Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling 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. This currently out-of-print series will reissue in revised editions from Tor/Forge in 2015 and is currently being adapted into a musical theatre production. Leanna’s Magic Most Foul saga began with Darker Still, an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick and a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy saga, The Eterna Files, begins early 2015 from Tor/Forge. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance and featured on Tor.com. She is a 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of Fantasy 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 and works in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire and is a ghost tour guide for Boroughs of the Dead, NYC.
I’m thrilled to be here at SF Signal today! I want to take this opportunity to lift up, define, and elaborate why I write Gaslamp Fantasy as I continue my book and blog tour for The Eterna Files, my 7th full-length novel, and first with Tor Books. I’m grateful my Tor editor Melissa Singer has contracted seven upcoming novels with me, all in my tried-and-true Gothic Victorian brand of Gaslamp Fantasy.
Shaded generously under the parasol of Steampunk, Gaslamp Fantasy shares a readership and many common aesthetics but it divides along a core world-building difference.
Steampunk distilled: A Steam-powered (generally 19th Century aesthetic / setting / alternate history with Science Fiction where technological elements are advanced / different than the time period’s actual capacity and function as an underpinning of the world-building and reality of the story. May or may not be alternate history.
Gaslight Fantasy distilled: The same as above but with traditional Fantasy elements involved in the world-building rather than technology/gadgets. Magic and the paranormal powers this world as much as steam or instead of steam. May or may not be alternate history. (My books are not alternate history in that my books take place in a ‘realistic’ Victorian era where paranormal things happen parallel to average society or outside of society’s direct understanding, but the basic tenets of history stand.)
Steampunk/Gaslight is often found in a Western European setting but is NEVER the only option. There are plenty of wonderful examples otherwise. Please visit a site like Beyond Victoriana for amazing genre examples of all kinds, classes, races, gender and gender identities, etc. (NOTE to the Steampunk or Gaslamp Fantasy enthusiast: Take care not to culturally appropriate things from other cultures just because something ‘looks’ or ‘sounds’ cool. Do your research.)
Why I write Gaslamp Fantasy:
While I cut my reading teeth on Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury as much as Madeline L’Engle and Tolkein, I’ve always been a Fantasy creative mind over a Sci-Fi creative mind. My creative process and the themes that have called to me obsessively to the page time and again happen much more truly by magic than science. There is no value judgment on either ‘path diverging in the wood’ and I don’t think there should be. Every genre has it’s own delights and respective Gifts to offer literature.
For my part, being as fascinated with the threshold between life and death, body and spirit, solid and shade, believer and skeptic, magical and mundane as I am, Gaslamp Fantasy holds the keys to kingdoms of gorgeously atmospheric gas-lit streets; a Historical Urban Fantasy landscape where truly anything could happen and will. I feel more free writing Gaslamp Fantasy as the magical and fantastical systems can come directly from a character-based solution, a local and personal magic, rather than being beholden to external physical and material properties. It’s the inner life of Gaslamp Fantasy that compels me.
All my 3 novel series thus far, The Strangely Beautiful (a series which will re-issue with Tor in 2016), Magic Most Foul and the new Eterna Files series from Tor, take place in the same late 19th century universe between New York and London, featuring parallel trajectories and timelines and a host of crossover characters from one series to the next. My readers will see a lot of familiar faces in The Eterna Files and I’m so excited to share this book with you, as I feel all my other work has been leading up to this big-cast, complex, sweeping and yet deeply personal novel. With these series as cross-over and parallel properties, Gaslamp Fantasy has always been the right constraint and voice for my constant search for meaning, purpose, and strangely beautiful communities where the “other” and the disenfranchised are celebrated as heroes.
Because my work could also all be shelved under the simple title of the Gothic Novel, the lyrical and atmospheric qualities that have been the most consistently praised aspects of my work go hand in hand with Gaslamp Fantasy. I feel those same qualities would be at a disconnect with the “tech” angles of Steampunk. I admire and love clockwork mastery and steam-powered ingenuity, but the art of those mechanical seas isn’t my default canvass from which to paint settings and characters.
While The Eterna Files has no dirigibles or robots, I do have an eerie, gritty yet grand Victorian setting where two parallel storylines of a London and New York office of paranormal investigation focusing on immortality weave inevitably closer together, a trajectory that becomes complete in the sequel. In lieu of Science Fiction elements I include the tropes used by Fantasy, Mystery, Horror and of course the Gothic lens.
Please join me for The Eterna Files: you can get a signed, personalized copy and support an amazing, community bookstore in Brooklyn, WORD. Order here: (put any personalization requests in the “Comments” section of the order)
Some General Advice on writing Steampunk or Gaslamp Fantasy:
- Research: Read 19th century novels. Google Books (example: Budge’s 19th Century Travel Guide – Be aware of the Victorian patriarchal white colonial lens) – Period Surveys (example: The King’s Guide to New York 1892) – Period Medical (example: Merck’s Manual and archives) – Period maps – Your Local Library – Less of a rabbit hole than the internet
- Museums – SEE THINGS from the period you’re writing about, helpful terminology. Period architecture for setting/world-building. Helpful site in general: http://victorianlondon.org/
- Writing community: Important to be a part of a community of writers, like minded people, a few critique partners of a similar place in career/trajectory, and a good editorial eye. Published, contracted authors can’t read, critique, etc, due to intellectual property concerns and basic time constraints.
Steampunk / Gaslamp Fantasy sources:
- Anthology overviews: For a great selection of Steampunk shorts: Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk (Volumes 1-3) anthologies – For a great selection of Gaslamp Fantasy shorts: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells
- TOR and Tor.Com – Twitter @TorBooks and @TorDotCom – one of the premier publishers of Steampunk and Gaslamp Fantasy, they’ve helped define the differences between the sub-genres – Tor.com has all kinds of industry commentary, updates, resources, and a constant source of new free fiction
- Beyond Victoriana
- Brass Goggles Forum
- Silver Goggles (Here you’ll find very good and important discussions about colonialism and cultural appropriation)
- Steampunk Magazine
- The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences by Tee and Pip Morris: Fiction, podcasts, shorts, novels, audio, anthologies
- Leanna’s basic resource guide to writing
- The Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America: list of approved publishers is a great list to target – always read submission guidelines!
Thanks SF Signal readership, and, on behalf of my quirky, colorful characters alive and dead, cheers and happy haunting!