She’s back, and boy are we glad. It’s been a full year since Dana Fredsti unleashed the Buffy-like antics of badass zombie killing chick Ashley Parker on the world with Plague Town, and since that time we’ve been chomping at the bit with anticipation, dying to know what’s next.
The second book in the series, Plague Nation, arrived in April and we’re happy to report that it’s a damn fine follow-up, but don’t take our word for it…well actually, yes, please do. Go now, read our full review.
We were super excited to get back in touch with Ms. Fredsti to talk about what she’s been up to since completing the first book, as well as the difficulties inherent in writing the second part of a series.
What follows below is a discussion about zombies, Ms. Fredsti’s work, zombies, her new novel Plague Nation, zombies, killing characters for the sake of art, zombies and Joss Whedon.
Dana Fredsti is an actress with a background in theatrical sword-fighting, whose credits include the cult classic Army of Darkness. Her favorite projects, however, included acting alongside Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Josef Pilato (Day of the Dead). She has been a producer, director, and screenplay writer for stage and film, and was the co-writer/associate producer on Urban Rescuers, a documentary on feral cats which won Best Documentary at the 2003 Valley Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Along with her best friend Maureen, Dana was co-producer/writer/director for a mystery-oriented theatrical troupe based in San Diego. While no actual murders occurred during their performances, there were times when the actors and clients made the idea very tempting. These experiences were the basis for her mystery novel Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon (Rock Publications, 2007). Dana also co-wrote What Women Really Want in Bed (Quiver Press) with Cynthia Gentry, their second writing partnership after Secret Seductions, for which Dana used the pseudonym Roxanne Colville.
She has written numerous published articles, essays, and shorts, including stories in Cat Fantastic IV, an anthology edited by Andre Norton (Daw, 1997), Danger City (Contemporary Press, 2005), Mondo Zombie (Cemetery Dance, 2006), and Hungry for Your Love (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). Her essays can be seen in Morbid Curiosity, Issues 2-7, as well as the anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues Scribner, 2009). Dana just finished Plague Town (Titan Books, April 2012), the first in her new Ashley Parker paranormal/zombie series and is hard at work on book two. She also writes spicy genre romance under her nom de plume Inara LaVey.
Through seven plus years of volunteering at EFBC/FCC (Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center), Dana’s had a full-grown leopard sit on her feet, kissed by tigers, held baby jaguars and had her thumb sucked by an ocelot with nursing issues. She’s addicted to bad movies and any book or film, good or bad, which include zombies. Her other hobbies include surfing (badly), collecting beach glass (obsessively), and wine tasting (happily). (Official bio)
TE: We already know who Dana Fredsti is, so tell us, what has she been up to since completing Plague Town?
DF: She has been… okay, NOT gonna do this in third person. Although I might use the royal “we” if the occasion should arise. At any rate, since finishing Plague Town, I spent several months promoting it, a lot of time dealing with the day job traumas of life, and then an intense few months finishing up Plague Nation. After that, I collapsed for a couple of months and just tried to relax. Then I jumped back into research for Plague World, a month of promotion for Plague Nation, and yet more day job madness… I started writing Plague World. And now I’m experiencing flashbacks, thank you very much!
TE: What was the overall response to Plague Town like? What was the most surprising piece of feedback that you received from readers?
DF: The overall response was amazingly positive. It was honestly both humbling and invigorating to read the reviews and to start getting fan email from people. I mean… FAN email! That is just awesome. As far as surprising feedback… I had varied feedback, but none of it actually was what I’d call surprising. I mean, some people loved it, others liked it, and a few people hated it. The pop cultural references were a source of delight to some and irritation to others. I found it surprising that some readers thought those references were the result of a lot of deliberation as opposed to the fact that’s just how I write. Not sure WHY that surprised me, but it did.
TE: Did you have a clear beginning, middle, and end to this entire series plotted out in advance of writing the first book, or are you actively creating and recreating the story as you write and refine each new draft of each new entry?
DF: Yes, I have an outline for the three book series, but we’re talking about eight pages of broad strokes. I suck at outlining. I try (especially because my editor insists on outlines), but a lot of things in my work come from maybe one line written off the cuff, that takes me down a totally different plot path than I’d even considered, and then that leads to something else, and eventually to what helps me tie everything together. And having the broad strokes still leaves a lot of open space to be filled. Also, some parts of the story end up needing more space than I originally anticipated so I have to adjust accordingly. Some of the action originally intended for Plague Nation is instead now in Plague World because of that reason. I had to choose between making PN the War and Peace of zombie novels as far as length, or going for more of an Empire Strikes Back style ending. I chose the latter. I know some readers like to have each novel in a series be a total stand alone as far as tying up all dangling story threads, but that just wasn’t feasible. So…I pissed some readers off and have been accused of doing it deliberately to insure they buy my next book. I’m neither that disrespectful of my readers nor that calculating. And hey, there are other series out there that end on cliffhangers; I think there’s room for both types of series in the world. I damn well better make sure Plague World has a neatly wrapped up ending, though!
