Titan Books has just released Plague Nation where fans will be immersed into an action-packed adventure through hordes of undead with our zombie hunter Ashley Parker. We recently set down with author Dana Fredsti to discuss the undead chaos ahead in her latest novel.
AMANDA DYAR: Tell us a little bit about Plague Nation (the thrilling sequel to Plague Town) and what were your inspirations for it. Why did you choose to write from the zombie standpoint?
DANA FREDSTI: First off, I like the use of the word “thrilling” there. Thank you!
Plague Nation picks up where Plague Town left off. Allow me to cheat and use the copy written by the lovely folks at Titan:
The undead have been defeated in Redwood Grove, CA, but reports of similar outbreaks are coming in. What seemed to be an isolated event is turning into a pandemic. The last thing Ashley Parker wanted when she went to college was to join the military, but she is one of a select few who are immune to the virus. Gifted with enhanced speed, strength, and senses, she’s recruited by a shadowy international organization that’s existed for centuries, its sole purpose to combat the zombie threat.
Dark secrets begin to emerge, and when an unknown enemy strikes, Ashley and the other zombie hunters—known as “wild cards”—embark on a desperate mission to reach San Francisco. If they fail, the plague will sweep the nation unchecked. And the person she cares for most may die. Or worse.
Yup, that sums it up far better than I could. So, moving on to inspirations. George Romero and Joss Whedon, definitely. Without the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, I never would have developed my own fascination with the flesh-eating “zombies” that have now taken over the airwaves and bookshelves. And Joss Whedon’s ability to combine humor, rapid-fire dialogue and real emotions combined with memorable characters (how many of you are still pissed over Wash’s death, right?) … I would be lying if I said his shows weren’t a huge inspiration.
As far as characters, as in Plague Town, several in Plague Nation were also inspired by people in real life. I also had the challenge of adding a character based on someone I’d never met who won a contest to “be a character in Dana Fredsti’s Plague Nation, whoo hoo!!” I corresponded with this person and got some character traits, descriptions, etc., and then ran with it. I kind of want to run another contest and have people guess which character it is… and whoever wins gets to be a character in Plague World. And thus the madness continues…
As far as other types of inspiration, I have a series of interludes in Plague Nation that show the zombie outbreak spreading throughout the United States. I was totally inspired by places I’d been because it’s easier to write about a town/city/state when you’ve actually been there in person (although never underestimate the value of Google Maps, especially Street View). Plus it was fun revisiting old haunts with the inclusion of zombies. The main action in Plague Nation is actually set in San Francisco and while I do love my home town, I also confess to getting a real kick out of picking and choosing what neighborhoods, landmarks, etc., I was gonna destroy.
As always, my pop cultural Tourette’s informs my writing (and when you have a tagline like “Buffy Meets Walking Dead,” that’s a GOOD thing), and also emails from friends and readers sharing their thoughts, especially those with a military background. As far as writing from the zombie’s standpoint, I don’t really have as much of that in Plague Nation as there was in Plague Town, where the first few interludes were entirely from the first few zombies’ point of view. I call it ZomCam.
AMANDA: The book is very different than some of your other writings such as Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon and What Women Really Want in Bed. Why do you think that zombies have become such a pop culture phenomenon in today’s society?
DANA: Oh heck, you’re gonna want one of those deep, philosophical answers about how zombies are a metaphor for every real life boogyman (Communism, AIDS, you name it) feared by mankind, so given the unstable nature of the world/economy/mother nature, they’re a safe focus for our fear, right? I guess that could be the case (and the fact people are more likely to prepare for a mythical zombie apocalypse than, say, an earthquake kind of backs this theory). On the other hand, I think the right combination of movies (remake of Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead), books (World War Z, Patient Zero, The Rising), and shows (Walking Dead, Dead Set) came along at the right time, caught the attention and imagination of today’s society, and many producers/directors/writers know the odds are good that if they do something with zombies in it, they’re gonna make some money.
I personally like zombies because I always have been fascinated and creeped out by the thought of flesh-eating corpses and found them a lot scarier and compelling than vampires or lycanthropes. I never stopped to analyze exactly why they fascinate me so much; I was just really gratified (and kind of irritated, yes, okay) when they started to gain popularity and soon everyone and their mother were into zombies. I liked ’em BEFORE they were popular, get it? The fact that they are this popular at this time in my writing career is a bonus.
