An Ode to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So it’s come to my attention that Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and by extension, the Buffyverse as a whole — is now 20 years old.

First of all, no. I’m not that old.

Am I?

Alright, I am…

Secondly, this seems like an appropriate moment for me to sing the virtues of the Buffyverse, not just on its merits as a fictional universe that spawned two fantastic television shows and lives on in a series of hit-or-miss comic books, but as a creative entity that is almost singlehandedly responsible for where I am today.

To explain, a trip down Memory Lane…

When I was in college, I hit a rough patch. Between 2003 and 2004, my life turned to a dark place… so dark that I was almost a shell of myself. I was barely attending class, I wasn’t spending time with friends, I wasn’t really doing much of anything. I certainly wasn’t writing, and that fact didn’t bother me in the slightest. The days were just passing by, and I cared little for what they brought with them.

But in a fit of boredom one night, I didn’t change the channel after Smallville went off the air… and next thing I knew, I was watching this vampire (with a soul) setting up shop in a law firm, along with his friends — one of whom was a green-skinned demon with better fashion sense than I’ll ever hope to have. And even though I had no idea what was going on… I was hooked.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was late to the Buffy party. Or maybe it was a shindig. Or was it a hootenanny?

Anyway…

You can thank/blame the movie for that. I saw the 1992 film when I was a kid, and I hated it. So when I heard they were gonna make a TV show based on that property, my first — and only — thought was, “Ugh, pass.” Even as friends kept trying to get me to watch the show, I refused… there was no way in hell I was watching that show.

To this day, I still get the I told you so‘s.

Anyway, I’m hooked. First Angel, then Buffy. I’m devouring these two shows as quickly as the DVD boxset releases will allow me (Netflix and Hulu weren’t quite a thing yet). I fell in love with these characters, I devoured whatever content I could find online. I spoiled the hell out of myself on everything, and yet seeing it unfold on the screen was still an incredibly powerful, moving experience.

I’d never had a TV show make me cry before. These two shows did — repeatedly.

But most importantly… I began living again. I started looking forward to doing stuff. I started going to class more. I began slowly dipping my toe back into the social waters. I eventually got up the courage to start going to therapy. And, slowly but surely, I began writing again.

It started off innocently enough; a friend had invited me to join an online Buffy RPG (or “online writing community,” as we called it) called Birthright. It was set years after the end of both shows, and the vast majority of the cast featured original characters, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I started off with a Watcher in mourning, and before I knew it, I was juggling six characters.

Eventually, Birthright turned into City Limits. New location, new storyline, same great writing and community. Those of you who have read Blood Ties might recall hearing about this community from the Acknowledgments section, and I mention that without this experience, I’m probably not here today with three published books to my name and several more on the way.

That’s not hyperbole. Without the Buffyverse, without the creative kick in the ass Joss Whedon and company inadvertently gave me, I eventually gathered the courage and desire needed to resurrect my long-neglected stories. I’m not quite sure what it was about Buffy and Angel that reignited my creative spark, but they did, and I am forever grateful.

That’s not to say I worship at the altar of Whedon; he’s not the feminist god people make him out to be (seriously, read up on what he did to Charisma Carpenter during Angel season 4), and his work isn’t as unassailable as some might suggest (Agents of SHIELD bored me to death and Avengers: Age of Ultron was one big bag of WTF), but without the shows for which he is best known (Honorable Mention to Firefly), I probably don’t start creating again.

I try to infuse a little of the Buffyverse in everything I write anymore, as my homage to one of popular culture’s most enduring properties and the fictional universe that, on its own, is responsible for the fact that I’m even here typing this. Two decades later, these shows are still personal favorites, and though I’ve seen plenty of great TV shows over the years, nothing has compared to — or inspired me as much as — Buffy and Angel.

(PS: If you’re a Buffy fan and you’re not watching this YouTube channel… you’re missing out.)

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Why I Self-Publish

It seems like every time I hop onto social media, I see some version of the traditional-versus-self-publishing debate. People are wondering which route they should take, and others on either side of the debate state their case. I think part of it stems from the stigma that’s still attached to being self-published — a stigma that, while diminished, still exists.

Now, I will say this: the decision of which publication method to pursue is up to each individual author. Different people have different aspirations and expectations, and ultimately, the decision as to which path to follow is up to you and you alone.

But I can offer insight as to why I chose the self-publishing route.

Mostly, it boils down to something I don’t have: patience. I’m not a patient person; I never have been, and I likely never will be. As such, the traditional route holds little appeal to me. I don’t have it in me to submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher, only to wait weeks — if not months — for a response (which, let’s face it, would likely be no). That’s a lot of time wasted on… what, exactly?

