Exclusive Interview: ‘Plague Town’ Author Dana Fredsti

Recently, I reviewed the horror novel Plague Town from author Dana Fredsti and ended up enjoying myself through an old fashioned zombie action story.  It’s also the first book in a trilogy starring Ashley Parker, who goes from an over-age college student to zombie slaying bad ass when the zombie apocalypse hits her small town. Titan Books gave me the opportunity to interview Dana Fredsti to get a look behind the book, and to try to see what the modern publishing world is like.

The Daily Rotation: Horror fiction is a gamble, fans tend to stick to their best known authors, and there isn’t a large part of the reading population that is dedicated to horror.  What made you decide to write in the horror genre?

Dana Fredsti: I have never written in particular genre bashed on the risk of whether or not my book/story would find an audience, but I’ve actually never thought of horror fiction as being a gamble from a writer’s point of view.  That might be because I’m such a huge fan of it or maybe because I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s selling in the publishing world.  That being said, zombies are undeniably popular these days.  So when Lori Perkins of Ravenous Romance asked if I wanted to develop a series that was “Buffy.  But with zombies.  And different.” …well, my “yes” was pretty much immediate.  Also Plague Town isn’t strictly horror.  It also fits within the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genres (it originally had more romance/sex in it when it was first envisioned) and those are really popular.

The Daily Rotation:  Ashley Parker, to me, came off as a Sookie Stackhouse-style character.  Fiercely independent when she wants to be, but when she starts learning things about herself that she never knew, it kind of throws off her game.  Was she always designed like that, or was that a product of the plot of this particular book?

Dana Fredsti: Huh.  I actually feel that Ashley rises to the occasion pretty well when confronted with change, both in her environment and in herself so I don’t really have an answer for you on this one.  Ashley’s character, as written, was always intended to be independent but kind of lost at the beginning as far as not really knowing what she wants to be “when she grows up”.  From my perspective, becoming a wild card gives her a sense of focus and she slowly starts coming into her own.  She goes from being divorced woman, dumped by her professor husband for a student ten years younger than her, to a leader, albeit reluctant at first.  That was the natural character arc that developed as I wrote Plague Town.

The Daily Rotation: What inspired you to make the Ashley Parker character into a series?  Did you always have multiple ideas for the same character?  Or were you able to attach other ideas to the character later on?

Dana Fredsti: When  Lori pitched me the idea (see above for “Buffy, but with zombies…and different”), she envisioned a trilogy from the beginning.  So I developed a story arc that could take place over three books with Ashley as the protagonist.  Since I’m pretty much a pantser as opposed to an outliner when it comes to writing, I left a lot of room for developing other ideas within the basic story arc.  Outlining gives me a brain ache…

The Daily Rotation: Obviously, Plague Town is a big love letter to the zombie genre, with multiple references to George A. Romero‘s films, and the new culture of fast zombies.  Is this a product of your love for old zombie movies or more frustration with newer ones?

Dana Fredsti: Little from column A, little from column B… I have slowly come to accept there is a place for fast zombies and some of these other new-fangled additions to Romero’s original slow, shambling flesh-eating ghoul mythos, so I guess I’d say Plague Town is a big old love letter to the zombie genre, both old and new.  Except for ones that climb walls like Spider-Man.  That’s just silly!

The Daily Rotation: For those of us from the Bay Area, it’s obvious that the setting of Redwood Grove and the Big Red school is supposed to mimic Stanford (which alums and students call the mascot ‘Big Red’) and the town of Redwood Grove reminded me a lot of Palo Alto.  The setting is a great fit for the way the story plays out.  Was there a particular reason you picked Palo Alto/Stanford as the setting?  Were you a student?  Or did you find the location after you had the basic structure of your plot?

Dana Fredsti:  Er… Actually it’s not based on anything south of San Francisco or even Ukiah.  Redwood Grove is an amalgamation of a bunch of little Northern California towns I’ve visited or driven through from SF to Humboldt, and I had no idea Stanford was called Big Red.  Palo Alto is way bigger than the Redwood Grove of my imagination and the location is too urban, too many large suburbs and communities.  Think Garberville or even Guernseville with a dash of Ferndale or even Arcata, except not quite.  I had the setting in mind as I started writing.  I think it’s great, though, that other people picture their own version of Redwood Grove.  Someone else was positive it was Arcata.

