"Richly imagined and constructed, with fascinating characters and an engrossing storyline."
"A delightfully lush and richly imagined tale."
"A unique and fascinating story arc...a fantastic book to start a new series!"
I'm delighted to have Leanna Renee Hieber here at Vampire Wire to talk about her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. The very first time I spotted the evocative cover and title, I wanted to know more about the book and I was really intrigued by the Gothic theme.
Leanna's publisher, Dorchester, is donating TWO COPIES of her book for a contest! To enter the contest, just leave a comment for Leanna Renee, or mention something you like about Gothic or historical novels or movies: the settings, creepy ambiance, naive heroines, etc. The contest runs through next Sunday night, September 13, and winners will be drawn at random.
MARTA: Congratulations on the publication of your novel! Would you tell readers a little about your book?
LEANNA RENEE: Marta, thank you so much and thank you for the opportunity to be here. This has been my greatest dream come true, a labour of love for nearly nine years. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a ghostly, Gothic Victorian fantasy novel, first in my Strangely Beautiful series published by Dorchester.
From the back cover: “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…”
MARTA: I love the claustrophobic, cluttered, superstitious Victorian era as a setting for a novel. Did you come up with the story first and then find a time and place for it, or were you moved by the time/location and then develop a story? How did Victorians view albinos, like your heroine, Percy Parker?
LEANNA RENEE: I’ve always loved Victorian England, for those reasons you mention and infinitely more. I started my first novel around the age of 12, and that novel, like this one, was set in 1888. The era calls to me and always has, and so I’m not sure I can explain my obsession with the time period other than perhaps a past life calling me home. It’s true that Percy Parker sort of "appeared" to me, but she appeared to me instantly in the late 19th century, my muse.
As for how the Victorians would have viewed Miss Percy, anyone like her would have been thought an “unfortunate” to say it kindly. A freak, to say it truly. If she hadn’t gone from convent to Academy, she’d likely have been whisked into a sideshow and toured around, abused, derided and gawked over, her options would have been slim to none.
MARTA: What were your challenges writing a historical gothic? How did you research your story and the Jack the Ripper element?
LEANNA RENEE: The Gothic novel is my favorite kind, so that, like the 19th century, felt absolutely innate and comfortable to me. The greatest challenge was in establishing the pacing, for while I didn’t struggle to affect a Victorian-tinged voice, I did struggle with the pacing of the novel and both my agent and my editor went rounds with me to make the novel more smoothly paced and suspenseful.
As for research, reading books from the era helped with the voice, but really getting London in my heart meant I had to breathe the air. Traveling to London was a must. It’s my favorite place on earth. In college, while I was a theatre major, I focused my other studies towards the Victorian era, classes I continue to think about and value highly, course-work that set a real tone for the world-view I would present. I went on scholarship to London and, while there, took the Jack the Ripper walking tour. I was fascinated by Alan Moore’s From Hell and so having been eerily compelled by walking the paths that Jack and his victims really walked, I knew if I set a novel in the late 19th Century that the Ripper murders would have to be a part of it. My favorite resources are Richard Jones and his work as an author, tour guide and all around awesome man: and Haunted BritainCasebook, a really comprehensive Jack the Ripper site.
MARTA: How do you think your careers as an actor and a playwright influenced your fiction writing? Do you approach dialogue or laying out action differently?
LEANNA RENEE: The more I write, the more I realize how intensely my theatre background influences me. I think about my books as if they’re movies in my head, very atmospheric movies that put me in the seat of the cinematographer. Reviewers have mentioned me as very atmospheric and lyrical, and I think it comes from that desire to really "set a stage" visually and emotionally. Dialogue is one of my favorite parts of the process and I’m sure that comes from examining dialogue in really great plays.
I know that character development is directly tied to my theatre training when I attempt to discover and elucidate character motivations. A reviewer mentioned that I never “forgot my characters” in regards to Miss Percy Parker as I’m attentive to where and when she dons or removes all her shrouds and accoutrements, I try and use those details to dramatic advantage. That sensibility comes from thinking about how to use costumes and props in a show and make that relative to character. I’m also a bit overdramatic. So, at times, is this book. (grin)
MARTA: This is the first book in series. What can we expect next?
LEANNA RENEE: Book II picks up exactly where Book I leaves off, keeping Percy and Alexi in the main focus but giving us more insight into The Guard too. Book II (title TBA) will come out in May 2010. Book III is a prequel, Book IV continues with the Rychman familial legacy up until World War I.
MARTA: I’m utterly enamored of your cover and skewed title. Who did your book design, and did you have any say in the way the book was packaged?
LEANNA RENEE: It’s all the Dorchester marketing department. They’re great. I gave them a rundown of characters, setting and some research. My main thought was that it needed to be very blue. And that it is. I love the cover. I think it’s exactly representative of what you get in the book. The title is all my agent’s doing. In addition to what we might get as a cover, he wanted a title that could really bridge the cross-genre aspects of the book as well, and I owe him a lot for a title that’s really sparked people’s interest! And the little crooked skew is such a cool touch, I think.
MARTA: Quick, tell me five of your favorite things that more people should know about – and they can be animal, mineral, vegetable, theoretical, whatever.
LEANNA RENEE: 1) My favorite movie is a tie between "The Muppet Christmas Carol," "Sense and Sensibility," and "Die Hard." 2) Stained glass and historic architecture. 3) Animal rights (I’m vegetarian for humane reasons and I’m the proud momma of a rescued lab rabbit named Persebunny). 4) Goth clubbing in full regalia. 5) Birds. Had a childhood period of wanting to be an ornithologist. Can still identify a healthy number of North American species.
MARTA: Quick, tell me what play changed your life and why.
LEANNA RENEE: Tie: One: A supporting role in "Oliver!" at my grade school, age 9. This is when I first discovered that being on stage compelled me, perfected a cockney accent, and fell in love with Charles Dickens.
Two: Tom Stoppard’s "Arcadia." Stoppard, being a genius, weaves English gardening, history, mathematics, poetry, art, romance, loss, triumph, manners, despair and comedy all into one play with prose so exquisite it makes me physically ache for the beauty of it. I was an understudy for this play while interning at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, the year I began Miss Percy Parker. This play was hugely inspirational, in its sweeping, cross-genre, wordy, poignant way.
MARTA: Obligatory inane question. Hollywood calls and wants to buy your book. However, Quentin Tarantino wants to write it as a crime-thriller musical. The money is so good, you say yes. Tell me the title and a few of the lyrics of the lead song?
LEANNA RENEE: "Her Majesty’s Ghostbusters," surely.
There is something very odd about town.
Who shall you call upon?
Why, Her Majesty’s Ghostbusters.
If there’s something strange and it’s beautiful
Who shall you call upon?
Why, Her Majesty’s Ghostbusters.
… I shan’t be afraid of a ghost.
MARTA: Where can readers learn more about you and your books? [I’ll insert the links in here for your site and whatever social sites you’d like to include]
LEANNA RENEE: Thank you so much for this opportunity, Marta! Vampire Wire is awesome. Thrilled to be here.
Thanks, Leanna Renee, for taking the time to answer my questions!
You can find out more about Leanna Renee and her exciting new novel at her online sites:
Leanna Renee's Website
Facebook Page and MySpace Page
To enter the contest for one of two copies of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, just leave a comment for Leanna Renee, or tell us what you like about gothic or historical novels.