After the Hugos is before the next Hugos, so I’m continuing my Non-Fiction Spotlight project, where I interview the authors/editors of SFF-related non-fiction books that come out in 2022 and are eligible for the 2023 Hugo Awards. For more about the Non-Fiction Spotlight project, go here. To check out the spotlights I already posted, go here.
For more recommendations for SFF-related non-fiction, also check out this Facebook group set up by the always excellent Farah Mendlesohn, who is a champion (and author) of SFF-related non-fiction.
One of the greatest things about this project has been discovering the huge range of SFF-related non-fiction that is out there, which belies claims that there is not enough SFF-related non-fiction published in a year to fill a Hugo category. Over the course of this project I have featured books on cosplay, manga, videogames, movies and TV shows, cartoons, speculative fiction in translation, speculative fiction from Africa, interview and essay collections, biographies, etc… And today, I have a book about ghosts, hauntings and gender for you.
Therefore, I am pleased to welcome Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes, authors of A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts, to my blog today.
Leanna: I’ve been writing since I was a kid and didn’t consider pursuing it professionally until my first job out of college. I had gotten a BFA in theatre performance with a focus study in the Victorian Era. I worked in the professional regional theatre circuit for a few years before moving to New York City and ended up at a Broadway callback where all I could think about was the book that would end up becoming my debut Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy series, Strangely Beautiful. I stopped auditioning and solely focused on my novel about a girl who sees, talks with, and helps ghosts. Spectral subjects have been part of my creative process since childhood. I got my NYC tour guide’s license my first years in New York as I knew I wanted to incorporate real history into my fiction and eventually write non-fiction. Being a tour guide is a great way to make history second-nature. I feel like A Haunted History of Invisible Women is the culmination of everything that’s ever been important to me.
Andrea: I’m a writer and a New York City tour guide. I founded my own walking tour company, Boroughs of the Dead, in 2013.
What prompted you to write/edit this book?
Leanna: I was giving a ghost tour when an editor familiar with my fiction suggested I write a non-fiction book about ghosts. I knew from that first moment that I wanted to bring my colleague into the process, as I was Andrea’s first hire at Boroughs of the Dead, and the way she built the company informs so much of how I give a ghost tour, so there was never a moment’s hesitation about involving her, and it’s been an incredible process of discovery. Our interests, combined with our editor Liz May’s interests, hit upon the importance of discussing the ways in which we talk about women, alive or dead.
Andrea: I’ve long had an interest in both women’s history and ghost stories, and this book was the perfect intersection of them both.
Why should SFF fans in general and Hugo voters in particular read this book?
Leanna: We do deep dives on trope; which are some of the building blocks of fiction analysis. We discuss the ways in which Gothic fiction and the long history of telling fictional ghost stories inform how we tell ghost stories about real people. We involve important literary figures in our process; whether it’s discussing how Poe was one of the first true crime writers to including a piece from the great poet, speculative and horror fiction author Linda D. Addison as our Afterword. Because we are both also genre fiction writers, talking about storytelling from the perspective of tour guides committed to real history is a shift in perspective I’m sure any genre writer can appreciate.
Andrea: Anyone with an interest in the ways the speculative and otherworldly collide with our lived realities will have an interest in this book.
Do you have any cool facts or tidbits that you unearthed during your research, but that did not make it into the final book?
Leanna: There’s a wonderful statue of Mary Becker Greene, “Ma” Greene, that I didn’t get a chance to photograph or present to the art department before the book came out. Mary was the first woman to obtain her Steamboat Pilot’s License in this country in 1892, opening doors for other women pilots to follow. Her chapter is one of my favorites in the book! Mary’s statue and plaque stand just across the bank from Cincinnati, in a Covington, KY park along the riverside, situated along the Ohio river she traveled and navigated so expertly.
Andrea: We tried to put the best stuff in the book! But I did enjoy researching the story of the ghost of Melrose Hall in Brooklyn, as well as several ghost stories featuring women who lived in wild places such as caves, who still haunt those locales. These will (hopefully) go in volume 2!
