Yesterday, Whedonopolis decided to touch base with James Christie, who wrote Dear Miss Landau. Since then he’s gotten a lot of notice for his book, and also joined the UK version of the Huffington Post. We then asked him what he has planned for the future. His response is so long, we will split it into two halves, the first is today, the next on Wednesday. This section includes part of a novella with Drusilla and Xander called “Drusilla’s Redemption”
That may be the million-dollar question, and for the answer – to really give an answer worthy of the question and which might unlock a few of the mysteries around Dear Miss Landau (like how in God’s name it came to be at all!) – it’s best to go back to that moment on the train traveling up the West Highland Railway when I first started writing Drusilla’s Roses, the predecessor and companion to Dear Miss Landau:
I did not then hear Drusilla’s song, but perhaps she sang to both of us in those early days. First to Juliet Landau, who had just begun to write a two-part Drusilla story for IDW Publishing’s Angel comic book series, and then to me.
Miss Landau later said she was “drawn into Dru’s rich, dark world”, and so was I. In fact, I was positively yanked. The 08.12 to Mallaig, sitting at one end of the West Highland Railway in Glasgow’s Queen Street Station, might have seemed a long way from Los Angeles, but both places saw Drusilla’s rebirth and both were as real as real could be.
It was January 31 2009. I was going up to the West Highland town of Glenfinnan for the annual general meeting of the Friends of Glenfinnan Station Museum. For no particularly well-thought-out reason, I’d bought a green Pukka Pad jotter with me to make notes and perhaps to do some writing…
I opened the jotter, put pen to paper, and Dru grabbed me by the throat.
I’ve known bad writers and worse film-makers who reach for a cliché at every turn, but real life can often put fiction to shame. If I must label my experience a thunderclap high above the hills which let vitality and creativity run like fire through my veins, if I must say my pen began to shoot across the page as if it had a mind of its own, that I completely ignored the views of Loch Long, Ben Lomond and Rannoch Moor, nearly forgot to get off the train at Glenfinnan and wandered through the meeting half-aware, thinking only of getting back on the train to Glasgow afterwards and writing some more, then that is what I shall do, and without apology, for that is what really happened that day. I began to move away from the drab and vicious life I had known, to open the door into what would become a glimpse of heaven at Sunset.
And if that is cliché, I only wish I could live every day of my life that way.
(Dear Miss Landau, chapter 14)
This is one reason why Dear Miss Landau might sound a bit over-dramatic if pitched to a Hollywood player, but that’s the way it happened, and right from the start it felt less like I’d planned anything out and far more as if I’d gone on a:
…complete creative bender. I wrote, I would say, not a story about Dru, but the story which should have been written for her at the time of Buffy but wasn’t.
In my opinion, the character of Drusilla had not been developed as fully as the other members of her vampire family – Spike, Angel and Darla – had been. It was as if Dru herself chose me to finish the job. I know how strange that sounds, but that’s how it felt at the time. There are any number of technically proficient writers around, but she needed someone who also loved her passionately, with all his heart and soul, and would fight to the last drop of his blood to bring her back.
She needed her noble knight, and she found him…
… I broke every rule in the book writing Drusilla’s Roses while Dru looked happily over my shoulder. I had no plan, did not do that many drafts, and most of the time had no idea what I was going to do next. The primal beast got out, it was like Rocky Balboa going after Ivan Drago, and it was the greatest creative experience of my life.
(Chaplin interview, March 2012)
Then, of course, it got even stranger. I titled the original story Drusilla’s Roses without the slightest idea Rose was Juliet’s middle name, was amazed to be contacted by Juliet after I’d sent her the tale, took the trip across the US to meet her, and on the way across something strange happened just outside Somerset, Pennsylvania:
I also remember something else, way up in the Alleghenies on the Interstate, thinking, musing and looking back down a long valley spruced up with pines. Seeing a great white church in the distance, boxy and stark.
To pass the long hours, travelers sometimes fall into a contemplative state. The mind seems to empty and truths become apparent. I don’t know how it works.
All I do know is that a single thought came to me, and though I am loath to believe in fate, I cannot forget its words:
I’m going to my destiny.
(Dear Miss Landau, chapter 34)
At the time, I said nothing of this to Juliet. I was extremely sensitive about any accusation of stalking, and back then there was no Chaplin Books, no Dear Miss Landau, and no sequels to Roses. Juliet and I hadn’t even met, and there was no guarantee we would.
A subconscious voice telling me straight-up that I was going to my destiny therefore sounded more than a little presumptuous and quite odd, so I shut up about it.
