Wednesday, April 26, 2017

You are Cordially Invited to the Wedding of Natalie Stewart and Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury

Hello, Dear Readers.
It was recently brought to my attention that I, tragically, failed to include a wedding scene for dear Miss Natalie Stewart and her dashing Lord Denbury at the end of the Magic Most Foul saga, The Double Life of Incorporate Things. It isn’t that I forgot this particular detail, it’s just that I was introducing, in the end of the novel, Miss Clara Templeton and the threads that would then be picked up in my most recent books, my Eterna Files saga. While my focus was then onto the next adventure, I assure you it was not for any lack of love for these two brave young people. It is also true that the two of them are private people, not ones for show, so pulling back this curtain on them didn’t feel at the time like the right thing to do. Now, they seem more willing.
Thanks to the clever Camille and Layla, who wrote to me on this topic, and included their thoughts and opinions, ideas I have tried my best to incorporate herein. And so, without further ado, I present to you the missing scene from the end of Natalie’s story, and before the events of The Eterna Files. This special extended scene is especially for you, Camille and Layla.

You are Cordially Invited to the Wedding of Natalie Stewart and Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury

The Manhattan morning was bright and clear, so different from the grey days of the recent horrors Natalie Stewart and her fiancĂ© had endured. The weather was a good sign, Natalie thought, staring out past the long oval mirror she stood before, gazing at the window sill of the church’s bridal suite where a little flurry of motion drew her eye.
A song sparrow had alit, ducking under the pane of golden stained glass that had been opened at an angle to allow a bit of air through on this fine day. It trilled at Natalie, puffing out speckled brown and beige feathers, and Natalie could not help but gasp slightly at this small, beautiful visitor, beaming the creature a smile. A second auspicious omen.
She wanted to reach out her hand, to see if this magical little being would deign to take to her finger, but she refrained. While the action would have heralded fairytales of old, such an encounter would be unnatural, and Natalie had experienced plenty of the unnatural in her past many months and returning to nature’s order was her greatest hope. The bird continued singing, Natalie it's patient audience, until it heard other chirping responses from winged compatriots and it turned to fly away.  The little creature vanished into the flowering bushes outside Immanuel Lutheran Church, on the east side of Manhattan; the sacred space where Natalie had grown up, searching for the long lost bond of her mother, and frequenting any place her spirit may live on. Life was full of fragile little birds, souls flitting in and out again.
“All ready, dear?” came a gentle British accent from the other side of the door. “The guests are all assembled. It’s time, love.”
“Yes…” Natalie turned to the door, calling. “Come in here a moment, Lavinia, if you would?”
The door opened and a red-headed girl, eyes wide and glistening with excitement, swept in, closing it behind her from any prying eyes. Natalie's dear friend, her only remaining peer, had dressed in all purple, an elegant but simple gown in head to toe satin, purple being the only color she might ever be seen in outside of her Gothic black, so it was for the best that this was Natalie’s favorite color, grateful that her theatrical counterpart was so willing to take a secondary role today.
“Darling you look stunning! How may I be of service?”
“Just take a moment with me please?” Natalie didn’t realize how nervous she was until she heard her own faltering voice.
“Of course, oh, and you’ve not affixed your veil yet, dear,” Lavinia cooed.
                They looked into the mirror together, drinking in the image of Natalie in a beautiful ivory lace gown, with that beloved rich purple of hers, accented in ribbon trim along graceful lines, the ribbons gathering in bunches, attached with silvery thread and weaving into floral patterns among small seed-pearls, little bouquets around the bodice line, The deep, royal purple swaths then trailed down the back of the gown, gathering in a high bustle fashioned into a beautiful bouquet of purple satin roses, tumbling down to a graceful train.
                Her dark auburn hair was up in a bun that Lavinia had woven into looping braids at the beginning of the morning, pulling down a few loose strands to frame her face. “You must be winsome, my dear,” her friend had said while putting in pins, “while you’re a sensible, forthright woman, you’re not severe, we can’t have everything pinned back like a schoolmarm. Let's see some of that passion of yours.” The women had laughed and embraced, these sweet moments all the sweeter for the hardships they had so recently endured. Standing side by side at the brink of death, surrounded by death, witnessing it, and being helped from the other side, it made them comrades in arms, sisters in the gravest of battles. Every relationship around them was stronger for their holding onto life and hope, treasuring chosen family as more precious than any sum of money.  
