Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview

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NANCY HOLDER
Conducted by Shiai Mata

Nancy Holder

The gremlins almost won.

Its been nearly a full year now since Nancy and I first started working on this interview. But right from the start, technical difficulties... the aforementioned gremlins... seemed determined to prevent it from ever happening. First, my Email containing the questions was somehow lost in the ether between my computer and Nancy's. I re-sent them, but then her answers were likewise lost. Then, it seemed that literally every attempt by either of us to email the other somehow never made it through. Even poor Alice Henderson, who graciously volunteered to try and help resolve the communication SNAFU, found herself stymied.

But then, literally out of the blue, lo and behold, there was Nancy's latest attempt to Email me sitting there in my inbox. The gremlins were trumped.

And on that note, let's get to the good stuff... .

SlayerLit: You, along with Christopher Golden, were the first authors to write for the Buffy books. How did you come to receive that assignment?
Nancy Holder: I was contacted by an editor who was bidding for the license for Random House. I told Chris about it, and we decided to pitch ourselves as a team. That editor didn't get the license so we found out who did. We contacted the editor (Lisa Clancy) and faxed her some plot ideas. She went with one of them and we were greenlighted within 48 hours.

SL:What sort of preparations did you undertake to write that first book?
NH: There was no show bible so we read the first six or so scripts and concocted our own "Buffyspeak" dictionary. Then we flipped a coin and assigned even chapters to one of us, and odd chapters to the other. We would read and revise each other's chapter and move on. We wrote HALLOWEEN RAIN in 3 1/2 weeks, and there were bets on whether we would turn it in or not.

SL:HALLOWEEN RAIN goes further than almost any of the other BtVS novels to explore Buffy's everyday world and try and expand upon it in ways not seen on the TV show. You named the managers of the Bronze and introduced them into the cast, and in a particularly nice nod to a fellow Twentieth Century-Fox property, you credited Agent Scully as being the inspiration for Willow having dyed her hair red in the first season. Were such developments initially encouraged by Fox, or did they ask you to tone them down in later books?
NH: No one commented on it either way.

SL:You worked almost exclusively with Chris Golden on your early Buffy books, although you really hadn't been known as a collaborative writer prior to that. What were the mechanics of working with another author, particularly one who was on the other side of the country?
NH: That's actually not true. I wrote two horror novels with Melanie Tem, a wonderful author and one of my best friends. It was easier to work with Chris simply because the Internet was more sophisticated by then. But it's really the same as being in the room with another writer. We deal with the written word.

SL:How does the process usually work regarding assignments. Do you come up with an idea and think, "That would make for a good Buffy story," and then pitch it to Simon & Schuster, or does the editor call you up and say, "We'd like you to write a Buffy story about an evil traveling carnival"?
NH: I always came up with my own ideas, although, of course, my editors and 20th Century Fox had a lot of input. But I was never assigned specific ideas, unless it was to novelize particular episodes.

SL:Despite dealing with vampires and demons and all sort of other creatures, the Buffy novels are not necessarily horror stories. But for me, the single most terrifying passage in any of the books was the schoolyard shooting in THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, because it wasn't fantasy horror, but something that is tragically a real world experience. I had thought when I first read it that you were replicating Columbine, but I learned later that you actually wrote your story prior to that event. What led you to include something like that in a Buffy tale, and does that particular passage resonate in some way with you, considering its impact?
NH: I was horrified when Columbine happened. My book was scheduled to ship in two weeks and of course there was no way S&S or I wanted it to come out then. I rewrote the beginning and we delayed it a year. What resonated for me was that the shooter was not affected by the curse. Something snapped in him that turned him into a murderer. One of my favorite themes is, "What if we aren't who we think we are?" He didn't think he was a murderer. But he was.

SL:You have a bit of a reputation for really putting Willow through the wringer at times. Do you subscribe to a theory that Willow injured and/or in danger makes for a more compelling story for the reader?
NH: Willow is so beloved that putting her in jeopardy raises the stakes. I adore Willow. She is a wonderful character.

SL:Is there a particular Scooby whose "voice" you really feel you have a handle on?
NH: I loved the Xander/Cordelia riff of old. They reminded me of Petruchio and Katarina in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

SL:I realize they're all your children and you love them all equally, but is there one particular Buffy book of yours that you like the most?
NH: I think writing QUEEN OF THE SLAYERS was an awesome experience, but I also love CHILD OF THE HUNT, BLOODED, and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO.

