I first met Shana Festa as a book reviewer with an amazing niche blog The Bookie Monster that dealt with horror and zompoc fiction. I quickly discovered the snarky red head was one of the most driven, passionate people I’d ever met and became close friends. A registered nurse living in Florida with her hunky Italian husband and beloved dogs Daphne & Casey, Shana also harbors an unlikely secret – a deep and abiding love for all things zombie related! In fact there isn’t much she hasn’t read in the genre, which is why it came as no surprise when she announced her debut zombie novel series Time of Death. The series, which consists of Induction and Asylum at present with the promise of an upcoming third book, was an instant success with hardcore zombie fans and authors alike. She initially signed a publishing deal with Permuted Press but pulled out and left on friendly terms to pursue new options. I managed to interview the extremely busy author in between nursing appointments and writing sessions.
What was the first zombie movie you ever saw?
Ah, I can still remember it. The year was 1985. I was a whopping nine years old and it was somewhere around midnight. I’d gone to bed hours before, but alas I was an unruly child and woke up to tell my parents there was a skunk outside. The television was in clear view of the hall that led to my bedroom and if I poked my head out I could see it. But my parents couldn’t see me. That evening, they were watching Return of the Living Dead. I don’t think I slept for weeks following that fateful evening.
What is your favorite zombie movie of all time and why?
Many will scoff at my answer. There’s nothing profound in zombies for me; just a love of gore and senseless killing. Dawn of the Dead, the 2004 remake, embodies everything a zombie movie needs to have for me. It managed to do what no other movie since American Werewolf in London has been able to. Scare me to the point of irrational crying and keep me up at night.
How many books do you think you’ve read at this point? Ball park figure. And how many of them were zombie books?
Ball park? Thousands. Even as a kid, I read a book every day. I ate them up like potato chips. R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, Dean Koontz; I read everything they had. It didn’t hurt that my mother owned a retail store in a shopping mall and a few doors down was my Mecca; a book store that probably stayed in business from me alone!
As for zombie books, I’d venture a guess that I’m close to 800. I stopped counting somewhere around 600. Just like when I was a kid, I still read at least five books a week.
Who are you reading right now?
This past week I read SCABS by Eric Shelman, Journal of the Undead: New York Outbreak by S.G. Lee and I reread the first six books of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series for some nostalgia. I’m currently reading C.T. Phipps new release, Esoterrorism. I loved his Rules of Supervillainy.
I’ve gotta say I am impressed with your ToD series and can’t wait for the next installment. How many do you plan on writing in the series?
I change my mind about this daily. Originally, I hadn’t thought I’d write past Induction! Then I decided on a trilogy. Now I’m just not sure I can tell the tale from start to finish in three books. Perhaps I’ll continue, or perhaps there will be a spinoff based on a key character.
Do you have a process that helps you write?
Absolutely. Ignore.. everyone.
What’s more important? Story or character development?
Character development, all the way. There’s only so many ways to skin a zombie. I willingly share that with hundreds of talented writers. But the characters are unique to an author and what drives a story. Individual personality traits allow the story to unfold if characters have a mind of their own. Emma is an unruly heroine. She takes Time of Death to some dark places; but thankfully some really light ones, too.
Do you think you’d be able to survive a zombie outbreak? What is your plan for when the time eventually comes?
This is an easy question. Not a shot in Hell. My plan is to die…fast! And hopefully not be naked when it happens. There’s nothing worse than being the naked zombie.
What kinds of weapons would you chose to fight zombies and why?
Funny you should ask that. I thought long and hard on this, and even made a big deal about it in my second book of the Time of Death Series, Asylum. Each character is given the opportunity to select a weapon-and name them. However, Daphne is a weapon all her own!
Some people say that zombies are a trend that has already peaked. What’s your response to them?
I stifled my initial response. I didn’t think an image of me flipping them the bird would be appropriate. To those people, I say “that’s a strong, and irresponsible, opinion from someone that doesn’t read the genre.”
Zombie fans are the most amazingly loyal crowd I’ve ever come across. I mean, come on, if you can sit through a movie about zombie beavers, you’re not going to give up on the genre any time soon. Look at The Walking Dead Twitter alone. 3.6 MILLION followers. If that’s considered “having peaked”, then I’m ready to peak!
What is the plot of Time of Death: Induction? Break it down for readers.
It’s a simple equation, really. Snarky female lead plus dog times zombies equals Time of Death. My main character is wildly inappropriate, a total klutz, but somehow manages to survive the zombie outbreak despite running into one FUBAR situation after another. I have no problem killing people, despite how integral to the storyline they may be.
Don’t be mistaken, though. While readers may laugh until they need a change of pants, there is no shortage of good old-fashioned carnage.
Romero says the new crop of “fast” zombies like the ones in World War Z aren’t really zombies. Where do you stand on the fast versus slow debate?
I prefer my zombies slow. My zombies are your run of the mill Romero shamblers. Dumb and easily bested when alone, but determined and like a spreading plague when en masse. The constant drive and hunger. I wrote what I love, and I think the book is that much better for it.
What do you listen to when you write?
Godsmack, Disturbed, System of a Down, Rob Zombie (yes, really). I’m a fan of loud, fast, unintelligible, music.
What makes your work different than other writers in the genre?
Location, location, location! Anyone can go to a mall and wait for the inevitable horde to sweep through and devastate the area. It was important to me that my settings have flare. A houseboat, a laundromat, even a fortified Target. I like to think the sparkle is in unique setting.
