The “Magic” of The Guard
I’m so excited to be here at Magical Musings! Thank you for having me! I feel it’s kismet to discuss the more magical parts of my muse today. There are things that happened to me while working on The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker that cannot be explained.
Allow me to set the scene of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. The year is 1888. London is ghostly and gaslit. From the back cover:
What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death….
In college I chose a focus study in the Victorian era, an age I’d found fascinating since childhood. But I wasn’t up for a straight historical when I began writing this book nine years ago. I needed some magic. Now I don’t use magic in the traditional sense of the world, my Guard has their own particular brand, used only to fight unruly spirits. My brand is influenced mainly by art, literature, and the idea of the Muses.
The premise for this book came to me late one evening while I worked as an intern for the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, surrounded by classical literature, devouring Jane Austen movies, Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter. (different sources, all critical inspirations). Add in my love for 19th century Gothic novels, mix them all together and you have my book.
What I didn’t realize was how magical my muse could be. I’d decided that my Professor hero would have a bit of the logical and the mystical about him. He was, after all, the leader of The Guard, essentially Victorian-era Ghostbusters, and logic alone could not explain all the supernatural phenomena he’d seen. And so he’s a professor of Mathematical and Alchemical studies. A bit of both worlds. I began calling the work that the Guard does The Great Work, and decided that my hero and heroine, Miss Percy Parker, would have ties to mythic creatures and beings. Reincarnation is a theme in the book, and so a Phoenix plays a symbolic role. I knew nothing about Alchemy.
Only after I’d made these decisions and I began perusing a research book on Alchemy did I see that Alchemists referred to the work as The Great Work. And the top of the Alchemical pyramid is the Phoenix…
This gave me shudders of delight, if not a bit of wonder. Sometimes your muse is smarter than you and you don’t even know it. Let yourself be surprised. (I should note that while Harry Potter was seminal inspiration for me, I hadn’t yet read about Fawkes the Phoenix until I was well into my own narrative. Intriguing irony. I should also note that I had to change “The Great Work” to “The Grand Work” after learning that Aleister Crowley used the words “The Great Work” in describing some of his rituals and I didn’t wish to be associated with such)
Another pleasant if not uncanny surprise:
I’d decided that one of the ‘villains’ of the book was a demon-like creature, a hound of hell, a shadowy black dog trailing fear and violence in its wake. I’d decided to make my haunts real, documented London haunts per Richard Jones’ Haunted London compendium of famous London ghosts. The book was well in hand when I read about the Black Dog of Newgate. One of the most horrific tales of London hauntings was an incorporeal, shadowy black Dog…
Symbols of faith:
It took a long time for this book to sell; nine years between writing and shopping it around, too cross-genre of a book for most publishers, getting an agent after years of searching, networking, countless revisions, to finally a home at Dorchester. I hit walls, heartbreak, and then… I’d see a number 7, my sacred number – (my Guard of 6 is looking for their 7th). I’d see a Phoenix in a random place, a sign from the universe saying “hold on, have faith, your story will be told.” I first saw the Bethesda Angel fountain in Central Park and nearly cried. She’s so much like the Angel fountain I’d created in the courtyard of Athens Academy- long before I’d ever come to New York- she became a muse herself, a saint to pray to when I was scared the book would never sell. But fate didn’t, in the end, fail me. I’m very grateful. The muse, from its many divergent courses, has given me unexpected, magical synchronicity. This story is the book of my heart, my love letter to the world, and I believe in magic.
The opening of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker:
Prologue – London 1867
The air in London was grey. This was no surprise; but the common eye could not see the particular heaviness of the atmosphere or the unusual weight of this special day’s charcoal clouds: The sky was pregnant with a potent wind, for The Guard was searching for new hosts.
On to London they came, and that wind full of spirits began to course through the streets of the city; merciless, searching. Around corners, elbowing aside London’s commoners and high society alike, nudging their way through market crowds and tearing down dirty alleys, they sought their intended. A candle burst into flame in the window of a marquess’s house. The tiny cry of a young boy summoned his mother into the drawing room. Similar sounds went up in other parts of the city, confused gasps growing into amazed giggles before being subdued into solemnity. One by one the intended targets were seized.
Six. Five …Where is Four? Ah … Four.
Now, Three. Alone and unaccompanied, the children left their respective houses and began to walk.
And, Two. Searching for the final piece, the greatest of the possessors paused, a hesitating hunter. Deliberate. And, finally … the brightest, boldest, most promising catch of the day.. One, and done! A sigh of relief. The city’s infamous fog thinned.
Only a bird above espied the six drawing toward London’s center; weaving through a maze of clattering carriages, stepping cautiously over putrid puddles, a sextet of children looked about the cluttered merchant lanes and sober business avenues with new eyes and saw strange sights. There were ghosts everywhere: floating through walls and windows, they rose up through streets and strolled beside quiet couples! One by one, each transparent form turned to the children, who could only stare in wonder and apprehension. In ethereal rags, spirits of every century bowed in deference, as if they were passing royalty.
Drawn in a pattern from all corners of London, the six children gathered in a knot at the crest of Westminster Bridge. Nodding a silent greeting to one another, or curtseying, the youths found each other’s faces unsettlingly mature. Excitement tempered only by confusion crept into their expressions as they evaluated their new peers, in garb ranging from fine clothing to simple frocks, their social statuses clearly as varied as their looks.
A spindly girl whose brown hair was pinned tightly to her head kept turning, looking for something, clutching the folds of her linen frock and shifting on the heels of her buttoned boots. It was her tentative voice that at last broke the silence: “Hello. I’m Rebecca. Where is our leader, then?”
A sturdy, ruddy-cheeked boy in a vest and cap, cuffs rolled to his elbows, gestured to the end of the street. “Hello, Rebecca, I’m Michael. Is that him?”
Approaching the cluster was a tall, well-dressed, unmistakable young man. A mop of dark hair held parley with the wind, blowing about the sharp features of his face, while timeless, even darker eyes burned in their sockets. His fine black suit gave the impression of a boy already a man. He reached the group and bowed, his presence magnetic, confident … and somewhat foreboding. In a rich, velvet voice deep as the water of the Thames, he spoke. “Good day. My name is Alexi Rychman, and this has turned into the strangest day of my life.”
I hope you’ll find The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker as magical to read as I found it was to write.
Please join me for my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog Tour beginning 8/22 at The Bradford Bunch blog and continuing into September! Every day a different ghost story and chance to win a signed book! On Release Day, 8/25, I launch my Strangely Beautiful contest for a chance to win two lovely prizes. Details for both the Haunted London Blog Tour and my Contest are on my website: www.leannareneehieber.com
Thanks again Edie for your support, and to the fabulous Magical Musings crew, I really appreciate the opportunity to come here. Strangely Beautiful blessings to all!