Amber Benson on her iconic “Buffy” role and brand new novel, “The Witches of Echo Park”

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Actress Amber Benson has had us under her spell ever since she portrayed the beloved Tara Maclay in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Benson continues to act but, in recent years, she has turned her focus to writing. Her Calliope Reaper-Jones series has been a hit with readers, and her newest book, The Witches of Echo Park, comes out in January 2015.

We sat down with Amber Benson at New York Comic Con to chat with her about her new book, and the lasting impact that Willow and Tara have had on LGBTQ and pop culture.

Actress Amber Benson Signs Copies Of Her New Book

AfterEllen: I have admired your career for many years, and you have always been such an advocate for creating your own art. You’ve always known how to truly connect with your fans, and you were on the forefront of the whole crowdsourcing thing. I still have my Chance signed DVD…

Amber Benson: Oh my god!

AE: People weren’t really doing that at the time.

AB: My mom. That is who came up with that whole thing.

AE: I think I got am email from her thanking me when I bought it.

AB: You probably did.

AE: While many actors wait for opportunities to come their way, you have been actively creating your own for years. Have you always had this desire to create something on your own?

AB: I think if you’re an artist, the need to make stuffwhatever way your art form takes shape, whatever you end up doing whether it’s visual or writing, filmmaking, music, dance, anythingit is inside of you. It’s like in Alien, where’s there’s that creature and it just has to get out. It’s coming out anyway it can. If it’s out your stomach, out your nose, it doesn’t matter. It will not be silenced. I think that is a true artist. Someone who has to make things, who is built to make things. It’s sad when you see those people sort of marginalized or told that what they’re making doesn’t work or isn’t good because it’s different. It bothers me and I work really hard to say, it doesn’t matter. If it’s your story, whatever it is, you have to say it. Because there is somebody out there that needs to hear it.

AE: You’ve been in the comic book world for some time, and then of course a few years ago you became a novelist with the Calliope Reaper Jones series. We are eagerly awaiting your new book, Witches of Echo Park, which brings you back into the witching world.

AB: Tooootally.

AE: [laughs] I read the excerpt that they gave us and I saw that the women in your life and those friendships really inspired the book. Tell me a little bit more about that.

AB: You know, I was always a chick who had dude friends. I was always the tomboy. I was like, “I’m not wearing a skirt! I’m wearing my overalls and getting dirty.” I had a couple of lady friends, but it was always like dudes. But then as I got older and I hit my thirties, I sort of found my society. I found my lady friends. I have a couple of groups of women who are indispensable to me existing properly in this world. I have my writers group, we call ourselves The Shamers, coz we shame each other into working. So we’re all sitting in coffeehouses working on our stuff and if they see you’ve been on Twitter a little too long…

AE: I wish I had that! I need to get some shamers.

AB: It’s awesome. It’s all ladies except for our friend Javi who created The Middleman. My friend Sara is writing a new series that is a diverse series about Asian-American superheroes. Another one of us writes for Parenthood. Another is Kate, a romance novelist who wrote for The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. They are all doing different things and that’s really inspiring to me. I adore their company and they inspire me. Then I have my neighborhood friends. We call ourselves The Angelino Heights Ladies Association. We made a short film together.

AE: Where can we find this film?

AB: It’s called Uggs for Gaza. I produced it. It’s a satire about charitable giving. The sort of white, upper middle class, giving of things. It’s based on my friend Brook’s husband’s short story, and it sort of came about because of these absurd things that people give, like yoga mats for Katrina. Which was real! It’s like they don’t need yoga mats, they need medical supplies and food and lodging. So to me that was really interesting, so I’d love to talk about that. So giving Uggs to women in Gaza, war torn Gaza, it’s just absurd. We did that and a lot of the characters in the book, pieces of them are based on different characters. My sister was the inspiration for the main character. It’s just fun, you know. They make me happy. I wanted to write stuff that passed the Bechdel test. We’ve got all these ladies and their talking about things in their lives, and it’s not just about dudes. Like, they’re not just sitting about talking about Chris Hemsworth, or whatever. You know what I mean?

AE: [laughs] Right. There is a time and a place to talk about that.

AB: There’s a time and place to talk about dudes. To talk about chicks! To talk about who you like.

AE: But there’s a time to explore the greater world.

AB: Yeah, and I have an LGBTQ characterDaniella, she’s an empath and she has to wear gloves. She can’t touch people, everything works via her hands. The way I set up her character is that the empaths, there are very few of them, what happens is almost like a stroke in their brain when they touch somebody and they have this empathic connection. It becomes over the course of their lives…it can kill them. It destroys their brain. So a friend of mine was like, how does she get it on with the ladies with the gloves? [laughs] I was like, leather, latex…

AE: Talk to Rogue.

AB: Right? There are all kinds of fetish stuff going on. That’s right, talk to Rogue. Amazing.

Book Cover - Witches of Echo Park

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