SFF-related non-fiction is somewhat sidelined by the big genre awards, since the Nebulas have no non-fiction category and the Best Related Work Hugo category has become something of a grab bag of anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere. So why do you think SFF-related non-fiction is important?
Leanna: It’s really all about discussion; one has to be able to analyze the elements of story regardless of genre. Non-fiction can truly deconstruct all the elements that go into fiction and so much of fiction needs to be researched via non-fiction. So much of my inspiration and underpinnings as a historical fantasy author has come from discussions of fantastical and supernatural history as explained in non-fiction works.
Andrea: I think it’s important because fiction writers are obviously inspired by real life and well – researched non-fiction on speculative topics is a treasure trove for information as well as a way to reflect deeply on these matters.
Are there any other great SFF-related non-fiction works or indeed anything else (books, stories, essays, writers, magazines, films, TV shows, etc…) you’d like to recommend?
Leanna: Tiya Miles’ Tales from the Haunted South was a particularly vital resource for our book, as was Colin Dickey’s Ghostland, and I think Leila Taylor’s Darkly is a profoundly important work. I’ve been really thrilled to be a part of Amanda Woomer’s great journal of The Feminine Macabre which seeks to lift up women’s voices in paranormal related fields.
Andrea: I’ve enjoyed the non-fiction books of Lisa Morton, who writes about ghosts, seances, and Halloween.
Where can people buy your book?
Anywhere fine books are sold! https://linktr.ee/ahauntedhistory
Where can people find you?
Across most social media and via
Thank you, Leanna and Andrea, for stopping and answering my questions. Do check out A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts, if you’re interested in true life ghost stories, gender and spooky fiction.
About A Haunted History of Invisible Women – True Stories of America’s Ghosts:
From the notorious Lizzie Borden to the innumerable, haunted rooms of Sarah Winchester’s mysterious mansion, this offbeat, insightful, first-ever book of its kind explores the history behind America’s female ghosts, the stereotypes, myths, and paranormal tales that swirl around them, what their stories reveal about us—and why they haunt us…
Sorrowful widows, vengeful jezebels, innocent maidens, wronged lovers, former slaves, even the occasional axe-murderess—America’s female ghosts differ widely in background, class, and circumstance. Yet one thing unites them: their ability to instill fascination and fear, long after their deaths. Here are the full stories behind some of the best-known among them, as well as the lesser-known—though no less powerful.
Tales whispered in darkness often divulge more about the teller than the subject. America’s most famous female ghosts, from from ‘Mrs. Spencer’ who haunted Joan Rivers’ New York apartment to Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the Salem witchcraft trials, mirror each era’s fears and prejudices. Yet through urban legends and campfire stories, even ghosts like the nameless hard-working women lost in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire —achieve a measure of power and agency in death, in ways unavailable to them as living women.
Riveting for skeptics and believers alike, with humor, curiosity, and expertise, A Haunted History of Invisible Women offers a unique lens on the significant role these ghostly legends play both within the spook-seeking corners of our minds and in the consciousness of a nation.
About Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes:
Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling writer of gothic Victorian fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her novels such as the Strangely Beautiful saga, and the Eterna Files series have garnered numerous regional genre awards, including four Prism awards, and have been selected as “Indie Next” and national book club picks. She lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television shows like Boardwalk Empire. Follow her on Twitter@leannarenee, or visit www.leannareneehieber.com.
Andrea Janes is the Founder and owner of Boroughs of the Dead, New York City’s premier ghost tour company, which has been featured on NPR.org, The New York Times, Jezebel, TODAY, The Huffington Post, Gothamist,The Travel Channel, CondeNast Traveler, Mashable, among others. Andrea is also the author of the YA novel Glamour, and several short horror stories, and a fiction horror novel Boroughs of the Dead, the inspiration for her company. More at www.boroughsofthedead.com.
Are you publishing a work of SFF-related longform non-fiction in 2022 and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.