By Steven Biscotti
With snow still on the ground and temperatures in the thirties, to wait online for Amber Benson you’d need to wear gloves, a hat, and a scarf. However, once a few feet away from the actress it would seem as if you were completely overdressed.
Benson, famous for her role as Tara Maclay on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, radiates warmth. She’s sweet, friendly, and completely adorable as the adjective seemed to be the word of the day. These are just a few things learned from today’s signing at Midtown Comics downtown location in New York City.
The Witches of Echo Park released this past week on January 6th and has created a bit of a whirlwind tour for Ms. Benson. Arriving in New York City after a signing at Chicago’s Challengers comic book store, Benson survives off a steady supply of coffee.
“Sorry for the awful coffee breath. I’ve been downing cappuccino’s like no one’s business” she says in between signing a copy of her book and taking a picture with a fan. She actually endlessly apologizes for the coffee breath (it wasn’t noticeable) yet no one seems to mind. After all, for some, this is a dream come true. New York 7th graders, Molly, Arianna, and Emily have been longtime Buffy fans. “I’ve loved Buffy from the show. I’ve read all the comics and I enjoy the fan fiction” says Molly while she waits with her mother. Molly has read an excerpt from The Witches of Echo Park and is excited to read the entire novel when she’s not busy with school.
When it’s her turn to meet Amber Benson she giddily approaches the actress/author/director and tells her of how much a fan she is. Benson is extraordinarily gracious and responds well to the “adorable girl” as the word is used to describe not just her, but so many on line.
Picture from Twitter @ColleenLindsay
She has a picture taken with her, along with one that is promised to be published on Penguin’s Twitter. Before the friendly exchange is over, Benson kindly warns Molly’s mother in regards to a mid story sex scene that should be skipped over. She then jokingly yet genuinely finds the passage in The Witches of Echo Park and marks it for her.
As it was just Amber Benson’s birthday a few days ago (January 8th), some fans bring belated gifts, but nearly all bring appreciative fandom for the hardest working an overachieving Buffy alum.
Not one person goes unnoticed by Benson as she generously and graciously spends time with each fan. Both young and old leave rewarded for their wait which results in the signing running over its scheduled 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. time frame.
Afterwards, in speaking with Ms. Benson, we find an extraordinarily down to earth and completely approachable talent who is as real as they come.
Alternative Mindz: The Witches of Echo Park released this week. What has your experience and response been from the fans as you’ve promoted your book?
Amber Benson: There was a lot of adorableness. [Did you see] that little girl with the button, and her mom? [Referring to Molly] That makes me so happy [when I see] people finding each other over that show. It’s a t.v. show yet it transcends somehow. It’s mind blowing. You make stuff in a vacuum and then you step out into the real world and you’re like “Woah, this has an impact on people. This is crazy.” You know, it’s kind of a hodgepodge. First of all it’s been sort of like a whirlwind so it all sort of blends together. I feel like I was in one giant signing that’s lasted for 72 hours. But I have to say the highlight of it has been this little girl [named] Molly that came through, who’s 12, and she was just so excited. Just to see that excitement on someone’s face; to see that what you do has an impact [and] whether it’s a book like The Witches of Echo Park, which I had to dog-ear the scene that has the naughty bits in it so her mom could make sure that she doesn’t read that part, it’s not integral to the plot; a little bit [maybe] but she doesn’t need it. She’ll be fine. It’s moments like that that when you meet fans who are just smitten with the show or smitten with something that you’ve done; it just makes you feel like you’ve had an impact on the world.
Alternative Mindz: During an AMA you had on reddit a few days ago, you described Witches as “naughty, smart ladies.” Would you care to elaborate on that?
Amber Benson: (Laughs) It sounds like a porn site; a porn site for librarians. I wanted to write a book, “The Witches of Echo Park” is sort of my mash note to my neighborhood where I live in Echo Park, Los Angeles which is super magical and wonderful and also sort of a mash note to the women in my life. I have all these amazing, intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic, compassionate women in my life who are like my rocks and my support system and without them I don’t think I would make it through. You need those people in your life and so I wanted to write about those relationships and how important they were to me. So those were the intelligent ladies. The naughty stuff is that there might be some sex scenes in the book. There might. And by there might, there are.
Alternative Mindz: Have you found a particular aspect, possibly the naughty or smart ladies, that fans and newcomers have been responding to?
Amber Benson: People seem to be excited about the magical realism aspects of the book [and] because I didn’t want to do something that was just supernatural [with] crazy fighting ladies, I wanted to do something that had more of a magical realism quality to it. More of like a “Practical Magic” or like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but mix it with urban fantasy so that I’m doing a hodgepodge hybrid of the genre because we have so much of that first person, women kicking butt, and they’re wonderful and I love those books, but I wanted to change the genre up a little. That’s why I decided to do this and I think that’s what people are connecting to; that sort of aspect, the real quality of these women and their relationships, and the witchcraft and the magic.
