Dana Fredsti: The Terribleminds Interview

You don’t turn down an interview with an author when part of their bio includes things like “zombie aficionado,” “swordfighter,” or “B-movie actress who worked on Army of Darkness.” You just don’t. So please meet Dana Fredsti, author of the ass-kicking zombipocalypse novel, Plague Town. Go find her at her website — danafredsti.com — or on the Twitters: @zhadi1.

This is a blog about writing and storytelling. So, tell us a story. As short or long as you care to make it. As true or false as you see it.

I stumbled into theatrical combat because I was hungry and nosy. Eighteen years old, I was working my first Renaissance Faire. When I say “working,” I mean flouncing around in a full red skirt, white blouse and cinch-belt, adding to the local “ye old Renaissance” color and enjoying the attention. Standing in line for a turkey leg (back when the vendors only charged a couple of bucks for one and cooked them all the way through), I overheard a guy behind me say, “I was going to do a short sword fight, but my partner backed out.” I snuck a peek; the speaker was really cute in a Ren Faire type of way, longish dark hair, white full-sleeved cavalier shirt, breeches and boots. “Too bad, it was a good fight.”

Without even thinking about it, I piped up with “I’ll do it!”

The guy looked me up and down and said, “Yeah, okay.”

Within an hour (after I finished my turkey leg), I’d learned the basics of sword fight choreography, b: my teacher’s name was Chris Villa and that he was a fight choreographer by profession. We performed our fight to much audience applause and I fell irrevocably in love with swordfighting … and my teacher. The latter burned itself out after a few years, but my passion for swordfighting (and men in breeches, boots and puffy white shirts) remains strong to this day.

Why do you tell stories?

I’ve written since I was old enough to string words together, and when my family moved to Tucson for a year when I went into seventh grade, my imagination was my salvation. I was unhappy and spent a great deal of time in my own head, making up stories, putting myself in different worlds. When I don’t write, I get stressed and unhappy. And then voices in my head tell me to do bad things…

Give the audience one piece of writing or storytelling advice:

Don’t count on spellcheck/grammar check to do your work for you. It won’t and you’ll end up embarrassed down the road, I guarantee you.

What’s great about being a writer, and conversely, what sucks about it?

What’s great? Creating worlds, getting lost in them and escaping the real world, and having the opportunity to take literary vengeance on those people who piss you off. In other words, playing god…ah, what a heady rush of power!

What sucks? Not being able to do it full time, having deadlines and knowing you have to meet those deadlines no matter how tired you are at the end of a day job or how dull the knife edge of your creativity might be during your writing sessions. And knowing no matter how much effort you put into something, there will always be people who don’t like it and aren’t shy about telling the world how much you suck.

Favorite word? And then, the follow up: Favorite curse word?

I don’t have a favorite word. That’s the kind of question that needs a context, like “favorite word when you’re happy,” and even then, nothing springs to mind. I did know someone who would get enamored with specific words, like “buttocks.” He played a hard-boiled detective in our theater troupe and one of the lines was “a clue crawled up my leg and bit me on the ass.” He kept saying “a clue crawled up my leg and bit me on the buttocks.” Just didn’t work. Which goes to show you have to watch getting attached to specific words. Favorite curse word is actually two: Jeez Louise. Or Fuckity-fuck, depending on the company I’m keeping.

Favorite alcoholic beverage? (If cocktail: provide recipe. If you don’t drink alcohol, fine, fine, a non-alcoholic beverage will do.)

Wine, wine, wine, and MORE wine! Red, white, bubbly! WINE!!!!

Recommend a book, comic book, film, or game: something with great story. Go!

Walking Dead (graphic novels). The Dead (film). Rock Paper Tiger (book).

What skills do you bring to help the humans win the inevitable zombie war?

I’m familiar with just about any zombie mythos you can name, so I’m prepared for any eventuality. Although if they turn out to be those fast sprinting zombies, I think we’re all screwed. At any rate, I can shoot, I can wield a mean sword, I don’t freeze in the face of danger, and I WILL shoot you in the head if you get bitten. Or if you steal my wine.

Okay, swordfighting: what do other writers get wrong about it?

For me, what bugs is when writers describe the fights in an entirely technical fashion, with no drama whatsoever. Kind of like calling out a Twister game. “Right hand on hilt, left foot in lunge” etc. It bleeds the passion and excitement right out of it. And occasionally writers will get the sword components wrong, calling the hilt a “handle” or the pommel the “guard.” I mean, if a character has no clue what’s what, that’s okay, but otherwise… do your research! It’s kind of odd, though, because I have not really read that many books recently in which the characters utilize swords. Which is kind of funny considering how many urban fantasies feature a cover model clutching a katana. Including mine.

