Please Welcome to Cutis Anserina Dana Fredsti
How did Ashley Drake of Ashley Drake Zombie Hunter A Plague on all Houses, evolve to become Ashley Parker of Plague Town?
Ooh, you’re jumping right in with the complicated questions, aren’t ya? Okay, settle in and here we go. I was originally asked by Lori Perkins if I wanted to write a trilogy of books. She pitched it as “Buffy, but with zombies.” Being a Buffy fan and a zombieholic, I jumped on the chance. The challenge for me was writing something that (I hoped) would appeal to paranormal romance/urban fantasy readers as well as the die-hard zombiephiles. I like to read both genres so I figured there had to be others that swung both ways, so to speak. As I worked on the first book, Lori shopped it around to other publishers (it was coming out as an ebook with Ravenous Romance to start) and eventually sold it to Titan Books. I worked closely with Steve Saffel (whom I refer to as my Dark Editorial Overlord, DEO for short), the Titan editor who bought the book, and we made some changes (picture my original manuscript dripping with bloody red edits) to further broaden the potential readership and just make it a better book overall. We also changed Ashley’s last name from “Drake” to “Parker” because “Ashley Drake” was a little too close to “Anita Blake”, Laurell K. Hamilton’s heroine. I think it’ll still appeal to fans of the original version, but I’m really happy with the new and improved Plague Town.
What distinguishes Ashley Parker from the plethora of bad-ass female characters flooding the Horror and Urban Fantasy shelves of late?
She doesn’t have a tramp stamp crawling out of her butt crack. Seriously, those things remind me of Chthulhu emerging from his dark lair beyond the stars… Okay, REALLY seriously, I like to think what makes Ashley unique is her narrative voice and sense of humor. She lacks a major chip on her shoulder too, which a lot of the bad-ass female heroines seem to have. And she’s not a vampire, witch, shapeshifter, fae or psychic. She’s just an average twenty-something Liberal Arts Major without a clue what she wants to do with her life until the Zombacolypse makes the choice for her.
When crafting Murder for Hire you seem to have drawn on your own background, is this a fair assumption?
Yup, that would be a fair assumption. The inspiration for the novel was a sincere desire to kill a woman we worked with -- ‘we’ being me and Maureen, my old writing partner and co-founder of our San Diego based theatrical troupe, Murder for Hire – on the entertainment for the first La Jolla Raymond Chandler Festival. To quote MFH’s press release:
Along with her best friend Maureen, Dana was co-producer/writer/director for a mystery-oriented theatrical troupe based in San Diego. While no actual murders occurred during their performances, there were times when the actors and clients made the idea very tempting.
The client in question not only ended up being murdered in the pages of MFH, but one of the confrontations between Connie, MFH’s heroine, and Lucille (fictionalized version of said client) actually happened in real life. I took a couple of liberties while writing the scene for the novel, but the gist of the argument and the reason for it really happened. And boy, was “killing” this woman satisfying… Ahem.
Murder for Hire shows a clear affection for old 40’s noir. Have you considered combing that into a zombie opus?
Funny you should ask that… J My very first attempt at writing something with zombies was a story called A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat, about a zombie detective who specializes in finding missing people (live ones) and is written in a very hard-boiled noir style. I came up with the idea while driving from L.A. to San Diego in the middle of rush hour traffic on the tail end of a migraine. Between the headache and the fumes, my brain got very creative. The story was published in Danger City, an urban noir anthology published by Contemporary Press, and remains one of my favorite pieces I’ve written to date. (M.R.'s note If Raymond Chandler and Frank Miller conceived a child in a cheap motel room while a Romero marathon played in the background the child would be 'A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat')
What drew you to the zombie sub-genre? Are there other classic monsters you hope to tackle in the future?