SL:You're among the few Buffy novelists who made the jump over to the Angel line as well. How did you approach those books? After all, you were dealing with some of the same characters, but in not only a different setting, but a somewhat more mature environment. Do you work with a "Buffy Way of Thinking" and an "Angel Way of Thinking," or do you go into every project with the same creative mindset?
NH: Angel was more heavily plotted. Buffy was more emotional. My last Buffy editor said, "I know when I read a Buffy book of yours, you're going to make me cry."

SL:In addition to Buffy and Angel, you've done a lot of work with other licensed properties. What are some of the good points of such projects, and what, if any, are the drawbacks?
NH: Good points--being forced to watch a lot of truly wonderful television, and getting to go on set or to special show events. Drawbacks--shows end. Sadly.

SL:Have you ever slipped in references to other non-Buffy books you've written into a Buffy story, as an inside joke? For me, I'm still waiting to see a Willow/Sabrina meeting in some form.
NH: I can't remember, but I'm more likely to slip in the name of a friend or relative. It was a real thrill to create Belle the Vampire Slayer, as Belle is my daughter. I read that section at a banquet for Slayage, and it was probably one of my proudest moments as a writer.

SL:Between the various TALES OF THE SLAYER anthologies and a number of your novels, you've probably created more past Slayers than anyone else. What kind of creative thought do you like to give in the creation of a Slayer, her environment, and her place in history?
NH: I didn't want to tweak and re-tweak the Buffy story, so I looked for differences--a Slayer who falls in love with her Watcher, for example. A Japanese Slayer. Something different.

SL:While you were researching THE WATCHER'S GUIDES, were you ever tempted to tweak or outright change something, knowing that what you had in mind perhaps made more sense than what was established? BtVS could be contradictory at times in some of its incidental information, after all.
NH: I was never tempted to tweak or change anything in THE WATCHER'S GUIDES. My job was to serve the show. To do as well by the show as I could. I do remember a funny moment where Chris asked the show writers Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel, "How come vampires can be videotaped if they don't show up in mirrors?" They looked a little freaked. I said, "Different particles." "Yeah, yeah! Different particles." For me, the seeming inconsistencies are the result of different particles.

SL:Does Fox or Mutant Enemy participate in the creative process of the novels in the course of their development, or do they mostly just set standards at the start and then recommend changes once the manuscript has been turned in?
NH: Fox/M.E. would often offer notes on outlines and final drafts: "Make sure it's clear Buffy does not harm a human being; don't have Giles do X." I invented a Dark Slayer and was told I couldn't write about her because Faith was coming.

SL:You had the responsibility of being the first to explore the world of Buffy following the conclusion of the TV show with QUEEN OF THE SLAYERS. What level of involvement did Fox and ME exercise with that project, and how much of what you would have liked to have explored actually make it into the book?
NH: Everyone was remarkably supportive. My editor felt the beginning was slow and I agree. I cut it but it was still slow. I wanted to add more in the book. I didn't want it to end. And I wanted to write more adventures beyond that. I was hoping like anything to write a sequel.

SL:You're incredibly prolific. What is your writing workday like? Do you prefer to write early in the day, in the evening, or just whenever you can sit down in front of your computer?
NH: I write whenever I can, but I have periods of time where I get the stupids and can't focus. I'm a single mom and I'm very involved in my daughter's life. So I juggle a lot.

SL:Is there a particular time period of Buffy that you most like working in?
NH: I liked working in any time period of Buffy. I miss it so much.

SL:There's a rather vibrant intellectual community that focuses on Buffy, from sociologists to psychologists to theologians and beyond, all producing papers and studies and texts and lectures on the Slayer and her impacts. You added to that last year with a five week course on Buffy the Vampire Slayer at UCSD. What can you tell us about this class, and what do you think your students took from it?
NH: I was surprised when I read my course evaluations that a number of the students were uninterested in my stories of going on set and meeting Joss and the actors. They really wanted to have intellectual discourse about Buffy. Also, many people "audited" by E-ing with the students who were taking the class. The department asked me to teach it again this spring, but I didn't have time.

SL:Where do you see the Buffy line going in the next few years?
NH: At least we have Joss's Season Eight comics!

SL:What have you been reading lately for recreation?
NH: Lots and lots of middle grade kids fiction. And TWILIGHT. Loved it!

SL:Finally, what can we look forward to from the pen of Nancy Holder in the near future?
NH: I have a young adult fairy tale retelling called THE ROSE BRIDE. It will be out in June. I dedicated it to Melanie Tem and my mentor, Charles L. Grant. I think, after Buffy, it is the book I am proudest of.

SL:Thank you very much, Nancy!
NH: Thank you, Shiai. Thanks for your patience, especially.