Today we welcome the extraordinarily talented Leanna Renee Hieber, author of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and the newest book in Percy’s saga The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, which comes to bookstores April 27, 2010. Also, Percy Parker is now going to be a musical! Isn’t that amazing?
Lolita Suzanne: Hi Leanna, thank you so much for dropping by and helping us celebrate Steampunkapalooza! Your second book is released at the end of the month, how excited are you?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Hello Suzi and esteemed Steamed followers! Thanks for the opportunity to be here! Oh, I am SO excited for the Strangely Beautiful saga to continue I can hardly stand it! The first novel isn’t complete without this one, and I’m thrilled for the pair to be out in the world.
LS: Where did the idea for the “Strangely Beautiful” series come from? What came first, Percy or her world?
I’ve always been captivated by the mythos and archetype of the brooding, dark, Gothic hero and what it would take to get inside his head, his heart, and open him up, like shining a ray of sunlight inside. Percy was the answer to that question and to that experiment. Percy is the exact opposite of that Gothic hero archetype and is instead, his foil, and the traditional Gothic heroine (though she contains a few of my own inventions along the way). The first element of Strangely Beautiful came to me in a delirious vision, one night after play rehearsal while I was working terribly long hours as an acting intern for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, nearly 10 years ago.
The 19th century, since childhood, has been my mental playground. So into that familiar setting stepped a death-pale, ghostly, eerie young woman. She walked into Professor Rychman’s grand, richly-appointed office, stared achingly across the room at her brooding professor lit by candlelight. The tension between them was so distinct and so powerful, I was obsessed with them immediately. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to write down any notes, however while driving to rehearsal I recorded a voice memo that began with: “My life has just changed.” And then I described these two characters, and started daydreaming.
I knew from the moment I met Miss Percy that my life would never be the same because of her. I knew she would be the one to launch my career as a novelist. I didn’t know when, how, and I couldn’t know how terribly long it would take, but I knew she was the one.
LS: You mentioned to me once that “Percy Parker” was a labor of love some nine years in the making. Can you tell us a little about the whole process? It’s such a unique blend – a little gothic romance, a little adventure, a little magic…did the story’s uniqueness impact your ability to find a home for it? How would you classify the series, genre-wise, anyway?
LRH: Indeed. It was a long, hard road. I could have likely sold this story more quickly had I made it one genre rather than several, and reconciled the adult with the YA cross-over appeal, but it simply wouldn’t be my style. From agents and editors, I got a lot of “it’s good, but we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know where to shelve it.” And so I had to wait (after more rejection letters than I care to recount) for an agent and a house who would find my cross-genre nature a strength rather than a hindrance. Dorchester is known for taking chances on distinct new voices, and I landed an agent who was looking specifically for the magical and lyrical voice my book(s) offers. And so I’m living proof that as long as you “know thyself”, and how to brand, even if the branding is cross-genre, you can find a good fit, so long as you persist and stay true to it.
However I must also say that you have to be flexible. The manuscript had countless revisions under my own hand, and then I had two revise-and-resubmit situations, one for my agent, one to gain my contract with Dorchester. These revise-and-resubmit revisions dealt with structure, pacing, and made the book a better book. These revisions did not compromise the book because both agent and editor loved the ideas, characters and tone, and that’s the true identity of a book. So as an author, knowing what can and can’t be changed is important, and being able to be flexible will make you easier to sell and keep selling during your career.
If I could pick one word by which to describe the first Strangely Beautiful, I would call it a Gothic novel. Gothic novels have a precedent for dramatic stories, for the supernatural and paranormal, as well as the fantastical. However in order to let readers know just what they’re in for, and will be in for as the series progresses, I also use all those above adjectives you used. Now it might seem at first like it’s a nonsensical jumble, but what makes these disparate elements work is the Victorian Era itself.
The Victorians were ardent spiritualists, loved ghost stories and the supernatural. Look at the literature of the time, which remains my direct source and inspiration for my work. In addition to the supernatural elements, I use Greek Mythology in my work (while taking great liberties with it). The Victorians were ardent Neo-classicists and referenced mythology in their art, architecture, literature, theatrical revivals, etc. This is the era that birthed the classic “Bulfinch’s Mythology” a standard Greek Mythological enthusiasts continue to use today. And so I pull my themes right from the fascinating Victorian psyche.