I have loved zombies (in a non-carnal way, thank you!) since I first saw the original Night of the Living Dead on TV back when I was in Junior High. I watched it with my friend and next door neighbor late at night, no adults home, all the lights turned off. Scared the crap out of me and left an indelible impression, especially the main cemetery zombie staggering after Barbara. Fleshing-eating ghouls were my new favorite monster. To seal the deal, my very first date movie was the original Dawn of the Dead, which remains my all time favorite zombie movie of all times. I’ve always spent an inordinate amount of time scoping out surrounding buildings wherever I happen to be to see what would and would not be a good place to hole up should the zombie plague hit at that moment. Everything is a possible weapon. I used to feel kind of lonely until I discovered www.homepageofthedead.com and discovered it wasn’t just me. Now, of course, zombies have hit it big and it’s no longer this fairly exclusive, twisted little club. Everyone has their own plan to survive the Zombacolypse.
What is the most influential literary character to you personally? Why?
Oh dear. This is the sort of question that has an ever-shifting answer. It depends on the day, my mood, what sort of inspiration I happen to need at the moment. And of course my mind goes blank when confronted with the question. J Lessee… I’ll give you Scarlett O’Hara for one, the heroine of Gone with the Wind (I shouldn’t have to add that, but I’ve come to realize there are people who have not read or heard of this book). She’s not a particularly nice person throughout most of the book, but she does what she has to do to survive and is one of the most complex and consistent characters ever created. To go to a totally different place, I love F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack character because he’s just so damn fun to follow in his adventures and he’s one of the best endearing tough-guy heroes ever. I feel like I’m missing someone really obvious here… but that is how my brain works. Stoopid brain…
If you could take the reins of writing for any existing franchise (this can be any format), which would you choose and why?
I wouldn’t want to necessarily take the reins of an existing franchise, but I would have loved the chance to write for Joss Whedon’s show Firefly. Love the characters, love the stories, love the premise, I'm still angry at Fox for cancelling it after one season. Boo, Fox!
What contemporary horror author are you keeping up with? (Feel free to include more than one) Why?
Jonathan Maberry, Joe McKinney, Ray Garton, F. Paul Wilson, Mira Grant, Richard Kadrey, Jim Butcher, to name a few… They all create compelling characters, horrific and/or suspenseful stories, and they’re fun to read (I love humor with my horror). One of my favorite horror authors is T. Chris Martindale, who unfortunately hasn’t written anything recently. His novel WHERE THE CHILL WAITS is one of the scariest books I’ve read and prompted me to write my first fan letter. I will still read Stephen King, although I really do like his older works (The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Dead Zone, The Stand) better than most of the newer stuff. And although Barbara Hambly isn’t strictly horror, she’s created some of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read (The Darwath Trilogy comes to mind) so I’ll read anything she comes out with. I’ve also read several really fun horror novels on my Kindle by new (to me) authors, like Eleven Twenty-Three by Jason Hornsby, Hissers by Ryan C. Thomas, and Dead Tropics by Sue Edge, and I’ll happily read anything else they put out there because their books are all well-written, original within their respective sub-genres, and generated a lot of ‘can’t put this book down’ type of suspense. There are more, but some veer more into Urban Fantasy than horror so I’ll stop now. Even though I know I’ve probably left out someone really obvious and am going to smack myself over the head later on. I will add that I will read/watch just about anything if it has zombies in it, be it good, bad or so delightfully bad you invite a bunch of friends over, get drunk and MST3K the hell out of it.
Anything else coming down the pipeline you would like to share?
I am really excited about the upcoming launch of Plague Town by Titan Books (I love you, Titan!) on April 3rd this year. I’m equally excited about Plague Nation and Plague World, the next two books in the series, although I will be even MORE excited when I’ve finished writing them. I’ve also done some books (spicy genre romance, including paranormal) for Ravenous Romance under the nom de plume Inara LaVey, but there are no zombies in them. No, wait, I take that back. I have a story in Hungry for Your Love, (an e-book by Ravenous Romance and a paperback release from St. Martin’s Press) an anthology of zombie themed romance short stories. Each author had their own take on the theme. My story, First Date, deals with a first date from hell … and then the zombie plague breaks out. Lots of fun stories in that anthology, including my favorite Last Times at Ridgemont High by Kilt Kilpatrick. Oh, and if you get a chance to read the elusive Mondo Zombie (edited by John Skipp, another of my favorite authors), I have a short in that called You’ll Never Be Lunch in This Town Again, about a first time film director trying to finish his low budget film when (you guessed it) the dead start to walk. What can I say, it’s a favorite theme of mine.