Nights of Passion is celebrating the release of Leanna Renee Hieber’s new Gothic, Victorian romance book THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER. Leanna is also giving away an autographed copy of her new book to one lucky winner. We’ll tell you how to enter at the end of the interview.
Welcome, Leanna. It’s great having you here. Please, tell our viewers about your background. When did this adventure in writing begin?
I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen and finish a sentence. I started my first novel around the age of 12. Writing has always been my favourite thing to do. Miss Percy Parker arrived in my mind about 9 years ago and for the first time, with her, I considered being a career novelist. Her story compelled me more than any other, veering me away from continuing my career as a professional actress (I still work occasionally in television, member AEA, SAG, AFTRA) away from playwrighting and other ventures. In the end, my books are my most important artistic pursuit.
What were your early influences?
British television (Dr. Who, BBC productions of historical novels), fantasy novels, 19th century novels- I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe early in life, followed by the British romantic poets. Then I adored Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera after having discovered the musical, I loved the book even more. Same with Les Miserables. My love for those novels had me reading Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and the 19th century soon became a habit I couldn’t quit. I credit a past life with my ongoing obsession for the era, it was just too compelling for me at too early of an age for that to have been merely interest and not an almost other-worldly preoccupation.
What drew you to romance?
All my favourite stories have some element of romance in them, it’s just second nature for me to introduce and revel in romantic tension in my work. It’s a very compelling reason to write; to bring two people together.
What was the most fun in writing your book?
Writing the scenes where the secondary characters give my hero, Professor Alexi Rychman, a sound and well-deserved teasing – these were the most fun to write. These scenes still make me smile and giggle when I think of them, and they’ve been with me nearly a decade. Secondly, writing the scenes where Percy begins to accept her unusual self and entertains the thrilling thought that the man she most admires enjoys her company- those simply make my heart happy.
Being that it’s a historical, what kind of research did you do?
My childhood love for the 19th century drove me to pursue a focus study in college in the Victorian Era. I received a scholarship to study in London. I collect lots of books on the age, read books written in the age, listen to music of the period, and watch a great deal of historical-set films. My most important resource book is Richard Jones’ Haunted London. Nearly every ghost that I reference in the book is a real, documented London haunt. Hence my Haunted London Blog Tour this month and next.
What did you have to know about London to write this book?
I had to have a sense of direction and place, a feel of the air and the sense of the city itself, nooks and corners, the energy and the vast, fascinating history. I had to feel the spirits. And I did. It is a haunted city. I had to love London to write this book. Even though the Strangely Beautiful London is a London I could not truly visit in it’s time, I used my dear kinship to it, a love I had from such an early age when I would speak in a British accent around my home in rural Ohio, captivated by all things English. Walking along the Thames fills me with such joy, the city is my favourite place on Earth and so some of the artistic choices I make simply come from instinct, a sense of connection and a passion for the time and place.
Please, tell us all about THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER
THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER is the first in the Strangely Beautiful series.
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….
Excerpt from THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER (from Chapter Eleven):
Percy’s latest recurrent vision was a hazy one where she was standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by shafts of light. Music—inhuman, beautiful, incomprehensible—was everywhere, playing inside of her and out. This music, which she had no words to describe, lingered on in faint strains throughout the day.
It was while Professor Rychman was in the midst of a tutorial lecture of particular eloquence that Percy roused from the vision to find him snapping his fingers in front of her face. She started, fumbled an apology, wrung her hands. “Oh, Professor! I’ve no d-doubt that your patience for me is at an end,” she stammered. “But I swear on my life that I listen to your every word and—”
The professor sighed. “Miss Parker, I wish you felt more at ease here. If you did, you might take to things with more surety.”
“I am, sir. At ease, I mean. Well, I … Oh, dear.” Feeling a fool, she looked away.
“At ease. Indeed?”
