January 30, 2014

Heather Webb's Becoming Josephine - Author Interview

Thank you for being our guest on Historical Fiction Connection today, Heather. We appreciate you answering our questions and look forward to your answers.

Thank you for having me! I’m glad to be here.

HFC: What inspired you to become a historical novelist?

I blame my parents for my love of history. My dad has always been a big fan of old movies, westerns, musicals from the golden age of Hollywood, etc, and I watched alongside him, soaking up all those glorious details from Ben Hur and the like. My mother was an avid museum-goer and each time we moved to a new town (military) or traveled far from home, we would hit every museum in the area. As a kid, that had its painful moments, but as an adult, I’m so utterly grateful for the love of culture and history they instilled in me.

HFC: Your book is about Josephine Bonaparte, a very intriguing and popular figure in history. What is it about her story that captivates the world, even after all these years?

Josephine has the classic rags-to-riches story, in which she starts out as poor nobility on a sugar plantation, braves horrid men, rebellion, and prison to become not just a leader of France, but a beloved icon. What’s not to love about that? But also, the fact that her stations in life constantly changed and she adapted, that she always found a way out to make a life for herself during a volatile era is fascinating and inspiring. Several thousand gorgeous gowns and jewels never hurt anything either…

HFC: What is your opinion of Napoleon historically? Do you think he was unfair to Josephine?

My opinion is that the man was damaged at a young age. He lost his father, lived in a country constantly at war, and had a horrible mother who belittled the lot of her children by turns and then stroked their egos when it did them little good. When Napoleon was sent to school in France, he was an outsider. He was mocked by his classmates for being a foreigner and struggled to be accepted the whole of his education.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is that everyone has their story. There are reasons why we are shaped the way we are. Nature & nurture both play a part. He was driven and rageful, but also charismatic—a real leader that people rallied behind. I think he did a lot of good for France. That being said, he was a murderous tyrant who massacred whole peoples in the name of his own lust for power and greed. An inexcusable and hideous side to him, yet, I couldn’t help but see his more humane side. He loved fiercely and was even a bit of a poet, if you read his letters.

In terms of fairness, Josephine wronged Napoleon initially, yet he also knew she didn’t love him. But there was a time when she ceased all communications with other men and devoted herself entirely to Bonaparte’s cause and their reign. So yes, in a way, I think he was unfair to her. He crushed her when she discovered how he was using women to make himself feel like a man. The divorce was an even bigger blow, but in the end, Napoleon loved no one the way he loved Josephine.

HFC: Do you have a process when you're doing research for your books?

Not exactly—sort of? I scour the internet looking for books I can buy on my subjects, check out everything I can find in the state library system, view documentaries, etc. From there, I make a historical outline and a scene outline. But I’ve found myself constantly looking things up. Sometimes I just need a prop in a scene and I’ll spend hours researching information on a single prop. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole when you love to learn. Also, for my third draft, I sweep through the pages fact-checking again and adding more historical info where appropriate so I wind up researching again. Researchitis is a disease we historical writers suffer from!

HFC: I know you teach writing classes and have an online presence giving advice as well. For aspiring writers of historical fiction, what would be some pointers for them?

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, enflame 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.

HFC: Are you currently reading any historical fiction? If so, which one(s)?

I just finished reading THE LION AND THE ROSE by Kate Quinn. She’s become one of my favorite historical authors. Her books move at a clip and are loaded with wit and bawdy humor. Currently I’m reading LONGBOURN by Jo Baker.

HFC: What is your favorite historical fiction book and/or your favorite historical author?

I don’t have a favorite, but there are many I adore. Diana Gabaldon, Kate Quinn, Michelle Moran, Erika Robuck, Jessica Brockmole, Sena Jeter Naslund. I’m excited to try other authors people always talk about like Bernard Cornwell and Sharon Kay Penman and Sarah Dunant. They’re on my list!

HFC: Do you have your next project in the works and can we get a hint?

Yes! My next book just sold to Plume, once more, so I’m thrilled to share. It’s called RODIN’S LOVER and it tells the story of Camille Claudel, sculptress, lover, and collaborator to the famed Auguste Rodin. I explore the themes of love, obsession, and madness set to the backdrop of Belle Époque Paris. It’s scheduled to release in winter of 2015.

Heather, thanks again for joining us today. We really enjoyed chatting with you and look forward to hosting you here at HFC again in the future. We wish you continued success with Becoming Josephine.

Thanks so much!

Be sure to stop over at my blog, The True Book Addict, to find out in my review why I consider Becoming Josephine a must-read and be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY.

About Becoming Josephine
Publication Date: December 31, 2013
Plume Books/Penguin
Paperback; 320p
ISBN-10: 0142180653

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)
Buy Links

Barnes & Noble

About the Author
Heather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. 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.

For more information please visit Heather’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

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