You are a bonafide zombie aficionado: what’s next for zombies? What haven’t we seen?

Damn it, Jim … er, Chuck! I’m an aficionado, not a fortune teller! I mean, who knows? So far we have slow zombies, fast zombies,

sentient zombies, sentimental zombies, nice zombies, pathetic zombies, funny zombies, half-zombies, zombie animals, zombie birds, and sexy zombies. I think the innovations to the zombie mythos (pretentious writer speak alert!) will continue to happen, but I truly have no clue as to what the next one might be. Other than what I’ve got in Plague Town and to tell you here would be considered a major spoiler. I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you. And then kill myself since I was the one who blabbed in the first place.

Sex and death. How do the two relate? Are they closer than we think?

Considering the French refer to an orgasm as le petit mort (the little death), I suppose there’s a connection. A Some serial killers certainly equate the two, what with the whole “I will stab you while I fuck you” (can I say “fuck” on this website?!) or, in some cases, “I will fuck you after I stab you.” Gotta say I don’t get that connection (and a good thing for my boyfriend, yes?); I’m of the opinion that sex and the resulting pleasure reaffirm life rather than echo death.

Okay, tell us about working on B-Movies. Pick a story and share it. Give us the goods.

Oh, but there are so many goods when it comes to working on B-movies… most of them bad, but there you have it.

I personally love B movies, but watching myself in, say, Princess Warrior requires a lot more wine than is probably good for me in one sitting. Most of my friends who’ve watched it feel much the same way. But it was really fun to work on. Most of them are because you have a small crew of enthusiastic people working for peanuts (I wouldn’t be surprised if this were literal in some cases), most of them really believing that art is being made. The stronger the belief that the movie being filmed for anywhere between $3K and $100K (I am not joking about the budgets) is either an art film or a really good film, the more sincere the acting despite very little to no production value and scripts of questionable quality. The perfect formula for the best kind of ‘so bad it’s good’ b-movie.

One of my favorite experiences was working on a film called Ninja Nymphs in the 23rd Century. Horrible horrible script, with a director who took himself and the project so seriously it was scary. He was also SO. SLOW. I mean, granted you don’t want the Ed Wood “Cut! Perfect! Let’s move on!” after every take, but this guy… take after take. The movie was filmed on video and oh, it shows. I played “Minstra”, the Prime Minister of whatever planet we were supposed to be on (I just don’t remember) and wore a blue lycra bodysuit, thigh high boots and a cape. I looked like a super hero. I also did stunts and the ultra cool thing about that is that the stunt coordinator on the film was Jack West, who doubled Wang in Big Trouble in Little China, all those really cool aerial flips and leaps. He also played the demon in S-Mart in the end of Army of Darkness. At any rate, working with Jack was the highlight of the film. He was really enthusiastic about sword-fighting, open to learning more about it, and just so much fun to work with!

You’ve committed crimes against humanity. They caught you. You get one last meal.

Are you asking about the crimes I’ve committed or what I’d eat for my last meal? I’ll assume the latter…so…let’s see….

Steamed crab (that I don’t have to take out of the shell) with melted butter. O Toro sashimi. Hot sourdough bread with more butter. I like butter. Bacon. Lots of bacon. A slice of pizza with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, on a cornmeal crust. The best grass-fed steak available. Hot flourless chocolate cake. And to go with the food, any decent champagne (or sparkling wine ’cause I’m not a snob), a bottle of Tobin James Fat Boy Zinfandel, and the creamiest, butteriest chardonnay available.

What’s next for you as a storyteller? What does the future hold?

For the next year or so, it holds the sequels to Plague Town (Plague Nation and Plague World). I’ve also got a sequel to my cozy noir mystery Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon in the works and a couple other ideas I’ve been kicking around. That being said, I’m open to whatever the future brings me by way of writing projects!

Plague Town. How is this a book only you could’ve written?

I have a unique background and it’s because of my eclectic (some might say jaded) past what with the B-movie acting, the sword-fighting, a life long immersion in geek culture, an honestly inherited sarcasm from both sides of the family, and (as noted above) my status as a zombie aficionado. Bonafide. Other writers might come up with a similar plot, but I seriously doubt anyone could come up with the same book. It’s mine. MINE!

Where will the two sequels take the world, the characters, and by proxy, the readers?

Well, Plague Nation and Plague World kind of hint at the scope of the zombie outbreak in each book. The ante is upped for the characters as all the struggle they experienced in Plague Town turns out to be, while not in vain, certainly not the end of their battle. I’m hoping to up the ante for the readers as well by not letting them get too comfortable with the characters’ safety. I will be killing some of them (the characters, not the readers), something that doesn’t always come easy to me when I really like my characters. Other times it’s pure joy … but I’m forcing myself to push my own comfort envelope in the next two books.