The Daily Rotation: Gore is something that is as celebrated as it is reviled in your book.  What are your personal thoughts on gore in entertainment?  Do you love to see it even though it creeps you out?  Or do you feel that it’s something that comes with the territory.

Dana Fredsti: I don’t like torture porn.  Gore is effective but gratuitous cruelty is not.  I like being scared more than I like watching entrails being taffy-pulled out of a screaming person; in the zombie genre, the intestinal taffy-pull is a standard trope and doesn’t bother me.  I can eat pasta with red sauce while watching a zombie movie.  So I would say the gore comes with the territory in the zombie genre.  That being said, the way it was utilized in The Dead (my current favorite zombie movie) was really effective and added to the creep factor of the movie.  I think if used properly, gore can add to the tension of a book or movie, and make it scarier.  I can’t stand gore that involves animals, though.  Hurt a cat or a dog in a book or movie and I’m done with it.

The Daily Rotation: Horror, for a very long time, was loved and geared toward young men, who still make up a large portion of the fandom.  However, in the past 10 years especially, women have quickly made their claim in the world of horror, with tough heroines popping up in all kinds of horror entertainment and female fans clamoring for autographs and memorabilia just as quickly as their male counterparts.  What are your thoughts on the gates of horror opening up a lot to women the past few years?

Dana Fredsti:  I think it’s fantastic.  There are so many excellent female writers out there and it’s about damn time they’re getting an appreciative audience. I’d say that Ripleyw as the best thing to happen to the horror genre in the last….er….thirty years?  Has it really been that long since Alien came out?  It’s funny because I’ve heard about horror being this big old boy’s club, but I’ve found the male authors in the genre that I’ve met to be incredibly supportive and enthusiastic about their female counterparts.

The Daily Rotation: For aspiring writers, what was the publishing process like?  We all hear the horrors of working in the world of the printed page with sales constantly dropping.  What are your thoughts on e-books and changes in the reading culture?

Dana Fredsti: For Plague Town, the publishing process was a bit schizophrenic.  I mean, I had a contract for the trilogy pretty quickly for Ravenous Romance for e-books (the original plan was always to try and shop the series to a publisher for print rights) so I didn’t have to shop it around at all.  But the shopping to other publishers process was disheartening for a while because the series was somewhere in the middle of horror and paranormal romance, but not considered enough of either to get anyone to bite.  Then Lori went to Steve Saffel at Titan and we had about six months of waiting and contract negotiation before contracts were signed.  After that, I had the pleasure of working with Steve on revisions.  That was a lot of work, but totally worth it both in that the challenge upped my game as a writer and also resulted in a better book.  Plus, Steve is just a lot of fun to work with as an editor.  If you get an editor who works with you to make your vision better rather than trying to impose his/her own vision on your work…you are a lucky writer indeed.  And I consider myself a very lucky writer.  As far as e-books, I think they’re great on many levels, but I will never give up on the printed page, either as a writer or a reader.  There’s room for both.

The Daily Rotation: When I saw ‘An Ashley Parker Novel’ on the front, I assume that means the character has more to do than just this book.  In my review, I pondered a bit on what Ashley will be doing in future books.  Will it be a continuation of the zombie saga or some new monsters?  Or are you telling yet?

Dana Fredsti: We’ll have Plague Nation and Plague World for Ashley to continue to combat the ever growing zombie outbreak that started in Plague Town.  After the third one…who knows?  Right now, though, it’s just zombies…and those pesky warlords and fundie nut jobs that always seem to crop up in post apocalyptic scenarios. 🙂

The Daily Rotation: Obviously, an Ashley Parker series would mostly stay in the world you’ve built so far, are there any plans for you to do any other series’, or even stand alone novels in other genres?

Dana Fredsti: I’ve got my stand alone novels for Ravenous Romance, including Fixation (released earlier this year) which is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance with shape-shifting jaguars and Meso-American deities causing trouble.  As far as other series/stand-alones, I have some ideas I’d like to develop but haven’t discussed them with anyone yet.  First I have to finish my zombocalypse!

There you have it.  Some interesting stuff on the world of zombies and publishing.  Don’t forget that you can order Plague Town and Fixation right now, with Plague Nation and Plague World hitting sometime in the future from Titan Books.

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