Interview: Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Tell us a bit about your story, "The Third Dead Body." What’s it about?

A girl wakes up in a shallow grave in the forest and realizes that the curse her grandmother put on her is active — she loves the man who killed her, and must find him.

What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

In the nineties, I went through a summer where I read one serial killer biography after another.  I was in the grip of some monstrous curiosity about how far humans will go, but finally I tired of the subject, and I haven’t read another of these books since. 

My favorite book that summer was about a case that wasn’t even solved at the time, THE SEARCH FOR THE GREEN RIVER KILLER, by Carlton Smith and Thomas Guillen, two reporters at the SEATTLE TIMES.

Part of my thinking in "The Third Dead Body" was to give the victim a voice.  There were so many victims.  In this case, where the serial killer was the celebrity — as so often happens — I wanted to focus elsewhere.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

The protagonist is a girl with at least three names, her birth name, her street name, and her secret name, Sheila.  She is a prostitute who made her living near the Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle-Tacoma, an area I was minimally familiar with because NorWesCon used to be held on the strip there.  She grew up in Louisiana but left home after her grandmother cursed her for revealing the abuse Sheila had suffered from her grandfather.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

My protagonist’s life was so different from mine.  She experienced a lot of things I never have, and I could only hope I was doing her justice.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Mostly reading books — the above mentioned book about the Green River Killer, books about voodoo, books about northwest forests, and mapping the journey Sheila and Marti took before I had MapQuest.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about zombies? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I love most of the standard monsters, and I’ve wondered about them and their monstrous qualities.  The question I had was, who’s in their right mind when they’re being monstrous?  Who is a monster with a purpose?  In the past, vampires seem pretty clear-headed, though perhaps at the mercy of their appetites.  Most lycanthropes seemed to lose their minds and their impulse control when they transformed (though a lot of novels lately have been shifting that paradigm), but they spent a lot of time being normal.  Zombies were usually portrayed as mindless ghouls who ate human flesh, so they were more like natural disasters than malevolent forces, and they couldn’t shift into a "normal" form, the way werewolves could, or masquerade as normal the way vampires could.  Zombies seemed tragic.  How could they have any fun?

I think part of the appeal of writing about zombies might be that death sometimes seems so senseless.  You want to ask the person what happened and why.  Bringing people back to pseudolife might give you a chance, unless it’s just galvanized muscle-twitching.

I wrote another zombie story called "Zombies for Jesus," because, hey, resurrection is what it’s all about, right?  Only these zombies, who were featured in tent revivals as proof of life after death, were falling apart.  They played poker for body parts.  I wrote that one because I thought it was a funny idea.  Karl Edward Wagner bought it for YEAR’S BEST HORROR (1990).

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, a Val Lewton film from the forties, was very cool because it wasn’t too sensational, oddly.  The zombie wasn’t that scary, though he seemed Voudon authentic in a puffer-fish-poison/white-eyed kind of way.  He was sort of a big goofy silent buddy.  I heard that Lewton got the title and was told to build a movie around it.  He and Jacques Tourneur did a marvelous job.

I had a formative experience seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at a drive-in.  I was probably around thirteen, in a station wagon with my mom and assorted brothers, and it was an hours-long horror-movie marathon — most of the others in the car had fallen asleep by the time NIGHT came on, it seems to me.  My brother Kristian and I were awake, though, and we were relishing the movie.  I think Kristian had seen it before and pointed out the great things about it, the way the traumatized girl kept trying to help even though she couldn’t speak, the zombie girl juggling the guts, things like that.  I was prey to nightmares at that point, and that movie gave me great fodder.

More recently, I’ve been pleased and amused by zombie spoofs, like the movie MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK, and Peter Boyle’s portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

I haven’t read much zombie fiction that I can remember off-hand.  Maybe that’s the next new wave in the paranormal romance field, and I can get there first!

Any new work of ours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

Lots of short story sales recently, but not so much with the novels…forthcoming:

"Rags and Riches" in TROLL’S-EYE VIEW (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds), "The Curse Tablet," in DAW anthology AGES OF WONDER (Rob St. Martin, Julie Czerneda, & Martin H. Greenberg, eds.), "My Tears Have Been My Meat" in DAW antho BETTER OFF UNDEAD (Daniel Hoyt & Martin H. Greenberg, eds), "The Trouble with the Truth" in DAW antho THE DIMENSION NEXT DOOR (Kerrie Hughes & MHG, eds), "The Ghosts of Strangers" (novella) in FIREBIRDS SOARING (Sharyn November, ed) from Viking, and "A Wolf in Holy Places," in DAW antho SWORD PLAY (Denise Little & Martin H. Greenberg).