Ask an author: 5 horror novels everyone should read

I Am Legend cover

Halloween may be over, but that doesn’t mean the scares have to end. One of my favorite authors, Dana Fredsti (writer of excellent zombie novels Plague Town and Plague Nation), shared with me a few of her favorite scary books — and answered a very important question about the genre itself. Because who would know horror better than a horror author?

How many of these have you read?


What are some of your personal favorite horror books that you wish everyone would read?

Haunting of Hill HouseThis is such a tough question for me because I love so many books for so many reasons, and I could spend hours and much of your blog space writing an endless list. I feel guilty when I leave anything off! But I’ll content myself with a sampling of some of my favorites and go with the ones that spring to mind first:

The Shining by Stephen King — One of the first books that scared me when I read it, and this was during the daytime. We’re talking skin-crawling, don’t-look-under-the-bed type shivers. I can’t say that about many books or movies, so no wonder The Shining popped into mind first!

Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson — One of the best haunted house stories ever written (and the film adaptation — the original; not more recent CGI crapfest — remains the scariest movie ever made without a hint of gore), and it stands the test of time.

DraculaWhere the Chill Waits by T. Chris Martindale — This book prompted me to write my first ever fan letter to the author. An excellent and creepy novel about the wendigo, a flesh-eating Ojibwa demon that either drives its victims insane and infects them with a craving for human flesh or just eats ’em.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson — The story of the sole survivor of a plague that turns its victims into vampires, this novel spawned three film adaptations (Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Legend) and inspired George Romero’s classic movie Night of the Living Dead.

Dracula by Bram Stoker — It’s a classic for a reason. I read it once a year starting when I was 10 years old.

There. Start with those, and when you’re done, come back and I’ll have more for ya!

Why should people who enjoy a good scare or horror movie try picking up a horror book instead?

The human imagination can conjure up more horrific and subtle scares and images than any film can do for us. When you read a well-written horror novel or story, your mind does so much more work to scare you than any movie can do, especially in this age of CGI, when it’s so easy to tell something is fake. Reading sparks the imagination in a way that no film can ever hope to emulate.


Thanks, Dana! Be sure to check out her books, Plague Town and Plague Nation (they’re both so good!). She’s currently working on the third in her Ashley Parker series, Plague World.

Kiss and kill: a review of Plague Nation

Plague NationLet me introduce you to Dana Fredsti, the creator of a smart zombie meta-fiction meets steamy gore-stained-clothes-be-damned romance called Plague Nation. It’s the sequel to Plague Town (here’s my review), which was my favorite book from last year. I thought a zombie novelization would be stupid. I was dead wrong.

Now, I love zombie movies. It’s easy to react to the horror of blood and guts when it’s splattering all over the screen. Reading about it is less visceral, in theory anyway. But Fredsti knows how to squeeze words for all their disgusting worth, and she even establishes a community with fellow film aficionados by playing off famous movies through her characters — mostly an elite class of virus-resistant fighters called the DZN, who have received a top-notch zombie education in order to do their job: picking the streets clean of flesh-hungry walkers. So they cite zombie flicks a lot. Gotta have some fun amidst all the depressing carnage, right?

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Interview with Dana Fredsti on Plague Town

Yesterday I reviewed Dana Fredsti’s Plague Town—out today from Titan Books. I was offered a chance to speak with the author about her new zombie book and how her exclusive background in horror influenced its writing.

Misprinted Pages: Hi, Dana. Thanks for sitting down to chat about Plague Town. Can you tell us what your upcoming book is about?

Dana Fredsti: Hi there, and thank you for having me here! Plague Town is my take on theΒ  start of the Zombocalypse experienced from the point-of-view of a twenty-something, divorced liberal arts major who has no idea what to do with her life until she’s attacked and bitten by zombies and discovers she’s one of a very small percentage of the population who is immune to the virus. This puts her and her fellow “wild cards” in the unique position of being able to fight the undead hordes without fear of infection. Wacky—and gory—hijinks ensue.

There’s a lot of zombie stuff out there—from movies to video games to television shows. What made you want to write a series of zombie novels, and how is Plague Town different from its peers?