TE: With Plague Nation being the second novel in a planned trilogy did you actively fear the sophomore slump or consciously think about how the middle entry in a 3-part series can come up short on action and/or plot development? What, if anything, did you do to combat this?
DF: I didn’t even think about the sophomore slump until I started working on Plague Nation. I’d heard about it. My sister called her second book “The Book that Tried to Kill me™.” While I sympathized with her writing pains, I have to say I really couldn’t empathize with what she was going through because I’d written a few books without too much angst and thought I’d somehow escaped Sophomore Slump. I had not. Plague Nation had me so stressed out for much of 2012, worrying about letting my editor down, my publisher down, my readers down, my cats down… I think at one point I’d convinced myself the Fate of the Free World was at stake. I had many stops and starts, writing sessions that lasted hours but garnered very little by way of actual word count, had about three months with an average of three hours sleep per night, and generally drove friends and family crazy. Granted, I had other life stressors going on as well (a very uncertain job future, sick animals, financial woes, blah blah blah), but looking back I have to wonder at just how flipped out I was worrying about this book.
I finally reached the point where I had two weeks to finish it or screw up Titan’s deadline, had approximately 25K left to write, and needed to address the revisions from my editor as well. So…I spent two hours the first day of those two weeks cleaning and reorganizing the kitchen cupboards, cleared out the physical clutter (no more plastic containers that toppled out of cupboards whenever I opened the doors!) and then dove into the writing. It worked. My muse came back from Tahiti or wherever she’d been vacationing, and I had epic writing sessions for those two weeks, slept really well every night, and got the book finished.
TE: Spoiler Alert! Another of the beloved Wild Cards (humans that are immune to the zombie virus and have developed super senses as a result) bites the dust in this book. Is it hard for you to kill off characters? How did you ultimately decide which one it should be?
DF: I hate killing my characters. Well, some of them. Others are pure joy to kill. As far as the wild cards lower case “w” and “c” to keep them firmly separated from George R.R. Martin’s Wild Card series, (which I’d not heard of until my editor pointed this out), I hate killing any of them. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Whedonverse is that sometimes you have to sacrifice beloved characters. Sometimes they die so that others may live (Buffy, end of Season Five). Sometimes they die to create a new character arc for their friends, hence creating character growth/change and major plot developments (Tara’s death leading to Evil Willow, Season Six). And other times the deaths seem designed to piss off the fans because life just isn’t fair, right? (Wash in Serenity). In Plague Nation, I chose who died based on the emotional impact those deaths would have on other characters. I fully admit to putting especially one of my characters through an emotional Cuisinart in this series.
TE: Can you share one tiny Plague World spoiler with our readers? When will we be able to get our blood-stained hands on this series ending volume?
DF: Erm… the plague spreads globally! And the wild cards get to visit the San Diego Zoo. And Jake will probably make another appearance ’cause I love writing his scenes so very much.
The book will be out in April 2014.
TE: Will Plague World be our final taste of Ashley Parker? Do you have any plans lined up yet for your first post-Plague project that you can share with us?
DF: There have been some mutterings of possibly having more Ashley books, but so far the trilogy is all that’s been formally planned. I have another urban fantasy/horror series I’m interested in working on, as well as finally writing the sequel for my first book, Murder for Hire.
TE: What was the last great horror film that you saw?
DF: Cabin in the Woods. It works on so many levels and I really do love humor with my horror. I haven’t seen a lot of new movies in the last few years either. My favorite horror movie of all time would be the original The Haunting, the black and white version. One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.
TE: Who would you love to see sign on to play Ashley Parker in a movie adaptation of the Plague series?
DF: I’ve been asked this a few times and I can’t really think of anyone off the top of my head. Someone who can handle drama and humor… Mila Kunis? Emma Stone? I’d actually love to get suggestions for that!
TE: What’s the last great book you read?
DF: Depends on what you’re using as your definition of “great.” As far as pure reading enjoyment, the last book I read that I really enjoyed was the Incryptid series by Seanan McGuire. They’re funny, fast-paced and well written. I am currently re-reading With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz, the first of a historical trilogy set in Poland in the 1600s. It’s called the Polish Gone with the Wind and is an awesome sweeping epic with lots of swordplay, battles, romance, and other fun stuff. They made a film adaptation in 1999 that my ex and I saw, oh, about a dozen times when it had a limited run during a film festival. I just watched the movie again and felt like re-reading the book. I’d consider it great.
Dana Fredsti’s novels Plague Town and Plague Nation are both published by Titan and are available wherever fine books are sold. You can learn more about Ms. Fredsti by visiting her official website which can be found at http://www.danafredsti.com.