Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Evil Dead News Exclusive - Plague Town Book Review/Interview with author Dana Fredsti, sword fighting Deadite

Dana Fredsti is not only a novelist and screenwriter, but is an ex B-movie actress with a background in theatrical sword-fighting. She has worked on various films, including Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness as an armourer's assistant, sword-fighting captain, and sword-fighting Deadite. She also starred in the movies Princess Warrior (1989) and Bloodbath (1999).

I recently had the pleasure of reading Dana Fredsti's new book Plague Town. I am not a huge book reader, by any strech of the imagination, but certain books tend to catch my eye. I might add it usually takes me a while to finish a book but that was not the case with Plague Town. Plague Town is a delightfully quick read, filled with lots of action and zombie excellence.

Before I go any further, here is the synopsis from the book's official website:

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?

Plague Town is reminiscent of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If 4th season Buffy Summers were a tad bit older and thrust into the world of The Walking Dead as a zombie-killer, rather than a vampire slayer, she could be Ashley Parker. There is plenty of action and, yes, even some romance in Plague Town. In addition, the book references almost every zombie movie ever made. I won't say much more, as I don't want to spoil it for you, but take my
word and pick up a copy if you are a fan of Buffy or The Walking Dead. You won't be disappointed! I can easily see this book being developed into a TV series or even a movie.

Look for Plague Town: An Ashley Parker Novel on April 3rd, 2012, in the United States (amazon.com) and April 27th, 2012, in the UK (amazon.co.uk).

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Keep on reading for our exclusive interview with Dana Fredsti:

How did you first get involved in acting?

My fifth and sixth grade teachers had high-falutin' ideas about class plays. In fifth grade we did Antigone and I got cast as the lead. I don't remember the audition or if there even was an audition, but it was fun. Then in sixth grade we did Hamlet and I was Queen Gertrude. I just remember the scene where Hamlet stabs Polonius (who is hiding behind Gertrude's curtains while Hamlet confronts his mother) and Polonius, played by a sixth grade kid with curly blond hair, freckles, and the acting chops of a block of wood saying, "Oooh, I am slain" and falling to the ground with a thud. Hamlet and I lost it and had a fit of the giggles that lasted longer than the scene. How could I not want to continue with acting after this?

You played Curette in the B-movie Princess Warrior (1989). Can you tell us a bit about working on that movie?

Heh. I actually wrote an entire essay for an issue of Morbid Curiosity (edited by Loren Rhoads) about my experiences on Princess Warrior. Two weeks of 12-14 hour shooting days, $25 a day, I was thrilled to death to get cast as the villainess, Curette. Basically you have two princesses on a planet where the men are slaves and the women have no fashion sense. Queen Mom is dying and calls her daughters (Curette/brunette/evil and Ovule/blond/good) to her deathbed to hand over the Ring of Power. It's supposed to go to Curette, being the eldest, but she's a skanky 'ho and Mom passes it on to Ovule instead 'cause she's all blond and sweet and blond (because blond equals good, and brunette equals EEEEEVil). Curette and her minions stage a coup (or have a cow, not sure which), there's a goofy light saber battle and Ovule is sent by the good blond priestesses to earth, smack dab in the middle of a wet T-shirt contest. Curette and her minions soon follow and the rest of the movie consists of much silliness.

The wet T-shirt contest is endless (and dull). It is seriously the longest wet T-shirt contest in cinema history. And the only one where the contestants were wearing industrial strength cotton-polyester shirts that defied all efforts to get them wet and translucent. The filmmakers spent eight hours shooting this scene and only gave us two hours to choreograph and film the climatic fight scene between me and the actress playing Ovule. Priorities!

Funniest memory is when we tried to choreograph a fight with the "light sabers" (these Plexiglas tubes filled with colored water) and the damn things shattered with the first hit. That's why you won't see any actual contact in that epic battle at the Queen Mother's deathbed. So much badness in this movie, including the director playing a cameo as some douche on a payphone and you actually hear these words "Are we... are we filming yet?" in the take used in the film. All in all it's a shame MST3K never got a hold of the film.

