Today is release day for the awesome zombie urban fantasy Plague Town, by Dana Fredsti (feel free to read my review), and what better way to celebrate than with an interview with the author! Dana was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please give her a warm welcome!
Dana, you have the coolest background (don’t worry, I’ll get to this, most likely in detail), in acting, screenwriting, and producing (among other awesomeness.) You’ve also published numerous articles and stories, and (whew!)a mystery called Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon. Then throw a few romances into the mix! What finally led to writing Plague Town? Was it a story that had been brewing for a while?
First of all, thank you for having me here as your guest! Lori Perkins of Ravenous Romance originally pitched the concept for Plague Town to me. Her pitch was essentially “How would you like to write something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer? …Except with zombies? And make it different.” My answer? An immediate “YES!” since I am a huge fan of Buffy and have been fascinated by zombies ever since I saw the original Night of the Living Dead. So no, the story wasn’t really brewing before Lori made her pitch. I was given complete leeway in developing the characters, plot arc of a three book series, and could put as much or as little sex in it as I thought worked for the story. So pretty much complete control over all aspects of it, Dana said whilst rubbing her hands together in megalomaniacal glee.
I took it from there (when I finished the gleefully megalomaniacal hand-rubbing). And while I was definitely inspired by the idea of a motley crew of friends and enemies as supporting cast to my heroine, Plague Town is definitely different.
Ashley Parker is very “regular girl”, but she’s also super brave, kicks tons of zombie ass, and has a heart of gold, not to mention a wonderfully sarcastic mouth! Is she based on anyone in particular, or a combination of folks? I mean, she wouldn’t happen to be anything like you, would she? 😀
Do I sense sarcasm behind that :-D, missy? Yes, we are in emoticon hell. Heh. At any rate, they say (whoever “they” are) that every character is a reflection of some aspect of the author, be it likes, dislikes, personality quirks, etc. So yeah, I expect Ashley does have a few of my traits (although why you’d think sarcasm was one of them, I just don’t know!), including the heart of cold. And yes, I would go back for the cats.
When you started writing Plague Town, did you plan to make it into a series, or did you just plan to see where Ashley took you?
I knew from the get-go that it would be least a three-book series, with each one expanding the scope of the zombie plague (Plague Town, Plague Nation and Plague World), and that, so far, is still the plan. I certainly would not say no if asked to write more, though.
What kind of research did you do for the virus aspects of the book?
I spent a lot of time googling about things like bird flu, Ebola, HIV, viruses and bacteria, etc., to figure out how I wanted to handle the specific cause of the zombie outbreak that starts in Redwood Grove (Ashley’s home town). I don’t want to give too much away, but I did start with the premise that the walking dead have been around for centuries (I absolutely love the section in Zombie Survival Guide that goes into the outbreaks through history) and then thought about how one would “jump-start” an outbreak. But yeah, Google, the CDC website, a magazine that had an article about how some viruses combine (my cats, in their infinite wisdom, peed on that one so I have to keep it in the garage), and a slew of zombie books , both fiction and (ahem) non-fiction with different speculations as to how a zombie virus would evolve. I love the fact that there are so many variations on a number of themes as to the root cause of zombies, and each author or filmmaker seems to handle it differently, even if just a wee bit.
Why do you think zombie books, movies, and TV shows are so popular these days?
Because people finally realize how ultimately creepy, cool and versatile zombies are? Well, that might be part of the reason, but I think it’s because a few really good movies and books came out at the right time and hit a nerve with people. Zombies are creepy and they can stand in for a lot of fears and issues (rather than list them or even try to be as articulate as others have been before me, I refer your readers to this kickass blog post by Jonathan Maberry and a slew of the top names in zombiedom today). Also there are many people like me who have been waiting eagerly for our favorite monster to get more media time and we’ve proven that if you write/film it, we will read/watch it. The quality of the offerings has been consistently improving and now, with the impending film adaptation of Max Brooks’ World War Z (I mean, seriously, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt duking it out for rights to a zombie novel?!) and AMC’s The Walking Dead (Emmy winning show here), zombies have more legitimacy as a media moneymaker than ever before. Plus they don’t sparkle.
