This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to “the land of the free” promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days. Inspired by true events and for fans of Kristina McMorris and Hazel Gaynor, The Next Ship Home holds up a mirror to our own times, deftly questioning America’s history of prejudice and exclusion while also reminding us of our citizens’ singular determination.
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The Next Ship Home by Heather Webb
In this episode, Jane chats with Heather Webb, the USA Today bestselling author known for her historical novels, discussing her latest work, “The Next Ship Home,” which delves into the hidden truths of Ellis Island through the eyes of two women from vastly different backgrounds. Webb shares insights on her research process, the challenges of writing historical fiction, and the importance of portraying the immigrant experience with authenticity. The conversation also explores Webb’s collaborative writing with Hazel Gaynor, her writing process, and her advice for aspiring writers, emphasizing the necessity of completing a first draft and the reality that each book presents its unique set of challenges.
Here’s what we covered:
- [00:00:00] Introduction to Heather Webb and her historical novels.
- [00:02:01] Inspiration behind “The Next Ship Home” and its setting.
- [00:06:07] Exploring the myth and reality of Ellis Island.
- [00:08:06] Dual narrative approach in “The Next Ship Home.”
- [00:13:06] Relevance of immigration issues in historical and modern contexts.
- [00:18:58] Webb’s writing process and experience co-writing with Hazel Gaynor.
- [00:24:58] Favorite part of the writing process and challenges faced.
- [00:28:01] Upcoming novel “Strangers in the Night” about Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.
- [00:31:01] Interaction with readers and their family immigration stories.
- [00:36:26] Advice for aspiring writers and how to overcome being stuck in writing.
[00:00:00] Jane: Hello, everyone. I am here with Heather Webb. Yay. Thank you for coming tonight. And I apologize. I’m usually in my office and with a good halfway decent lighting. And we have some technical difficulties. So I’m up here in my office. Hopefully no cats or dogs will show up.
[00:00:22] Heather: We want them to show up.
Open the door.
[00:00:25] Jane: You want them show up. So I’m going to start with an intro about Heather. Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling author. An award winning author of seven historical novels. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodreads top pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award.
Meet Me in Monaco was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro NRA Award in the UK. As well as the 2019 Digital Book World Fiction Prize. Heather’s latest solo novel, The Next Ship Home, is inspired by true events and reveals the dark secrets of Ellis Island as two unlikely friends challenge a corrupt system, altering their fate and the lives of the immigrants that come after them.
She lives in New England with her family. A mischievous kitten. So cute. And one feisty rabbit. Welcome, Heather.
[00:01:16] Heather: Thank you for coming. Thank you. Thank you for having me. And I see a couple of my buddies on here, Anissa and Sharon and Denise that are tried and true historical fiction fans, author fans, my buddies.
So thank you ladies for coming. And everyone else too.
[00:01:33] Jane: And so I’ve got a bunch of questions for Heather, but please put your questions in the chat or in the Q& A. I’ll check both of them at the end for, open it up for questions. It’s so funny, Heather, because I’ve followed you on social media and Twitter, and we have kids around the same age, and we both write historical fiction.
So sometimes you treat stuff and I’m like, Oh my God, that’s my life. So much of the stuff that you post personally and professionally. It’s finally nice to see you face to face.
[00:01:59] Heather: It’s awesome. Yeah. From one mother to another.
[00:02:01] Jane: Exactly. So tell me about like the premise of the next ship home and what inspired you to write it’s like a two part question so
[00:02:10] Heather: so I’m first going to pause and just say normally the bookshelf.
It’s very sad behind me I feel like I need to address this. I have an easy one of those little Danish who I can. Christmas guys because of Amy Riker, who’s my buddy, who has a book that has those popping up in, in December, a Christmas book. But it’s so sad because I’m moving. I’m like in the process of packing everything up in the next several weeks.
It’s pretty scary and sad looking back there, but. That’s not always the case. The Next Ship Home was my novel released a few months ago my newest, and it features a young woman from Sicily and her sister who come through Ellis Island, who are looking for a better life, and they, Can are confronted with a whole lot of stuff.
They did not plan to see a lot of corruption thought they could get through quickly and things do not go according to plan. Luckily, there’s a young woman named Alma, who is a German American citizen who works at Ellis Island who does not want to be there, who does not like immigrants and has a lot to learn about people who are unlike herself.
