Award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber is counting down the days until the release of her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, on August 25th. The sequel, the second of her initial two-book deal from Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing, will hit shelves May 2010.
Leanna grew up in rural Ohio where her childhood memories are full of inventing elaborate ghost stories. A BFA in Theatre from Miami University, a focus study in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to study in London helped set the course for her books. The dramatic, historic, spiritual and paranormal are the primary forces in her lyrical, eerie, atmospheric fiction.
A member of Actors Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Screen Actors Guild, Leanna works often in television. When not writing or on set, she loves a good Goth club, singing soprano in her church choir and adventuring about her adopted hometown of New York City, where she resides with her real-life hero and her beloved rescued lab rabbit Persebunny, Queen of the Undereverything.
Join me as we learn more about Leanna and her journey to publication.
Leanna’s Journey Begins
•When did the call to write with a goal of publication grow so loud you couldn’t ignore it? How did you fit writing time into your busy life?
While I’ve written since I could hold a pen, I only knew I wanted to publish when the ideas for Strangely Beautiful landed. I knew Percy’s story could launch my career, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was pursuing a theatre career and there are only so many hours in the day to put into two very difficult businesses.
A director of mine noticed I always left rehearsal and holed up with my laptop, writing away. He helped plays and articles of mine reach publication. This gave me the confidence to pick up a Writer’s Market (where I was promptly and thoroughly overwhelmed).
My writing went in fits and starts, as did my submissions. I knew I had to step up my game in order to get anywhere in either of my artistic careers, so I moved to New York City; home of theatre, home of publishing. I went back and forth in an artistic identity crisis. But all the signs pointed towards my books. I was at a callback for a Broadway show and all I could think about was Percy. And I finally realized that was that.
As for time to write, I’ve always just written whenever I can. That’s always been my way. (Well, and I haven’t owned a television since I started working on this book). Don’t worry, I do watch the occasional good show on DVD.
•What was your first story, and how long did it take you to get it on the page?
I was very young when I wrote beginnings of stories that I never finished, but my first serious attempt at a novel began at age 12. An awful affair that was some sort of Phantom of the Opera sequel. I tinkered with it for a decade, a sprawling and horrifying mess. I tossed it in a fireplace (all 1,000 single-spaced pages).
One of my favourite authors, Ray Bradbury, once said something like “write 1,000 pages, bury it in the ground and then you can be a writer.” So I was ready when Miss Percy Parker waltzed into my life.
•When did you meet Miss Percy Parker? How did she go about making herself known to you? Does she bear a resemblance to you?
Dear, sweet, unassuming Percy couldn’t have had worse timing. I’d just graduated with a theatre degree and was working long hours on four productions at once as an intern for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. I was reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, watching my favourite Jane Austen movies, utterly enraptured by Harry Potter, compelled by Alan Moore’s graphic novels, rediscovering my love for 19th century gothic novels and working on sweeping, historical shows at CSC.
From this cauldron of influences, late one night a death-pale girl stepped into a finely appointed office, looked at me, and asked if I might be so kind as to write her story. She didn’t come from any one of the influences around me but all of them put together, birthing something new. She kept me up at night yet I couldn’t help but love her for it.
I think she’s a bit of my alter ego, but the moment she became her own woman divisible from me she became a more viable heroine. Authors have to have a certain amount of objectivity about their characters otherwise they can’t make the decisions necessary to fine-tune a book.
•Where do you get the ideas for the alternate worlds you create in your fantasies?
I daydream a lot. Always have. Story ideas come from those fantastical daydreams, often when I’m not looking for them. I write about the things that hold me in thrall. The 19th Century and Ghosts have always been two prime obsessions. Putting them together only felt natural.
I always say “Para” is my “Normal.” The fantastical is more comfortable and familiar to me than the realistic. External influences; books, theatre, films, music and art, simply crack things open and I follow my own particular bent on genre traditions. My books are cross-genre; I take certain epic, mythic, fantasy and romance themes and combine them. I love the thought that the world as we know it isn’t exactly as it seems. That sensibility keeps driving me to find out what my characters can see that I cannot.
You’re no stranger to publication. You’ve written award-winning one-act plays that continue to be produced in colleges and festivals around the country. You’ve also adapted works of Victorian literature for the professional stage. That’s so cool.
•Your first published work in the romance genre has made a splash. How did your sale of Dark Nest, a futuristic novella with a psychic punch, come about?
