Lia Habel is the author of Dearly, Departed and the upcoming release Dearly, Beloved. An ardent supporter of Zombie rights, she wanted to create a story about a romance between the living and a zombie. She has been attending comic conventions for many years and came to New York Comic Con this year to sign copies of her novel.
Al: How are you?
LH: I’m tired. I love cons, especially the big ones like San Diego which I have been to several times. It is the third day where I need to pick myself up several times.
Al: This is your first time at NYCC?
LH: Yes, It’s my first NYCC and I’m loving it.
Al: What do you like about it?
LH: There is a slightly smaller atmosphere which is great. You can actually move around the floor. It is the point now at San Diego where you are pressed in with everybody. There is a little more room here and there are so many things to do.
Al: Tell us about your book.
LH: My book is what I like to describe as a cyber Victorian, futuristic Steampunk. It takes place a couple hundred years in the future. The world has been monumentally altered by time and climate change. It focuses on two tribes that have adopted a Neo-Victorian aesthetic, sense of morality and society. The tribes are New Victorians (I am so creative with the name) and the Punks. I throw some zombies in this and my zombies manage to keep a hold of themselves after death. They control their urges, understand what has happened to them and accept or deny it. They have a couple of years before they become the typical cannibalistic zombies. I have a hetero-mortal relationship going on between an undead army captain and a living girl named Nora Dearly.
Me: The book has a whole history between now and the time in the novel. Are you going to go into more detail about what happens to make things turn out this way?
LH: You will probably get a little more detail but not a whole lot. The book is meant for a young adult audience. I would like to do that and have, in previous drafts, written vast tracts of words that explain how this came to be. I agree with my editors that we should stay in the moment and focus on the characters as they currently are. I was encouraged at one point to incorporate a school story so we could get some more foundational details like that but I would rather stay away from that. There are a lot of school stories out there and the others are doing a more awesome job than I ever could. I am trying to focus more on the action and the characters themselves.
Me: What inspired the book?
LH: It is a long story but I was unemployed and broke in 2008. I decided to use what little money I have left to go to a New Victorian event, Dances with Vice. I got on a $30 bus ride to New York and had the idea along the way. I decided someone should do a zombie romance and make it really out there. When I got back home, I sat down and started writing about 10,000 words a day.
Al: Why zombies? Why not werewolves or Frankenstein’s Monster?
LH: (Laughs) I love all of those! I love monsters. I have since I was a little girl. I look at Jason Voorhees and see a tragic character. I don’t see him as perfectly evil. I’m just that way. I look at things other people find scary or creepy and there is something that in endearing and attractive to me.
I decided to go with zombies because I wanted to play around with a humanoid monster that wasn’t too weird but one you wouldn’t expect to be the romantic hero. A lot of times, especially in modern fiction, you get monsters that are very handsome, attractive and cool. I wanted to get away from that and use characters that look like they are dead. They are amazing characters in spite of that.
Al: Why do you think there has been a recent spike in zombie popularity?
LH: I think it goes in waves. You will get vampires for a while and then zombies for a while. Then you will get werewolves. I think the celebration of small press has brought out many things like werewolves and mermaids. I think once one type has reached its peak there will be a backlash against it and we want something new. I think we are seeing this with vampires a little bit. Now they are trying out zombies and I am really grateful since I love zombies.
Me: This is a romantic novel. Are you a romantic person?
LH: No, not really. I’ve never picked up a Nicholas Sparks book in my life and don’t plan to start. I’m just not. I don’t watch romantic comedies. I stay away from that stuff all together. I really respond to it when passion and romance form a bigger part of the plot. As long as there are things blowing up every three minutes or so, as long as there are big guns attached to arms and C4 is being distributed liberally, I’m happy.
Me: You’re not a romantic. Are you a Victorian?
LH: Yes, I am definitely a New Victorian at heart and I have always been attracted to the era. When I was a little girl I made bustle skirts out of my mom’s bed sheets. I am really inspires by that era such as all the characters I ended up loving and the opera. I really love the science fiction and pulp fiction. When I sit down it is really natural for me go in that direction.
Me: What did you go through to get published?
