Tagged again! Questions about Habeas Corpse

publishing, writing life, zombies November 30, 2012

The excellent writer Kristin Dearborn tagged me in another round of blog questions. Kristin’s book Trinity is available right now from DarkFuse. Go get one!

Each week an author provides his or her answers to the ten questions below and then tags five additional writers, each of whom answers the questions on the subsequent Wednesday (I’m early, since I have a busy few days ahead of me), again tagging five writers, and so on.

1. What is the working title of your next book?

I’m currently working on the final edits of my novel Habeas Corpse, and I’m writing the first draft of the next book in my Corpse series, Edas Corpse. Since Habeas Corpse is the first in the series and will be published first, we’ll take a look at it in this post.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

This novel actually started as a short story. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead and Dexter. I also love Richard Matheson’s “The Funeral,” particularly the humor elements. The original short story featuring my zombie, Theo Walker, also included vampires and ghosts and was a humorous take on what a police force might be like if it included the undead. After a few of my beta readers took a look at the short story, they told me the idea had novel potential, so I revised my idea into what is now Habeas Corpse.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I’ve struggled with this question for quite awhile now. This novel has elements of horror, humor, and mystery. It just didn’t fit into any one genre. I had no idea how best to market this story, so I actually am working with a professional editor to help me refine the story enough to classify it. Now I can pretty comfortably call it a horror novel. There’s a great deal of dark humor and, yes, zombie gore.

My vision of Theo... just make his complexion a little grayer.

My vision of Theo… just make his complexion a little grayer.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, geez. This is fun, because I tend to find pictures of my characters online to help me have a clear picture of what they look like. I find it helps me with consistency– no blue eyes turning brown halfway through the novel. The actor who I chose to help me with Theo is James McAvoy, in his rumpled, geeky glory. Detective Gavahan is played by Goran Visnjic, no doubt. Marjorie Frey would be played by Zhang Ziyi and Kaley Cuoco would play Shelby.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Zombie Theo Walker is a forensic technician with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police… and the evidence is tempting.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

At this point in my career, I’m not an advocate of self-publishing. I have a feeling Habeas Corpse will be published by a small press.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I started the novel version of Habeas Corpse in May, 2011 and had a completed first draft by the end of the year. It was a really rough draft, though, and I went through a lot of revisions. I’d say I had a first decent draft done by March, 2012.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I hate making comparisons, but I’ve been told Habeas Corpse is kind of a mash-up of The Walking Dead, Dexter, CSI, and True Blood. I can’t get a bigger compliment than that. I think the Dexter comparison, more the books than the show, is probably closest.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Like I mentioned above, Matheson’s “The Funeral” definitely sparked this story for me. I love the combination of different characters in the short story. Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter rolled together with the zombie mythos intrigued me. What if Dexter’s Dark Passenger wasn’t a secret? What if it was something he struggled with everyday and everyone expected him to make a stupid move? What would it be like to live under the pressure of scrutiny just because of what you are? I’m also a science nut, which definitely comes into play here.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Habeas Corpse is set twelve years post-zombie apocalypse. There’s a bit of social commentary in the story concerning zombie rights, since they’re integrating into society. The world is a different place. It’s also set in the great city of Pittsburgh, so anyone with a soft spot for the Steel City will appreciate the details. My science background was of use in Habeas Corpse, and much of the forensic information is as accurate as I could figure. I actually met Dr. Cyril Wecht while I was working revisions, and he’s the inspiration for Dr. Libitin.

So who’s up next? I’m going to tag Ann Kopchik, Jenn Loring, Patricia Lillie, Carla Anderton, and Natalie Duvall.

Brains and entrails and spoons, oh my…

genre fiction, research, zombies November 28, 2012

Zombies. Shamblers, moaners, walkers, undead, the risen, biters, crawlers, uglies. Mindless masses of once living humans craving human flesh.

Whatever you want to call them, they’re terrifying. Death by zombie isn’t pretty, what with the gnawing and the gnashing of teeth. Having one’s brains scooped from his or her skull and chowed upon doesn’t sound like the most peaceful way to slip into the hereafter.

No one wants to become a zombie, either. The idea of wandering the planet restlessly searching for my next meal isn’t exactly appealing. Depending on the type of zombie and the writer’s preferences, there is a question of whether or not the zombie is aware of their predicament. Is the soul of the person still behind the decaying face, unable to control his or her movements and base desires?