And they end up striking up a friendship. So Francesca and Alma they come together and decide if they’re going to confront the corruption sort of rippling through the hallways of Ellis Island, and this is 1902. So the backdrop is you have the subway being built. You have Teddy Roosevelt who has stepped in because McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist.
Anarchist movement is huge during this time which also pops up in the book here and there. You’ve got the labor movement and you have thousands of immigrants arriving on the shores every single week. So this is the backdrop through which my characters move. Yeah, and I, it’s, I think it’s a really fascinating time.
I love the Gilded Age and the Belly Puck if you’re in France versus other countries Western countries and so much going on, so much change and growth and upheaval. And this book is set right on the cusp of that. So lately
[00:04:10] Jane: yeah, I, and that one thing I really loved about it. I loved a lot of things about this book.
And immigrant stories are close to my heart because my first novel was an immigrant story. But I love that, you pierce through there. I think there’s like this American mythology about Ellis Island and coming in on the ships and seeing the seeing the Statue of Liberty and you pierce through that and tell the really true raw.
Stories of what it was really like there. It was not all happy. And obviously PE when people are excited to arrive at the com country, but a lot of things went wrong for these people and a lot of them didn’t have a penny in their pocket when they arrived.
[00:04:46] Heather: Yeah. I think I’m fascinated by legend and I, and it doesn’t matter what culture it is.
I, I’m mythology and legend. I find so interesting. As a human being, but also as a storyteller and a novelist, I think, how much, what’s the percentage of truth that goes into a legend and a mythology and what is fabricated based on emotion and how someone has filtered the experience through their own emotional lens and then how that’s transmitted over time.
And so Ellis Island is really a place of legend. And like you said this. We think of this very honorable, beautiful sort of location that embraces people from all over the world. And that’s actually partially true. It’s just not the whole truth. And there, there’s a lot. that there that has been, it hasn’t been mined so much in stories, which I found really interesting.
There aren’t a lot of novels about Ellis Island out there, just a couple. There are a lot that have, a scene of an immigrant sort of passing through But so I really, I was really interested in that aspect of legend and digging through, what are the layers of truth here and and all that good stuff.
So yeah, no, absolutely. There’s a big dichotomy between what really happened and what we believe the process was like, and I just wanted to share that with readers.
[00:06:07] Jane: Yeah, no, it was excellent. And also I love that it’s told from the female perspective, which I think was very different coming to America than a male perspective.
And so you told it from alternating viewpoints, Francesca and Alma, and, two very young women from very different backgrounds, but in the end realized they had some similarities to their backgrounds too. So what, tell me about that choice to tell it from dual narrative and why these two characters?
[00:06:34] Heather: So whenever I’m crafting a story from early on, I’m plotting and I’m looking at events and real people surrounding the story. I like to think about planting characters that are going to have the most growth needed are going to struggle the most in the situation because that’s what makes good fiction.
I like a good antagonist. I like tension. I like fast paced scenes. All of these things I think make for really gripping stories. There’s a lot of beautiful books that don’t do all of those things, but that’s just, my style. So I thought that showing opposite sides of the same coin would be really, give you a really rich view of what it was like to go through Ellis Island.
And this is why I chose an immigrant. And at that time, Italian immigrants were the wave that was really huge coming through Ellis Island. And then the the German American and the German population in the U. S. was the largest. Cultural group for decades and decades, even into almost into recent times, actually.
So I found that fascinating too. It wasn’t something that I ever really knew. And so I wanted my other, my person who my citizen to be of German heritage, even though she was American. So yeah. I’m looking for struggle. I’m looking for something that makes sense historically.
And I always try to dig into something that’s a little bit different from what everyone else is writing about. Yeah. Yeah. Just cause it’s fun, it’s fun to mine new territory, so to speak. So it is.
[00:08:06] Jane: And actually that. That goes to my next question, because I love, total nerd. I love reading the research notes in the
[00:08:13] Heather: I do too. And when I’m reading somebody else’s book,
[00:08:16] Jane: I know. So you did a ton of research and I would love to hear about like the type of research you did. What your research process is like, and was there anything, this is three questions in one, was there anything in your research that surprised you, as you were going through all of these different sources that you found?
[00:08:35] Heather: Yes, and yes, is the answer. Yeah, so I love research too it’s a really fun part of writing historicals, and every time I think about writing in another category, I go, oh, but What about the, the digging in and learning all these cool new things? Yeah, and I think part of that is being an educator, too.
