I am absolutely thrilled that my first Character(s) on the Couch interview for my new website is with the elegant, talented, and all around cool person Leanna Renee Hieber and her two leads from her recently re-released novel Strangely Beautiful. I took it with me on a recent conference trip to Denver and might have stayed up too late the night before I was supposed to give a lecture to a large ballroom full of dentists. Perhaps her characters and everything they went through helped me to calm my own fears. Whatever the case, I loved this double-feature novel. See my review below.
Oh, and this is the second time Leanna has sent her characters over. Check out the interview of her characters Harold and Clara from the Eterna Files, also a wonderful book. And now I shall hand the blog over to Ms. Hieber…
My books are such ensemble cast productions that in terms of my STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL saga, the books I started my career with, the new revised edition of which I’m so blessed to have reissued now by Tor, I have to answer for both my lead characters, as they’re very different in natures.
In the year 1888, danger swarms the streets of London. Jack the Ripper is hardly mortal; a harbinger of a brewing war between mortal and spirit worlds.
Nineteen year old Miss Percy Parker was born with albinism, can see and speak with spectres, and despite harrowing prophetic visions she has the largest, most passionate heart anyone could imagine. She falls deeply in love with her tutor, Professor Alexi Rychman, a brooding, intense, difficult, magnetic man who leads The Guard, an ancient spectral police force. Together they fulfill an ancient prophecy dating back to Greek myth, and stand strong against spectral tides and forces of darkness. These two very different people, surrounded by a colorful, quirky supporting cast, paint a rich picture set against atmospheric, eerie, perilous but wondrous, ghostly England.
If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.
For Percy, she’d go in seeking answers to life’s biggest questions, the questions of her gifts and abilities that have always plagued her, but she would most certainly worry she’d be thought mad for the visions and sights she sees. Alexi would utterly hate being scrutinized in the manner of a psychologist. He has a hard enough time when the empathic “heart” of the Guard analyzes him, and Michael is a lifelong friend. He would appreciate the science aspects of study, but would not want to be the subject.
Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?
External that grows internal and back again. If Alexi doesn’t find his prophesied seventh member to join his Guard, all hell will literally break loose. His being drawn to Miss Percy, his student, though she is older than the rest and attending Athens Academy due to her special circumstances, is still a forbidden affair. The fact that prophecy and their hearts become entwined becomes part of the greater conflict, the external pressures and their internal emotions are at heightened odds until the end of the second novel. There are a lot of problems. How they solve them is both fantastical, gifted, and very human. The characters in the first two books, here in one edition, remain my most beloved characters both in my heart and the hearts of my readers.
It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?
Both Percy and Alexi, being polite Victorians aware of society’s expectations, would wait to be presented the opportunity to sit and when afforded this, they would sit with measured grace, trying never to be too hasty or too lethargic. Percy has tried all her life to fit in, Alexi tries to ape fine manners but often fails. He is an intense, brooding, large Gothic personality so he’d surely take a seat first and would hardly be as elegant as Percy, but as she is sometimes painfully shy, she’d do everything with a blush.
Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?
Percy would be carefully open about her heart, not very much about her visions and paranormal gifts. Alexi would be as closed as possible. He’d let Percy do the bulk of the talking. Percy would ask how she could be of help and service. Alexi would ask how long they’d have to be sat there.
Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?
Percy would have some sort of cordial, Alexi a tall glass of sherry. Percy would find something nice to say about the fact that anyone was interested in their minds at all, Alexi would say something bitter about people trying to meddle with him. (I would find this highly entertaining. I confess, I love torturing Alexi.)
When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)?
Because I come from a theatre background and these characters were very distinct when they waltzed into my mind some fifteen years ago, I treat them like I would any character I was playing on stage, which is a process that has always been nearly impossible for me to describe because it is so visceral and emotional, it’s all in my heart, not in a detached analytical sense. I feel them and know them on a very gut instinct level. However I did find myself asking them a lot of questions. I would tend to just daydream about them and let those daydreams take me on journeys about who they were and what they wanted, what they loved and hated, their joys and pains. I inhabited these characters for such a long time before they were published, I think the books benefit from that time spent with them.
Alexi and Percy are very much Gothic novel tropes, however I break those restrictive molds and make them intensely human, I take what is fun and engaging about the Gothic, and question what is problematic about it. Allowing for depth of psyche and emotion is my favorite thing in a dramatic, supernatural adventure like STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL.
These characters are truly my beloveds, and this book’s resurrection is so important to me after years of it being out of print due to the collapse of its first publisher, so your support, dear reader, truly means the world to me as I hope you’ll enjoy getting into the heads and hearts of these entertaining people as much as I have loved writing them. Thank you.
And thank you so much for bringing your characters by!
You can purchase the book at:
Actress, playwright, artist and award-winning, bestselling author Leanna Renee Hieber has written nine Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens, set in 1880s New York City and London. Her Strangely Beautiful saga hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists, garnered numerous genre awards and will reissue in a special edition from Tor/Forge in April 2016. Darker Still of her Magic Most Foul saga was a Scholastic “Highly Recommended” title and an American Booksellers Association “Indie Next List” pick. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy trilogy, The Eterna Files, an X-Files meets Penny Dreadful kind of series, is now available from Tor/Forge and the sequel, Eterna and Omega, releases August 2016. Her books have been translated into many languages such as German, Complex Chinese, and Polish. A lifelong Goth girl devoted to spreading love and understanding of Gothic literature, she is also a proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA and works as a ghost tour guide for New York City’s premiere Ghost and Macabre tour company Boroughs of the Dead. She’s been featured in several films and in television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She’s active on Twitter @LeannaRenee, Facebook, and more about her books as well as free reads and writing resources can be found at http://leannareneehiber.com and her Gothic, Steampunk, Neoclassical art and jewelry can be found at https://etsy.com/shop/torchandarrow
Reading Strangely Beautiful is like going into a dream world that’s exciting and threatening enough to be interesting and entertaining enough to make you not want to wake up. Indeed, it often took me a few moments to reorient myself when real life was rude enough to interrupt my enjoyment of this two-novel set. Hieber writes with lush description that fits the genre without going overboard, and her characters, both primary and secondary, are all round, lush, and all-too-human, even the nonhuman ones. The ensemble nature of the book, rather than taking away from the romance, adds to it because everyone has their own opinions and secrets. I highly recommend this book as an escape from real life and an exploration of humans, nonhumans, misfits, and how no matter what, everyone wants to belong in the end. Five stars, unreservedly!