PATIENT: Nikki Hopeman
ILLNESS: Zombie (Writer)
• When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?
I've been writing for as long as could hold a pencil. I still have spiral-bound notebooks with stories from my elementary school days. My mother was my biggest cheerleader until high school when an English teacher entered an essay of mine in a contest sponsored by Penn State University. It won the contest and my teacher encouraged me to keep writing. I didn't intend to make writing my profession, though, and I took the long way around back to it, but I always wrote for myself.
I started writing in the mystery genre and my MFA thesis was a mystery about a witch caught up in a series of murders. My horror voice emerged during the year I was mentored by a horror writer, and I realized I loved it more than mystery. There's a freedom in writing horror that wasn't there for me with mystery. I guess my macabre side found her tongue. I haven't been able to shut her up.
• Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?
Most of my ideas come from observation, whether it's people-watching, something on television, or another book. Most often I see something that intrigues me and then follow it up with "what if?" I used to journal prolifically, but since I started writing fiction seriously, I most often find myself writing notes about whatever project I'm working on. Sometimes I jot down dreams or story ideas, but I rarely take the time to just free write if it doesn't involve a project. Now that I think about it, that's sad and I'll have to try to make time for more personal journaling.
I have a background in microbiology and infectious disease, and there's never a lack of ideas from my laboratory days. Combining horror elements with science and medicine is something I love.
• What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?
What's normal? My schedule is highly variable because I am also responsible for my two kids, but I typically try to set aside a couple of hours of uninterrupted planning/plotting/writing time every week day. I also have a word count goal for each day, but if I don't make my word count in order to work on plot or revisions, I'm okay with that. I usually am at my most productive in the early afternoon, so often I start writing around lunchtime and plan or plot or write until my younger son comes home from school. I also have critique partners, and I set aside time to read for them.
• Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?
Favorite author… wow, this is like trying to label one of my kids as a favorite. I have favorite authors by genre, naturally, but I guess my favorite of them all would be Jeff Lindsay. His Dexter series is one of my all-time favorites. Lindsay combines horror and mystery so effectively and actually makes the reader root for the bad guy. What a fantastic character. Clive Barker writes my favorite mixed genre books, because sometimes I'm not sure whether to classify him as horror, fantasy, or a lovely combination of the two. I love the Pendergast series by the awesome team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I'm also a big Richard Matheson fan-- "The Funeral" is one of my favorite short stories. I love nonfiction, especially medical and science nonfiction, so I am a fan of Mary Roach and Richard Preston.
I have a 12-year old son who adores YA horror. We've read a lot of books together, including Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin series, which we loved.
Right now I'm re-reading Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs. It's a great study in understated suspense and he manages to portray Hannibal Lecter in such an evil way even without Lecter in action. Fantastic. Up next on my list is Ramsey Campbell.
• Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?
While I love poetry, particularly Emily Dickinson, and have written it, I much prefer prose. Poetry is a baring of one's soul, and prose is hiding behind characters. I'm much more comfortable hiding. My poetry is generally just for my own consumption. I admire writers who can create beautiful poetry and let the world see it. That takes a kind of courage I haven't found yet.
• Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?
I prefer music, but it has to be instrumental. Sounds goofy, but if I listen to something with words, I tend to end up typing the lyrics. I love to play horror movie soundtracks in the background, particularly the Saw themes. I also really dig the soundtracks to Drag me to Hell, Sinister, and Woman in Black.
• Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?
Don't all writers have some weird habits? I do most of my plotting/planning/note taking longhand, but when it comes time to actually write the prose, I type. I like to find pictures of people on the Internet who remind me of my character. My zombie in Habeas Corpses is loosely modeled on James McAvoy and the medical examiner is based on Dr. Cyril Wecht, who I met last year. I keep note cards with each character's information and I tape a picture to the card as well. Sometimes the pictures are of famous people, sometimes they're just random people I find. It feels kind of weird, but it helps me bring them to life.
I also have a desk top guillotine that I threaten my pens with when they refuse to cooperate.
• Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer?
I am a pantster who is trying to evolve into a plotter. I completely flew by my seat for my thesis, but planned a bit more on my zombie novel. Ideally, I like to have a solid idea of where I'm going when I start a project, but it remains open for reinterpretation along the way. Pantsting is so hard, and it makes revisions extra difficult. I'm learning how to better manage my time, and having a clear idea of what's happening works better for me in the long run.
• What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?
Two things: the "butt in chair" part and the squeaky voice. Every day there are distractions from writing. Many of them. Because I don't go to an office with other people to hold me accountable for my production, some days it's really hard to let go of all the other things that need done and write. I've learned to treat it like a regular job and set office hours for myself. Having deadlines to send pages to critique partners also helps.
No matter what I write, there's always the squeaky voice in my brain saying "it's not good enough, it's not smart enough, you suck, someone will laugh at you." I'm sure this is why my poetry has never been outside my own four little office walls. This is why I prefer hiding behind characters. Writing and letting it go exposes a part of myself. The squeaky voice aims to keep it all covered up.
I'm also really not a fan of the "what do you do" question. Tell someone you're a writer and you get one of two reactions. Either they give you that "oh, I see, you really sit around and eat bon-bons all day" or you get the "oh, I have this great book idea…" comment. Please.
• Current projects?
I'm currently working on Edas Corpses, the sequel to Habeas Corpses, and several short stories based on folk tales, in the same vein as "Black Bird." I take an obscure myth and put my own spin on it. Lots of fun!
• How do you balance being an editor and being a writer? (Or double jobs, being a mom/dad, etc.- apply to your situation)
My first job is being a mom. I worked in the medical field until my older son was born, then quit to go back to school and take care of the kids. My kids go to an awesome school, but have a lot of activities and days off, so each week brings something new on the schedule. I've learned to carefully schedule my writing time for when they're at school. I'm still learning the art of writing to the sounds of Legos hitting the wall or remote control helicopters whooshing past my head. I'm also fond of the phrase "if it's not broken or bleeding I don't want to hear about it." I also have two corgis, a grouchy cat, a hamster, a frog and a husband. There is never a shortage of distractions, I just have to be diligent about guarding my time.
• What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?
Since my debut novel is not yet out, I'm not sure that there are any expectations on my writing. Those that have read my work might say that I tend to include forensic details, particularly autopsy and medical procedures. My stories always have a dark element to them, most often murder. I guess my readers can always expect at least a couple corpses and lots of details. My readers can also expect a lot of characterization. I read a book to learn about the human element, the things that change people and make them tick. I love vivid, strong characters and try to write them.
• Advice for aspiring writers?
Write! Write as much as you can, no matter what it is. Try different forms of writing and different genres. Never be afraid to try something new or something you think might not turn out well, because you might surprise yourself (and if you don't, no one has to know!). Read widely and always with an open mind.
- "One Man's Garbage," Hazard Yet Forward (charity anthology)
- "Black Bird," Mistresses of the Macabre (Dark Moon Books)
- Habeas Corpses (Blood Bound Books): Zombie Theo Walker is a forensic technician with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. His biggest problem? Eating the evidence.
BIO: Nikki Hopeman 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. Life before writing includes a BS in microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh, and years as a veterinary technician, floral arranger, blueberry picker, babysitter, and VW Beetle mechanic. She holds an MFA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. When she’s not writing, she can be found in the tattoo chair or on her Harley Davidson. Nikki shares her home in Pittsburgh with her husband, two sons, two crazy corgis, and a chaotic cat. Her debut novel Habeas Corpses (Blood Bound Books) is due for release this year. She can be reached at www.nikkihopeman.com or on Twitter @nikkihopeman.