She’s already known for her romantic fiction, but author Dana Fredsti is poised to make a splash in a totally new genre: horror.  With her novel Plague Town, Fredsti introduces zombie lovers to Ashley Parker, a college student whose sleepy town is taken over by the undead.  Ashley discovers that she’s a wildcard, meaning she is immune to the virus which has caused the entire mess.  Teaming up with a ragtag group of soldiers and other wildcards, Ashley must destroy the infestation before it spreads to the surrounding areas.   

The book, which is the first in a trilogy, has been described by Fredsti and others as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets zombies, which I think is an accurate description.  Even if Buffy isn't your thing though, there’s enough action, gore, romance, humor, and nerd culture references to satisfy you. 

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Dana about Plague Town, her connection to the cult classic Army of Darkness, and her thoughts on this season of The Walking Dead. Below are some of the highlights of our conversation.

Evan Crean: Let me just say for starters, I loved Plague Town.

Dana Fredsti: Yay!

EC: I was reading on your website that Plague Town is based on a previous book that you wrote for the publisher Ravenous Romance. I was wondering, what are some of the key differences between the two aside from maybe a little less saucy material?

DF: Well, some of the saucy material is still there, but it was supposed to be geared more toward the paranormal romance crowd.  When I wrote it they said I could write it anyway I wanted to, so there really wasn’t all that much of the romantic angle.  There’s definitely a relationship, but when you compare it to most romances, it wasn’t particularly all that romantic.  The main differences now: the heroine has been aged about a decade, there’s a lot more gore in it than there was; but there were some scenes that I wrote originally that were actually edited out of the original because I thought it was just too intense for the romance crowd.  The pace is a lot faster and there’s just a lot more material.  I think it’s just a much better book.

EC: Although your lead character is female, I feel like Ashley appeals to both men and women because she’s not a typical girly girl.  She’s a bit tomboyish while still maintaining her femininity; she’s sarcastic, outspoken, strong, and determined. What were your influences as you created this character, and how much of yourself do you see in her if any? 

DF: I get asked that a lot, about a lot of the female characters that I write, and I think that there tends of be a thread of pretty strong female characters with a bend toward sarcasm, so I guess I’d have to answer a qualified yes on that.  I am a very strong person and I come from a sarcastic family.  The women on both sides of my family have a deep vein of sarcasm, so yeah, and I’d like to think that if I were in that type of situation that would be the way I would handle myself; rise to the occasion of what needed to happen. 

When I was younger, when I used to write, most of what I used to write, were just me with a different hair color, because that’s how a lot of people start writing. You identify with yourself most strongly, so you tend to put yourself in there because it’s just easier to write. Over the years I make a real effort to have qualities in my heroines that are very different from me, because I don’t want all of them to just be…does that make any sense at all?

EC: Absolutely. It makes plenty of sense.  I love the sarcasm.  She would have a moment where she would have some very sarcastic, humorous remark, but it would be, her sharing it with just the reader instead of unleashing it upon whoever may or may not deserve it.

DF: Yes, sarcasm is a weapon to be wielded with a light hand. I’ve learned that through life too.

EC: One of the other reasons the book is so much fun is that it’s filled with so many, nerd culture references from various movies, television shows, books, and even video games.  Some of my favorites included the made for Syfy movies, various zombie books, Evil Dead, and there was definitely a Twilight comment in there that had me cracking up.  It seems like plenty of them are from your own consumption, but were there any where you went to friends for help or any place you went to check them?

DF: The only thing I went to check was if I wasn’t sure of an exact quote.  It’s funny, Steve my editor would be like ‘Are you sure that’s exactly what that quote is?  Okay, well let’s go Google.’ So we spent some time Googling.  But no, every single reference in there is from my own experience.  I am definitely steeped in the nerd culture from early on. I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books, and I’m familiar with the games even though I don’t actually play all of them.

EC: You worked on Army of Darkness as a sword fighting deadite which I think is incredibly cool.  That’s one of my all-time favorite movies.  What’s it like having a connection to a cult classic like Army? Did you work at all with Bruce Campbell? Did you fight him in any scenes during the movie?

