Today I speak with Leanna Renee Hieber, actress, playwright and the author of The Spectral City about her work, mummies and monsters, and her short story “The Mummy of Rue de la Croix” from the Spirits Unwrapped anthology out now from Lethe Press.
Daniel Braum: Can you please tell us about your writing and your body of work. Please feel free to include any story links. Is there one story that you feel is a good introduction to readers who might not have yet read your work?
Leanna Renee Hieber: Everything I write centers ghosts and 19th century Spiritualism and the mediums and Sensitives within it, whether legitimate or fraudulent. So my story in Spirits Unwrapped is very on-brand. I love the greyscale area of spirit and skeptic, gifted or grifter, does one ever know? Most of my stories feature friendly ghosts trying to help the living and I’d like to think I’m presenting a different kind of ghost story in my work, one with a lot of heart and literal soul. My latest Spectral City series has captured my heart entirely; a journey I’d love everyone to join me on. The Spectral City, published with Kensington Books, follows a gifted young medium whose legitimate psychic talents has led to the establishment of The Ghost Precinct, a quiet department unveiled in 1899 New York City that works alongside the NYPD, whether they like it or not. Eve Whitby, her talented girl-gang of fellow psychics, her favorite friendly ghosts and one dashing Detective, Jacob Horowitz, make up the “personable cast and snappy prose” and “the diverse, lived-in world” (Publisher’s Weekly) of The Spectral City. Barnes & Noble: http://tinyurl.com/spectralbn IndieBound: http://tinyurl.com/spectralib AudioBook via Tantor: http://tinyurl.com/spectralaud Amazon/Audible: http://tinyurl.com/spectralaz
DB: How does your story “The Mummy of Rue de la Croix” fit with and relate to some of your other stories?
LRH: While no direct characters cross over into this story as they do in nearly all my other work, the themes of 19th century theatricality, stage work, mediumship and unknown phenomena is core to so much of my work. The fact that the “horror” turns out to be an unexpected something leading to camaraderie rather than a terrifying reveal is very much my style. I tend to work with friendly ghosts and ghouls. But that doesn’t mean there’s not startle, shock, suspense and uncanny shivers when engaging with my stories. I hope you can shudder and smile simultaneously.
DB: What aspect of mummy “lore” do you find the most appealing or most revolting?
LRH: I simply find the whole ritual and process of mummification fascinating. Utterly compelling. But here, I wanted to present a genre twist and honor one of my favorite monster stories, The Phantom of the Opera, at the same time. I love genre-blending with consistent call-outs to 19th century Gothic fiction.
DB: Setting plays a big part in your work. How did you decide on and work with the setting in “The Mummy of Rue de la Croix”?
LRH: I do a lot of passionate, irreverent lectures on Gothic fiction for conventions and institutions around the country. One of the elements I most love about Gothic storytelling, in addition to the close psychological focus and a constant feeling of dread, is the idea of ‘setting as character’. In “The Mummy of Rue de la Croix” my characters are informed by and are literally framed by the stage and theatre they work and live in. It is their whole world; their only safe haven. I loved taking you into their shadows as they try to figure out the mystery of their ‘special guest star’ who might just threaten everything.
DB: How does your work in the guide industry inform your fiction? What is the best part about the specialized tours that you direct?
LRH: I’m a very visual and tactile writer. I need to walk the paths my characters walk so I always go to the places I’ve set my work in. The reason why I became a tour guide was to learn more about the city’s history for the purposes of my books, it’s such an entwined calling. I love playing with theme and narrative, and I keep honing those aspects in my tours as I continue to hone my craft in my writing. The best part of my tours is sharing the incredible stories of New York History in a tactile way, standing before great historic structures both grand and mundane, especially when their drama is heightened by ghost stories and uncanny tales. I think the merging of history with the fantastic that craft in every tour is why reviewers call my books “lived-in” and immersive; because I really try to walk you, the reader, through my world in a way I hope you can simply escape into.
DB: Can you tell us about your newest work “A Sanctuary of Spirits”? And what are you working on now?
LRH: A SANCTUARY OF SPIRITS continues the unfolding mystery at the heart of Eve Whitby and her Ghost Precinct’s case; an interconnected horror of missing body parts, ghosts killed a second time, a charismatic magician, an unsettling mortician and a rich, powerful family with insidious secrets. It releases Nov. 12 in digital and paperback. Many reviewers have jumped in on this book without having read book 1, THE SPECTRAL CITY, and found their way just fine, it’s always up to reader preference. I’ve just finished working on the third book in the series, A SUMMONING OF SOULS, releasing next summer! Some of my favorite characters of all time. And as a character-driven novelist, this is particularly meaningful.
DB: Is there one “monster” that intrigues you that you would like to write about?
LRH: Much like I’ve done in an homage to classic works like The Picture of Dorian Gray in my Magic Most Foul saga beginning with Darker Still, I’d like to continue exploring all facets of ghost lore, Gothic themes and classic stories reimagined. I don’t think there’s any monster I wouldn’t like toying with, but ghosts really are my greatest loves and constant haunts so I’m happy floating along with them for as long as they’ll have me. Blessings and Happy Haunting!
LEANNA RENEE HIEBER is an actress, playwright and the author of thirteen Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy novels for adults and teens for Tor and Kensington Books such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, the Magic Most Foul trilogy, the Eterna Files trilogy and The Spectral City series. Her fiction career began with her futuristic paranormal novella Dark Nest, which won the 2009 Prism Award for best novella, given by the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal chapter of RWA. The Spectral City, Leanna’s new ghost-filled series set in 1899 NYC with Kensington Books, has been a bestseller across several genres and platforms. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous notable anthologies and her books have been translated into many languages. She has been a featured guest, guest of honor, panelist, performer and lecturer at countless conventions and writers’ organizations around the country. For more information, as well as writers’ tips and resources, visit http://leannareneehieber.com
DANIEL BRAUM is the author of the short story collections The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales (Cemetery Dance), The Wish Mechanics: Stories of the Strange and Fantastic (Independent Legions 2017) and Yeti Tiger Dragon (Dim Shores 2016). His third collection, Underworld Dreams is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2020. The Serpent’s Shadow, his first novel, was released from Cemetery Dance eBooks in July 2019. He is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology from Lethe Press and the host and founder of the Night Time Logic reading series in New York City which can also be heard on the Ink Heist podcast. He can be found at https://bloodandstardust.wordpress.com, www.facebook.com/DanielBraumFiction, and @danielbraum
SPIRITS UNWRAPPED can be ordered by your favorite local bookseller and also at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and direct from the publisher.