Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Upon the Occasion of my Joining the Historical Novel Society: The Musings of a Reincarnate Victorian


Photo by C. Johnstone
Hello, dear reader,

If you know me and my work, some of this musing will be familiar to you and I invite you to pull up your usual chair. If you are new to my work, I welcome you into my parlor and please do avail yourself to a cup of hot tea.  As we count down to the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland, OR this June, I’m pleased to take part in an event celebrating HNS, and discussing why I joined.

Sometimes a writer finds a genre and sometimes it finds you. For me, writing historical fiction was a habit since the age of 12, when I began my first novel, set in 1888 and I never looked forward... While that particular labor of love thankfully never saw the light of day, as childhood manuscripts give way to higher education and better craft, my love of the 1800s only burrowed deeper in my soul. My inexplicable draw to the Victorian era could only be likened to the inescapable pull of a past life. Nothing else quite makes sense.

I did not romanticize the era, though I thought of it as a distant home. Devouring countless novels written by 19th century authors, I understood the difficult plight of women as second-class citizens, how it was impossible for nearly any marginalized group to have their voices heard or needs met. Through a sense of pain and stalwart determination, I felt I knew the era deeply, its dress, its spirit, its language and the ways of its sooty cities, even though I grew up in rural Ohio. The complex, maddening, gritty, grand, unjust, innovative, brutal, beautiful, awe-inspiring, devastating 19th century sounded in me like an old familiar tune, and what can one hope to do but put that haunting melody onto paper?

I could not begin my stories, however, without one key element. The paranormal. What was my dear Victoriana without a good ghost story or freakish twist? In my mind those elements had always been entwined. With my sense of the 19th century came the surety that it was unrepentantly haunted. Credit Dickens, Henry James, Poe, the Brontes and Mary Shelley, as well as my own understanding of the era’s preoccupations.

The 19th century was a time of great loss. Death was all too common by countless diseases that medicine tried and failed to cure. While the industrial revolution changed everything at a breakneck pace, medicine was trying desperately to keep up. An expansive, holistic death culture and obsession with contacting the deceased was a part of everyday life. With a finger on a Victorian pulse, their obsessions became mine and I entwined elements of the paranormal and the fantastical with all my tales. I write in a realistic 19th century world in which paranormal things happen. History is at the core, and is the precedent and the foundation.

I went to school for theatre with a focus study in the Victorian era, received a scholarship to travel to London for research, trained and performed extensively in classical theatre around the country, publishing small pieces, all while researching, developing and revising what would become my debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. My debut at its sequel is now reissued as Strangely Beautiful from Tor Books, with its prequel releasing this June, Perilous Prophecy, right during the HNS conference!

When first drafting, I didn’t consider that I’d crossed-genres, I wasn’t aware that when published one could ascribe any number of genre tags to the bulk of my work; Historical, Fantasy, Romance, Young/New Adult, Suspense/Thriller and most of all Gothic. I wasn’t aware that in jumping shelves for my next series, to YA and then to SciFi/Fantasy, that it would mean starting over a bit each time, even though my trajectory as a Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy author has remained the same. While it may be hard for audiences to keep finding me, I am blessed when they do. I have some of the most earnest, interesting and creative readers any author could ask for. It is places like HNS that help audiences find their authors, and I’m so very, very grateful that they include those of us who don’t write strict Historical-only work in their ranks. HNS has created a safe space for all the ways in which writers encompass a love of history. History is the core, all else follows.

I join writers’ organizations to commune with other like minds.  I’d long meant to join the Historical Novel Society, and when my dear friend Elizabeth K. Mahon (Author of ScandalousWomen and HNS Board member) reminded me that not only had my novels been reviewed favorably by the HNS magazine, but that the organization is filled with my kind of people, I couldn’t delay further. Portland will be my first HNS conference and I dearly look forward to seeing old friends and new there.

I know my sense of ‘belonging’ to a specific era will be shared by countless other writers, who belong to any number of other eras; a club of old souls making their way in a modern world. It is a strange and straining sense, to belong to more than one century. It is a wistfulness that at times can be almost painful. Other writers drawn to be a cipher of a distinct time in history will understand that old, beautiful ache. I look forward to reminiscing with you, through the power of our old souls writing modern fiction. We need community to build broader audiences, through each other and what we’ve felt called to write. I'm grateful HNS is one.

For those attending, I hope I see you at my panels on Friday and also, look for me at a table filled with shiny, pretty, neo-Victorian things like you'll see on my Etsy! One of my other passions and jobs is as a creator and curator of Gothic, Steampunk and Victorian-styled jewelry, as well as author-themed brooches, pins and necklaces. Stop by and procure a one of a kind treasure! I also hope I'll see you all at the book signing to celebrate our love of books. I can't wait to connect with kindred spirits.

Keep channeling your centuries, friends, and I hope you'll enjoy mine.

Leanna Renee
Latest novel: Eterna & Omega
(Think X-files meets Penny Dreadful)
Second in the Eterna Files series of Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy with Tor Books.


Upcoming novel: Perilous Prophecy.
A mythic, Gothic Gaslamp Fantasy set in 1860s Cairo and London, featuring an inter-faith cast of young mortals drawn into an immortal's plot of love and war between the living and dead. A Strangely Beautiful prequel. Signed pre-orders via WORD Brooklyn.
Most known for: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, (think Harry Potter meets Jane Eyre) an eerie, sweeping, ghostly, Gothic romance set in 1888 London at the time of Jack the Ripper, featuring a group of unlikely heroes, outcasts and orphans, who must band together to save the mortal world from the onslaught of the spirit world. Originally published in 2009 as separate novels, this new 2016 revised, author preferred edition contains the first two books in the Strangely Beautiful saga.

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