Part One can be read here.
Part Two can be read here.
Part Three can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Since I came from a professional theatre background, I look at an editor like a director and that’s a very helpful dynamic. They are there as an outside eye to help the story be told in the best way possible. Melissa Singer is so in-depth and talented as an editor, she has pushed and challenged me very hard and I’m always infinitely better for it as a writer and the books are always better. She asks the right questions to evoke better narrative answers out of me.
As for an agent, I’d have been lost if not for supportive, helpful agents. They are as vital as editors in helping navigate contracts and the industry. Their feedback is also an additonal eye onto the art, which is so valid and helpful.
You have to engage with constructive criticism. If you can’t take editorial direction and cannot follow cues to make a story better for comprehensive feedback then you’re not actually a writer. No writer is perfect, every writer needs an editor, no exceptions. If the idea of making work better via critique and consideration makes a prospective writer bristle, seek a different line of work, please.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
LRH: With all aspects of my art being very tied to all aspects of my life, there’s not much disconnect. Because I seek to make art that engages and supports me holistically, that is the balance in and of itself. The most important aspect of having such an entwined sense of art, purpose, mission and drive is to make sure there’s a lot of positive reinforcement in your mind, heart and with those you surround yourself with. There’s a lot of stress this industry wields. I have to be very careful not to take on too many of the stressors while still keeping sharply motivated across my every artistic front.
AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
LRH: Yes, thankfully, I am positively brimming with talented friends in this great city of New York. I’m regularly involved with readings and cocktail-hours, I co-founded Lady Jane’s Salon reading series in Manhattan, I am a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, all of which have great industry relations and ways to meet. I’ve a long-time, treasured critique partners and sounding-boards in C. Johnstone and Alethea Kontis, and everyone who is close to me is an artist of some kind. I have a few collaborations in the works, one of which is with fellow Steampunk artist and writer Thom Truelove, who has also stepped in as a business partner in convention ventures, and we’re hopeful that one of the works we’re co-authoring will be in the contract process soon.
Artistic collaborations are very tricky as it has to be the right kind of dynamic, it can’t be forced, much like the partnership of an agent and with an editor has to be the right kind of balance and understanding and chemistry. The benefit of these relationships is that the art, the writing, the work is always richer and more effective for having multiple sets of eyes trying to make it the best it can be. I love being around successful artists and authors as it challenges me to stay on my game and helps renew the commitment of being a working artist, which can be, frankly, discouraging at times and downright exhausting. Being around those who are committed to their respective causes is a refresher of the creative well.
AA: Sounds like a fantastic support network. Some people might say that writers need to be readers, too. What do you think about that and what would you say your ratio of reading to writing is/was?
LRH: I agree and I admit, woefully, that I don’t have time to read as much as I would like to. I end up reading books that I’ve agreed to blurb via my publisher or agent, and the rest are friends’ works I try to keep aware of, and beyond that it’s research material. I write more than I read but I hope that will change as I’d like it to be half and half.
AA: As a reader, what has made you stop reading something before finishing it? How do you try to avoid that issue in your own writing?
LRH: If violence against women or anyone who is systematically facing oppression isn’t dealt with in a manner of extreme caution and for the specific, earned sake of the plot, not as shock value, side note or for the exploitative sake of some other character’s journey- I stop reading right there. I don’t deal with any extreme violence against women in my stories because I don’t think it should be an inevitable part of fiction in which there is danger. I try to deal with power dynamics with extreme caution and care. The characters within my stories are all well aware of the restrictive 19th century society in which they live and I champion the ways in which those characters can break free from limitations and oppressions.
AA: What do you consider your first real writing experience? Was it the back-to-school exercise of “What I did this Summer” or something you just did on your own?
LRH: I was writing short stories ever since I could hold a pencil and finish a sentence. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t writing. I was born to it. I started writing my first novel around the age of 11, a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera because I felt there should be more to the story. It was a sprawling, ridiculous tale, but what I will say for starting a full-length novel endeavor at an early age, the idea of writing a book hasn’t really daunted me at any point in my life. What has been important is creating the discipline of writing regularly, it is a habit, a need, a drive, and my mission in life.
AA: I thoroughly enjoyed reading Phantom during lunch breaks one year. Like you, it was part of a larger story idea and I wanted to read the original stories for him, Dracula, Frankenstein, and other nineteenth century monsters. How have you and your work grown and changed over time?
LRH: laugh I should hope I’m a bit more grounded than the kid who wrote overwrought, flailing Phantom fan fic and then burned it all in a fit of pique in a bonfire ten years, and a thousand pages, later. However many of the themes I’m interested in haven’t changed. My heart still belongs to the writers who shaped me, like Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Bronte and innumerable fantasy authors. I’m still the Gothic enthusiast in search of a good ghost story. I’ve just spent every day of my life since age 11 writing and honing craft, and I hope I never stop sharpening skills and exuding the same passion for my genres I exhibited at an early age.
Let’s pause here in our talk with Leanna. Join us next time when she talks about writing and writing skills.