Heather Webb's Debut Novel, Becoming Josephine, Is a Study of Personal Evolution and the French Revolution
In the opening pages of Becoming Josephine we meet a young teenage girl named Rose Tascher. Rose is a free-spirited young woman who lives on a plantation in Martinique, and who dreams of a marriage that is (unlike that of her parents') full of love. It's the beginning of a journey for Rose--and readers--as she successfully reinvents herself to survive, and in the process becomes Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and Empress of France.
It might sound crazy, says Becoming Josephine author Heather Webb, but the heroine traveled through time and space to tell Webb her story. "I decided one day that I was going to write a book, and that night I had a dream about Josephine. I checked out a bunch of bibliographies and got started. I felt like I knew this woman, instantly; she was like a friend."
Webb will be at Brazos Bookstore on Thursday, May 15, to discuss her debut novel.
Former French teacher Heather Webb knows she's lucky to have her debut novel find a publisher--and success, and she doesn't take it for granted. The book took two and a half years to write, and went through ten edits before it was complete. Honing her skills at conferences, and writing for websites like Writer Unboxed and Romance University, gave Heather the opportunity to learn the publishing business inside and out; she's even doing some freelance editing on the side. "A lot of writers have "trunk novels"--books that have never seen the light of day. The process was arduous, but I was methodical. Finding critique partners--people who were at the same skill level as I am, or better--was huge in terms of advancing forward from one draft to the next."
Why historical fiction? It's what appeared on the page, said Webb. "I've always loved history, but I didn't read much historical fiction until I started working on the book. A lot of writers will tell you that they go at it thinking one thing, but [the book] comes out completely different. I thought I would write young adult, because I taught high school and that voice was in my head, but ... it's all about the Muse!"
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After dreaming about Josephine, Webb set about learning everything she could about one of history's most famous women. "She lived three lifetimes in one," said Webb. "I was most compelled by the fact that she could reinvent herself time and time again. The rug would get pulled out from underneath this woman, and she would find a way to make it happen for herself. During a time when everyone is a victim--and she's a woman--she still managed to pull it out. Josephine is a person I would like to know [in real life]."
Becoming Josephine is a first-person account of Rose/Josephine's life, in which we follow her in her pursuit of true love, social standing, and the (tenuous) security that comes with power. So how does an author of historical fiction balance character development with historical accuracy? As it turns out, very carefully. "There is quite a bit of tension among historical novelists," explained Webb. "You have two camps: those who want everything to be exactly factual, and those who worked hard at getting the factual pieces correct but who tweak things--or put an emphasis on things--that aren't perfectly historically accurate, to connect the reader with the character. For me, I think I am closer to the story than the hardcore factual side; I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I think it's important to do things right, but as a fiction writer I need to bring things out to make a great story."
Fast-paced and character-driven, you can count on Becoming Josephine to entertain with a plot that never stops moving. "I write 'plot-y' books, books that move. There is a women's fiction slant, but through the time period and the appearance of Napoleon, it has broader appeal."
Beyond the page, Webb's enthusiasm for Josephine is infectious. Expose yourself at Brazos Bookstore on Thursday, May 15 at 7 p.m., where Webb will discuss and answer questions about her debut novel. (Hint: Ask her about Josephine's Toucan feather-and-diamond gown.)
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