You also have a background in theatrical sword-fighting. How did you develop your sword-fighting skills?

Lots of training. I started when I was eighteen and met Christopher Villa, a sword choreographer with SAFD (Society of American Fight Directors), who taught me my first sword choreography. I ended up working as his assistant on a production of Rashomon in Eugene, Oregon. I had a very brief stint training for the Conan Show at Universal Studios (this was during an actor's strike), and then worked with a group called The Duelists doing workshops and shows at conventions (I remember Comic Con when it was small and friendly, dammit!) and Renaissance Faires, and then was the feminine half of Rose and Rapier, a comedic swordfighting act. I joined the Academy of Theatrical Combat in the late '80s and trained with them until I moved from Los Angeles up to San Francisco a few years ago. My current boyfriend also loves fencing/swordfighting so it's still a part of my life even though I don't do it professionally any more.

Dana as a sword-fighting Deadite in Army of Darkness

You worked as an armourer's assistant, sword-fighting captain, and sword-fighting Deadite on Army of Darkness. How did you initially get involved with the movie?

I was a student at the Academy of Theatrical Combat, run by Dan Speaker and Jan Bryant, who were the sword choreographers for the film. They pulled some of their students to be Deadites and to help train extras in the basics and I was one of the lucky ones. My then boyfriend was the onset armourer and needed a couple of assistants, so I also got hired to do that for the first few weeks because the Deadite scenes were going to be filmed later in the production.

You got to choreograph your own sword fights on Army of Darkness. What makes for good sword choreography?

For me, it’s making sure that the fights are realistic. No telegraphing moves (when you see someone get into position for a parry before their opponent has started the attack), for instance. Every fight tells a story that depends on the characters involved; their relationship (if they have one), their respective skill levels; their intent...you get the idea. A good choreographer will take all of these things into consideration, as well as make use of the terrain/set on which the fight takes place. The actors need to be able to not only learn the moves, but have to be able to act the fight. Nothing clunks more to me than watching either people executing moves with precision but no real intent (unless their character is a really skilled and really bored swordsman and even then, you’d want to see some intent to the moves) or fights where the combatants think letting out great bellowing yells sells sloppy sword-work. Even scarier is to be on the receiving end of someone’s cuts when they haven’t learned the techniques for making it look like they’re sending their energy into the blow without actually hammering the shit out of their opponent.

What do you remember most about working with Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell?

Sam: always a gentleman. He always wore a dress shirt and tie on set, and at the end of each shooting day would go around and thank everyone for the work they put in. He also really did seem to enjoy torturing Bruce via the trials and tribulations of Ash.

Rob: quintessential producer in a good way. Very good at handling the various problems, personalities, and egos (lots of all ‘em) that you get on film sets and I never saw him lose his cool, although he did look a bit frayed around the edges at times.

Bruce: What I remember the most about Bruce is that damn line “This is my BOOMstick!” uttered over and over again when they filmed that scene. It was an auditory Chinese water torture and since I was on set as one of the castle villagers that day, I was trapped. I also remember him being very Ash-like most of the time.

What made you want to write novels, rather than pursue acting or teach sword-fighting?

I’ve always loved to write. I started very young, my first epic story entitled – and about – The End of the Sun having been written at the age of five or so when I first learned how to string one syllable words together. I still have a partially finished YA novel I started in ninth grade. So the writing has always been something I’ve loved to do. I developed the acting bug fairly early on too, but realized fairly quickly that I did not have the driving passion for it needed to make a living at it. Didn’t want to go out on cattle calls, hated having to worry about what I could or couldn’t eat in order to stay thin (and this was before size 2 became the norm), and just did not want to get a boob job. I did enough acting projects to keep my hand in and satisfy my inner ham, but given the choice between experiencing lots of rejection based on my appearance or working at home in my pajamas and sipping hot chocolate, the flannel jammies and hot chocolate won. As far as the swordfighting, I love doing it, but I’m not patient enough to teach full time. I managed to control my impatient tendencies while working as one of the sword captains on Army of Darkness, but overall I lack the teaching gene. I’d be one of those teachers whacking my students with the flat of the blade and yelling all the time. Those that can’t teach should just do instead. :)

Can you tell us where the idea for Plague Town originated?

