Welcome to Darkly Reading, I am so happy that you are my first interview on the blog! Can you give a little introduction to my readers about your Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and the soon to be out release - Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker?
Thank you Heather! It’s such an honour to be your inaugural interview! The Strangely Beautiful series is Gothic Victorian Fantasy Romance. Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show described Strangely Beautiful as “Bulfinch’s Mythology, Harry Potter and Wuthering Heights in a blender.” *grin* And I think that’s about right. The Darkly Luminous Fight picks up exactly where The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker leaves off, keeping Percy and Alexi in the main focus. From the back cover:
“With radiant, snow white skin and hair, Percy Parker was a beacon for Fate. True love had found her, in the tempestuous form of Professor Alexi Rychman. But her mythic destiny was not complete. Accompanying the ghosts with which she alone could converse, new and terrifying omens loomed. A war was coming, a desperate ploy of a spectral host. Victorian London would be overrun. Yet, Percy kept faith. Within the mighty bastion of Athens Academy, alongside The Guard whose magic shielded mortals from the agents of the Underworld, she counted herself among friends. Wreathed in hallowed fire, they would stand together, no matter what dreams or nightmares—may come.”
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters? Are there any specific book characters or actors that inspired Alexi and Percy?
I’ve always been inspired by the Victorian Era, since childhood, when I fell in love with Dickens and Poe. The era speaks to me; all its grit and grandeur, struggle and romance, a conflicted society rife with passions hid under preened exteriors. I’ve always been drawn to the Gothic too – and the Gothic revival in the 19th century, and that’s where my love for the paranormal, spiritual, fantastical and the neo-classical finds a natural home.
While Miss Percy is very much the typical Gothic heroine, orphaned, alone, meek, containing powers she doesn’t yet understand, dear Percy became a force all on her own. She came to me as a fully formed character, looking like a ghost, and demanding (ever so sweetly, mind you) that I write her Tale. My vision began with the two of them and their aching dynamic. The tension between them begged me to unearth all of their secrets, ghostly or otherwise. I wanted them to be surrounded by a rich, vibrant community of secondary characters that would allow us to get to know them better through outside, colourful eyes. Certainly my characters have parts of myself, of friends and family within them, but only certain traits. Percy, Alexi and the Guard truly have evolved into unique people entirely on their own. At this point I just sit back and take dictation.
The titles for your books are unusual - how did you come up with them? Have you found any interesting misspellings of the titles on the web?
The initial title came entirely from my agent who figured the best way to market a cross-genre book like mine was to give it a descriptive title, to give the readers a sense of what they’re about to read. When he made the point, I absolutely agreed with him, and it became a marketing coup of his. The subsequent titles have been brainstorms between my editor and I. I can’t say I’ve found many misspellings – a few words switched around perhaps, and not everyone gets the series title of the “Strangely Beautiful” series correct, but nothing atrocious.
Do you have any favorite secondary characters in your books? Will they be getting books of their own?
I can’t pick a favourite from my Guard. I love them all equally, for all their differences. I adore books with rich group dynamics, and The Guard have all been so much fun and are each so dear to my heart. I’m so excited that Rebecca and Michael get their own novella this fall, releasing September 28th! “A Christmas Carroll” will be featured in Dorchester’s A MIDWINTER FANTASY anthology. I’d love to offer the same novella opportunity to Elijah and Josephine, we’ll have to see!
What is the future of the Strangely Beautiful world? How many books do you see in the series?
Four books and two novellas (Rebecca and Michael get theirs this fall, I hope Elijah and Josephine can have the same next fall). Book 3 is a prequel and Book 4 will continue with the Rychman familial legacy up to and broaching World War I.
Your books have many influences - Victorian England, ghost stories, gothic novels, and Greek mythology - do you have any particular favorite stories you came across during the course of your research?
In college I pursued a focus in the Victorian Era and I loved researching all these disparate aspects that are a part of Victorian society – they were ardent spiritualists and fascinated with ghosts. And so to honour this, why make up all the ghosts when I could just use some that actually exist? So all of the ghosts in the books- save for the spectral residents of my fictional Athens Academy and those in the Whisper-World- are real, documented London haunts. Picking my ghost stories was my favourite part of the research process, as well as trailing Jack the Ripper in Strangely Beautiful #1. You can learn all about them by joining in my Haunted London Blog Tour beginning April 26th! Schedule: http://www.leannareneehieber.com/haunted-london-blog-tour/
When you write do you have any rituals to put you in the mood - or can you be found jotting down a few lines on a cocktail napkin while out at the bar? How do you avoid writers block?
Yes and yes to the first two questions. My rituals if at home (though I have been known to have very productive sessions at a good coffee shop): spend a few quiet moments daydreaming, get the lighting right (turn on the stained-glass lamps) put on atmospheric classical or movie soundtracks without words – something period or particularly sweeping. Brew a cup of spiced, clove tea because that’s Alexi’s scent; “all clove tea and leather-bound books” because I want his essence near me. I always have pens on hand, everywhere (dry erase markers for the washroom). My characters talk to me all the time (I know, it’s a fine line between being an author and a schizophrenic) and so I have to be ready to take dictation no matter where I am. I’ve been known to pause when I’m out and about with my boyfriend or my friends and say. “Hold on, Elijah just said something really funny.” (It’s usually Elijah who interrupts me. Thankfully, most of my friends are authors or actors and they get it, and my boyfriend is just a saint of a good sport.)
