Author Dana Fredsti recently published Plague World, the latest in her series of Ashley Parker zombie novels. She's previously written for us about her experiences watching war movies with her dad and the research that went into getting her zombies right.
This time she talks about how she created characters inspired by the Veterans' Allegiance VMC Motorcycle club and how she got their permission to use them in her novel.
by Dana Fredsti
Writing my Ashley Parker books over the last three years, I've watched a lot of zombie movies and TV shows, and read a buttload (that's a mathematical term, btw) of zombie themed books and stories. Mind you, I would have read them even if I hadn't been working on a zombie series, but it's awfully cool to be able to legitimately call it "research" and write zombie related purchases off on my taxes.
One of the more irritating – and sometimes amusing, but mostly just irritating – things that came out of all this research were the amount of recurring clichés in many of the books/movies. Things that may have been original when George Romero (all hail the father of flesh-eating ghouls!) made Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead have become familiar and stale tropes, such as:
- Someone hiding a bite and endangering other characters and none of the other characters realizing it until the bite-ee has turned and started nibbling on the survivors.
- Someone refusing to let another character kill a newly turned wife/kid/husband/second cousin.
- Wasting ammo on body shots after being told to shoot zombies in the head. You cannot take a zombie out with a gut shot, people!
- And a variation on #2: Let’s keep Mommy or Junior around in the basement because, y’know, there’s a cure for that jaw dropping off their face.
- Rapacious rednecks/religious whack jobs/rogue military units/biker gangs. "Out here on your own, little lady? Heh heh heh."
And while I loved the biker raiders living on the road in the original every cheap knock-off movie and derivative novel turned bikers into … well… er… okay, I have to say it… sons of anarchy. There seems to be an unusually high ratio of lawless sociopaths once a man (or woman) straddles a hog. Seriously we're looking at a correlation between riding motorcycles and a propensity for looting, pillaging, and random pie fights.
So, while writing the Ashley Parker books, I wanted to turn a few tropes on their sides and do something original. I knew I wanted to do something different with a motorcycle gang, but didn't really know what. Enter my cousin Steffan Fredsti.
Steffan and I had been corresponding periodically while he was stationed overseas. I'd sent him Plague Town and a couple of other zombie books when I found out he and his buddies wanted reading material, and were really into zombies. Steffan served eighteen years and nine months as a Combat Medic the U.S. Army. He was deployed five times. Twice in the Balkans and three times in the Middle East. He was (and is) an invaluable source for research and I wanted to thank him by putting him in Plague World as a character. He loved the idea, but wanted to know if we could possibly add some other people instead of making him a solo character. Specifically, he wanted to include the other members of his motorcycle club, The Veteran's Allegiance. "Maybe they could help Ashley out on the road or something. Be good guys. "
I asked Steffan to check with the other members of the VA and see how they felt about being featured in a zombie book. Shortly thereafter, Steffan sent me pictures, a brief "character" description of all the members in the chapter, and a signed release form. I took that as a big old "hell, yeah!" and forged ahead.
Let me introduce you to the Veteran's Allegiance VMC and a few of their members. In their own words, "We are a Veterans Motorcycle Club (VMC) with Chapters in Washington State dedicated to the remembrance of those that have and are still serving."
To help, support, recognize and remember fellow Veterans and their families.
The Veterans Allegiance was started in roughly 2009 by Phil "Dragon" Sollitt (former US Army Tanker and Combat Scout,) who wanted to do something 'for my brothers in arms… my fellow Veterans." He wanted to form a brotherhood and be part of an organization that gave back to other veterans and their families. Unimpressed with other Veteran Clubs that made this claim, but never quite followed through, Dragon met with a few people, all with military backgrounds, who shared his views and came up with a way to bring his idea to life. They wanted to be a motorcycle club, but one that spent their supporting their fellow Veterans and other Veteran organizations. In Dragon's own words:
"We wanted to ensure that they were given all the respect and dignity they were due by RECOGNIZING them for what they did for us and our Country. We wanted to always REMEMBER those that fell or those that had written that "blank check," as we call it. The Veterans Allegiance Mission Statement: to Help, Support, Recognize and Remember fellow Veterans and their Families."
