Saturday, May 10, 2008

Interview with new author Leanna Renee Hieber

Got It Goin On is pleased to welcome new author and fellow RWA NYC member Leanna Renee Hieber to the blog. Leanna's first book, the novella Dark Nest has just been released by Crescent Moon Press and has garnered rave revews.

Praise for Dark Nest: "Fabulous read! Once I started, I couldn't stop until I reached the very satisfying end!" - Isabo Kelly,

award-winning author of Marshall's Guard

Chief Counsel Ariadne Corinth has just found out her long-time lover, the powerfully gifted Chief Counsel Kristov Haydn, has died. Newly evolved psychically gifted humans have been sent by the Homeworld on a space mission aboard two distinct “Nests”. Relationships between the Light Nest and the Dark Nest have faltered and Ariadne is sure there’s something insidious behind it. In a matter of hours, Ariadne must find out what really happened to Kristov, unite her people to discover vast new powers the Homeworld denied them, or else submit to genocide.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background and how long have you been writing before you were published.

A: I can’t remember not writing. I grew up in rural Ohio with an overactive imagination. As I mention on my website, I started writing my first book (never to see the light of day, don’t ask) between the ages of 11 and 12. I started actively pursuing publication just after college, where I graduated with a BFA in theatre performance and a minor in the Victorian Era. When opportunities in playwriting and essays presented themselves, I actively pursued them and received my first publication credits. But I’ve always been a novelist at heart. The year after college I started writing the first of my dark fantasy trilogy. Once I had a complete manuscript, which took a couple of years, I started what would prove to be a long process of querying agents.

Q: Tell us about when you got “the call”

The first “call” was from my agent. Due to the nature of my fantasy novel, I felt I needed an agent to help me navigate the publication waters. It took almost four years to land an agent, after a huge and growing stack of rejection letters had been corroding my resolve. But I churned out more queries all the same. Finally I landed Nicholas Roman Lewis, head of a small agency looking to branch into fantasy representation. Nicholas has been a fierce champion of my work and we’ve got some great prospects on the horizon. As for my first book acceptance, that came in the form of an email from Crescent Moon Press, where I’d had previous experience publishing a short ghost story. Both the call from Nicholas and Crescent Moon’s acceptance have been vital validations to keep me going towards my next goal; a New York publishing house.

Q: What made you choose romance?

I always have a romantic through-line in my stories. While I’m not solely a romance author, (if I had to limit myself to a label I’d say I was a fantasy author); all of my ideas begin with love stories and expand to larger worlds from there. My close friendship with Isabo Kelly (multi-published and award winning author), one of my first friends in New York, who I met by a twist of temp-job fate, helped me define how I thought about and pursued various fiction markets; among many things, she told me about RWA and I’ll always thank her for her influence, generously shared knowledge and friendship.

Q: What you do love about writing romance? In particular futuristic and paranormal romance?

Romance is my “ hook” into the heads and hearts of my characters. The surrounding story, however large and high-stakes, seems meaningless without the love. It’s what drives me as a writer and drives my characters. I can’t seem to write about stuff that isn’t ‘weird’, paranormal is my normal. One of my favorite themes is when characters come together in a sense of community and love against backdrops and situations that are far from average. Whether it’s Victorian England, in space, or in ghost-riddled New York, love keeps things human in inhuman circumstances.

Q: Your first release Dark Nest from Crescent Moon Press is a futuristic psychic novella. How did you come up with the idea? Any behind the scenes stories that you’d like to share?

A: This may be my most amusing “inspiration” story since the initial thought process is so utterly far-removed from the end product. After the last Harry Potter, I, a HP fanatic, was sad that other than Severus Snape, no other Slytherin House characters seemed redeemed. I wondered if Slytherins, as a group, were misunderstood (I’m always interested in the misunderstood characters). What if they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be? So my initial thought for Dark Nest, a futuristic, psychic story set on space ships, stemmed from the idea of taking two separate, distinct “Houses” into a situation of my own innovation; i.e. into space, with psychic powers, and on two elaborate ships. Much like how the Hogwarts houses are separate “cultures”, I liked the general idea of playing with a love story crossing a cultural divide between two misunderstood groups that have to unite as a whole against a much larger threat. Once I established the characters and the world, it started to run away with itself and I was just along for the ride and enjoying it immensely.

Q: You also have a blog. Do you think that it will help get your name out there and generate new readers?

A: I sure hope so. A blog is a tool that our modern culture has provided, and I think we need to use whatever tools are available to cultivate a readership. I’m never going to be someone who blogs religiously, but it’s a fun forum, a more interactive platform between writers and readers.

Q: What do you think is the most effective way for a writer to promote his/her books?

A: I’m still learning. I welcome any and all strategies. (Seriously, contact me at my website and tell me your sure-fire methods). I’m trying to be on-line, at conferences, establishing web presences not just at my site but other online forums and yahoo groups, and doing video and written interviews like this, thank you Elizabeth! Since this is my first foray into really trying to “sell” a book, I’d have to get back to you on that one.