Percy folded her hands upon the desk. “I suppose not. Forgive my timidity. It undermines any hope I have for collected composure.”
“Your composure, Miss Parker, is nearly regal,” he replied.
“That is, it would be if you stopped hiding.”
Percy blinked through her glasses at him. “Hiding?”
“With your shrouds and your shields I cannot tell when you are comprehending what I say. It is common knowledge that the eyes are the window to the soul, but your windows are shuttered. What they have to say has been muted.”
“But sir, the sun, the light—”
“Does the sun shine here, Miss Parker? You told me you were comfortable.”
“Well, I am, sir. Here the room is perfect but, outside, people stare and—”
The professor interrupted without pity or pause. “Do you include me in that number, Miss Parker? I would hope you realize that I have more important things to do than gawk as if you were a museum piece.” He leveled his gaze at her before returning to transcribing notes from a text.
“Of course, sir,” Percy replied. “Of course I realize that.”
“I call it hiding,” the professor repeated.
Percy let out a brief sigh, knowing she had no choice but to muster a bit of courage. She feared his reaction more than she could say, but he left no other option. “Very well, sir,” she remarked with quiet resolution. She rose from her chair, turned her back to him and began to remove her barriers.
She had not realized the entirety of the feeling of security they gave until she was confronted with her protections’ removal. After her careful hands removed glasses, gloves and long scarf, Percy felt naked. Vulnerable. Indecent. Yet, she reminded herself, it had not been her idea to lower her defenses. If the professor was to be disgusted—which was her greatest fear—it was through no fault of her own. The thought brought no comfort.
Tresses of lustrous, snow-white hair tumbled from their clothbound imprisonment, streaming like snowfall down the girl’s back. In an effort to make his student more at ease, Alexi did his best to appear wholly disinterested as she carefully removed her protections with delicate, private ceremony. But then she turned to face him, clutching those items that had held her unusual features in mystery. He forced his eyes to his book.
“As you would have it so, Professor, here is your pupil in all her ghastliness.”
Alexi looked up. Though Miss Parker’s hands clearly trembled, her voice did not.
His furrowed, generally disapproving brow rose slightly, and he leaned back in his chair and took her in. Luminous crystal eyes held streaks of pale blue shooting from tiny black pupils. A face youthful but devoid of colour, smooth and unblemished like porcelain, had graceful lines as well defined and proportioned as a marble statue. Her long, blanched locks shimmered in the candlelight like spider silk. Upon high cheekbones lay hints of rouge—any more would have appeared garish against her blindingly white skin, but she had been artful in her application. Her rosebud lips were tinted in the same manner.
She was attuned to even the most minuscule response. Her merciless, hypnotic gaze found his and she frowned. “You see, Professor, even you, so stern and stoic, cannot hide your shock, surprise, distaste—”
“Distaste?” he interrupted quietly. “Is that what you see?”
If Percy had taken the time to truly consider his response, she would have noticed that his tone was far from distasteful; it was, in fact, flattering. But she plowed on, choosing hurt.
“What else can one feel when they behold living flesh that looks dead?”
“You assume ghost and not angel?”
Those words in regard to herself made Percy’s heart convulse. Surely he could not have intended a compliment. “I … I would never presume to liken myself to anything heavenly, Professor.”
“Indeed? Then it would seem that you, Miss Parker, are more modest than I.” If there had been an admiring look in his eye, it was quickly gone. The professor blandly donned his glasses.
“Now, come take your seat. No more hiding, not in this office. Never again.”
“That is still your wish?” Percy asked.
Percy put down her things with a sigh. But as the lesson continued, she began to relax, seeing that he looked at her with no other quality but the expectation of fastidious attention. Once his lecture was complete, she was excused with an assignment and a curt nod. Percy donned her scarf, her gloves and her glasses with delicate deliberation, preparing to walk out again into the world. But halfway to the door after bidding the professor a quiet farewell, books in hand, she stopped and turned around.
