In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!
While writing is the core of my artistic life, I live a renaissance one. I have devoted education, passion and countless hours to nearly every aspect of the arts since as early as I can remember and have worked in the arts in varied degrees of professional capacity since I was a teen.
When asked what I’d do if I wasn’t focusing on writing, I say I’d go back to the stage and resume the classical and Shakespearean career that I set aside because my Strangely Beautiful series was more important. Thankfully, writing novels has been keeping me too busy to run the audition gauntlet. Still, doing something physical is an important way for me to access my full artistic capacity and often helps with any walls I’ve written myself up against. My extensive theatrical training shapes how I think about and craft stories, but that’s a broad connection.
In terms of specificity, I hadn’t thought an ancillary artistic pursuit would affect the way I thought about, say, my books’ magic systems, until I started making jewelry.
I’ve been very involved with the Steampunk, RetroFuturist, and Victorian Gothic convention communities for quite some time. In these spaces, costuming and accessories are a part of storytelling. Because I love the details of 19th century finery, I began setting out brooches and other magpie-attracting baubles alongside my books at conventions. They became a part of my story and I loved how they looked beside my books. Then I began curating Victorian jewelry—pieces that I felt my characters would wear, as an extension of my books into tactile fashion expression. I wondered what more I could do, considering there are so many talented crafters and jewelers in the community. A conversation with a discerning colleague got me thinking about military-style medals.
Steampunk enjoys medals and militaria. Considering all my novel worlds are parallel worlds with supernatural Victorian settings, I began to consider what a Hieberverse take on militaria would be. What would a medal from a psychic campaign look like? What about a more feminine-looking medal? A more eerie one? A more intellectual one? One that noted a victory in spiritualist battle, warfare of the mind and soul? These questions provoked a new burst of creative output.
My books are celebrations of the personal sacred. I began making medals with a sense of practical magic and personal meaning. My characters fight not with guns (well, mostly not with guns) but with talismans, with icons, with symbology and fierce individuality. I like thinking of what I create as commendations for the bravery of my characters and my readers, and as a way of giving tactile merit and meaning to the fantastical, whimsical, and esoteric.
Because I believe in the entirely individual nature of my characters and of creative expression in general, I never want to make the same medal twice. My Etsy shop is about a year old now, and each medal is one of a kind, keeping with the principles of celebrating the personal and the individual, and of shying away from standardization and mass-market production. I work simply, with my hands, with objects I find beautiful and engaging. It is a peaceful, delightful pursuit.
In my Eterna Files series specifically, I deal with the idea of protective Wards made from materials local to the character, which can be strengthened if their creators add small pieces of jewelry or other mementos that are precious to them. I began thinking of the medals I was crafting as Wards, to be worn near the heart or on a place of pride on a costume or lapel; taking the concept of personal protections to a broader place than merely holding up a cross to fight a vampire. In magical world-building, talismans are a familiar concept that I’ve tried to do something original with.
As a proud, lifelong Goth, I prefer a spooky, eerie, darker aesthetic. I want to walk a fine line with the style I create so that it maintains positivity while still being darkly beautiful. I try to mix quirky celebration into my darker pieces. I walk this same line in my Gothic novels. My exterior aesthetic and my book aesthetic are very similar, another reason why making fanciful regalia is just an extension of my storytelling animus. When at conventions I always say, “If you like my clothes, you’ll like my books; I dress like I write.” My readers know enough by now not to call what I wear a costume, and they’ll correct other new fans: “No, it’s not a costume, those are just her clothes, this is just her.” I take great pride in that and hope it can encourage others to feel like they can embrace their own aesthetic expressions.
My jewelry, like my books, are a niche exploration of style, and not necessarily for everyone. Because modern clothing doesn’t generally involve as many lapels or fanciful layers upon which to pin a medal, wearing my work takes a bit of imagination–and maybe a vest. They’re statement pieces no matter how used.
I want each piece I create to tell its own story, to become a conversation piece about imagery, to be displayed and shared. This foray into my Torch and Arrow shop is about crafting little bits of personal sacred, celebrating diverse meaning and creative expression.
If there’s one thing I’d like to be known as, it’s imaginative. And I want that for the world; boundless imagination and endless possibilities of deep meaning. I look forward to finding ever more avenues and bold new artistic ways in which I can story-tell, one character, one symbol, one craft, one medal and one inciting incident at a time.
Top image: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels such as the Strangely Beautiful saga and The Eterna Files, with the sequel Eterna and Omega now available from Tor Books. A classically trained actress, she is a proud member of unions AEA and SAG-AFTRA and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. Actively involved with guest lectures and public appearances, you can find her social media outlets, free reads, resources and Torch and Arrow store on Etsy via her website.