Dana Fredsti isn’t just the talented author behind the popular Ashley Parker zombie book series. Dana is an animal rescuer, B-movie actress, and wine aficionado. The best part? She’s also incredibly funny and filled with stories of wonderful experiences. FangirlNation.com caught up with Dana to ask her about her new book Plague World and ask about some of her adventures.
FGN: What got you started writing zombie novels? How do you form believable characters and such a detailed description of how the zombie pandemic begins?
Dana Fredsti: I’ve been a fan of zombies for years, long before Walking Dead, World War Z or the remake of Dawn of the Dead came along. My first date movie was the original Dawn of the Dead, so perhaps the association of having popcorn, candy and soda bought for me by a boy created some sort of Pavlovian response. Zombies equal yummy treats! I dunno. Whatever the reason, something about the flesh-eating ghouls in DoTD and its predecessor Night of the Living Dead captured my imagination and creeped me the hell out in the best possible way. I started looking for other movies with the same type of monsters and found my way into foreign zombie movies like Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, Gates of Hell, From Beyond, and Bruno Mattei’s Night of the Zombies (Hell of the Living Dead). I also discovered Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue.
Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of books or stories that featured any zombies other than the traditional Haitian ones (not that there’s anything wrong with them, mind you! I just like the flesh-eating ghouls better). So when the first Book of the Dead anthology (Skipp and Specter) came out back in… oh heck, the late ‘80s?… I was inspired to write my very first zombie story ‘A Man’s Gotta Eat What A Man’s Gotta Eat,’ followed by ‘You’ll Never Be Lunch in This Town Again.’ Then I got side-tracked into mysteries and then spicy genre romance until Lori Perkins asked me if I was interested in writing a zombie series for Ravenous Romance. So, long winded answer to part one of the above question.
As far as how I form believable characters, I pay a lot of attention to people (I’m an unrepentant eavesdropper in public places), and do base some characters on people I’ve met. I try to think of how certain people would react in certain circumstances or under specific stressful situations and go from there. Not everyone would agree that it was realistic for Ashley and Lil to go back for Lil’s cats in Plague Town, but I’ll stand by that decision because that is exactly what I would do and I have many friends who feel the same way. RE: detailed descriptions of the outbreak, I read many books (some with pictures!) about diseases and how they spread. And yes, I also watched Outbreak.
FGN: The Plague series seems intensely personal. What about Ashley Parker’s story resonates so much with you? Are parts of her personality taken from your own?
Dana Fredsti: Certain things, like insisting on rescuing the cats, her strong empathy, and her ability to find humor in the midst of horror, are definitely taken from me. That and the fact I’ve done theatrical combat since I was 18 and am damn good at sword-fighting, both choreographed and non-choreographed.
That being said, the first two books had less personal stake in them for me, even though I cared about my characters and it hurt to kill off certain ones. Plague World, though… gahhh… it was a killer to write. Sure, it was hard to wrap up the story arc started in the trilogy because of a real fear of letting down readers who loved the first two books. It would have been difficult even without last year being possibly the worst year I’ve experienced in terms of professional and personal upheaval. Add said upheaval on top of the fear of failure and you have a lot of chaos and stress. Without going into detail, I no longer judge people who contemplate or commit suicide because I now have personally experienced the ratio of pain going far past my ability to deal with it. You know, the kind of pain that literally (and I’m using that word in its true meaning, not the stupid and illogical “literally” now means “figuratively” definition, grrrr…) brings you to your knees when you least expect it. So… I passed that pain onto Ashley and took her into a very dark place, darker than originally intended. Luckily for both of us, we also share very strong wills so we both came out the other side. I also credit my cats and dog with keeping me going. It wouldn’t be very nice of me to dump them on anyone else, after all!
FGN: You have expressed a deep love for Max Brooks, even referencing his Zombie Survival Guide in your works. What is it about his zombie stories that calls to you?