These are the questions we are faced with when the walkers come knocking. Nothing about zombies is pleasant, including their actions and the manner in which they feed. Is it fair to downplay the violence associated with zombies? When we, as readers, are confronted with something as horrifying as the walking dead, is the writer somehow obligated to domesticate the monsters? Or do readers of zombie fiction prefer the full experience, the visceral terror and grotesque details of the legend?

My novel, Habeas Corpse, is the story of a zombie who is trying to reintegrate into a post-apocalyptic society. Theo Walker discovers he can relive the last moments of a dead person’s life when he consumes their gray matter. Eating human flesh is the only way the zombies in my novel can feel emotions or experience chemical sensations, like sexual pleasure or anxiety.

If you look at the classic zombie movie, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the violence is understated. The audience was very different then. These were people accustomed to I Love Lucy, Gomer Pyle, and Gunsmoke. Fast forward to today, and we’ve got movies like Zombieland, The Dead, and the upcoming film adaptation of World War Z. Even movies meant to be comedic like Shaun of the Dead, and YA novels like Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series incorporate more violence and gore than ever before. The modern zombie connoisseur cuts his teeth on The Walking Dead, and if you’ve been watching that over the last few episodes, you know what gore is all about.

Does the modern zombie reader want to return to the homogenized, nonviolent zombie of Romero’s time? I don’t think so. Today’s zombies fans want realism. They don’t want the story sugarcoated or dumbed down. In fact, most zombie fans expect a healthy dose of gore and complain if they don’t get it. Fans of the TV version of The Walking Dead did just that after a season of what they saw as too little action and too much sitting around the farm. This season reflects the fans desire for more zombie killing, blood, death, and the struggle for survival, not just avoiding the walkers.

In Habeas Corpse, Theo depends on ingesting human flesh in order to feel emotion and experience stimulation. Eating the flesh is more than opening his mouth and inserting the food for Theo; the act of eating heightens his senses and brings him closer to the state of humanity he’s lost since dying. It’s a “whole” experience for him. The sensual nature of savoring the entire experience is essential to understand his motivation. The story would not be as effective without the graphic descriptions of the consumption of human flesh.

Leave me a comment. Do zombie fans expect or even want gore? Or should zombie stories be homogenized to fit a larger audience?

Happy Thanksgiving!

zombies November 22, 2012

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday (at least those of us in the States or Americans celebrating elsewhere)!

I also hope your turkey decides to stay dead! Gobble brains… gobble brains…

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



A few updates

angst, publishing, writing life November 19, 2012

Hey there! It’s been a little while since I last posted, so I thought I’d give everyone a quick update.

I’m currently working on the second book in the Corpse series, tentatively titled Edas Corpse. This story will pick up where Habeas Corpse leaves off and give us a glimpse into the zombie underground in Pittsburgh. It’s a lot of fun to torture our poor zombie Theo as he fights an inner battle about the morality of dealing in human flesh.

I received word from the editor of the upcoming Dark Moon Books anthology, Mistresses of the Macabre, that it is projected to be released early next year, perhaps to coincide with Women in Horror Month. So for those of you waiting for Black Bird, it won’t be much longer!



I also want to let you know that sometime very soon I will have a really, really fantastic announcement. I’m nearly ripping my own hair out to share this news, but hair pulling is painful, so I’m trying to resist. This news will be featured very prominently here as soon as I can reveal it. Hold onto your hats, it’s going to be a great ride!

Tag! I’m it!

Uncategorized October 24, 2012

Hope your shots are up to date… I’ve been tagged by Ann Laurel Kopchik in a game of author infection!

The rules are simple. Search your work in progress for the first use of “look”. Copy and paste that paragraph and the ones immediately before and after into a blog post. Then tag five other authors.

This is from the first finished draft of Habeas Corpse, my zombie novel. The sequel is in the works, and will be titled Edas Corpse.

Theo liked firm brains.

He caught himself licking his lips and glanced around to be sure no one was watching. Nope. The few remaining detectives busied themselves with paperwork, and Skeet shuffled around the body to snap pictures from every conceivable angle. The forensic technician looked ridiculous in the white paper jumpsuit, but then again, Theo supposed, so did he.

