Today, we have a very special interview prepared with an awesome guest author. Jackie Kessler, author of dark fantasy and paranormal novels, has just joined one of the most prestigious clubs in all of geekdom: she has officially joined THE BUFFYVERSE. February 3, 2010 officially marks Jackie’s first foray in the comic book medium with the publication of short story “Carpe Noctem” in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #31. Her contribution to Dark Horse Comics’ “Tales of the Vampires” collection of short stories ties into the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 comics, which (if you have been living under a rock and don’t know) is the comic book continuation of the iconic television show. Last week, an exclusive 8-page preview of “Carpe Noctem” was released on MTV’s Splash Page, and to get into the spirit of the release, we knew we HAD to have Jackie over for one of our infamous interviews.
Fellow Buffy fans! Comrade geeks! Whedonites! We are proud to give you the talented Jackie Kessler.
The Book Smugglers: First of all, congratulations on being inducted into the Buffyverse! How in the world did you manage to land one of the coolests gigs EVER?
Jackie: Thank you so much! It happened through a combination of chutzpah and serendipity. See, I went to Dragon*Con in 2009, and I was on a couple of panels with Scott Allie, the Dark Horse Comics editor of Buffy Season 8. After our last panel together, I chatted with him and told him that I’d love to send him a book. (This is the chutzpah part — I have to point out that I am horribly nervous at conventions, doing live interviews, speaking on panels…basically, being in public.) Scott asked if I wrote anything dark, and I said yep, so I sent him Hell’s Belles.
A month later, I received a carton of author copies of The Road to Hell in mass market. Now, what am I supposed to do with a carton of books? That’s right: have a Twitter contest! The first 10 people who RT’d my tweet won my spur-of-the-moment contest. Scott was #2. (And there’s the serendipity.) So I emailed him to confirm the address was the same. And that’s when he asked me if I would be interested in doing a project for him.
I was like, Sure!
And that’s when he asked if I would like to write a “Tales of the Vampires” comic book, set in the Buffyverse, for MySpace Dark Horse Presents.
And I was like, AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. (But I think I said, “Sure!”)
Scott gave me some terrific pointers on how to switch my mindset from “novel” or “short story” to “comic book script.” And my friend C.E. Murphy (author of the Take a Chance comic book series, as well as author of the Walker Papers, among others) gave me some amazing tips. I sent a synopsis to Scott, and he sent it on to Joss. And then, Scott asked me if I was ready to start writing. And I was!
The Book Smugglers: Were you always a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? How does it feel to be a canonic part of Buffy?
Jackie: [LAUGHS] Canonic? I wouldn’t say that. Because then I would totally panic, because that’s BIG. I wrote a story, set in the Buffyverse. I’m flattered, honored, and just plain giddy to have this opportunity. Even when I realized it was happening, I thought that it couldn’t possibly be happening.
I started watching Buffy in the middle of its third season, and then I had to try to catch the previous seasons. (Thank God for the cable channel that ran the episodes every afternoon!) I fell in love with it — especially with season two. Man, talk about pre-marital sex having consequences…
The Book Smugglers: Your story, “Carpe Noctem” is one of the “Tales of the Vampire” shorts, published by Dark Horse Comics on Myspace. How does your story fit with the Buffy continuity? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Jackie: So here’s the thing, and spoilers abound if you haven’t read Buffy Season 8, so fair warning.
In issue #21, Harmony changed everything. Everything. In one fell swoop, not only are vampires real to everyday people…they’re cool. They’re on television, and they’re the good guys. Harmony killed a Slayer on live television (granted, in self-defense), and the ratings skyrocketed. Now you’ve got Slayers on the run, and Harmony, the star of her own reality show, is a guest on The Colbert Report. Simply put, the world (at least, the world presented to people via television) loves the vampires.
“Carpe Noctem” takes place during the “Harmony Comes to the Nation” short by Jane Espenson and Karl Moline, from MySpace Dark Horse Presents #25. So that would be around the “Retreat” main storyline in Season 8.
Scott, the editor, wanted me to show the world through a vampire’s perspective. So “Carpe Noctem” focuses on two vampires, Cyn and Ash, and shows how they’re dealing in this new reality. Ash is doing great — she’s loving every moment of her unlife. But Cyn can’t stand it. She’s supposed to be a monster, not a celebrity. “Carpe Noctem” follows Cyn as she makes an important decision (in part one), and then the consequences of that decision (in part two).
