Issue 045 Author Interview: Sophia Thimmes and “The Adopt a Zombie Program”

Zombie-lovers rejoice! In today’s Issue 045 author interview, we get up-close and personal with your favorite monsters, Sophia Thimmes, and “The Adopt a Zombie Program“.

LSQ: The motivations behind this story just beg to be asked. How and why did you create this world? If you could, would you adopt a zombie?

Sophia: No need to beg–I love to talk all things story and world-building! “The Adopt a Zombie Program” came from a long walk taken at the beginning of quarantine, at a time when my subconscious was processing discourse around vaccines, contagion, and Tiger King. I wanted to know–how would the modern world respond to domesticated zombies? What issues and controversies might arise as a result (for example, in the story, I mention the Zombie Justice Act that was introduced after people took offense to zombies being treated so poorly in society)? By the end of my walk, I had a basic understanding of the shape of my story, although I still made many discoveries throughout the process of writing.
And to answer the second question, I don’t quite see myself as ready to become a zom-mom.

LSQ: Your story is a juxtaposition between the mundane and the bizarre, the blending creating a chilling atmosphere where morals are skewed. What moral area did you find to be the most challenging to write? Is there one you wanted to highlight?

Sophia: While I was writing “The Adopt a Zombie Program,” one question of morality that felt a bit sticky was: if adequately sedated, would zombies actually be deserving of rights? Or would their nervous systems and self-concept be eroded to the point that them having rights would no longer be relevant (and if that was the case, would it be more ethical to just put them down rather than leave them in a vegetable-like state?)? Either way, the idea of killing what looks to be a human child would undoubtedly cause controversy, which is why in the story there are commercials with dramatic music in the background that beg the viewer to adopt a zombie so that they won’t have to be put down. Here, tension between aesthetics and ethics comes into play. There are hints that Abigail has a killing streak and will eventually harm more than just the occasional bird or rodent, but that issue is still somewhat ambiguous by the end of the story, and is ultimately up for the reader to decide.

LSQ: The mother in your story seems to be obsessed more with image than with safety or reality: her social media account, the product placements, and captions. But there is something else underneath it. Why does she focus more on Abigail than her own daughter? Are there motivations that make her interested in zombies in particular?

Sophia: I have so many thoughts on this! The mother was very tricky and interesting to write. There is room for other interpretations, but I see the mother as wanting an area of her life that she feels she has complete control over and something that stays the same. This is in contrast to her experience at the onset of the zombie outbreak when she had very little control, and in contrast to her relationship with her daughter. Her daughter does love her, but she’s an adolescent and isn’t particularly interested in spending time with her mom. In fact, she tries to avoid it. A zombie pet, however, is constantly around, unchanging, and easily controllable. The social media account is another way for the mother to cultivate her own world and gain validation for how good of a mom she is–something that I don’t think she gets from Rebecca. I’m also not convinced that she’s getting much validation in other areas of her life, which would make the social media account especially important to her. Another feature of why she’s obsessed with Abigail might be that she missed out on time with her daughter when she was younger, as she was preoccupied with worry and with keeping her daughter safe from the zombie outbreak. Maybe Abigail is a way for her to relive those years that she feels she lost with her biological daughter. One last thought that I have on the mother’s preoccupation with Abigail is that perhaps because she was so worried that she would lose her daughter to the zombie outbreak, Abigail functions as a way for her to believe that even if Rebecca had turned into a zombie, she would have been a good enough mom for everything to turn out alright.

LSQ: Rebecca’s distrust of Abigail drives her to an extreme action by the end of the story. Why did the story need to end this way? Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Sophia: Rebecca is caught between wanting to separate herself/her identity from her mother and feeling jealous of someone–or something–else coming into her home and playing the role of daughter. This tension is heightened by the fact that this paradaughter might be unsafe for her mother to be around. Throughout the story, it is clear that Abigail has some instinct to kill, as she brings the mother small dead creatures, such as birds and rodents, and Rebecca sees her eat a squirrel on a walk. At one point, the cat goes missing, and it is never quite clear if Abigail actually killed the cat or not, however, Rebecca comes to believe that this is the case and she remembers Abigail gnawing on her mother’s hair. Rebecca knows that her mother is too convinced that Abigail is harmless and loveable to take any precautions around her (the mother has stopped giving Abigail her zombie pills meant to keep killing impulses at bay due to online discourse that the pills are entirely unnecessary), so she takes things into her own hands and gets rid of the pet herself. Maybe Rebecca, at least on a subconscious level, sees killing off this zombie child as a symbolic act of moving on from a fraught childhood or from her child self.