This week (Tuesday), The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker is finally being released. I loved the book (you can read my review here); and immediately after I finished, I asked Leanna Renee Hieber if she would mind doing an interview to answer some of my burning questions.
Heidenkind: Who built Athens Academy?
Leanna Renee Heiber: Here’s where I mix real history with fancy. Athens Academy never existed, but Quakers did and still do.
My fictional Athens was built in the mid 1800’s by Quakers in a style more lavish than they would have been comfortable with: a Romanesque style with rich sandstone detailing. They did so to blend in with central London and hide the fact they were a Quaker institution, Quakers being known for their more modest, Spartan structures. A Christian religious group formed in 17th Century England as the Religious Society of Friends, the term “Quaker” comes from the idea of trembling before the Lord. Quakers were known for their progressive values such as their vehement abolitionist, anti-slavery stance and adamant equality for women both in religious practices and in education. They were ardent supporters of education of all kinds, suffrage movements and public services. They were also an often shunned and persecuted minority.
Making the school in a Quaker model is the only remotely historically realistic way for me to posit a co-ed school model that might include young women and educate them in all disciplines (including math, a rare subject for a woman to study). Athens was originally titled RFS Academy (Religious Society of Friends) but the school was closed after only a few years of operation due to religious intolerance and disdain for educating women. However in the 1860’s when Beatrice Tipton, former leader of the former Guard is instructed by the Goddess Persephone to ease the school into the future hands of Rebecca and Alexi, she has the name changed in honour of her legacy and the school reopened to pave the way for Prophecy and transfers some of the power of her beloved Phoenix unto the bricks. Many Quakers were also involved in the Spiritualist movement tied to ghosts and spirit-matters, which ties in nicely with the themes of my series.
Heidenkind: Do the students and faculty of Athens Academy share a common trait that draws them there?
LRH: Many Quaker and other progressive families quietly send their children there as well as families who have exceedingly shy or gifted children of both genders who didn’t do well in other school settings; similar motivation draws many parents to seek private education today. However even in a unique setting, Percy is still the ‘freak’ outsider and that was a dynamic I needed to maintain for her growth and context.
Heidenkind: Does Persephone (the goddess) still exist?
LRH: The Goddess as she once was is no more. The pure energy of her essence is eternal, however her form and specificity as an entity is now diluted. Her power (and one or two scattered memories) lives on in the body of Miss Persephone Parker, her legacy of choice and sacrifice. This power may yet pass on, it remains to be seen and I’m not about to say.
Heidenkind: What will happen to the Whisper-World when Persephone doesn't come back?
LRH: The end of Darkly Luminous sees a shift in the power balance. In the great liberty I take with this canonical story, I posit that she was never meant to be stolen away, that Darkness had no right, thusly the balance was always skewed. The Whisper-world as such will remain a restless purgatory, a bit in stasis. But as the world changes at the turn of the 20th century, so does the Whisper-world. A world at war effects everyone and everything across all spiritual planes.
Heidenkind: Darkness mentions that he and Persephone are just pawns. Are we going to get a chance to see the major players at some point?
LRH: At this point I can’t imagine dealing with the wider canon of Greek Gods, or tackling any sort of monotheistic notions as characters. I didn’t want to create any of my characters as omnipotent, so I relegate all of them to a bit of the ‘divine mystery’ that I don’t feel I can show at its highest levels. I do want the Strangely Beautiful saga to remain at its heart an ongoing tale of mortals dealing with choices, fate, free-will and phenomena as best they can.
Heidenkind: If you only have sex with a god/goddess, does that make you a virgin?
LRH: *grin* Beatrice Tipton, when she tells Percy about the Goddess “making Alexi a man” at age 16, Beatrice doesn’t exactly understand the dynamic that was established between the Goddess and Alexi as a youth – a dynamic he himself doesn’t remember beyond a vague sense. You’ll just have to decide for yourself what you think in Strangely Beautiful #3, the prequel. *tease, tease*
Heidenkind: Will your next book be the start of a new series?
LRH: My next release is “A Christmas Carroll” (Strangely Beautiful #2.5), a novella starring Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Michael Carroll, to be included in Dorchester’s Fantasy holiday anthology A MIDWINTER FANTASY (October 2010). And after that, it’s Strangely Beautiful #3 – a prequel that will likely release sometime around March 2011, then Strangely Beautiful #4 continues on with the Rychman familial legacy, with all our familiar cast of characters, to the broach of World War I. Separately from the Strangely Beautiful saga I have written the first in a YA Historical Dark Fantasy / Paranormal series that my agent is currently shopping around.
Heidenkind: What is your ultimate goal when you're writing a novel?
LRH: Having readers care enough about the characters and the world I’ve built to ask questions like these. So thank you for doing me that honour. There is no greater thrill for me than when readers champion and care for my characters.
Heidenkind: What's your favorite thing about the Victorian era?
LRH: The stoic struggle. The repression that makes a mere kiss on the hand cataclysmically sensual becomes a delicious writing tool. But to answer this question truthfully, my Victorian fascination is infinitely more complex than mere romanticism.
It was a charged time of beauty and sophistication coupled with desolation, hypocrisy and poverty. The world was changing and remade before their eyes – everything was in question, God, science, morality, world domination, gender roles, the industrial revolution, the stirrings of social justice and awakening sensibilities. So much of the society was on some level at war with itself and yet doing so with grace, beauty, and veiled terror. I’m fascinated by this Jekyll and Hyde society; preened exterior, seething underbelly. This rich, aching struggle comes out startlingly clear in the literature of the time, which I credit for making me fall in love with the era in my pre-teen years.
The Victorians were also ardent spiritualists and neo-classicists, and so Strangely Beautiful’s fantastical threads of ghosts and Greek Mythology come plucked directly from the Victorian psyche itself.
Heidenkind: Do you have a favorite work of art?
LRH: Oh, do I! My love-affair with the 19th century is also a love-affair with its art, and so I’m thrilled by this topic because it’s inextricably tied to my work.
Pardon the list but I absolutely cannot pick just one! (Dad’s an art teacher, my fondest childhood memories are of poring over art books with him and discussing the contents) I geek-out rhapsodic over art, and this blog seems quite the place to do so, seeing I am in the presence of an Art Historian. Huzzah!
Favourite artistic movement: The Pre-Raphaelites and those who circled near their orbit. I’m particularly obsessed with Rosetti, Waterhouse, Millais and Moreau.
2nd Favourite artistic movement: The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) Group of German expressionists, particularly Franz Marc.
Favourite ‘stand alone’ artists: Edvard Munch, George Seurat (love your header, Tasha) and John Singer Sargent.
Favourite piece to be in a room with: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte – when visiting this piece in Chicago I just move closer then step back, repeating numerous times until satiated. I never cease to be amazed by Seurat’s patient talent and visionary mind as the pointillist abstraction becomes a lushly realized scene replete with bustles and parasols *sigh* (I also love the musical “Sunday in the Park with George”).
Favourite sculptor: Camille Claudel, Rodin’s lover and collaborator. Her “Waltz” / “La Valse” is a piece Percy (and I) want on our mantel.
Heidenkind: If you were going to rewrite a "zombified" version of a classic novel, which one would it be?
LRH: The Castle of Otronto (regarded as one of the first Gothic novels). Also I suppose a Les Miserables de Zombie might have its intrigue. *shudder*
Thank you so much for the great interview, Leanna! And congratulations on turning Strangely Beautiful into a musical!