Why did you choose zombies to write about, as opposed to vampires or another kind of monster?
Well, first off, they’re my favorite monster and always have been since I saw Dawn of the Dead. Years before doing the Ashley books (and before the remake of Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead), I wrote two short stories featuring zombies, both of which were subsequently published (the first, A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat, was reissued on Kindle by Titan). So I’m not one of them “zombie come lately” types cashing in on their popularity.
Second, Lori Perkins, then editor for Ravenous Romance, asked if I wanted to write a series of books that was essentially “Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But with zombies. And different.”
The Ashley Parker zombies are the classic slow-ambling type. Why did you go with those over fast-virus-zombie, or super Day Z zombies?
Okay, I should state up front that I used to be one of those horribly irritating snobs on the topic (slow zombies only, you damn kids!), but happily I’ve mellowed out and gotten over it. Both the slow and the fast zombies can be effective if handled well (please note I don’t consider having them swarm up a wall like army ants on speed effective), but I prefer the classic Romero-esque slow moving zombies because I think ultimately they’re creepier (watch The Dead for an example of slow zombies made scary again). Also, once you introduce fast zombies, you’ve pretty much cut down the lifespan of your heroes in half. And while that certainly adds extra tension, for me it also cuts down the possibilities for my characters as where they can go and what they can do.
Do you think your involvement in Army of Darkness influenced your writing?
The only aspect of my involvement in AoD that influenced my writing were a couple of pop cultural references to the movie and the fact that I listened to March of the Dead from the film score part of the time when I was writing the scene in Plague Town when the swarm attacks Big Red. I also have a character listening to that in homage to my ex, who’d listened to the same piece of music during a siege in a live game we played. Yes, I do have “geek” tattooed on my butt, thank you very much. J
In addition, doing the fight choreography in the mass battle scenes in AoD influenced me in that I had some actual experience fighting in the midst of a lot of other combatants, which helped me create more realistic fights in the books. I now know what it’s like to be lying on the ground as dozens of clueless people swarm around and over you. Ouch.
What was working with Bruce Campbell like? Do you miss your sword-fighting days?
It would be more accurate to say I worked near Bruce Campbell than with him. I did a stand-in stint for Sheila in the slap/kiss scene when they were setting the lighting, but that was with one of his stunt doubles. Very cute stunt double! Ahem. My takeaway from lots of observation was the character of Ash didn’t fall too far from the Bruce tree, but then he was playing duel roles of actor and producer, which had to carry a lot of stress. That being said, he was really fun to watch on set in character and I have to admit that the time my fight partner and I got a thumbs up from him after running our fight bit… well, that was awfully damn cool. It just pays to remember that our heroes are only human, with good and bad days. I just never want to hear the line "This is my BOOM stick" again.
And second half of that question: It’s more a question of missing my active theatrical combat days since I still do some sword-fighting/fencing with my fiancé. I loved the regular training I had working at the Academy of Theatrical Combat (and you can still train there if you're in the LA area, folks!) and was in great shape, and I definitely miss that aspect of it, but I tend to look at all the things I've done in over the years as part of my life and fun memories rather than things I now miss. I'm constantly finding more things with which to fill my time and write about later in life!
If the Ashley Parker series were made into a film, who would you want to direct it, and who would you want to cast as Ashley?
Dream director? Joss Whedon or Drew Goddard. Cabin in the Woods is one of my favorite movies of the last decade. As for Ashley, that's a toughie. I haven't seen the perfect Ashley yet so… I'm very open to suggestions! My only caveat would be someone who can handle the sword fighting and action sequences without looking like a weenie.
I read somewhere that you like Beyond The Valley of the Dolls (a so-bad-but-so-good sort of film…) What’s your best worst zombie film?
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is so bad it's magnificent… although all bad movies have recently been eclipsed by The Room. In fact, perhaps in a bizarro universe, Tommy Wiseau should direct Plague Town. And if you haven't seen it, please google "everything wrong with The Room in eight minutes or less" to see what I'm talking about. AHem. Anyway, best worst zombie film… I think it has to be a toss up between Lucio Fulci's Zombie (aka Zombi 2) and Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead. Zombie, which followed on the heels of Dawn of the Dead, has both some dreadful acting and ridiculous plot devices (hey, let's stop and make out in a cemetery when the dead are coming back to life!), but it also has the classic shark versus zombie scene and a great atmospheric shots of a zombie shuffling slowly and relentlessly through an empty village so it's one of those bad/good movies. Hell of the Living Dead, on the other hand, starts out with a zombie rat slithering up someone's Hazmat suit, the most lackadaisical SWAT team action ever seen, a member of the SWAT team donning top hat and tutu while clearing a house of zombies (and yes, he dies), and many other Darwin Award winning behaviors from the characters. Both are worth watching.
Plague World is the last book in the Ashley Parker series. Can fans expect any surprises in the finale?
Oh yes. And that's all I'm gonna say on the matter because of the whole 'surprise' element.
How does it feel, with the series coming to an end? And what’s next for you?
Finishing the third book was difficult for me due to what was a pretty awful year during the writing of it. Finishing it was one of the most amazing feelings of relief I've ever had. I finished the revisions on a plane to Costa Rica (the first vacation I've had in years) and I felt my shoulders just… relax. More champagne please, nice flight attendant! I feel like I've honored the contract between author and readers to wrap up the dangling plot threads from all three books, and as much as some of the characters' fates were painful to write, it felt right to do so. I feel a bit guilty, though, as I really did put poor Ash through the wringer this time around.
As for next? I've got quite a few ideas percolating, some of them already in outline form, and I hope I'm not done playing in Ashley's world quite yet.
Last one. Advice for surviving a zombie apocalypse?
If a loved one comes staggering up to you all blue/green, rotting, and tries to bite you, shoot them in the head. Unless it's Halloween and then you might want to hold off.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Dana!