Part One can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: What are the key themes in Strangely Beautiful, and The Eterna Files?
Leanna Renee Hieber: As I’ve mentioned in my celebration of the Gothic genre, the heart of my books beats with the tension-laden crux of the Gothic: that perilous, breathless moment between life and death, beauty and horror, love and fear. Through rich and enveloping atmosphere and meticulous setting, I want readers to lose themselves in another world and yet learn something about the one they’re living in now. History is alive. I love knitting fact and fiction together with an ear for relevant echoes in our modern time.
I focus on themes of empowerment, self-reliance with an eye towards community, spirituality, chosen family, navigating paranormal and psychic Gifts, positivity trumping negativity, creativity as a force for world-changing good, healthy relationships and meaningful triumphs despite all kinds of adversity. My books deal with some quite visceral horror, but there is always hope and a positive resolution.
AA: Great combination of escapism and bringing back valuable lessons into real living. What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the main characters, Clara Templeton, Harold Spire, Rose Everhart, and Persephone Parker?
LRH: Clara is a gifted psychic in search of her purpose, her gifts often present themselves as too vague and her sensitivities around too many ghosts leave her vulnerable to epilepsy. She’s a passionate heart, is a brave and spunky character who is open to learning as much as she can about the world around her, both mortal and spirit.
Harold Spire is Clara’s foil, her exact opposite, a man of detail and specifics, a hands-on, fiercely committed policeman who is horrified when the Queen assigns him to the ‘paranormal’ Omega division. This shift away from no-nonsense policework is his worst nightmare. The fun in the series is allowing him to maintain skepticism amidst the inexplicable. He helps ground some of my more esoteric characters in the visceral, tactile now. The series could be subtitled Harold Spire’s No Good Very Bad Day, but it isn’t just about him.
Rose Everhart is Spire’s assigned partner, and they share a similar professional detail-oriented mind and ferocious work ethic, but Rose is forced to confront and adapt to supernatural circumstances. This prepares her for meeting Clara and her very vital role in Clara’s life, as these two similar beings have gone rounds before in a past life…
Persephone Parker is the light of my life, she’s the sweetest, most vibrant of hearts, an incredible force for good. She similarly becomes the figurative and literal light of the Strangely Beautiful saga. There’s no one quite like Percy. I feel blessed to know her and have written her. She is perhaps the most endeared-to-me character I’ve ever written. It’s her gentle spirit and indomitable passion that saves everyone’s life. She starts out the series as meek and retiring, she comes through the series seasoned, braver, bolder, but no less lovely and loving. Whenever I feel embittered by the world, Miss Percy heals my weary heart.
Miss Percy Parker’s hero, Professor Alexi Rychman, is dark, brooding, darling and delicious, I’ve had such a delightful time writing him from the very first, and I’ll leave it at that.
AA: How do they change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?
LRH: Both. For all my characters, the way they interact with the paranormal circumstances they find themselves thrust into is an unfolding process of character growth, some take to their newfound lives and paranormal, fantastical directives better than others. Their world changes too, it becomes more dangerous and less defined, which creates a particular crisis for my more science-minded characters. My mystical characters are far better equipped to adapt to their circumstances, but no paranormal gift is ever sure-fire or entirely reliable. The explorations of life, death and the spirit cross through each of my series so the character explorations do too, and everyone is at a different place on their respective journeys. I want to write relatable characters no matter how wildly unpredictable and unlikely their worlds might seem.
AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Strangely Beautiful and The Eterna Files?
LRH: My favorite aspects of these series are creating a sweeping setting that can transport you, and characters who compel you, even if, as is often the case, they might infuriate you. I encourage readers to truly envision the scenes I set, the historical flourishes, the full sensory experience I hope to craft. I think it’s important to understand my characters are exploring their worlds as you are as a reader, so be patient with the books, and they’ll unfold like fantastical flowers.
AA: That’s great way to present a story, I think. The reader doesn’t know something the characters don’t, and as such can’t guess ahead as to what might happen or wait (im)patiently while the characters catch up. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way in each book?
LRH: Aside from the ghosts inside my fictional Athens Academy, all of the exterior London haunts are based on real-life London accounts. My disaster site in Eterna Files is located in one of New York City’s most infamous haunted houses. There are some historic, architectural, cultural and societal features that were a delight to discover along the way and I hope my readers enjoy the lush details as I do.
AA: Hopefully, it will inspire them to go research the real life places and events, too. What passage, paragraph, or scene was really memorable to write?
LRH: Percy Parker and Alexi Rychman’s waltz scene in Strangely Beautiful, a breathless and breathtaking moment, and Clara Templeton’s terrifying countdown to a seizure in The Eterna Files come to mind as two drastically different but equally evocative scenes.
AA: Was there any scene-passage-text-etc that you loved but which just didn’t work and had to be cut?
LRH: Indeed. You can read one of them in the back of the new Strangely Beautiful edition, it has extra scenes, cut scenes and additional backstory. It was a wonderful chance to include these bits even though they don’t work to serve the plot or pacing within the body of the manuscript.
AA: When people read these stories, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
LRH: I know my books are not perfect, nor are they everyone’s cup of tea, but no one can say I don’t write with heart and passion. I hope readers find hope and strength, beauty and delightful shivers, that they celebrate a resilience of spirit, enjoy soul-seeking and meaning making but more than anything, please have a rollicking good time with my books.
Let’s pause here in our talk with Leanna. Join us next time when she talks about real life, comparisons, and attention.