Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Pixel Project: Giving the Devil His Due charity anthology Blog Tour - Interview with Leanna Renee Hieber


cover art by Emir Orucevic

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Leanna Renee Hieber, one of the contributors to The Pixel Project's first charity anthology, Giving the Devil His Due, edited by Rebecca Brewer and published by Running Wild Press. This interview appears as part of the Giving the Devil His Due blog tour.

The purpose of the anthology is to to start conversations worldwide about violence against women (VAW) and the blog tour is intended to raise awareness about VAW during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April 2022 among book and fandom communities.

What can you tell us about The Pixel Project, their first anthology, Giving the Devil His Due, and your part in them?

The Pixel Project works to end violence against women worldwide through education, discussion and by sharing resources across online platforms. Whether it’s sharing help-lines and domestic violence resources via Twitter or through education and discussion during their various themed campaigns, The Pixel Project utilizes modern writers and their boundless imagination to help imagine a world without gender-based violence. Until we can get to that point as a society, writers working with The Pixel Project participate in ongoing dialogues, panels, reading campaigns and Q & A sessions focusing on what we can do as creatives to try to stop the ongoing problem of violence against women and to educate allies. 

I try to foster empathy in my books and in my discussions as a creative individual. The crux of any bias, hatred, sexism or violence often comes from a lack of empathy or ability to relate to other people. By continuing to showcase women as the comprehensive beings we are in fiction and media, the more we can fight back against being dehumanized by sexism and gender-based violence.

Giving the Devil His Due is an anthology specifically focusing on the catharsis of revenge; using speculative fiction to imagine scenarios where abusers get their comeuppance, as so often gender-based violence goes unpunished or unrecognized. The anthology also contains many resources for any reader in an unsafe situation or knows someone who is. Sometimes people might not even recognize signs or symptoms of abuse they may be in and fiction can help to provide a new and broader perspective. The book can serve as a bridge and a tool as well as a discussion prompt about how we can, as a world, end violence against women.  

How does the issue of violence against women remain important today and how does it connect with the rights -and wrongs- of women in the past?

Worldwide, violence against women remains an enormous problem, even though women are half the worldwide population. It’s disheartening to think about how pervasive the problem is; everywhere. While women have in many cases gained rights and privileges denied them centuries prior, murder or abuse by a family member, partner or loved one is still far too high. 

I try to utilize historical stories to help shed a light on ongoing concerns today, by creating parallels and insights into how far we’ve come and where we still need to go. We need to listen to and support women and that’s been true since time immemorial. I try to write from a place of support, agency, freedom and righteous justice and I try to bring that into any discussion I have with The Pixel Project programs and from within my story in this anthology. Through examining the past I hope we can all continue into a more hopeful, healthy and supportive future.

In the 19th century, any woman could be locked up in an asylum on a minor pretext by her husband, father or brothers. Asylums were used to silence female dissent, as well as to incarcerate inconvenient relatives. What is the significance of this to you as a woman and a writer?

It’s a horrific reality of the time period. When I learned how easy it was to commit a woman in that era, I realized that being my own independent person and fiercely cultivating a mind of my own, with a desire for independence, this may have been considered suspect. If I’d have lived in that era with a family who didn’t understand or respect me, I’d have quite probably been committed myself. 

I think when you can recognize how easily your agency and freedom could be taken away by various circumstances, it’s something that lends itself to a writing prompt. We should never take our freedoms for granted, nor should we ever impose incarceration on people just for the simple act of being themselves as autonomous beings. 


In your short story, Escape from Pleasant Point, you write about an early experience of Evelyn Northe-Stewart, a character who first appears in your Magic Most Foul trilogy and who has been a key figure in your writing ever since. Tell us about Evelyn and how she came to be. What made you decide to explore her back story?

Evelyn Northe first appeared to me as a widow in her forties; an elegant, fiercely intelligent, gifted psychic who mentors my young heroine in the Magic Most Foul trilogy, beginning with the novel Darker Still. Evelyn was an immediately beloved character. She continued to work her charming, matriarchal magic as she married again to become Evelyn Northe-Stewart and became a mother figure to even more characters as my casts expanded through three additional series (The Eterna Files, The Spectral City and forthcoming from Scrib’d, The Spirit Suitor series). I knew a lot about her as an adult and as a woman who used her connections and knowledge for the good of others, but I didn’t realize the difficulties she had been through. Because I come from a theatre background I really try to get into the heads, hearts and bodies of my characters. Evelyn, for as amazing as she was, didn’t want to reveal things about her past. I wasn’t entirely sure why. 

As I continued to write Evelyn I began to pick up on more clues. There’s a point in my novel A Summoning of Souls where a woman is about to be committed to an asylum against her will and Evelyn has a virulent, violent reaction to it. Gently, I coaxed the story out of her as to why she’d been so upset. She was reluctant the whole way through, as you’ll see in the story; she’s loathe to tell it to her granddaughter, her namesake Eve. People carry pain, trauma and secrets, even loved ones we think we know well. I wanted to honor that fact; that some things lie buried and remain hard to discuss. I wanted to create a safe place for Evelyn to tell the truth, but, in her typical fashion, she does so in order to help others. I remain as in awe of her and as inspired by her as I was from the moment she swept onto my pages in a grand gown. Now I have a greater appreciation for her mettle and her resilience. It means so much to share her with all of you.  

