Rendering a Goddess: the origins of the Strangely Beautiful series

Leanna as Percy

There’s something special about Leanna Renee Hieber. Not only has she written a phenomenal award-winning, hauntingly gorgeous series, she also glows. Not in a ghostly way like her character, Miss Persephone Parker. She simply radiates the energy and creativity of someone bursting with talent. It comes as no surprise that her novels, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, have taken readers, reviewers, and innocent bystanders everywhere by surprise. This series is different, there’s no other way to put it. Different how, you may wonder? Only in the best of ways, of course.

It all begins with her heroine, Miss Persephone Parker. She’s a pure, beautiful, strong character that happens to look just a little “different” from the rest of her nineteenth-century counterparts. She thinks she’s just a normal girl who’s been given the burden of living with hauntingly white, almost translucent skin. She covers herself with scarves and long sleeves, does everything she can to protect herself from judgment, but just isn’t able to forever. She ends up at the Athens Academy in Victorian London, the school where she discovers she’s meant to do more than just struggle with her differentness; she’s actually part of a harrowing prophecy, a prophecy that will lead her to the deepest levels of the underworld, to the members of the prophecy’s “Guard,” and her own true love who will help her discover a beauty so much more powerful than any earthly normalcy. These books are infused with Greek Mythology, the Gothic, romance, poignant historical research, and mellifluous imagination. There’s nothing like them out there, and we’re not just saying that because we’re the publisher. It’s actually true.

Avid readers often wonder where the ideas for their favorite books came from. JK Rowling thought up the vague beginnings of Harry Potter while on a train to London. Lord of the Rings was born from years Tolkien spent studying philology, various Norse and Germanic mythologies, William Morris, Beowulf and other fairy tales. Stephanie Meyer professes that the idea for Twilight came to her in a dream. Well, every author has to begin somewhere, and we thought a series as grand as Leanna’s deserved a little back-story, too.

Although Leanna always had a fascination with Gothic period literature, Greek mythology, ghost stories, and tales of the unusual triumphing in a world that prefers the usual, that’s not really where her story came from. It’s a little more magical than that. While interning at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, the idea for Percy crept into her head late one night and refused to leave. Leanna remembers that “this timid, ghostly girl quietly but insistently told me I was going to write her story, set in my favourite era, no matter what.” So she picked up a tape recorder while she drove to rehearsal, her first sentence on the tape being: “My life just changed.”

For the next nine years Percy (and the Strangely Beautiful series) grew out of that moment. The first novel was originally titled “The Coterie: Book 1: Prophecy,” but as soon as Leanna locked-down her agent, Nicolas Roman Lewis, he said “I mean, I went to Columbia and Yale but what does ‘Coterie’ even mean? It tells me nothing about this story. We need something long and descriptive.” Hence, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker was born (PS “coterie” is actually a period word meaning “an exclusive club” or “a select group of persons”).

Chris Keeslar, Leanna’s editor here at Dorchester, remembers being drawn to the manuscript from the beginning. He states that “Like Alexi, after one glimpse of Percy’s white-blue eyes, [he] was entranced from the first. Its dreamy quality, its endless yearning—this was a book that deserved attention.” So Dorchester became Miss Hieber’s new publisher, and the rest is history…

If you’re looking for a series that will inspire you, entrance you, and entice you to completely obsess in a way you haven’t obsessed since Harry Potter, then do yourself a favor and dive into the Strangely Beautiful series. Lucky for you, the third book, The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, was just released this month!

For more on Leanna Renee Hieber and the Strangely Beautiful series, visit her Web site. And be sure to watch Leanna’s trailer video below for a look at The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess!

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