Today, I have the pleasure of sitting down with the lovely Heather Webb, author of Becoming Josephine! Her debut novel, it’s become a fast hit in the biographical historical fiction genre. Join us for a fun discussion on her life as a writer, her research, and French history. You can see my review of Becoming Josephine by clicking HERE. There is a giveaway on the review post and also below after the interview, it is for the same giveaway, both will be compiled together and drawn. Enjoy!
Hi, Heather! So happy to interview you today for Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. What a nice New Year ring in to publish your book, Becoming Josephine, on New Year’s Eve! How has the launch been going?
Heather: I’m so glad to be here! Thanks for having me, Erin. The launch has been great. I can’t tell you how THRILLED I am by all of the amazing reviews. I’m so glad others are as in love with Rose/Josephine’s story as I am.
Erin: For women, her life and personality certainly create a sense of being free, and why it is good to be free in our minds and thoughts!! Oh, by the way, Heather, I just love a girl who likes books and food like me! How you describe baking and the eating of baked goods on your blog posts has made me whip up some gingerbread with cream and if you’ll sit down to enjoy with me, I’ll put on a pot of tea!
Heather: Mmm. Tea and gingerbread is so delicious in the evening before bed. Yes, I’m a bit of a foodie, though these days, I’m busier and busier and don’t have as much time to devote to cooking as I used to. I’m sure that will change as my kids go to school full-time next fall.
Erin: Ah, we always think that. I did, and then now my youngest is in first grade (other two in 4th and 8th) and I’m even busier than ever. I just try to make time for baking at least, it’s therapy! Shall we get started with a few questions? Here we go….
Q: Where did your love of all things French first start? I imagine you love history as well and it seems the pairing inspired you to write Becoming Josephine?
A: The Frenchie love began in 7th grade when my family lived in Louisiana. Cajun French is pretty different from Parisian French, but that was where the seeds were planted. As for history, I blame my parents. Between all of the museums they made us go to as kids (which I’m thankful for) and my dad’s obsession with old movies, it seemed only natural that I would love history as well.
Erin: We take our kids to all kinds of museums as we can, since their early stages. My son has taken a liking to history (as you saw when he reviewed your book on his blog!) so I think it’s a good thing. But actually, I didn’t know the French varied….interesting.
Q: Where did you first discover Rose/Josephine and why did you decide to tell her story (amazing one that it is!)?
A: I first discovered Josephine in a dream. When I decided to write a book, I dreamt about her almost immediately. I knew very little and didn’t even know what she looked like, but her essence was there somehow. *cue Twilight Zone music* So I went to the library to research her the next day. I was hooked in the first few pages of my first biography.
Q: How long did it take you to research this book? How much is historically accurate and how much is pure fiction? Is it historical fantasy or biographical historical fiction? What motivated you to write it as you did?
A: I researched for about eight months before I wrote a single word, and then I continued to research in dribs and drabs throughout the entire writing process. I tried to take a comprehensive approach—biographies of important characters, histories of the Revolution as well as those of Martinique, Napoleon’s reprinted letters, primary sources scanned in Google Books, documentaries. I studied art and literature movements from this period, china patterns, fashion, weapons. I could go on. Researchitis is a disease we historical fiction writers suffer from.
Erin: True! Yes, I do know that research bug well, as a history buff and writer myself. I sometimes get too into researching and forget to write. It’s all fun though learning so much and then creating a visual world for others.
I would say it’s about 90% accurate, which would make this biographical historical fiction for sure. If the event didn’t happen exactly as written, it was imagined based upon documents that alluded to her witnessing the event.
A couple of examples, Alexandre and Rose separated, but it took place with the aid of a provost through a series of letters and not in person. I chose to set it up as a show-down between the two of them because it’s more dramatic, therefore much more fun to read. It helps the book move. Plus, Rose initiated the separation from Alexandre and won, after which, he apologized—this is the basic truth that was not lost by portraying it as I did. Another example is Rose’s father initially came with her from Martinique to Paris for a two-year stay, but he was so ill his entire time in France, that his character added little to the story. This is why I chose to leave him at home. Other changes I list on my website.
Erin: That’s great. It felt very authentic!
Q: Was it a long process to write the book? Do you use outlines or write as your muse leads without limitations?
A: I’m a plotter. I write-up extensive character sketches, scene outlines, and historical outlines. That being said, my muse takes over all the time and leads me in directions I don’t anticipate. And yes, it took me three years to write it. I consider that long, though I know plenty of writers that spend 7-10 years on each of their books.
Q: What advice do you have for other aspiring historical novelists? What type of book do you need to write, or query letter, in order to be published or looked at by a traditional publishing house?
A: One: If you want to be traditionally published, study the trends. Walk through a bookstore and see what’s selling. Sometimes the fact that’s it’s never been done before is a bad thing—it means it won’t sell. Beware of that. You may want to reevaluate your goals. For the record, I didn’t do this before I began Becoming Josephine, but I have since.
Two: I read and research widely, which includes travel, but I am not a historian. I’m a novelist. I grow tired of the constant push and pull between “he/she’s accurate” or “he/she’s inaccurate”—all of the finger-pointing historical novelists do to each other. My advice to aspiring writers is to enjoy researching and writing about your topic. Pay attention to detail, but remember that history is far more fluid than what the “experts” say and fiction even more so. What you want is to entertain readers, inflame their imaginations—their hearts! And inspire them to want to read more on a subject. If you’ve managed to do that, you’ve done your job. Readers can consult the many nonfiction books on a given topic until their heart’s content, if they so choose. In other words, don’t get bogged down in every fact and detail. In fact, you will have people tell you that you’re wrong about a particular point, even if you taken it straight from a primary source. It’s happened.
