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Find out what Dearly, Departed‘s author Lia Habel read as a teenager, which celebrity actors she thinks should be casted (if there ever was a movie), and what she’s currently working on.
Dearly, Departed is your first published book. How does it feel to achieve that goal?
It feels really overwhelming. I use that word far too often, but it’s the most descriptive one I can think of—so often I feel at sea, completely out of my element. Much of this stems from the fact that I wrote Dearly, Departed to entertain myself and a few friends—I never set out with publishing as the goal. I feel like I’m the last person who ought to have a book out, and like I’ve experienced this stroke of random, illogical luck. Every time my agent makes a new book deal or I hear from someone who loved the book, my first reaction is still, “Really? I did okay, then?” I don’t take anything for granted, because I never know what to expect. I never expected to get this far!
And yet, it’s also absolutely wonderful. I feel very privileged to have the chance to tell stories that other people will read and enjoy. I can’t think of a better job!
What were some of your favourite novels when you were a teen?
I grew up reading “old” books – I still do! I prefer the racks of crumbling books in any antique shop to the shiny new stacks at a bookstore, honestly. I especially love finding and reading old pulp novels that everyone’s forgotten about. But I loved things like The Phantom of the Opera, Jane Eyre, Dr. Zhivago, Little Women, A Little Princess, anything by Rudyard Kipling or Sir Author Conan Doyle (he invented more characters than just Sherlock Holmes!), and modern books like those by Judy Blume and Lemony Snicket. But in high school, it was totally Victorian books under the desk during math class. Sometimes I feel like I conducted my own education that way!
If you could be any of your Dearly, Departed characters, who would you be and why?
Tough one – because I love them all! And my favorite character to write changes from day to day. My current instinctive pick is Vespertine—readers of the first book will go, ”Wah?“ but she opens up in the second book, and she’s really interesting to get into. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Vespertine has a clear, cold reason for everything she does, and she’s not as heartless as she seems.
My overall pick would be Nora, though. I wish I had half her courage, even just to mouth off! I love dealing with her struggle to balance the opposing forces in her life. And she’s very uniquely situated, where she gets to confront and deal with a lot of the action. She’s in the heart of it.
Parasols, carriages, zombies, and holos are all part of Nora’s world. How did you go about researching these topics (they sound so much fun!)?
A lot of these ideas were already sort of pinging around in my brain – they’re subjects dear to my heart! I grew up reading Victorian books, I love Victorian movies, I love zombie movies (I’ve watched over 100) – but there’s another side of me, too, one that loves action, sci-fi, and horror films, so it all sort of combined in my head and got spit out on the page.
I’d say I get most of my ideas by exposing myself to really broad and diverse forms of media, everything from video games to art galleries. I do perform some research, though – much of it science-related (prion models, certain bits of tech), geographical (due to the Central American setting of the novel)and Victorian-themed. I have an actual etiquette book from 1870 that I go to for advice on manners(though I end up bending 50% of what I read!).
Do you think it’s important to have strong characters like Nora and Pamela in your novels so teenagers can have literary role models?
I do, but I don’t tend to write with ”education“ in mind. I figure readers will like whatever characters they like, think critically about what they read, and that it isn’t my place to try and preach to them. I’ve met middle-schoolers who are smarter than I am and know more about life than I do! I do want to create interesting, strong characters, however. And I’ll admit—as a reader, I was personally growing tired of cardboard-cutout heroines when I originally sat down to write Dearly, Departed, It seemed like a trend, these bland female protagonists designed specifically so that the reader could project herself into the story. So I tried to write against that. (Same with Bram – I was tired of brooding, angsty heroes, so Bram’s as calm and happy as he can be, given everything that’s going on around him!)
If Dearly, Departed turned into a movie, which actors would you cast as Nora, Bram, and Pamela?
All of these might be a bit on the older side, though. I’m clueless when it comes to young actors and actresses, I admit.
What are you currently working on?
I just handed in some more revisions for the sequel, Dearly, Beloved, and now I’ve got some time to work on some unsolicited projects (projects no one has seen aside from myself). I don’t want to reveal too much, but they both involve monsters – just not zombies. One’s futuristic with some neo-Victorian accents (because I can never get far from those), and the other may turn out to be fantasy-esque, which is unique for me. I’m not a big fan of fantasy novels!
About the Author
Lia Habel was born in Jamestown, NY, and has lived there the majority of her life. Her first book, Dearly, Departed, is a sweeping tale of zombie-living romance set in a cyber-Victorian/steampunk future.
When Dearly, Departed sold, Lia was swimming in debt incurred from her studies and years of un- and underemployment, with only a few dollars to her name.
Miss Habel enjoys attending anachronistic and steampunk events, watching zombie movies (she has watched over a hundred of them), commissioning ball gowns, and collecting Victorian and Edwardian books. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities she has recently been given.
Visit her at liahabel.com
Follow her on Twitter: @liahabel
Like her on Facebook: Lia-Habel
Photography credits: WinterWolf Studios