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Interview with Buffy author Nikki Stafford

[Originally published on a now defunct web magazine in 2003]

Nikki Stafford is the author of Bite Me! An Unofficial Guide to the World of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, published by ECW Press in the fall of 2002.

Bite Me! is a big, yummy, fan-friendly book aimed primarily at the Buffy-obsessed among us. It contains a history of the series, a description of the unaired pilot, fairly comprehensive bios of all of the major actors, insider run-downs of the famous Posting Board Parties, a list of important Buffy websites, and lots of candid black-and-white photos of the cast and crew scattered throughout.

The biggest chunk of the book contains impressive, in-depth commentary and analysis of all Buffy episodes up to season six, along with somewhat shorter rundowns on all of the Angel episodes through season three. Fans can test their Buffyverse knowledge with a long and absolutely brutal (but fun) trivia quiz. There is even an impressive fifteen-page bibliography.

The icing on the cake is an insert with sixteen individual full-color photos of the cast. That's almost worth the price of admission in itself.

I caught up with Nikki on March 1:

Q. What parts of the book did you most enjoy writing?

A. The episode guide, definitely. I spent several years at university writing essays and analytical papers on various topics, both boring and fascinating, but this allowed me to use those skills on something I adored. I wanted to give behind-the-scenes info and background information so that the fans who have seen all of the episodes might learn something new, while also helping new fans catch up on certain episodes. I never give straight plot summary, because I didn't want the book to be a substitute for the show; it's meant to be a companion to the show. I want everyone to watch the show and see why we love it so much.

Q. I noticed that there was some emphasis on Willow; is she your favorite character?

A. Absolutely, and Alyson Hannigan does a phenomenal job playing her. I think a lot of female fans of the show love Willow the most, possibly because we WERE Willow. I remember being shy in high school, definitely not hanging out with the Cordelias of the school, spending more time in the library than playing sports. (And then there was that time when my hair went black and my skin went veiny and I tried destroying the world...)

This show is as much about the arc of Willow's character as Buffy's. We've seen Willow blossom from a wallflower, to being in love with a guitarist, then being in love with a fellow witch, losing one love after another, and really coming out of her shell to become a powerful force in the group (be it good or bad). And when Alyson Hannigan cries, I'm a mess.

Q. Do you have a favorite episode, or episodes?

A. This was a much easier question to answer back in season two! I think the best episode they've done was "The Body," although I'm not sure if I'd call it my favorite because it's so hard to watch. But if Joss should be remembered for anything, it's that hour of television; it's a pure masterpiece.

Other favorites, in no particular order, are "Once More, With Feeling," "Becoming 1&2," "Passion," "Hush," "The Gift," "Tabula Rasa," "Two to Go" (if for nothing else than the last 15 seconds), "Surprise/Innocence," "Graduation Day 1&2," "Fool for Love," "Gingerbread," "The Wish," "A New Man," "Conversations with Dead People"... don't get me started on favorite Angel episodes...

Q. I took your trivia test (it's a lot of fun) and got a score of only 50 -- and I've been reviewing Buffy and Angel episodes since 1998. I gave it to another really big fan of both shows, a guy with a terrific memory, and he only got 29. Has anyone gotten a perfect score on your trivia test?

A. Not to my knowledge! In the first book, I put in some questions that I thought were difficult along with some easy ones because everyone wants to feel a sense of accomplishment with trivia quizzes, especially if you've spent so much of your time watching the very thing you're being tested on. But then I got a ton of emails from people saying they got 95, 96, 98, and many of them seemed rather ticked off that I didn't challenge them. Some accused me of not having enough respect for Buffy fans! So this time I decided I would put in a killer quiz. While I haven't received any complaints personally, I've seen reviews that talk about how insane it is. You know, I WROTE the quiz and I would probably only score about 40 on it.

Q. I hear that you attended this year's Posting Board Party. Was this your first?

A. Yes, it was my first time, although I'd covered the previous parties in the book.

Q. Did you have a good time? Can you give us the highlights? Whom did you meet? And can you pass along any gossip?

A. I had an amazing time! It was great to finally meet so many of the fans that I'd talked to while working on the book, and to put faces to the names. More of the Angel cast showed up than the Buffy cast; in fact, not a single original Buffy regular cast member was in attendance, but I didn't even realize this until much later when I was flipping through my pictures.

