I was fortunate enough to see Heather speak on a conference panel, and she was super insightful. Her debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, is now available:

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.

Here are Heather’s answers to my questions:

Your website bio states that you taught and coached high school students before becoming a historical novelist. What brought this change, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication? 

I did! I loved teaching very much, which is probably why I enjoy working with other writers so much as well. I still teach publishing and craft classes at a local community college to keep my feet wet, so to speak. But I resigned from teaching high school French initially to stay home with my one-year- old. I had another baby soon after, so in spite of my love for my job, I loved my babies more. My husband and I made a lot of financial sacrifices so I could stay home with the kids. Soon after, my brain got to whirring. I had always longed to write books so being at home was the perfect time to take a chance on the whole idea!

As for publication, I worked on my novel off and on for two-and-a-half years and went through two rounds of querying before I met my agent. We hooked up at a conference, actually, and I signed with her about five weeks later. From there, I worked on revisions with my agent’s notes for about six weeks and we went out on submission. The book was on submission for about five weeks before it sold. So in many ways, I’m blessed. So many authors toil and struggle and I think something clicked for me that I attribute to the universe (and a shitload of hard work and research!).

Definitely goes to show what a shitload of hard work and research can do! Your debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, just released. Congratulations! Where did the idea come from and what do you want readers to take away when they’re finished?

Thank you! Sometimes I still can’t believe it. Every time someone posts a picture of my book in their hands or on the shelves, I get the most insanely wonderful melty feeling inside.

The idea for this novel came to me in two parts. I taught a unit about the French Revolution in my high school French classes for several years, which sparked my interest in the time period. Yet despite my teaching, I knew little about Josephine and I “discovered” her later. Ultimately she was a minor player in a sea of France’s most famous and infamous people during the Revolution—at least until Robespierre fell and the Directoire took over the government.

When I began to feel the pull to writing a book, I had a dream about Josephine. Strange, but true. From the very first biography I read, I was hooked. Her vivid childhood home, her adaptable nature and courageous spirit had me enthralled. Her rich life story set to the backdrop of the chaotic Revolution and the opulent Napoleonic Empire cinched the deal.

The message I would like readers to grasp—this is tricky because a book, film, or piece of art, means something different to each person based on their own emotional lens and life experiences—is that there is hope in beginning anew, not just loss. Also, true contentedness comes with forgiveness and generosity.

Hope is a wonderful and important theme– and it definitely comes across in the novel.
You also do freelance editing. How do you balance this with your writing load, and what do you recommend to writers wanting to try editing?

I don’t recommend editing to all writers. I think it’s a very specific skill. Just because you’re a wonderful writer in your own voice and you have a good command of the language, doesn’t mean you are able to channel someone else’s voice or style. Also, it’s not easy money if you do it well. I work very hard on the novels I edit and treat them as if I would my own. I spend a lot of time mulling over the story arc and the characters, how to make the craft stronger, tone and sensual detailing, etc. If a writer is willing to put in that kind of effort AND has the necessary skill, by all means, give it a shot. I’ve seen a lot of writers become “editors” that have no business doing it. Unfortunately, most of those editors think the feedback they’re giving is sufficient. Like any other job, not all workers are created equal, so I would encourage writes in search of feedback to really look into the editors they’re hiring. In terms of writers becoming editors, I would say they should try it on for size, do a bit of training, and push their own craft to become better before they jump in. It’s a bit like running your own business and not everyone is cut out for that sort of commitment and drive.

In terms of balance, it’s really tough. I just came off of a dry spell of editing so I could polish my latest manuscript to get it to my editor. But I’m back at it and working on several manuscripts at the moment. I think utilizing a calendar and blocking off chunks of time for both editing and your own writing is paramount to keeping it all fluid and moving in the right direction.

Excellent advice. Your second novel, RODIN’S LOVER will release in 2015. How is it different from BECOMING JOSEPHINE, and what do you love most about it?

My critique partners have told me that it’s clear my voice is present and vibrant in RODIN’S LOVER, so I’m quite relieved to hear that, but yes, it’s a very different book from BECOMING JOSEPHINE. For one, it’s one hundred years later in history so the fashions, the way people talk, the societal expectations are vastly different. The politics have changed quite a bit, plus there’s this whole thing of switching from royal historical fiction to highlighting the lives of artists. It was a very challenging novel to write because of the mental illness that arises and a couple of other controversial issues that I don’t want to mention now (spoilers!). But I grew significantly as a writer while crafting it. As for what I loved most about RODIN’S LOVER? Ahh, it’s a beautiful, tragic story full of romance and heartache, with characters yearning to create and achieve, and to become whole. I think my favorite piece was writing the scenes in which the artists are in the midst of working on a sketch or sculpture. It was great fun for me to burrow into their minds and see what it would be like to spend time in an artist’s body. I didn’t find it vastly different from being a writer at times.

That sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to read it! What are other current projects you’re working on?

I can’t tell you what I’m working on now or I’ll have to kill you. Ha ha! No really, I can’t say much for now, but it’s also set during the Belle Epoque, so 1880s Paris, and it will focus on the themes of possession, finding strength within to be who we are, and the changing concept of what it means to be beautiful. It will also have a gothic feel to it. I’m really, really looking forward to writing this book! It’s something I’m so utterly excited about, I can’t wait to talk about it!

To snag a copy of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, click on the link below!


Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Plume/Penguin 2015).  A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. Find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org.

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