Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview


Conducted by Shiai Mata

Diana G. Gallagher is someone whom one might call "elusive". Despite having written dozens of genre and media tie-in novels over the course of the last two decades, she hasn’t given many interviews. Nor does she have a blog or an online journal, and her official website is rather matter-of-fact. In short, Diana is the sort of author who has let her work do the talking for her. Which is why we’re especially pleased that she took the time to speak with us!

SLAYERLIT: Diana, welcome to SlayerLit! Why don’t we start at the beginning: growing up, what books and authors inspired you the most to write?

DIANA G. GALLAGHER: I loved horses as a kid and read every horse book in the school library. My first "serious" writing endeavors occurred when I was twelve. I locked myself in my room with my Dad's old typewriter and pounded out an "epic" horse story one weekend. Then I wrote a sequel. (I still have both stories locked away somewhere!) Then as a teenager, I went into a free verse/poetry period that led to writing unsold folk songs. That was it for several years, until I saw Star Wars in 1977 and found the inspiration to write for real, filk and fiction.

SL: You were actually well known as an artist before you began to professionally write, correct?

DGG: Yes, I was. I actually have an art portfolio--mostly horses--from when I was 13 or 14. I tried painting Florida subjects and doing a few art shows in the late 1970s, but as with writing and music, I found my real inspiration in science fiction and fantasy. I love critters and made my mark in SF fan art with a fairy pony, Robin Hood mouse, Star Trek dog, cats with mini-spaceships and of course, Woof: The House Dragon. I won a Hugo for fan art in 1988, which I attribute the popularity of my hand-colored Woof prints.

SL: Do you still make the time for your art?

DGG: Once my writing career started to take off, I had to let the art go. Creating the originals, matting the prints and shipping to 90 convention art shows a year took up way too much time. Considering how my writing career has gone since my first novel, I made the right decision.

SL: Your first published novel was THE ALIEN DARK in 1990. What was it at that point in your life that drove you to pursue a career as a professional writer?

DGG: In two words: Star Wars. The scope of the first movie struck a chord. I immediately asked a friend to suggest books to read and discovered I preferred novels that extrapolated real science. I became a space program advocate while typing the hundreds and thousands of words that didn't sell before The Alien Dark finally did. And I started that book in 1979! So, obviously, the best advice I can give anyone is: Don't give up! And keep re-writing until you get it right.

SL: What’s your daily writing work routine like?

DGG: How much time I spend per day depends on what I'm writing. The schedule for a Buffy or CHARMED book required turning out 5-6 pages a day working from a detailed outline. I like working out the bugs in an outline. It prevents a lot of extra work later. I co-authored a non-fiction book, NO ORDINARY HEROES (Kensington 2007) with Dr. Dem Inglese about the horrendous events at the Orleans Parish jail (7000 inmates) during Hurricane Katrina. We worked hours on the phone non-stop every day for nine months to finish the first draft. At the moment, I'm finishing up a 14 book series for middle reader girls, THE COMPLICATED LIFE OF CLAUDIA CRISTINA CORTEZ, for Stone Arch Books, a school and library book publisher in Minnesota. I only have to write 2-3 pages a day to stay on schedule and meet the deadlines.

That only partly answered your question and may be more than you wanted to know! My routine when I'm under contract is pretty much the same everyday: Watch Morning Joe and read newspapers and national magazines online to stay on top of things. Write as needed while taking occasional brain breaks to work on computer jigsaw puzzles or pull weeds in my gardens. I do not leave the house if I'm pressed to meet a deadline because I can't get back into the writing groove when I get back.

SL: You’ve worked prominently on media tie-in projects These days, that’s actually become rather trendy for authors, but that’s only a fairly recent development; prior to that, it seemed as if tie-in books were sort of looked down upon in the industry by more than a few. In your experience, have you ever received negative feedback from other authors or editors because of your tie-in work?