What are some of your favorite zombie/post-apocalyptic/horror titles?
Oh jeez, there goes the rest of your page space. Let’s see… I’ll save the bad zombie movies I love for the question below and start with ones I think are really good. Night of the Living Dead (original and remake); Dawn of the Dead (original, with the remake growing on me now that I’ve managed to stop comparing it to the original. Plus the remake has, hands down, what I consider the best opening ten minutes of any movie of any genre); Day of the Dead (original); Shaun of the Dead; Zombieland; The Grudge (creeped me the hell out, which is hard to do these days); The Dead; Return of the Living Dead; Zombie Flesh Eaters; Le Horde; Dead Snow; Rec; Resident Evil (silly, but so much fun, and another kick ass opening sequence); Mad Max; Night of the Comet (“Daddy would have bought me an Uzi”); Last Man on Earth; Dead Set; Halloween (the original); Escape from New York; Cherry 2000… I’m sure there are more, but I need to save some room for book titles, right:
So in no particular order: Swann Song (Robert McCammon); The Stand (Stephen King); Patient Zero, Rot and Ruin, Dead of Night (Jonathan Maberry); the Dead World series (Joe McKinney); the Autumn series (David Moody); the Monster Island/Nation/Planet books (David Wellington); Feed and its sequel (Mira Grant); The Morningstar Saga (Z.A. Recht);)… the list goes on. I always hate lists like this because I’m afraid I’ll leave out something/someone I really like, which I inevitably do. Like all the great anthologies out there! Book of the Dead I & II, the All Flesh anthologies, anything edited by John Skipp… Too much pressure!
If the zombie horde was on its way, and you had to get out of Dodge, what’s the one book that you would grab to take with you?
Oh heck, I have no idea… Gone with the Wind would be a good choice ‘cause it’s long and I love re-reading it once every few years… and it’s thick and could double as a bludgeon. But it’s also cumbersome. It’s like being asked what my favorite book of all time is; my answer changes on a daily basis depending on my mood. I suppose I should say I’d take Plague Town.
You have a background in sword fighting, so, what would you say is the most important rule when fighting zombies up close?
Stay away from their teeth? Heh. Okay, seriously, since zombies don’t generally swordfight, my background isn’t necessarily the most helpful. I won’t be challenging a zombie to a duel any time soon. However, knowing to use a weapon and get the maximum leverage when, say, making a cut, is helpful. And some swords would be kind of lame in zombie combat. I mean, my weapons of choice are rapier and dagger, but unless you’ve got amazing point control and can thrust the point into a eye-socket every time, and then pull the blade out quickly, you’re gonna get bit. As far as fighting them up close, whatever the weapon, you want to stay away from teeth, claws, blood and goo splatters. Of course, in some movies the blood isn’t infectious (in Dawn of the Dead, just to name one film, the heroes got blood spattered on their face and in their mouths without a problem; it was the bite that did it) so that’s not always an issue. You want to avoid grappling, if possible, and if they do grab you and pull you in for a bite, shove a forearm or hand under their chin and keep that nasty infectious mouth away from your tender flesh.
Speaking of that background in sword fighting… It says in your bio that you did theatrical sword fighting for the cult classic (and personal fave of mine), Army of Darkness (geek-girl swoon!). You must tell us more about that, and I don’t suppose you rubbed elbows with Bruce Campbell?
