Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Dana Fredsti

Meghan: Hi, Dana. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dana Fredsti: Oh jeez, I think my bio combined with the answers to the rest of the questions gives a great sampling of who I am. ☺

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Dana Fredsti: Erm… I’m pretty upfront about cats, wine, and swordfighting. Let’s see…

I learned to surf in my late thirties after a lifetime of being afraid of the ocean. When I was a relatively little kid, my first memory of the ‘big wave beach’ (as opposed to Shelter Island Cove, where there were only waves if a motor boat—or even better, an aircraft carrier– went by) was standing there, holding my dad’s hand, and seeing this big honkin’ wave headed my way. I’m sure it was only a couple of feet, but… at the time, so was I. I screamed and hauled butt back to my mom and our beach blanket. I don’t surf well, but there is a joy in overcoming that kind of fear and wow, is it fun!

I’ve had a full-grown leopard sit on my feet, wanting to get his butt scratched. He’d growl whenever I stopped. It was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying.

When I was two years old, I used to dip pretzel sticks in the gutter run-off water from people watering their lawns. I figure I’m set if there’s a superflu resistant to antibiotics considering all the germs I must have ingested.

When my ex and I took a trip to Norway and England, along with another like-minded friend we dressed up in musketeer garb (which we took with us because…why not?), climbed the closed and locked gate of Richmond Castle in Northern England, and sword-fought. We did not get caught. Considering what a law-abiding person I’d always been, this was definitely a deviation from my normal behavior.

The reason I’ve always been so law-abiding is because when I shoplifted a box of Milk Duds at the age of… five, I think… I felt so guilty after I ate them that I buried the empty carton under a pile of horse manure, sure that my mom would find it and KNOW that I’d stolen that candy. I would not make a good criminal.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Dana Fredsti: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis. I remember sitting in my favorite rocking chair in the living room of our old house in San Diego, basically minding my own business, when my older sister Lisa came up with the book, dropped it in my lap, and said, “You need to read this book.” I was a good little sister and promptly started reading it. I think I was… jeez, maybe in first grade then? I know I read other books before that one, but it stands out in my mind as my official ‘first book.’

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Dana Fredsti: Revival by Stephen King, and one of the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle. Er… and a non-fiction book about wine, Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the Revenge of the Terrorists by Mike Veseth.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Dana Fredsti: Since I’ve always read in multiple genres, I don’t know that there is a book that fits this description. The only one I can possibly think of is The Girl with All the Gifts, and only because something bad happens to an animal and I have a real problem reading or watching anything where a cat or dog is harmed. A lot of writers seem to use this for shock value, but for me it adds nothing to the table. I’ve stopped reading books midway because of this. It’s my hot button/line that can’t be crossed. SO… The Girl with All the Gifts is one of the only books I’ve read/finished where, while it didn’t make me happy that an animal died, it didn’t feel gratuitous and it more or less served the story. It’s also a beautifully written book. But… you notice the first thing about it I remember is that an animal was harmed .

Also, the Betsy/Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace might surprise a few people, given that most of what I write is heavily based in horror with bad things happening to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Whereas the Betsy/Tacy series is about as wholesome as you could imagine. Lots of bobsledding, making homemade fudge, etc. Not a zombie in sight and not one of the characters meets a horrific end!

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Dana Fredsti: I’ve always wanted to write. I can’t remember a time when this wasn’t something that defined me. We’re taking back when I first learned how to string words together. Somewhere my first attempt at a novel still exists. It’s called The End of the Sun. It goes: One day the sun came out. The next day the sun did not come out. It was the end of the sun. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Hah!

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Dana Fredsti: I have an idyllic spot with a desk overlooking an ocean view, a meandering path through a wild English garden strewn with lavender, an ergonomic chair, and an ever-percolating coffee pot.

This, of course, exists only in my wistful imagination so I make do with a rocking chair and my laptop on a little adjustable desk, fending off my various cats who all want to sit on my lap when I’m working. I like going to coffeehouses occasionally – the white noise does seem to help me focus in a way I can’t always manage at home, but I get antsy after a couple of hours.