The personal highlight was meeting James Marsters, who was so incredibly nice and sincere. I've met a lot of celebrities who act like they're famous, and he is certainly not one of them. In fact, all of the people I met were wonderful. J. August Richards, Vladimir Kulich (The Beast... and yes, his voice really sounds like that), Andy Hallett, Julie Benz, Alexis Denisof, Joss Whedon (I bow before thee)... they were all wonderful. Alexis and James loved the book (especially the title) and Andy Hallett spent half our conversation flipping through it.

James told me there's an episode coming up that will change our view of Spike, and it was the most fun he'd ever had on a film shoot. Joss told me that he is writing and directing the finale (which is common knowledge now, but had me doing emotional backflips at the time). The Troika were there, as was Eliza Dushku, Ron Glass and Summer Glau of Firefly, Mark Lutz, and several writers... it was an amazing evening.

Q. Here's a really controversial question. :) Where do you stand on the whole Buffy/Angel vs. Buffy/Spike issue?

A. Great question, although not as controversial as where I stand on Tara's death (man, have I gotten flak for that one). The answer is, I'm caught in the middle. I loved Willow and Oz together; but just because Willow was so great with Tara doesn't mean she wasn't good with Oz. And I feel a similar thing here -- I've always been a Buffy/Angel shipper, but I like Spike and Buffy together, even though I loved her with Angel. But if it came down to choosing between the two.... as much as I love Spike, I would give anything to see Buffy and Angel back together. I'm still recovering from season two!

Q: Okay, I have to ask. Where do you stand on Tara's death?

A. Oh no, you're really trying to get me into trouble!

When Tara died, there was a lot of shock, horror, and upset among Buffy fans. I was upset, but in a way I'd been upset before (only a little more, since I really loved the character of Tara). In the book, I didn't condemn Joss and the writers for killing her off.

I've gotten a few emails from a particular group of fans who stopped watching the show when she was killed off. Their main argument is that Joss Whedon contributed to the "dead lesbian cliche" that runs rampant in cinema and television; i.e., if there's a lesbian/gay character on a show, she will eventually be killed as a subliminal message to viewers that being a lesbian is wrong. They point out the fact that the love between Willow and Tara was particularly physical in "Seeing Red," allowing Joss to drive his point home that they were doing "bad things." They said that Joss killed off the most positive gay character on television, making a point that their relationship was wrong, and Tara was a bad person who deserved to die.

Now, my feeling is this: To state the above presupposes two things. One, that no character has ever died on Buffy. And two, that every relationship on Buffy has been a positive, healthy one. Both of these statements are untrue. Jenny was killed, Principal Flutie was killed, Joyce was killed. The Mayor, Warren, several of Glory's minions, Darla, the Master, Forrest, Professor Walsh, Jonathan.... Tara has not been alone, even though we mourned her the most because of how the writers had written her character and how Amber Benson portrayed her.

I agree that there are only a few positive gay/lesbian characters to look up to on television, but I also believe that her death was necessary to make Willow go over the edge. She wouldn't have gone crazy if Tara had just been hurt. She wouldn't have tried to destroy the world if Tara had been kidnapped. And it wouldn't have seemed genuine if Tara suddenly came back to life after it all.

And as suggesting their relationship was wrong? I've never seen such a wonderful portrayal of a relationship, much less a lesbian relationship, as that of Willow and Tara. It's the healthiest relationship we've seen on the show. Two women, both practising witchcraft, both previously wallflowers... it was absolutely beautiful. Angel and Buffy, Spike and Buffy, Oz and Willow, Xander and Willow, Xander and Anya... there just hasn't been a healthy, happy relationship on this show that didn't have problems, except for the one between Willow and Tara.

And finally, nothing grates me more than hearing someone say, "Joss killed the lesbian on the show." No, he killed Tara. And if you saw her as nothing more than "the lesbian," then I think you missed the point. I mourned the loss of Tara, not the loss of "the lesbian."

OK, getting off my soapbox now and praying not to get any mail over this...