He stepped closer to the tempting spatter, mouth watering, and raised his finger toward the smallest glob. It wiggled ever so slightly in the breeze from the open window.

I’m tagging Scott A. Johnson, Kristin Dearborn, Jenn Loring, Erica McEachern, and Mary DeSantis.

Friday Fuel: Donuts and didgeridoos

Friday Fuel September 14, 2012

It’s been a crazy week around here. So many things have been happening since the school year started again and I’m trying to get back into a routine. The hardest part is the 5:45AM alarm, I swear. I wake up every morning and glare at my alarm clock.

So here are some prompts to get you moving (creatively)…

Boston cream. Close enough.

1. Today is National Cream Filled Donut Day! There’s your breakfast. Actually, it’s not a good breakfast. What kind of junk food is your favorite? Write a scene in which your protagonist eats too much of something he enjoys.

2. On this day in 1984, Joe Kittinger became the first person to fly a gas balloon alone across the Atlantic Ocean. Would your protagonist fly in a balloon?

3. Write a short story about a character who loses one sense; hearing, sight, touch, taste or smell.

4. Write a short passage describing the sound of a didgeridoo.

5. Speaking of didgeridoos, did you know the name is actually just an onomatopoetic word? What is your favorite onomatopoetic expression?

Have a great, productive weekend!


reading with a purpose, SHU WPF, writing life September 10, 2012

A few reminders today about books available or upcoming!

Help fight cancer and contribute to the care of two wonderful women.

Droplets, by Scott A. Johnson is available through Amazon. 100% of the profits from the sale of every book go toward the medical costs for Tabatha Johnson.


Tabby’s a fighter. She’ll beat this, and she deserves all the support she can get.

Tabby and Scott







Also available for a good cause is Hazard Yet Forward, where you can read my short story “One Man’s Garbage.” The proceeds from Hazard Yet Forward also go toward one woman’s fight with cancer. Donna Munro is a friend and fellow Seton Hill University writer. This huge book features over 70 writers and stories in every genre. This book is available in eformat from Amazon. In case you didn’t know, you can download a Kindle app for your iPad or computer for free and read every title available for Kindle! Win!


My short story “Black Bird” is forthcoming in Dark Moon Book’s anthology Mistresses of the Macabre. More information on that as it becomes available. Have a great week!

Friday Fuel: Wherein we discuss obscure myths, extinction, and a big set of teeth.

Friday Fuel, research September 7, 2012

Sometimes the best stories can come out of the most basic prompts. My short story, “Black Bird,” will appear in Dark Moon Books’ anthology Mistresses of the Macabre later this year. “Black Bird” was inspired by a prompt in a college class. The instructor told the class to find an obscure myth or folk tale from another culture. By obscure, he meant no vampires, no werewolves, no mermaids. He even nixed banshees and the tir-na-n-og.

The research was great fun and the myth I came up with, although I found out later had been used by other writers, was the Middle Eastern ifrit. I put my own spin on the creature of vengeance, and “Black Bird” was born.

Don’t discount the little seemingly meaningless prompts. Sometimes the most unexpected stories can be born.

1.    Does your family come from an interesting culture? Find a story from your ancestral heritage and spin it to suit your favorite genre.
2.    Did your grandmother ever tell interesting stories about her childhood or stories that she’d been told as a child? Retell the story from the first person, taking creative liberty.
3.    On this day in 1936, the last surviving member of the thylacine species, or Tasmanian tiger, died in a Tasmanian zoo. These animals are beautiful and can open their jaws an impressive (and frightening) 120 degrees. Write a story in which this creature (or something like it) is spotted in the wild.

Imagine meeting that set of teeth in a dark alley.

4.   Would the protagonist of your latest work ride a motorcycle? Why or why not?
5.    What is your protagonist’s favorite weekend activity? Is he or she a night owl?

Whatever your own favorite weekend activity might be, enjoy it!

Special book review: Flesh and Bone by Jonathan Maberry

book review, guest blog, writing parent September 5, 2012

I’m a reader, a writer, and a mom. I love sharing my enthusiasm for reading and writing with my kids. Thankfully, both of my kids are readers and budding writers. Right now they love to write comic books and I can’t tell you how many notebooks we’ve gone through writing and illustrating the Pencil Wars or the Ninja Granny. When summer break started in June, I knew I would need to keep the momentum going for the entire summer.

