About a week ago, fans quietly celebrated (or possibly missed) the 16th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's television debut on the WB on March 10th, 1997. Sixteen isn't exactly a milestone celebration for a cancelled cult TV series, but for longtime Buffy fans, they know that turning 16 can be hell, especially when you're the Slayer.
But this 16th birthday has Buffy looking pretty good, even if she doesn’t currently exist outside of the Dark Horse comic series (now in season 9!), an endless array of merchandise and collectibles, and in the hearts and minds of legions of devoted fans. At the end of last year, 47 North published the definitive Official Guide to all things Slayer, called Buffy, the Making of a Slayer by Nancy Holder. In this glorious red and black hardcover slipcase edition, fans feasted on a stunning collection of behind-the-scenes photos as well as new insights and interviews from the cast, crew, and creator Joss Whedon. And tucked away in a special folder inside the case, they found “Slayer Lore – Texts and Magicks for the Battle”, essentially a collection of document and prop replicas from the show’s 7 year run. Truly, this was the book Nancy Holder was born to write and every Buffy fan was born to own and read over and over for years to come. We were lucky enough to sit down with Nancy to talk about the inspiration behind the book and how she’s become synonymous with all things Buffy in the print publishing world.
GEEK: Why did you write this particular book after all this time? Buffy has been off the air for nearly 10 years.
Every once in awhile I think, okay, Buffy’s over. It’s really over. There’s no more Buffy stuff. And then I get asked to write an essay for a book or a text block for an academic textbook and goody, more Buffy. And then I think it’s been probably long enough and it’s gone. And then I got this book and I was so excited I started crying. I wrote the book because I was asked to by Becker and Meyer, the book packagers. They’re very famous. I know geek people have seen their books everywhere. They did one on Pixar, Darth Vader, Transformers, LEGO, Peanuts… you name it, they’ve done it. And they always have these cool extra bits. I now know that in the business they call them “removables”. And I have some of their books. I got the Pixar book at Disney World. When they said “we’re Becker and Meyer” I got out my Pixar book and I went “oh my god, it’s those guys”. The first thing they asked is if I would be interested in writing [about Buffy] and I said of course I would. They sent me a bunch of their books as samples of what they were looking for. I was in geek heaven.
GEEK: You’re well known for writing many books about Buffy, so it’s no surprise they came to you. You’ve written all of the Buffy Watcher’s Guides and the first Angel Case Files books.
If you’ve take the aggregate of my work, I’ve written more about Buffy than anyone else not connected to the show.
GEEK: What is the appeal of writing about Buffy?
First of all, the most important thing that I try to get across is how smart the Buffy the series. And when I got the scripts, the very first thing that happened was that I got 6 scripts overnighted to me when Christopher Golden and I got the go ahead to write the first original novel connected to the show. The show hadn’t premiered yet and there was no series bible per se. And when I read them, I couldn’t believe how smart, how funny, and how well written they were. And we paid very careful attention to the ones Joss wrote, of course, and sort of parsed them. He’s just a brilliant writer. He’s so funny. Even in his stage direction, he’d say “Break as much stuff as you can for $1.98.” or “They’re running across the field to the monastery – okay, it’s just our same damn alley” or “Xander walks by a soldier, but the soldier says nothing because he’s an extra.” And they were just really funny, well written scripts. And I’m a structure freak and so is Joss. And when you can sort of see how he lays out his plan, it was just amazing to me to see how smart it was.
It was supposed to be just a teen show. I’m also a big fan of Disney. And in Disney culture, you believe you “plus” things. You have it and then you do what you can to add a little something. And Joss always “plussed” everything. And so I can’t even describe to you what it was like to watch the first episode for me. I was dumbfounded and teary and I felt “this is it!” I was so excited.
GEEK: So your first experience with Buffy was with before the show was even on tv?
