The awesome Leanna Renee Hieber is on the blog today to talk about her new book, The Eterna Files, and more! Please give her a warm welcome!
A traveling circus, a compound that grants immortality and 1882 London…I’m in! Will you tell us more about The Eterna Files?
Thank you! I’m thrilled you’re in, and I am very excited to share this series with everyone.
It is said that authors should write what they want to read, and for me, this series is the culmination of everything I enjoy reading in one fell swoop. It’s a large cast novel, I adore working with large casts, across two of my favourite historical settings, London and New York, in the 1880s, my favourite time period to write in because it’s on the cusp of so much modernism in a still-restrictive society which makes for nice chafing against the boundaries. The precursors to the telephone and electric light; telegraph and gas-light, were pervasive, plumbing was common in a metropolitan city, as was public transit and ways for any class of person to get about both cities.
But I don’t just write historical fiction. I write Gothic Victorian Fantasy. Spiritualism and a wide spectrum of Occult matters were all the rage, so all my ghosts and dark magic fit right in with the collective Victorian consciousness. Their obsessions are mine, and I’m fascinated by an era where so much industrial progress was made amidst so much remaining superstition and pseudo-science.
My voice is distinct, I write with Gothic flair and drama, my characters are very quirky and bold, and I may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’ve carved out a niche for myself in Gaslamp Fantasy, consistently praised for atmosphere and scene setting and I’m very proud and grateful to be here discussing my seventh novel, for The Eterna Files feels like it’s a culmination of all I have done to this date. This series speaks of the dark, eerie, lyrical, complex, other-wordly and sweeping adventures I want to have in my career present and future. I want to be transported in the writing of a book and so do I wish for the reader to be fully immersed on the eerie journey with me, as I continue winding my precarious way at the precipice of life and death, in celebration of the power of the human Spirit.
There are more than a few standout characters in The Eterna Files. Which ones were your favorites to write?
That’s like picking a favourite child, and in a large cast it’s even harder. I love all of them for very different reasons. I love the different flavor of the British team versus the American team. Clara and Rose have a similar tone and personality about them, and there’s a reason for that as you’ll see when the series progresses. I love the connections between the teams, and the quirkier the character, the more fun. I love getting a chance to make cameo appearances with characters from my Magic Most Foul saga as well as my Strangely Beautiful saga.
But if I have to pick one character to adore it’s The Visitor, and she’s become one of my favorite characters of all time, and you’ll learn more about her in the years and books to come. She carries with her ‘the weight of time’ itself, and boy does she wield it in my mind. I can’t wait to share more about her as her trajectory continues to mysteriously unfold before my eyes the more time I spend with her.
Will you tell us a little more about your London of 1882 and what kind of research you did for the book?
I’ve steeped myself in Victoriana since my youth. It’s hard to keep track of what is research anymore and what is just a sense of life at that time. In college I received a minor in the Victorian Era as a point of study, pursued Classical theatre set in the 19th century so as to “live” a little in the era, and have supplemented those active disciplines with research text both general overview and specific special interest. I’ve a base understanding of Victorian voice as all of my full-length novels have been set in the 1880s and all my worlds are parallel worlds with cross-over characters. My favorite part of this particular research trajectory was two research trips to London to really get a feel for the interior of Westminster Palace, Parliament and the surrounding environs, walking the walks Harold Spire would walk, and the same with Clara in New York, more on that in a later answer.
You’re not just an author, but you’re also an actress! Have you always wanted to write novels (as well as plays)?
Will you tell us a little more about that progression?
I started writing and acting in school plays entirely concurrently, so I’ve never known one without the other. My sense of theatricality entirely defines how I write. I find that each discipline is tied together in the grander arc of storytelling in general, though performing itself uses different parts of my mind and body, different amounts of energy and different refinements of skill and memory. Because my degree is in theatre performance, and all of my professional credentials upon leaving college and immediately beginning an internship with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company had been theatrical, I was able to parlay theatrical contacts into my first credits in professional adaptation, doing a one-woman Alice in Wonderland show for CSC and following unfolding playwriting initiatives and interests. As publishing in theatre is a very different set of contacts than novel-length fiction, there was a lot of time spent networking and understanding the different rules of the New York fiction houses before I could snag the notice of a New York agent and editorial staff.
I can’t seem to stick to only one art form, so I’ll always be drawn to both the performative arts and writing equally, as they represent a more bravely extroverted artistic life and that which is more natural-for-me, a sometimes painfully introverted one, but together it’s the whole spectrum of the artistic soul in its infinite possibilities.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
A little cartoon about a bird pretty much as soon as I could write. Then something about Scooby Doo (formative love of ghost stories), which then progressed to something about Star Trek (formative love of Sci-Fi/Fantasy), I can’t remember which. Then my first novel (that I began around the age of 11 or 12) was a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera (formative love of the 19th century) because I adored the musical. I’ve been writing as long as I could hold a pencil and finish a sentence and I’ve simply never stopped.
What authors have influenced you the most?
