My mindset changed a lot after attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference. There, I met all these authors and found they were awesome people, but people, and they liked being asked questions, even questions about parts you didn't like about their books!
And one of the most interesting people I met at RWA Nationals was Leanna Renee Hieber, shown here in a picture I took of the panel she and the other Prism Award-winners had at the end of the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal RWA chapter's annual party (the Gathering). She kind of stole the whole show, really (sorry, Catherine Asaro!). A playright, actress, and writer, she won the Prism for her novella, "Dark Nest," and was delighted to have her first novel published after nine years of struggle.
Did I mention she also loves Nathan Fillion and Joss Whedon?
Anyway, we had a fantastic conversation during the Gathering and she offered to send me a copy of her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (which I will be reading and reviewing next). She also very kindly consented to be the subject of the very first interview on Gossamer Obsessions (conducted via e-mail). My questions are in blue.
You studied Theatre, the Victorian Era, and even spent some time studying in London. It's no surprise that this would inspire you to write an historical romance, but what inspired the ghostly, fantasy aspect?
In some of my first memories I’m telling Ghost stories. I simply adore ghost stories, hearing them and making them up. My first and most memorable literary obsessions were Fantasy novels (Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia – Harry Potter would come later, of course) Tolkien and Lewis were then followed by an intense obsession with 19th Century Gothic literature. Right around the time I first birthed the idea of Percy Parker, I was diving into and loving the fantastical qualities of the graphic novels of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.
A follow-up, in what ways have you discovered the Victorian Era to be ripe for fantasy and paranormal stories? Most fantasies out there are either contemporary (paranormal, urban fantasy) or medieval (epic or high fantasy) with little in between.
Because the literature of that time was ripe with it, and no other era resonates for me like the Victorian era. It’s so perfect for paranormal because of the grit and the grandeur, the struggle and the Empire, the repressed and the passionate, it was a very bipolar, Jekyll and Hyde time. I wanted to draw a dark Victorian cloak around me and live in all of it, relish and reel in all the triumphs and difficulties as the Industrial Revolution took hold and the very heavens were questioned. It’s so ripe with possibility, fear, elegance and drama. Think of all the paranormal tales that were published in and just around the day: Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Castle of Otranto (considered by many to be the seminal Gothic Novel), the ghosts of Dickens, Wuthering Heights, Alice in Wonderland, all of Edgar Allan Poe. To name just a few. These all are favourite books and favourite authors of mine. I’d never liken myself to that great literature but it’s been my love affair for a very long time. I liken my attachment to the period to a past life. I can’t really explain my soul-connection to it otherwise, which in and of itself, is an otherworldly sensibility.
What sort of research did you have to do while writing "Percy Parker"? Any particular difficulties in finding certain facts?
I’d been to London to soak up atmosphere. Atmosphere is big for me and big in my writing. I had to make decisions on general locales, and that I did with instinct and a few maps. I had to double check the years of inventions and most specifically, details on the Ripper murders. I sat with the language as I read my favourite 19th century authors. Richard Jones’ Haunted London was an invaluable resource for inspiring all my ghost stories, and grounding them specifically to real, documented London Haunts. They’re all actual London characters. (For more on this please join my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog tour where you can learn all about them, details at www.leannareneehieber.com)
The beauty of writing Historical Fantasy / Historical Paranormal is that the history is there to help you build a rich, complex, detailed world in which you and your readers can completely escape. It’s there to give your characters setting and drama. Considering it was a hard time to be a woman, and an unusual woman like Miss Percy at that, there’s automatic conflict and tension. But within a paranormal / fantasy world, if you hit a wall, there are any number of paranormal conventions to save you!
What helped you to push on and continue to submit "Percy Parker" after nine years of grueling revisions and rejections, instead of starting to write something else?
I was just stubborn. I knew Percy was “the one”. She was the first thing that got me wanting to be a career novelist. When she entered my mind I knew my life had forever changed and when I tried other projects, I didn’t have the stamina. (It’s why Dark Nest, while I love it, is a novella *s*). Percy is like her own battery to my artistic motor. Plus my critique partner and beloved friend, Isabo Kelly (who won the Prism Award alongside me in DC for her category) maintained faith even when mine faltered. Thankfully the rejection letters still seemed to think the story had promise. And that’s what I lived on. Promise.