What is Gaslamp fantasy and how does it relate to steampunk and historical fantasy? Where does it come from and what does it mean to you as a writer?

Gaslamp Fantasy is a cousin to Steampunk. If you think of Steampunk, a genre with fanciful technology reimagined from within a steam-powered setting of the 19th century, crafting “Victorian Science Fiction”, then Gaslamp Fantasy is “Victorian Fantasy” that particularly celebrates atmosphere and setting in its worldbuilding. “Gaslamp” refers to the gas lamp lighting of the era, giving you a sense of firelight, deep shadows and mystery. Steampunk uses science to solve problems in a given narrative. Gaslamp Fantasy uses magic or paranormal devices; any fantastical elements to problem solve and address the conflict in a story. 

In all my work, ghosts are ever-present. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts and they lend themselves to particularly 19th century pieces as the era was so obsessed with séances and spectral communication. I make the interests of the day very real for my characters and the ghosts end up helping the living solve crimes or help the protagonists learn some vital lesson about their lives along the way. Gaslamp Fantasy is a perfect genre for a writer like me who loves rich and eerie atmosphere, mystery, horror and Gothic elements, and likes to solve problems with the help of spectral interference. 

What do you want readers of Escape from Pleasant Point to take away from reading it?

For my long-term readers, I hope Escape from Pleasant Point offers a necessary peek behind the curtain of Evelyn’s life. For new readers, I hope you’ll be intrigued by Evelyn and I hope you’ll want to know more. I welcome you all into my world and hope it can be a place where history and mystery mix in an eerie, fascinating atmosphere you’d like to return to again and again. I hope Evelyn’s resilience and heart can be a balm and a comfort to all who have dealt with trauma, assault or violence in any capacity. I hope she can inspire others as she has inspired me.

What are your hopes for Giving the Devil His Due and the future of the Pixel Project?

I sincerely hope Giving the Devil His Due is a book that helps people, whether its giving them something to think about, whether it puts them in touch with a necessary resource if they find themselves in an abusive situation, whether it’s a way to talk with friends and family members about the problem of violence against women or if it’s just a way for survivors of violence to process their own trauma. I just hope it can be helpful. It’s a hard anthology to deal with; there is a lot to unpack, but my fellow writers and I don’t shy away from the realities of violence, even though we’re couching the stories in fantastical and fictional settings. Sometimes fantasy can help you see a situation more clearly because you’ve seen it through a different and unrealistic lens, the allegories that fantasy can provide help us process the truth of a situation by allowing just a bit of room for distance. 

I hope The Pixel Project keeps connecting people, keeps getting people in touch with resources they need, and changes lives. If we can start changing the culture that leads to violence, we can change the end result. If the world could exchange violence for care, understanding and mutual aid, we’d have come a long way towards a truly enlightened and healthier global community. 

Thanks so much for being here, for more about me and my work, as well as writers resources, free reads and more, please visit http://leannareneehieber.com – Cheers and blessings! 

Giving the Devil His Due homepage

About Giving the Devil His Due:

Giving The Devil His Due showcases stories where The Twilight Zone meets Promising Young Woman as men who abuse and murder women meet their comeuppance in uncanny ways. Edited by Rebecca Brewer, the anthology features sixteen major names and rising stars in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror including Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Henry, Dana Cameron, Errick Nunnally, Hillary Monahan, Jason Sanford, Kaaron Warren, Kelley Armstrong, Kenesha Williams, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lee Murray, Linda D. Addison, Nicholas Kaufmann, Nisi Shawl, Peter Tieryas, and Stephen Graham Jones
The book includes resources for victims and survivors of VAW worldwide, making it a valuable tool for getting life-saving information to domestic violence victims still under their abuser’s control or rape survivors who are too ashamed to ask for help.
100% of the net proceeds from the sales of the anthology will go towards supporting The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women work.
You can learn more about Giving The Devil His Due here.

About Leanna Renee Hieber:

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright and the author of thirteen Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy novels for adults and teens for Tor and Kensington Books such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, the Magic Most Foul trilogy, the Eterna Files trilogy and The Spectral City series. The Strangely Beautiful series hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with revised editions of the complete series now available from Tor. The Spectral City has been a bestseller across several genres and digital platforms. A four-time Prism Award winner and Daphne du Maurier Award finalist, her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and her books have been translated into many languages. She tours the country with By the Light of Tiffany: A Meeting with Clara Driscoll, a one-woman theatrical presentation about the 19th century designer of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s stained-glass lamps. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide for Boroughs of the Dead and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Mysteries at the Museum.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Etsy

About The Pixel Project:

The Pixel Project is a completely virtual, volunteer-led global 501(c)3 non-profit organisation whose mission is to raise awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women using the power of the internet, social media, new technologies and popular culture/the arts.

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