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Dissecting the Undead with Nikki Hopeman

What would you call your neighbor if you watched him die during a devastating solar radiation event and then get up and brush himself off? You’d call him a zombie, that’s what. But what if he stayed that way and ended up working at the fast food joint down the street? You wouldn’t really know what to think, but you’d have to adjust… and so would he.

Habeas Corpse Nikki HopemanJust after I read Jeff Lindsay’s entire Dexter series, I picked up a collection of Richard Matheson’s short stories. I loved The Funeral, his tale of a depressed vampire who throws himself a funeral because he’s sad he’ll never have one. An assortment of supernatural creatures shows up, and chaos ensues, bewildering the poor funeral director. This imagery mashed together with Dexter’s dysfunctional forensics squad and I wondered what it would be like if I wrote about an entirely supernatural crime-fighting team.

Habeas Corpse began as just a glimpse into the workings of a police squad with zombie evidence analysts, vampire detectives, and ghost beat cops. It was funny, a la The Funeral, but I knew I wasn’t getting everything out of it that I could. I handed the story off to a beta reader and he handed it back with a note that I had a novel, not a short story.

I did not believe him. Nor did I believe I could write a socially inept male zombie protagonist. Okay, maybe the socially inept thing, but not the male zombie.

But my reader was insistent, so I started playing with the characters, deciding what worked and what didn’t, and ultimately narrowed it down to just my protagonist, Theo Walker. By the end of the first draft, a lot of the humor was replaced with Theo’s brand of geekery, and I enjoyed writing in his voice. So I ran with it.

I ended up with a story about a guy who had no life when he was alive and has less of one now that he’s dead. Theo works for the forensics department of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, but struggles with his proximity to human flesh, which is the only way for him to feel emotions or chemical sensations like adrenaline or anxiety. Theo also has a unique gift—he can experience the last few moments of a person’s death if his or her own emotions are running high enough at the time of death. His only friend, Dr. Henry Libitin, uses this gift to help find killers, and when a serial killer stalks the Steel City, Theo’s got more flesh on his hands than he’s accustomed to. This leads to some interesting side effects and problems.

Nikki HopemanHabeas Corpse was released November 2 from Blood Bound Books. It’s my debut novel, but my short story, Black Bird, can be found in Dark Moon Books’s anthology Mistresses of the Macabre. One Man’s Garbage, another short story, can be found in the charity anthology Hazard Yet Forward.

I hold a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and have several years experience resecting tumor tissue from body parts at the University of Pittsburgh’s Immunologic and Cellular Products Laboratory (I am, actually, a mad scientist). I received my Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in January of 2011. While enrolled at SHU, I studied with Michael Arnzen and Scott Johnson. I love combining science, especially forensics, with horror and mystery elements.

I was born in central Pennsylvania and tried out a few other places, but now call Pittsburgh home. I share my space with my husband, two sons, and two corgis. When not at the keyboard, I’m either reading or on my Harley.

Visit Nikki Hopeman at her website, nikkihopeman.com.