Also, my characters take on a life of their own. I’ve written a strong female lead who has a snarky personality, and provides comedy at the most inappropriate of times. She’s also compassionate and fiercely loyal. And most of all, this character loves her dog-sometimes more than people.
What’s the craziest thing(s) you can share about your training as a nurse?
Go read the first chapter of Time of Death: Induction. You can read it in the free preview on Amazon. That’s an honest-to-God real life experience. And one that my friends and I continue to shudder over today!
How do you get past writer’s block?
I’m open to suggestions at this point!
Do you think you’ll ever write in a different genre? If you did what would you write?
I’m currently mulling around an urban fantasy story. Before zombies, I was an avid reader of UF. Authors like Karen Marie Moning, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison and Jennifer Armintrout. I thoroughly enjoy the genre and think I could add something very special into the mix.
What advice would you give up and coming writers?
Most people will just say “keep writing” or something to that effect. My advice is to LEARN EVERYTHING. Don’t assume a publisher will do any marketing for you. Learn the standards; how to format a manuscript, how to convert one, what makes a good cover image, how to upload a book for publication. If you don’t know the correct way to do things, you’ll never know if the person you’ve hired to handle the logistics will be doing it right. The only person that truly cares about your success is yourself. It’s a cold, harsh, truth-but a truth nonetheless.
With the advances in technology and publishing many authors are finding new success taking on the duty of publishing on their own. What drove you to go this route after being accepted by a publisher?
If you’re ready to publish a book and want a publisher, make sure you identify why you want a publisher. I’ve seen the world of an author from both sides of the fence. I paid the price for not doing my due diligence before publishing under a company. For me, I only wanted a publisher because I wanted someone to market my books so I could focus on writing. Unfortunately, nowadays, there is little to no marketing done from a publisher and I had to find this out the hard way. Now, self-published, if no marketing is done I have no one to resent but myself.
That’s not to say all publishers are evil. Permuted Press, who originally published the first two books in my Time of Death series is staffed by some fantastic people. My expectations going into things were unrealistic and I have a huge amount of respect for the company. They did right by me and provided a more than fair exit strategy for me and my books.
Do you think the old stigma of being self-published hurts your image as an author?
Not even a little bit. But then again, I try not to subscribe to stigmas. I work hard. I’m kind and generous to others and I help wherever I see a need. (Many times I provide unsolicited help in the hopes that I can assist someone in making a poor choice.)
As a reader, I tend not to pay attention to whether or not a book is self-published or under a company. Realistically, until I became a reviewer, I had no idea self-publishing even existed. It was so far outside my scope of things to pay attention to. And I think most casual readers probably share that ignorant bliss.
If a stigma still exists, I suspect it may not be so much a reader’s view but an author’s. Most authors I’ve met are awesome, though I have run into a few that have a high opinion of themselves and sense of entitlement because they may have been published by one of the big boys at some point. Not to say that all well-known authors have a stick up their butt, but there’s at least one A-hole in every group. =)
Last year we co-founded the At Hell’s Gates horror anthology series, which donates all the proceeds to help wounded soldiers and their families through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Without your tireless support and hard work, from getting new contributing authors and editors to creating a website and creating a beta readers group on social media, the series has already been able to donate profits from the first two books in the series. Tell Escapist readers a little about what the project means to you and why you are so passionate about it?
I love being able to give back to our Veterans. No amount is too small. Being able to give a piece of my heart and soul in the form of writing is the least I can do. They deserve so much more. I will continue to strive to make At Hell’s Gates successful and financially beneficial to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund because it’s an outlet in which I know I can make a difference.
Wow, a lot of I’s in that above paragraph, but in reality, At Hell’s Gates is all about the “WE”. We have more than fifty contributors so far and the project wouldn’t be such a success without each and every one of them.
What’s next for you?
Time of Death 3: Crossroads. Full steam ahead! The writing is underway and I hope for a release later in the year.
Anything else you’d like to promote?
At Hell’s Gates III: Bound By Blood has just been released for pre-orders. It’s official release date is July 31st, 2015. Twenty-eight amazing stories and nearly six-hundred pages for a mere $2.99. Please, regardless of whether or not you read horror, pick up a copy and support our veterans.
Here’s the amazing trailer Tricia Gorman created for the project recently. I’m in awe at the level of talent injected into the project. From writers, to movie-makers, to editors, and even beta readers our team is a class act.
More on Shana Festa
Shana Festa grew up in the small town of Northborough Massachusetts. As an impressionable tike, she shared in her father’s love for Horror, and spent most of her childhood hiding under the blankets worrying what nightmarish creature lurked in her closet. She grew up on a healthy diet of classics like Nightmare on Elm Street, Return of the Living Dead, American Werewolf in London, Child’s Play and Poltergeist.
Her writing career was born from her long-time addiction to terrifying tales. Under her alter ego, The Bookie Monster, Shana reviews horror and paranormal books, with an emphasis on zombie fiction. Her altruistic beliefs fuse seamlessly with The Bookie Monster’s mission to provide readers with honest reviews and to provide authors with a platform to promote their labors of love.
Shana holds a degree in nursing and now resides in Cape Coral, Florida with her husband and two adorable dogs. In addition to her apocalyptic series, TIME OF DEATH, she is a founding member of AT HELL’S GATES, a horror anthology series dedicated to supporting the brave men and women of our Armed Forces through the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.