It was a dare. A group of author friends and I were discussing our favourite genres to write. I said I couldn’t imagine not writing Historical Fantasy/Historical Paranormal Romance. One of my best friends, Isabo Kelly (a wonderful Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance writer, check her out) dared me to write a futuristic, citing my adoration of all things Battlestar, Star Trek and Dr. Who as credentials enough to take a stab at it. She mentioned a new small publisher, Crescent Moon Press, as a good house for this novella idea we brainstormed together and as it turned out, it was. I credit Isabo with a lot of great guidance and direction, and my acknowledgement pages will continue to have her name in them.
•Dark Nest has received some great reviews. And didn’t I hear something about a contest win? What’s with that?
Ever since I joined the Futuristic Fantasy and Paranormal Chapter of the Romance Writers of America®, I’d dreamed of a Prism Award (one of the prettiest trophies in the business), which is sponsored by the chapter and awarded to excellence in the genres that FF&P represents each year during the RWA® National Conference. I entered Dark Nest just hoping it might final. It finaled, and then I never dreamed it would win the novella category, considering my competition.
I was shaking so hard when it was announced as the winner, I don’t remember a word I said at the podium–I hadn’t imagined I’d need a speech prepared–but I know no one could mistake my sheer joy, excitement and gratitude.
•After nine years, your dream came true, and your Strangely Beautiful series found a home. When did you receive The Call, how did you react and what did you do to celebrate this milestone?
I cried, shook, and screamed. My face hurt from grinning. I kept bouncing like a loon. Nothing in the world had ever felt like it, nothing in theatre, landing parts, curtain calls or standing ovations–nothing meant as much as this. There was immediate champagne, my boyfriend left work early to come buy me more champagne, and the best moment was when I called my mom, who burst into happy tears at the words “I sold! It’s a two-book deal!”
Then I had to make good on my own promise of treating myself. I decided which Victorian gown I was going to order from Gallery Serpentine for my release party. I’d been pining away for an authentic 1880’s outfit from this shop forever but told myself I couldn’t buy one until the book sold. Oh, it is gorgeous.
Your “aching journey of countless rejection letters and revisions” took nine years. One of your biggest challenges was the fact that you wrote a cross genre book. In one place, I saw The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker described as “a ghostly, Gothic, Victorian fantasy.” In another, it’s referred to as “a historical fantasy paranormal romance with elements of horror with a strong YA appeal.”
•How did you and your agent go about pitching such a project and addressing the cross genre issue?
Most importantly, he changed the title. I’d had a lovely but obscure word as the title: “The Coterie”–which tells you absolutely nothing about the book. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker tells you exactly what you’re going to get. My editor, Chris Keeslar, later said this descriptive, almost fairy tale title was a big selling point for Dorchester.
While my agent, Nicholas, was courting the big houses and getting a lot of interest, but ultimately rejections on the grounds of it being just that bit too cross-genre, I was networking within the Romance genre via conferences and events related to the RWA®, where I met fellow Dorchester authors who were doing impressive cross-genre trend-setting themselves.
Dorchester is no stranger to launching authors and taking cross-genre risks. When my book landed in their hands, due to having met two of their editors, I had an instinct that it was exactly where it was supposed to be, and thankfully Chris Keeslar thought so too. Dorchester has given the book a cross-genre cover to appeal to a wide audience and has put a strong push on marketing it to a wide audience.
•You said you experienced “many moments of almost giving up” during your journey. Who or what kept you from ditching your dream?
All the people I list on the book’s acknowledgement page. And then some. I’ve always been a big dreamer. When you dream big, you can hurt big too. But I am very stubborn when I need to be. And I’m driven, despite moments of resignation. I was blessed to have many friends, both in theatre and in publishing, who told me that I had a wonderful idea and it was only a matter of time.
At a time when I was feeling particularly at a loss, one of my heroes, Sherrilyn Kenyon, gave a speech at the New Jersey Romance Writer’s convention that made us all cry; talking about her time when she thought her career was over. Through her own tears she said that no one else could write our books and if we quit then no one would ever know our beloved characters.
I love Percy, Alexi and The Guard too much not to share them. This book is everything I love woven into one series. It is my love-letter to the world. It just had to get there. This moment is so much sweeter now for the perseverance.
Partners on Leanna’s Journey
•You’re a member of the New York City chapter of RWA, where you’ve made some great friends. In what ways have they been there for you on your journey?