But those little questions of why I was there and how well-fitted I actually was for the role I seemed to be fulfilling kept surfacing. Several months after the first trip, I sent a writer’s commentary on Roses to Juliet, and at one point said:
Analogy that lately occurred to me: A bit macho and clichéd to an outside observer but very real to me. The advice Rocky got from his trainer before he went out for the 15th round against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV:
“All your power! All your strength! Everything you’ve got! Punch until you can’t punch no more! This is your whole life here! Now go out there and do it!”
I’ve heard Joss considers a life a fight [shown at the end of Angel], and I can’t dispute his philosophy much. Maybe that’s why I got the job of writing Roses. It needed someone willing to give everything they had, and that’s certainly what happened, although it wasn’t exactly a fight. Dru wasn’t my opponent. She was quiet, placid and supportive. I liked having her around.
On a purely scientific basis, I was also in the right place at the right time. I read a fascinating article in New Scientist in 2006 which basically made the point that, in addition to talent, it takes 15-20 years practise to develop extraordinary mastery of a subject. Well, I’d done my time, and when Drusilla grabbed me, I was more ready than I knew. I kept the article, by the way, and could scan and send it to you if you were interested.
What else? I’ve tried to answer every question you asked in March to the best of my ability, but even I sometimes struggle for an explanation. I’m professionally loath to just place everything at the doorstep of fate and destiny, but I personally rather like the idea and, as Sherlock Holmes once said: “take away the impossible and whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth.” I can’t escape the improbably logical conclusion that I was meant to do this and am fulfilling my allotted role. Well, best just to keep my feet firmly on the ground and go out there and do it. Dru IV is gelling nicely in my head and I’m looking forward to starting it, even if this may be Dru’s last dance.
But then again, who knows?
(Drusilla’s Roses, writer’s commentary, 2010)
So it really did seem (as mentioned in Dear Miss Landau’s foreword) as if Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate was, quite literally, weaving the threads of my destiny into a very strange tapestry. By now I’d successfully completed the first trip across America and met Juliet Landau on Sunset Boulevard, Drusilla’s Redemption had been delivered to her about two weeks before I set out that first day in March, and in conversation in Hollywood I’d explained my intent to write a second sequel – Drusilla Revenant – the story of which would be wrapped around Juliet’s own tale of Drusilla in Angel 24-25.
I’m really not sure if that has ever been done before. The unofficial tale wrapped around the official tale with the keeper of the flame’s knowledge… Drusilla’s Roses had ended like a classic love story, with Xander taking his newly-ensouled lady back to the house on Candlewood Drive. Drusilla’s Redemption managed to capture lightning in a bottle and take the story on; developing Drusilla’s personal history, forcing her to mature and cope with a relationship and sending her to Africa to (indirectly) fight for her soul much as Spike had done. Redemption also tied up vampire creation myth (Cain and Lilith) with early Buffyverse history (the Old Ones, the Shadowmen and the first Slayer) and located it in the Great Rift Valley – essentially tying up loose plot strands from Buffyverse canon and relating it to Dru’s personal journey:
Drusilla sat up straight with the good posture of the well-bred Victorian girl, clasped her hands demurely and began to recite.
“First there were the Old Ones, demons of power and thunder who made this earth a hell of fire and sulphur for aeons without end. Then they faded away from this transitory plane like mist on a February morn, and out of Africa came mortal Man.”
“Which part of Africa?” asked Xander suspiciously.
Drusilla cocked her head towards the ceiling, as if listening to the stars.
“From the abyss. The rift. The great valley of the ancients, so Solomon says.”
“The Great Rift Valley, you mean?” said the sister, fascinated.
“Where’s that?” asked Xander, wishing he’d paid more attention in history class.
“About six hundred miles east of here,” the sister replied.
“Before he ascended,” Dru intoned, “the last pure demon fed upon a woman called Lilith who dwelt in the Rift Valley. He possessed her, infecting her human body with the essence of a demon.”
“So this Lilith became the first vampire?” said Xander.
Drusilla smiled brightly. “Yes, dear. You might say I am a daughter of Lilith.”
“There is mention of a Lilith in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmud,” the sister mused, “and the Kabbalah says Lilith’s soul was lodged in the depths of a great abyss. The abyss could have been the Great Rift Valley. It’s also said that Lilith was created to be Adam’s first wife, but she ran away. After he slew Abel, Adam’s son Cain found her and lived with her in a land to the east of Eden”
“Lilith dwelt with Cain in the Rift Valley, east of this Eden,” Dru said in agreement. “Together they sired a race of vampires. Half-breed demons. Pariahs. Welcome in neither the house of the human nor the demon,” she finished glumly.
