Alice Henderson on writing BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER novels
This interview with ALICE HENDERSON was conducted by Shiai for the Slayerlit website.
ALICE HENDERSON first emerged as a Buffy writer with the NIGHT TERRORS Stake Your Destiny adventure, and now follows it up with PORTAL THROUGH TIME, which sends the Vampire Slayer on an adventure into the past to save her future. Alice has taken the time following an exceptionally busy summer (including hiking through the Western United States…get the details at her official website, alicehenderson.com!) to sit down and talk with SlayerLit about her Buffy novels.
SlayerLit: I suppose that the most logical question to open this up with would be to ask just how you came to be a Buffy novelist for Simon & Schuster.
Alice Henderson: I was very intrigued to write a Buffy novel, and I met Yvonne Navarro at World Horror Con in 2002. She gave me the name of her then editor, and I got the guidelines and submitted a proposal. Originally, I also wanted to write an Angel novel, and proposed one of those, as well. Unfortunately, the Angel book series ended right after that, and no new titles were acquired. I was very excited when my Buffy proposal was accepted.
SL: Were you a fan of the television show, and had you read any of the Buffy novels prior to your being tapped to write one?
AH: I was very much a fan of the show before I wrote the book. I’d read a few of the Buffy novels before I got the contract to write one myself, the first of which was RETURN TO CHAOS by Craig Shaw Gardner.
SL: Your first Buffy novel, NIGHT TERRORS, was a part of the Stake Your Destiny line. Not being a traditional linear story, but rather a series of story threads branching off from the main plot, did you find this format being more challenging than usual, or did you really enjoy being able to follow so many flights of fancy?
AH: I loved that I could follow so many narrative threads. It was a challenge to write — I created a flow chart and hung it on my wall, illustrating how all the threads joined up and branched off from each other. It was a blast to write — my imagination could really go wherever I wanted, thinking up many conceivable endings to the different plots. I read a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure stories as a kid, and I wanted my book to be as re-readable as possible. Therefore, the different branches take readers in many directions, and with twenty possible endings, readers will seldom read the same pages twice.
SL: Were you given any guidelines as to what must appear in the story, and what could not occur? And were their any specific restrictions on characters you could and could not use or even mention?
AH: I had a lot of creative freedom with NIGHT TERRORS. I was not given any guidelines about what could or couldn’t occur, and I wasn’t told that I couldn’t use certain characters. They were wanting more books set in second season, so I did that. It’s a really fun time in the Buffyverse, with Oz and Angel still on the show.
SL: What sort of preparations did you undertake to write that first book?
AH: My flowchart was a necessity. I did a lot of my research on the actual phenomenon of night terrors. This is a worldwide occurrence wherein sleeping people awake, paralyzed, and are convinced that something is in the room with them. You see this phenomenon in many cultures, from American, to Scandinavian, to Japanese. In Newfoundland, they call it the “Old Hag” syndrome because sleepers have described an old woman sitting on their chests when they wake up. In my novel, I created a demon that was causing this sleep paralysis, a creature trapped in the dream world, who is desperate to enter our waking world.
SL: What can you tell us about your new book, PORTAL THROUGH TIME?
AH: I’m really excited about this one. It comes out in October this year. It’s a time travel adventure. A devotee of the Master travels back in time with a team of assassins to murder historical Slayers. His goal is to disrupt the Slayer lineage so that Buffy is not the active Slayer when the Master rises. The Scoobies must travel to ancient Sumeria, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, and Roman-occupied Britain in 60 C.E. I did a lot of historical research to really capture an accurate feel of the different time periods. I got maps of 1790s Paris to be sure Buffy was walking down the right streets. I read first-century C.E. accounts of the war between the Druids and the Romans. I visited the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee.
SL: Any plans to have Buffy cross paths with any of her predecessors in the past? For instance, you send her back to the Civil War era, and we know of at least two American Slayers from that period, Frankie Massey and Lucy Hanover.
AH: The Civil War Slayer in my book, Agatha, is active just before Frankie Massey. While Buffy does not meet either of these Slayers in person, Lucy is talked about.
SL: What sort of latitude did you have in creating Slayers from the past? Is there some sort of official list and timeline you had to adhere to, or were you given flexibility to come up with whatever works best in terms of your story?
AH: I had a lot of flexibility. There is no official list of Slayers that I had to use. I had complete freedom to create Slayers in the different time periods. But I wanted to fit in with the other historical Slayer plots, so I consulted comic books, novels, and episode mentions so that my Slayers would not overlap Slayers created by other writers. The Civil War was a tight fit, but with I was able to put Agatha in there at the Battle of Shiloh.
SL: Is there a particular Scooby whose “voice” you really feel you have a handle on?
AH: I love writing all the Scoobies. I don’t think there’s a particular one I feel I’m better at.
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?
AH: Fox has a say at the start and end the process. When I first submit my proposal, after it is accepted by Simon & Schuster, it is sent over to Fox. Fox suggests changes to the proposal, and once they accept it, I get the go ahead to write the book. Upon the manuscript’s completion, Fox sees the book again, and can suggest changes at that point, too.
SL: 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?
AH: I usually get up and deal with the business end of writing first, answering e-mails from editors and other writers. I then make some tea and sit down to write in the early afternoon. I generally write for four or so hours, then take a break to eat and mull over plot points. In the evening I have a second stretch of writing, which can go quite late if I’m on a roll.
SL: Is there a particular time period of Buffy that you most like working in?
AH: Both of my books so far are set in second season because of the preferences of the publisher. That was quite lucky for me because I really enjoy that time period on the show. The Scoobies still gather in the library. Principal Snyder is fun to write. As I mentioned before, Oz and Angel are still on the show. Ethan Rayne did a lot of lurking around Sunnydale then, too.
SL: Where do you see the Buffy line going in the next few years?
AH: From what I’ve learned recently, right now the line may become quite limited. I’m not sure if this is for certain, or if it’s a permanent situation for the Buffy line. If it’s the case, it is certainly sad, and I’d love to see more titles appear.
SL: What have you been reading lately for recreation?
AH: I’m a rather eclectic reader! I just finished BOOK OF THE DEAD by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I’m also reading MIRACLE OF THE ANDES by Nando Parrado, and THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO by Ann Radcliffe, who wrote the book in 1794. On the nonfiction end, I’m reading a lot of climatology and paleontology journals.
SL: Finally, what can we look forward to from Alice Henderson in the near future?
AH: PORTAL THROUGH TIME comes out in October 2006. I’m currently at work on a technothriller, which is allowing me to do some fascinating archaeological research. I’m also working on a young adult series with protagonists encountering supernatural creatures in exotic locales, like the fjords of Norway.
SL: Thank you very much, Alice!
AH: Thank you for the interview!