I was originally asked by Lori Perkins if I wanted to write a trilogy of books. She pitched it as “Buffy, but with zombies. And different.” The specifics of characters, plot and setting were left entirely up to me. 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 slated as an eBook with Ravenous Romance to start) and eventually sold it to Titan Books. I worked closely with Titan editor Steve Saffel (whom I refer to as my Dark Editorial Overlord, DEO for short), 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. 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 sets Ashley Parker apart from other strong-willed female characters in today's horror/urban fantasy novels?

She doesn’t have a tramp stamp crawling out of her butt crack. Seriously, those things remind me of Cthulhu 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 Zombocalypse makes the choice for her.

The next two Ashley Parker novels are called Plague Nation and Plague World. Can you reveal a little of what is next for Ashley Parker?

Well, I can promise you more zombies. LOTS more zombies as the contagion spreads beyond the California college town of Redwood Grove, and our heroes have to go further afield to try and find a cure for the plague ... if one even exists. I'm big on no spoilers so I don't want to say too much more, other than don't get too attached to any particular character. I'm still deciding who lives and who dies... ooh, it's a heady power trip! :)

You are obviously a zombie aficionado. What are your favorite movies about zombies?

Okay, this list includes the ones I love because they’re good and the ones I love because they are bad: Dawn of the Dead (the original and the first ten minutes of the remake), Night of the Living Dead (original and Savini’s remake, but NOT the special 30th Anniversary edition), Day of the Dead (“choke on it!”), The Dead, La Horde, Zombie, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland (although it needed more zombies), Dead Meat, Gates of Hell (silly fun!), Hell of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later (not exactly zombies but close enough), Rec, Resident Evil, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, Brain Dead, Dead Snow, Dead Set, Return of the Living Dead, Reanimator. And probably more than I’m just not remembering here. And yes, I left Army of Darkness off the list since Deadites just aren’t the same thing as zombies. And I consider AoD in a category all on its own. :)

Just for fun, if the zombie apocalypse comes, what are the most efficient weapons to use against them?

After watching The Walking Dead, I’d have to say my very first weapon of choice would be a crossbow … attached to the character Daryl. :) After that I’d say anything that a person can use effectively and efficiently. If you don’t know how to use a firearm, it doesn’t matter how kickass it might be; if you can’t load and operate the thing, it’s not going to do you any good if you’re surrounded by even a dozen ravenous corpses. So if you’re planning on raiding the local gun store when the zombies show up, make sure you know how to load, aim and fire whatever firearms you take. One of my favorite things about the original Dawn of the Dead is that two of the main characters, Fran and Stephen, are totally incompetent with firearms at the beginning of the movie and we actually see them training once they’ve set up shop in the mall. So much more realistic than everyone suddenly becoming crack shots at the advent of a zombie attack, the way vampires automatically get mad martial arts skills in the Buffyverse.

Lastly, any thoughts on the upcoming Evil Dead remake?

I am very embarrassed to admit it's been totally off my radar. I went and looked it up on IMDB as soon as I read your question. I'm not a fan of remakes as a general rule, but I did like Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead and I figure since Sam, Bruce and Rob are involved in the Evil Dead remake, I'll at least give it a look-see. But I just don't see how you could improve on the original... or the original's kind of sort of remake/sequel Evil Dead II.

For more info on Dana visit:

Dana Fredsti - Twitter

1 comment:

Dana Fredsti said...

Hey, just wanted to thank you for having me as your guest and for the great review!