Hieber and Janes Create a Cornucopia of Spirits

Photo courtesy of Leanna Renee Hieber

Check out Leanna Renee Hieber’s website. You’ll find a treasure of fiction suitable for any Dragon Con reader’s hoard.

So what does Hieber do next? Enter A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes (Citadel Press 2022). A finalist in the 2022 Bram Stoker Awards® for Superior Achievement in Non–Fiction, A Haunted History of Invisible Women is a trove of incredible stories that prompts favorable comparison with the best of paranormal fiction.

We asked Hieber about writing nonfiction after her successes with penning novels and fiction stories.

Daily Dragon (DD): What was it like, venturing into nonfiction after your fiction-writing career was well underway?

Leanna Renee Hieber (LRH): I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to further explore the endlessly mysterious topic that remains the through line of all my fiction: ghosts. My fiction and nonfiction are functioning beautifully hand-in-hand. I base my ghostly fiction on a set of historical truths from which I can extrapolate. In my nonfiction, I just avoid that second step and just try to tell a good story with truth as my guide.

I stick to history that can be tracked and pinpointed and I try to avoid too much supposition. It’s critical to present the timeline of a historical building and the details of the people who lived and died there as neutrally as we can. Of course, every writer writes with a viewpoint and structural choices in presenting the information. But these are real people and histories we are examining; being salacious or trumping up details for shock value or titillation is irresponsible. Just because it’s “haunted history” doesn’t mean respect goes out the window.

My co-author Andrea [Janes] and I try to focus on sites that have a wealth of uncanny, unusual or ghostly reports written about them through time, to be able to better convince the reader that something out of the ordinary, whether you believe in ghosts or not, is occurring at that site.

While we cannot and don’t try to prove the existence of ghosts—skeptics and believers are equally welcome in our work-—the ghost stories told in a historic location are part of history in and of themselves. Ghost stories have a power and importance that we’re interested in unpacking, because they also say so much about the living and how we grapple with the past.

I feel my work in non-fiction is a constant and ongoing dialogue. Working as a ghost tour guide in New York, that dialogue is actualized with Boroughs of the Dead guests and is constantly evolving. Existential exploration powers every facet of my non-fiction work. And considering how the spirit world powers my fiction, it’s clear to me that my connection to the spirit world just wanted a new way to celebrate it.

DD: Can you comment on any challenges or other differences that influenced your approach?

LRH: There was an initial worry between Andrea and me that we would feel that we just weren’t including enough women in our book, that we would feel incomplete, but we reminded each other that this book wasn’t sold as a compendium or encyclopedia of women ghosts but as a carefully curated selection of ghost stories; women’s history that deeply called to us. Ghosts that had staying power, women who had something to say long after their passing.

That was the challenge; being able to quiet my busy mind enough to listen to my heart; choosing to only write about people who really moved or affected me. That took time to hone in on, and time itself was a challenge. (A lot of sleepless nights near the end of our deadlines, getting it all together).

The research process for both of us felt very organic; a séance in and of itself. We sought out material like sifting through sand, waiting to see what we would uncover and what might stir back. We chose stories that felt like they had something to say that we wanted to amplify or question. We’re excited to continue that curious, questioning approach in our next nonfiction book, America’s Most Gothic, Haunted History Stranger than Fiction, which will explore true history that mirrors tropes from Gothic literature, with a continuing focus on women’s history, releasing in 2025.

Leanna Renee Hieber returns to Dragon Con this year as a speaker in Main Programming as well as in the Alternate and Historical Fiction, Diversity, Horror, Urban Fantasy, and Young Adult Literature Tracks.

Author of the article

Amy L. Herring (Louise Herring-Jones) writes speculative fiction, with a preference for historical fantasy and alternate mystery. Her stories, appearing in fourteen anthologies, include “The Poulterer’s Tale” in God Bless Us, Every One—Christmas Carols beyond Dickens (Voodoo Rumors Media, 2019). Amy is a NaNoWriMo co-municipal liaison. She also coordinates the Huntsville (Alabama) Literary Association’s writers’ group. Visit her online at http://www.louiseherring-jones.com.