I would recommend to anyone looking to genre-blend that they see what precedent might already exist for those disparate elements coming together under a thematic whole.
LS: What’s with the long titles?
LRH: Heh, that’s all my agent’s doing. He suggested a long and descriptive title for the first book to really ‘sell’ the book from word one. And it worked, it got editors’ attention. So now it’s a matter of maintaining the brand with similarly long, descriptive titles. The marketing department both loves and hates this and my titles end up written out in-house as TSBToMPP and TDLFFPP and such.
LS: In the past decade there’s been an explosion of sub-genres. Has this growth made it easier or harder for “out of the box” stories to find homes? Are you excited with the whole movement towards genre-blending? How do you think this will influence the types of stories we’ll see on the shelves?
LRH: I’m so thrilled by the expansion of the genres. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry. I can attribute the sale of the Strangely Beautiful series to the growth of sub-genres and thank all my genre foremothers and forefathers for charting brave and wondrous new territory. I do think the industry, readers and authors are all getting more adventurous. I love weaving genres together into a work I find stronger for the various aspects included, and I think the trends are following that desire. And I’m grateful, because frankly I don’t know how to write a book that isn’t in some way ‘cross-genre’. I think the influence will result in more and more cross-over between genres, which I think is a great thing; so long as authors still stick to the types of stories they themselves love and believe in, and don’t just cross genres haphazardly.
LS: Was “Darkly Luminous” easier or harder to write than “Strangely Beautiful?” Can you tell us anything about what happens in this next installment?
LRH: Darkly Luminous was easier, in many ways. I was a far more disciplined writer than I was during the process of the first novel. I had the momentum of selling book 1, though it came with the pressure of expectation (and writing a book on deadline for the first time). There are strange new nerves and neuroses with every new project, so there’s always something different to face and every book will have its obstacles.
But I knew the characters so well that they sort of poured themselves onto the page. We ‘settle in’ to all the characters more in this second installment and see much more of them all, but they don’t get any rest – it’s a high-stakes and high-passion novel. Allowing Percy and Alexi to begin a life together was a special, delicious, sweet, sometimes funny and often difficult exploration. I am endlessly compelled by their dynamic. Darkly Luminous picks up exactly where the first book leaves off and introduces us to Beatrice Tipton, who factors strongly into Strangely Beautiful #3, a prequel. The action rouses to a huge, epic, spectral battle, and where everyone goes from here will be an interesting journey for me to write.
LS: “Strangely Beautiful 2 ½” comes out in an anthology in the fall, right? Can you tell us a little about it? When will book three be released? How many books do you have planned in the series?
LRH: Indeed! “A Christmas Carroll” (Strangely Beautiful #2.5) will be included in Dorchester’s A MIDWINTER FANTASY (October) and stars Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Michael Carroll. While Darkly Luminous picks up exactly where the first book left off, so does the novella pick up where Darkly Luminous leaves off, and fills in the gap between the last chapter of Darkly Luminous and the epilogue of Darkly Luminous (which needs some explaining as it’s a bit too tidy without the novella to put those two characters through the necessary ringer to really earn their story).
Book 3 will be a prequel shifting from 1860s Cairo to 1860/70s New York and will feature Beatrice Tipton’s Guard passing the torch to Alexi’s Guard and preparing for Prophecy in ways Alexi and his Guard never know. I deal with “The Goddess” and Phoenix directly as they nearly (and painfully) lose their grip on their plan. Writing the teenage Alexi Rychman (and a teen Elijah Withersby) is proving to be great fun. Book 4 will continue forward in time, crossing the 20th century, focusing on the Rychman family legacy. I don’t have any more Strangely Beautiful books planned after that, though I’d like to give Elijah and Josephine their own novella like Rebecca and Michael have been allowed.
LS: Do you have any non-Percy projects in the wings?
LRH: My agent is currently shopping around my Historical Paranormal YA series set in Victorian NYC. *crossing fingers* I’m also doing some neat Fantasy fiction work (with a touch of horror) on a gaming project that’s still in development.
LS: You’re an actress and a playwright, how does that influence the way you write stories?
