Years ago, Amber Benson was battling supernatural forces on television. The actor/author played Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These days, Benson is busy creating her own supernatural characters. She spent the past five years delving deep into the life of Calliope Reaper-Jones, aka Death's Daughter, in a series of novels published by Penguin. The final book in the series, The Golden Age of Death, is out now.
Calliope is a young woman struggling to resist the pressure to enter the family business. That plot might ring true for a lot of readers, save for one little detail. Calliope's dad runs Death, Inc. Her family's business is basically getting people from the earthly world to the afterlife. In five years, Benson has penned five novels following the transformation of Calliope from the daughter who just wanted a normal life to head of the organization. With the series coming to an end, she turned up at Dark Delicacies in Burbank for a signing on Saturday.
“I've always been kind of obsessed with death,” says Benson when we chat before the signing. “I think most people are.”
Benson, who describes herself as “slightly thanatophobic,” aimed to write a book that incorporated the varied beliefs of an afterlife that exist in the world. That's the universe in which Calliope exists, one where the departed move into afterlife neighborhoods that reflect their own cultural belief systems. Originally, Benson had only written one book, but her editor at Penguin suggested she break up the story into a trilogy. When she was nearly ready to turn in the third book, something happened.
“I had tied up all the bits and pieces and sort of killed off my main character,” Benson explains. Then she found out that her publisher wanted another two books in the series. Benson went back into her notes and began unraveling the events that had just come together.
“I tried to make them interesting for myself,” says Benson of the unanticipated follow-ups. The fourth volume, How to Be Death, became Benson's “homage to Agatha Christie.” For her most recent effort, she explores several of the series' supporting characters, in addition to the protagonist.
Up next: How Buffy helped her become a writer
Now that the series is done, Benson is at work on a new tale, this time involving witches who live in Echo Park. She's fascinated by the neighborhood, and by L.A. history in general. The witchcraft angle harks back to Benson's past. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her character Tara was a witch who studied magic with Buffy's BFF Willow Rosenberg.
When Tara and Willow fell for each other, they made TV history as a young, lesbian couple embarking on a longterm relationship at a time when LGBT characters were still fairly uncommon on the small screen. By virtue of her role, Benson herself became something of a cult television icon. And Buffy did, in many ways, help launch her writing career.
After co-writing a few comics set in the Buffy universe with Christopher Golden, the two were approached by BBC. That led to the animated series Ghosts of Albion. Benson and Golden then co-wrote the Ghosts of Albion books.
With a handful of co-writing credits to her name, Benson wanted to do something on her own. That's where Death's Daughter, the first of her adventures of Calliope Reaper-Jones comes into play.
“A lot of people bought the first book just because of Buffy,” says Benson. While Benson wasn't expecting the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans to stick with her after the first book, they did. “They've been really supportive and have really come to love this character, which is quite lovely.”
Benson says that books are her “day job” now, but she hasn't left TV and film. She recently produced and directed a web series called Girl on Girl and is currently writing a pilot for a television show based on her own life. And, when Benson makes public appearances, the ghost of Tara Maclay is never far behind. At her many signings, people will approach her not just with her books, but with their copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs. “That's always a good way to get your Buffy stuff signed,” says Benson with a laugh. “Go to Amber's book signing.”