One of the projects I decided to take on with my older son was reading a YA series with him and discussing it along with asking him to write about it. After a lot of searching and finding mostly female-centric books on the store shelves, we chose Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series. We were both excited to start the series, for different reasons. I met Mr. Maberry when he spoke to my graduate program at Seton Hill University and we actually read Patient Zero as an assigned reading for the program. I loved Mr. Maberry’s Joe Ledger books and I’m a zombie fan. Jacob was excited to read a story with a male protagonist after having read The Hunger Games, and he also loves monsters. I was sad to find there were only two books available, but we decided to not let it stop us.

Our copy. Jake read it first and I wasn’t sure he would give it to me.

A couple months ago I discovered the next installment in the Rot and Ruin series would be released in September. I contacted Mr. Maberry and explained my project with Jacob and my desire to do a blog series on the importance of giving boys strong protagonists, the gender gap in YA lit, the current popularity of dystopian fiction among the young adult crowd, and my appreciation of his books. He very graciously sent us an advanced reader copy of the third book in his Benny Imura series. Flesh and Bone chronicles the continued adventures of Benny and his crew.

Jake and I both agreed this book is a little different from the first two. Benny, Nyx, Chong, and Lilah have left the safe haven of Mountainside in search of other people and a clue as to whether or not civilization still exists. New characters appear in the great Rot and Ruin and a few old friends, as well. The repercussions human control disappearing are explored. The zombies are different, too, and the kids are left wondering if the infectious agent is mutating.

Mr. Maberry states in the author’s note that the book deals with grief, and it certainly does. There is a sense of loss throughout the book, and many major changes in the lives of the characters. The topic that drew my attention, however, is religion. This book is focused closely on religion and cult behavior. While no modern religion is targeted (e.g. Christianity or Islam), some older faiths are put in the spotlight along with a few elements of modern faiths. This gave Jake and I another topic of discussion and opened up a line communication between us that lead to good questions. I appreciate the way Mr. Maberry dealt with this topic. He shows the dangers of accepting authority without questioning and blind faith while still showing respect to faith in general. I do think Jake picked up on this, and it works very well in the story.

Here is Jacob’s take on Flesh and Bone (warning, he did use a spoiler or two):

Hello, I am Jacob Hopeman and I will be writing this review for Flesh and Bone from a young readers standpoint. I think it is the coolest thing to be able to read a book before its release.

Benny and his friends get back to their quest but are all still shaken up a little after Gameland. When they start moving, all of the zoms are different, faster. Some zoms are even smarter than before. And as they make their way through their quest, they find another force, not just the zoms, is trying to stop them. One word, they call themselves Reapers.

The Reapers startled me at first because they just kind of appeared and then someone was dead. I thought the Reapers were unexpected, but were a good twist to the story.

Benny was my favorite character because so much was going on with him. He was trying to be like Tom yet his friends thought he was pushing it a little too far. He was battling physically yet also mentally. He was fighting mentally for Tom and physically for his life.

One of the questions left at the end of Flesh and Bone is whether Chong actually live through the zombie virus he gets or will the people let him die. Another question left at the end is what the group will do next to survive and keep the world alive.
I, personally, liked the book. That is because it has a lot of twists and turns. Like when a zom bites Chong. Also I like it how Benny still kind of has Tom there so he doesn’t do anything dumb. I also think it was cool how they had Joe Ledger in the book because my mom says he’s really awesome.

I would recommend the book to a friend if they had read the other two otherwise you would be clueless about whats happening. I would definitely recommend the whole series. Go buy it!

P.S.: That zombie card is really cool. Thanks Mr. Maberry!  You’re the best!

I’m so glad I could share this great series with my son. I can’t wait for the younger son to be old enough to read it.

Thank you so much, Mr. Maberry, for writing a series that gets the young male readers reading with enthusiasm, and for being so kind to Jake and me.