Writer’s block is just something you can’t accept when you’re a contracted author on deadline. You have to get around it. Since I write very character driven stories, my characters help me avoid writers block. If I have a problem, I ask my characters to fix it and let them percolate on it. Generally within a day or so they present me with an answer (which comes to me in the form of a mental movie that I then translate into words – I write like a cinematographer, director and an actor all at the same time.) As a director of my book, I have a cast of actors, my characters, and with my asking the right questions, they come up with the solutions.
I noticed that you are quite that expert at connecting to your fans through social media (facebook page, twitter, website) - do you think it's helped promote your book to a wider audience and have you ever had any strange encounters of the fan kind - besides me of course? Do you have any favorite fan encounter stories as well?
I’d not dare call myself an expert, though I’m definitely active in the social media spheres. And it’s absolutely made the series. I thanked book bloggers in the acknowledgements of Darkly Luminous because it really was connecting with bloggers like you that was the defining factor in getting me, a debut author with a new series, off the ground. It’s one aspect of many factors that make a successful book, some of which end up being random (like book covers since authors have no control over them, titles; often authors have no control, the time of year its released, whether or not the publisher pushes the book to sales reps or not, etc), and then some of which we can control, like how much we ourselves try and get the word out about our work – and social media is the easiest, fastest and most cost-effective way to do so. I balance a lot of social media presence with a bunch of public appearances around the release of my book, as well as a few print media advertising spots. I confess it gets utterly overwhelming, and often I get scatterbrained. Each author has to establish for themselves how much they can do and can balance while keeping to their book deadlines. It isn’t easy.
No strange encounters of the fan kind, just lovely ones. Truly, when people write to me or review my book saying how much they connected with my characters, there’s just nothing better than that. My Strangely Beautiful characters have been with me for a decade and are family to me. When readers take them into their hearts as their family too, it’s such a great honour. My favourite fan moments: The stuffed kookaburra Mary sent me from Australia and the “If you like Twilight you’ll like Strangely Beautiful” YouTube video that Hanna made me.
Now onto questions a little off book topic -
Bigelow’s “Constant Comment” – it has cloves in it. As I mentioned, it Alexi’s scent. Yum.
Favorite Sweet Treat?
Sour apple gummy things.
Favorite deep dark secret TV show?
I have no secrets, nor shame. I’m proud of my love of Beauty and the Beast (my favourite from back in the day). I’m a Star Trek Next Gen fan, a Battlestar Galactica fan (the new one) and I’m most proud of my eldest television obsession that began at age 8: with Doctor Who (old and new – Baker and Tennant are my Doctors).
Favorite character you've ever played on stage?
See pictures: Lucy in Dracula (Cincinnati Shakespeare Company). Yep, that’s me. Favourite stage photo ever. (Thanks Rich Sofranko) And then, going as Miss Percy for Halloween to a costumed ball (replete with photography by Steven Rosen) really took the cake last year. People think at first glance that picture of me as Miss Percy is a painting. Hee-hee.
What are your favorite authors and books?
All the 19th century greats, particularly the Gothic and fantastical authors like Poe and Stoker. The list continues with King, Gaiman, Tolkien, Lewis, Austen, L. M. Montgomery and last but most certainly not least: J.K. Rowling. As for favourite books; the whole of these authors’ work.
Classical (Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Chopin, Sibelius, Glass), Goth (VNV Nation, Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk, The Cure, Depeche Mode), Alternative / Folk (Over the Rhine, Radiohead)
Before you go - do you have any special events planned around your latest release that you want people to know about?
Join me for my Darkly Luminous Haunted London Blog Tour (full of giveaways) and my contest, all details available at http://www.leannareneehieber.com and I really hope you’ll pick up The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker starting April 27th! I’ll also have lots of updates regarding the option agreement for the musical theatre adaptation of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker up on my blog: http://www.leannareneebooks.blogspot.com
and via Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/leannarenee and the Strangely Beautiful Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/sbsfan Also, I’m all over the country this year at conventions and conferences, see if I’m coming to a town near you: http://www.booktour.com/author/leanna_renee_hieber
Thanks for your answers Leanna!
Thanks, Heather, for this wonderful opportunity!
***Book Giveaway Time***
So I'm giving away a copy of one of Leanna's books - either Strangely Beautiful or Darkly Luminous - winner's choice. The contest is international (anywhere Book Depository ships) and will go till Saturday May 1st.
-Leave a comment/ question for Leanna (she will be on later this afternoon to answer questions) or answer this question: What's your favorite novel set in the Victorian era?
-To get extra entries: follow my blog/ follow me on twitter/ tweet about the contest - just let me know (and leave the name you use to follow me with) and leave a link if you tweet! (each counts as one extra entry)
-Check back on the blog on May 2nd to see if you won!