I’m so excited to introduce you all to the fabulous, Leanna Renee Hieber. She’s has a wonderful personality and I am thrilled to know her. She writes Gaslight Fantasy which is not Steampunk but has fantasy elements in a 19th century aesthetic rather than gadgets and SciFi elements. Please enjoy her blog post and leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess. Winner will be picked at random on Wednesday, July 13th at 12:00pm.
When I met Alicia last year, I remember enthusiastically discussing multi-culturalism in fiction and how vital it is to the life of literature. I was so delighted to run into her this year and see this blog active and vibrant. Having participated in many a panel at various Steampunk, Gaslight and Retro-Futurist conventions on the topics of Race, Gender, Class, Social issues, etc within the Steampunk community and its related sub-genres, I know the platform of multi-culturalism contains dialogues that are ongoing, ever-evolving and ever necessary. (Please visit http://beyondvictoriana.com for ongoing discussions on multi-cultural Steampunk)
I speak here only from my own experience with my own work, and from a position of always learning and always taking in new experiences. I speak from no position of authority other than my own world-building. I speak as a lover of stories, and my hope is that my stories can strike a wide and diverse audience even despite the very specific genre in which I write: Gothic Victorian Fantasy.
The initial genesis of my Strangely Beautiful series, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, came with an idea attached: that of redefining beauty. When Miss Percy arrived in my mind, a painfully shy albino heroine dressed in Victorian garb and cringing from the world that collectively called her a ‘freak’ – I saw through her how limiting, cruel and powerful “beauty” is for those who don’t “qualify” in dominant society’s visual definition. I hoped that if readers could rally behind a girl who is unique, fascinating, talented and indeed beautiful in the eyes of her friends, the hero and of course of me the author, that maybe a reader might look at something or someone that they’d at first-glance find strange and find it/him/her beautiful instead. All in the midst of a ghost-filled epic Gothic adventure story with ghost-busters and Greek Mythology and stuff. Maybe a tall order, but being a Goth girl who’s made a habit of thinking things were beautiful that the average person might find strange; it seemed a fitting mission to engage the topic. The characters in that novel are all of their own distinct culture, religion and class background, and I’ve taken that sensibility further in my latest novel.
Since my Strangely Beautiful mythos posits that The Guard (my Ghost-busters) have taken bodies in all the great cities of the world for centuries, I wanted to offer a glimpse of the Guard outside traditional Victorian London. While the sequel in my series gives brief examples of the many cultures present in Guard lore during an epic spiritual war, my recent prequel release, The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, follows a multi-cultural cast for the entire novel, beginning and ending in Cairo, Egypt. And yes, while they do all have to travel to London to serve the “prophecy”, their varied backgrounds all consider Cairo home, and it is Cairo that defines bringing an exceedingly varied group together.
Alicia said to me that she’s heard white authors speak hesitantly about multi-culturalism in their work, for fear of “doing it wrong.” I frankly think utterly ignoring the diverse world we live in is also “doing it wrong” too.
Well, I didn’t live in Victorian England, or Victorian Cairo, or Victorian New York (where my upcoming series is set) so I could hardly know if I’m doing it exactly right, but as an author, you research, you imagine, you dream, you insert yourself like an actor into a role. And like an actor, you try and inhabit, honor, love and make human your characters as best you can.
We’re all ethnic, we’re all of different cultures; it’s just that for average American Whiteness, it’s all been blended into one homogenous group for purposes of maintaining control and privilege. But if you break down my ethnicity and culture: I’m German. I’m Lutheran. I’m a Goth. I come from hard-working middle-class heritage. But since authors hardly give their own exact specific personal breakdown to each of their characters; authors have the opportunity to give their characters any number of different traits, backgrounds, subcultures, etc.
Thusly, considering Cairo has historically been as diverse as any great metropolis, I gave each of my characters their own ethnicities, religions and subcultures; be they Sufi or Coptic Christian or Muslim or Anglican, with varying degrees of how they do or do not identify with those belief systems as cultural or personal systems. I have them raised by different types of parents and household structures, from varying classes. I have my Guard come together and work together for a common mission that does not ignore their myriad backgrounds, but instead draws them together as a unique team to fight misery and evil in the world. Their diversity makes them stronger and better equipped for the tasks at hand. Call it my way-too-idealistic and simplistic ideas for world peace; teamwork for a greater good.
I’ve had some help along this journey. My partner is Puerto-Rican and passionately eloquent about cultural and social-justice matters; his father works in anti-racism training and their insights have been beyond valuable in shaping my multi-cultural narrative. Particularly in the romance between my Egyptian hero Ibrahim and my English heroine Beatrice, it’s been vital to be able to call upon the deep, soul-searching and sometimes very painful cultural discussions I’ve had with the man I love. My church is a diverse church with bi-lingual worship. I live in New York City. My world is multi-cultural every moment of my day and I think it’s easier to see books in that lens here than it was, say, in my rural and not-diverse Ohio hometown. (Still, the few folks of different ethnicities that did go to my school- they were and remain my friends.) I had really awesome fellow authors and reviewers of different religious and cultural backgrounds give me some great insights.
I never write a book exactly about what I know or who I am. (That would bore me to tears.) As authors, when we encounter what we don’t know, we should ask, research, and put our work in front of others’ eyes not of our own backgrounds. We should try not to be a**holes and ask those of other backgrounds to please tell us if we’re coming across like one, and then we research some more and put more love into our work. If we write from an open place with passion and enthusiasm, a generous heart, if we strive to make characters human, multi-dimensional, complex and compelling, I bet we won’t entirely “do it wrong”. We might even do a few things right.
With peace and friendship,
Leanna Renee Hieber
Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber loves nothing more than a finely-tailored corset, a good ghost story and a decent Goth club. Her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker hit Barnes & Noble’s Bestseller lists, won multiple genre awards including two 2010 Prism Awards (Best Fantasy Romance, Best First Book) and has been optioned for a Broadway musical currently in early development. Her next Victorian Paranormal series, beginning with Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, releases from Sourcebooks Fire this November. A member of performers unions AEA, SAG and AFTRA, Leanna occasionally works in film and television in her adopted hometown of New York City, where she lives with her real-life hero and their adopted rescued lab rabbit.