Hello fellow Ohioans! I was born north of Cincinnati, attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduated with a BFA in theatre with a focus in the Victorian era and interned with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival to kick off my classical stage career for many years until I landed in New York City and had to decide between pursuing the stage or the page. I was at a Broadway callback and all I could think about was my book, so I chose the page. I write Gothic, dramatic, Gaslamp Fantasy novels set in 1880s, some set in New York like my Magic Most Foul and my Eterna Files sagas and the Strangely Beautiful saga is set in London at the time of Jack the Ripper. I write for Tor Books and am represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency. I love nothing more than a good ghost story and writing a rollicking Gothic tale with strong female characters at the fore.
In terms of writing rituals, I have a few necessities: caffeine (tea, coffee, Red Bull, of the caffeine variety I’m not very picky), a moderately comfortable seat and background noise that is at a dull roar without lyrics. I can’t listen to music lyrics and write, so for both period flair and general love of the genre, I require classical music. Gentle lighting is also preferred. With candles? Even better, as I’m a historical fantasy author writing about the Gaslamp era London and New York. But I can’t always control my environment. I work many, diverse, interesting freelance jobs and if I waited for the perfect moment, I’d never meet my deadlines. So I make do in many spaces, but I try to at least find atmospheric ones.
The most important writing ritual I have is simply to make time for it as often as humanly possible. Word count goals are key. In the early days of a draft, I make those word count goals very manageable, 500 words. As deadlines near, those word count goals increase. Considering I have 2 full length books to complete, 2 more to edit, 2 short stories and book promotion to do, all while juggling my 5 freelance jobs, I’m up to needing to do at least 2 thousand words per day to stay on top of things. This won’t always be possible due to life and exhaustion, so on days when I have “open” that word count will have to go up to 5 or 6 thousand words. I am a professional writer and writing is my job, so having those deadlines and knowing there are some checks attached to those dates does help me keep my focus on the tasks at hand. Trying to use “in between times” too is key. I write sentences on my phone and email them to myself that I later insert into the working manuscript document. Those sentences add up, the ideas collect into a storyline. There is no perfect moment, there is no word count too little. Most of what you draft will (and should) be edited, so don’t worry about perfect just get a draft onto the page. Get your ideas across, your setting, plot and dialogue, and polish later.
I don’t outline beyond a general few paragraphs about what the book is, who it focuses on and the general trajectory. I’m a pantser, and I write out of order, starting with the scenes that grab and inspire me the most and work out from there, often in non-linear order. When I teach writing workshops or give motivational speeches for writers groups, I always give people permission to think and create non-linear; don’t feel like you have to write chronologically. If a scene appears to you from later in the book, write that while you’re inspired, you can fill in the transitions after. Just try to be as meticulous as possible about making scenes stitched together into a seamless document.
For any aspiring writer, I suggest externalizing your deadline and attach it to something specific. Before I was contracted and had publisher deadlines set for me, I managed to get the first draft of my debut novel finished because I wanted to give the draft as a present to my writing mentor at the time. This helped me finish the book. Now, the fact that it is my job does that job. And I wouldn’t trade this job for the world, no matter how difficult it can be. The greatest writing ritual I have every day is waking up and going to sleep knowing that I am, above all other identities; a writer.
About Leanna’s upcoming book release, STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL, releasing from Tor Books 4/26
Originally published as two books, Strangely Beautiful unites Leanna Renee Hieber’s critically acclaimed novels in a single revised volume, restoring the author’s original vision for the work. Miss Percy Parker is different, with her lustrous, snow-white hair, pearlescent pale skin, and uncanny ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Seeking to continue her education, Percy has come to Queen Victoria’s London, to the Athens Academy. What she will learn there will change her life forever. Athens Academy is the citadel of The Guard, an ancient order that battles the forces of evil. The Victorian Guard, led by professor Alexi Rychman, is incomplete. They cannot defeat Jack the Ripper— who is more than the serial killer he appears to be—or the greater monster his appearance heralds. Percy’s lifelong habit of concealment combined with Alexi’s fevered search for the Guard’s missing seventh nearly prove disastrous as ancient Greek myths begin playing out in gaslit Victorian London. Percy and her new friends and allies must overcome their preconceptions about each other and their own histories before they can set the world to rights.
Ohioans! On 4/26 at 7pm, I’ll be doing a massive STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL launch party at Barnes & Noble West Chester (The Streets of West Chester, northern Cincinnati area off I-75, Union Center exit), come join us for a reading, signing, refreshments and book discussions! Cheers!
Leanna Renee Hieber