I just, I love to learn, and I think most historical writers love to learn, and this is a big part of what we do. I always try to go on location, and I, living in Connecticut makes, means that Ellis Island isn’t terribly far. So I went about a dozen times over a couple of years and spoke with the librarian there several times and, did lots of little videos, tons of pictures.
I did every little station in Ellis Island more than once. Every time I would write a new section, I would think, oh, was that really Located in that part of the building and I couldn’t remember and I would look at maps and the problem is that it changed so much over time from every five years or every decade and it was only open for six and a half decades, but it would change drastically.
Based on immigration waves and the surplus of people coming. And so I would have to go back and look things up again. But I actually really loved it because the place has a real sense of presence. And I think that’s something with research that you can’t. You can’t replace with Google, you just can’t, it just, it’s not even, it’s not even a little bit the same, I could put the facts down but it wouldn’t come alive the way I feel like it should and so I spent a lot of time there.
I dug through many immigrant interviews that have been transcribed. I have a whole giant book of them actually but I’ve looked through several different collections. I listened to some. And then in the clips that I listened to, many of them made me cry. Yeah. How could they not, and some of them were amazing and funny and joyous and great.
Yeah. So lots and lots of research and and I forget what the other,
[00:10:30] Jane: Oh, was there anything that you, that really surprised you?
[00:10:33] Heather: Yes. Okay. Yeah. What did I leave off? Lots that surprised me, but a couple of things I left out was that the book is set in 1902 I had a real hard time setting it then at first because 1903 Teddy Roosevelt goes out to Ellis Island.
He keeps hearing all these horrible rumors about what’s happening there. And he goes out there and he leaves on a day that’s horribly stormy where the East River meets the Hudson. It’s very turbulent anyway on a calm day. Safe, but it’s turbulent, but in a crazy storm. They had to keep from shore, hit it, heading out to that port.
It took two and a half hours going back and forth trying to get across the bay. It takes 15 minutes on a ferry just to give you a, an idea. And it was just the details, that it almost sunk like three times. And I’m thinking as I’m reading this, why does he keep trying to go out there?
Just wait, but they have this grand lunch plan for him, this whole big ceremony, there’s oysters, there’s all these things that they don’t usually have out there. And he does finally make it. And I could not find a way to wedge that into the story because I just wanted Roosevelt to, I wanted to write a scene with him walking through the halls.
Oh, everybody freaking out, but no, it didn’t work. Then the one other thing was there’s a fairy called the General Slocum that has a horrible, had a horrible reputation because it always had sort of motor issues and such. But one day, and again in 1903. It was transporting a thousand German American women and children who were heading out to a church picnic to one of the aisles that it would go dock at, and it sunk.
It caught fire and sunk, and over a thousand people died, and it was considered the worst disaster in New York City history until 9 11. And I’ve never heard of it. Oh, never heard of it. Yeah. You’ve heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire a million times. Yep. Yep. This, over a thousand people, it’s, they’re not even comparable.
It was awful. Of course, any disaster is awful, but tragedy. But it was shocking to find this out. And because I was writing about a German American, I thought, How can I get this into the story? And then I, but the book was not about those things. It was, it’s about Ellis Island. It’s about immigration.
It’s about, friendship and family lineage and how you define your family and all of these things. None of those other things fit into that scope. So I had to cut, cut, cut. You know how it is.
[00:12:56] Jane: It’s hard. Yeah, you find those like nuggets and you just want to share them and then it’s like it doesn’t fit the narrative or, the purpose.
It’s yeah, I get that so much.
[00:13:05] Heather: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:13:06] Jane: I wanted to read this from your notes in the back. So 12 million people pass through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954. And even today, an estimated 50 percent of all Americans can trace at least one ancestor who entered the country through the immigration center, which I thought that was a stunning number.
And I would, but I was looking at like your reviews and people were sharing story like Ellis Island family stories. And I was wondering if you’ve heard from readers directly about that type of thing.
[00:13:35] Heather: Honestly, I love this question because it’s No one has asked me this, and it’s one of my favorite parts about writing this book, is I’m hearing all of these family stories.
People are sharing like the ship manifest that their ancestors came up with. I’m seeing, art of family artifacts. and antiques and some of these stories are unbelievable. And so that’s been one of the coolest parts, because, we love stories, obviously you do. And I do as writers and to hear these are just, it’s, you can’t make it up.
You can’t make up some of these things, I do too. So it’s been really fun and very touching and a cool thing to be a part of. Yeah. I don’t think it’s quite 50. I want to say, honestly, I want to say I fixed that and copy edits and it didn’t go through for somewhere between 40 and 50. It’s high.