The Book Smugglers: The first part of “Carpe Noctem” was published last Friday – what was it like to see it published?
Jackie: It feels completely surreal. In a good way, not in an up-my-meds way.
The Book Smugglers: Vampires have a new status quo in the Buffyverse after Harmony outed them on TV, but there is now a huge problem with their own identity. All of a sudden, they are no feared as monsters by the population at large. One of your vamp characters says it all: they have been defanged. What do you think can happen next?
Jackie: That’s the sheer joy of it: anything can happen next. Vampire rights? Civil war? Something completely different? We’ve had the pleasure of seeing how other authors have tackled the “vampires living openly among the humans” route — for example, Charlaine Harris in her Sookie Stackhouse series, or Laurell K. Hamilton in her Anita Blake stories. I can’t wait to see where Joss Whedon & Co. will go with this new world order.
The Book Smugglers: The second (and final) part of “Carpe Noctem” will be published in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #32 – what can we expect next?
Jackie: It’s a vampire tale, so you know there’s gonna be blood. [GRIN]
The Book Smugglers: Your most recently published title, the superhero/villain book Black and White seems to have been influenced by comics (we definitely see a few Watchmen shoutouts in there). Are you a comic book fan? What comics do you read regularly (monthlies and/or trades)?
Jackie: Oh holy cats, yes — I grew up reading comic books with my dad. Every week, we’d go to the comic book store, buy a boatload of titles (er, he would buy them; I’d pick them out), and spend the day swapping comics and talking about them. My bat mitzvah present was Uncanny X-Men #94 – 100 in mint condition. (Best present EVER.) As a kid, DC Comics was my thing. As I got older, I was more into Marvel, with some independents thrown in there. In college, it was all Hello, Vertigo! (The entire Sandman series remains my favorite read ever. Joss Whedon is my master, but Neil Gaiman is my god.)
I haven’t been a regular comic book reader for many years, alas. But I watch Teen Titans reruns with my kids, and they tell me when there’s a good episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold on. Every once in a while, I head down to the local comic book store with my kids, and they pick from Marvel Adventures or Sonic while I get the latest Buffy and stare at ALL the freaking titles out there and wonder how I could ever begin to play catch up. (Spider-Man revealed his identity? Batman is dead? AAAAH!)
The Book Smugglers: What was it like writing a comic versus writing a novel or short story? And how do you feel about the free internet publication of “Carpe Noctem”?
Jackie: Talk about medium shock! Going from prose to script was tough. Figuring out how to break down each page, panel by panel, was eye-opening. And you have to visualize everything — not just the characters, but how the action looks on the panel, descriptions of everything in the panel, facial expressions. You have to give the artist enough information to bring the story to life. And the artist lets the characters act. It’s so freaking COOL.
The biggest change I had to make was cutting things down. When you write a novel, you have 300+ pages to get into backstory to explain motivation and whatnot. But you don’t have that option in a 16-page comic book.
I’m very glad that people can read “Carpe Noctem” online. It’s short, it’s free, it’s in the Buffyverse. Hurrah all around!
The Book Smugglers: Were you given pointers or guidelines that you had to follow for your contribution to “Tales of the Vampires” or were you given free rein?
Jackie: Scott gave me the basics on comic book script format as well as a number of key points to help me make the transition from novel to comic book, and C.E. gave me wonderful tips — and I’m very grateful for all of the help! Scott, as the editor, oversaw everything from synopsis to final product, and we had a few rounds before the synopsis and then the script moved to the next steps. He was wonderful to work with, as was Paul Lee, the very talented artist. All of the panel descriptions I had were guidelines; Paul truly breathed life into the story. And whoa, Dave Stewart, the colorist…wow, he did amazing things. (There’s a nightclub scene that’s simply spectacular to look at.) And the Comicraft letterist was terrific. (When vampires vamp out, their lettering changes. Dude, how COOL is that?)
Getting to see the pages, from the initial sketches to the final product, is just outstanding. I can’t put it into words. **jumps up and down in a happy dance**
The Book Smugglers: And now, for the full-force geek-out:
You are now One Degree of Separaton from THE Joss Whedon. GO.