Xander’s head was spinning. Adam’s first wife had been turned, set up home with his son in Africa and created a vampire race who wandered about like a bunch of stateless refugees?
He kept his mouth tightly shut, but felt a certain blasphemous relief that at least he and Dru weren’t the first human and vampire to try living together. In fact, Cain and Lilith set a pretty big precedent.
Drusilla’s eyes swiveled towards his and he realised she’d read his mind. She gave him a quick, private smile and went on.
“Pockets of the Old Ones’ demonic power still lingered in and around the Rift Valley. So sorcerors called Shadowmen chained a girl up in a cave near the Rift, infused her with the Old Ones’ power in order to fight the vampires, and created the first slayer.”
“I get it,” said Xander. “And this particular pocket – the well of the slayers’ power – isn’t just in Africa. It’s right next door to us in Africa.”
“Yes,” said Drusilla, sanely and soberly. “And it’s very easily affronted. First, it was angered by the spell the Scoobies cast to defeat Adam. Then it was infuriated by the activation of all the potential slayers. Now, the presence of this slayer and of one of the Scoobies who originally angered it has roused it to white-hot fury. It won’t show any mercy. Not to the slayer. Not to the children. And not to us.”
“You have come right back to your beginnings,” the sister said quietly to Drusilla. “To your garden of Eden. And this is where it ends.”
(Drusilla’s Redemption, 2010)
Out on Catalina in March 2010 I researched locations for Drusilla Revenant and started work on it a few weeks after I got back.
As stated on the last page of Dear Miss Landau, Revenant contains the possible conclusion to the unfinished story arc I believe I saw in a Buffy episode a week after I finished Redemption. The word revenant itself means “one returned from the dead or from exile” and this fitted the story so perfectly it wasn’t true.
And the odd thing is, I don’t know where I got the word from. I was originally going to rather reluctantly call it Drusilla Returns, but then this eight-letter conundrum just waltzed out of the back of my mind. The right word, in the right place, at the right time…
So perhaps that’s how the incredible story reached, if nothing else, the end of the beginning. Because, to toy with cliché, the story didn’t end with the last page of Dear Miss Landau, it went on, both in real-life and in fiction. Juliet and I continued to correspond. I wrote Revenant, finding it surprisingly easy to merge the two storylines and the official and unofficial Drusillas. I even gave her sisters names, but when I finished Revenant I did not release it to any fan-fiction websites.
There was a chance the now complete Drusilla trilogy could be published, but it wouldn’t be a very good idea to expect a publisher to try and sell copies for cash if I’d already given away the remaining text for free, so Drusilla Revenant – complete with the dramatic twist which could turn the Buffyverse upside down – is still sitting on my bookshelf like the Lost Ark of Buffy’s Covenant and I truly wish the fans would mount a campaign for its release, for I’d truly love to turn it over to them…
Once Revenant was finished, I went straight into the first draft of Dear Miss Landau, but this was not with the confidence of a writer secure in the knowledge that his signed and sealed publishing contract was safely filed. One autism-friendly publisher the NAS thought was a sure thing had (as is often the case) said it wasn’t quite right for them, so it was a choice between hawking my wares round the few publishers who would even look at an unsolicited manuscript from an untried author without an agent, or just writing the thing before I forgot too much of the trip to be able to. I decided to do the latter as I’d have no wares to hawk if I didn’t.
So that’s how Dear Miss Landau began, as a draft written in hopelessness in an old stone house deep down amidst the Scottish Borders, only a few months after I’d stolen the Enterprise for my Helen of Troy. The ship becalmed once again in a deathless Sargasso Sea and foolish hope being quietly beaten to death, but the hands refusing to accept the inevitable or impossible, forging the words honed from a lifetime of experience and refusing to knuckle under to realism.
The winter of my dreams set in but the pages started to pile up all the same. In a literary sense I was on another journey, but in this case I thought I was facing the absolute certainty of failure. There was no lady ahead for me this time and no harbour for the ship.
Forty-six years old. No track record, no agent and no contacts.
Do it anyway.
I remember finishing the first draft early in 2011. It hadn’t been that difficult a job. I’d been able to paste in several of the blogs from the actual trip and selected a few emails which could (with Juliet’s permission) be used. I think it was about 1.00 a.m. one Saturday morning.
Now, remember Tim Coates’ Good Library Blog which I’d used to merrily thrash my former “profession” for six years? We’d just got broadband at Roberton, so I turned on Juliet the Notebook and put one simple, fateful message onto the Blog:
Anyone know a publisher?
That was all. Nothing else.
