Dana Fredsti interview
To say Dana Fredsti is unconventional is an understatement. Before becoming an author, Dana was an actress and theatrical swordswoman. Dana’s most famous cinematic credits include Army of Darkness, where she was the armourer’s assistant and appeared as a sword-wielding deadite.
Since leaving the world of acting behind her, Dana started a career as an author. Her most recent novels the Ashley Parker trilogy concluded with Plague World (reviewed here) and was described as “Buffy, with zombies, but different.” However, long before Dana became known as a horror writer, she was a writer of erotic thrillers under the pseudonym of Inara LaVey.
Dana’s latest novel is Spawn of Lilith, an urban-fantasy/horror novel set in a world where the supernatural lurk beneath the surface of an ignorant Hollywood (reviewed here). The novel follows Lee Striga, an upcoming stuntwoman who is sidelined after a stunt goes wrong and she is forced to take on any roles she can find (and one that is just too good to be true) whilst juggling the challenges of being a woman in Hollywood.
With Spawn of Lilith taking place in Hollywood, I started with asking why she chose to set her novel there.
A supernatural Hollywood seems a natural fit, what was the inspiration behind this?
I worked in the film industry for a few years when I was younger (don’t ask how much younger or I’ll hurt you), So when Steve Saffel—my Dark Editorial Overlord at Titan—and I were having a brainstorming session for my new series and he mentioned I needed my protagonist to have a “Clark Kent” identity, we honed in on the film industry. Then we started tossing ideas back and forth of how much fun it would be if there was this whole secret underground of supernatural creatures that worked in film and television. I’m not sure who was more in love with the concept; me or Steve.
What I really liked about Spawn of Lilith was how Lee did not have a romantic love interest – why did you choose to forsake romance for Lee?
I didn’t actually choose to forsake romance for Lee. I mean, she’s got a few people she’s interested in, but as far as a primary romantic relationship… not the time for that yet. She’s still trying to figure out who she is and what’s going on with her life, and whatever relationships do occur along her character arc, I want to make sure they work within the story and not the other way around. I also really get tired of books that make it okay for male protagonists to sleep with women without necessarily wanting to procreate with them, yet don’t allow female protagonists the same choices. In so many books, if a woman sleeps with a man that she isn’t in love with, it’s either because she’s somehow sullied or damaged. Lee is neither. She’s just not ready to settle down yet.
You seem to be advocating more balanced attitudes and openness about sex in Lee’s liaisons in Spawn of Lilith.
I wasn’t consciously advocating anything one way or the other. Lee’s life is complicated so I didn’t want to rush her into a relationship per se because it doesn’t fit the story arc I have planned for her. I don’t always buy the romances in books I read because they seem generated more by ‘must have relationship arc started by such and such a point’ than what actually works for the characters and story.
That being said, I am totally in favor of balanced attitudes about sex and relationships in general; the double standard that women have faced for centuries (Whore or Madonna – you can be one or the other, and there’s NOTHING IN BETWEEN!) sucks the cosmic wang. And given that in the original Lilith myth, she’s punished for deciding who she wants to sleep with and taking action to live her own life, I’m not surprised that a strong subtext in Spawn of Lilith has turned out to be that of a woman struggling to choose her own destiny.
How much of the story did you plan in advance? Or are you more fast and loose?
Fast and loose? Hah! Are you trying to ask if I’m a plotter or a pantser? I am naturally a fast and loose pantser, but working with an editor has forced me to be less of a writing hussy and plan more in advance. Which isn’t to say I have everything planned out. In Spawn of Lilith, a character that was meant to be a one (maybe two) off, turned out to not only demand more of a role in the story, but is now an important part of the story arc for the trilogy. I was told by one of my beta readers that if I killed this character, she would never forgive me. I make no promises!
Did pantsing Spawn of Lilith present any problems in terms of structuring the story?
Nope, because I did have an outline for the story beats. They left me plenty of room to “pants” while keeping me focused on the existing structure.
How closely did your experiences as an actress influence The Spawn of Lilith – the story felt very grounded despite the supernatural influences? Did you need to do any additional research?
A lot of things in Spawn of Lilith are definitely self-referential (my first movie was something very similar to Steel Legions, and my ex and I co-wrote a script called Pale Dreamer… and… well, yes, lots of things from my past experience influenced this book and this series. But I absolutely had to do additional research because a: I was a specialty player, not a stunt woman. My expertise was in fights, with a focus on swordfights (from broadswords to rapiers/rapier & dagger/ to small sword), and there is so much more to stuntwork than fights. So, I interviewed a stuntman (Jayson Dumenigo) and a stuntwoman (Alina Andrei) and read whatever books on stunt work I could find. I also interviewed Amber Benson (Tara on Buffy) about what’s changed, especially in the audition front, since the ‘90s. I feel very old now…
Did you have to change anything from your stuntwork research to meet the demands of the story?