Ah, memories…Working on AoD was a one of a kind experience.. Even if it hadn’t turned out to be a cult classic, it would still be on my list of Top Ten Cool Things I’ve Done in My Life. I worked in two capacities on the film; armourer’s assistant and Deadite/sword captain. My then fiancé was the onset armourer, I was unemployed, and the Deadite scenes weren’t scheduled for shooting for a while so I had hands on experience “distressing” plastic armour (making it look real and, in the case of the Deadite armour, look like it could have been in the ground for a while. I also learned how to mend leather straps and play with grommets, helped suit up the extras in King Arthur’s army, and had the fun of being on hand when they filmed the scene where Ash’s car drops from the time /space warp thingee conjured by the incantation in Book of the Dead . What filmgoers didn’t see was the crane holding the car before the drop actually took a tumble off the edge of the quarry we were filming at. No one was hurt, but it was spectacular…
When it came time to film the Deadite scenes, I was fitted for my “A” Deadite costume (there were “A”, “B” and “C” Deadites), which involved a full latex body suit, gloves, a mask, and the aforementioned armor. Getting out of it to use the bathroom was a royal pain in the ass. As one of the sword captains, I got to teach some choreography and choreograph my own fights for the mass battles scenes. My favorite fight partner was Rick (I don’t remember his last name) and we choreographed this wonderful fight between us that got a thumbs up from Bruce by way of an approving nod when we finished running it during rehearsal. So while I did not rub elbows with him that was a nice bit of validation. Bruce reminded me a lot of Ash most of the time.
It also says in your bio that you’re addicted to bad movies. What, for you, is the best of the bad?
I will give you a few titles to start with. Showgirls (high budget badness at its best); Zombie Flesh Eaters (this is actually a good bad movie); Virus: Hell of the Living Dead (mercenary stops searching house for zombies in order to put on a tutu and do a little soft shoe, wtf?); Solar Babies (the best paved post-apocalyptic landscape in history); Manos: Hands of Fate (I can only watch the MST3K version); Beyond the Valley of the Dolls… And there are truly marvelously craptastic low budget/no budget zombie movies out there. My favorites are the no-budget ones where the director has obviously gotten family and friends to do everything from acting to camera work. And even though, yes, they are bad, I love the fact that people get these films made through sheer determination AND have managed to get them distributed and available on DVD. Gotta admire that kind of chutzpah.
Your bio also says that you love to surf! Do you have a favorite location?
Pacific Beach in San Diego, a few hundred yards north of Crystal Pier. It’s a beach break, not always the best waves, but it’s where I learned and will always be my favorite location. So many great memories! .
Also, don’t suppose you’d like to do a shout out about your experience with the Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center?
You do realize that I could write an essay about this topic, right? Wait a sec, I DID write an essay about it and it can be found here. Just click on A Day at the Cathouse.
Seriously, this place changed my life. It’s one of the top exotic feline breeding facilities in the world, part of the captive breeding program to stop species from going extinct. And before anyone starts going on about “oh, but they only belong in the wild”, I would just ask that you read my essay and take into consideration that we wouldn’t have the captive breeding program if it was possible to successfully save these species only in the wild. EFBC/FCC treats the cats like the royalty they are … and they are the priority. And working there kept me sane during some rough times in my life. If you live in the LA/Bakersfield area and are looking for something unique and worthwhile to do with a day a week, consider volunteering!
Ahem. I am stepping off my soapbox now.
Thanks so much, Dana, for taking the time to do this. I had much more I wanted to interrogate, er, ask you about, but I realize you have a life, so I’ll wrap it up. Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to add?
Well, I’ll be doing some book signings for the release of Plague Town, the list of which can be found on my website on the events page. That would be here. Other than that, I’m busily working on answering interview questions and writing on Plague Nation, the second Ashley Parker novel! Thanks again for having me here!
Keep up with Dana: Website | Twitter
Snag a copy of Plague Town: Amazon | B&N
About Plague Town:
Ashley was just trying to get through a tough day when the world turned upside down.
A terrifying virus appears, quickly becoming a pandemic that leaves its victims, not dead, but far worse. Attacked by zombies, Ashley discovers that she is a ‘Wild-Card’ — immune to the virus — and she is recruited to fight back and try to control the outbreak.
It’s Buffy meets the Walking Dead in a rapid-fire zombie adventure!