I’ve known Leanna Renee Hieber for nearly two years now—we’re half of the team that curates Lady Jane’s Salon, a monthly reading series dedicated to romance fiction—so my enthusiasm for The Strangely Beautiful Tale Of Miss Percy Parker and its recently published sequel, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker is far from objective. When I was invited to participate in Tor.com’s paranormal romance and urban fantasy month, I knew Leanna was one of the authors I’d be interviewing, and I arranged to ask her a few questions during a quiet moment before the most recent Salon event.
I started by asking about what got her interested in writing about a team of Victorian “ghost busters” whose destiny becomes intertwined with that of a an albino teenage girl, recently arrived at a private school in London…
One of the aspects of Strangely Beautiful I found most engaging was its pervasive, explicit overlay of mythological themes onto the Victorian narrative. (I mean, you don’t just name a character “Persephone” accidentally, now, do you?) Leanna assured me, however, that this wasn’t just a case of her imposing a modern, Campbell-esque “comparative mythology” typology onto a 19th-century setting.
“If you actually look at the Victorian psyche,” she explained, “they were ardent neo-Classicists; they loved mythology, they loved myths, and they loved inventing literature and then making it seem like it was something that had been invented centuries earlier. They were rediscovering Romanticism as well as an ardent sense of spiritualism. They were obsessed with the dead, obsessed with spirits and with contacting them. So all of the various paranormal aspects in the novel, along with the mythological aspects, are things that the Victorians really were enamored with. Thankfully it all weaves together seamlessly, but that’s not something I can really take credit for; it’s just part of the 19th century ethos as it stood.”
Because Leanna’s debut novel came out around the same time as Gail Carriger’s Soulless, and both have a Victorian setting, they’ve occasionally been lumped together, but the setting (and the supernatural elements) are all they have in common. Where Leanna’s prose is earnestly florid, Carriger’s is so arch it flirts shamelessly with camp—or, as I once quipped on Twitter, Carriger is Oscar Wilde and Leanna is Wilkie Collins. Oh, wait, they do share at least one other feature: Both series arise from the challenge of writing a sequel to a romance novel with the same characters, answering the question of what happens after heavily ever after without retracting the initial volume’s promise of a happy future. I asked Leanna about that, and where she was planning to take the series in its subsequent installments.
Persephone Parker’s story may not be confined to the printed page, either: Earlier this year, Leanna optioned the Strangely Beautiful stage musical rights to a team that includes composer and lyricist Kenny Seymour (whose most recent work includes the Tony-winning Memphis), and the current plan is for her to adapt the material for the musical’s book herself.
Photo by Tara Leigh