Q. For what it's worth, I agree with you. Next question ... could you tell me what you think about Buffy's seventh (and final) season? How does it rank with the other seasons? Is Buffy going out with a bang, or a whimper?

A. I'm loving this season. Although I'm sad, of course, that this year will be the last, the writers are definitely building up to something HUGE, and part of me was hoping Sarah wouldn't suddenly change her mind and sign on for another two years because I didn't want them to pull back all of a sudden and reduce the impact of what's coming.

I cannot wait until the season finale. I had plans to go to Europe at the end of May, and I've recently changed them so I'll be at home for the finale. THAT is what this show means to me.

Q. In your analysis of "Grave," you mentioned that the only logical way for Spike to return would be as a human, and that if he became a vampire with a soul like Angel, "it would be a major disappointment." Were you indeed disappointed?

A. Well, this is an interesting question. You're the first person to mention that I wrote this! When the book was just about to go to the printer, I found out that Spike would be a vampire with a soul, but given the opportunity to change what I wrote, I decided to keep it the way it was because I thought it was a mistake on the part of the writers. If the cave demon had in fact made him "what he was before," he would have to be a human being, since Spike had never been a vampire with a soul.

That said, James Marsters has shown such incredible range this season that I can't say I'm disappointed with what they've done. I think if he'd been made human, they could have taken it in a different direction and not followed the Angel path; but again, that said, Angel got his soul back over one hundred years ago, and we didn't actually get to see what his path to recovery was. Now we're seeing what Angel probably went through a century ago, and I'm loving what Marsters has done with the character. The scene between Spike and Buffy at the end of "Beneath You" was stunning.

Q. The last three episodes are currently being written, and no one really knows how it will end. Do you have any predictions? How would you like to see it end?

A. I avoid spoilers, and I try to avoid thinking about the ending because I want to be completely surprised. But I'd love to see the two shows (Buffy and Angel) come together and find out that the First Evil is actually behind the problems on both series.

I think the writers are making this Spike's year, and I'm a little worried that he'll end up making the ultimate sacrifice for the group; but if he does, I know they'll make it spectacular and beautiful like they did in "The Gift".

I'm wondering if Buffy might die this time for good, since it would be the end of the arc of her character. Her death in season one was necessary to make her realize her mortality and the importance of being the Slayer. Her death in season five was her sacrifice; it made everyone realize that she really does put "saving the world" before her own life, and for the last two years everyone has lived with the consequences of bringing her back. If she were to die again, finally, we know it would be for good, because they've all learned their lesson.

Q. Should there be a spin-off series? If so, which of the current actors would you like to see continue their roles in a spin-off?

A. I don't know how I would deal without a spin-off series!

Personally, I would love to see a show about Spike, maybe even set in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century showing how bad he used to be (since we've all watched the arc of his character for the past six years, I'd love to go back to where he started). Or maybe a show about the various Slayers, with a different story every week, like the Tales of the Slayer book series.

I really enjoy Michelle Trachtenberg as an actress -- this year her character has much improved over last season and she's proven herself to be a major comic talent -- but I don't think a show about Dawn would work with adult audiences. There's been talk of a show about Willow, which has huge potential, but BtVS has very much been all about Willow so it might be a repeat of what we've already seen. I was very excited about the possibility of a Faith spinoff, but that won't be happening now that Eliza has signed on for another TV series.

I'm still looking forward to the BBC series about Giles.

Q. How about Angel? What do you think of season four, so far?

A. I love season four so far! Season three was superb, and Alexis Denisof truly moved ahead as the star of the show after David, as Alyson has on Buffy. He's a mastermind with comic/slapstick moments, yet he plays the serious moments so wonderfully that he has us all captivated. He's a remarkable actor, and watching him this season is so much fun, given the backstory on him that occurred last season. Having Angelus back has been a riot, and I'm hoping he sticks around for a bit longer. This new twist with Cordelia is great.

Q. I'm almost sorry that you didn't wait another year so that your book would include season seven. Do you have any plans to do another edition?

A. I would love to do that! There are no definitive plans in place yet, but I'll bug the publisher a bit more.

Q. Thanks so much for talking with me, Nikki, and best of luck with all of your future writing endeavors.

A. You're welcome! I really enjoyed answering these questions.
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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