DGG: Editor negativity? Once, but I'll leave the details to your imagination. Needless to say, it did not in any way damage my career [Laughter]. I find the attitude of educational institutions toward media books more upsetting than inconsequential personal slights. A no-media-books bias limits the choices for kids who don't like to read or have difficulty reading. These kids are familiar with the characters and universe in a media book, which makes reading a media book seem less like work. The trend in schools toward AR (approved or advance reading) books has taken the fun out of reading for many kids. Kids who love to read will read for fun despite the AR requirements. But kids who have trouble or don't like to read won't ever learn to read for fun if all their reading is "work." I've only recently become aware of this trend because I have grandsons who don't read my books because they won't get credit! I don't know how widespread this is as an issue, but I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times, "Reading Shouldn't Be A Numbers Game," that addresses this problem.

SL: The nature of tie-ins is that the writer must have a strong knowledge of the characters and their backgrounds, which probably necessitated you having to watch a good many episodes of SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH and THE SECRET WORLD OF ALEX MACK, among others. Have you always enjoyed the programs you’ve written books for? In other words, as a viewer, were these shows you would have watched regardless, or were you tuning in simply to research them as a writer?

DGG: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. I probably wouldn't have watched Alex Mack as an adult, but I enjoyed the show, and that, I'm sure, was evident in the books I wrote in the series. I haven't written in any series I didn't enjoy. When each new TV season begins, I watch everything that seems interesting and tape those shows I think would make great books I'd like to write. SUPERNATURAL has been on that list since it began. A few books have been written, but I don't know if the publisher will continue. I hope so. I have outlines ready just in case! In the 2008 season, FRINGE seems like a good prospect because the shows are episodic with a loose umbrella premise. HEROES would probably only work if authors wrote books about new isolated characters that discover abilities and have an adventure that's only loosely tied to the main universe, if at all.

SL: The next question, I think inevitably, is…were you a fan of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER before you started writing for the BtVS novels?

DGG: No, but that's because the editor called me…along with many other Simon & Schuster authors…to tell me to watch the show because there was already a deal for books. However, I loved it right away and was thrilled to be a part of the series. When I came up with a premise she and the show producers liked, we went to contract.

SL: Your first Buffy novel, OBSIDIAN FATE, deals with the Aztecs; is this an area of historical interest for you? I found it interesting that you chose to utilize actual ancient deities, rather than simply creating some new mystical menace out of whole cloth, if only because that’s fairly rare in the BtVS series. I think because Joss Whedon tended to avoid established mythologies on the television show, a lot of novelists followed suit.

DGG: I look for established mythologies, creepy incidents, urban myths, and actual historical events as a launching point for Buffy, CHARMED, and SMALLVILLE, among others. I found the Aztec god of darkness online and realized it fit well with the Buffyverse. That formed a foundation for the story, but the established Buffy "facts" take precedence over actual myths and events. Those are molded to fit the Buffyverse.

SL: For your next book, DOOMSDAY DECK, you employ Kali as the menace, as well as making tarot cards central to the story. Did you receive any backlash for utilizing a deity of Hinduism as the villain, or in using the tarot as a tool of evil? I ask because I’m certain there are some people who might be sensitive to such things.

DGG: If there was a backlash, I'm not aware of it. A tarot reader helped me with the tarot details. I've contacted and had the help of other experts in various fields, especially for the CHARMED books.

SL: After a five year break, you returned to Buffy with SPARK AND BURN. Why such a delay? And was Spike a character you enjoyed writing about?

DGG: I was writing a lot of CHARMED. SPARK AND BURN came about in a casual conversation I had with the editor about something else. I mentioned that the show did not tell us why Spike suddenly-sort of-came to his senses after he got his soul back. The answer was obviously that Buffy had something to do with it--but what specifically? He was looking for a Spike book, and I turned in an outline. Although I used dialogue and scenes from all the significant Spike episodes, the scenes were enhanced by Spike's thought processes and expanded. And of course, at the time of publication, all the Buffy novels were taking place in the second season before Angel became Angelus, which was where seventh season Spike found the anchor he needed.

SL: And who has been your favorite BtVS character to write for?

DGG: I don't have a favorite. All the Buffy characters are so unique and well defined they're a pleasure to write. I tried, as much as possible, to include the supporting characters: Joyce, Anya, Jenny, and Jonathan as examples.