LRH: Absolutely. My process is entirely theatrically related. I think of books like a Cinematographer thinks of setting up a shot, like a Director thinks about making choices about movement, structure and point of view and as an Actor when I think of getting into my characters and their dialogue. I teach a workshop called “Direct Your Book: Theatrical Techniques to a Blockbuster Novel” because I realized I have a unique theatrical perspective to offer in the way I literally see my books and create them.
LS: Did you always want to be a writer? When was that defining moment, when you sat down and said, “I’m going to do this, no matter what anyone says?”
LRH: I’ve been writing and telling stories since I can remember. I began my first novel (a Gothic novel, actually, my themes have long been with me) when I was about 12, and tinkered with it for nearly a decade. I earlier described how once I met her, I knew Miss Percy would change my life, but I kept her on the back burner for years as I worked as a professional actress. I moved to New York City to see whether theatre or my books would win out. One day I was in the middle of a Broadway callback and all I could think about was Percy and Alexi. I was terrified to walk away from what I was “trained” to do. Yet I refocused, stopped auditioning and dared a homecoming to what had been that first childhood love-affair; writing books. My contract certainly didn’t happen overnight, as I’ve said, but I knew when I started taking my writing seriously that I made the right decision.
LS: What sort of writer are you – a pantser? A plotter? Do you write in spurts or slow and steady? Do you like to write to music or in silence. Do you work at a desk or on the couch? (etc…)
LRH: Cert-i-fied Pant-ser. I plot rough outlines because I (well, and my editor) need some vague idea of where I’m going. As for how to get there, the characters tell me as I go and as I daydream. I need music in the background – something atmospheric, classical, evocative (no words). And I write where ever I have my laptop and the ability to concentrate. Non-negotiable ritual: must have cup(s) of tea on hand.
LS: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
LRH: Do you like a good ghost story? Please join me for my Darkly Luminous Haunted London Blog Tour where I’ll be talking about all the real ghost stories I use in my books! All the ghosts in the Strangely Beautiful series thus far, save for the ghostly residents of my fictional Athens Academy, are all documented London haunts. Learn all about them on the tour, starting the day before release day – April 26th – and running release week! Schedule is here: http://www.leannareneehieber.com/haunted-london-blog-tour/ Not only will you hear a neat ghost story and get excerpts from the book, but you can enter to win books – there’s a new giveaway included on every tour stop!
And then, on April 27th, release day, join me via the contest page of my website (http://www.leannareneehieber.com/contests ) to see the neat Darkly Luminous contest I’ll be running through May! I’m giving away a necklace featured in the book as well as a Barnes & Noble gift certificate – all you have to do is answer an easy Darkly Luminous pop quiz question to enter to win!
I’d love to see you on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/leannarenee
And on Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/sbsfan
LS: Do you have any upcoming appearances/signings?
LRH: Yes! I have a ton, I’ll be everywhere this year! Release day for Darkly Luminous, April 27th I’ll be at my hometown Barnes & Noble in West Chester Ohio, then I’ll be at the RT Book Lover’s Convention, readings in NYC, a Guest Author at the Steampunk World’s Fair, at the Phoenix Comicon, DragonCon and many more – check out my schedule at http://booktour.com/author/leanna-renee-hieber
Lolita Suzanne: Thank you so much for coming by, we really appreciate it, and congratulations on your upcoming release. I can’t wait to read it. I’m still squeeing over the idea of you getting to turn your book into a musical, that is just so amazing. I hope I get to see it one day.
Leanna Renee Hieber: Thanks so much Suzi, fellow Lolitas et al! Strangely Beautiful blessings!
I have the results for the Clockwork Couture ensemble contest and will announce the finalists and winner on Saturday, April 17th. On Saturday we also welcome EJP Creations, who makes Clockhand Tiaras (among other things. Sunday, April 18th we’ll learn about upcycled designs with Creative Habits. Monday kicks off an amazing week with John from Steampunk Tales. Hold on to your fishnets, the Smuttketeers invade Steampunkapalooza on Tuesday, April 20th. Artist Simply Willow stops by on Wednesday, April 21 and young adult author Scott Westerfeld joins us on April 22, as the guests, prizes, and mayhem continue all month long.