It’s close enough. Yeah.
[00:14:32] Jane: But yeah. Oh, that’s very cool.
[00:14:34] Heather: Yeah. That’s an enormous number when you’re talking about almost 4 million, 400 million people. That’s a huge number. It is still that percentage.
[00:14:42] Jane: Yeah. And and then another thing I was thinking about when I was reading is this story highlights, highlights Francesca’s experience.
Immigrants like Francesca, they’re stuck at the border. There’s fraud and abuse in the system. There’s so many issues that are still relevant and happening today. And I got to think that while you were writing it, and then you’re seeing stories in the news and you’re like, it’s like history repeats itself.
The immigrant system is so fraught with problems and politics and emotion and that’s still holds true.
[00:15:13] Heather: It does. And, it was actually surprising as I was going through some of the newspaper archives. I was digging through, the the New York Post and the New York Times and several other papers through the New York Public Library.
I got a temporary card and dug through all of their material. Yeah, it’s great. If you’re a Connecticut resident, I think maybe Massachusetts too. I know it’s Connecticut for sure or Jersey, you can get a temporary New York Public Library card. So I went through all, many of their archives there, and I couldn’t believe how many of the headlines were similar to those today.
It was shocking, which is why I ended up deciding to frame the story in those headlines, because I thought, I have my characters, and you’re learning a lot through the characters, but I want these, I want a backbone of sorts that shows things going on behind the scenes as they’re moving through this location, I
[00:16:07] Jane: really like that and you know what, not to get this isn’t a spoiler but I like the device, how you use like newspaper articles to frame the context of what’s going on with the whole immigrant.
situation in general, and then go back to the story. I like how you went back and forth.
[00:16:22] Heather: I’m glad it, I’m glad it worked, initially, so you would understand this. Initially, I wrote immigrant interviews, and every immigrant was from a different country, and within, and they’re all fictional, although I based them on pieces I found in in my research, but It, I wanted to give the narrative a feeling of many voices because of all the immigrants.
Yeah. With the main story being the two characters, but it ended up feeling too scattered. And it was okay, how does this person play into the story? And so I ended up pulling those and that’s when I decided to do the newspaper articles. So trial and error, that’s always part of the game.
[00:16:58] Jane: Yeah. Yeah. No, I like that a lot. And this was a line that was underlined, I think, by a lot of people in the Kindle version I read, and it still resonates today and I’m going to read this to some head regarding immigrants some head and people in America in general some had an easier way than others, though no inherent superiority with But simply through no inherent superiority, but simply by the luck of being born at the right place at the right time, or with the right nationality and ethnicity, no question that’s just so poignant and true.
And I think about that a lot, even now, that’s something that just that resonates and I think that’s, you know why the stories like these are so important.
[00:17:40] Heather: Yeah, I really strongly feel that way you know how. It’s just like that movie sliding doors. Yeah. With Gwyneth Paltrow from whenever that was 2005 or something where she misses the the tube in London, the subway train and doesn’t catch her boyfriend cheating on her.
And they show this whole life. Of what it would look like without finding out until much later in her story and then the other version she finds out right away and then what that life looks and there’s a, that culminating moment and I, it’s, you don’t, you can’t control where you’re born.
You can’t control, what you look like. You can’t, these are things that it is what it is. And it’s, a card from the hand, the the deck of fate, and you just have to do your best with it. And I, I feel like that was something else I wanted to say. So I love that you picked up on that particular comment.
[00:18:34] Jane: Yeah, I love that. And yeah, I think about that a lot in writing historical fiction, how like one decision, one, one chance or one, circumstance can change everything. So I, for someone and and part of it is just like who they are to begin with, where they end up, so I love that.
I want to, yeah. Ask you some writing questions. ’cause I know we have a lot of writers in the audience.
[00:18:56] Heather: Sure. Love writer questions.
[00:18:58] Jane: Yeah. And you do a lot of consulting for writers and edit editing for other writers. Some really well-known successful ones. So let’s start just process. Oh, there’s a cat.
Sorry. Are you a plotter or a panther?
[00:19:12] Heather: Do you write Hi kitty. Hi kitty. , I, I started off as a major plotter because I wrote. Two biographical historicals. I wrote Becoming Josephine with Josephine Bonaparte. Yep. Napoleon. And then the second one was Camille Clodell and Auguste Rodin. And I’m looking at characters that are heavily documented.