I spent the weekend in unutterable depression, quite sure that was the end. That, to paraphrase Bridget Jones, I’d die a sad lonely old man talking to his own colostomy bag and be found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsations. The manuscript would then be found and I’d be a posthumous success…
Apart from the bit about the Alsations, that is an accurate description of that long weekend, and of the next thirty or forty years as I expected to live them.
On Monday morning, I got an expression of verbal interest from Chaplin Books.
Amanda Field, managing editor of Chaplin, had been a fellow blogger, and she’d been reading me the whole time.
If that doesn’t seem incredible enough (and Chris, the owner of Biggar’s local bookshop, Atkinson-Pryce, later agreed the odds against publication were about five million to one), the date I received the expression of interest was 14th March, 2011.
A year to the day since I’d met Miss Landau on Sunset Boulevard.
I think I sent her an email that day, metaphorically throwing up my hands and saying I believed in fate and destiny…
Well, the verbal interest was confirmed in writing, five test chapters were accepted, Dear Miss Landau was quietly written in a Glasgow flat and a small town in the Scottish borderlands over the next few months while all the public hue and cry followed Whit Anderson’s doomed attempt to reboot Buffy. Whit’s script crashed and burned while Dear Miss Landau, which I’d originally conceived as a screenplay, was published to rave reviews in March 2012 (almost exactly fifteen years to the day after Buffy first aired) and there’s been a long struggle since then to get media attention and publicity.
At present, there is the possibility of an audiobook version of Dear Miss Landau, but that, I think, is not the full picture:
It was highly unlikely that a person with autism could gain enough empathy to write Drusilla accurately, but somehow I did.
It was, as John Plowman mentioned on A Good Read, extremely difficult even for someone with connections to contact a Hollywood celebrity. I succeeded in doing so without connections, and with a one-time only long shot (the text of Drusilla’s Roses and a covering letter addressed to a certain Dear Miss Landau) which I never expected to hear of again.
It was extremely unlikely that Juliet Landau and I would enter into an online correspondence, but we did.
It was very unlikely that a person with autism would find it within himself to cross a continent for his film star, but I did.
As stated, the odds against an untried, traumatized, autistic, forty-six year old writer without an agent being published were astronomical, but it happened.
There have been other coincidences.
Overall, and although I’m neither gambler nor statistician, I’d say the odds against all of this happening were so high that chance cannot fully explain it.
Perhaps that thought I had in Somerset, Pennsylvania, was right all along.
In my opinion, then, the full tapestry (and possible future history) of events is still to unfold. It’s been perfectly clear in my mind for two or three years. I respect Miss Landau’s right to choose which path through life she wishes to take, and Amanda Field has been understandably preoccupied with publishing and promoting Dear Miss Landau, so funnily enough I guess that leaves me as the only person with a full working knowledge of what I’ll christen this tripartite path I appear to have been yanked onto.
So here’s the truest answer I can give to question seven:
a) Dear Miss Landau, with its melding of fiction and reality, was published in March 2012. I originally conceived the idea as a screenplay while walking down the hill from Candlewood Drive and it can easily be turned into one.
b) The next book should be the Drusilla trilogy – Roses, Redemption and Revenant. The three novellas which would make up this book would give it a nice, neat length of about 100,000 words – and the novellas are already, written, proofed and edited! They’re all done! One signed set is sitting in my bookshelves in Glasgow, (I just got Drusilla Revenant signed at the Vampires Ball at Heathrow) and Revenant is waiting to be read. Chaplin and I are having trouble getting this to the attention of Simon Pulse (a division of Simon & Schuster) and we need help from the Buffy fanbase to do so.
c) Dear Miss Landau should be optioned as a film. During two trips across America, virtually everyone I met either had a friend or relative with autism, or knew of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – sometimes both. I’ve no doubt there is a large potential audience out there. The film version (with Juliet Landau’s permission) would differ quite a bit from the book and is probably the only possible means in existence today by which some of the original cast of Buffy could return (albeit briefly) to their roles… Again, Chaplin and I need help to achieve this.
Incidentally, I’m also working on a fourth Dru tale, recently renamed Spike & Dru: the Graveyard of Empires, which should (I sincerely hope) be the romantic tale of love and bullets which James Marsters apparently always hoped would reunite the deadly duo.
It is also intriguing to consider the fact that at the Vampires Ball this year, I described to James Marsters the way I gained a sudden connection with Drusilla in 2009 (Dear Miss Landau, chapter 14) and asked him how it compared with the acting chemistry which sprang up between himself and Juliet Landau when he was being cast.
Exactly the same, I understand.
That is one possibility that James Christie has in mind. He’ll talk about other possibilities tomorrow…