Strangely Beautiful’s Uncanny Real-Life Magic

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, artist and the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards (see Kelly’s reviews). The revised omnibus edition with new content releases as Strangely Beautiful from Tor Books on April 26. Leanna’s MAGIC MOST FOUL saga began with Darker Still, an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick, a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title and a Daphne du Maurier award finalist. THE ETERNA FILES, her latest Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy saga is now available from Tor with the sequel, Eterna and Omega releasing 8/16. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance and featured on Tor.com. She is a 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in Fantasy Romance and her books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into many languages including Polish, German and Complex Chinese. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City, works as a ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She is active on Twitter,  on Facebook, on her website, and creates crafts art and jewelry on Etsy.

Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber

Dear Fantasy Literature readers,

I’m blessed to be here, as this site has been supportive of me since my debut, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and its sequels garnered praise on this wonderful site. I’m honored to be here talking about the new life of Strangely Beautiful, as these beloved books went out of print years ago when my first publisher went bankrupt and closed their doors, leaving my books orphaned. The fine folks at Tor Books gathered me up in their talented wings and rescued both Miss Percy’s saga as well as launched my new series, THE ETERNA FILES, another Gothic Gaslamp Fantasy saga, a genre that I have become infamous for, carving out my own eerie, atmospheric niche at the corner of Poe and Bronte.

There has always been something uncanny surrounding this series. For all the trials these books have been through, there’s been an equal amount of magic and inexplicable providence following Miss Percy from the very start.

I’ve been inspired by the Victorian era since I can remember. It made “sense” to me in a way only past lives could explain. I went to college to receive a theatre degree, focusing on classical theatre and Victorian era studies. I began the draft of this novel- some 15 years ago now- while an intern at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival working 12 to 14 hour days, six days a week. Strangely Beautiful was born and has always lived in a crucible.

The first moment I knew there was an inexplicable magic to this series: When I first drafted my hero, the enigmatic, brooding Professor Rychman, I made him a teacher of Mathematical and Alchemical studies, torn between logic and his mystical calling. He is the leader of The Guard, an ancient group of secret spectral police. I called the Guard’s ghost-busting mission “The Great Work”, and decided that my hero and heroine, Miss Percy Parker, would both have direct ties to mythical beings. The Phoenix features prominently, reincarnation a theme through the series. I knew nothing about Alchemy when I began my draft. Only after I’d made these decisions did I open a book on Alchemy to discover Alchemists referred to the work as “The Great Work” and that the top of the Alchemical pyramid is the Phoenix…

(I should note that while Harry Potter was seminal inspiration for me, I hadn’t yet read about Fawkes the Phoenix until I was well into my own narrative. I also changed “The Great Work” to “The Grand Work” after learning that Aleister Crowley used “The Great Work” in some of his rituals and I do not wish to be associated with Crowley systems.)

Uncanny ghosts: One of my ‘villains’ is a hound of hell; a shadowy black dog trailing fear and violence in its wake. To give the book local London flavor, I used real, documented London haunts per Richard Jones’ Haunted London compendium. My book was well into drafts when I read about the Black Dog of Newgate; one of London’s most horrific haunts, an incorporeal, shadowy black Dog…

Uncanny symbols along life’s path: I moved to New York City in 2005. On my first Central Park exploration I turned a corner and saw the angel fountain at the center of the gorgeous Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. I cried. She’s exactly like the angel fountain I’d created in my similarly red-brick courtyard of Athens Academy. I’d never seen a picture of this courtyard and yet I’d dreamed it up. That angel became a sort of patron saint to me along this journey.

It took a long time for this book to sell in the first place let alone a second time; originally too cross-genre of a book for most publishers. It took years of networking and countless revisions to find a home with its first publisher, releasing in 2009. During those years of hitting walls, just when I was feeling beaten, I’d see a number 7, a sacred number, as my Guard of 6 is looking for their 7th member. All my books have iterations of 1 and 6 in them. That 2016 is the year of re-issue for this series is not lost on me. At times I’d see a Phoenix in a random place, a sign to hold on. One day outside the mystical Saint John the Divine Cathedral, I sat down in the exterior park, at wit’s end. As I bargained with the universe about this book of my heart, I turned and directly behind me, the alabaster, albino peacock that wanders the Cathedral grounds had approached, standing within inches of me behind the garden gate. The peacock is the closest bird to the Phoenix in shape and Miss Percy Parker is an albino woman. Uncanny. As the bird stared at me pointedly, I verbally promised I would not give up on these books, at which point the creature turned and walked away, its mission accomplished.

Fate didn’t, in the end, fail me, either in its first round or in this new iteration. I was devastated and thought my career was over when the first three Strangely Beautiful novels went out of print, royalties owed amidst a lot of red tape. I agonized over what to do and how to untangle the rights. I had always wanted to work with Tor and years later I happened to be in the right place at the right time, giving a paranormal lecture just when Melissa Singer was seeking to acquire new authors. She knew about Strangely Beautiful and thought it should have been hers from the start. We then had the chance to make that a reality. Not every author gets the chance to go back and “fix” their first work, but this version merges books one and two in an omnibus edition, fixes some freshman problems and provides new scenes and content.

One thing has remained the same. My love for this book. My love for Miss Percy Parker in particular. Some folks have (and will) call her a Mary Sue kind of character and scoff at her more vulnerable moments. All I know is there are many different types of strength and not all strength wields a sword or bow and arrow. Percy is true to herself above all. She represents a different kind of strength not often lifted up in fantasy fiction; the strength of an enormous-hearted introvert. Her strength is love and courage in the face of being continually told she’s a freak of nature for her albino pallor in a restrictive, judgemental Victorian society. It is a feat of strength just for her to walk out the door, let alone love with the undaunted ferocity she does. It is her vibrant heart alone that got me through these 15 years trying my best to be her champion.

But perhaps she’s her own guardian angel, because here she is, resurrecting like the Phoenix of her tale. I’m very grateful. This story is my love letter to the world, and because of her, I believe in magic. I hope you’ll believe too, and help this Strangely Beautiful tale soar out into the world once more. Thank you all.

Readers, what is your favorite SFF instance of the uncanny? One lucky commenter in the US will receive a signed copy of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. 


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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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7 comments

  1. Von Berry /

    I have found the H. P. Lovecraft wrote some very uncanny tales.

  2. Good to see you! That new cover is awesome!

  3. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker sounds very interesting. I’ve been swamped with too much work for a while, and winning a copy would be like a sign of hope :).

    Regarding the uncanny, that’s probably one of the main reasons that I love short stories, especially in the horror and mystery genre. One that stayed with me since I read it a few months ago is Leah Bobet’s “Stay”. It was published in The Best Horror of the Year Vol 3.

  4. dr susan /

    Leah Bobet’s books are great examples of the uncanny; I love An Inheritance of Ashes with its hints of a future magical apocalypse. Franny Billingsley’s Chime is uncanny, charming, and a huge favorite of mine. But Grace Draven’s Gaslight Hades is my current favorite of the gaslight genre.

  5. I can’t wait to read this book. I have had it on pre-order for months. I haven’t read many uncanny books that I can think of. Have had uncanny moments where I was thinking of a name or person or author or ect… and a few minutes later whatever it was turned up in the book I was reading or the tv show I was watching or the conversation I was having ect…

  6. Nicole Harris, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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