HIRON ENNES is a writer, musician and medical student based in the Pacific Northwest. Their areas of interest include infectious diseases, pathology, and anti-capitalist health care reform. When not hunched over a microscope or a Word document, they can be found playing in the snow or playing the harp (though usually not at the same time). They are queer in every sense of the word, and they really want to pet your dog.
Leech is their first novel.
Tell us about your first novel, Leech-the world in which it takes place, and the characters who inhabit this world.
I always find it difficult to explain Leech. I describe it as post-post-apocalyptic sci-fi gothic body horror, and if you’re on board by the end, you’re on board. It opens in the frozen province of Verdira, ruled by a despotic baron whose personal physician has died under mysterious circumstances. We follow the doctor’s not-quite-human replacement, who has to deal with both a spreading parasitic disease and the demands of the mansion’s inhabitants: the baron, kept alive by a procession of machines, his anxious but overworked, a daughter-in-law in a perpetual state of unhappy pregnancy, two mischievous grandchildren and a silent but hypercompetent house boy. Leech has all the good stuff. Autopsies. Parasites. Dog sled. A remote gothic mansion with a bloody past. The technological and biological remains of dead civilizations. You know, as usual.
Will you return to the setting of this novel in future work, or is it a standalone?
This one is definitely standalone, at least for now. I have no plans for a sequel, but I think the world in which Leech takes place is much larger than Verdira, both geographically and temporally. There are so many weird microclimates that could make a decent scene for a number of stories, none of which are related to Leech but in the most peripheral way. My second novel could be interpreted as taking place in this world, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a different time, and in a whole different place.
You have a background in medical sciences. How does this experience and knowledge manifest in your work?
Decently, I hope! There’s nothing that pulls me out of a story more than seeing medical science applied in a ridiculous way except for comic or allegorical purposes (Dr Benway massaging a patient’s heart with a toilet plunger will always one of my favorite scenes ever written). But I also hope that Leech maintains its semi-fantastic aura, keeping its medical quirks just incredible enough to be intriguing. I feel that much of what the narrative wants to say about medicine is not in the details of clinical practice, but in broader aspects of the medical-industrial complex: its rigid conformity, its use as a tool of colonialism, its thirst for knowledge and addiction to discovery, and its ability to commit great acts of evil as well as genuine and miraculous acts of good.
Leech is your first book. Can you describe your journey from budding writer to published author?
I don’t think the journey had a beginning. I’ve always been in a state of writing Something. The first story I wrote was with the text option on Kid Pix 1.0. All my childhood, I filled my school notebooks with fantasy inspired by Diana Wynne Jones. When I was 10 or 11, my grandfather gave me his old office typewriter, which I clicked nonstop on – mostly aimless thumbnails on Arrakis, because I was obsessed with Dunes at the time and had no idea fanfiction was a thing. From there it was pirate adventures and then those kind of tongue-in-cheek paranormal stories I used to write with my cousin. In high school I moved on to awful ham-fist dystopias, then in college to poetry (also ham-fists). I have a trail of informal works behind me, the vast majority of which are unpublished and should remain so. Honestly, the only reason I find myself a published novelist now is because in college I lived in the basement of an enlightened professor who, when she saw that I was in this bout of post-graduation depression, suggested I attend a novel-writing course. . I wrote the first thousand words of Leech for this i got feedback and at the end of the course i practiced how to contact the agents. My manuscript was distributed and I was lucky. Really lucky. Now people expect more substantial than stupid things from me Dunes fanfiction and frankly it’s awful.
Leech has been described as a combination of gothic horror and science fiction. What works from the Gothic tradition have influenced you, and what is the appeal of Gothic fiction in the 21st century?
I’m a sucker for the classics. In college, I loved Dracula, Frankensteinand The Phantom of the Opera-creepy, candelabra houses and the pathologically dysfunctional ruling class. I saw Leech compared to The Wuthering Heights, but I think the Bronte-ness might be aesthetic for the most part. To be honest, a lot of the surreal gothic flavor comes from Mervyn Peake. I read his books so long ago that I’m pretty sure half of my memories of Gormenghast are actually dreams I had of it, but that old house is still lodged deep in my brain, embedded in my genome like a lysogen virus.
I don’t think the 21stst century will see the death of the genre. On the contrary, his themes become After relevant, especially in a world where growing inequality only underscores the social cruelties often explored in gothic fiction – and on a global scale. There’s no shortage of heinous power dynamics, vengeful ghosts, or terrible families living isolated, haunted lives, and I doubt there ever will be. The setting may change with the trends of fiction; the spooky house can become a factory, or a small planet, or the corporate teams chat in virtual reality that never quite lets you escape, but the heart of gothic fiction still beats strong.
What other writers, inside and outside science fiction, have influenced you? Have you always been a reader of speculative fiction?
I’ve always been a reader of just about everything, except maybe romance and YA. If I could list writers who have influenced me, I’d be sitting here all day, but the ones that come to mind for Leech are of course those listed above – and a generous dollop of Samuel R. Delany, China Miéville and José Donoso. It would be remiss of me not to also shout about my transgressive French boys, who so poisoned my adolescent mind that I’m pretty sure my writing will never recover: Cendrars, Compte de Lautréamont, Barbusse , et al. Right now, I’m desperately trying to be influenced by Sofia Samatar and her beautiful and compassionate lyrical voice. We’ll see how it works.
You have sold Leech in a two-pound deal. Can you give us any clues about the next novel?
Oh lord, the second book – embryonic at best – is for now a lush and bizarre revenge story of high society. There’s sword fighting, giant centipedes, drugs and opera – and now that I think back to my list of influences, it’s… hardly surprising. I tried to explain this novel to my cousin (the paranormal) recently and came across something like “surreal anime art deco Alexandre Dumas but about that pool boy from the Falwell sex scandal” . If I tried to describe this mess in detail, it would be like someone was talking from a dream. It is a work in progress. Who knows what will become of it, but right now it’s total madness. I like this. Which probably means my editor won’t.
Anything else you would like our readers to know? Upcoming work or other important projects?
I will be on tour for Leech late September and early October. Some events in person, some live. Follow me @hironennes on twitter for updates and pre-orders Leech! My paranormal cousin says it’s a great book!