Flesh and Bone is due for release on September 11, 2012 from Simon and Schuster. You can preorder this book, and get the entire series, from many online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Guest blog: The importance of choice in creating readers

genre fiction, guest blog, reading, writing life, writing parent August 29, 2012

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series so much is that it provides choice for young male readers. In a bookstore filled with female protagonists, Maberry offers a cast of strong male protagonists alongside the strong females. Benny is so identifiable and Tom is a great role model.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Sara Kajder. Sara has worked in both university settings and in grade schools, but has loved working with middle school learners. She has a background in English literature and received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Also important to this blog series, she’s the mom of two boys. As an educator and a parent, she understands the unique challenges in fostering interest in reading among the boys. In this guest blog she tackles the gender gap in literacy. As she points out, examining the choices that our kids are making in reading material is key to fostering their interest. Maberry’s books have been a great choice for us.

“I teach eighth grade English in a curriculum that is chock-full of the standard-faire… Grammar.  Vocabulary.  Etymology.  Writing.  And, oh yeah – reading.  Lots and lots of reading.  For some reason, this seems to be the area in which I receive the most “Bless your heart” comments when catching up with old friends or describing my work when meeting new ones.  This is followed by a nod of a head, a sigh, and the lament that “Those boys just don’t read…”

Looking across my summer reading list last night, some bits of that did look to be true.  In a randomly chosen class of 18 (with 12 boys and 6 girls), the female students out-read the boys by 3 books to 1.  According to their initial reflective writing, 3 of my 12 boys were gregarious readers with the other 9 quick to embrace the title of “non-reader.”  Their entries describing their reading were notably brief, as was their list of favorite authors, books re-read, and time, on average, spent reading each day.

Here’s the thing… None of this surprised me.  And, bigger – I, and loads of reading scholars and researchers, believe that a real literacy gap doesn’t exist.  Yes, some boys can take longer to learn how to read.  And, yes, significantly more boys than girls, especially adolescents, will label themselves non-readers.  However, given the opportunity to self-select titles from lists which understand their interests, my male students will rise – and quickly.  ALL readers become better readers by reading more, whether they are girls or boys.  I work hard as an English teacher to build reading communities in my classroom, so boys have the opportunity to recommend books to one another (as we all know that peer to peer connections are infinitely powerful).  My role is to support, to facilitate, to know students (and books) well enough to know what might ignite a particular fire in a reader, and to constantly seek out model readers with whom male students (and female ones, too) can see, question, hear, and emulate.

Readers who are skillful, passionate, habitual and critical grow from powerful interactions with texts that actually act on them.  My boys don’t usually get that from the now abundant female-protagonist, post-apocalyptic YAL that line the shelves of our local bookstore.  Their choices do fall into some of the patterns/myths that you’d expect – nonfiction abounds alongside graphic novels, science fiction, and the growing list of series about sports and adolescent athletes.   Independent (read: not on the school-approved list) choices this summer ranged from Conan-Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville to Meyers’ Fallen Angels to Lovecraft’s Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.  They weren’t drawn to Sarah Dessden’s approach to writing about relationships, but they did connect with Walter Dean Myer’s work that does explore relationships between men across contexts ranging from scenes of combat to competition the soccer field.

We discussed their choices in class today, and the predominant message was one that centered on the power of choice.  Building life-long readers is about helping students to make smart choices about their reading.  Adult readers revel in our idiosyncrasies and expect the freedom of choice.  The boys in my classes need to do the same.  Students talked about making reading easy and inviting, which often means backing off of our expectation that all texts be “literature” and making room for alternative modes and media.  Even bigger, my students talked about time.  We live in a time that is marked by speed and an odd push to make sure that we schedule every second of our children’s time.  Malcolm Gladwell talks in Outliers about expertise as something that can only happen once we spend at least ten thousand hours engaged in a particular practice.  From school, most of my students head to at least two athletic practices (or a game) per evening, not counting the time needed for homework and other commitments like music and rehearsals.  Reading stamina is important. You can only get it by reading regularly and building the “muscle memory” that helps students identify what makes good writing work.   Summer seemed to provide the single space for the majority of my boys to slow, to pick up a book, and to get lost in story.

All readers deserve the opportunity to become better readers.  Choice, time, and stamina… I’ve written all three into a heading for my planning book for the term, and, just as importantly, I  have them saved as a prompt to remind me as a mother of two boys to foster growth in my own sons.  It’s amazing what we can learn from kids when we listen to their practices, their choices, and what they have to say.”

Many thanks to Dr. Kajder for taking the time to talk with us!