As a self-published author, I operate on my own time frame. Yes, I have more responsibilities; as a self-published author, I have to worry about editors and formatting and cover design and marketing — all things a traditional publisher would (probably) take care of for me. But that added responsibility also brings with it a sort of freedom. I have control over the entire process. I control the content, and I control the time table.

By self-publishing, I’m able to tell the stories I want, the way I want to tell them, when I want to tell them. That freedom holds a great deal of appeal to me, particularly as I write stories that are just on the outside of what a mainstream publisher might be willing to publish.

Someday, I might pursue traditional publishing; there’s something to be said for receiving advances, writing stories, and letting the publisher handle all of the other stuff. But I see self-publishing as a trade-off, and it’s one I’m willing to make right now. Yes, I have to secure my own editor and I have to format my manuscripts myself. Yes, I have to either hire a cover designer or find my own cover another way. Yes, I’m the one who has to blow up Goodreads and social media to tell people about my work.

But I get to do all that on my own time. I decide when my books come out. I decide what gets published and what doesn’t. And because of this, if I publish a book, then you know damn well it’s something I really wanted to be out there.

Again, it’s your call which way you go. I just wanted to give you all a glimpse as to why I chose the path I did.

Character vs. Plot

It’s an argument that’s probably as old as storytelling itself: which is more important, character or plot?

More often than not, the answer boils down to personal preference. And I suppose, at the end of the day, there’s no wrong answer. You obviously need both; no story I know of has ever existed solely on the basis of character or plot (if I’m wrong, please let me know; I’d be curious to see how such a story gets told). The question then becomes… how much of each do you use? A 50-50 split? Do you go 70-30 plot? 60-40 character?

I like to think of plot as the backbone of a story, while the characters are the heart, brain, and nervous system. It’s generally true that we need a backbone in order to live, but it’s all of those other things that truly give us life. To me, the character-vs.-plot dynamic is no different.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a character guy. For me, character takes precedence over all else. If you get me emotionally invested in your characters, if you get me caring about them one way or another, then I’ll follow them — and you — pretty much everywhere. You can craft the most carefully nuanced, perfectly paced plot in the history of plotting, but if your characters are as flat and flavorful as cardboard, I’m not gonna stick around for long.

When writing, I always keep my characters in mind. Not just my protagonist or antagonist, either; this is as true for the supporting characters as anyone else. Every decision I make story-wise, I do so only with the characters in mind. How will this affect my protagonist? How will my supporting character handle this scenario? How will Character A react to Character B’s betrayal? My characters are never far from my mind, because to me, they are the pillars that hold up everything else.

Prime example: Cordelia Chase from the Buffyverse. When she moved from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel, she blossomed. In the first three seasons of Angel, Cordelia grew in so many ways, because the writers always made sure that character took precedence over plot. Whether she was dealing with the consequences of Doyle’s death or deciding to make herself half-demon to keep the visions or slowly falling in love with Angel, everything Cordelia did, every change she underwent, was always with her character in mind.

This is part of why her ascension as a higher power — which coincided with Angel being tossed into the bottom of the ocean by his own son — so controversial. Prior to that, Angel had been the perfect example of character over plot. But by that point, the plot took over, and a memorable character took a backseat to a turgid supernatural soap opera that we’re still not really sure how to take.

Think of it this way: if character is Bruce Wayne, then plot is Alfred. They’re both important, in their own ways, and while they both can exist on their own, it’s their relationship to each other that truly makes things work. And to me, the specific way in which character and plot interact is of paramount importance. Plot is important, no question, but if it starts taking over your story, it might behoove you to reexamine things.

Two last thoughts:

-Do not mistake emotional investment for liking a character; I can hate a character and still be emotionally invested in what they do and what happens to them. Distaste, hate, and disgust are just as valuable and important as fondness and empathy.

-Don’t plot your story by the philosophy of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” That’s plot over character. Instead, try asking yourself such questions as “How would my protagonist react if…?” or “What would my villain do if…?” Center your story-related questions around your characters, and you’ll find that many of your story issues will resolve themselves.

I’m sure some of you will read this and be able to craft a wonderful response arguing why plot is more important. And I welcome that; we all bring different things to the creative table, and even if I wind up disagreeing with your point, I do want to read what others have to say and get an insight into how other writers practice their craft. That’s part of the beauty of writing: there’s no one right way to do it.

But in the age-old debate, I’m solidly in the characters’ corner.