Nikki has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hall University, and has worked as a “mad scientist” at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Immunologic Monitoring and Cellular Products laboratory–two talents that have undoubtedly helped her with her first zombie novel!
Here we’re talking about her the publication process and her fascination with dark fiction and zombies. ~NG
Your debut novel HABEAS CORPSE just came out–congratulations! Will you tell us more about your book’s journey: from the muse descending upon you to the book capturing the attention of Blood Bound Books?
The roots of HABEAS CORPSE formed during a graduate school class when I read Richard Matheson’s short story, “The Funeral.” In Matheson’s story, we meet a vampire who is disappointed he’ll never have a funeral, so he throws his own and invites an interesting mix of supernatural friends. Chaos quickly ensues. I’d just finished reading Jeff Lindsay’s DEXTER series, and the two worlds collided. I initially wrote a short story about an entirely supernatural forensics squad, but a friend told me I had the makings of a novel. After a few false starts, I realized the best character from the story was the evidence-eating zombie, so I kept him and made everyone else human. I finished the first full draft and approached RJ Cavender and the editorial department to help me polish the manuscript. When we finished, he acquired the novel for Blood Bound Books. It was really fast, and my head might still be spinning.
How did you prepare for the release? What are some fun promotions you did to reach out to potential readers and generate buzz for the book?
Preparing for the release of HABEAS CORPSE was both fun and stressful! I attended the first ever Steel City Con and met some really great local booksellers and horror fans. I approached some colleagues for blurbs and got responses that just blew me away. I’ve got the most amazing support network ever, and a lot of people helped me spread the word through social media like Twitter and Facebook. In September, I attended KillerCon in Las Vegas where Blood Bound Books started buzz about HABEAS CORPSE by gifting copies to people who made purchases from their convention table. The Horror Writers’ Association offers a free ad in their official newsletter for new releases, so I learned it’s a good idea to utilize the resources available in my genre. I revamped my website and increased the number of posts on my blog. Blood Bound Books had a giveaway on their Facebook page. I managed to gather together several zombie-themed gift baskets to give away as prizes in a random drawing for anyone participating in my Facebook release party. Whew!
Now let’s talk about the book itself and its very interesting subject matter. You’ve crafted a postapocalyptic world in which zombies are sentient beings and live among the general population, have jobs, fall in love, and solve murders! What inspired this take on the zombie lore?
First and foremost, my love of zombies! The first novel I wrote was a witchcraft mystery. The second book in the series deals with Voudon, or voodoo. I did a lot of research into the true zombie, the Haitian reanimated dead, and found the beliefs around the bokors and their powers fascinating. This led to a study of how popular culture has molded the Western view of the zombie. George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD really brought zombies into our pop culture in a new way. Today’s depiction of the zombie in various media has moved far from what the original zombie was meant to be, that is, a slave. The zombies in HABEAS CORPSE actually move closer to the true zombie. They are marginalized, shunned, and often abused. They fear for their lives… errr… deaths? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of THE WALKING DEAD, but the focus of today’s zombie dramas is more on the survivors, and not the zombies. It’s the zombies that interest me.
It doesn’t hurt that I live in Pittsburgh, the zombie capital of the world.
HABEAS CORPSE is such a fun mix of horror, postapocalyptic fiction and noir elements. How did you go about grounding Theo’s psychic ability in the book’s world? Will you share some of your techniques in writing the character?
When I first approached my beta reader with the short story that would become HABEAS CORPSE, I was skeptical I could write a convincing novel from a male point of view, much less a psychic zombie dude who has social anxiety. Once I got into Theo’s head, though, I found that he’s pretty much like everyone else who has ever gone through a period of feeling unaccepted and belittled, except that he died that way and is trapped in it. I think we’ve all had those moments… for some of us it was the entirety of middle school. Drawing on personal experiences definitely helped to create the character, and it was just a lot of fun to turn him into the zombie. I let my morbid side out to play. Grounding his psychic abilities wasn’t difficult because they are secret. He’s forced to do everything on the sly, so it was easier to keep them believable by making it harder for him to use his abilities. I’m not sure how it would change the character to have his gift out in the open.
You’re drawn by dark fiction, especially horror. What’s the most exciting part about dark fiction for you as a storyteller?
The most powerful, primal emotion we can experience is fear. As a reader, I have always been drawn to the books that evoke the emotions everyday life can’t. Writing is about allowing the reader to experience emotions they may not experience otherwise. If I can write something that pulls on the most primitive emotions of my reader, I’ve succeeded. It’s exciting and rewarding to think my words could evoke a visceral response.
Finally, what advice do you have for the Book Country members who’re striving to get their break as writers?
Submit! You have to be willing to put your work out there to editors, agents, and your peers. A writer doesn’t need to be told to write, but we do need reminders to shove those stories out the door. Get feedback— Book Country is a valuable tool. Polish your work, target your market, and start submitting. Learn to take criticism— keep the valuable kind and let the rest slide away. Use it to make your work better, and send it out again.
You might also like: “Why I Write Horror” by Hubert Dade.