Our chapter is awesome. Everyone, published and pre-published, is exceedingly helpful with support, networking and ongoing craft workshops, helping to navigate the changes in the industry as well as just being there to reaffirm the “never give up” that I’ve gotten along the way. They all know from personal experience because they’ve been there and are continuing on the journey too. I think it’s really important to have a home crowd of fellow writers. They’re thanked on my acknowledgement page too. The chapter is a solid part of my foundation in New York.
•You helped found Lady Jane’s Salon, where you interact with more of your writing buddies. I’m impressed by what I read of this special project. Please tell us about it and the great work the romance community in NYC is doing to help women in need through it.
Via instigation from Beatrice.com’s Ron Hogan, I was the connective tissue that brought several authors together to talk historical novels. Halfway through the evening, Maya Rodale asked Hope Tarr, Ron and I why there wasn’t a reading series in New York City devoted to romance and women’s fiction. We didn’t have a good answer why not, so we started a Salon.
A fabulous bar called Madame X, covered appropriately in red velvet, hosts us. We feature a few readers per evening to read from their latest work. Not only do we hope to celebrate the diverse offerings of our genre (even as authors who have written historical novels, Hope, Maya and I represent vastly different sub-genres), but we share a penchant for philanthropy.
Maya just so happened to have a fitting charity to tie in with our events. Admission is $5 or one gently used romance/women’s fiction novel. All proceeds and books go to Maya’s Share the Love foundation (www.share-the-love.org) that donates books to places where they are scarce, to women in need, crisis, prison, transition, etc. Lady Jane’s Salon began this February and has received great press locally and in the national romance community, and I feel blessed to be a part of it.
Leanna’s Journey Continues
•You’ve sold two books. What’s next? Can your readers expect more visits to your Strangely Beautiful world in upcoming books?
Yes! I’m hard at work on the next two Strangely Beautiful books. The draft of the sequel is in the hands of my editor. Releasing May 2010, the storyline picks up exactly where the first leaves off. The third book is a prequel and the fourth continues with a familial legacy up until World War I.
I envision four Strangely Beautiful books, with the possibility of two novellas exploring the colourful secondary characters in The Guard that I love so dearly. My agent is also working on selling my current Historical Fantasy YA proposal. So I’m definitely keeping busy. 🙂
Leanna’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.
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….
Five Facts About Leanna the Writer
~ I write without a map. I’ve a sense of where I’m headed but there are no exact street signs. I’m a “Pantser”–totally writing by the seat of my pants.
~ I must have classical music or lyrical, instrumental soundtracks playing while I write.
~ When I’m stuck, I take a shower and let the movie in my mind play until I get a catchy piece of imagery or dialogue. When I’m on deadline I’m really clean.
~ I must write with a cup of tea at hand. (Preferably clove tea)
~ I’ve always been prone to intense, scary, apocalyptic nightmares. The more I write, the less I have nightmares.
Five Fun Facts About Leanna the Person
~ I’m a certified Actor Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors in knife, hand-to-hand and single sword.
~ I work often in television as an extra. I’ve been featured on screen in shows like Gossip Girl and Law & Order.
~ My favourite part I’ve ever played is a tie between playing Lucy and Mina in two productions of Dracula. (I’ve got an awesome blood-covered picture of me in my MySpace and Facebook albums)
~ One of the best days of my life was meeting Kermit and Miss Piggy while working at a television studio here in New York.
~ I love birds and as a child and considered becoming an Ornithologist. I can identify most species in North America.
Leanna’s Question for You
•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Leanna. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask your visitors a question, so go for it.
Keli, thank you so much for this gorgeous blog and for your kind and thoughtful questions.
Now, dear readers, I want to know what inspires you. You don’t have to be a writer to answer this question, all people have inspirations. I owe my publication to a whole list of incredible inspirations. What inspirations are you grateful for in your life?
Learn More About Leanna
Visit her Web site – http://www.leannareneehieber.com/
Visit her blog – http://www.leannareneebooks.blogspot.com/
Visit her Book Tour Page
Follow her on Twitter – Leannarenee
Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win
Leanna has generously offered to give away an autographed copy of her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, to one lucky visitor with a U.S. mailing address.
To enter the drawing, leave a comment for Leanna by midnight Pacific Time on August 21st and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On August 22nd, I’ll post the winner’s name here.
Congratulations to Sharon Manning-Lew, winner of Leanna’s drawing.
My Regular Drawing
My next drawing will take place August 31st. The winner will receive a cute tote just the right size for a beach read, sunscreen and a soda.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by August 31st and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On September 1st, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and August 31st. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On September 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)