Writer Wednesday: Leanna Renee Hieber


Leanna Renee Hieber is the author of the bestselling Strangely Beautiful series, which starts with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and continues with The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. Strangely Beautiful won two Prism Awards in 2010, one for Best Fantasy and the other for Best First Book. Today, her novella, A Christmas Carroll–which is part of the Strangely Beautiful story–released as part of A Midwinter Fantasy, a collection where she appears alongside L. J. Mcdonald and Helen Scott Taylor.

Leanna is also very humble and friendly, so don’t be shy. She will be joining us later this afternoon!


The Care and Feeding of Series Characters

I’m thrilled to be here on Writer Wednesday talking about one of my favourite topics; series books. I get the chance to expand on a topic I first broached on the Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal RWA blog. Here I’ll expand my thoughts a bit and also speak about a few core differences between writing for adult and YA markets, as I write both; the Strangely Beautiful series and the upcoming Magic Most Foul series, both sagas are Victorian Gothic Fantasy with Paranormal, Horror and Romance elements.

MissPercyParkerFantasy authors are no strangers to series books. It’s the core of what most of us do. Readers thrill at the tying up of loose ends. Still, it can be daunting to write the next book in a series, especially if it’s your second book, you’re still getting the hang of writing books, selling them, marketing them, organizing your life as a new author, and suddenly you’ve got reader expectations on you and the series. And especially, if you’re like me; a certifiable non-linear mess of a haphazard process and a “pantser” through and through, you need to check yourself. There seem to be a few core tenets that, when observed, generally keep an author in the clear:

– Give them something new: So your characters may not be new, but their situations will be, and for those picking up the second book without having read the first, character information through action will fill everyone in. The beautiful thing about a series is that you present world-building as you go, revealing it layer by layer like the opening petals of a flower. Both your world-building and your characters should experience this type of enrichment and a slew of ‘new goodies’ offered to the reader. This doesn’t mean re-inventing your own wheel, often it means just staying true to this following tenet:

– No, really, tie up your loose ends: If there’s something that was alluded to or foreshadowed, make good on it. Think about this on an emotional level with your characters in addition to all aspects of your world-building. A lot of times loose ends may involve your secondary characters, try not to leave them hanging. (For example, people were freaking out to me about my secondary characters Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Carroll. I fully intended to address them in the second book and did, and Dorchester has given me the opportunity to present their own novella in A Midwinter Fantasy, releasing October.) Even if its something small, honour all the many seeds you have planted, water them and make them grow. Re-read your own work as many times (and take notes) as you have to in order to make sure you’re following through on your promises. It’s the small loose ends that often get forgotten in favour of the larger loose ends but as a reader yourself, you likely don’t like any kind of loose ends either.

– Stay true to your characters. Make sure your characters read like the same people, only different for having gone through their respective journeys. Character development is one of the most important parts of our work, because in the end, if someone doesn’t like our world-building, they’ll often forgive it if they care about the characters. Characters are the vehicle in which we experience the book. Staying true to your characters may mean making a hard choice. I took a risk in making my hero at times very difficult to deal with in the sequel, and some people let me know they loved it, some that they didn’t, but I maintain that choice is true to his character, and we’ll see that change too as the series progresses. Stay true to your creations, and let them grow and change in the ways that’s right and justified for them to do so.DarklyLuminous

Don’t break your conventions. This is a cardinal rule. Conventions are a covenant you have with the reader. If your magic works a certain way, if a character’s powers have certain strengths and weaknesses, make sure you stay true to the properties as they have been established. Sometimes in a sequel you’ll be revisiting something you’re a little “rusty” on, so just make sure it remains clear and consistent and if it needs to change, that’s fine, but offer a satisfactory reason why it changes if it does so.

Clever revisiting. You’ll need to remind the reader where they are in the series and possibly introduce new readers mid-way through your series. Find fresh ways to re-introduce your world-building. Whether this is through a new character’s point of view, or addressing a change to the ‘status quo’ of your world, shy away from info-dumping but do offer readers a touchstone to your characters, their past and the world in which they operate. Information through action is the best way to discover new or revisit old information.

Have fun. Because it makes your writing better. If you’re not having fun, no one is.

Having finished drafting The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, (Strangely Beautiful #3) earlier this year, which is a prequel, I can assure you all of these things are even more important if you’re writing one of those!

A few differences between adult and YA series characters:

The obvious: age and life experience of the characters. You don’t have to populate your YA world only with teens, but the reason my Strangely Beautiful series ended up as adult rather than YA is that Miss Percy was the only real YA character in a world of very adult situations, so it skewed adult, while it’s still rated PG-13. In order to keep a book/series YA, there does have to be a teen/Young Adult peer group for it to sell to a YA market.