I find that dictating into my iPhone while I walk our dog on the beach is a good way to shake things loose when I’m not exactly sure where I’m going next with the story.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Dana Fredsti: Not anymore. I used to be oh so very specific about the hours during which I could write, the candles I’d need to light, the perfect music, etc., but the busier I’ve gotten with other work (I do cat sits and dog walks, as well as work as an assistant to another writer), the more I’ve had to learn to just grab whatever time I’ve got and throw words down on … well, not on paper anymore, but on the computer screen.

Side note: Do you know how weird it is to start running into expressions that are no longer really relevant? Like throwing words down on paper. Carbon paper. White-out. Hell, taping a show! We record it, but we don’t tape it anymore. VCRs and record players? Hah! Of course, at the speed with which technology is obsolete these days, I don’t know how anyone keeps up with anything. Get off my lawn, ya damn whippersnappers! ☺

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Dana Fredsti: Everything is challenging when you’re having a bad day and everything is easy when you’re in the flow. I still don’t like outlining, and it doesn’t come easily to me, but I don’t kick and scream when asked to at least turn in a page or two letting my editor know what I have in mind for an upcoming book.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Dana Fredsti: Oh man… that’s like asking me which of my cats is my favorite. There are parts of all of my books and stories that I love, and that have satisfied different parts of me, whether it’s because I managed to finish something particularly challenging, or because something made me cackle maniacally because it was so much fun to kill a particular character. I guess right now I’d give Blood Ink the prize for completing it because it was a hard book to write for me, coming off of double hip surgery and my mom’s death. I love it, though, and I think the pain I was in both physically and emotionally made it a better book. That being said, I’d prefer to achieve my inspiration less painfully in the future.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Dana Fredsti: Ah jeez louise… that’s tough. As far as inspiration, I could give you a mile-long laundry list of authors I’ve read over the years that made me want to be a writer. Literally dozens, and I keep discovering more authors I love so the list just keeps growing. Any book I’ve enjoyed has been an inspiration because I want my books and stories to be a source of enjoyment to readers in the same way.

As far as inspiring my writing style… I really don’t know. I’ve been inspired by a lot of authors in that reading stuff I love/enjoy/that makes me laugh/scares me makes me want to keep improving/refining my own voice. I mean… Stephen King’s early work made me want to write horror and Elizabeth Peters taught me the fun of suspense combined with humor. Er… that’s as much of an answer as I can come up with for this one.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Dana Fredsti: Characters that the reader cares about. You don’t necessarily need to like them all, but you have to be invested in what happens to them one way or another. And I personally like characters with shades of gray. I love it when an author can take a villain and make them, if not likable, at least compelling or relatable. If I like the characters, they can sometimes overcome a weak plot and make the book enjoyable.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Dana Fredsti: I generally find I love characters more if they have some quality I can relate to. A first person narrative with humor also will win me over. And antagonists are so much more interesting if they’re not just cardboard villains. So when I’m creating characters, I try to make them multi-dimensional and, if possible, sympathetic to some degree. Although now and again it’s just fun to create a totally evil character and let the readers enjoy hating them.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Dana Fredsti: According to some of my readers who have known me for a while, all of my female protagonists remind them of me. This would probably be the sarcastic sense of humor that is part of my narrative style and my personality, and since I write in first person a lot of the time, there’s a certain overlap. I also utilize some of my own life experiences in some of my books, like the swordfighting and love of wine and craft beer. ☺

Connie in my first novel Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon really is partially based on me, though. My best friend and I used to have a murder mystery themed theatrical troupe and we decided to fictionalize some of our experiences when we wanted to kill someone we had to work with on one of our shows.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Dana Fredsti: I try not to be, but yeah, some covers just lead to an expectation that the book isn’t going to be great because it looks so amateurish. Others are misleading (a lot of books written by female authors are given the ‘twee chicklit’ treatment even if they’re actually gritty suspense novels). I also wonder if every single female protag in the Urban Fantasy genre really wears leather and uses a katana.

As far as what degree I’ve been involved creating my covers, it entirely depends on the publisher I’ve worked with. All of them have at least asked for my input, and I’m really happy with the Titan covers. I also absolutely love the cover that Fox Spirit Press did for their re-release of Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon (my very first published novel, a “cozy noir” mystery). It’s so gorgeous!