What actually happened was that I had a friend who was a writer named Scott Ciecin. He was approached by his editor who was bidding on the rights for the books. He said he didn’t think he’d be right for this, but Nancy Holder would. And she already knew who I was because we had been at horror writers things together. And so she was bidding on the rights and I was so excited. And I bought a used copy of the Buffy movie soundtrack for good luck, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I was so hopeful. There were already ads in the bus stops for Buffy. I was like “oh please, I want this so much.” And that editor did not get the rights. I then asked Christopher Golden if he’d like to write with me. And within 24 hours we figured out who did have the rights and approached them ourselves. And within the next 24 hours we got the okay to write the book, giving us three and a half weeks to write it. I had a little baby at the time and they day I said yes [to writing the book], my babysitter quit. So I was pretty freaked out, but we did it.
GEEK: What’s Making of the Slayer about? What makes it different from all the other Buffy books that have come before it?
One of the biggest challenges for writing this book was Joss. There is SO much more interest in Joss now. It had always been “who’s that weird Buffy guy?” And people kind of knew who he was, but Buffy has always been more famous in the zeitgeist than Joss has been. But as soon as the Avengers hit, people wanted to find out what else he had done. Cabin in the Woods had come out and people were like, “Who is this Joss Whedon guy?” Of course, half the population calls him “Josh”. So my mandate was “Do I aim this book at diehard Buffy fans as a reward. You were there and you’re still there. God bless ya. Or, okay, Avenger guys, this is what Joss did first.” And one of the reasons I was so grateful to Becker & Meyer for sending me so many sample books is that I kept looking at those first chapters to figure out they approached it. I didn’t know much about the Transformers, but I read the book and I got it. So that was the biggest challenge: Who is this book for? And I finally decided this book is for Joss. Because it’s my way of saying thank you for all of these amazing hours and all of the things he’s done. And for just when I was able to interview him, for being so very kind and straightforward and brilliant and interesting. He’s a true geek. He’s a fan. So when I talked to him in geek fan terms, it was like two C-3PO protocol droids talking. So it was really exciting. Writers are often kind of considered weird. You have these unusual specialties. I wrote a book on the Highlander and became an expert on Machiavelli. And I knew everything there is to know about Machiavelli. Who cares? Nobody but me. But with Buffy, there was this whole cadre of people. So for those deeply caring people and Joss, the King of the Deeply Caring People, I wanted to make sure the book was good enough for them. But I also wanted to bring in people who wanted to know what’s all this about – What is the matter of Joss? So that was the mandate.
GEEK: So why do you think Buffy still has a dedicated following after all these years?
The reason I think Buffy has lasted is because of the person who created it. Joss is an interesting person to talk to , because sometimes when he first starts talking to you, he kind of deflects you with a bit of humor, some little jokes, and might speak in a different accent. And then he kind of clicks that off, like, okay, now I’ll get down and be honest. He did that when I interviewed him and he would do that on the set. And I’d watch him and he’d kind of go, “Oh yeah, I’ll be Joss now.” And I think that as Buffy is very self-referential and snarky and funny, but at its core its really honest and it’s really direct. We know what it’s like to be afraid to grow up and we know what it’s like to feel like you are stuck. A lot of people think of Buffy as a show about growing up. I think Buffy is a show about being alive. Because all of the problems Buffy faced, adults faced. And the demographics show that the age of the average viewer when Buffy was on was 45! It wasn’t 16. And a lot of moms and daughters watched Buffy together. It became a date night for moms. I think that issues of the human condition are what appeal to people and make it so timeless. We all fear dying and having no meaning. We all feel that we’re stuck in this situation, I can’t do anything else, and I have to get up and face another day. And that is why, for example, in the Dawn season, Dawn is Buffy’s true love. Buffy always had a love interest and Dawn was it in that season, because she had to get up every day and live for Dawn. And she even chose that. She said she could have died, but I’m staying here for you. I don’t want to save you from the world, I want to show it to you. And I think that’s what Joss was saying. I think that Buffy ultimately helped us see the world.
