Monday, October 28, 2013

Zombie Mythos & The Culture of Fear

The Rockville 8 is proud to host guest blogger, Nikki Hopeman, a talented new voice in mystery and horror writing. Nikki's debut novel, Habeas Corpse, will be released November 2, 2013, by Blood Bound Books, and her masterful short story "Black Bird" appears in Mistresses of the Macabre, out now by Dark Moon Books and available on Today Nikki talks to us about Zombie Mythos and The Culture of Fear.

Ahhhh … October. Beautiful reds, golds, and yellows adorn my neighborhood and I get to look forward to all the local munchkins stopping by for a trick or a treat. The crisp scent of falling leaves hangs in the air… and the foul odor of decaying flesh hangs about my computer.

Photo Credit: 123RF
I’m a mystery and horror writer. I’ve written stories about such things as wrongfully accused witches, garage sales gone wrong, vengeful birds, and nerdy zombies. Theo Walker, the protagonist in my upcoming novel, Habeas Corpse, is an awkward zombie who works for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police as a forensic technician.

Zombies are, by far, my favorite horror trope and they are wildly popular right now. Why are they so interesting and how did the zombie mythos come about? There is no one singular origin for the zombie in popular culture, like we can trace the vampire’s appearance to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although there is mention of the dead rising to eat the living in the Sumerian tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh, today’s pop culture zombie is mostly a construct of Haitian religious beliefs and our own Western ideas of terror.

Historically, zombies have existed in many cultures with names like revenant, draugr, and jiangshi. No matter the name, a zombie is a person who has returned from the dead and kills to satiate its own hunger. According to certain branches of Vodou, or voodoo, a sorcerer can revive a dead person. These "living dead" are then used as slaves, sometimes for nefarious means, and forever under control of the sorcerer. The idea of an eternity of slavery to an evil sorcerer seems unpleasant, indeed terrifying, to most people.

Those of us who love zombies work to make them scarier, new, and fresh, more interesting than Romero’s shamblers or even the faster predators we’re familiar with from The Walking Dead. How does a writer put a spin on a time-honored trope without losing the essence of what he or she is writing?

For horror writers, the first thing to look at is what makes the monster scary. Most monsters kill, so either their method of dealing death must be highly unusual or we have to look at something else. We are repulsed by the idea of aimless wandering, of forced slavery, and being imprisoned in our bodies. Our fascination and loathing of the modern zombie takes root in those fears of mindless subservience. Add to these fears the threat of a contagious, cannibalistic eating machine, and the horrific modern zombie is born.

How does a writer capitalize on a known fear? Tweak an element of what makes a monster terrifying or personalize it in some way to make it relevant to the reader. In Habeas Corpse, my zombies are part of society, but they live just on this side of exclusion. My zombies desire flesh, but an intense desire not to be outcast keeps their cannibalistic yearnings in check… at a price. In order to be a part of their community, my risers must deny what they are.

The next time something scares you (except for the little gremlins and goblins at your Halloween door) think about what it is that creates the fear… and take it one step further.

Happy haunting!

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 bachelor’s degree in microbiology, a few 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 an angry hamster. She can be reached at or on Twitter @nikkihopeman. Her short story, "Black Bird," appears in Dark Moon Books’ Mistresses of the Macabre. Habeas Corpse, Nikki’s debut novel, will be available from Blood Bound Books on November 2.






  1. Hi Nikki! Thanks for stopping by R8 to scare us today. I will admit that I am not a horror-lover. I remember reading a horror book in high school and when it got to the really scary part, I threw the book across the room and ran into my sister's room (hoping I supposed that goblins of the night would eat her rather than me.)

    But I did read Carrie in high school and made it all the way through. Did not see the movie however.

    The lovers of horror are legion and the root origins of our scare-stories are fascinating. Dracula from Vlad the Impaler, zombies from voodoo culture, and don't forget mummies! Hmmm, that makes me think of Brendan Fraser. Yes, I would walk into a dark and spook tomb with Fraser at my side.

    Have a spookily wonderful Halloween!