Oh, I could go on at length here … First of all, I am not one of those people who think that zombies have “jumped the shark.” Folks like me (people who have been total zombieholics since the early ’80s) have been waiting a long time for zombies to get even a little of media exposure of their hairier and fangier cousins. And I don’t see any end to werewolf and vampire novels any time soon. Not even taking into consideration the variations writers and filmmakers have been coming up with on the original flesh-eating ghoul “theme” started by the Father of All Zombies, George Romero. The best of the books and movies are as much (if not more) about the characters and human relationships as they are about people getting their intestines pulled out. So … maybe I should answer your question now.

I was approached by Lori Perkins with Ravenous Romance to develop a series of books that were “Buffy … except with zombies. And different.” I said yes ’cause … well, zombies! The series was then sold to Titan Books, and I worked very closely with my Dark Editorial Overlord, Steve Saffel, to tone down the romance, tighten up the pacing, and bridge the gap between readers of paranormal romance and the zombie genre. Plague Town is unique in that it probably has more humor than your average zombie novel, and has one of the few female protagonists in the genre to this point. I think my narrative voice (okay, Ashley’s narrative voice) makes it stand out as well. There are some other elements I think are unique, but talking about them would be major spoilers at this point.

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The best zombies of the season: a review of Plague Town

“But all you need to remember is that both Ripley and the cat survive.”

You know those books that grip you with a good story and refuse to let you do anything short of devour it? Few manage to truly and honestly marry me to their pages regardless of their literary merit or how well they’re written. Plague Town is one of those books, and not only is the prose good, but it’s seasoned with a dash of steamy romance and an excellent sense of originality and pacing. In other words, it survives the zombie apocalypse in style.

Plague Town, by Dana Fredsti (@zhadi1), is a zom-rom-com-dram (yeah, I totally just coined that). Translation? It’s a zombie romantic comedy/drama, and you’ll want to read it in as few sittings as possible. Seriously, this book pulled me in hard like a ravenous zombie.

Fredsti (as you’ll learn tomorrow, when I post a special interview with the author) is no stranger to zombie fiction or pop culture, and she infuses that knowledge into her story every step of the way. She has an enviable knack for precise and energetic writing, and she builds characters very well. So well, in fact, that Lily (one of the best in the book) became the little sister I never had. That’s how vividly I could imagine her character.

The author also knows sex—and it shows. The romantic involvement in the book does take a backseat to the zombie invasion, but when it’s pushed to the forefront, it’s not cheesy or tacky or embarrassing. It’s honest-to-goodness sex, and Fredsti writes it like a pro.

But back to the pop culture familiarity. Fredsti never skips a beat, constantly making fun references to actual horror lore through the eyes of her quirky main character, Ashley Parker (who is awesome, and not just because she’s a girl). The world knows about zombies the same way we do, and when the outbreak happens, this little detail spares the reader from the downtime of exposition—the kind that drags its feet as slowly as the zombies do.

(Fredsti even throws in a subtle nod to Max Brooks’ World War Z with the occasional mention of “zeds.”)

Because so much already exists as groundwork, the story is more believable and appreciable as an addition to the media’s ongoing fascination with zombies—from The Walking Dead on AMC and in comics to video games (Yakuza: Dead Souls is a recent goodie) and countless movies, etc. etc. Plague Town uses them all as a stepping stone to a greater telling because it acknowledges and at times incorporates their own contributions.

Plague Town unravels military secrets and pours on the blood, just like you’d expect. It also compensates for why some people (I can’t help but think Resident Evil here) can withstand zombie attacks without actually turning. The book answers mystery this with “wild cards”: humans like Ashley with an immunity to the zombie virus, giving them enhanced abilities and a better chance at survival after their resistance is activated by an otherwise deadly zombie bite. Of course, they’re still prone to death by mauling, but otherwise they can take all the nips and bloody goo that might come their way.

All while reading this, I thought how awesome it would be if Fredsti expanded the book into a series. Because I couldn’t get enough of it or her writing, and it’s not often that I’d commit to a sequel immediately after finishing a book. But guess what? Two more books, Plague Nation and Plague World, are forthcoming.

Hell. Yes.

*Plague Town will be available starting April 3. Thanks to Titan Books for the advanced copy! Stay tuned tomorrow for my interview with author Dana Fredsti.