A follow up, how did the story of "Percy Parker" evolve in the nine years between when you first wrote it and when it was published?
Oooh, baby. Well, thankfully I had some awesome agents and editors who took the time in my rejection letters to say that while my story had promise, I needed to smooth out the narrative (it’s hard keeping track of nearly 10 characters who you feature often). And I listened. The book through the years has become shorter, tighter, swifter, with much more of the plot, such as Prophecy, planted at the beginning. My fabulous editor, Chris Keeslar, who I really respect and enjoy working with, wanted to know exactly what my characters did, particularly the duties of The Guard, earlier on in the story so that when we get to a scene where everyone is relaxed and cracking jokes, we care about them more. We’ve seen them in action, so we can now see them at rest and relax with them. It was a smart choice.
You can’t be so fixated on your baby (and believe me, this is my baby) that you can’t allow for the objective, director’s eye, to know what he or she is talking about. That’s the really fun thing for me about working with an editor, it’s like I’m in a play and my characters are in it with me and we’re listening to our director and seeing how we can adjust ourselves to make it work. It’s an engaging dynamic for me.
What was it like "after the call" from Dorchester? What elements of the publishing process surprised you?
Um, the call was indeed a phone call and it was the most awesome moment ever. And then it was a lot of work. I think what surprises me most about this industry is that it just never ends. There’s always a deadline, there’s always something to promote. If you sit back and coast you set yourself and your career back. Houses will do what they can to help you, but you’ve got to be your own PR department as well as an author who turns their stuff in on time. I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle it all, it’s really hard. You also just can’t be afraid to ask questions, because so much of the publishing process is a mystery and even with really supportive houses, they don’t have time to hold your hand through everything.
How do you feel that romance readers and the blogosphere are contributing to the promotion of books such as yours? Some have scoffed that "anyone can publish on the Internet" and that blogs don't have the same effect a professional marketing campaign does. What do you think?
I have already seen that this book has some ‘buzz’ around it. And that’s due to people like you. Word of mouth is so important, and word of mouth begins by discussing things. The blog world gets that discussion started. If this book does indeed do well I will owe it to Bloggers and I’m not one to either forget that or be ungrateful for it. Book bloggers are some of the most talented, dedicated, engaging, entertaining and informative people I have met in this business. The entire industry is changing, and anyone who doesn’t utilize the resource bloggers can provide is missing the boat. I don’t have the funds for huge campaigns. I’m doing small print ads here or there or getting a publicity program when I can, but the blogosphere is such a wonderful, interconnected and ever-expanding resource and I am very grateful for it. It’s such a vital part of the equation.
Your website says that "Percy Parker" is to be the first in a series. What are your plans for future books? Will they involve the same characters, or new stories with new characters in the same setting or vein?
Indeed! You’ll continue to see the regular faces, a few new ones coming along the way. Book II will take up exactly where Book I leaves off, continuing with Percy and Alexi in the main focus with ongoing attention given to the rest of The Guard and their story. Percy and Alexi need more time to be in the spotlight, I always knew that. They have a lot to do. *grin* The danger is bigger, the sensuality is bigger and the glimpses into the rest of The Guard are too. Book III is a Prequel where the previous Guard has to set Prophecy in place for Alexi and his Guard, and Book IV continues on a Rychman familial legacy. The stories dovetail on each other in ways I’m still discovering.
There’s possibly a 5th book but that’s dependent on how the quartet unfolds, so it’s too premature to say.
What are you working on now?
Prepping a lot for the big day, release day and getting all my ducks in a row for my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog Tour. My work in progress is Strangely Beautiful III, the prequel. My agent and I are trying to sell my Historical Fantasy / Historical Paranormal YA proposal set in 19th Century New York City. So I’m keeping busy.
Thanks for stopping by! Remember folks, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is out August 25th!