  2. Really loved Habeas Corpses, Nik. You'll go far in the horror genre!m

  3. Nik ~ I loved Habeas Corpse. It's available for pre-sale on Amazon right now. Yay!

    I find that Habeas Corpse is a wonderful blend of the best of horror and the best of mystery. To me it felt like a cozy mystery on zombie steroids. Can you tell us what it was like blending two genres like horror and mystery?

    I was never a horror lover until graduate school at Seton Hill, where they made us read horror novels. What I found is that I enjoyed them more than I thought I would. I've learned to appreciate the genre, and I've also learned to pull horror elements into a few of my paranormal works. Mind you, they're just elements ... and the horror purest would probably scoff at my attempt at horror-lite. But I do enjoy the genre and I love your writing.

    I think the romance and horror genres are kissing cousins in the sense that they both, at their core story, play with highly visceral emotions. As writers, we need to make readers feel like they're falling in love or they're scared to death.

    Thanks for guest blogging this week! Great post. Awesome book! ;0)

  4. Hi Nik,
    Your computer smells like rotting flesh?
    I know you like to keep it real and experiment with things to see if your fictional ideas are even possible, but I'm not going to ask about this one.
    I think your idea about taking a concept and twisting it is true of not only horror, but fiction in general. Taking tropes and putting your own spin on them is what it's all about.
    I've already pre-ordered my copy of Habeas Corpse and I can't wait to read it again.
    Rot on!

  5. Hi Shellie! I've read horror as far back as I can remember... I think my very first horror books were Choose Your Own Adventure. I seem to remember something about a yeti... There are a lot of us out here and we certainly make a colorful crowd. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Meg, thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed meeting Theo. He's so much fun to write!

  7. Mackenzie, mystery and horror are natural companions! I do believe there's a mystery in every book, whether it's the mysteries of human nature or a classic whodunit. Blending mystery and horror is as easy as showing whodunit in a horrific way. I have a background in science and pathology, so blending that knowledge with a love of mystery seemed pretty straightforward.

    A lot of mainstream fiction has an element of the horrific anyway... for example in your MEGIDDO MARK series, the fate of the world is at stake and demons are in the game. really, what is more horrific? The movie billed as "the scariest of all time" uses demonic possession. THE EXORCIST just shows the demons in a different than you do in THE MEGIDDO MARK. What could be scarier than the world falling to darkness?

    See, you're a natural horror writer!

    Thanks for the invitation to blog this week, my very favorite week of the year!

  8. Diane, I live with two boys and a husband. My computer often smells like different things. Rotting flesh is just the odor du jour.

    Experimentation... I did meet Cyril Wecht last year, and I'm currently in contact with him to possibly attend an autopsy. I like to keep it legal.

    I can't wait to hear what you think of the final edition of HABEAS CORPSE. You and Mack here were instrumental in bringing Theo to life and I am grateful!

  9. Nikki - Thank you for blogging with the Rockville 8. I loved your comment about discovering why things scare us and taking it one step further. I can't wait to read your new book.

    Happy Halloween!

  10. Hi Lisa! Thanks for the comment! Taking what scares us/moves us/turns us on one step further is what writers are good at. Romance writers have to look at a sexy scene and decide how to make it better... find the element that makes it hot and turn it up. Happy Halloween to you, too!

  11. Excellent insights into what makes a monster a monster.

    I've always thought the scariest monsters are the ones right next door. The "wouldn't hurt a fly" folks who successfully fake their humanity to the world while they do evil in the shadows. Not just serial killers, but wife beaters, sexual predators, etc.

    I think that might be one of the attractions of fictional monsters. Zombies need brains to exist? Ah, a reason. Vampires want to suck you blood for a little protein boost? Check. It's a little ridiculous, a little over the top and possibly a little reassuring because they don't actually walk the earth. We get the thrill of being scared witless, but the reassurance that these monsters have rules they need to live by - like your zombies who deny their needs so they can fulfill other needs.

    Fascinating topic. Thanks for sharing with us!