Dan Fredsti is the author of the Ashley Parker series. We’re talking zombies and then lots more zombies. Fredsti is a LARPer, a swordfighter and a geek. Her most recent book Plague Nation is the second in the series and follows the drama of a zombie plague outbreak. Geek Native has an exclusive extract to tempt you.
In this post we chew the fat with Fredsti and wrestle with all things zombie.
Why do people seem so fascinated by zombies today?
Heck if I know. Yes, yes, there are all of these high-falutin’ intellectual essays on the popularity of zombies in our culture these days and they may have some validity, but I come from the shallow end of the pool in this case.
I personally think a big hunk of the reason they’re so popular is that a few books and movies hit at just the right time and made enough money to make it worth the while of publishers and producers to make even more of them, thereby exposing more people to the flesh-eating walking dead. A lot of people had never really heard of zombies beyond the traditional voodoo ones depicted in Serpent and the Rainbow before World War Z, the remake of Dawn of the Dead and then Shaun of the Dead came out.
Before that, there were a few hard cases like myself who worshipped at the shrine of George Romero, and sought out every book/movie made without ever really getting enough to satisfy us. If you liked vampires, you were in luck. Zombies? Not so much. Nowadays, we’re all able to indulge in our favourite monster and a lot more people have been introduced and won over by sheer dint of available material.
Oh yeah. They also make a great stand in metaphor for people’s fear of war/disease/assimilation/you name it.
When writing about zombies is there a danger of being either too cliche or straying too far from the customs that make zombies great?
There’s always a danger of being too cliché or offending hard-core purists by taking things in a new direction (just bring up fast zombies versus slow zombies in the middle of a bunch of horror geeks and watch the games begin), but the characters are compelling, the story believable, and the writing generally competent, the reader/viewing audience is going to be happy.
I admit I got sick to death of the classic disenfranchised teenage boy being the only survivor armed with a big ass gun, and meeting the last living female, getting to boff her, and then her dying, but that’s okay ’cause they still have their big ass gun” stories. At any rate, as long as the internal logic of the zombie rules used by a writer/filmmaker is consistent and they make an effort to have interesting characters rather than zombie fodder and walking clichés, I’m happy.
How do you keep zombies scary?
Well, unless they’re “cute-ified” and/or made sympathetic, zombies are inherently scary. They can’t be reasoned with, there is no one home inside of those rotting formerly human shells, and they are going to eat you, ripping flesh from your still living body. In my opinion, you really have to work hard to make them UNscary. Even the semi-sentient ones in my favourite zombie fairytale Warm Bodies were kind of creepy at the beginning when they were hunting.
I get that some writers want to show the pathos side of zombification (mother faced with her child, still holding a favourite doll; The Governor and his zombified daughter Penny, who he hopes can be cured), but at their core, as originally conceived by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead, flesh-eating ghouls are scary.
What challenges did you think you would face as you prepared to write Plague Nation? What challenges did you end up having to cope with as the book progressed?
Oh, heck, I thought it would be a breeze. I mean, you have the characters all lined up, a vague idea of where you want to take them, a better idea of the overall story arc … it should be easy, right?
I developed the most classic case of authorial performance anxiety possible. And let me tell you, there is no equivalent of Viagra for this condition. The first book did pretty well, with a lot of positive reviews and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to write a sequel that lived up to it. I thought I was going to let down my publisher, my editor, my cats, you name it. I went from writing an easy thousand words a writing session to a hard-earned paragraph at a time. Nothing made sense, the characters seemed to be fighting me rather than the zombies, the outline I’d written made me feel confined rather than organized, and it didn’t help my day job was going through a major “restructuring” at the same time.
What finally happened was I had a hard deadline that had to be met or the book would not go to print as planned, which would be a really bad thing. I hunkered down and finished the book in two weeks. We’re talking 25K left to finish, plus revisions. Basically I got over it out of necessity and force of will.