To keep in mind: age range of your readers and how long will you have them? Young readers ‘graduate’ with books, so keep in mind if your characters are high-schoolers, will you have those readers when they, the readers, go to college? Can you sustain that readership going with you? Provided the characters grow and remain compelling, perhaps. We have evidence of this in series books, but the series cannot grow up indefinitely (We don’t watch Harry grow up past his teen years – save for that Deathly Hallows epilogue). Also remember, avid readers skew younger, i.e. a book targeted for 16 year old will be read by likely 12 to 13 and up. But this does not mean talk down to your readers. Just be aware.

Harness the power of the coming of age story. It’s one of the most important aspects of why YA fiction is read by young adults and adults alike; the very relatable journey that is ‘coming of age’. There is a breadth of change and conflict in ‘coming of age’. Change and conflict being the key driving forces of good drama and storytelling in all mediums, tap into this beautifully precarious point of raw power for all your characters, don’t shy away from it. We learn the most about each of our characters as how they each, differently, approach this journey. And we, the readers, always learn something of ourselves too.

Questions? Comments?

I hope you’ll check out the latest in the Strangely Beautiful series, freshly released! “A Christmas Carroll” featured in A Midwinter Fantasy! Please stay tuned for my upcoming MAGIC MOST FOUL series, a Gaslight Gothic Fantasy series set in 1880 New York City with a heroine who suffers from Selective Mutism and a hero trapped in a painting. Supernatural mayhem ensues. (November 2011 from Sourcebooks Fire) You can keep abreast at:



And let the discussion begin! Please jump in! Ask questions, post excerpts for critique, or critique what others may post. The usual rules apply:

  • Keep excerpts brief–between 300-400 words, TOPS.
  • Post critiques and excerpts as separate comments.
  • If you are replying to a comment, use the reply link on the comment that you are replying to. This will cause the comments to appear nestled together and will make discussions easier to follow.
  • For new, unrelated comments, use the comment box at the bottom of the page.
  • Keep it fun!

28 Thoughts to “Writer Wednesday: Leanna Renee Hieber”

  1. Tia Nevitt

    Oh, wow you really jumped right into a lot of my pet peeves. I’d like to add onto “give them something new”. All too often, authors don’t seem to trust themselves. They come up with this one really good villain, but then they don’t seem to think they can come up with another villain that is just as good. When I end up reading about the same villain for book after book after book, as a reader, I just get frustrated.

    Authors, if you can do it once, you can do it again! Give the readers some closure with your villain–let him be vanquished for once and for all–and then move on to another, better villain! You wrote about that guy four books ago; surely you can come up with someone better these days!


  2. Tia Nevitt

    So as to not encourage this to become a pet peeve ranting post, I will post an excerpt.

    In my spy fantasy series, I envision five standalone books with an overarching conflict. I’ve written the first few chapters of the second book, but now I’m holding off pending publication. The second book will include a villain I introduce in Book 1, who will become a major problem in Book 2. He’s a corrupt cop named Detective Meyer:

    Ever since Detective George Meyer became a hero, he had been intolerable.

    “My dear,” he said to me in that patronizing way of his, which always infuriated me, “you can’t possibly talk to a dangerous suspect by yourself. I would hate to think of what would happen to you if left alone with that blackguard.”

    Blackguard! He was the one who was a blackguard. The only reason he was a hero was because I’d persuaded him that he would be in better position if he arrested a notorious spy rather than continue taking bribes from him. Meyer had spent the last two months being feted by the king, lauded by society matrons, and idolized by the press. It had quite gone to his head.

    I liked him better as a corrupt policeman.

    “Mr. Crowley is not a dangerous suspect,” I said. “He’s my fellow operative.”

    He smiled. “Mr. Crowley has committed a crime.”

    “Mr. Crowley has not committed a crime. Mr. Crowley was in pursuit of a suspected Bolshere.” When your officers detained him for no reason, I added silently.

    “That’s yet to be determined.” He smiled at someone beyond me. “Aah, Mr. Gilder. Have I got a story for you.”

    I turned to behold James Gilder, a writer for one of the Aldendel gossip rags.

    “Have you met Miss Lawrence?” Meyer asked.

    I tried to disguise the fury welling up within me. Meyer made no secret of the fact that he was trying to destroy the Starcaster Corps. Any operative who worked in his jurisdiction was subject to arrest for little to no reason. He would only release them to Mr. Felding, which made Mr. Felding very cranky.