Dana Fredsti: Heh. Okay, my love for Max Brooks would extend to his writing, especially World War Z, which is just brilliant. I’m sure he’s a very nice guy, but the one time I was on a panel with him- ComicCon 2012, eight authors in one of the large ballrooms with a HUGE audience and… Max Brooks- it was a bit like being a tiny little gust of wind trying to keep up with a hurricane. I still have PTSD when I think about that experience.
I think what really calls to me in his books is the attention to detail he uses. I love the last section in the Survival Guide that recounts zombie outbreaks throughout history, and WWZ pretty much is the gold standard for diverse, realistic characters in the middle of horrific situations. I do not share the same love for the movie adaptation.
FGN: You also write romance under the pen name Inara LeVey. Why did you choose to use a different name for these works? Do you feel when you write as Inara it feels like a different personality?
Dana Fredsti: Inara writes “spicy genre romance,” which is a fancy and Mommy-friendly way of saying “erotica with a plot.” The other published work I had to date was a cozy murder mystery and I didn’t know if there would be any kind of ramification if I wrote the erotica under my own name so, I chose a pen name. It also helps my mom distinguish between books of mine she’ll enjoy and ones that might need to have a few pages marked as “you probably don’t wanna read this scene.” And while I don’t necessarily feel like I have a different personality when I’m write as Inara, the one-step-removed from my real name definitely is easier to get over any residual self-consciousness about writing sex scenes.
FGN: When you write, do you have any particular rituals to prepare you?
Dana Fredsti: On weekends, I always start the day with a walk on the beach with my dog and my fiancé. The walk clears my head, relaxes me, and really helps my brain clear out all the miscellaneous crap still hanging on from the work week. I also clean house before I start writing – I’m one of those people who can’t deal dirty dishes or too much mess when I’m trying to write. This can be challenging with a dog and a small horde of cats, but I’ve pretty much got it down to a science now. Sometimes I use music to write to -I tend to find one or two film scores that become the background music for my books- and other times I’ll put something on the TV that acts as inspirational white noise. In other words I can ignore it for the most part, but if I don’t it’s either genre related (zombie movies) or something that kicks my creativity up a notch (JAWS is a favorite for this). Things I’ve seen a gajillion times. Scrolling through cat videos, while relaxing, is a black hole of time suck! I try and stay of Facebook for the same reason.
Dana Fredsti: I’ve outlined another book in the series and am waiting to hear back from the publisher. There is definitely talk about more in the series and I’m cautiously optimistic that Ashley will be back. I’d love to do more books in the series, but standalones so I don’t have to worry about wrapping up a trilogy story arc again. I’ve got some other projects in the outlining/write the first 50 pages stages too, and come to think of it, one of them is a dang trilogy. Gahh!!
FGN: Your site also refers to you as a B (or C) movie actress. What have you been in and what got you started in acting?
Dana Fredsti: You know how in a lot of Lovecraft’s works his hero is always fainting or going mad because there are things too hideous and otherworldly for the human mind to accept? I look at the low budget films I’ve done in much the same way. Really bad. So bad they should be MST3K’d. Not as bad as The Room, mind you, but that’s in a class all its own that raises bad into brilliance. Princess Warrior is one of these movies. Go to my website and you can read all about it… in fact, here’s the link to the essay I wrote that was published in an issue of Morbid Curiosity. I was also in Time Barbarian as a Gatalite Warrior, Legion of Iron as a Concubine, assorted trailers and projects floating around the web (no porn!), and a bottom of the barrel budget movie called Bloodbath, which I wrote as a present for my friend Dan Speaker’s directorial debut. I have many stories about that movie, but will suffice to say that about a quarter or so of the script didn’t get filmed. We had six days and… well… budget of lowness. I wasn’t planning on playing a part either, but… there ya go! It was good, silly fun and if you’ve ever seen the original Dark Shadows soap opera, you’ll know the lowness of budget of which I speak.
Oh yeah, I was also in Army of Darkness as a sword-fighting Deadite, sword captain and armourer’s assistant. A film with a budget!!! Wheeee!!!!