Steffan's recounting of how he got involved with the club reaffirms that the members were serious about the Mission Statement:
"I wouldn't say I found the club, a more accurate way of putting it is that the club found me. I was on my way home from work (still Active Duty at the time) and suddenly my right front foot peg broke off. Well, this is not a good thing since that is where my rear breaks are also attached too. I spent about thirty minutes on the side of the road and several cars had passed me by not concerned or caring. I was at the end of my rope when this car pulled over and a lumbering hulk of a man got out and asked if I needed help. I explained the issue and he waited no time in helping me patch the bike up enough to get it home. Before he left he handed me his card, which had the Club logo on it, and they have been my brothers ever since."
Like the other members, what Rooster likes best about the club is the principles that it was founded on; the mission statement: to help, support, recognize, and remember veterans and their families. Says Rooster, "It seems like a huge mission, however, it really isn't. Take for example me and my broken bike. It may have taken my brother only 10 minutes to help me out, but he was the only one that did it...out of the countless others that just passed me by."
Another member, Don "Viper" Jackson, a former Chief Warrant Officer -4 who retired after twenty-six years in the Army, says "I felt an extreme void in my life when I no longer had comrades by my side. A Motorcycle Club is a close second to the friendship and trust that I experienced in the Military."
He found out about the VAVMC when he was helping a friend organize the first Red, White & Blue Rally in 2011. "A group of guys walked through the door that night, sat down with us, and put together the framework for conducting a charity event to support the Fisher House at Fort Lewis Washington. These guys were from the VAVMC." He talked to Dragon that night, and became first a Hang-A-Round, then a Probate, and then a full Patch. He's now the club's State XO, "which," says Vipers, "is just another glorified name for a secretary."
I also spoke (via Facebook) to VA member "Dirtybird Wiebersch. "You can call me Dirtybird, I was motorized infantry, shot everything one man could hold along with driving humvees. The best thing about veterans allegiance VMC is the vision Dragon created for the club, to help, support, recognize, and remember fellow veterans and their families."
Adds Rooster: "No one in this organization keeps count of how many we help, we just help. We support by attending, organizing, and donating to various veteran related causes, we recognize veterans by volunteering at the Soldiers Home in the state, and we remember them by honoring their memory and working with the Patriot Guard Riders who provide the escorts and flag line of fallen service members both former and current."
When asked how they felt about being in Plague World, the guys had this to say:
Rooster: "I LOVE the thought of being in Plague World! For once the bikers are portrayed as the good guys. What's better is that because of our military background we are actually helpful to the heroine. That and we get to wreak serious havoc in a productive and therapeutic way."
Dragon: "It's really neat that we are gonna be in a book... kinda shows that we made an impression or left our mark... also shows that not all bikers or Motorcycle Clubs are doing bad stuff or are degenerates."
Dirtybird: "I love the novel. Love the idea of using a garrote as my main means of killing zombies."
Viper: "Steffan (aka Rooster) told the Club about his cousin...a *famous author (I totally did not pay him to say that) from San Diego, who was willing to include a few lines in her next book about this biker group who helped in killing a few hundred zombies. Hell, I'm all for killing anything that won't send me to prison. The rest is totally in Dana's hands."
Trust me when I said I could not make up characters as varied and colorful as these guys. Their role in Plague World went from what was originally going to be a brief cameo to a pretty major part in the story. In fact, without them I'm not sure how I would have done what needed to be done in the last few chapters of the book. And if there's another Ashley Parker book, you can bet my very favorite Motorcycle Club is gonna be in there. Because they'd be there in the thick of things, doing their best to do the right thing.
Says Dragon: "The Club to me is more than just a bunch of guys hangin' out. It's a commitment. It's a responsibility. I have taken that responsibility to the next level. I see the foundation being based on what we call "L,L, H&R." Love, Loyalty, Honor and Respect! It's a code that we try and live by... zombies wouldn't understand!"
Thank you, gentlemen, for your service to our country, and your willingness to bring your code -- and your personalities -- into the world of Ashley Parker.
And Ashley wants me to add that she couldn't have done it without you.