                Lavinia now tended to those winsome locks around her friend’s face. “Your green eyes are  otherworldly in this light,” she said. “A match to Jonathon's piercing gaze. You are the picture of a lady, worthy of her lord; the beautiful Cinderella marrying her Prince,” Lavinia stated. “And now the crown.” She reached into the box filled with violet-scented tissue paper, withdrawing an ivory tulle veil with a pearl-studded tiara whose comb would nestle into the braids Lavinia had earlier affixed. She set the veil in place and folded it over her friend, kissing her cheek on the other side the transparent layer.
                “Thank you,” Natalie managed in a murmur, a flutter of nerves getting the better of her. “I am so grateful for your help. For you. For being here.”
                “Evelyn Northe would have been in here with us,” Lavinia added, “mother-hen to us all, but I think she’s been too busy looking after Jonathon, and your father, tending to their spirits.”
                “She is our guide, our Northe star indeed,” Natalie said. “Our motley and unexpected family is grand, is it not?”
“Oh, how it is! And while I am jealous, of course, as my Nathaniel hasn’t the slightest idea of proposing,” Lavinia scowled. “You mustn’t ever mind me, this is your day.”
Natalie laughed. “He’ll come around, just you wait. And if he doesn’t, why, you’ve all of New York City to explore.”
“Indeed!” Lavinia exclaimed. “Come, we mustn’t keep the guests waiting.” The redhead bent to place the dainty satin slippers before her friend, as Natalie lifted up the voluminous layers of her gown. “Step in, my princess.”
Her shoes, accented in the same colors, came to a graceful point, but the slippers were comfortable, as she didn’t want to go tumbling down a church aisle. While Natalie appreciated finery, sensibility was always first. Her corset beneath her layers was likely laced too tight for sense, but that was also likely her nerves pressing against the whalebone. Her figure was shapely and that’s all she could ask for. She let herself take a good look, and a deep breath.
She did look every bit the princess, in a gown far fancier than she could have ever afforded without Evelyn’s help, benefactor and fairy godmother incarnate. The same fine tailor that had done up her purple evening gown when she first met Nathaniel Veil outdid themselves on this masterpiece. 
“Well, here goes…” Natalie murmured, hoping her voice would remain with her. Lavinia escorted her to the foyer that had been emptied of guests in preparation for the procession.
The wide wooden church doors closed, Lavinia deposited Natalie with her father and went to join Nathaniel through the side aisle, moving quietly and away from view.
“My girl, you are the picture of loveliness,” her father said, dressed in his finest black suit with a white cravat, tears in his eyes. Missing her mother went unspoken, she took up such a huge part of their hearts that needed no explanation.
Jonathan and she had agreed to keep the event small, private, intimate. Neither of them was much for show, they had proven to one another that they existed for meaning. When the doors were opened for her by an elder of the church, an elderly German smiling at her and murmuring how proud Helen Stewart would be, may she rest in peace, Natalie held onto her father’s hand as he held out his arm for her, steadying their mutual nerves on one another. Both were the introverted sort, this kind of display made Natalie queasy. But it was for Jonathon. For him, for his love, she would suffer a thousand discomforts to prove her heart.
They’d forgone a large procession, they didn’t have the family to fulfill the roles nor the desire for the spectacle. Their wedding party, one beloved friend each, a fellow couple who had stood with them at death's door. Lavinia and her partner Nathaniel would step up to support them at the altar.
When asked what music she’d like, Natalie had thought only of her mother, and what she would have wanted to hear. Much like Jonathon, Natalie loved all music, no matter the genre, but her mother had loved Bach most of all, and her father had raised her with a sensibility that made the composer quite sacred. So once Natalie was in view, the first notes of a sweet and simple Bach cantata, on violin and piano, made Natalie feel like she could float forward to her love.  
Jonathon Whitby, Lord Denbury, stepped into view as the music started, the small audience stood and Natalie felt faint at the look of him. The slight mist of her veil could not filter out his supreme, exquisite beauty. His ice-blue eyes stole her breath as they always did; in an ever-changing world, that was one constant.
His beautiful mop of black hair, as wild as it ever was, a visual representation of his passionate heart, was kempt enough to be tucked behind his ears, and it made Natalie’s fingers itch to run through it and muss it all up in a ravenous kiss.
His frock coat was nearly black, the fabric was rich, with an iridescent quality and as a shaft of light came through, it carried an undertone of purple in an elegant glow. Natalie felt quite sure Evelyn Northe must have advised him as to the accents, for the deep plum cravat he wore exactly matched the accents on her dress. What a good mother she’d been to them, helping this all come together.
That, or perhaps Jonathon had snuck a peek of the dress when it had arrived at Evelyn’s house, courtesy of her favorite tailor. That would be like him, trying to get everything right, trying to make sure all her details were attended to. Looking at him, she fell in love with him all over again, a sickening, wonderful, beautiful tumble all the way down the aisle as she moved slowly, her father beaming at her side.
