Fans Keeping the Buffyverse Alive: An Interview with Shiai Mata, founder of SlayerLit

Fandom comes in all different shapes and sizes. For some it’s simply picking up the latest novel from your favorite author or tuning in for the next episode of your favorite television show. For others like me, it’s inviting your friends over to eat a monster tray of nachos and drinking Diet Cokes while screaming at the TV in the vain hope that Buffy may actually hear us and NOT kill Angel at the very moment that Willow restores his soul. Then there are those like Shiai Mata who take fandom a step further and actually stats a fansite like SlayerLit.us, which focuses on the literature of Joss Whedon’s hit television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Since most fan sites for Buffy tend to focus primarily on the television show and the actors, the fact that a literary fan site like SlayerLit developed and thrived was a pleasant surprise. I recently had the opportunity to interview Shiai Mata, the founder of SlayerLit, in order to find out a little more about this unique fansite and the fan who started it. What I found was that Shiai is as entertaining as he is knowledgable about both the television show and the books that the show inspired.

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Why did you start SlayerLit.us? What inspired it?

I first launched SlayerLit as a Yahoo Group…remember those?…on February 27, 2003.  I did it for the simplest of reasons:  I liked the Buffy and Angel novels, and when I saw that there was no real online forum to discuss and promote them, I sought to try and fill the gap as best I could.

If you do the math, you’ll realize that was in the final months of Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and there was a genuine wealth of substantive discussion among fans about virtually every other aspect of the series.  There were some Buffy-centric groups that had several thousand members, and many of them were all a part of the ongoing dialogues about the episodes, the characters, and every other imaginable topic.  It was a very exciting period to be a fan.  Sadly, most of those groups are largely silent now, or gone altogether.

How have you kept SlayerLit alive after BTVS ended?

Well, it was easy at first, because while the television series had come to an end, both the novels and the first comic book series from Dark Horse were still going strong.   Simon & Schuster, the publisher of the novels, even launched a marketing campaign with the slogan, “Buffy Lives…in the Books!”  I thought that was pretty darned clever of them.

More importantly, we have a core group of members…some of them actual authors of the novels…who have kept the art of lively discussion alive.

Unfortunately, the original novel series wrapped up a few years ago. However, the publisher has recently been dipping their toe back into the water by gathering up some of the previously published works into new omnibus collections.  I’ve been told that if they sell sufficiently well, others may be forthcoming, and there could potentially also be new stories to come as well.  That’s a big *IF*, but it’s still a distinct possibility, so there’s hope.

What do you enjoy most about doing SlayerLit?

I like the feeling of community that’s shared among the fans.  I also like promoting reading, in my own small way.  Too many people just don’t take the time to sit back and open up a book these days, and that’s a tragedy to me.

And because of the site, I’ve had a perfect pretense to meet and know some amazing authors, as well as Lisa Clancy, the remarkable editor who launched the line at S&S.  For me, the equivalent would be if this were the 1930s and I was able to know Walter Gibson, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hugo Gernsback…go ahead and hit the Wiki, I can wait.

I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting a number of cast members from various Whedon series, and I’ve been delighted to discover that many of them are human beings, just like you and me.

If you could star in any of the BTVS episodes, which one would it be and why?

That’s easy… “The Puppet Show.”  I do a Chico Marx that just kills.  Seriously, why a no chicken?

Which BTVS character would you play? No, you can’t be Buffy.

Probably the same part everyone else would kill to play:  one of the kids who jumps out of Xander’s way as he skateboards down the sidewalk in “Welcome to the Hellmouth.”

What was the first Buffy episode that you watched? When did you know you were hooked?

It’s funny, I can’t recall what the very first episode I saw was.  At the time, I knew all about the character from the original movie, and I definitely started watching in the first season.  Probably not the first episode, though.

I do know I was hooked immediately.  I had been intrigued by the concept going in, but it was the cast who grabbed me right from the start.  At their peak, they were undeniably one of the best ensemble casts on television.

If you discovered that you were standing behind Joss Whedon in the Starbucks coffee line, what one question would you ask him?

“Hey, you used to write for ROSEANNE…what have you been up to since?”

How many times have you been to the Hellmouth? What was your favorite part of the visit?

I have actually been to Monterey, which was one of the inspirations for Sunnydale, and there’s some good seafood to be had there, so that gets my thumbs up.

I’ve also been to Cleveland, site of the other Hellmouth, and I know just where it’s located.  Ever been to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?  They won’t let the Monkees or Kiss in the HoF, but they do have Brenda Lee…tell me that’s not the work of the First Evil!

If you were to join Buffy’s Scooby Gang, what skills would you bring to the table?

I can wiggle my ears independently of one other.  Until I can master the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, that’s the best I’ve got.

What are your first impressions about the upcoming Buffy movie?

I realize this isn’t the politically correct answer, but I’m not against it…in theory.

Now, for it to work as a story, I think they’ll have to do a radical departure from what we know to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer…so much so, I wonder why they would even want to call her Buffy.  Just take the basic idea… “one girl in all the world, she alone…” and create an entirely new Slayer, a new Watcher, new big bads.  Once you’ve freed yourself from the shackles that doing Buffy Summers inevitably imposes, your creative freedom is limitless.

I’d be interested if they did a straight-up horror film.  I used to hope that at some point, Simon & Schuster would have someone write a pure Lovecraftian horror story for Buffy, just because she should have to face such things from time to time; Chris Golden and Tom Sniegoski did that with a Giles one-shot comic for Dark Horse, by the way… “Beyond the Pale,” with great art by Eric Powell.  Unfortunately, I anticipate what we’ll be getting is just a Twilight knock-off.  They’ll probably make Buffy a moony, lovesick schoolgirl who, in the climatic battle, has to be saved by her brooding vampire lover; in other words, a complete violation of the character’s core mission statement.

