The Big Idea: Leanna Renee Hieber
Author Leanna Renee Hieber likes all things Gothic, and I’m not just saying that because when I met her at Phoenix Comicon a few weeks ago, she was dressed head to foot in a sumptuously Gothic blue and black Victorian-era getup (although she was, and that was my first big hint). The Gothic sensibility is also a cornerstone of her “Strangely Beautiful” series of novels, of which the second, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, has just hit bookstores. What does it take to go Gothic in a true and fully committed way? Hieber has a list… for starters.
LEANNA RENEE HIEBER:
My sequel in the Strangely Beautiful series just released in May, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. The series in two words: Victorian Ghostbusters. In one word: Gothic. I started writing my first novel when I was 12 years old, set in 1888. It was a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera because in my infinite pubescent wisdom I thought I could one-up Leroux. Suffice to say that was ridiculous, however it proves my favourite themes have long been with me.
There are certain things one expects in a Gothic Novel. (Cue Wagnerian music).
Leanna’s Top Ten Gothic Goodies:
(And yes, she uses each of them at least once in her series)
10. Setting / Atmosphere. For example: It was a dark and stormy Victorian London
9. Angsty, forbidden love!
8. Women in nightgowns running into the rain, screaming, crying, fainting.
7. Prophecies / Big Secrets / Mysterious Powers, oh my!
6. Older Man / Younger Woman and/or Hot-for-Teacher or Ward scenario.
4. Reader knows who the bad guys are and watches the train wreck until the characters realize it- right before it’s too late.
2. Orphan heroine alone and somewhat helpless until she ‘gets schooled’ on things- if you know what I mean. Then she does something awesome to save the day. (Because if she remains useless I have no use for her either).
1. Tortured hero all in black, storming around, brooding and deeeeelicious.
A book is of course more than mere ingredients, and while I could list many more Gothic additives, my work also relies on my love of Horror, Romance, Fantasy, Historical and Young Adult fiction. I’m product of every genre I’ve ever adored. What this has meant for my writing process is that I take these ingredients and make them my own. The best way I’ve found to do this is to focus on the characters beyond their trappings, to create characters I love deeply, characters I continue to expand and explore, who I trust to tell the story they want told, within my favourite mental sandbox in which to play: a Gas-lit Victorian London filled with ghosts.
O Gothic Novel, Why do I love you?
Because in nearly no other genre can a reader lose oneself so completely, if one allows for the ride. A dark, tempting world, the Gothic can engulf you like a big black cloak loathe to relinquish you. It lurks around every corner, waiting for you. It knows somewhere a part of you is waiting for it too.
Now to be clear, I need the drama with a capital D to be justified by dimensional characters and by dimensional, albeit paranormal circumstances. But there’s a reason why the first book in the series, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker has been optioned for a Broadway musical. Drama. I loves it. (A love healthily fostered by my many years as a professional actress and playwright).
The Gothic is fun, flamboyant and flexible, it allows for the wildly fantastical as well as quiet moments of tenderness and poignancy. The human emotion therein can be real, even if the circumstances are fantastic. And the clothing is fabulous. (How many more f words can I use?)
I also take great pride in carrying on a grand literary tradition that cycles into popularity every century at some point. (As for my timing, I can’t worry about whether I’m trendy or not, I’m just writing what I love to write and hoping it finds its way into hearts and homes. Someone at my publisher (Dorchester) the other day described me as a bastard child of Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Bring it.)
O Gothic Novel, where are you going?
The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker makes good on the personal and paranormal/mythological promises planted in The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. But as I sit working on Strangely Beautiful # 3 and contemplate the final book in the quartet, it feels like my series may veer away from some of the Gothic givens as it progresses. Now that all my characters and my dual worlds are established, I find myself relying more on the stalwart pillars of Fantasy and on my paranormal and mythological underpinnings. But rest assured; I’ll bring along healthy trunk-loads of angst, plenty of ghostbusting and maybe few more nightgowns for good measure.
Read an except of the book. Visit her blog. Follow her on Twitter. And if you are a Barnes & Noble Nook user or have the Barnes & Noble Reader for iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad, for a limited time you may download for free to first book in the Strangely Beautiful series, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.