Thursday, 7 March 2013

Exclusive Interview with Leanna Renee Hieber

The delightful Leanna Renee Hieber is an acclaimed author, actress and playwright, her debut novel (The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker) winning no less than three awards, and the final book in her current series is being serialized Victorian-style.  I was lucky enough to get to ask her some questions about her inspirations, novels and her latest project.

CLA:  The Magic Most Foul saga - your Gothic Victorian romantic thrillers – has been critically acclaimed. How would you best summarize it?

LRH:  I'd like to think of the Magic Most Foul saga as atmospheric Gothic novels that pay homage to 19th century classics in a new and original way; full of action, adventure and romance but in this case an unlikely Damsel saves the classic Knight trope. These two then become a formidable team to be reckoned with. Beautiful gas-lit New York City is pitted against an ugly, demonic darkness. There is beautiful magic in the world; the magic of faith, love and trust. But what our heroine and hero battle is the coldest, cruelest kind of unnatural magic, powers that take advantage of victims in the worst, most foul of ways. The Magic Most Foul saga is a world of beauty and nightmare, camaraderie and struggle, shadow and uncertainty, stoicism and temptation, and ultimately battle and triumph.

CLA:  In the first of your current trilogy - Darker Still – your main character inverts the ‘damsel in distress’ concept by setting out to rescue her very own British Lord. Did you purposefully intend to invert this, and why?

LRH:  Absolutely. This was my chief mission. I love the classics, particularly The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is mirrored in Darker Still by an eerie, changing, haunted painting. But in a lot of those tales, especially Dorian Gray, the women do not have much agency. They are defined by being victims. I couldn't let Natalie be that same trope, as much as I love the traditional Gothic. Yes, she is put into harrowing situations, but she is more complex and fully realized than many 19th century heroines who were products of their time. 

One of the reasons that I have paranormal things happen to normal people is that it forces them out of the range of what they thought was possible. By giving Natalie these supernatural angles, she interacts with her limited world differently. The paranormal aspects give her a voice, literally and figuratively, she didn't have solely within the constraints of 1880 New York. 

Now I want to make sure the paranormal is never a crutch, so I still force my characters to make what peace they can with the world they're in rather than merely providing an easy out against the very real difficulties of the time period and its treatment of women. Men's roles too were just as codified and restrictive. I've gotten some criticism for the fact that in the first book Jonathon is rendered nearly entirely helpless by his circumstances. But that's the position of many women in many classic novels and I wanted to take the risk of entirely inverting that gender role. I don't keep him helpless because that doesn't make for an interesting character no matter what gender a character is or identifies as being, I wouldn't want a dynamic of utter dependency to develop no matter how the tropes were inverted.

CLA:  One of the gripping components of the saga is the romance between Natalie Stewart and Lord Denbury; what do you think makes the perfect romance?

LRH:  Thank you! The answer, I believe, is simple: mutual respect and teamwork. I cannot handle- in any genre- when the male is some vaguely abusive, entirely rude/aloof yet stalker-ish character and the female is a blank slate bending to solely to his emo whims. I cannot abide those damaging, two-dimensional kinds of characters. Vibrant characters who make a fantastic team, a perfect team, a team that could not be better in any other combination, that's magic. That's love. That's romance; amazing, unique, fascinating people who bring out the very best in each other, not the worst.

CLA:  It’s clear that you’ve been inspired a number of classics (The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Count of Monte Cristo being just two), and with a background in Victorian literature it seems like you’re emulating Dickens and Wilkie Collins in your move into serialization. What was it that made you decide to serialize the final novel in the Magic Most Foul saga?

LRH: It's true, I make no effort to hide my homage. I want to be a "gateway drug to 19th century classics" because I think they're beautiful, rich, wonderful and lush, brilliant and timeless. The 19th century Gothics and paranormal/fantastical stories and novels were my earliest loves. I fell in love with Poe as a teen and he defined my world, my art, my sense of what I love about the Gothic: the strangely beautiful. (Hence the title of my first series, the Strangely Beautiful saga - which will reissue in 2014). I've always wanted to serialize as its something all my idols did in various magazines, Dickens' "Household Words" among them and considering my next full length novel, THE ETERNA FILES (2014 Tor / Macmillan) isn't scheduled until 2014, this is such a great way to extend my presence in newly released fiction until then. Especially considering I've crossover characters from all my series that will appear in ETERNA, so readers will get a chance to meet a few of them along the way. Everything I write, whether its Adult or Young Adult is PG-13 in content and my full-length series books are all Gaslamp Fantasy in genre, so the dovetailing of these parallel worlds works very well and readers seem to like the familiar faces.