Edgar Allan Poe is the single most formative author for me, I read him in my pre-teen years and his incredible, lyrical, lush, genre-creating and genre-breaking work infuses everything in my aesthetic, from my Neo-Victorian Goth wardrobe to my interest in the Gothic literary canon. Beyond Poe, all the 18th and 19th century Gothic authors of every stripe. Parallel to this was my love of Tolkein, Bradbury, Lewis, King, L’engle and, in college, Rowling. Merging my love of Gothic with my love of High Fantasy was a bit genre-creating and genre-breaking as well, and I’ve never looked back from making a career in Gothic Gaslamp.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
My first of several editions of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe; short stories, poetry and more. His darkly beautiful mind unclasped it’s truths to me like a dear friend that I needed, a mind that so inspired me, and that would set the course for all my future work, style and aesthetics.
What are you currently reading?
It grieves me that I don’t get to read much for pleasure these days, it’s only research material I have time for between my book deadlines, theatrical and film projects and other contracts. But on the research front, I’m currently loving Lily Dale: The Town that Talks to the Dead by Christine Wicker that I bought on a research trip to Lily Dale itself. As my books deal with Spiritualism, psychic phenomena, mediums and clairvoyance of all kinds, this book was a must, and it’s compellingly written, a wonderful modern supplement to the historical texts I steeped myself in to continue my ongoing feel and 19th century settings of my own work. The Eterna Files dives deeper into the questions of the human Spirit, the psychology around the paranormal, and the vulnerable, generous strength of those who are Gifted, while darker forces must be kept at bay by an elaborate host of quirky characters. Books like Lily Dale help give insight into actual mediums as I compare them to my own characters and their triumphs and vulnerabilities.
You have more than a few titles under your belt… What’s something you know now that you wish you’d known when you first got published? What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Never, ever, ever give up. Also, don’t assume your writing is Heaven’s Gift to Writing. You can always improve and always find ways to learn from good editors. There are so many options now for the aspiring author, whether to go the traditional route as I did or go the independent route, everyone has different needs and different strategies that would be best for their book. What I hate seeing is aspiring authors getting one round of rejections from agents or editors and then running to self-publishing without taking time to really learn from critiques and trying to pursue all possible options. Here’s my “So You Want to Be a Writer” advice column that has a lot more to say and genre resources that were helpful for me: http://leannareneebooks.blogspot.com/2012/09/so-you-want-to-be-writer.html
I say never give up from deeply painful and personal experience. Throwing myself back into the publishing world after my first three books (the Strangely Beautiful saga) went out of print and the publisher went bankrupt, costing me more lost royalties and payments than I care to mention, has been utterly devastating and while the book remains out of print, it has remained devastating both financially and spiritually. In addition to the financial disaster, having the books of my heart entirely unavailable, truly beloved books that found a very passionate audience of loyal readers, has been such a difficult, painful journey. Moving forward and writing my next series anyway was daunting but I knew I couldn’t let circumstances out of my control kill my great love of writing. Thankfully the Magic Most Foul saga found a home next, and then I landed with Tor and my amazing, wonderful editor Melissa Singer. Melissa bought not only my front-list Eterna files, but the backlist Strangely Beautiful novels, also buying the final, never-before published fourth and final novel in the series, Miss Violet and the Great War. So continuing my writing career no matter what, putting work out there no matter what, that’s always an emotional risk. But thankfully Strangely Beautiful has its own resurrection story that matches the Phoenix in the series. I hope that can be a message of hope and resilience to all of you struggling on any part of the artistic journey.
You’re also a ghost tour guide, which is awesome. Care to dish a bit about that?
I’ve tried to live into all my interests and expertise in my various careers, all of them dovetailing upon the other, and the knowledge I’ve gained as a tour guide wholly weaves its way into my books. As a ghost tour guide for Boroughs of the Dead , I try to tell the human side of the ghost story and the context in which the spirit lived, as true story-telling and deeper meanings and resonance is just as important to me as the “spooky” side of hauntings.
What’s next for you?
Per what I mentioned above, next up is the Strangely Beautiful new editions! I’m putting the polishes on them and the extra content now. As I mentioned above, my multiple award-winning, bestselling Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, has been out of print for years due to the collapse of Dorchester Publishing. Thanks to my wonderful long-term relationship with Tor, Strangely Beautiful will have a new lease on life, putting the first and second volumes of the series together in an omnibus trade-paperback, author’s preferred, revised edition, and I can’t wait! Release date early 2016!
About The Eterna Files:
London, 1882: Queen Victoria appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to Special Branch Division Omega. Omega is to secretly investigate paranormal and supernatural events and persons. Spire, a skeptic driven to protect the helpless and see justice done, is the perfect man to lead the department, which employs scholars and scientists, assassins and con men, and a traveling circus. Spire’s chief researcher is Rose Everhart, who believes fervently that there is more to the world than can be seen by mortal eyes.
Their first mission: find the Eterna Compound, which grants immortality. Catastrophe destroyed the hidden laboratory in New York City where Eterna was developed, but the Queen is convinced someone escaped—and has a sample of Eterna.
Also searching for Eterna is an American, Clara Templeton, who helped start the project after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln nearly destroyed her nation. Haunted by the ghost of her beloved, she is determined that the Eterna Compound—and the immortality it will convey—will be controlled by the United States, not Great Britain.