Interview with James Christie of Dear Miss Landau, part 1

 Dear Miss Landau was written by James Christie, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s ten years ago. He credits watching Buffy between 1999 and 2004 in helping him through some tough times. He also got to see Drusilla, Spike’s former girlfriend, in a different light.

 

That led to him writing a novella called Drusilla’s Roses, where she meets Xander in Los Angeles after the fall of Sunnydale, and unexpected wants peace. He takes her to the Scooby Gang and Buffy, who aren’t sure this is a good idea. It’s not like taking in Spike, who wound up having a soul. We later find out Dru was severely attacked by a group of nasty vampires, and that Buffy has been working harder than usual, maybe too hard. It isn’t long before Buffy takes on those vampires, but Dru notices something is wrong with Buffy, and it may have something to do with losing Spike in the final battle in Sunnydale. It leads to a big fight between the two, and an unexpected result. You can read more by looking at this link.

 

Whedonopolis talked with him, sending questions to him by e-mail. We had 15, and here’s the first five….

 
1) Your publisher mentioned that you’d had experience working at a law library in Glasgow? What do you do now?

 

I currently do data entry for a large public sector organisation in Glasgow, and I’m also heavily involved with Chaplin Books’ preparations for the UK launch of Dear Miss Landau in mid-March.
 

2) You also mentioned you were diagnosed with Aspergers in 2002. What led to you deciding that you wanted to have a doctor examine you?

 

I’d been running my own life, working two jobs and also acting as administrative carer for my mother after my father’s death in 1999. I didn’t know I was autistic and I didn’t know how hard my brain had to work just to get through the day. It is also vital for other people to talk to people with autism using blunt and clear language. I was taking my mother on holiday, had had to make all the arrangements, had had no mental rest and couldn’t get a straight answer out of her about anything. Metaphorically speaking, I hit the wall. I couldn’t cope any more, sat down and simply demanded of her that she speak clearly to me at all costs. I spent most of the holiday trying to pull myself together and a few weeks later happened to read an article about Asperger Syndrome, the mild form of autism. It struck a chord, I got suspicious, and I went to my doctor. He referred me to a psychologist who diagnosed me, finding out that my information-processing ability was particularly deficient.
 

3) Some fans of Buffy have been watching since the beginning, and some in the past few years. How long have you been a fan?

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer slowly began to captivate me between 1999-2004 simply because it was a superb, interesting and different TV show. I didn’t begin to take regular notice of it until it was in its third season and, if it had not been for a complex chain of luck, timing and coincidence which led me to Drusilla and the actress who portrayed her, it might not have gone any further than that.

It was a long, slow process. I think the first time I remember consciously contemplating Juliet Landau was when I saw her in Ed Wood about ten years ago and recognised her from Buffy

 

4) Have you attended any Buffy-themed conventions? Did you go with a regular group of fans?

 

Well, one, yes… After I met Miss Landau in March 2010, she and her producing partner invited me to the Starfury convention to be held at Heathrow that November. I went on my own. It wa
s nice to see her again and I’d like to go to another one. Depending on how well
Dear Miss Landau does, though, it’s debatable whether or not I could still walk around incognito. I have to admit a not-terribly-mature part of me would love to engage her in a tongue-in-cheek question-and-answer session in front of an audience who didn’t know who I was, but the chances are the rugby shirt, the blond hair and the height would give me away. I did do something similar at Starfury, but at the time Dear Miss Landau had not even been written and I was completely unknown.

 

5) What made you decide to write the novella? Did you have some other fans look at it and get their opinion, and did it affect the final product?

That is a long story and really deserves to be part of Buffy mythology, so I’ll try to tell it here. As recounted in Dear Miss Landau, I’d had a great deal of trouble with a certain large public-sector organisation for whom I’d worked. They made no adaptations for my autism, literally tortured me and forced a black African friend and colleague of mine out of work. Myself and James Doherty of the National Autistic Society Scotland (NAS) fought them to a standstill but I was left neurologically damaged by the  experience and deeply-disillusioned with human nature.

 

Quite seriously, I felt like Rocky Balboa would have after 15 rounds taking punishment from Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. My right hand was actually shaking, my thought processes were even slower than usual and I think, on occasion, my speech was slurred. I was, in a way, punchy.
 