    1. Chicory

      I love that last line `which made Mr. Felding very cranky.’ This does a great job of weaving in back story. I’m assuming that Meyer’s antagonism has something to do with events from the first book, but this doesn’t read like a `last time you remember’. The information is nicely interwoven. 🙂

  3. Hi Tia & Leanna 🙂
    Thank you for that wonderful post.
    I copied & pasted it into Notepad as permanent advice to be read & re-read.
    The reasons I’ve drifted away from certain series is that they have forgotten the tenets you’ve posted. A good series that has a great new “villain” in each book, plus an enviable over-arc is Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson books.
    Such a great post.
    All the best,

  4. I’m especially glad to be getting this advice while the second books in my various series are still in the drafting stages!

    1. Really is great advice. I love reading series, but can imagine the challenge for authors in keeping the characters fresh (sounds like they’re laundry!)

  5. Tia, thanks tons for your great points and thanks for posting the fab excerpt to illustrate!

    Rob, great to see you and so glad these are good pointers! Cheers!

  6. This is so crazy, the stars are aligning or something! Ever since I met with SB Sarah when she was in town for the Spring Fling I’ve been meaning to look more into joining RWA, I keep bumping into writer Erica O’Rourke who encouraged me to come to a meeting or two of our local RWA chapter…so today in celebration of winning this year’s NaNoWriMo, I finally took a moment to look into it more, and who knew – the next meeting in December is featuring this author and book! Crazy coincidence that it all happens in the same 24 hours?!? Or good karma telling me to follow through!?!

  7. Ok, it appears I’ll be able to field questions / thoughts as I can from my phone, by 2pm I’ll be at my computer for better facilitation, however if you want to see how I introduce my series characters in my latest release and practice what I preach, please check out my “Christmas Carroll” excerpt on my blog:


    @Drama Mama – fate indeed! Can’t wait to meet you in Chicago!!

  8. Chicory

    This is a really timely post, as I’m playing with a trilogy idea right now. And you addressed one of my pet annoyances when you mentioned tying off loose ends. I love when every book in a series has a sense of satisfaction to its end, even when its a middle book. 🙂

    1. Chicory

      Oops. I missed what Tia said about not letting this turn into a `pet peeves’ post. Sorry. (Rather chagrined.)

  9. Chicory

    This is from an unfinished sequel to a novel that’s currently in my closet for repairs. The sequel is from a secondary character’s POV. The poor guy spent all of book one being imprisoned and tortured, and in the end my heroine manages to rescue him and he suddenly becomes king. I wanted to know how his past would affect those he now rules.

    Teithio shifted restlessly. I checked his saddle’s chinch one last time. When I straitened, Dagda towered over me I instinctively shrank back against Teithio’s solid warmth -then realized what I was doing, and straitened.

    “Sire.” Dagda bowed his respect.

    I burrowed my fingers in Tei’s glimmering white mane. “Captain.”

    “Do you ride with us?” Dagda addressed the air just above my left ear. He had not looked me directly in the face since that first night in the Chamber of Sorcery. The night the woman was killed and Dagda helped bind me with the manacles formed in her blood.

    I swung into the saddle. I needed the scrap of confidence I’d gain from the position of height over him. “I must. You’d not find them else. Give Penn charge of the gate against our return.”

    Slightly below me, Dagda still managed to loom. Teithio tossed his head and shifted in place, responding to my tension.

    For an instant I thought Dagda was about to speak. Instead he bowed again and strode past me to lead his own steed, Garselit, from the stable. The draft of his departure chilled my back. Alone again, I leaned forward and pressed my face against Teithio’s neck, rubbed my cheek on his main, breathing in the animal scenst to keep away the darkness and the crawl of maggots, the dead flesh rotting against my skin… Teithio stamped impatiently. I drew a shuddering breath and straitened.

    “There’s nothing amiss, Tei. Only shadows.” Only shadows… and I could not be found cowering from them when the others arrived for their mounts.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Hi, Chicory! I detected a tiny amount of backstory here:

      The night the woman was killed and Dagda helped bind me with the manacles formed in her blood.

      Might be better to omit this sentence; that way you tease the reader with adroit hints of the past, and they must keep reading to learn anything more.

      Also, try reading it aloud.

  10. Chicory, glad to be timely and to have addressed a chagrin of yours. 🙂

    I agree with Tia’s thought, I think teasing hints of backstory are fine if they are a more active memory, something directly tied to the situation/scent/light/fear, etc. at hand, that way its relative to the moment?