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Dana Fredsti: That writing is hard work. No joke. It really is, even when it’s a joy. I’ve also learned that no matter how difficult the writing process can be during each novel, I’ll eventually get the damn thing finished. And I’ve learned NEVER to compare my wordcount with anyone else’s because therein lies madness.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Dana Fredsti: I had to kill a main character at the end of book 3 in a series and I SO didn’t want to do this. I argued with my editor about it. I tried to figure out a way to make it work to keep this character alive. But… I reluctantly came to the conclusion that there was no real way to do it and stay true to the story and to the character’s arc. I did what I call a “Joan Wilder” (for you Romancing the Stone fans) and cried when I wrote the scene, though. And it’s a damn good scene. But a reader who’d loved the first two books was so upset she told me she wished she’d never read my books. Talk about feeling like you killed someone’s puppy… I still feel crappy about that.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Dana Fredsti: My experiences and background inform my writing in a way that is unique to me. I think the same can be said about any competent writer. I also have a pretty active sense of humor and it tends to sneak through in odd places.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Dana Fredsti: I did not choose the titles for any of the books that I’ve written for Titan. I originally called Plague Town “A Plague on All Houses” ‘cause I was going for the whole Shakespearean thingee. I think that Titan’s decision to change that was probably for the best, even if I was grumpy at the time. And I think Plague Town, Plague Nation, and Plague World are three good titles for a trilogy. If I get to do a fourth novel in that universe, it’s SO gonna be Plague Ground.

My working title for Spawn of Lilith was Fall Gal (named for Fall Guy, the series about a stuntman starring Lee Majors). And my working title for Blood Ink was Tramp Stamp. I still love my working titles (the whole idea for the plot of Blood Ink came from an observation on my part that a lot of tribal tramp stamps look like these gals have Cthuhlu crawling out of their butt crack), but Titan thought both titles were a little insular.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Dana Fredsti: Well, a few years ago I would have answered ‘a novel’ instantly because short stories did not come easily to me. Nowadays, I enjoy both processes. It’s fun to have the length of a novel to tell your story, but it’s also very satisfying to know you’ve told a good story in 12k words or less.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Dana Fredsti: I don’t really have a target audience per se. I mean, anyone who enjoys horror, humor, and action would, I guess, be considered my target audience. But… er… I’ve never really thought about it all that much. Please don’t tell my publisher I said that.

As far as what I’d like readers to take away… enjoyment, first and foremost. I hope I’ve provided escapism and entertainment.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Dana Fredsti: Very little has gotten left out of my work. There were things I was gonna include in the first two Plague books that ended up in book three because of page count constraints.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Dana Fredsti: I’m writing a series with my goddaughter-in-law. YA, dark urban fantasy, called Mermaid’s Tears. We spent some time plotting it out and writing the first few chapters, but it’s on hold while I finish up my next two book contracts.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Dana Fredsti: Mermaid’s Tears! ☺ And hopefully more books in the Lilith universe. I’d also like to revisit my zombie series ‘cause I did not give Ashley a satisfactory resolution. I thought I’d be writing more books in the series when I finished up the third one so… fingers crossed!

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Dana Fredsti: Website ** Facebook ** Instagram ** Twitter (I suck at Twitter… Just sayin’!)

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Dana Fredsti: Just thank you for reading my books, for taking the time to post reviews or email me with your thoughts, and be nice to animals!

DANA FREDSTI is an ex B-movie actress with a background in theatrical combat (a skill she utilized in Army of Darkness as a sword-fighting Deadite and fight captain). Through ten plus years of volunteering at Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center, Dana’s had a full-grown leopard sit on her feet, been kissed by tigers, held baby jaguars and had her thumb sucked by an ocelot with nursing issues. She’s addicted to bad movies and any book or film, good or bad, which include zombies. Her other hobbies include weight lifting, collecting beach glass, and wine tasting.

She is the author of the dark urban fantasy series Spawn of Lilith and its sequel Blood Ink, and the Ashley Parker trilogy (both series with Titan Books), touted as Buffy meets The Walking Dead. Her novella A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat, first published in Mondo Zombie edited by John Skipp, and more recently published as an eBook by Titan, maybe the first example of zombie noir. She and her husband, David Fitzgerald, are currently co-writing the third book in their science-fiction trilogy Time Shards, also for Titan.