DF: No, I did not fight him in any scenes but I fought near him.  The people that he fought were stuntmen or the main choreographers.  What was the second part of that question?

EC: What’s it like having a connection to a cult classic like that?

DF: Oh, it’s really fun. The cool thing about it is I saw Evil Dead when it first came out in the theater and I just thought it was really, really fun.  I wanted to know what “Fake Shemp” meant when I saw that in the credits.  One of the cool things was when I first started on the film, when I got hired, I got to ask Rob Tapert what “Fake Shemp” was and they explained the whole Three Stooges reference to Shemp and all that, but you have no idea when you’re working on something like that, that’s going to turn out to be a cult classic. 

My boyfriend who was the on-set armorer, Brian Thomas, he was on a film in Norway, he had so many free drinks bought for him just because people found out that he worked on Army of Darkness.  It’s really, really cool. It was a fun experience, it was a lot of hard work, and trying to shimmy out of a deadite costume in the middle of the desert when it’s cold and you have to use the bathroom, is not easy.  So many great memories, and it’s really, really cool to watch people’s faces light up when they find out you’ve worked on it, is very, very cool.  I think I’ve used the word “cool” about 50 times in the last minute. (Laughing)

EC: (Laughing) Have you had any drinks bought for you?

DF: I’ve been treated like a queen on many occasions for working on that film and it’s really, really fun.  The question I get asked the most is ‘What’s Bruce Campbell like?’ And I smile and say ‘He’s a lot like Ash, because what you see is what you get.’ 

EC: I’m sure you follow it, so I’m not even going to ask if you do or not, but I’m curious about…

DF: Walking Dead, Walking Dead right?

EC: Yes, I’m curious what you thought about this season.

DF: There’s actually a website called TVOvermind which they asked for my “10 Best Moments from Walking Dead Season Two” and I won’t name all of those, but my thoughts on the season are that there were a lot of very slow points, like where the little girl was lost in the woods section.

EC: God that was slow.

DF: Yeah I was like find her or have her be dead, I don’t care. I totally get that they wanted to build character interactions because the best zombie movies or books or whatever you have to care about the characters.  It’s about real life just as much as it’s about getting your guts ripped open.  I thought some of the episodes were too slow for most people’s tastes, but boy did the last two episodes of Season Two basically made up for all the slow moments I thought.  They really nailed it.  The season finale was just absolutely fantastic…I like the fact that even though I’ve read the books I can’t ever feel safe in knowing who’s going to live and who’s going to die. Boy do I really hope that they start making female characters more interesting and less just annoying…

EC: Right?

DF: Lori, she just drives me absolutely crazy.  What is this crap about ‘Why aren’t you in here helping us bake bread instead of out there with the guys and your gun?’  It’s like excuse me, did she really just say this?  The thing I realized I think that bugged me the most is that she wouldn’t let Carol go after Sophia, she wouldn’t even let her call out to her daughter.  You know if that had been Carl, she should have been out there like ‘He’s my son, I have to save my son,’ and getting everyone else in danger no matter what.  I just can’t stand her.

EC: Yeah, I don’t care for her either.  I actually didn’t get into the books until this year. I’ve just been tearing through them, but I agree, you just can’t feel safe. 

DF: I’m waiting for Merle to come back, and Daryl, he’s not even in the books and I love, love Daryl.  I think he’s the best character, with the most interesting character arc on the entire show.

EC: When can we expect to see the next novel? Plague Nation is the name of it?

DF: I’m working on it now. I’m balancing out doing my publicity for Plague Town and writing Plague Nation. I’m not sure.  It’s probably going to be the end of this year or spring again next year.  I think some of that is dependent on what Titan (Books) decides and how quickly certain people write their drafts.  So I’m working very busily on that in all the time that I’m not doing my day job.   

EC: Thank you so much for your time today. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Plague Town is published by Titan Books and is available in stores starting Tuesday April 3, 2012.