What’s your favourite zombie TV show, movie or anime?
I hate being asked my favourite of anything as the answer shifts depending on mood, time of day, alignment of the stars and moon (okay, not so much that). Right at this specific moment in time, were it to be frozen in amber, I would respond with Walking Dead, Dead Set, original Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and The Dead., with a nod to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters ’cause… yknow… zombie versus shark!
Zombie psychology quiz! Geek Native has a healthy collection of zombie posts and I’ve prepared this bundle that links to nine which is your favourite, which is the most freaky and should those two be the same?
Oh dang. They are all amazingly awesome and freaky and made me giggle like an undead schoolgirl… so I guess I’ll just go with the two that caught my eye first: Undead Ted and Berk Ozturk’s art. Undead Ted is just SO very disturbing and freaky, and creative and.. it’s just kind of perfect. And that particular piece of art with the little boy staring in the mirror with that reflection… how can something so wrong be so right? I don’t know if my favourite should be the one I also find the most freaky… but I guess they are.
Except for the shoes, which I found freaky and disturbing because I can’t imagine subjecting my feet to heels that high.
There’s action, romance and horror in the Ashley Parker series. Is there a genre you think zombies couldn’t enhance? How do you keep the balance right in your books?
I don’t really think about the balance when I’m writing. It’s more a matter of what element(s) fit logically and organically at certain points in the book.
For instance, I’m not going to decide there needs to be a big old romantic interlude in the middle of a fierce battle. That kind of contrived “our fingers brushed and the electricity nearly made me drop my katana as heat spread to my loins even as zombies closed in from every side” drives me batshit. As far as a genre zombies couldn’t enhance… nah. That’s just crazy talk. EVERYthing is better with zombies!
What clues can you give us for what happens next to Ashley Parker?
The stakes are raised even higher in Plague Nation. She loses friends, gains new allies, and gets to travel outside of Redwood Grove. Her sense of humour and snark remain intact. Her confidence in her own abilities, including a newly found acceptance of herself as a potential leader grows. And I find it interesting that my spellcheck is correcting my American spelling of “humor” to the British “humour.”
Geek Native is a blog for geeky gamers with an interest in books, movies, gadgets and all that great stuff. Are you much of a geek? Any geeky hobbies or habits?
Oh jeez louise… am I much of a geek? I joined the Star Trek club in Junior High School. I went to ComicCon back when it was a tiny convention in the Conquistador Hotel. My swordfighting group The Duellists used to teach workshops and do half-time entertainment at the Costume Contest. I LARP. My boyfriend LARPS. My ex-husband did too, and we all still would given the time and opportunity. I read voraciously, usually while walking since I have to maximize my reading time between my day job and writing commitments. I do theatrical combat. I don’t know if that’s geeky, but there you have it.
I would be way more into first person shooter games if I had more time. As far as gadgets, that’s where I lose geek cred ’cause I get irritated and frustrated with instruction booklets and anything that requires more than one remote control.
If Ashley Parker was trapped in a Comicon style conference, thousands of geeks, cosplayers, gadget pride and envy battling each other in the hallways and intense debates about the plots to popular movies and TV shows – would she cope? Or would she rather battle more zombies?
She would DEFINITELY rather battle more zombies. As is, Tony and Kai and their pop cultural competitions drive her insane at times. Surrounded by that many people with the same mindset and then some? I think she’d probably pull out that katana and start hacking and slashing, even if it was just to clear some fightin’ space in the Dealer’s Room. Hell, just to get THROUGH the Dealer’s Room. Have you tried making your way from one end of it to the other in recent years? It’s a jungle in there.
Plague Nation blog tour
This interview with Dana Fredsti is part of the Plague Nation blog tour, celebrating the release of Plague Nation. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet:
“I would like a copy of Plague Nation @TitanBooks @zhadi1 #plaguenation”.
Find out more about the book and the tour at: www.titanbooks.com/plaguenation.