I interviewed Leanna Renee Hieber about her fantasy debut, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, a gothic Victorian tale filled with ghosts, magic, and romance. Read my review of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and learn more at Leanna Renee Hieber’s website!
Kelly: Percy Parker is an unusual heroine, both in her appearance and in her shy, timid personality. How did she first come to you? Did she appear full-formed, like Athena, or has she evolved over the years?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Yes, she’s very unusual and I can’t say I chose all her unusual elements, she essentially chose me. Miss Percy truly did appear to me- entering quietly, carefully, yet unmistakably into my mind. She stood in a Victorian gown inside Alexi’s finely appointed office, with so many of her particulars intact, and I knew I’d never be the same for having met her. Then I had to find out why she was the way she was. The joy and also the difficulty was getting to know her; finding moments, albeit small at first, where she gains strength and confidence. Finding the moments when she can be passionate and let her true beauty shine through. Moments of bravery, beauty and strength grow as the book progresses and most certainly continuing to grow in Book II and will continue further in Book IV. The choices of when to push her and when she remains passive were the most difficult parts of her journey for me, but there’s still so much more room for her and I am excited by how she’s unfolding.
Kelly: In addition to writing novels, you’re involved in theater as a playwright and actress. Do you find that your experience in the theater has an effect on your fiction writing?
Leanna Renee Hieber: It’s inextricable for so many reasons. The more I write, the more I realize how intensely my theatre background influences me. My books are movies in my head, very intense and detailed movies that put me in the seat of the cinematographer. Reviewers have called me atmospheric and lyrical and I think that comes from a desire to really ‘set the stage’ visually and emotionally.
- Dialogue is one of my favourite parts of the process and that comes from relishing and examining great dialogue in really great plays and films.
- Character development is directly tied to my theatre training because when I attempt to discover and elucidate character motivations, I have to get inside the head of my characters in the same way I would have to on stage. A reviewer mentioned that I never “forgot my characters” and Miss Percy Parker’s glasses, shrouds and accoutrements were given as an example. I try and use the details of when Percy dons or removes these items to dramatic advantage. This comes from thinking about how to use costumes and props in a show and make that relative to character.
- Also, working with an editor is like working with a director. That’s a familiar and engaging dynamic to me, rather than a threatening or strained one, and so I feel well equipped in that regard. It also helps to have been blessed by stellar editors.
- And lastly, extremely dramatic situations appeal to me. And I most certainly do not shy away from putting very dramatic situations in this book.
Kelly: What’s your favorite ghost story?
Leanna Renee Hieber: I’ve two, the scariest and the loveliest.
The one that gives me the creeps is the Black Dog of Newgate:
At the rear of charming Amen Court stands a large, ominous wall. Behind that wall once stood the formidable, feared Newgate Prison. The small passage of “Deadman’s Walk” remains. Prisoners walked this path to execution and were buried beneath it. Newgate ghost stories abound, but the most striking and incredible is The Black Dog. The black form of a hound traverses the top of the wall, slides down and into the courtyard before vanishing, bearing with it a hideous smell and the sound of dragging footsteps. The origin of this spectral beast is said to date back to the 13th century when a famine hit London and Newgate inmates turned to cannibalism. A portly scholar was locked up on charges of sorcery and eaten by inmates. A few days later a terrifying black dog appeared, panting, with red feral eyes, blood dripping from its maw, and began ripping prisoners limb from limb in the middle of the night. Terrified inmates killed their guards and escaped, only to be hunted down, one by one, by the Black Dog until the sorcerer was avenged. The dog returned to Newgate to be seen on the eve of executions and deaths, and continues to slink along the Amen Court courtyard, the smell of death in its wake. – The Guard reference this ghost as they discuss the dangerous Hell-hound they encounter in the book.
In the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church in Wanstead, a lovely space of 18th century vintage, two curious figures appear. First, a white skeleton is seen wheeling a cart bearing a coffin. The skeleton approaches a particular tomb and in response, a shrouded white spectre is said to arise. The two wraiths embrace. Supposedly they were a married couple who were for some reason buried in separate plots and eternally reunite their spirits in love. – This inspired the ghost waltz between the two former professors in the book, a sight that greatly moves my heroine.
Kelly: Can you give us a sneak preview of what lies ahead for Percy, Alexi, and friends?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Indeed!
Book II picks up exactly where Book I leaves off, keeping Percy and Alexi in the main focus but giving us more insight into The Guard as well. Book II (title TBA) will come out in May 2010. As it stands now, I’ve a novella in a Fantasy Christmas anthology of Dorchester authors slated to release in October 2010, my story will feature Rebecca and Michael and keep with the Strangely Beautiful world. Book III is a prequel, Book IV continues with the Rychman family legacy up until World War I.
Kelly: Is there one question you always wish someone would ask you, but no one ever does? If so, what is it? And what’s the answer?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Hmm. “How real are your characters to you?”
One aspect I haven’t really discussed is how vibrant my characters are in my mind – it may sound odd but many writers agree that after a while you truly hear your characters and they are as close to you as family. It was a long journey towards publication due to the cross-genre nature of the book, and so within the 9 year process from ideas to seeing it on the shelf, I’ve had a lot of time with Percy and The Guard. Because of this, I essentially just take dictation from them as I sit down to write. I may give them a task, but they relatively easily supply the dialogue. And they, like their author, take direction well. They need a great deal of revision, of course, but I’ve never had characters so vibrant, and that’s why I knew that of all my various projects and artistic pursuits, the Strangely Beautiful series had to be my top priority.
Kelly: I love that your rabbit is named Persebunny.
Leanna Renee Hieber: *grin* I’m so glad you get a kick out of that, it’s terribly punny – but I love it. :) She’s albino, I couldn’t help it. Of course we call her Percy for short.