Other than adding a supernatural element, not really. Stunts are inherently interesting and exciting on their own so they’re a great foundation on which to add the abilities of supernatural beings.
The final arc felt like a mix of The Thing and Pitchblack – did these films influence you at all?
While I love both of those movies, if they did influence me, it was entirely subconscious. As mentioned above, my ex and I wrote the script for Pale Dreamer and the consistent feedback we got on it was how original it was. This was before Pitchblack came out.
Does Lee Striga exist within the same realm as Ashley Parker or is this a completely new world?
This is a completely new world. The only supernatural element in Ash’s world are zombies – and since their origin is science gone terribly wrong because greedy people suck, ‘supernatural element’ is the wrong term to use here. At any rate, in the world of Lee Striga, supernatural creatures exist and work in Hollywood, but the majority of non-supes aren’t aware of their existence.
I noticed Detective Fitzgerald was a reference to your husband, did you include any other references to people?
Well, I wanted to toss an Irish banshee in there and I knew Dave would get a kick out of the last name… and oh yes, there are a ton of references to other people in the book. Am I going to tell you which characters? Nope! Except I will say that Sean Katz’s The Ranch is a nod to Bob Yerkes “backyard,” which has been a training ground for stuntmen and women for years. Brian (my ex and one of my best friends) got to train there when he first arrived in Los Angeles, back in the ‘80s. The experiences he had, along with those of people I met during my years in Hollywood, totally inspired The Ranch. And see my answer above to the question about whether my experiences as an actress influenced the series.
How long did it take to write Spawn of Lilith and how did it compare to Ashley Parker trilogy?
It’s hard to answer this question because my mom died at the beginning of 2016, and I’d just started writing the book the month before. I thought I’d just power through and lose myself in writing, but instead I spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen and not doing anything at all. I did that for three months, these gray patches broken up by panic attacks and pointless monkey brain antics at 3am. I started meditating every night before going to sleep (sometimes the guided meditations put me to sleep) and finally got a grip on things around mid-April that year. I was very calm from that point on and it took me until September to finish the draft.
I guess the way that it compared to the Ashley Parker books is I never had a “I hate this book! I can’t write! I suck! WAHHHH!!!” temper flares that I had writing all three of the Ashley books. I knew I’d finish it, I knew it was the book I wanted to write, and it was a weirdly Zen experience.
What was it about Spawn of Lilith that made it “the book (you) wanted to write”?
Everything. I love the characters, the world-building, the mythology behind it (soooo much stuff going on underneath the surface that I only hinted at in the first book), the concept of a supernatural “underground’ in Hollywood… and did I mention I love poking fun at Hollywood? I’m sure I did… I had total support from my editor, Steve Saffel, in creating this world and some gleeful collaboration by way of tossing ideas back and forth. Nothing beats that kind of support!
What was the hardest part of Spawn of Lilith to write?
The opening chapter. I futzed around with that for the first three months (January through March of 2016), and then wrote my opening scene (the movie “script” making fun of the Underworld movies) in ten minutes once I realized how I wanted to start the book.
What made you choose Underworld? Do you have any more parodies planned in future Lilith books?
That script segment practically leapt to the page (computer screen – sometimes I carbon date myself, I swear…) without any help from me. Took me ten minutes to write it, if that, after agonizing for a few weeks on how to start the book. The Underworld movies take themselves so very seriously.
There will be more script parodies in all the Lilith books. Although I’ve seen some movies that make the parodies look plausible. Kind of like how we seem to be living in an Onion article these days, what with our current administration.
What shows and films are you watching?
TV shows: Game of Thrones, Walking Dead (although I’m a bit behind), The Great British Baking Show, Archer, At Midnight, Jeopardy, Sense 8… and I’ve started watching Rick and Morty (I had to get past the drooling so I could appreciate the writing).
Movies at an actual theater: Wonder Woman, Kong: Skull Island, Rogue One, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy II, and I want to go see The Dark Tower.
On the TV/Netflix, oh, so many movies… We put a lot of films on in the background while we work. Right now, it’s Practical Magic. Recently watched With Fire and Sword (fantastic Polish film/mini-series), Alien, Aliens, Prometheus (what the hell was going on in that one?), and that’s a very very short list.
What do you have planned next for Spawn of Lilith?
In Book Two (working title is Tramp Stamp), Lee goes to New Orleans to work on film called Voodoo Wars, and encounters an evil tattoo artist intent on… AND my husband just yelled “NO SPOILERS!” He never lets me have any fun… But there is an evil tattoo artist and I am having so much fun describing the results of his artwork. If I wasn’t such a nice person in real life, I’d worry about the glee I feel when killing nice people in horrible ways. In my books, of course!
Dana Fredsti, thank you very much.