Stopping by the clubhouse this week is Dana Fredsti, author of the recently released novel Plague Town in which an average college student (Ashley Parker) finds herself not only caught in the midst of a zombie outbreak, but being recruited to stop it as well. Described as a “a rapid-fire zombie adventure” this is far from Fredsti’s first foray into writing, or even horror for that matter. In fact, the author has quite the history with B-movie roles that includes being cast as a Deadite in Sam Raimi’s classic Army of Darkness!
Thanks for hanging with us here at the clubhouse, Dana. Before we begin, I have to ask… weapon of choice: sword or white-hot spoon?
Ha! How about a white-hot sword? Okay, seriously, sword. I mean, white-hot spoon? I still (obviously) get teased about that, but may I just say I may have wielded it, but at least I didn’t write it.
[Note: This question refers to an infamous ‘white hot spoon’ torture scene from The Princess Warrior in which Dana starred as the villainous Curette.]
You’ve had quite an interesting career so far, from B-movie actress to full-fledged novelist. Which came first, your interest in acting or the horror genre?
Definitely the horror genre. I was raised on Creature Features hosted by Moona Lisa on Saturday afternoons, as well as Hammer horror films (love me Christopher Lee as Dracula, I do!) and I was totally addicted to Dark Shadows even though it used to give me nightmares. Which cracks me up now because if you’ve seen any of the original episodes, they are anything but scary. I had a cousin (hi, Cousin Mark!) who used to tell me scary stories because I begged him to, and then he’d get in trouble when I had nightmares (sorry, Cousin Mark!). I just loved being scared. I still do, but it’s harder to find anything that makes me want to turn the lights on against the dark.
As an actress you’ve done your share of “warrior women” roles but there is one film that stands out from the rest: Army of Darkness. How did that opportunity come about?
I was training with Dan Speaker and Jan Bryant at the Academy of Theatrical Combat when they got the choreography job for AoD. They pulled some of their students to be Deadites and fight captains (to help train the other extras) and I was lucky enough to be one of them. I went on a pretty strict diet before filming so I’d be more believable as a rotting corpse when in the Deadite suit.
You ended up working with Speaker again on Bloodbath, which you wrote and acted in. Was that your first experience in transitioning from actress to writer?
Nope! I had a mystery oriented theatrical troupe in San Diego that my best friend Maureen Anderson and I started. We wrote the scripts, produced and directed AND acted in the shows. We also wrote a movie script that we had the chutzpah to try and film. One camera, no real lights, just a “Hey, let’s put on a show!” attitude and some enthusiastic actors.
I am amazed at the stuff Maureen and I thought we could do (and some of it we actually did successfully) because we didn’t know any better. Experiences in this troupe also led to the writing of my first published novel Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon (I wanted to kill someone we worked with, just hated this woman with all of my twenty-something-year-old self, so it was literary vengeance time). So I’ve jumped back and forth between actress and writer quite a bit.
So with skills that are as sharp behind a pen as they are a sword, what made you want to write novels?
I’ve just always loved to write and to make up stories (in fact, I took up Cousin Mark’s scary storyteller mantle and used to scare the crap out of friends at slumber parties) for my own entertainment. It kept me sane, for instance, when we moved from San Diego to Tucson for a year when I was in 7th grade and I was just desperately unhappy at leaving my home. I’ve pretty much written all my life, although I did take some breaks while pursuing the acting, and I finally developed the discipline needed to really make a go of it. I’m not able to quit the day job (and I do have a very nice day job right now) at this time, but I am optimistic there will come the time when I’m working full time in my pajamas!
Your latest book, Plague Town, is a step in the right direction. After reading it, I found it to be a hybrid of an Anne Rice novel and Resident Evil. How did you achieve this balance between romance and rotting corpses?
Anne Rice, huh? I always think of impossibly beautiful and angst-filled people/vampires tragically trapped between two worlds when I think of Anne Rice books. I guess Gabriel kind of qualifies. At any rate, I just took the relationship developing between Ashley and Gabriel and tried to let it develop organically (pretentious writer talk alert!) as I upped the ante with the zombie outbreak. It boggles my mind that there are people who think that relationships/sex/romance would just stop during a crisis. They don’t. I would think some people would be desperate to achieve something to hope for in an apocalyptic scenario, someone to care about and make it worth the hardships that they have to go through in order to just survive. Not everyone goes all “let’s go a raping, boys!”
To that end the heroine of the book, Ashley Parker, doesn’t succumb to the typical Hollywood stereotype of a female lead. In fact, she seems pretty down to earth with some really realistic dialogue. Where did the inspiration for this character come from?
I have a fairly distinctive first person narrative style that generally includes sarcasm, so my personality definitely makes itself known in my female leads. Thanks, by the way, for the kind words about the realistic dialogue! Screenplay writing helps with that, especially if you read your own writing out loud to see if things sound natural or go “clunk.”
The character’s name was originally Ashley Drake, right? What prompted the change for the new book?
It was decided by the “Powers That Be” that Ashley Drake was too similar to Anita Blake so Steve and I came up with a list of possible last names and we picked Parker. It’s a nod to White Zombie as the name of the lead character is Madeleine Parker. For you purists, yes, I know she starts out as Madeleine Short, but she marries her fiancé partway through the film and HIS last name is Parker. So there, nyah!
I’m glad you mentioned that. The book is chock full of in-genre references to other horror movies like Aliens, Big Trouble in Little China and (evidently) White Zombie. Just how many “easter eggs” can readers find throughout the book?
I haven’t counted, although one reviewer said there are at least a dozen or so in the first chapter alone. I apologize to those who find the pop culture references irritating, but I don’t even think about them as I’m writing. It’s not like I sit there and decide there must be a certain number of in-genre references per page or anything. Given my life-long Geek status and sense of humor, they just pop out. I’m always gratified when people get some of the more obscure ones and I love the fact so many people have commented positively on the Big Trouble quote.
On a larger scope, how does the book evolve or add to the lexicon of zombie pop culture?
Jeez, that’s a tough one to answer only in that I’m afraid if I say too much, it’ll be a major spoiler for people who haven’t read the book. At least as far as certain developments with my zombie virus and how it affects some people. What I’m hoping I’ve done is expand the zombocalypse beyond “if you get bit, you die and you come back as one of them” – to some degree. What I’ve hoped I’ve added to the lexicon is a fresh new female protagonist and a mix of humor and horror, in a genre largely dominated by male protagonists (and authors) with very serious personalities and stories. I guess readers will let me know what they think I’ve added – or not – to the zombie genre.
I understand that you’re something of a wine connoisseur as well. Which would be worse, stuck in a tree surrounded by zombies or trapped in a wine cellar with no wine?
Oh, this is one of those evil “rock and a hard place” questions. My best friend’s sister used to ask things like, “Would you rather have your front teeth removed and spit every time you talked for the rest of your life or kiss Jimmy McNichols?” (They really didn’t like Leif Garrett).
Even though the question is totally theoretical, I always feel like I’m gonna be stuck with the choice somehow. Sigh. I guess I’d say the wine cellar with no wine (as long as there was water) unless we’re talking temporarily stuck in the tree surrounded by zombies. As long as there’s a chance of escaping, I could still make my way to a well-stocked wine cellar.
*laughs* Touche. Being that we’re all “strange kids” here it’s customary to end things by asking: what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
Heh. I have very vivid memories of dipping pretzel sticks into the water running down the gutter and eating them… I was two or three at the time. I’m not sure why I still remember this so clearly, but there you have it. I am very adventurous when it comes to food, though!