Yeah. And so it makes sense to be a plotter that way because you can’t. You don’t want to stray from the facts much. You want to have that be the backbone of the story. And then you spin the emotional piece around it. But then I started working on the Phantom’s Apprentice, which was a really challenging book to write a retelling of Phantom of the Opera from Christine Daae’s point of view.
It’s all fiction, but there’s this Canon that everybody loves. When I went back and looked into these characters, how they’re written to start with, you’re very flat except for the Phantom. And I thought. Okay. I need to give all of them dimension. This is not how fiction works in this century. It taught me and there was so much plot.
It taught me a lot about expanding and thinking beyond serious upfront kind of plotting. And then from there, I worked with Hazel on collaborations. Hazel’s not a huge plotter. She’ll write a synopsis and we did co write the synopsis together for our collaborations. Then we would sit down and write.
And things would go off the rails and we’d have to have a phone call and be like, okay, where’s this heading? What, what do we want to throw in here? I’d be like, okay, there’s no tension. We need an antagonist. Who’s going to do the blah, blah, blah. And then we just talk through it. And then we’d go back and rewrite that section.
I had never worked that way before. And I found with the next poem, I was somewhere between I did some plotting up front and then I ended up cutting the whole last third of the book because it was garbage. We didn’t work. I got too sucked into different aspects of what was happening in New York City at the time I just ran away with some.
And then I also added way too much with certain threads and just said, this is not what I want the book to be about. And I think that’s easy to do. You get swept up in a particular aspect of the story and realize, but this isn’t really the goal of the, what, this isn’t, it doesn’t focus on my story question.
What is it really about? And so I have learned that’s a long answer. I have learned to be both. I’m a planter. We’ll use that word. I plot up front and then I just see how it goes. That’s the real deal. Yeah.
[00:21:42] Jane: No, I’m always fascinated to hear about process. And so actually that was one of my next questions.
So for people who don’t know, you’ve written three novels with Hazel Gaynor. Is it Gaynor? Gaynor?
[00:21:53] Heather: Gaynor. Yeah. Three words for goodbye.
[00:21:56] Jane: Meet me in Monaco and last Christmas in Paris. And. So is that hard for you? Is it easy? I can’t imagine, frankly, writing with someone else. I think it’s so amazing that you two do that together.
And so successfully, obviously.
[00:22:10] Heather: So there were really variable experiences, all three of them, honestly. I love working with Hazel, hands down. I think. We both think very similarly, even though our styles are slightly different, she has different strengths than from me, but I think when you combine them, we have something there’s some sparkle there, which is really fun, fun to see.
But our first book wrote itself, I barely remember writing it, it was, it felt like a gift, I’ve never had that happen where you sit down you write it and it’s just so much fun it doesn’t feel like you worked at all. Wow. I seriously barely remember the work process because it just was so great. But it was letters and so it was very organic to write with somebody else, an epistolary style novel so that was a great way to start to break in.
Meet me Monica we had to do a bit more digging in deep collaboratively. We both took a character as we usually do, and then for all the editing we had to, we each edit every single page, so it’s truly collaborative, but we had to work together a little bit closer on structure and, just wording, sometimes she’d cut something and I’d say, But I just really love this visual.
I need to have this visual. It doesn’t have to be here. Can we put it somewhere else? And she would say, Oh, absolutely. It’s beautiful. Let’s move it here. I’ll be like, all and that happens sometimes, but I was always respectful of a piece that she loved and we would make it work. And she was of me too.
And I think that’s so key. So you have somebody going in there, crossing out the stuff you wrote, because they don’t like the way you said it. Yeah. Yeah. It could get ugly. It’s just it hurts your ego, all this stuff. Hazel and I have none of that. It’s miraculous. I really don’t know how it works, but it does.
We get along great. And we’re both open.
[00:23:55] Jane: How did it first happen? Like, how did you first say, Hey, let’s do this together for this next thing. What were, did your publisher put you together? Did you, were you guys friends?
[00:24:04] Heather: No so we had both the same literary agent and our debuts released a month apart and Hazel wasn’t on social media very much, which was interesting because she originally self published her first novel and that’s how my agent saw her, picked her up from that novel and then sold it to New York.
Oh, the girl who came home. I know the Titanic novel. It’s an amazing story, but that was also, 2012. It’s a different time, but yeah. So yeah, my, my agent reached out and said, you’re all over social media and I would love for you to, show Hazel some stuff and seems like you two would get along.
And we absolutely did. Then I met her in person and we were like, Peanut butter and jelly. So great.
