Written by Leanna Renee Hieber
When I envisioned The Eterna Files series, I couldn’t pick one shore, one great, historic city as a setting. So I chose two.
I have a soul-deep connection to London. I love that incredible metropolis more than I have words for and have spent many weeks through the years exploring the city streets and historic sites, researching my Strangely Beautiful and Eterna Files series.
However, my life as a New Yorker, a licensed New York City tour guide at that, has given me too many incredible historical details to omit this great behemoth from an expansive, wild, tumultuous, Gothic, historical, dark fantasy. New York, my inimitable, grand diva, would not be ignored.
Each city is so rich in culture and complications, sins and triumphs, and spectacular, strange histories. Their histories I sometimes tweak or their strangeness I exacerbate, but the base of The Eterna Files is a “realistic” 1882 in which paranormal things happen. The fight on both shores meant I could double my time in two of my favorite places on the planet. I’ve been writing books set in the 1880s since I was a pre-teen, so I’ve been writing in this era and about these cities for the bulk of my life. They’re family.
The Eterna Files stars a large cast embroiled in large spectacles; fitting for cities that in and of themselves are such enormous characters. Having been a student of history in each, I have always been struck by each place’s personality. While writing, I focused on how each one felt to me, and how that might impact my characters. I breathed in their respective quirks, trying to connect with an elder, sootier, gaslit time. I often liken myself to a medium channeling spirits, page by page. Sometimes my characters take that quite literally.
It should be noted that while London and New York have always had differences, by the 19th Century they were considered very much to be sister cities and kept up with one another’s innovations. Great works on either shore often involved their cousins across the pond. For example, the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 on Queen Victoria’s birthday (angering the many Irish workers who had built it and felt disregarded). Earlier, the first trans-Atlantic cable was sent from New York to Buckingham. In some ways New York’s and London’s fates also seem entwined; what befalls one city often befalls the other—and their Phoenix resilience is similarly matched. Both cities have been targets for terrorists and in war. Both cities are fiercely beloved and contain multitudes. No single narrative dominates either place; the stories of these cities are as complex as their citizenry.
In The Eterna Files, what begins in book one as a rivalry and antagonism between two Paranormally focused offices becomes a joint operation when the Eterna Commission (founded under early Secret Service initiatives in the US) and the Omega Department (created as part of the Special Branch in London), realize that they’ve been led to become enemies by a vile magical force targeting both groups.
The biggest change of heart and demolition of preconceived notions from one shore to the other comes from my stalwart London Metropolitan policeman, Harold Spire. A dour skeptic, he shifts from complete disbelief to begrudging acceptance of spectral matters. His assumptions about New Yorkers, and even his fellow Brits, are blown wide open. His New York counterpart, Clara Templeton, faces down her own worst critic, herself, to seize transformative natural power. What binds the teams together is their dogged determination, shared respect for differences, their fierce work ethic, and of course, the fight for survival against an unpredictable foe.
The character arcs I find the most fulfilling are about coming to terms with one’s own powers and limitations, and about learning to love those around one for their own quirks and unique gifts. The same goes for each city going through their respective battles and struggles towards peace with the help of localized magic. The heartbeat of the cities amplifies the heart and soul of my characters. They each inform each other.
Through the series I delve into the ideas of Ley Lines; an ancient and varied belief that the earth’s “magic” and potent life-force runs along certain meridians. I wanted to work with the idea that a Ley Line could be not only geographical, but spiritual and bound to hearts and minds. The energy and attitude of each city throbs in each heart. I expand on the idea of localized magic as also being able to travel in a heart and soul, for stationary places to be alive within us all.
My found family become Ley Lines for each other, making an invisible force tactile as these residents of London and New York travel to their opposite shores to help protect the other side in time of need. The bonds of my characters surpass the boundaries of family of origin, race, creed, socio-economic conditions and other would-be walls in these restrictive 19th century society cities. None of the attitudes my characters espouse are unrealistic demands on history, their attitudes reflect many prominent schools of thought that promoted equality and forward-thinking ideals, especially in large cities. My characters find grounding in hope, in progress and unconditional respect, bound to people and places they put their lives on the line to save. Their cities can then amplify these ideals as they continue to pledge to keep peace.
My characters and the cities they call home: scrappy, determined fighters striving to achieve a loving peace, to be anchors for each other rather than competitors. I’m more interested in building bridges of hope and family than I am in reinforcing walls and separation. I hope you’ll join my quirky family and come fight the good fight.
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