GEEK: For Buffy fans, there’s always a moment when it clicks for them, when that connection is made and they’re not just watching a TV show and it becomes something more. It’s the moment that they truly ‘get it’. Was there an epiphany moment like that for you with the series?
I think in a funny way, one of my epiphanies came really late in the series. I was so heavily invested in Buffy. I worked with the same editor on Buffy for 10 years. Buffy was probably 95% of everything I wrote in those 10 years. I wrote lots of other stuff, but Buffy was my main thing. I wasn’t part of the cast, crew, and staff of Buffy, but I was around. I was kind of like a pilot fish. I was heavily invested. In the episode, The Gift, when Buffy jumps off the tower and she does that beautiful swan dive, I just burst into tears. And I thought, I’m such a big geek. I’m such a nerd. But it was just so moving. I can’t even describe the euphoria of “this was done well.” And I think that’s my epiphany, when things were just done really well. Or, conversely, when I would read the script first and then see how they filmed it, there was always a little “oh, I get it.” Because being mostly a print person when I started, seeing it being translated to a dramatic form caused lots of little epiphanies.
I will say the first time I stepped on the high school set, that was huge. It was like being on a real high school location and it bummed me out. And I saw Joss and said, I’m getting really depressed. And he said, “That’s the point.”
GEEK: What does the Making of a Slayer book contain? What’s it about?
When we were doing the Watcher’s Guides, everything was in production, everything was harried, and everything was busy. And it was like this is how an episode is being made. And this is what they’re doing RIGHT NOW. It was so hard to work on those books. There was so much material, that sometimes I would sleep with an oven timer. I’d just set the timer for an hour and wake up and do more transcriptions, more work, more emails, more interviews. So we’re in the middle of it, it kind of felt like one of those shows where people swim around in the shark tank. It felt like that. It was so harried and busy and exciting and wild. But with this book, I had a chance to sit back and be very introspective and to look at the whole show as one huge creation, as opposed to a bunch of episodes. There was this sweeping narrative. It’s just fabulous. Joss’ favorite author is Charles Dickens and I can see why. I mean this is one giant story that’s been serialized into all these episodes. And that’s what I tried to get across, that this is really just one big thing. It’s a monumental achievement, as big to me as the Avengers. Think about how it must have felt to be in charge of directing the Avengers? Good lord. I feel that same exact scope and complication and artistry in Buffy.
GEEK: Now that Joss is a big deal and he’s not just “ours” anymore, people wonder what kind of influence he now has. And one of the big questions is always whether he’d resurrect Firefly because of its brilliant but short lifespan. But now you have to wonder if he’d ever consider revisiting Buffy on the big screen.
One of the things I love the most about Joss is that he has never left his roots. He did Much Ado About Nothing. He did Dr Horrible. And he’s still involved in the comics. It used to be that you’d start out in TV and you would graduate to the movies. And then you could not go back to TV. But he goes back to all forms of media. He appeared in Jane Espenson’s “Husbands”. He’s done “Written by a Kid” on Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry channel. He just does his thing. His Joss thing. That’s what I really love. He’s a true auteur. I think if he wanted to make a Buffy movie and could get it put together, I don’t see reason why he’d think he’s too big for that. I don’t presume to speak for him, but I think he’d think “Is this interesting and can I do something with it?” As opposed to “What will this do to my reputation?”
GEEK: They said we’d never have any more Star Wars films, so I suppose anything is possible.
Please please please. I would love to see Joss direct a Star Wars movie.
(lots of mutual moaning and drooling)
GEEK: Why do you think he’d be a good fit?
What I admire about him is that he is good at what he does and I think he knows he’s good at what he does. I would hope he knows, but that’s not his point. I think he’s just a real geek. He’s a geek who done good and keeps doing good.
You can find Buffy the Making of a Slayer on Amazon and at major book retailers.