Dana also wrote the cozy noir mystery Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon, is co-author of the Joe Ledger: The Official Companion and What Women Really Want in Bed, and has written several spicy genre romances under the pen name Inara LaVey. Additionally, she has a story in V-Wars 4: Shockwaves, and stories in the anthologies Joe Ledger: Unstoppable and Hardboiled Horror.

Dana was also co-writer/associate producer on Urban Rescuers, a documentary on feral cats and TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return), which won Best Documentary at the 2003 Valley Film Festival in Los Angeles. She guest blogs frequently and has made numerous podcast and radio appearances. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and fellow author David Fitzgerald. They share their house with their dog Pogeen and a small horde of felines.

Lilith 1: The Spawn of Lilith

Out of the spotlight, in the darker corners of the studio backlots, Hollywood hides a remarkable secret. Actor or actress, set designer, electrician, best boy, or grip—in la-la land, it pays not to be human. Vampires, succubae, trolls, elementals, goblins—studios hire anyone and anything that can take direction, be discreet, and not eat the extras. (The less you know about your agent, the better.)

Though only human, stuntwoman and struggling actress Lee Striga is a member of the legendary Katz Stunt Crew. They’re the best in the biz, in part because they can y, and boast superhuman strength.

When Lee lands a job on the movie Pale Dreamer, however, not everyone is following the script. It’s up to her to gure out who—or what—is killing the cast and crew. Especially when Lee goes from stuntwoman to lead role… and the next target.

Lilith 2: Blood Ink

Having killed her last producer, stuntwoman Lee Striga’s next film shoot takes her to the voodoo-soaked bayous and haunted back alleys of New Orleans, where sinister supernatural figures stalk the streets. In a dark corner of the French Quarter, an arcane tattoo artist is using his clients in rituals that will open an inter-dimensional gateway for a demon god from beyond the stars.

Murder for Hire: The Peruvian Pigeon

A trenchcoat and a fedora don’t make a detective, and Connie Garrett couldn’t agree more. She’s the co-founder of Murder for Hire, an acting troupe that specializes in spoofing, not sleuthing. But when MFH performs at a sleepy coastal community’s mystery gala celebrating the life and works of a famous hard-boiled mystery author and the bodies start stacking up, Connie finds herself on the case whether she likes it or not. She becomes unwillingly committed to solving the murders while trying to keep both the show-and her love life-afloat.

Time Shards 1: Time Shards

It’s called “the Event.” An unimaginable cataclysm in the 23rd century shatters 600 million years of the Earth’s timeline into jumbled fragments. Our world is gone: instantly replaced by a new one made of shattered remnants of the past, present and future, all existing alongside one another in a nightmare patchwork of different time “shards”—some hundreds of miles long and others no more than a few feet across.

San Diego native Amber Richardson is stranded on a tiny fragment of 21st century Britain surrounded by a Pleistocene wilderness. She crosses paths with Cam, a young warrior of a tribe from Roman Brittania, and together they struggle to survive—only to be imprisoned by Cromwellian soldiers. One of their captives is a man who Amber calls “Merlin, and who claims to be the 23rd century scientist responsible for the Event. Together they must escape and locate Merlin’s ship before the damage to the timeline is irreparable.

Time Shards 2: Shatter War

Time shatters into shards of the past, present, and future. A group of survivors dodges threats from across history to locate the source and repair the damage before it’s too late. 

It’s called “the Event.” An unimaginable cataclysm in the 23rd century shatters 600 years of the Earth’s timeline into jumbled fragments. Our world is gone: instantly replaced by a new one made of shattered remnants of the past, present and future, all existing alongside one another in a nightmare patchwork of different time “shards”–some hundreds of miles long and others no more than a few feet across.

A group of heroes forms: San Diego native Amber Richardson, Cam–a young warrior from Roman Brittania, Simon–a Teddy Boy from the 1950s, Phineas Van Seldoot–a supercilious Victorian gentleman, Blake–a soldier from World War II, an 1880’s reporter named Nelly Bly, and “Merlin, and who claims to be the 23rd century scientist responsible for the Event. Aboard Merlin’s ship they must return to his lab and repair the damage before it is irreparable. But when a Merlin doppelganger appears, they learn that not everyone may be who he seems to be. Allies may turn out to be deadly enemies.

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