you popularity-wise.
With that said, I hell yeah can make “shining man member” the sexiest, naughtiest phrase that ever existed. But I double dog dare YOU to write a piece of erotica that uses the phrase “glittering woman hole” – and no hiding behind your beard because this means war, you know. A glittering woman hole/shining man member all out battle to see who is the new heir to E.L James and Anne Rampling (aka you know who).
P: Okay, hold on. We should really do this.
Here’s my thought. Right now we’re creeping on on Worldbuilder’s 400K stretch goal. When we hit that, I’m going to donate an extra 100,000 dollars to Heifer International.
But we still need a stretch goal for our $450,000 mark. If we manage to hit that goal, how about you and I agree to write this piece of Urban Fantasy erotica together? We’ll trade it back and forth, scene by scene.
A: Oh, Mister, you are SOOOOOOO on!!!
P: I, of course, will write from the perspective of the female lead, the plucky redheaded vampire hunter named…. Um….
A: Deuteronomy Jones. That’s your character’s name. And she’s a transsexual plucky red-headed vampire hunter.
P: Oh so that’s how it’s going to be, is it?
Okay. We’re on.
You, of course, will be writing the part of Lance Franklin. A rogue warlock-in-hiding due to the secrets in his troubled past. And because he’s half-succubus. (On his mother’s side.) Also, he’s a Calvin Klein model.
Man. I don’t know if I’m excited about this. Or terrified.
Either way, you’re the best, Amber. Thanks so much for helping out Worldbuilders. And thanks for the lovely interview.
A: No, you’re the lovely interview, Mr. Patrick Rothfuss. And I look forward to some verbal dickery with you in the near and naughty future!
P: I’m looking forward to it too…
But remember everyone. It only happens if we hit $450,000 before the end of the fundraiser on January 21st at midnight.
Let’s see if we can make it happen.
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