As far as getting started in it, I started auditioning for school plays in fifth grade, continued through Junior High and High School, and then took a brief stab at it in L.A. I enjoyed the stunts/theatrical combat part more than the acting, decided I didn’t want to get a boob job and just didn’t care enough to deal with the constant blows to self-esteem that come with the territory of pursuing an acting career. Plus I like writing ‘cause I can work in my pajamas and my cats don’t care if I’m not a size two with abnormally large, perky hooters.
FGN: In addition to all this, you also volunteer with Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center and a kitten rescue. What do you love about big cats? Your house cats? How can we help?
Dana Fredsti: What DON’T I love about big cats? Heck, even cleaning out their enclosures was a thrill. I mean, I hate cleaning litter boxes, but this was raking up leopard, tiger and jaguar poop. And I gotta say it doesn’t smell nearly as bad as normal domestic feline poop. Getting to interact with these gorgeous animals is amazing. Having a tiger or jaguar recognize you and show affection? I don’t have words to describe it. EFBC is the top breeding facility in the United States and the only one open to the public, and they have the largest genetically diverse population of the extremely rare Amur leopard in the world. The place exists to keep these animals from going extinct and everything that’s done there is done for the good of the cats. If you’re in the area (it’s in Rosamond, out in the Antelope Valley in Southern California) go visit, check it out, go to their website and see the various ways you can help support the compound and the cause. Would you like me to get off my soap box now? No? Great!
As far as the little cats… I love them just as much. I work with All Creatures Healing Network and Purrchance Rescue up here in the Bay Area, but before I moved up here, we had our own unofficial rescue org going on at our house. My ex and I took in about four or five litters of kittens that a feral momma cat dropped in our shed, under our house, in our side yard… sigh. Found homes for most of them, but kept one from every litter. The day we finally caught her and got her spayed was a champagne opening occasion. My fiancé and I have fostered many litters up here, most of them coming from Kings County out in the Central Valley. Evidently a lot of people out there don’t believe in getting their pets fixed and the kill rate at the shelters is appalling. Our dog, Pogeen (which means ‘little kiss’ in Gaelic) is also a rescue from Kings County. You can help by educating people on the importance of spay/neutering, think about fostering (many lives have been saved because of temporary foster homes that enabled rescuers to pull the animals from the shelter before they were euthanized), or just donate to a rescue group of your choice. My friends who started Purrchance have spent thousands of dollars on food and vet bills for their fosters and we had to do a fundraiser when two of their own felines needed life-saving dental surgery.
And… handing over the soap box!
FGN: You are a woman after my own heart and into wine to boot. As a fellow wine lover, what triggered your passion for wine? Are you planning to put together a book on it?
Dana Fredsti: My love of wine started with the inevitable Beringer White Zinfandel (the starter wine for youngsters with undeveloped taste buds), moved onto the light but still sweet German whites, then… Fat Cat Black Mountain Cabernet from Trader Joe’s changed my life. It’s been a non-stop exploration and evolution ever since. Living in the Bay Area is kind of a scary good thing ‘cause I have access to wine regions no matter which direction I drive: Anderson Valley, Hopland, Dry Creek, Russian River, Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, Lodi, Amador County, Santa Cruz Mountains… all within three-four hours at most and some a quick half hour away. Dangerous but tasty!
FGN: Where can our readers follow you and your recent exploits?
Dana Fredsti: Facebook is probably the best place to find me. I’m extremely user-friendly and love to hear from my readers! I do have a website, but it’s in the process of being updated (okay, I’m in the process of learning how to update it by myself and there’s a bit of a learning curve going on, as well as time issues). There is only one Dana Fredsti on FB so I’m easy to find, but the link is https://www.facebook.com/dana.fredsti.inara.lavey?fref=photo. My website does have a lot of fun stuff on it so it’s worth a look. And I promise I will update it! www.danafredsti.com
Plague World is available now.