Jackie: OK, the coolest part of all this? When I was talking to Scott to go over the basic premise, at one point he said, “Jackie, that’s Joss on line 1. I’ll have to call you back.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” But what I was thinking was, AAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! THAT’S JOSS WHEDON ON LINE 1!!!
The Book Smugglers: Buffy is one of our favourite TV Shows ever. Do you have a favourite season, episode, or storyarc?
Jackie: Season two was my hands-down favorite. As for individual episodes…toss-up between “Once More, With Feeling,” “Earshot,” “Hush” and “The Body.” Storyarc: Angel as Angelus, and Buffy forced to send him to Hell. God, I still see the look on her face as she leaves Sunnydale. **shivers** And let’s face it: Season two Spike is just the best Bad Guy ever. (Except for Hunter Rose. But that’s another story completely.)
The Book Smugglers: Who is your favourite character from the entirety of the Buffyverse? (And no, you cannot say Buffy!)
Jackie: [LAUGHS] I wouldn’t have said Buffy anyway. Toss-up between soulless Spike and Dark Willow. (“Bored now,” before she does the deed to Warren? FABULOUS.) Drusilla is a close second (rah, rah, insanity!), as is Angelus (remember Willow’s goldfish from season two?) I adore Xander…but the good guys just don’t hold a candle to the bad guys and gals.
The Book Smugglers: Do you read the Buffy comics? If so, do you have a favourite issue or storyarc? What do you think of the switch from TV to Comics?
Jackie: Yep, I surely do! My favorite storyarc in Season 8 so far is “Time of Your Life,” for various reasons. (Fray!!!) I think Joss et al. did a phenomenal job making the transition from television to comic book.
The Book Smugglers: As the comic book medium isn’t as constricted by pesky budgets or contractual issues as TV shows are, anything can, theoretically, be done. Powers can evolve, people can fly (Willow) and characters like Oz can make a comeback. But perhaps this freedom can also lead to “Jumping the Shark” moments and possible continuity problems. What are your thoughts on the freedoms (and possible problems) that comics allow for, especially in terms of Buffy?
Jackie: There’s always room for continuity errors, whether it’s television, comic books, or other media. There are a lot of people in place to help guard against such errors — the writers, the editors, the actors, the artists. But even so, mistakes are going to happen. Writers learn more about the characters after working with them for a while. Ditto the actual world created and the history. And when there’s more than one writer, well, the chance for error increases. The trick is to try to identify any inconsistencies before you go to press. [GRIN]
Novelists aren’t immune, by the way. I made a huge mistake in Hell’s Belles that I didn’t realize until after I was revising The Road to Hell. So I took that error and made it a subplot in Hotter Than Hell. (Points if you know what I’m referring to.)
Like I said, mistakes will happen. Hopefully, the creative team behind the story can pinpoint errors and either correct them or account for them. And sometimes, you just have to shrug and say “Whoops.”
The Book Smugglers: If you could extrapolate or change ANY Buffy storyline (from either the TV series or the comics) to suit your own twisted, dark purposes, what episode or storyline would you pick?
Jackie: Change? Nah. No change. Would have loved more singing episodes. (Avid GLEEk, that’s me!)
The Book Smugglers: A little bit of controversy to shaken things up. In the comics, Buffy has an experimental experience with a Japanese slayer called Satsu, What do you think of that?
Jackie: You know what? Buffy deserves whatever pleasure she can get for herself, in whatever quiet moments she has. Man, woman, vampire…let her take what she can get.
The Book Smugglers: And finally, a time-honored, Very Important Question: Spike or Angel?
Jackie: Soulless Spike. At the very least, for the fabulous coat.
Jackie Kessler likes to write about demons, angels, furies, superheroes, supervillians, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse…and vampires. Her upcoming 2010 works include “Hell’s Angel” (proceeds of which will go to the American Heart Association); Shades of Gray (in the UK, Shades of Night), coauthored with Caitlin Kittredge; Hotter Than Hell (mass market reissue); “Hell Bound” (in the anthology Those Who Fight Monsters); Hunger, under the byline Jackie Morse Kessler; and “Carpe Noctem,” her first foray into comic books and the Buffyverse.
A huge thank you again to Jackie Kessler! And make sure to stop by MySpace Dark Horse Presents to catch the debut of “Carpe Noctem” on February 3!