SL: Have you ever met any of the actors from the series you’ve written books for? I’d have to think it might feel a little weird, meeting someone who, in so many ways, is someone you know well, and yet it’s really not them at all, right?

DGG: Actually, I met James Marsters at Dragon*con in Atlanta last year and was able to hand him a copy of SPARK AND BURN. That was fantastic. He's the only one, however. I don't get out much. [Laughter]

SL: Have you ever pitched any Buffy story ideas that, for whatever reason, were turned down?

DGG: Of course! It took me a while to get into the Buffy groove early on. Not so much in recent years.

SL: Your final BtVS novel was also one of the last books published by Simon & Schuster before they concluded the series, BAD BARGAIN. Did you have any inkling that the franchise was coming to a close when you were writing it?

DGG: Yes, I did. So sad. The Spike book was a labor of love, but BAD BARGAIN may be my favorite. It was pure second season Buffy fun, and I was able to insert all the support characters we didn't learn about until later in the series. Jonathan and Andrew in particular. As I said before, I love doing critters, and BAD BARGAIN was chock full of little weirdies.

SL: If you had the chance to write one more Buffy tale, do you know what it would be about?

DGG: I'd probably want to write the same book I think the other Buffy writers would want to write: What happened immediately after the last scene in the last episode? I don't know, but it would be a fun idea to explore.

SL: You also co-wrote the second volume of THE ANGEL CASEFILES. How different was it to write for something like that, as opposed to doing prose novels?

DGG: I had written the first CHARMED companion, THE BOOK OF THREE, with Paul Ruditis. That worked out great (we did Volume II along with Phyllis Ungerleider). Paul and I were both free to do the second ANGEL CASEFILES.

SL: Is there a specific reason why you never wrote for the ANGEL novels?

DGG: Again, I was very busy writing CHARMED with a few other odd novels thrown in, including AN AMERICAN DREAM, "For What It's Worth." I turned in a spec outline for an Angel novel right before they decided to stop publication.

SL: You’ve written extensively not only for the Buffy franchise, but also, as mentioned, for SABRINA, as well as CHARMED…three shows steeped in magic, yet all of a very different variety. As a writer, were you faced with any complications in crafting stories that had such different "ground rules" about magic and how it can be used?

DGG: No. I suppose this is one reason I've been successful writing media books. Each show has distinct characters and rules. Media writers have a knack for tapping into the flavor and tone of a show and putting it into words on paper.

SL: As a fantasy writer, what’s your own interpretation of what magic constitutes? Some see it as just another force of nature, others as something entirely outside the confines of the natural world. In your mind, does the use of magic come at a cost?

DGG: I perceive magic as just another talent or tool that can be used for good or ill. If pressed, I would venture to say magic is the ability to manipulate nature and the elements at will, which would put it in the realm of natural forces.

SL: Is there a particular media franchise you’d like to write for, but haven’t yet?

DGG: SUPERNATURAL. Love those Winchester boys!

SL: Okay, just for fun, in a magical smackdown between Sabrina, Willow, Tara and the Halliwell sisters, who wins?

DGG: It's a tie! Sorry, but there's no way I can choose. It's like asking a mom…which is her favorite child? You love them all for different reasons, but you don't love one more or less than the others.

SL: Let’s go back to one project that is unique to your body of work, and I think deserves a special focus. NO ORDINARY HEROES is the true story of a handful of medical professionals at the city jail in New Orleans, trying to keep hell from being unleashed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as they’re trapped in the prison with 7000 prisoners, no electricity or running water, and dwindling food supplies. What prompted you to do this book?

DGG: As to how I came to write it, there's actually a Buffy connection. Honest! Dr. Dem (Dr. Richard M. Inglese) was stationed in Korea (Air Force) with my best friend Betsey Wilcox several years ago. He was a Buffy fan, so he became the "Dem" character in OBSIDIAN FATE. He moved to New Orleans and became the Medical Director of the Orleans Parish Jail after he left the military. We became acquainted through our mutual friendship with Betsey. She was one of the first people he called after they were rescued from the jail. I said, "This has got to be a book!" He agreed, and we developed a perfect co-author working relationship and friendship.

SL: Diana, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!

DGG: Thank you! And thank you for your patience waiting for me to get to you.