LH: I went to agentquery.com where they explained the whole process and I made a list of agents to solicit. You can find out a lot about these agents. Then the query letter is basically three paragraphs where you introduce yourself and use 50 words to tell about your book. That’s what you have to do to sell yourself and it is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. If the agent is intrigued they may ask you for a longer summary to a couple of chapters or even see the whole thing. I went to the whole thing right off the bat. It depends on whether the agent thinks they can market it and represent you well.
Me: When will the sequel be coming out?
LH: It will come out next year. They are going to be releasing them one year apart.
Me: What did you do when you got the deal?
LH: I went to the store to get some champagne and got arrested by a skull shaped bottle of vodka. I got the vodka instead. I used it to toast my book deal and ordered a pizza. It was all very fancy. I will probably do that again next time.
Me: Several authors put themselves in the protagonist. Do you find parts of yourself in Nora?
LH: A couple, probably. I think her mix of femininity and yet being kind of kick ass and kind of bucking against trend probably comes from me. I think much more of me can be found in my male character, Bram. I think he really comes from a part of me that just keeps going and going. I’ve had a lot of bad stuff in my life and I keep going. That is what I love about zombies. There is room for that kind of story in there.
Me: He had a rough start in the prologue. He is getting torn to pieces.
LH: Exactly. He just picks himself up and he keeps barreling ahead. He will until he falls to pieces. I think that comes from a part of me. I’m not one of those authors who think s their characters are independent people. They are creations I control and I use to tell a story.
Me: Who are your literary influences?
LH: All of them are dead; Gaston LeRoux, Lovecraft, Poe, Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. I love writing young adult but I want to write about adults too. I really like writing the big, sweeping stories.
Me: Do you blame your parents for your taste in movies?
LH: I don’t blame them. I love them for it. My mom never censored what she watched. She had the revolutionary idea that if a kid was scared, the kid could leave the room. I ended up watching Freddy, Jason and Vincent Price. Vincent Price is the love of my life. All these old horror movies, pulp movies, and action movies. We watch “Terminator 2” on Christmas Eve one year and started a tradition that lasts today. We watch “Saw”, “Hostel” and “P2” every Christmas. I just really got into it with her and my dad. He’s a big action film fan and he is a big gamer. That carved out my landscape growing up.
Me: What is the first movie you ever saw?
LH: I have pre-verbal memories of “Poltergeist”. I have never actually sat down and watched that film. I have no concrete memories of it but I have scenes of it in my head. I asked my mother when she saw “Poltergeist” and she watched it when I was about two. I was sitting on the floor playing with my toys and I absorbed scenes from “Poltergeist”.
Me: What are your favorite horror movies?
LH: I love “Day of the Dead” and Dawn of the Dead”. The first 2 Freddy movies are great. He is one of my favorite characters (the original, not the reboot). The reboot makes Freddy an unsympathetic character. I love the first incarnation of Nancy since she is a kick ass kind of girl. She took Freddy on and she was my hero. I love anything with Vincent Price like “Masque of the Red Death”. That movie is still something I put on. Most of the ones I like are things that incorporate monsters in different ways like “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.
Me: Besides romantic comedies, what else do you try to avoid?
LH: Probably comedies that try to be really mature, serious and highbrow. I’m not highbrow at all. I am unapologetically lowbrow.
Me; You like Adam Sandler?
LH: No, I don’t like those either. I don’t like things that take themselves too seriously. My book is very self-referential and tongue-in-cheek. I think nothing good ever came from taking things way too seriously. We have far too much of that in this world. I like things that are jokey and play with convention.
Me: You have a degree in literature and museum studies. Why did you choose those majors?
LH: I went to college and knew I was good at academic writing so I decided to go to English and stay there until I figure out that I want to do. I got so engrossed by English that I stayed there and got my degree. I thought about becoming a teacher but I never did. I went on to get my M.A. in Museum Studies and that was solely because I like older stuff. Unfortunately I could never ding a long term job in that field. I like books and old things so I studied books and older things.
Me: You like to collect things like ballgowns and wigs. What else do you collect?
LH: Books and certain action figures. I just got a figure of Adam Jensen. I love video games. My dad is a gamer. I read, play video games and write. I occasionally go to an all night Steampunk ball.