[00:24:46] Jane: I love it. So what is your favorite part of the writing process? And what is the hardest part for you? Your least favorite? I’m sorry. I have a moisturizer that my cat really likes.
[00:24:58] Heather: I think it’s funny. No.
I. So my favorite part is, that fresh excitement when you’re starting and you’re reading all the research and you’re generating all these ideas and there’s all this. I call it kinetic energy. It feels like kinetic energy. There’s movement creation happening and that’s really exciting.
But you’re also in receiving mode. You’re just absorbing a lot of stuff and I love that. That’s a lot of fun. I also like the late stages of editing where you’re just deepening and making things pretty and you’re connecting these last, you’re adding the foreshadowing and you’re adding in those little elements that.
mean so much to the book, but you don’t necessarily come up with them until kind of the end when everything is mostly set into place in terms of plot and character. I love that part too. Yeah, me too. That’s the best. Drafting, not so much.
[00:25:55] Jane: I dread drafting. Yeah.
[00:25:56] Heather: Oh, so laborious.
[00:25:58] Jane: Blood from a stone, I would say.
It’s so hard for me. It doesn’t get easier. So I have two more questions. And then if anyone has questions please put them in the chat or in the Q& A. So you are, as I just said, you’re a freelance editor and consultant for other writers. And And you also write for Writer Unboxed, right? Do you do that as well?
Writer Unboxed, for those of you who don’t know, is a great resource for writers. I read articles on there all the time. What’s the best piece of advice you have for fiction writers who are like still in the trenches trying to finish that first manuscript?
[00:26:35] Heather: Lately I’ve been saying the same thing.
It varies. Depends on where you are at in the process, but I always say Just finish a draft. Yeah. It’s so easy to get caught up going back and revising and like editing edit, make it beautiful and then move on. This opening still isn’t how I want it. So I’m just going to keep working on that a hundred times.
Man, you only have 50 pages or 25 pages or 80 pages, whatever it is. Yeah. But a seasoned writer knows you’re probably going to cut that and you don’t even know it. Yeah. Yeah. Don’t do that. Just get the story down. Get to the end of your first draft. Finish it. It’s going to be ugly. It doesn’t matter.
Everybody’s baby’s ugly when they come out. They look like little wrinkly men and that’s okay. They develop and become beautiful and adorable and unique. And so just get it down and then you have all the time to go in and do your layers of edits. And make it what you want it to be, but you’re not going to really know what the beginning needs until you’ve written the end.
[00:27:42] Jane: Exactly. That’s so true. That’s such good advice. I agree. Just get the thing done and then you can. Yeah, you can make it better. I want it. I saw your announcement. I tell everybody about strangers and because it’s, it’s up my alley and Holly old Hollywood and that’s coming out in 2023.
Is that it is.
[00:28:01] Heather: Yes. Thank you. Yeah, it’s funny. So the way this went was my publisher actually approached me and asked me to write this book. They’d had some interest in it and said for anyone who doesn’t know strangers in the night is a novel of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner and their tumultuous.
and tragic love story. They were absolutely fascinating individuals. And many vices, both of them had many vices. They treated each other absolutely horrendously. And also like they were. God’s gift to love. It was like this real dichotomy of you are my soulmate and everything. You are the sun, and you are the moon, but then there was these tragic flaws that created all this drama.
So it’s. A fascinating story. Never mind the fact that each of them is fascinating in their own right with their careers, all the people they knew, all the things that they experienced. I spent a lot of time researching this one. And in fact, for every scene that appears in the book I cut two.
Oh wow. It was a lot. It was a lot. And I really, they kept my editor was like, I love all this stuff, but it’s really about their story and nothing else. So I had to really prune it. But it’s voicey. It’s lots of snappy dialogue. It’s very fast paced. I think it’s a fun read. You can’t help but rubberneck like driving by a car crash.
That’s how it is. Yeah. That’s the situation. And then learning all this amazing stuff about Frank Sinatra. I’m really excited about the book. I think people are going to like it. I hope and I’m sure maybe shed a tear. I cried every time I got to that, every draft, every time I got to the last 30 pages, I cried through the last 30 pages.
[00:29:44] Jane: That’s always a good sign though.
[00:29:46] Heather: I know. I hope so. I hope,
[00:29:47] Jane: So this is the next year, just how do people keep in touch with you? And do you do virtual events with book clubs? What’s the best place to keep in touch with you on social media? And do you do
[00:29:57] