A self-confessed zombie enthusiast, Dana Fredsti is an author and actress with a fondness for sword-fighting, cats and wine. Her background working as an armorer’s assistant and fighting technician on movies such as Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness fuelled a passion for zombie fiction and the horror genre.
She’s just written Plague Town (our review is here), a zombie novel following the character of Ashley Parker as she and fellow newly discovered ‘wild cards’ attempt to suppress and contain a zombie pandemic in a relatively small American town complete with all the gore filled, action packed fun you’d expect. Having read the book I spoke with Dana about Plague Town, her love for zombie fiction, and her plans for the eventual zombie invasion.
DP: Zombies have been a recurring theme in horror fiction since the late sixties with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, gaining tractions in the late 70’s/80’s, what attracts you to them as a subject?
DF: I have been fascinated by zombies ever since I saw Dawn of the Dead on my very first movie date. And actually, looking back at the books I loved as a kid and the elements in each that drew me, there was a definite theme of morbidity, especially when any monsters or animals that ate human flesh were involved. The flesh-eating giants of Harfang in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, man-eating crocodiles, the witches in Grimm’s Fairy Tales that ate people… yeah, definitely a theme going here. Being eaten alive is just about the worst way to die that I can think of and yet… it eternally fascinates me. What that says about me, I have no idea. I’m sure a psyche evaluation would turn up something bizarre and meaningful.
DP: More recently of course Zombie’s seem to be everywhere on film, TV and games, from remakes of Dawn of the Dead, 2009’s successful comedy Zombieland, and AMC’s hugely successful The Walking Dead; What do you think of the recent incarnation of the zombie?
DF: Gimme! More, more and then MORE zombies! Even though they’ve been a recurring theme since the late sixties, there were many long dry spells without the gooey, gory goodness that is flesh-eating ghouls in cinema, television and literature (is it too high-falutin’ to refer to “the zombie genre?”) and I am just delighted with all the variations on the theme. I will say I prefer slow to fast zombies, being a bit of a traditionalist, and other than Return of the Living Dead, the whole “braaaaains” thing irritates the crap out of me.
DP: Do you have a favourite Zombie movie, or several even?
DF: Original Dawn of the Dead, definitely. Dead Snow. Dead Set (mini-series). Shaun of the Dead. The Dead. La Horde. Zombie Flesh Eaters. Hell of the Living Dead (mercenary doing a soft-shoe in a tutu for no apparent reason… gotta love it!).
DP: Did you have to do any research to write the book, or are you such a zombiephile that you already had all the info that you needed?
DF: Oh, I did research. I may be a zombiephile, but what I don’t know about military tactics, virology, and plenty of other minutia required research. Books, internet, pestering people … I did it all.
DP: The main protagonist, Ashley Parker, is a feisty strong female character, like Ripley from Alien meets Buffy the Vampire slayer (both of which are mentioned in the book), is there an element of you in her, or any other influences in particular?
DF: In that I definitely fall into the category of strong feisty females (and I’ve been told I’m a character), yes. I also gave Ashley my own sense of ethics (and maybe the sarcasm part). And yes, both Buffy and Ripley were definitely influences in their own ways, Buffy for her irreverent humor in the face of danger and Ripley in her willingness to risk anything for those she cares about.
DP: The book is very much character driven, it might be about a zombocalypse but the focus is very centred on Ashley and the other wild cards and how they cope. Was it very important to you that this be as much about believable characters as well as kicking undead ass?
DF: If you don’t have believable and (hopefully) likable or at least compelling characters kicking undead ass, there’s nothing for readers to invest their emotions in when they read. I personally cannot get into a book if the characters are cardboard. I don’t always have to like them, but they have to be real or I just don’t care what happens to them. And as a writer, I want to really care when I have to kill someone, either because I’m sad they’re dead or REALLY happy to pull the virtual trigger and give them their just desserts. Boring characters mean bored readers.
DP: How do you find the writing process in general, does it come easy, and do you enjoy it?
DF: Some days it comes very easily to me. I spend the hours away from the keyboard thinking about the book and the characters, and am ready to sit down and write as soon as I can. Other days… argh! Hair-tearing occurs and I just hate it. It’s hard work a great deal of the time, especially when I’m tired. I work full time so by the time I’m home, have cleaned up after our felines (they just will NOT clean out their own litter pans or sweep up their fur), exercised, and eaten, I’m just wiped and bitterly resent having to continue to work. Other times the writing flows and it’s pure joy. Either way, it’s got to be be done so I do it.
DP: I was happy to see the constant allusions to the works of others and real world culture, did those come fairly naturally or did you find yourself going back and finding places where a reference to Alien, or the Syfy channel, would fit nicely?
DF: Those come frighteningly naturally to me. It’s like a pop cultural form of Tourette’s.
DP: Recently, at a town council in the UK, one citizen raised the topic of having a coherent policy for the eventuality of a zombie outbreak as a serious concern. Do you have a zombie survival plan, or have you considered what you might do if a zombie pandemic were suddenly a reality?
DF: Well, we are prepared for an earthquake in terms of supplies so that’s a start. My main concern are my cats because neither myself nor my boyfriend would consider abandoning them. Our house is pretty defensible and I have access to weapons. And lots of wine. And toilet paper. My ideal plan would be to relocate to a winery out in a less populated area, though. One with a huge (and well stocked) wine cellar with thick walls and gates.
DP: If you had to pick three examples of zombie fiction (film, tv, book, or whatever) to recommend to zombie newcomers, or indeed anyone, as great works that absolutely everyone should experience, what would they be?
DF: Movies: Original Dawn of the Dead, The Dead, Shaun of the Dead. TV: Dead Set, Walking Dead. Books: Anything You Want to Know about Zombies by Matt Mogk, any of Joe McKinney’s zombie books, Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry, and the Book of the Dead anthologies edited by John Skipp. And so many more, but you said three and I’ve already cheated!
DP: Other than immersing yourself in, and being part of, the world of zombie fiction what else do you like to get up to?
DF: I love to read, surf, sword fight, walk, do tae-bo, wine taste, roller blade, and go on road trips. I love the freedom of driving somewhere and knowing I can stop anywhere I want because it’s my car and I’m in control of my own particular Enterprise.
DP: Even though the book has only just launched, how has the reaction been, and are you happy/humbled by it?
DF: The reaction has been really positive so far and I’m both happy AND humbled by it. I’m amazed at the job that Titan Books has done as far as publicity and just so gratified to be working with such wonderfully supportive people, including my editor Steve Saffel. I’m past the point in my life where I’m in any danger of developing a big ego and just hope the second book doesn’t disappoint those who have enjoyed the first one. Yes, I am experiencing “second book syndrome” about now.
DP: We know that Plague Town is part of a planned trilogy, can you give us any details of what comes next for Ashley Parker?
DF: More zombies on a much larger geographical playing field, some nasty surprises for readers and the wild cards and more pop cultural references because I just can’t HELP myself! Ashley will definitely face more challenges as the series continue and the stakes will be raised. I can’t really say too much more, though, for fear of spoilers.
A big thank you to Dana for taking the time to answer my questions. Plague Town is available now from Titan Books.