Q. What/Who do you like to read?

A: Harry Potter changed my life, it jolted my inner writer into high gear, transitioning me away from theatre and back to my childhood pastime of novel writing. I like to keep track of other YA works stirring up the magic, like Libba Bray’s trilogy. I just finished Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight this weekend, loved it. I read all over the place, and in all kinds of genres, from Jane Austen to Stephen King (two major influences), from graphic novels to romances. I’m also trying to catch up on reading the books written by my friends. There’s also research. Now I’m reading “Spook” by Mary Roach, a book about science and the afterlife.

Q. What is your writing process? Do you plot extensively first or do you tend to “fly in the mist?” Has your process changed over time? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

A: I’m a “pants-er” through and through. I don’t really know exactly where I’m going till I get there. I have sweeping cinematic glimpses that sit me down to type, and the rest of the story is filling in connective tissue between each scene. My process has maintained a similar bent since I was 12, it’s just that I’m so much more diligent about the craft than I ever was before. I try and write straight through and clean up later. If it’s not a ‘movie’ in my head I have a hard time writing it. When I’m really stuck with plot or have hit a wall, I go take a hot shower and ask my characters what to do, or wait until a scene begins to cinematically play out and then I’ll just take dictation. Generally the answer will come in quiet, solitary spaces. If not, I’ll ask writer friends if I’m stuck, and generally the process of discussion leads to a fix.

Q: You have a background in acting. How do you think that has helped your writing process?

Each day I realize more and more how theatrical training helps me write. Character, dialogue, an inner sense of cinematography, instinctual arcs and motivation; you’re trained to pay attention to each of these things in theatre. There’s a bit of translation to be done between theatrical training and a writer’s craft but it translates well if you trust your instincts. But never settle for your own instincts alone. The tricky thing with being a writer is that you have to be the characters and the director at the same time, and that’s hard. Once my characters are solid enough to stand on their own legs, then I can begin directing them. My characters take direction very well, and so do I, which is why I’m proud to say editors enjoy working with me.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

I still think I’m aspiring. I’ll always say tenacity is your most valuable asset. Believe in yourself and your work, but not so much that you think you shouldn’t be edited/improved. You shouldn’t believe everything an industry professional says about your writing, but you should at least think about it. The best fixes for my books have come from editors telling me what was wrong with the book. Even if they didn’t express the problem in a way that I agreed with, it got me thinking enough to fix the problem with alternate solutions. Be flexible. And tenacious.

Q: Do you think that the market has become saturated with paranormal romance or do you think the market is finally opening up to other kinds of stories besides vampires and werewolves?

I don’t think paranormal romance is going anywhere anytime soon, but I think we’re starting to see some shifts. Make way for the psychics and ghosts! Yay! My turn!

Q. There was a recent article called "Harm in reading romance novels," Do you think romance novels harm or empower women?

Depends on the characters and the year the book was released; romance changes as our culture changes. There are a lot of kick-butt, confident and self-assured heroines these days, their empowerment and choices reflecting our complex society, so the ‘harm’ aspect is a bit out-of-touch. I think there’s much more harm in desensitizing to violence rather than reading love stories. If I read a romance novel where women were consistently disrespected, I wouldn’t keep reading that author, and I would give it a vocally bad review. But I can’t recall an example off-hand; I like alpha male heroes that are good team players and aren’t afraid to be beta if the situation calls for it. I stick to the unusual, sensitive but strong heroes, the ones who make a great partner for the female and I don’t find any harm in their love stories at all. The genre has been great for female writers to emerge and grow.

Q: Romance has garnered the biggest market share in genre fiction, yet it gets the least respect in popular and literary culture. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Do you find this prejudice changing?

A: Part of me thinks that the other markets are just jealous they can’t make as much money, but I don’t think that’s the only factor. Sure, some romance novels are poorly written. But I’d say the same of every single genre, literary included. None of us writers should take ourselves too seriously. I’d love to figure out how to create a culture of more respect between the genres; we all know how hard it is to write a good book. Let’s just try and write well and get along. I hope that in our modern culture where writers are more in front of the camera and media than ever before, more alliances and respect will be gained across the board.

Q. What are you planning to work on next?

A: I need to complete the manuscript of the YA proposal my agent is shopping around; a magical time-travel adventure set in Central Park.

Thanks Leanna for stopping by! You can purchase Dark Nest here at Crescent Moon.


Sangu said...

Try reading some sensual stories of love, romance and learn how to kiss passionately. You can read more fairy tale stories of love too.

Leanna said...

Thanks for the interview, Elizabeth! I'm having fun with this new release stuff. :) Plus, I'm thrilled with the new CMP site. Check it out at

Kwana said...

Great interview Elizabeth and Leanna!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Glad that you both liked it, including the person who decided to spam me. Must fix that.