Mind you, if I were making this film, it wouldn’t be Buffy at all.  I’d go back to Joss’s original draft of “Rhonda, the Immortal Waitress,” and run with that.

What do you think of the continuing story of Buffy in the comic series that the Amazing Mr. Whedon had developed?

Oboy, here’s where my Buffy fan club card gets revoked and I have to turn in my decoder ring….

There have been some good stories told, and some truly great moments peppered throughout.  I’ve liked Georges Jeanty’s art very much, and Jo Chen’s covers ought to be hanging in a museum.  That said, I’ve been disappointed overall.

Now that Season 8 is concluded, I’m left wondering why the story was told at all.  I understand Joss wanted to take the concept back to the start, with Buffy being the one and only, but the way he accomplished that was, for me, convoluted, conflicted and, I’m afraid, dull.  Over all, I think most of the best stories which came from S8 were actually done by guest writers.

Long story short, S8 is, for me, a fidgety effort at Buffy fan fiction.  That it happened to be the work of Joss Whedon pains me to say that.  But now that he’s past what I think he felt was the story that was required of him, I’m very hopeful he just plunges into the ninth season, damning the torpedoes and having pure, unalloyed FUN.  If he does, I think it could be brilliant.

Why was Firefly canceled? Oh, wait. Sorry wrong interview. Seriously, though, why was it canceled?

Long story short, hierarchy changes at the Fox network meant that the show no longer had many champions in the front office by the time it aired, meaning it had to be a ratings hit right out of the box, or else it was doomed.  And what with Fox airing episodes out of sequence so that the story threads became incoherent, that pretty much killed the show’s best chance of building a steady audience quickly.

I am of the theory that if Buffy the Vampire Slayer were to debut today, it would never see a second season.  In 1997, the TV industry was different enough from today that networks were still willing to try and grow a series over time, particularly one that was a critical hit.  Now, a new show often only gets a few episodes before its final fate is decided

I can’t help but think that if Joss had launched Firefly on, say, HBO or Showtime, it would have been a happily ever after for all concerned.

Who do you think would win in a fair fight: Buffy Summers (BTVS) or River Tam (Firefly)?

Oh…River, hands down.  You know the phrase, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight?”  Guess who is what in this face-off.

Ok, which of them would win in an unfair fight?

Buffy, who for a heroine has never been afraid to bend the rules to win.  She’d have Willow at the ready to put a witchy wham on Tam.  End of fight.

We know how Buffy changed Sunnydale, but how do you think she changed the real world?

Buffy’s impact has been so profound, we as a pop culture society really don’t even recall any longer how it was before her.  We didn’t have heroines who were the valiant equals of Superman or James Bond.  Wonder Woman came closest, but she was undermined by the fact that the average person really only knew her from television, where she was played for the T&A factor.  We had some heroic women…I’m looking at you, Doctor Who companions…but they were the sidekicks.  Mostly, females were the damsels in distress.

I think a prototype for Buffy was Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien films.  But let’s face it, no matter how extraordinary she was, nobody actually wanted to be Ripley, or to even live in that universe.  But people do want to live in the Whedonverse, and girls do want to grow up to be Buffy.  That’s pretty amazing.

And now, it’s just so natural to have strong, successful, charismatic heroines on television, in films and in literature.  Media celebrates them, and the powers-that-be are willing to invest vast sums of money to bring their stories to life.  Buffy is, I think, the key reason for that.  Joss, quite literally, changed the world.

For those who are interested in trying the Buffy novels, which would you recommend?

The three new omnibus collections are readily available in fine brick and mortar booksellers everywhere, so that’s the easiest place to start.  If you’re willing to do a bit of searching, my short list would include…but by no means be limited to… “The Evil That Men Do” by Nancy Holder, “Tempted Champions” by Yvonne Navarro, “The Lost Slayer” by Christopher Golden, “Monster Island” by Golden and Sniegoski, “Ghoul Trouble” by Jack Passarella, the four “Tales of the Slayer” short story collections, and for Angel, “The Longest Night” short stories and “Sanctuary” by Jeff Mariotte.

Thanks for the interview Shiai! As always, it is a pleasure.

The pleasure has been entirely mine.  This is the first time I’ve been on this side of a Q&A!

Umm…you can validate my parking, can’t you?

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CONTEST!

Win Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2 on Goodreads.com

Nancy Holder, one of the contributing authors of BTVS2, has posted a contest on Goodreads in which she is giving away 5 copies of the book. The contest is open to fans worldwide. All you have to do is visit the Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2 contest page on Goodreads and enter for your change to win!

Good luck to all.

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Shiai Mata doesn’t exist.  It’s a pseudonym the fellow we know as Shiai Mata adopted some fifteen or so years ago when he was doing so much freelance writing for a magazine, the editor suggested he use a pen name at times so that it didn’t look as if we was their only writer.  Somehow or another, the Shiai name stuck to him online, and it’s what he’s best known by now.  And in retrospect, given how girly it sounds, he feels some small regret over the choices made, but what can you do about it, right?

You can taunt him about this by visiting www.SlayerLit.us.

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3 Responses to Fans Keeping the Buffyverse Alive: An Interview with Shiai Mata, founder of SlayerLit

  1. Pingback: The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: February 16, 2011

  2. Pingback: Showing some love for the Buffster. Favorite BTVS quotes. « life and love of literature

  3. Pingback: Geek Media Round-Up: February 17, 2011 – Grasping for the Wind

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