At about that time, I’d begun to notice Drusilla in Buffy season five, I’d just bought my beloved Buffy DVD boxset and Dru was beginning to grow on me. As I later wrote in Dear Miss Landau:
 

The most important things in life are not easily seen at first glance.
 

I began to see Dru’s vulnerable side and began to read Drusilla fan-fiction; and, crucially, it was only in the few Dru and Xander fan-fiction stories (Thank You Miss Edith, Boundless Love, Xander’s Secret etc.) that Dru’s sweet and gentle side showed itself most clearly. I also began to try and restore myself. I watched one Buffy episode and cleaned one part of my flat every night. In autistic terms, I re-established my routines, and the Scoobies’ attitudes were a balm to my damaged brain and beliefs. Their altruistic attitudes and demeanour (albeit fictional) were a welcome contrast to the loathsome real-life behaviour I’d seen. 

And even Drusilla the deranged, murderous vampire had a nicer and kinder side to her than some of the humans I’d recently known… 

So the threads of fate’s tapestry began to come together, and I began to care for Dru. 

After about 18 months, in about late 2008, I decided (not terribly seriously, I must admit) to write a story about Drusilla which would answer a couple of questions which, up until then, had never quite been resolved: 

 

  • What had happened to the Scoobies just after the closing credits of Chosen? Buffy season eight only commenced months later, ironically in Scotland…

 

  • Whatever happened to Drusilla? At the time, my dear old Dru had not been seen except in flashback since season five and, unlike the rest of the fanged four (Angel, Spike and Darla) she certainly had not been redeemed
     

 So I thought I’d have a go. Simple as that. Only it wasn’t quite that simple. I was already an experienced writer. I’d won my first short story competition when I was 13, I had a degree in creative writing and I’d had 15 years practice trying to write the Great Scottish Novel. 

I was actually about ready to do my best work, and it did feel a bit like Dru chose me to tell her story.

 

Chosen?

 

The right man, in the right place, at the right time.

I’ve said it before: it may seem like cliché, and I have never disputed there are many other writers as or more technically proficient than myself, but it was as if Dru needed something more than that. Someone who loved her with all his heart and soul, and would fight to the death for her. 

Again, it may seem like ridiculous macho cliché, but before the 15th round in Rocky IV. Balboa’s trainer exhorts him to knock Drago out with the words:
 

All your strength, all your power, all your love, everything you’ve got!”

 

I didn’t ask anyone’s opinion about the tale which would become Drusilla’s Roses, I didn’t plan out what I was going to do, and the moment I started writing I was like a man possessed, and I loved every moment of it. 

Not long before, Miss Landau had mentioned how she’d been “drawn into Dru’s rich, dark world.” Now the same thing had happened to me, and in spades. 

It was an explosive experience, as if Dru (like the writer’s muse of myth) really had got inside my head, turned my creativity full on and was in no mood to stop until her tale was told.

And that’s the way it was. I worked non-stop for two months in my Glasgow tenement flat, telling the tale of Dru and Xander, and of the house on Candlewood Drive. 

The creative process repaired the neurological damage, gave me that strange connection some writers have with their most beloved characters and delivered the tale of Dru which I’d like to think she wanted to be told… 

No fan saw it at the time, although I ran the final chapter of Roses past the fine and decent people in my new office (I nicknamed them my Scoobies) to get second opinions. 

I then contacted Meltha, a superb Drusilla fan-fiction writer and webmaster of Dru’s section of the Buffy writers’ guild. Meltha agreed to beta read (edit) Roses and without that help, Roses would have been far less than it became. I’d say Meltha is the best Dru editor in the world and, yes, together we were quite the dream team. 

By early April 2009, Roses was ready and I was restored, so then I had to decide what to do next

 

We’ll have part two later this week, and part three this weekend. I the meantime, you can order Dear Miss Landau through Amazon or the Chaplin Books website. It is expected to be released this month.  

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Post Author: David Mello

Worked nearly eleven years at a radio station as a board operator, news reader, and assistant producer for baseball broadcasts. Have been a staff writer for Whedonopolis since July 2008

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