In the small university town of Redwood Grove, people are succumbing to a lethal strain of flu. They are dying—but not for long.
Ashley Parker and her boyfriend are attacked by these shambling, rotting creatures that crave human flesh. Their lives will never be the same again.
When she awakes Ashley discovers that she is a “wild card”—immune to the virus—and is recruited by a shadowy paramilitary organization that offers her the chance to fight back. Fatally attracted to her gorgeous instructor, and bonding with her fellow wild cards, Ashley begins to discover skills she never knew she had.
As the town falls to ever-growing numbers of the infected, Ashley and her team fight to contain the outbreak—but will they be enough?
That’s the premise of Titan Books’ Plague Town by writer Dana Fredsti. FOG! chatted with Dana about the book, her influences and more after the jump!
Plague Town is the first book in the Ashley Parker series, which is described as “Buffy Meets the Walking Dead“. It’s also a revised and updated version of your book, Ashley Drake: Zombie Hunter. How did Ashley Drake become Ashley Parker and what changes did you make and why?
I was originally asked by Lori Perkins if I wanted to write a trilogy of books for Ravenous Romance. She pitched it as “Buffy, but with zombies. But different.” As I worked on the first book, Lori shopped it around to other publishers (it was slated as an eBook with Ravenous Romance to start) and eventually sold it to Titan Books.
The editor at Titan (the wonderful Steve Saffel) and I discussed what changes we felt would make the book more accessible to a larger and more diverse readership. We aged Ashley ten years to start (she was 19 in the original version); toned down the overt romance novel tropes (while still keeping the relationship); added more zombie gore (yay!); put in third person interludes; and tightened everything to make the pace of the story move much faster.
The previous incarnation was, I believe, geared toward a more specific romance audience as well as distributed electronically. The supernatural romance audience is voracious. Did you feel that it’s something that you had to tone down in the revision?
I think Plague Town is still totally accessible to the paranormal romance crowd, but the new incarnation is much less what I have been calling “a kissing book.” Honestly, though, so many novels dealing with the zombie apocalypse (and other post apoc books) feature rape and “this is our last chance to boink!” scenes, but there’s something about relationships and romance that make readers get all “Euwww! They’re kissing!”
Grow up, kids.
You’ve previously worked as an actress, a stuntwoman, a screenwriter and write under the pen name Inara LaVey. How has your previous experience informed your writing?
Everything a person experiences shapes who and what they are. Everything I’ve done in my life has given me a huge filing cabinet of interesting tidbits to pull out for my writing. The stunt/sword work was hugely helpful when writing Plague Town‘s fight scenes.
And screenwriting has given me a sense of structure that really helps move the story forward quickly.
Again, my editor Steve totally kicked butt when it came to trimming the fat away. As far as writing under my pen name, evidently writing the spicy genre romance has honed my ability to write good sex scenes.
One of my favorite reviews of Plague Town includes the quote: “Fredsti writes sex like an expert.” I’m hoping she meant “expert writer”…
You are extremely passionate about zombies. What attracts you to them as a supernatural plot device over other monsters?
Y’know, I could give you one of the more intellectual answers that pop up, like “they’re scary because they’re us” (zombies’r’us?) or “zombies can stand in for virtually any fear or social issue” (which is true), but for me it’s just the fact I think they’re creepy, gross, and friggin’ scary.
Something about these things that look like people we know, but all the soul and humanity is gone, and all they want to do is eat us. I mean, being eaten alive is probably on the top of the “three most horrible ways to die” list. It’s why people are fascinated/grossed out by shark, crocodile and carnivorous mammal attacks. Zombies are eating machines and that’s their only reason for existing.
They don’t stop, they don’t get tired, they can’t be reasoned with, and they don’t sparkle.
You spend a bit of time volunteering at the Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center. Why do you think that so many people think that exotic animals would be good pets and what have you learned in treating with big cats?
I don’t know if it’s as much people thinking exotic animals would make good pets as much as it’s them wanting to live out this fantasy of having a black leopard in a collar pacing by their side, or some other improbable childhood daydream.
They also see the cubs and kittens all cute and cuddly without taking into consideration that a cute and cuddly tiger cub is going to eventually grow into a several hundred pound adult, complete with all instincts that are hard-wired into these animals.
It took thousands of years to domesticate dogs and cats, so why people think they can domesticate a wild animal in a few months is beyond me. Even when they’re hand-raised, they still have the instincts to hunt and these instincts can be triggered inadvertently. They also have very sharp, strong claws and teeth (you should see what three jaguar cubs did to a bowling ball), and they’re strong.
A few years back there was a news story about a little girl who was killed by her pet tiger when he smacked her with a paw by way of a friendly greeting. I learned all of these things volunteering at EFBC and have nothing but respect and awe for these animals. I also learned that there is nothing cooler in the world than having a full-grown leopard sit on my foot, getting kissed by a tiger, or holding an Amur leopard cub. But you can bet I worked there a while before I got to experience any of these things. Safety first!
Who or what are the biggest influences on your work?
Um… Buffy and the Walking Dead?
Okay, seriously, yes, Buffy did influence Plague Town by way of the humor and having a strong female character with an assortment of interesting and flawed supporting characters. And every single zombie book I’ve read or movie I’ve seen has “informed my writing” (that term always cracks me up and makes me want to use a really hoity-toity voice) to some degree, especially George Romero’s older films.
I’ve pretty much been steeped in geek/pop culture all my life, especially the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres so the pop culture references in this book and my other work are just a natural part of my narrative voice. I can’t help myself!
What are you working on and do you have a set plan on the Ashley Parker series in terms of number of books and an overall arc?
I am currently working on Plague Nation, the second Ashley Parker book, with a third (Plague World) planned as well. I have an overall arc in mind, but have left plenty of room for improvisation.
Plague Nation is now pretty much mapped out and when it’s finished, it’ll be easier for me to finish outlining Plague World. Outlining does not come naturally to me. I hates it, I does…
What are you currently geeking out over?
Aside from getting to do interviews for Plague Town?
Right now currently reading the new Simon R. Green Nightside novel, watching The Dead (for the umpteenth time ’cause I love it so and it also has a great film score that’s easy to write to), and also really enjoying the score to Stakeland. I love film scores and generally find one or two that end up being the soundtrack for whatever I’m writing at the time.
Plague Town‘s score, ironically enough, was the score from Twilight. No sparkling critters in my book, I swear!
As far as comic, the only one I follow right now is Walking Dead, which I just love. If you ask me this question tomorrow, by the way, I will probably be geeking out over a new book. I read very quickly.