Alternative Mindz: Buffy was well established for much of the same qualities. Have you found your relationships with the crew, writers, and Joss Whedon from your time on Buffy being influential in your writing career?
Amber Benson: I think it would be impossible not to have been heavily influenced by my time on “Buffy.” The writing was so stellar, so beautifully done, so smart, so funny and snarky, and the characters! There was a character for everybody. The archetypal aspects of the show are amazing because you could find someone who you could click with. Shy? Feel a little like you don’t fit in? You’re Tara. Angry? Want to suck a little blood? You’re Spike, but in all seriousness, I think everything you do creatively in the world, whatever you experience in this world, impacts your creative process.
Alternative Mindz: There is currently a campaign on Indiegogo for a film you’ve directed, “Shevenge.”
Amber Benson: Yes, we’ll be done in a few days and we are raising money to finish it. It’s a lot of ladies involved in the project; the women that came up with the concept, that star in it, I directed it, a lot of our crew were women and our producers our women. We just wanted to do something fun and girl centric so that’s “Shevenge.”
It’s [a] dark action comedy about three girls who may or may not be getting revenge on their bad boyfriends.
Alternative Minds: If you visit the campaign on Indiegogo for “Shevenge” you’ll find different perk levels for those that donate x amount to the film; the top perk being “The Amber Benson Level.” Did you come up with that?
Amber Benson: Megan Lee Joy, one of the producers and actresses came up with a lot of that stuff so I have to take my hat off to her. The Amber Benson level – nobody wants to get on The Amber Benson Level. It’s 12 year old potty humor level. That’s really what it is.
Alternative Mindz: I have to say I feel like I’ve been scooped with some really great questions today. You’ve had people ask some pretty interesting ones that go beyond the standard “What was it like kissing Alyson Hannigan?” You also had some pretty great ones on that AMA session on reddit.
Amber Benson: I love the wild, awesome questions. I didn’t want it to be a boring AMA. I wanted it to be special and fun and I think I accomplished that. I think my fans, who are amazing; I have to say the Buffy fans are probably the best around. They are dedicated, and they are smart, and we were really blessed to have the people that we’ve had involved in the show and the people that love the show. It’s just a good group all around.
This nice guy Daniel that came through [to the signing] he was like “So, uh, I saw like you’ve been getting all these questions and I just wanted to ask you what question do you want to get asked? “ And I was like “Huh, that’s great because no one ever asked me that so I wanted to know what kind of yogurt I liked. No one ever asked me what kind of yogurt I like so he was like “What kind of yogurt do you like?” I like peanut butter. I like peanut butter yogurt.
Alternative Mindz: Josh Horowitz of MTV News interviewed Nathan Fillion during Joss Whedon’s rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing” a few years ago. He demonstrated his guide to hugging. If you look that up, you’ll find in the comments that a user mentioned “Amber Benson gives good ones, too.” There’s been a lot of hugging here today so I thought I should ask what you’re technique is?
Amber Benson: If I could give as good a hug as Nathan Fillion, then I am doing a good job because that man knows how to hug. You know, you just have to hug with love. If you hug with love, love just conquers all. You have to give a good grab around the shoulders and lots of love. That was really embarrassing what I just said. (laughs)
Alternative Mindz: That was possibly the best thing I’ve heard in 2015.
Amber Benson: It’s been a very short 2015. (laughs)
Alternative Mindz: I normally like to finish up by asking “So, what’cha reading?” But instead I thought it’d be interesting to alternatively ask why you think others should respond with The Witches of Echo Park when asked what they’re reading.
Amber Benson: The last thing I read was “1Q84” (*One Question 84). The [Haruki] Murakami book. That was the last thing that I read and that’s a big mother of a book and it’s really quite wonderful. And the reason people should read “The Witches of Echo Park” is that they’re going to get lost in a magical world. You just get sucked in and I’m all about atmosphere. I want people to just be lost; I want them to step into the world and spend the rest of the book going “Is this place real? Wait, is this place real?” and looking it up online. The best comment I got was from my ex-boyfriend Adam Busch’s dad, who is a proofreader for me for the books. He said, and this was the best comment I got – “I spent half the book stopping and looking stuff up on google to see which place was real vs which places you had made up. Because I want to go there!” So I want people to just get lost in a good book and enjoy “Echo Park” and its magic.
With a few closing words on love and of how much Midtown Comics and her past signings have been filled with love, we part ways. Amber Benson thanks Alternative Mindz for taking some time to spend with her at her signing for The Witches of Echo Park. If you haven’t read her current book, it’s available now.
To order Amber Benson’s book go down to the links below.
Murder by the Book: http://bit.ly/TWOEP_MurderByTheBook
Mysterious Galaxy: http://bit.ly/TWOEP_MysteriousGalaxy
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