Leanna Renee Hieber: Five Things I Learned (And Re-Learned!) Writing The Eterna Solution
The exciting conclusion to a sumptuous Gaslamp Fantasy series!
Leanna Renee Hieber brings Victorian London and New York to life and fills both cities with ghosts and monsters. Two groups of paranormally talented investigators discover that the Eterna compound—thought to be the key to immortality—is, instead, a powerful protective charm. That protection is sorely needed, for both England and the U.S. are under attack by dark forces. Having vanquished the demonic pretender to the British throne, the now-united forces of the Eterna Commission and the Omega Department reach America ready to take on a new menace. But like the United States itself, this evil is rapidly spreading from sea to shining sea. Will the new magic our heroes have discovered be strong enough to defeat it? With its blend of Victorian details, complex plots, and compelling characters, Hieber’s fascinating historical fantasy continues to earn critical acclaim. The Eterna Files series: The Eterna Files, Eterna and Omega, The Eterna Solution
WALKING THE HIGH WIRE:
I’m a Gothic novelist writing Gaslamp Fantasy books that feature inclusive stories starring some kick-ass lady psychics backed by a quirky cast of dynamic characters of all stripes that examine the 19th century preoccupations with ghosts, Spiritualism and Mysticism. I nod to the Gothic with winks and homage, while trying to offer my characters more agency than they often had in original Gothics where women were solely victims or plot devices. I throw in lots of drama, action, adventure, wild theatrically, but at the end of the day I want my books to be about heart and soul. My style isn’t for everyone, but for those who give it a chance, I’m told it’s fun to give yourself over to a bit of reckless Gothic abandon :). The balance of High Drama bordering on melodrama is such a hard tight-rope, and so one of the things I’m constantly learning every single book is how to make the unbelievable and even absurd, ‘realistic’ or probable. For me the key is always atmosphere and character, setting the right visual and narrative tone while staying true to the people I place on the stage. This being the third book in the series, that ‘set-up’ was less difficult as it was established but the key then was meaningfully sustaining it. I made a world where I had already pushed the paranormal envelope, as I always do, and that’s consistent, as all my worlds between series are parallel. Maintaining consistency won’t bring the reader out of the narrative, even if it’s ‘improbable’. For me, looking at the 19th century, science and pseudo-science were hand in hand, allowing for a lot of wide, fantastical room. I stayed focused on localized magic rather than opening up all of magic, that helped keep the scope honed and site-specific.
DON’T GET TOO STUCK IN YOUR HEAD
So, I’m a certified pantser. Working with my ever-patient editor to pull towards a few more plotter skills. In turn, I work with complex plots, and large casts of characters. My drafting process entails a lot of herding cats.
The draft of this book was far too stuck in my head and in my characters’ heads. It was too cerebral, psychic and emotional and goodness was the action lacking. It had none of the big, epic theatrically of the end of the second book that I had to at least meet if not top in this book. It’s important to take a step back to track the action and intent (and good critique partners can help with this) and make sure that the emotional journey doesn’t meander. Check in constantly with the main characters so that if they’re in a reactive state, they don’t stay there, get them back to proactive. Action can’t happen without intent, consideration and psychological process, but I was too deep in the fog of thought, internal narration and emotional streams of consciousness to make for the dynamic, atmospheric and adventurous narrative that I want to be writing.
THE SUBCONSCIOUS MIND IS FRIGHTENINGLY AMAZING
So due to a confluence of forces, I had to turn around a pretty brutal edit of this book in a very short time frame. I re-wrote the last third of the book in shorter order than I would ever recommend to anyone. But when I would hit a wall, via exhaustion or ‘I just don’t know how I’m going to fix this’, I decided to take a power daydream nap, and give my brain a problem to chew on. Progress wasn’t happening quickly or effectively when I was just staring at a screen but sometimes in that liminal awake-asleep space, breakthroughs can happen. It was almost scary, how the subconscious can problem solve, but I was a bit refreshed from closing my eyes, and I generally had a new idea, provided I was specific about what I have my mind to chew on and observe in the mind’s eye.
TRUST IN YOUR CHARACTERS
I learn and re-learn this every time. While my bond with my characters admittedly gets me a bit stuck in their heads, when I force them back into action, they surprise and delight me every time. If you’ve forged a strong bond with your characters and really enjoy letting them fully live in your head and heart, when you’re calling on the “Muse” for help with the next scene, your characters serve that Muse role and can start answering the questions your draft is positing. When stuck, interrogate them. If they don’t know the answers, then their motivations are probably not strong enough. I’ve had to re-examine that one a whole lot. I really love my characters and sometimes that means I can be too soft on them. That’s why I went ahead and chopped off my heroine’s ear in this book. (Spoiler). She’s super mad at me still. But the scene is far more intense and effective. Trust in your characters but also push them.
THOMAS EDISON WAS AN A-HOLE
I mean, I knew that already but I sure re-learned it during this book. Whatever visionary tendencies he wielded was eclipsed by how much work he stole (especially from folks of color, immigrants, anyone less ruthless in business), stunts he pulled and patents he gobbled up. Greedy, among other unsavory qualities. (Go team Tesla, and AC won in the end anyway).
TOO MUCH INTERESTING 1880s STUFF FOR JUST ONE YEAR
I took more liberties in this book with time-stamps. The factual timeline is a bit off concerning a few statues and technological innovations. I am of course writing Historical Fantasy and so bending reality and presenting anachronism is accepted but as I am also a licensed New York City tour guide and a lifelong student of the era, I try my best to present a realistic 19th century New York in which Paranormal things happen to my diverse teams of operatives. In The Eterna Solution, it is thematically important to present the state of “Lady Liberty” , so I included a part of her elaborate history. The arm of the Statue of Liberty stood in Madison Square Park for some time before enough money was raised (finally compiled by small amounts raised by hard-working, average, immigrant New Yorkers) to place her on the pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt and set her out on Bedloe’s Island. My book takes place in 1882, when Liberty’s arm was not yet there, she was being trial-assembled at this point before being shipped from France. But the arm in the park is a beautifully surreal image and her Torch was a small observation deck for a time. I also include a presentation of very early film, but Edison’s “Kinetoscope” wouldn’t be presented until 1888. He was, however, as noted above, actively stealing other folks’ ideas. I do include an author’s note in the back explaining these diversions, as I want to be specific about what is and isn’t matched to NYC history in exact years. There is always far more going on in history than any one narrative can contain. I adore all kinds of quirky historical details but as always, it has to serve moving the story and development forward.
Every book, l learn again how to write a book, every book I hit walls and get frustrated and fear I don’t know what I’m doing, every book, I fall in love again with people, with conflict, with unfolding possibility, with ghosts, with magic, and with the idea that I’ll do it all again next time. I hope you’ll join me for this time.
Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright and the award-winning author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with new revised editions from Tor Books now available. Darker Still was named an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick and a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title. Her new Eterna Files saga of Gaslamp Fantasy is now available from Tor Books. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and she is a 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of Fantasy and Romance. Her books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into many languages. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide featured on The Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She crafts unique jewelry on Etsy for Torch and Arrow and she is represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency and is active on Twitter @leannarenee. Resources, free reads and more can be found at http://leannareneehieber.com