Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber, author of The Strangely Beautiful series, has been kind enough to stop by Reading with Tequila to answer some questions.

Award winning, bestselling author, actress and playwright Leanna Renee Hieber graduated with a BFA in theatre, a focus in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to London. While performing as a professional actress she adapted works of 19th Century literature for the stage. Her one-act plays continue to be produced around the country.

Her novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal Romance. Her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, first in the Strangely Beautiful series of ghostly, Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels, landed on Barnes & Noble's bestseller lists, was named a favourite of 2009 by 14 book blogs, won the 2010 Prism Award for both Best Fantasy and Best First Book and the option rights have been sold for adaptation of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker into a Broadway musical.

Leanna is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Romance Writers of America, RWA, and the International Thriller Writers (ITW). Leanna is proud to be a co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon Reading Series in New York and is thrilled and honoured to have been named the 2010 RWA NYC Chapter Author of the Year. A member of Actors Unions AEA, AFTRA and SAG, Leanna works often in film and television. When not writing or on set, she's a devotee of ghost stories and Goth clubs, adventuring about her adopted hometown of New York City, where she resides with her real-life hero and beloved rescued lab rabbit Persebunny.

Reading with Tequila: Percy Parker believes herself to be hideous. Some others believe her to have an ethereal beauty. Most seen her has just looking strange. Is there a meaning or message behind Percy's physical appearance?

Leanna: This is the most important aspect of my series. Yes, I’m interested in what happens when average humans have the supernatural thrust upon them, but I’m more interested in presenting a human being who has to navigate a cruel and oft intolerant world in addition to those paranormal challenges. In romance, so often everyone is beautiful, and beautiful in a fairly traditional sense. I’ve long been a member of the Goth community. We often have a slightly different idea of what is beautiful, and it’s usually something that might, to some people, be a little spooky. I spent a long time as the only Goth girl in a college of 16,000 people. Having people who are scared of you because of how you look is a very difficult thing, but it was more important that I talked to people who were brave enough to ask me ‘why do you dress like that?’. I would answer them, and they’d find out that I was a really friendly, perky, outgoing person who just really loved black velvet, chokers, corsets, black lace, a good ghost story and every Tim Burton film ever made.

All this to say; I’m interested in questioning beauty, redefining beauty and finding it in interesting, unique places. Miss Percy represents those questions, and her unique qualities are what the series hinges upon thematically, they’re used in the plot, and in the atmosphere of the story. When she is accepted by those around her, it’s a challenge to us all to accept and find someone or something strange, in fact, beautiful. And she has to find it in herself too. She starts the series too timid, bemoaning her appearance- you would too if you were told you were a ‘freak’ all your life. But as others, especially the hero, Alexi, demand she rally from self-pity, she begins to see what he and her friends see; that she’s strangely beautiful. This realization is like a slow opening of a rose, and that’s why ‘strangely beautiful’ is vital as the series title.

RWT: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker provides an entirely new take on the Jack the Ripper murders. Did you purposely work the book around the timing of the murders or did it all fall into place naturally?

Leanna: A bit of both. I’ve been obsessed with the year 1888 since childhood, when I began writing a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera around age 12. Since then the 19th century has been an obsession, I studied it in college and received a scholarship to study in London. While there, I went on one of Richard Jones’ Jack the Ripper walks and visited the places important to the crimes.

I knew at that point I’d have to write about them, but not until Miss Percy Parker literally walked into Professor Rychman’s magnificent office in my mind in some sort of fever-dream, demanding (sweetly, but insistently) both he and I take notice of her. Since the Victorian era is my default mental playground, and the story had to revolve around ghosts if Miss Percy looked so much like one but wasn’t, having the story take place in 1888 made sense, and that “Jack” could be indicative of a bigger problem. The moment I realized Miss Percy’s real name I began threading in one particular story from Greek mythology, which gave me the answer as to what my Jack the Ripper could be.

In the thrilling flurry of inspiration, it’s hard to remember what came first, chicken or egg, but the exciting part about it is that once things fall into place, it offers the deep satisfaction of having completed a very difficult puzzle.

RWT: The ghosts in your books are based on real-life stories. Have you spent a lot of time researching ghosts?

Leanna: Indeed, it was my favourite part of the process! My hero in this is Richard Jones, England’s foremost ghost expert! He has written several Ghosts of London books for Barnes & Noble, and those were my go-to resources. I picked ghosts I liked the sound/history of and plugged them into areas that it made sense for the Guard to be able to access. I got to meet him while in London and he’s as kind and helpful as he is knowledgeable. Please visit him at - And stay tuned for my 3rd annual Haunted London Blog Tour, where I detail the real stories behind the ghosts I use, making a stop right here at Reading with Tequila in May!

RWT: The third book in the series, The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, is set to release in May of this year. Is this the final book in the series, or do you have more Percy Parker planned?

Leanna: Perilous Prophecy is a prequel novel, going back to 1867 to explain some of the how and why of my world-building, and show just how many brave, romantic, traumatic things were done to prepare for Prophecy and the spectral war as seen in books 1 and 2. My novella starring Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and Vicar Michael Carroll, featured in A MIDWINTER FANTASY will release in Trade Paperback in October, and the final book in the series, book 4, will likely release sometime in 2012, which will actually cross the 20th century with the Rychman family and familiar friends, to the bitter end of the Victorian Era during World War I. I’d like to write a follow-up novella between the two releases for two of my other popular side characters, Elijah and Josephine. But after the fourth book, with the Victorian Era coming to a close, so must the series.

BUT, since I can’t get enough of the 19th century, I’m launching a new Victorian Paranormal intrigue with Sourcebooks’ Fire imprint. MAGIC MOST FOUL takes place in 1880s New York City. Filled with old fashioned black magic and nightmares, murder and mayhem; the tale hinges on two star-crossed lovers: a spirited girl who suffers from Selective Mutism and the soul of a young English Lord trapped in a painting. Natalie must find her voice else her compelling Lord Denbury remain forever cursed while his possessed body wreaks havoc in the underbelly of New York. Look for it this November.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to be here, Jennifer, it’s greatly appreciated!

About the Book

What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…

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