The professor, busying himself at his desk, could evidently feel the weight of her stare; he looked up after a moment. “Yes, Miss Parker?”
“Thank you, Professor.”
“You are … the only man who has not made me feel as if I were on display.”
The professor blinked, his face expressionless. “You are a student and not an exhibit, Miss Parker. Good day.”
Percy curtseyed in response. Exiting the office, she felt heartened and keenly alive. Her blood murmured strangely in her veins.
(END OF EXCERPT)
How did you create Percy and the Professor?
Percy honestly waltzed into the Professor’s finely appointed office in my mind, looking like a ghost, and sweetly asked if I would be so kind as to write her unusual story. Even though I’ve suffered from lack of sleep while working on her for the past many years, she’s worth it. The Professor is the culmination of all my literary love affairs in one (I have this habit of falling in love with literary characters) and I’m not sure I’ll ever love another hero of mine as much as I love him. For Percy, I desperately wanted this outcast of a girl to come into her own, that’s a very gratifying theme for me. As for the Professor, I was engaged by the idea of a brooding and stoic man brought to his knees by a meek, tender spirit, his cold manner broken open by her radiant nature- another compelling theme to me.
Are there any tips you can share with our viewers on creating characters?
Creating characters is my very, very favourite part of the process. I believe that comes from my professional theatre background. Sometimes they’ve just appeared to me, just as Percy did, sometimes they come from something more specific, a desire to explore a certain type of personality in a certain type of setting. Sometimes there’s simply the need to create functional characters to serve the needs of the story, but they should never feel functional. All I can say is that you have to love them, every one of them, and give them as many moments to ‘talk’ to you as possible. Watch them in your mind as often as possible. Cast them as actors if it’s helpful, refrain from it if you find it limiting. Spend a lot of time daydreaming about them, they’ll say and do the darndest things. But you must put them in conflict, as extreme as you can justifiably make it, to discover their true colours.
DARK NEST is an action-packed futuristic fantasy novella with a psychic punch, published by Crescent Moon Press. I wrote it because my friends in New York dared me to. I’d made some sort of sweeping comment about what I do or I don’t write (Don’t do that, by the way; say you only write one thing). That’s when I was dared to write a futuristic fantasy novella because it would be good for me and, citing my love for Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who and Star Trek, wasn’t that far of a stretch. I agreed to the dare and started brainstorming with my best writerly bud, Isabo Kelly (who writes kick-ass Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance, check her out) and soon this rich world of psychics, new powers and extreme persecution popped up. I was so ecstatic to final in the Prism Award, let alone win. What an honor and a blessing. The Prism Award is sponsored by the Futuristic/Fantasy/Paranormal Chapter of the Romance Writers of America and presented each year at the RWA National Convention to honor excellence in those subgenres. Blurb and excerpt can be found at http://www.crescentmoonpress.com/books/DarkNest.html
Where can our viewers purchase THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER and DARK NEST?
THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER:
From Dorchester: www.tinyurl.com/sbdorch
Barnes & Noble http://tinyurl.com/strangelybeautifulbn
DARK NEST can be downloaded via Crescent Moon Press
Or purchased in Print at Barnes & Noble.com: http://tinyurl.com/darknestbn
Thank you for visiting us at Nights of Passion. For our viewers that would like to know about Leanna, please, visit:
Website: www.leannareneehieber.com (Here you can find out all the details about my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog tour and my Contest for cool prizes!)
No-spam Mailing List: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/L_R_Hieber_News/
It’s been fun having you here. Come back anytime!
Thank you SO much for this wonderful opportunity, Susan, I appreciate it so very much! Strangely Beautiful Blessings!
Now for the contest. Only commenters from the continuous United States are eligible for this contest. If you are, simply comment on the interview. The contest closes on Wed., Aug. 26th at 10 PM Eastern Time. Leanna will pick one name from those commentors and email them to arrange for sending the autographed book. Good Luck!