Today we are delighted to host an exclusive interview with Darker Still author Leanna Renee Hieber. I had the pleasure of meeting Leanna at BEA, which is when she first told me about Darker Still and got me excited about featuring it here on Novel Novice!
I love that you’ve created a book for teens that draws on classic inspiration like The Picture of Dorian Gray and Edgar Allan Poe. How do you think Darker Still might inspire teens to go read classics like these?
I fell in love with Poe and the spooky 19th century classics when I was a teenager, so I’m directly sharing my teenage passion. My desire to write in the setting compelled me to start my first novel at the age of 12. (A sequel to The Phantom of the Opera set in 1888. Don’t ask, that manuscript doesn’t still exist- thank God). I think for many people, classical literature feels foreign and a bit daunting. I’d just like to be a “way in” for people, a stepping stone. The language of my books isn’t as dense as most Victorian books, and it’s really the language that makes people feel alienated. But for me, the language is a part of the rich and wonderful fantasy world that is writing historical fiction, it is another world. I love the challenge that is reading historical literature, filled with words we don’t use every day. I love that challenge and it’s my hope that I can ease readers in and encourage them towards a greater challenge after my book, to use my book like a partial immersion into the world of the 19th century, then hope they’ll go for a full plunge. Hey, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a really short novel, so is A Christmas Carol, so some of my favorite books are also short reads!
What is it about great classic gothic stories like Dorian Gray and Poe that you find so fascinating? Why do you think they still have such great followings today?
For me, the spooky / paranormal factor kept me hooked to the classics that held an edge of the unknown. That’s why I tend to recommend the classics with a haunted edge, not that I don’t find other classics wonderful and valuable, but they’re just not as special to me without the weird stuff :). Somehow the fascination of the “what if” and possibilities beyond our known realities is something utterly universal. We’re wondering as much about life, the afterlife, spirits and consequences for our actions today as classic authors were then. The paranormal offers something timeless that transcends in a way an average 19th century “parlor drama” can’t. We haven’t been telling parlor intrigues since the dawn of time, but we have been telling ghost stories.
Well, Edgar Allan Poe and The Picture of Dorian Gray for starters, Frankenstein (Mary Shelley wrote it when she was a teenager!), Dracula, Dickens (especially his Christmas ghost stories, he had several in addition to Christmas Carol) and then read some modern authors writing Historical Paranormal like Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty and Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine (now available) and The Springsweet (2012).
And if you haven’t read Harry Potter, I’m terribly sorry, but I have to ask what’s wrong with you? Harry Potter is what got me writing again after a hiatus. It cracked open my own fundamental need to tell stories. There’s just nothing better than such a classic Hero’s Journey so gorgeously told, with such compelling characters and packed with all the magical / fantastical stuff that I adore.
You’ve already written some very popular books for adults. What, if anything, did you have to do differently when writing YA? Do you think your adult readers would enjoy your YA, and vice versa?
My style, themes and time period (both set in the 1880s) are all very, very similar. In fact, the worlds of the Strangely Beautiful and Magic Most Foul series are sort of parallel worlds. What’s different is the scope and the way the story is told. Darker Still is far more intimate, being told in first person through Natalie’s diary. The Strangely Beautiful saga is third person, sometimes with a sweeping omniscient narrative style and many different points of view. The age of the hero is an important factor in distinguishing adult from YA. While Miss Percy Parker in my Strangely Beautiful saga is a teenager, her hero, Professor Rychman, is not. But yes, absolutely, fans of one series should totally read the other and vice versa. While the Strangely Beautiful series has slightly more dense language at times and far more characters to keep track of, everything I do is PG-13 rated so there’s not a change in the level of content, the only fundamental difference is in the style of storytelling.
If they made a Leanna Renee Hieber candle, what would it smell like?
I’ve worn Rosewater perfume since around the time I started writing books (around the age of 11/12) so it would smell like roses.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (I know it’s stop-motion animation but it’s my favorite movie so it has to count)
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate but only sometimes. I’m a salt person. I’d rather have buttery popcorn.
Your personal theme song?
“Beloved” by my favorite Goth band, VNV Nation. Look it up. It’s gorgeous.
You’re on a deserted island and have to read one book for the rest of your life. What is it?
The Harry Potter boxed set. (It’s all together! It counts as one!)
Favorite book as a child?
A tattered paperback called “Ghosts” that told a ton of awesome real-life ghost stories.
I have loved Doctor Who since I was 7 years old and they ran it on our PBS station, LONG before the show was cool. And that’s a talent.
Thanks to Leanna and her publicist Derry for taking the time to arrange this Q&A!