AMANDA: You have worked on various zombie/horror movie projects including Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness. Do you think this has an impact on your writing style and how do you think it helped or hindered your current work on Plague Nation?
DANA: I don’t think it made a difference one way or another beyond giving me yet another frame of pop cultural reference and a certain amount of geek cred (plus free drinks on occasion when fans of AoD find out I worked on the film). Working on AoD was fun, but at the time we had no idea it was going to be such a cult hit (or that free drinks would result from participating). The sword work and fight scenes were helpful in that even though they were not real, per se, fighting in close quarters with that many extras gave me a sense of what it would be like to be in the middle of a battle. I don’t, btw, actually consider Army of Darkness a zombie film. I’ve always associated Deadites with demonic possession (and all voiced by the Raimi brothers), not flesh-eating corpses.
AMANDA: Are there any particular horror soundtracks, television shows or movies that you enjoy watching while you work?
DANA: OH yes. It entirely depends on what I’m writing, but every individual project tends to have its own dedicated background music. I am a huge fan of film scores and find it much easier to write to orchestral music as opposed to music with lyrics. The voices of the singers interfere with the voices in my head At any rate, Murder for Hire was written almost entirely to John Williams’ score for Witches of Eastwick. Plague Town was written to the scores for Twilight (don’t judge me; the music is awesome!) and District 9; and Plague Nation was inspired by the scores for Tron; Legacy and The Dead (one of my favorite recent zombie movies). I also picked up the score for Stakeland while I wrote the last book. If I watch movies or TV, it has to be something I can have on in the background as inspirational white noise (for instance, while writing both Ashley books, every zombie movie or TV show out there was cycled on the TV. I could ignore them for the most part while looking up now and again for a quick dose of evisceration). When I’m working on publicity posts and such (like right now), I also go for visual “comfort food,” movies like the LotR trilogy (I have Fellowship of the Ring on right now, point of fact), Anchorman, Zoolander, Jaws… you get the picture.
AMANDA: Plague Nation features the kick-ass zombie hunter Ashley Parker who is immune to the zombie plague. Your book shows that women can stand their own in the Apocalypse. What were your main goals when you developed Ashley’s character and what did you want her to portray to the readers?
DANA: My initial goal was to create the zombie hunting equivalent of Buffy. My prime directive when starting the series, given to me by Lori Perkins, was “I want Buffy. With zombies. But different.” So I wanted to create a strong, sassy, sympathetic heroine with real life problems beyond those pesky zombies. I wanted to portray a strong female protagonist with a very normal background (no deep, dark secrets or mega psychic scars from a horrific past) with a sense of humor who can hold her own in any given situation (mostly). Someone readers of both genders can relate to because she’s a relatively normal person thrust into an abnormal situation.
AMANDA: If you was in Ashley’s position, what three main weapons would you equip yourself with and why? Also, what would be your first priority–would it be to find shelter, check on friends/family, etc?
DANA: Sigh. Okay, fine, yes, I WOULD go back for the cats. I was asked once what I’d have in my bug-out bag and my answer was that since there was no way I could really take my cats and dog safely and efficiently out of our house, I did not have a bug-out bag. we have a basic earthquake kit in the car and we have an earthquake kit of sorts in the garage (it needs to be updated), lots of bottled water, cat food, dog food, kitty litter, toilet paper and wine at all times, I would choose to stay here while doing my best to check on friends/family as best I could.
As far as weapons, I know how to use swords and other edged weapons, and my cousin Steffan just gifted me with two gorgeous and lethal katanas he picked up in Japan on his tour of duty so… definitely at least one sword. I also have a very sharp Cutlass (and yes, I realize edged weapons needed to honed regularly) with a heavy guard that protects the hand that would make a good secondary weapon. I’m decent shot, but my experience and accuracy is mainly with handguns of various calibers. So a nice higher caliber revolver. You’ll note I’m not going into near orgasmic descriptions of the exact make and model here. I leave that to those with a more comprehensive background in firearms who can argue the pros and cons of each one. I would also want a Haligan bar. Versatile, practical and solid!
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