In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are excited to feature a unique collection of historical fiction by some of today’s best genre writers. Just released on Tuesday, it’s called Fall of Poppies and here with us to discuss it is author and editor Heather Webb. We spoke with Heather back in 2013 when she was celebrating the publication of her debut novel, Becoming Josephine. It’s great to have Heather back with us today.
Collections of stories by well-known authors is common in the romance genre—not so much in historical fiction. Can you share with us a bit about how you got involved in this anthology? What were your goals as both featured writer and the collection’s editor and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I noticed an upswing in anthologies and it got the wheels turning. Why couldn’t there be one based on a historical event or theme, I asked myself. As a big Downton Abbey fan, I kept thinking I’d like to read more set during the Edwardian era. I began brain-storming ideas and eventually wrote the pitch, which is the cover copy you see. After that point, I approached authors who have written during this time period already or who were actively researching it. The rest is history, as they say.
The goal of the stories was to portray the various forms of love—and loss—of citizens of Europe who suffered through WWI, and above all, tie these themes to a sense of hope. Ultimately, people need nothing more than hope in this world; to carry on, to get to the other side, to achieve, even. I thought the contributors did a terrific job of illustrating this basic human need.
Collectively, the nine bestselling authors behind Fall of Poppies have written quite a bit about history. For example, Hazel Gaynor is known for her book on the Titanic, Marci Jefferson has dazzled readers with Restoration England, and you’ve written about early 19th century in France. Why was Armistice Day of 1918 the chosen theme for this collection? How does your novella, “Hour of the Bells,” relate to the aftermath of the famous Great War?
I chose this theme because I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan. I’m so sad it’s about to end! The Edwardian era is endlessly fascinating to me because there’s so much happening—women’s rights are really underway, the social class structure is dissolving and shifting in the western world, the Ottoman Empire is disintegrating. WWI changed the scope of life as people knew it completely.
Personally, I was fascinated by this idea of time and how the Great War ended at 11 a.m. on 11/11, yet the end of war doesn’t bring peace within—not when so many were affected. It made for a fascinating topic. In my own story, I wanted to explore this time metaphor. I did this by making the protagonist’s husband a clockmaker as well as weaving this concept throughout the story. Beatrix Joubert is a German-born woman who marries a Frenchman, and their only son is ridiculed for being a dirty “boche”, spurring him to join the war efforts. When her son perishes, she can’t forgive herself for who she is and how she has failed him—and sets out on a quest for vengeance. I couldn’t think of a more powerful motivation than a mother’s love and grief. It seems as if women in grief are often portrayed as desolate and despondent and retreat into themselves. I wanted to explore the anger that comes with losing a loved one, and how one might turn it outward on the world. And, ultimately, how one can find hope in such loss.
With two novels under your belt, Fall of Poppies is your first anthology. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing this novella? What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
The most challenging aspect was making sure I packed in the meaningful message I wanted to convey. I wanted to give the story a deep emotional core that delivered some intensity without watering down the action—no easy feat. I must admit, I enjoyed the challenge immensely. It came a bit easier than I expected. I tend to write lean first drafts of my novels and then go back and layer them through the revision process so it was much more natural than I assumed it would be.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Can you share with us a story about a particular book/author that has had a strong influence on you or your writing?
My favorite authors change as time goes on, I find. I become infatuated with a particular genre or style and I gobble it up until I’m saturated with it and then I look elsewhere for inspiration and to feed my brain. For example, as a kid I read mysteries, thrillers, and romance almost exclusively. By the time I hit the last few years of high school and through college, I read nothing but classic literature. Once I started teaching, I branched out into narrative nonfiction, especially biographies, and chick lit. When I had kids, I couldn’t stop reading historical fiction. I’ve done a Young Adult phase as well. Currently I’m reading literary fiction in its various forms and historicals, with the occasional foray into mysteries or science fiction. In other words, I’m a bit of a book hog. I like a little of this and that, but historicals are my absolute favorite. At the end of the day, I like to be swept away.
I can still toss out a few favorite author names: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Sena Jeter Naslund, Tom Robbins, John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Jennifer Donnelly, Kate Quinn, Diana Gabaldon, Loretta Chase. There are so many others.
You are known for giving great advice to your Twitter followers as well as through your monthly contributions to Writer Unboxed! Many of our subscribers are aspiring authors. What advice do you have today for writers trying to break into the fiction market?
Thank you, I do my best! I really enjoy helping aspiring or established writers to reach for their goals. As a former high school teacher and athletic coach, this sort of “cheering people on” and “sharing what I know” comes naturally. We all need a writing community to lean on and I’ve found that at Writer Unboxed for sure.
My advice is to writers is to do the work and put in the time. Sometimes it appears as if authors have gotten lucky overnight or had serious success instantly and that is almost never the case. Most authors have been rejected for years and have many manuscripts in the proverbial drawer. In other instances, they have put out some books that fail spectacularly and have been dropped by their publisher or other such things and they must start out fresh elsewhere, etc. The moral of the story is that they keep going! They continue to push themselves and try new things and work very hard for a long time. Writing is a skill, the same as playing an instrument or a sport or painting. It requires constant practice and focus and passion. Keep at it and be flexible about your vision! If you love it and put in the time, you will achieve a measure of success.