CLA:  What made you choose to publish the serializations of The Double Life of Incorporate Things online? Was the idea ‘steampunk-y’ in its origin?

LRH:  It's the easiest way to do it. I have hired an editorial and production staff, but blogging the segments is a lot easier than serializing directly into print. Blogging still mirrors the setup of the serializations of old, followers will subscribe to the blog just as one might have subscribed to a paper, we're just using what technology and platforms are easily available to any author. The fact that it is indeed kind of Steampunk-y is an awesome benefit.

CLA:  Described on your website as ‘channeling Narcissa Malfoy’, what makes you identify with the haughty mother of Potter’s arch-nemesis?

LRH:  Oh, get ready for a long-winded spiel. :) Harry Potter has been a huge part of my inspiration and social life for years. Reading the books, I knew instantly that Slytherin House, of which I am a proud member, got a bad rap and its members would realistically be far more complex than the series ever made them out to be. Ambitious, intelligent, resourceful and looking out for your own is not some one-way path to evil. The House deserved to be far more nuanced and comprehensive. I am fascinated by the line between light and dark, and the reality of life's greyscale. This dynamic factors constantly in my work, but I know the boundaries, as does any sane Slytherin.

I am a Goth girl, always dressed in Neo-Victorian black clothes, so my style just naturally suits an elegant Malfoy. I don't go after recreating the film costumes as I'd have costumed her differently, I just channel her. ("Ah, you're book Narcissa, I've heard at events). I find her utterly compelling; a woman who bravely stares down one of the most powerful forces of all time and does what it takes, risking everything for her love and her family. In the end her vanity and fine Manor do not mean anything without her family. Her haughty airs are a carefully preened and artful defense, and much is hidden within them.

It's the unexpected heroines who save the world by small moments of staggering bravery that are my favourite characters in all of literature. Narcissa is that kind of character and I knew from the start there was more to her than met the eye. I love playing her in RP and at conventions and events. I left my background in professional theatre to pursue my writing and so "channeling" Narcissa scratches the old theatre itch. This is facilitated by two of my dearest friends who can similarly channel an incredible Lucius and Snape, respectively. The LePages have been active in HP fandom for years and we've truly become family. Their partnership allows me to channel Lady Malfoy in a way that perfectly suits my style. I'm coordinating the literary track at the upcoming Misti-Con Harry Potter convention ( ) and I'll also be playing a principle role as Deputy Kellion in the upcoming wizarding web-series Auror's Tale : and you can see some of our cosplay antics and my in-character ramblings on my Tumblr: - So as you see, I am unashamed to let my green and silver geek flag fly very, very high.

CLA:  Has the current boom in well-written fantasy and supernatural novels for young adults impacted on your writing, and if so, how?

LRH:  I'm just glad there's a big genre and a big readership out there. I must confess I don't read as much as I'd like to due to research texts and the stringent deadlines of my many jobs and projects. But any widening genre that creates lifelong readers helps all authors as a whole.

CLA:  You’ve been quoted as saying ‘big words are sexy’ – what is your favourite big word?

LRH:  I say that specifically to teens so they won't try to dumb down a delectable, engaging vocabulary just to placate the bullying sorts of kids who think intelligence isn't "cool". That perception comes merely out of insecurity. To be well-spoken is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. 

I can't pick one favourite big word, that's not fair. So a few favourites are: elucidate, luminosity, eviscerate, incorporeal and transubstantiation.

CLA:  Anything else that you’d like to add?

I'm very excited that my story "Charged" is included in QUEEN VICTORIA'S BOOK OF SPELLS: Tales of Gaslamp Fantasy, (3/19/13 from Tor/Macmillan), so I hope you'll all check out that amazing anthology and then come join me every Tuesday at for the next installment of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF INCORPORATE THINGS, which will tide us over weekly until THE ETERNA FILES, in 2014 and also the re-issuing of the Strangely Beautiful saga. There are crossover characters from all my series into The Eterna Files, and I'm having an amazing time, so come meet some of them along the way. I tweet often at and FB at and I hope you and your audience has a blessed and beautiful day! I thank all of you for your time and interest in my work. 

And on a personal note, I'd advise you all to head over to Leanna's blog asap and get stuck in.  A lovely individual with a delicious writing style, you should definitely check her work out.  The rest of the Magic Most Foul saga can be found at Amazon or in eBook format.

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