Reverend Blessing, in his finest church robes sporting embroidered doves, his deep brown skin a contrast to his huge white-toothed smile, offered the kind of expression that was so full of love and grace Natalie could see the holy spirit shining through as if it were a lamp within him. The holiest and best of clergymen she knew, a man who had saved their lives and believed them when only Evelyn Northe did, was an Episcopal priest and not Lutheran, but the church didn’t mind, and the denominations were in full communion. The two would have had no other man marry them than Blessing, who had prayed with them in their direst need.    
When she reached the altar, nodding her head to the Reverend, her hands leapt out in front of her, reaching for Jonathon, and his hands met hers, both of them warm and trembling with excitement and nerves. Gingerly he lifted the veil and let it fall behind the pearl crown, murmuring breathlessly how beautiful she was. Natalie bit her lip and blushed. He would, she knew, always have that effect, and she rejoiced in it. Her happiness in that moment managed just slightly to edge out her nerves.  
Neither of them were souls of the stage, that was their friends, Nathaniel and Lavinia, who stood as sentries on either side as their wedding party. Nathaniel had thankfully not upstaged the groom and was dressed in the simplest black frock coat she’d ever seen him in. However he was already crying, the dear, over-dramatic soul.
When the vows began, Natalie had to take deep breaths, her history of Selective Mutism would forever haunt her, making language in times of pressure difficult, but looking at Jonathon, the whole reason she’d been able to speak again, the words flowed. They were words, after all, for him, and her undying love.
"I do" went by in a haze. All was said, agreed to, promised, and finally when Jonathon moved in to kiss her and there was a polite applause, she felt all the fear and tension she’d kept held within her since the beginning of the terrors that followed them fall away.
When they turned to the joyous crowd, Natalie first looked at her father, then Evelyn. Beautiful and elegant Evelyn in a champagne silk gown, the picture of ageless grace and the woman who had become more to both Jonathon and her than either of them could quantify, mother and mentor, guardian and guide, her heart swelled. But then joy tumbled again a moment, like that little sparrow from the window sill if it flew into a harsh wind. She ached as she thought who else should be standing there. 
  Maggie should have been there too. Lost, misguided, brave, redeemed, recently departed Maggie. Natalie's sensibilities were flooded with a flush of guilt and sadness, over how all of it had ended. But as if to reassure her, the ghost of a young woman, radiant in transparent white, wafted through the wall of the church, floating below a stained glass window of martyred saints. Maggie. She had come after all.
Maggie's spirit blew a kiss towards Natalie, and Jonathon, shook her head as if saying not to worry, and floated to the back of the chapel, where Natalie noticed other ghosts, in a flash of light, now appeared like angels, a floating, luminous host.
Her mother.  
Lady Denbury.
Natalie squeezed Jonathon’s hand harder. He turned to look, gasped at the sight of the attended mothers and instinctively wrapped his arm around the waist of his newly pronounced wife.
Lord Denbury led the new Lady Denbury down the aisle and out to the front of the church, where there was rice and embraces, flower petals, cheers and congratulations. And of course they were bid kiss, again. And they kissed when they weren’t bid. No one stopped them. They were finally free to be as openly in love as they’d been nearly from the moment they met, when the impossible became possible and two souls collided against one another in a burst of color and light.
To the dazed glee of love, they lost themselves, and Natalie found that everything was aglow, a happy sense of floating, at last, with no weary cares. As if she were as feather-light as the ghosts around them that had served not as haunts but guardian angels.
She didn’t and wouldn’t let go of Jonathon’s hand and thankfully no one asked her to. He certainly didn’t let go, in fact, his arm was around her waist as often as it could be, fingertips brushing and grazing and wandering to the bare skin of her cheek, her neck, up her arm, causing delightful shudders amidst the hazy glow of feeling like everything was, at last, well. Solved. Settled. And would be, happily ever after and all that.
For all Natalie felt like she’d lived through an Edgar Allan Poe tale, now she was living the end of a magical, sweeping love story, a romance like she could never have dreamed, a love she thought never could have been found, and for this change of genre, from horror to happiness. If one were to tell her story, she thought, let it be this, and nothing more. 

(The end)
(BUT these characters live on into the future, in other works…)
             Please note, dear readers:  For those who love these characters, they do appear as co-stars and in many cameo appearances in my Eterna Files series, a dark, gritty, X-Files sort of tale that takes place two years after the events of Magic Most Foul 
To answer another question, there is a child of this marriage, Evelyn Helen Whitby, and yes I will be writing about her in books to come, in the future. As all my worlds are parallel worlds, thankfully I don’t have to let go of any of these dear souls, who so have their hooks in me.
Please come visit me in the Eterna Files and Strangely Beautiful worlds, where familiar faces collide and the dark allure of the ghostly, Victorian Gothic still reigns supreme.
Cheers, blessings and happy haunting!

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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