I had a few questions after reading Plague Town, and Dana was kind enough to answer them for me. Here's what she divulged...
Q+A with Dana Fredsti
WR: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre and, if so, have any particular films or TV shows inspired the Ashley Parker series?
DF: I have been into the horror genre since I was old enough to enjoy the thrill of being scared. I think my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family had something to do with this because his idea of a cracking good bedtime story was The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. He was also great at reading aloud so my sister and I got the full on theatrical experience. I watched the Saturday and Sunday afternoon horror movies, was addicted to the original Dark Shadows series (hey, it was scary to a little kid back in the day!), checked out endless books on supernatural topics from non-fiction and whatever I could find in the fiction section. So yea, big old yes to the first part of your question.
As far as particular films/TV shows, I’ve been very open about the original pitch that was brought to me by Lori Perkins, who was then editing for Ravenous Romance (who originally contracted me for the series before selling it to Titan). Lori asked me write ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with zombies. And different.’ So obviously Buffy was a huge influence from the get-go, although I tried to find what similarities worked while creating something original. I’m definitely influenced by Joss Whedon’s willingness to put his characters through emotional, physical (and sometimes literal) hell, and to kill one off when necessary. I used to be big on everyone making it out alive. Not so much anymore. And the original Dawn of the Dead inspired my love of zombies (sweet sweet fleshing eating zombies!) so it definitely gets a shout out as well.
WR: In Ashley's classes in Plague Town there's mention of many pandemics and viruses. Were you already knowledgeable on the subject or did you have to do a lot of research?
DF: Well, another topic that always fascinated me from a young age was pandemics (the nastier, the better) so I did a lot of reading on the Black Death when I was a kid and then Ebola and all the other lovely bugs out there in the last decade or so. So I had some knowledge of the subject, but I did a lot of research at the time as well and tried to keep the facts general enough to lend veracity without trying to go into too much detail and get something wrong.
WR: Just who is Gabriel based on? (I think of him as Spike crossed with a snarky, moody Dean Winchester).
DF: When I wrote my first outline notes for Lori back in the day, Gabriel was definitely the Angel character. I do have my Spike character in there as well, but nope, not Gabriel. A lot of readers saw Gabriel as Riley from the Initiative Buffy season because of the military connection, but I was never a huge Riley fan (and why do all Buffy menfolk except for Spike have a self-deprecating stutter? It’s like Hugh Grant’s Disease or something) so nope to that as well. Dean Winchester is not a bad casting choice, btw… The only actor who I’ve seen recently who reminded me of Gabriel was Garrett Hedlund (without his current facial hair and with a slightly less perfect nose) in Tron: Legacy.
WR: If you were casting a movie of the Ashley Parker series, which actors would you pick to play your characters?
DF: Erp! I’m so bad at this. Aside from Garrett Hedlund for Gabriel, the only character I actually have “cast” in my head is Nathan and I would be happy with either Ray Stevens (watch Outpost, a low-budget and very creepy zombie movie) or Nathan Fillion, who’d also be excellent. I joke in the book about the fact that Professor Fraser had a life story filmed about her, she’d be played by Kate Blanchett or Helen Mirren… JT, Lil and Tony are all inspired by people I know… so …er… I don’t know. Ideas? Who would YOU like to see as Ashley? My only caveat is that it has to be someone who can handle the physical part of the role and really looks like she could kick ass and chop off heads with ease. Nothing makes me more annoyed than an actor or actress cast in a role that is obviously stunt doubled because they can’t move well enough to fake it.
WR: Was it fun to write all the gory scenes in this trilogy? Does any one scene stand out for you as a disgusting favourite?
DF: Yes, okay, writing gory scenes can be fun. I’ll just admit that off the bat. I try not to be repetitive (and that can be a challenge because there really are only so many ways to kill zombies) and to have enough to give the reader a sense of how nasty things get, but without desensitizing them to it. What’s the point of writing gory scenes if people just start skimming over them because they’re either all the same or there’s just too much of it?
My favorite scenes in the first two books both involve Jake, the half-deader who Ashley finds in the cabin hotel in Plague Town. The scene where he’s nibbling on pieces of his wife while saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” was… well, it made me giggle and shudder at the same time ‘cause I knew it was gross and I knew it would be effective. Plague World has my favorite gory scene of all times because of both what happens and the eventual payoff, but I can’t say which one it is at this time as it would be a mega huge spoiler. I will say Ashley goes through a lot more pain (emotional and physical) in Plague World than the previous two books. And that’s the only hint I’ll give.