Open Book Society owner Dawn, recently had a chat with novelist, screenwriter and actress Dana Fredsti author of the Ashley Parker novels, where we learn about her love for zombies, her character developments process and passion for books. Enjoy!
Dawn: Why did you choose to write about zombies? How difficult was it to be in the head of a zombie?
Dana Fredsti: Well, the first question requires a two part answer. The first part would simply be that I love zombies (in a non-carnal way, okay?) and they became what I thought was the creepiest monster after I saw the original Night of the Living Dead with my friend who lived next door. We had all the lights off, her parents were out for the evening, and we were pre-teens at just the right age to psyche ourselves up to be scared. Good times. Then I saw the original Dawn of the Dead when it opened in theaters on what was my first real “movie” date. The relationship didn’t work out, but the experience cemented my (non-carnal) love and fascination with zombies. I liked ‘em before they were popular!
Second part (and we’re still on the first question here), I was asked to write a series of books for Ravenous Romance by Lori Perkins based on: “I want Buffy. Except with zombies. And different.” The first book, Ashley Drake, Zombie Hunter, transmogrified into Plague Town with many revisions, including an older heroine and a different last name, when the series was acquired by Titan Books.
As far as the difficulty of being in the head of a zombie, I just thought of what I’m like when my blood sugar dips into the red zone and all I can think about is food. We’re talking total fixation on the closest available foodstuff. In this state I have come very close to stealing French fries off a stranger’s plate. To a zombie, a living human being is the equivalent to those French fries. They don’t belong to the zombie, but the zombie doesn’t care. I would make a good zombie.
Dawn: I felt like I knew each character intimately. How do you develop that many characters and do it in a way that’s not overwhelming to the reader?
Dana Fredsti: First of all, I’m glad that the character development played out for you, so yay!
As far as how I developed them, I try to give each character unique qualities and personalities without making them just walking clichés made fun of films like the Scary Movie series. If I don’t find them interesting, I figure my readers won’t either. So I have to like them (or hate them). Since I suck at outlining (my Dark Editorial Overlord might tell you I balk like a horse facing a burning barn when told to outline), my characters develop as I write. One sentence sparks other ideas, which lead down little rabbit holes where I find the strangest things for plot and character development. I don’t sit down and tell myself “So-and-so will be the wisecracking character.” So-and-so generally has something to say about it during the writing process. My favorite example of a large cast with well-developed characters is ALIENS, btw. I still am trying to figure out how James Cameron made them all unique, even the ones with minimal screen time.
Dawn: I can say this is one of the funniest books I’ve read. How do you write the humor? (I’m not sure if I’m phrasing it right.) Humor seems difficult to create.
Dana Fredsti: I come from a long line of sarcastic women, both on my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. So maybe it’s genetic? I honestly am not sure what the answer is since it’s not something I deliberately set out to do. It’s just my natural writing style. It’s a lot more difficult for me when I try to write something serious. I wrote a short story under my pen name for an anthology, first person present tense (which I never use) and it’s the most serious piece of fiction I’ve ever written (at least since I was an oh so serious teenager). I love the result, but dang me, it kicked my butt while writing it. On the flip side, when I know I’m supposed to be writing something funny, I get all self-conscious and feel like I’m trying too hard. So maybe the answer is I just don’t think about it!
Dawn: I loved Ashley’s sense of humor and spunk. Is it important to you to have a strong female lead? If so, why?
Dana Fredsti: I get so irritated by books and movies where the female characters exist A: as someone for the hero to rescue. B: be the hero’s “yes” man (or woman), C: to die because she dares to do things her own way (that’ll show you, you uppity woman!), or D: be the noble mother figure, staying behind as danger approaches to take care of a sick child. While there’s nothing wrong with handing over control to someone else on occasion, I have never enjoyed reading about lead female characters who are victims of their own inability to get off their asses and do something about said circumstances. Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite books of all time because Scarlett O’Hara, arguably not always likable or ethical, remains one of most believable and strong female characters in literature to this day. One of my favorite quotes is by Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
Hmmm… did I actually answer the question? J
Dawn: What are you currently reading?
Dana Fredsti: Anything and everything I can get my hands on. I love to read. It’s one of my main passions and I never go anywhere without a book or my recently acquired Kindle. I usually have at least two books going at the same time, one that goes with me when I’m on the Muni or walking, and one at home, either in the bathroom (what? Everyone reads in there!) or my bedside table. I read really fast (my fifth grade teacher once did an on the spot interrogation on the plot and characters of a book I’d just finished because she didn’t believe I’d finished it so quickly, and yes, I aced her test). And wow, I also ramble, don’t I? I am CURRENTLY reading On Lavender Lane by JoAnn Ross, and just finished Eye Witness Zombie, a really good anthology edited by TW Brown. A little romance here, some rotting flesh there… ah, life is good! Oh, and I’m in the middle of a werewolf book on my Kindle called Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter by Brian P. Easton, and by way of research, U.S. Zombie Combat Skills by the Department of the Army. So make that FOUR books at once.
Dawn: What future projects are you working on?
Dana Fredsti: I’m hard at work on Plague Nation, the second Ashley Parker novel, and also having a blast doing interviews like this one for Plague Town. The third book, Plague World, is waiting patiently in the wings, along with some other ideas I’ve had percolating for a while. But Ashley and company get my full attention for the time being.
Thank you to author Dana Fredsti for a great interview!