How a Career as a Stuntwoman Spawned a Killer Urban Fantasy

Dana Fredsti’s (Plague Town) latest novel is Spawn of Lilith, a contemporary fantasy about a tough-as-nails woman who’s a stunt performers for the big screen by day, and a demon hunter at night—the recipe for the most fun too-gritty-to-be-urban fantasy you’ll read all year. And Fredsti knows from her subject matter—she had her own Hollywood career, including work as a stuntwoman. She joins us today to talk about how she went from doing stunts to writing books.

Before I became a full-time author, my passion was swashbuckling. I’ve been in love with sword fighting when I saw Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers.

I got involved in theatrical combat and martial arts in my late teens, working with stage combat groups that did workshops and shows at Comic-Con and other conventions. I was also a drama queen, having caught the acting bug after my overly ambitious fifth grade teacher put on a production of Antigone and cast me in the title role.

My new series, Spawn of Lilith combines my love of performing with two different mythologies: the lore of Hollywood, and mythic pantheons from different cultures around the world. It also blends the magic of movie stunts and special effects with the secrets and skills of a supernatural subculture known to only a small percentage of the film industry. Nephilims and harpies do impossible high falls. Phoenix shifters do fire gags and rise from the ashes to do another take. More than a few starlets are succubae, and some agents are real demons.

During my years in Los Angeles I worked as an actress, sword fighter, production assistant, second AD, and armorer’s assistant. An eclectic mix that gave me perspective from both sides of the camera, and—along with research and interviews—a great foundation on which to build the world of Lee Striga, my stuntwoman protagonist. Here’re some of the highlights of my checkered career on the silver screen:

Conan the Barbarian show at Universal Studios – Red Sonja
So much fun! Sword fighting and acting, and so much exercise I could eat anything I wanted while I was training for this. Learned to rappel down a thirty-foot drop, overcoming an extreme—and sensible—fear of heights to do so.

Legion of Iron – Extra
I was one of a half dozen or so concubines at an illegal gladiatorial arena where bored rich folks wearing cheap nylon “hoods” bet on fights. The experience left rich veins of badness to be mined for Spawn of Lilith.

Princess Warrior – Actress
From concubine to a lead role as the villainess. I channeled a combination of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror and William Shatner to play the role of Curette, who threatens people non-ironically with a white-hot spoon. I did my own fights and learned that transporter pods often dump their passengers in the middle of wet T-shirt contests. Who knew?

Time Barbarians – Production assistant/Gatalite warrior
Spent a lot of time gathering up half-full soda cans because some film crews suck at picking up after themselves. I also had a short bit as one of the bad barbarians, got punched by the hero and took multiple falls onto hard ground wearing not a lot of clothing. 

Cause of Death – Second A.D./Actress
Learned a second A.D was a lot like being a PA, because I was still picking up after people. Had a very full-of-himself actor give a detailed list of demands (none of which were met), including the oddly specific order to have no Rolos at craft service. I had brief roles as “Officer Friendly” and a fencer. Tasted my first glass of Dom Perignon.

Army of Darkness – Armorer’s assistant/Sword Captain/Swordfighting Deadite
Assisted the onset armorer in all manner of armor-related duties. Helped train the extras playing soldiers how to swing swords safely in the background so they didn’t accidentally break a camera lens. Choreographed fights for myself and my fight partners. Broke a camera lens. Got a thumbs-up for one of my fights from Bruce Campbell, which makes me forgive him for the resulting PTSD from having to hear “This is my boom stick!” for a good two dozen takes.

Ninja Nymphs in the 22rd (or was it 23rd?) Century – actress/stuntwoman
Played Minstra, the unimaginatively named prime minister of a planet far far away. Worked with Jack West (who did all the wire work for Wang in Big Trouble in Little China) and had a brief taste of what it was like to be a member of a stunt team. Jack wanted me and my then-husband to be a part his stunt crew and maybe if we’d had internet then, there would have been follow-through and I’d be a full-time stunt woman instead of a writer.

Bloodbath writer/actress
Wrote the screenplay—which features vampires in Hollywood—as a gift for a first-time director pal of mine and ended up playing the part of Maggie the Cop. The executive producer wanted a B-story with a character inexplicably obsessed with vitamins, and for the hero to be a werewolf with a magic sword that can kill vampires. Learned that you can’t shoot a film in six days with a director who liked to sleep in without losing a fourth of the script and ending up with production values that make the original Dark Shadows series look sharp.

Pale Dreamer – writer/actress
My ex- and I wrote the screenplay for an aspiring director friend, who built a set in his living room in two days to shoot the trailer. The set looked awesome on film, btw. Played one of the leads and got to work with George Romero alums Ken Foree and Josef Pilato, and iconic scream queen Brinke Stevens. This remains one of my favorite film experiences even though it was never completed. Readers might just get a glimpse of a fictionalized version in Spawn of Lilith.

If the Dark Gods of Hollywood had decreed differently, perhaps I’d still be an actress or maybe a full-time stunt woman instead of a writer. But then I wouldn’t be able to work in pajama bottoms and t-shirts, so I think the Universe knew what it was doing.

Spawn of Lilith is available now.

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