An Interview with Nikki Hopeman, Author of Habeas Corpse

Nikki HopemanNikki Hopeman still has a trunk full of spiral-bound notebooks of short stories in elementary handwriting. While she’s graduated to using a computer for writing, she still finds files of mysterious information saved for future writing endeavors and she can sometimes remember why she saved them.

She loves the kind of horror that leaves her quaking in the back of the closet… the kind that won’t let her close her eyes. She worked with some great horror writers while pursuing her MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She lives in Pittsburgh with her very tolerant family. Today she was kind enough to stop by for an interview.

Zombie Pop (Max Booth): Hi Nikki, thank you for joining us today. Your novel, Habeas Corpse, was released earlier this year from Blood Bound Books. In one sentence, how would you describe your novel?

Nikki Hopeman: Hi Max! Thanks very much for having me. Being a guest for Zombie Pop has been a lot of fun. My novel in one sentence… wow. Even my elevator pitch is longer. Okay, Habeas Corpse in one sentence: A forensic technician who eats the evidence is looking for trouble.

ZP: Why zombies?

NH: Why not? Zombies offer a writer a lot of wiggle room. The classic zombie tale focuses on the survivors of the apocalypse, which is more of a character study of the living. Lots of subjects can come into play in this scenario and anyone interested in anthropology or psychology can have a blast and I think this is why we see a lot of the apocalyptic tales. A story about the true Haitian zombies can cover religious and ethical implications of slavery. Or a writer can go in a whole new direction, as we saw with the movie Warm Bodies, Diana Rowland’s book My Life as a White Trash Zombie, and my novel. I know zombies are taking a hit right now in writer circles for being cliché and a bandwagon subject, but vampires have been taking the same criticism for a long time now and I don’t see them slowing down. Zombies are a fantastic tool to examine a lot of subjects.

ZP: A lot of zombie fiction combines multiple tropes and gimmicks to stay interesting. Your novel included a CSI/Dexter storyline, Ex-Heroes involved superheroes fighting zombies, and there are now countless mash-ups of zombies being inserted into popular classics (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example). Do you think, in order to be successful at tackling zombies in fiction, these mash-ups and tactics are a necessity? Are we too spoiled, or can more “vanilla” tales still work?

Nikki Hopeman 'Habeas Corpse'NH: I think the continued popularity of The Walking Dead shows that vanilla tales will work. It’s a writer’s job to push the envelope to some degree and find a new angle to a “vanilla” subject, but not always necessary. Many writers have made twists to the vampire (hello, Twilight) and there’s been a big push from the horror community to again show the vampire in it’s original terror-inspiring form, so this is a sign that “vanilla” will never go away and will eventually prevail.

ZP: What is your favorite zombie film and book?

NH: I have so many! I love the movies Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead for the comedic undertones. My favorite movie, though, is one that’s really stuck with me since I watched it, 2010’s The Dead directed by The Ford brothers. This was the first zombie movie I’d seen set in Africa, and really, it makes sense. I have a background in epidemiology and with all the other diseases coming out of Africa, why wouldn’t the zombie apocalypse start there? In addition to the setting, the movie is directed beautifully. It’s a slow burn to a tragic ending and the location is bare, surreal and desolate. I was so impressed.

NH: My favorite zombie book is Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. This book was billed as literary zombie fiction, and while there are literary elements, the visuals Whitehead creates are stunning and there’s a real sense of tension. It’s a hopeless scenario but the human condition shines.

ZP: What was the process of getting Habeas Corpse in print? Did it take long to find a home?

NH: What a strange journey… but not terribly long. I belong to an online peer review website and I’d posted the first chapter shortly after finishing the novel just looking for some feedback. Not long after that, I was contacted by an editor at a large house who was interested in acquiring Habeas Corpse IF… if I was willing to remove the gore. This editor felt readers wouldn’t appreciate the graphic material. My first thought was, “have you watched The Walking Dead lately?” I decided I couldn’t do it. The gore and Theo’s appreciation of eating are integral to the character, but I wondered what another editor would think. I approached RJ Cavender at The Editorial Department and worked with him to polish the novel, which did not require any removal of fun bits. During the process, he joined the Blood Bound Books team and mentioned that BBB might be a good fit.

ZP: How has is it been working with Blood Bound Books?

NH: Blood Bound Books has been amazing. They were easy to work with for the final pass of editing and I had a say in the cover art. There’s been great communication and I’ve never felt as if I can’t approach them about any concerns. I had the opportunity to sit down with Marc Ciccarone and Joe Spagnola for dinner at KillerCon in September and not only are they running a great business, they’re genuinely good guys. I give Blood Bound Books two enthusiastic thumbs up.

ZP: Do you have a typical writing process? Do you outline?

NH: I’m always trying to refine my process, but what it usually boils down to is a very basic outline, first draft, then and refinement. By basic outline, I mean I know how the story starts, the major turning points in the story, and usually how it ends. I run with it from there, and after the first draft, I go back and make detailed notes before I make my second pass. There are often big changes between the first and second drafts, as characters come into focus and their motives are obvious. Rewriting can be incredibly frustrating because I second-guess a lot of what I’m doing. But so far it’s working. The only time I had trouble was when I tried to use a novel-writing program to help. Bad idea. I still use pen and paper for all my notes and Word for the actual writing.

ZP: On top of the novel, you also had a short story recently published in the horror anthology, Mistresses of the Macabre. What can you tell us about that?

NH: In grad school, one of my assignments was to find a monster from another culture, something relatively unknown, and figure out how to use it in a short story. I chose to look at Middle Eastern culture and found the ifrit, a bird that rises from the blood from a murder victim to terrorize the murderer. Black Bird was born from that assignment and it examines one woman’s struggles with her ifrit. I wrote Black Bird in a relatively short time specifically for the submission call from Dark Moon Books. It’s my favorite of all the short stories I’ve written.

ZP: Which do you prefer to write, short or long fiction? How are they different for you?

NH: I definitely prefer long fiction because I’m a character-driven writer. I have a hard time expressing everything I want in a short story. Short fiction is event driven. “Black Bird” was a happy exception for me, and it’s definitely more of a look into the protagonist’s mind than one singular event. One of my favorite parts of reading is character development. I love to get into the character’s heads, learn what makes them tick, and experience their world through their eyes. As a writer, I am invested in my characters and deep POV is wonderful. It’s difficult to get there in a short story, but when I’m pounding through a novel’s first draft, I’m immersed, and it’s the best part of writing.

ZP: What does the future hold for Nikki Hopeman?

NH: More writing! I’m currently working on rewrites of a mystery for an agent (cross your fingers for me). There’s at least one sequel to Habeas Corpse in the works, and I’m hoping it finds a home. I look constantly at calls for short fiction to challenge myself. I have a short story right now waiting for a home. Aside from writing, I’ll be attending a few conventions next year, and the writing retreat at the Stanley Hotel in October.

You can find Nikki Hopeman at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter @nikkihopeman.

Now it’s your turn! Do you have any additional questions for Nikki?