TITLE: Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul
PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks (Nov.2011)
LENGTH: 336 pages
See summary and review in previous posts or on the Review Page.
I was lucky enough to interview Leanna Renee Hieber about her new YA series, Magic Most Foul. The first book, Darker Still, is available now. Here are her gracious, humorous, and real responses to questions about being a writer and her writing process.
- Have you always been a writer? If not, when and why did you start?
I was telling stories as soon as I learned to speak. I was writing them down as soon as I could hold a pen and spell. My earliest memories are of telling ghost stories to my friends, then my brownie girl scout troupe, then my journals, and anyone that would listen. I withdrew in my early teen years, writing very privately, but started my first full-out novel around the age of 12 (a terrible work that will never see the light of day, however it was a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera set in 1888 so it proves my love of the 19th century has been with me forever) so I’ve been writing in book length form nearly all my life. I was also interested in theatre from an early age, so basically I identify myself first and foremost as a storyteller.
- How did the idea for the Magic Most Foul series come to you?
I’ve always wanted to write a haunted painting story since I watched Sesame Street’s DON’T’ EAT THE PICTURES as a kid, a special movie where the Sesame gang is all trapped inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art overnight. Then after I read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story about a girl who dies while being painted, then after I fell in love with THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, well, there you have all my main influences in my story. I wanted to write a book that honored some of my favorite novels and writers, so that I could be a connective tissue, a “gateway drug” if you will, to 19th century literature. While a changing painting comes from DORIAN GRAY, I wanted to use the epistolary style of DRACULA to tell the story; in diary entries, letters and articles. I wanted to utilize some of the class conflict and female outsiders that Austen is known for, some of the divided nature of Jekyll and Hyde, and the nightmarish and mysterious aspects of Poe. I’m a product of the Gothic novel through and through.
- Do you have a particular writing schedule or routine? Could you briefly describe it?
I don’t have a schedule or routine; one week to the next is entirely different due to my many hats in many different rings as an actress, playwright and author. All I try to do is have a basic word-count goal for any writing session; 2,000 words minimum, a “good day” is 6,000 words. I’m not always able to write every day, so I try and have a weekly word-count goal, with my deadlines constantly in mind. I always have a notebook with me everywhere I go, because ideas and tidbits are always revealing themselves to me, my imagination is constantly “on” even if I’m not at a keyboard or journal. The only constant I try to keep is that I have particular different teas that I drink depending on the series I’m working on. The different scents of the teas that are related to what my heroes tend to drink, put me in mind of them and into their world, like scent-muscle-memory. J
- Where do you write? Why?
I write wherever I can. At home, on film sets (one of my many freelance jobs is as a background “extra” for film and television), in coffee shops, wherever. My schedule is so harried and random that I just have to take moments to write whenever and wherever I can. I am a night owl and do my best work during the witching hours between midnight and 3am.
- What is the hardest part of drafting for you?
I write my novels out of order and entirely non-linear, so the hardest thing is putting the pieces all together and writing the connective tissue to make sure it all makes sense from one chapter to the next. J
- How did you originally come to be published? (long road or short?)
Long road! While I’ve been writing all my life, I didn’t think about doing it professionally until after I’d already graduated college with a BFA in theatre performance (with a focus in Victorian studies). It was when I was fresh out of school and an intern for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company that I got the idea for The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, what would become my debut novel. But from inception to publication it was about 9 years. Those 9 years were spent bouncing around the country performing in the regional theatre circuit, querying short stories that never went anywhere, publishing a 10-minute play and submitting short plays that in contrast actually did very well, publishing articles about theatre and all the while working on my novel. I learned about query letters and the industry from The Writer’s Market and from some helpful author friends, joined RWA when I got to New York City (thanks to my writerly best-friend author Isabo Kelly) and started networking, and eventually queried the right agent and the right editor at the right time to lead to my book finally arriving on shelves. I thought about quitting more times than I can count, I still think about quitting sometimes, the industry is rough, but I want my books out there in the world more than I dare succumb to the fear and frustration of how hard the road can be.
- How do you handle criticism/rejection/bad reviews?
I take bad reviews very, very hard, but privately. You’d think that after a lifetime of rejection in theatre and publishing that I’d have grown a thicker skin, but not with my books, they’re too close to my heart. However an author should never publicly respond to criticism (unless a reviewer is going after them personally rather than their work, I do believe authors have the right to question personal attacks). Reviewers should never make assumptions about the author’s thought process or personal life but also authors should never aggressively respond to dislike of their work. Once our books are out in the world, everyone has the right to say what they want about the work. But it doesn’t mean we authors aren’t crushed and hurt by bad reviews, we are, but it’s up to us to be professional about it and just focus on our own careers and writing the best possible book we can. We’re not going to please everyone, I learned that very quickly writing Gothic novels. People either love the Gothic style or they hate it. But love it or hate it, I stay true to the style and to my influences.
- What is one part of writing craft every aspiring author ought to thoroughly understand?
Patience. I’m not good at patience, but it’s the most necessary part of the business. Also, your books are never perfect. Ever. So just strive to make them the best they can be. At some point, that book may get published. It still won’t be perfect. But once you’ve had professional eyes look at it and you and they agree it’s the best it can possibly be at the time, then go and query, find an agent, a publisher, find an editor; go forth. But always keep improving, never stop honing your craft from one book to the next. And work well with an editor. Their outside eye will help you. Oh, yeah, and let me say this one more time, authors: don’t respond to negative reviews.
- Do you read other authors’ books while you have a work in progress? Why or why not?
I read research texts and books related to my era but not in the same genre. I don’t like reading fantasy when I’m writing it, which means I read a lot of historical fiction and historical mysteries or books published in the 19th century. I like keeping the flavor of the time period but not mixing too many worlds in my head other than my own. (And I have several, so it’s a lot to keep track of). I often enjoy reading something entirely different than what I’m writing; for example, dystopian.
- What is the most rewarding part of writing?
When readers respond to my characters as if they are their friends. My characters are a part of me, they are family I have created, and when readers imbue them with that same life, and care about them in the same ways I do, there is simply nothing more beautiful or rewarding than that.
- PBJ or ham & cheese? – I’m vegetarian, so PBJ. J
- Coffee or tea? – Tea! As I mentioned, I drink a different kind for each different series I’m working on. Lord Denbury is addicted to Earl Grey tea so I drink that when working on the Magic Most Foul series to connect with him.
- Summer or Winter? – Autumn
- Typing or longhand? – Notes and ideas in longhand, actual sitting down and writing narrative is typing.
- Which comes first: plot or character? – Depends on the story. Usually character, but for short stories sometimes it’s plot.
- Emails or letters? – Emails to most of the people in my life, letters to my Grandmother.
- Coke or Pepsi? – Dr. Pepper
- Cake or pie? – Popcorn. (I’m a salt person over a sugar person.)
- Dogs or cats? – Bunnies. (We have a rescued lab rabbit in our home!)
- Indoors or outdoors? – Mostly indoors with outdoor excursions to NYC parks, zoos and sacred spaces.
- Beer or wine? – I like my beer like I like my stories; dark. Schwartzbier, preferably.
- Mac or PC? – PC
- Chocolate or hard candy? – Popcorn again.
- Outline or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants? – SEAT OF PANTS! I am an avid pantser-for-life. Outlines make me itch.
LRH: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be here! The sequel to DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul will be out this November- THE TWISTED TRAGEDY OF MISS NATALIE STEWART.
I tweet at http://twitter.com/leannarenee
FB page is http://facebook.com/lrhieber
All other info can be found at http://leannareneehieber.com
Cheers! Happy reading, happy haunting!