Q: With so many historical novels on the market in all sub-genres that are published in many ways, traditional publishers seem to have a liking to books regarding women in history. Do you find this to be true, and if so, why?
A: It seems to be. It’s what’s on the shelves these days.
Q: What other women in history interest you and why? Do you have your sights on any others you might write about that you aren’t holding close to the chest?
A: Some I find fascinating that I won’t write about: Jackie Kennedy, Madame Tussaud, Queen Victoria, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great. I like strong women that set trends and shape the world.
Erin: You named several of my favorite there!
Q: What do you like best about French history?
A: What I like most about French history? I can’t really answer this because my response is: all of it!
Q: What types of French food were fainted over during Josephine’s time as compared to today? Can you name some dishes from then and some from now? What are your own favorites?
A: Jellies and sugared fruits, roasted wild game and fish (whole and not in filets). My favorites are more of the typical French dishes from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s like croissants and meats basted in wine sauce, or cheese platters, fruit tarts, etc.
Q: What are your personal favorite baking recipes (you’re right, it is a science and hard to mess with! I use a lot of old world recipes from my ancestors!)? Fellow baker to baker, I’d love to hear what you make on weekends to relieve the stress of the week!
A: A few of my favorites are Nutella pound cake, chocolate B&B bouché, lemon tart, pumpkin bourbon beignets, Scottish shortbread, éclairs, peach cobbler! I could on and on here. Ha ha!
Erin: Mmmm…me too! All sounds delightful!
Q: As busy as you are, and with children, HOW do you find the time? Not only with your work, writing a novel, blogging, networking, marketing, cooking, teaching, and children, life with a family is constant chaos. How does your mind find peace in order to write?
A: Finding balance is always tricky. I’m a bit of a workaholic so I have to rein myself in at times. What I’ve found is the most useful to me in terms of time management is very basic: I keep a calendar and a very regular writing schedule. That sounds like an obvious solution, but most writers I know, believe it or not, don’t keep regular hours. Every Saturday and Sunday I leave my house and hunker down in a coffee shop and write for 5-7 hours–without exception. That time has become sacred to me. I also work for a couple of hours in the mornings each day during the week, but it typically consists of keeping up with my social media commitments and editing. With young kids, that’s the best I can do. The rest of my time is devoted to family.
Q: Where can readers connect with you? What about writer friends?
A: My website: http://www.HeatherWebb.net, Twitter: @msheatherwebb or FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Heather-Webb-Author/124095350992513?ref=hl
Q: Where can everyone run out to or click their fingers and purchase your book?
A: My book page on my website: http://www.heatherwebbauthor.com/sample-page-2/book-list/
Erin: Heather, so glad to have you here today and I hope you’ll come back often. I really enjoy your web site, your “for fun” section, your blog (food, writing tips, interviews—it’s great), and I had a blast at your book launch party which was so interesting with all the photos and info you shared. I know you’ll have great success with your book! I wish you all the best and keep in touch!
Heather: Thanks so much, Erin.
One paperback (U.S. only). Enter to win by commenting below or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Extra +2 entries for liking my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/HookofaBook and extra +2 for following this blog. Enter to win by one (1) week from the date of this post or yesterday’s review post.
Becoming Josephine, Synopsis~
Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.
Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.
After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.
BECOMING JOSEPHINE is a novel of one woman’s journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself.
Praise for Becoming Josephine
“Heather Webb’s epic novel captivates from its opening in a turbulent plantation society in the Caribbean, to the dramatic rise of one of France’s most fascinating women: Josephine Bonaparte. Perfectly balancing history and story, character and setting, detail and pathos, Becoming Josephine marks a debut as bewitching as its protagonist.” –Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl
“With vivid characters and rich historical detail, Heather Webb has portrayed in Josephine a true heroine of great heart, admirable strength, and inspiring courage whose quest is that of women everywhere: to find, and claim, oneself.” –Sherry Jones, bestselling author of The Jewel of the Medina
“A fast-paced, riveting journey, Becoming Josephine captures the volatile mood of one of the most intense periods of history—libertine France, Caribbean slave revolts, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars—from the point of a view of one of its key witnesses, Josephine Bonaparte.” –Dana Gynther, author of Crossing on the Paris
“Vivid and passionate, Becoming Josephine captures the fiery spirit of the woman who stole Napoleon’s heart and enchanted an empire. –Susan Spann, author of The Shinobi Mysteries
“Spellbinding . . . Heather Webb’s novel takes us behind the mask of the Josephine we thought we knew.” –Christy English, author of How to Tame a Willful Wife and To Be Queen
“Enchanting prose takes the reader on an unforgettable journey . . . Captivating young Rose springs from the lush beauty of her family’s sugar plantation in Martinique to shine in the eighteenth century elegance of Parisian salon society. When France is torn by revolution, not even the blood-bathed terror of imprisonment can break her spirit.” –Marci Jefferson, author of Girl on the Gold Coin (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)
Author Heather Webb, Biography~
She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full-time novel-writing and freelance editing.
When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/becomingjosephinetour
Twitter Hashtag: #BecomingJosephineTour