    This is a balance I struggle to strike every time; that sense of layering in information. I cheat, though, because I work with flowery Victorian era language and there’s such theatricality in it, and often a presentational exposition that’s stylistic to not only Victorian but the Gothic novel style in which I work, so I utilize convention more obviously than I would if I were writing in an alternate universe or more modernized setting.

    So sometimes I’ll break my own rules. 🙂 But active backstory as relative to the character in the moment is the best way to go.

    The first chapter of my novella is very, very backstory heavy but I justify it by having my hero insisting on a breather to take time to evaluate his situation, after having earned an unexpected retirement and having a mid-life crisis. Sometimes there’s just no way around exposition and having to remind the reader what is going on. It just has to be made as compelling as possible. 🙂

    1. Chicory

      Thanks for your comments, Tia and Leeanne. Hmmm… since you’re both agreeing on that whole `bound in blood’ line being problematic I’ll have to take another look at it. I’d stuck it in there because the MC of book one didn’t know how deeply Dagda was involved. I was trying to show that Dagda had known what was happening. Guess I need to be a bit more subtly. 🙂 Leeanne, I like the idea of using the situations to trigger memory.

      I wonder -is it more tempting to add too much backstory when you switch POV for the sequel because `oh, but they experienced all those events differently’ or is it just me who thinks that way?

      1. {thoughtful look}

        Both Leanna and Tia are right about that line needing work. However, if toning it down doesn’t work, try playing it up instead.

        This sounds like one of those highly traumatic events that you can’t think about afterwards without courting a flashback. If he avoids the flashback, it’s by pulling back sooner. If not, he’d remember the smells, sights, and sounds of that night in a lot more vivid and possibly chaotic manner. {half smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        1. Chicory

          That makes a lot of sense. Thanks. 🙂

          1. You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help. {SMILE}

            Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

        2. Tia Nevitt

          I like Anne’s idea here.

  11. Chicory,

    I think its totally fine to have that backstory moment there, but for me it felt disconnected rather than a part of the moment.

    And no! You’re not the only one who thinks that! My sequel and prequel counts on the ‘seeing new things in new pov’ trick all the time 🙂 trick is again making sure its always relevant to the action, conflict and character trajectory of the specific character you’re working with!

    Jennifer, thanks! Well, after a long time with certain characters, you do feel like you’ve worn them! 🙂

  12. Tia Nevitt

    I was just thinking … I kinda got out of the backstory mode because I discovered the joy of teasing the reader. I also like to use timing to my advantage. When I’m trying to play out a scene for reasons of timing–for example, to show a character waiting–I might have them think about something to both give the illusion of waiting along with the relevant (!) backstory.

  13. Anne, that’s a great way to think about the kind of balance you need to strike, that there’s a moment of struggle there within the memory / trauma – also that makes it immediately personal to the character and thusly more invested, for the character and reader.

    Tia, teasing is great, and I agree its one of our best assets in terms of pacing. And yes, those moments of reasonable downtime/waiting are the best and most realistic moments to have pensive backstory time 🙂

  14. Thank you. {Smile, blush} I thought that would work better. {SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  15. Great advice, Leanna! I saved it to file because I’m starting the second in my series after the New Year. I must disagree with my beloved Blog Buddy, Tia, though. I think it depends on the series. But, with many series, like the original Star Wars trilogy and Harry Potter, the overall arc of all the books was the one Hero’s conflict with one central Villain. I do think it’s obvious that the one centrail villain must be twisted or revealed or remade in some new way with each new story though. Darth Vader was just a big, black robot guy who’d once been Obi-Wan’s student, but in the last movie he was Luke’s dying father who redeemed himself by saving Luke’s life.

    You know, I love seres, but they are a lot of work to create!

    1. Ok, this is a “duh” moment for me because of course you are right for epic fantasies and stories with a similar structure. I was thinking of mystery series or urban fantasies that are composed of a series of standalone novels. Sometimes the author strings out the conflict too long.

      That said, I think Jennifer Estep is doing a brilliant job with Mab Monroe (hope I spelled that right) in her assassin series. For the early novels, Mab is kind of orchestrating things in the background, but with each novel, she gets closer and closer to a face-to-face conflict, and it really works.

  16. The Strangely Beautiful series is one of my favorite series! Just wanted to say how much I enjoy Leanna Renee Hieber’s books. 🙂 Great interview.

  17. Tia Nevitt

    Thanks everyone for a great conversation, and thanks Leanna, for stopping by for the day!

  18. Thank you for the intro to another great author. I look forward to checking out more of her work…

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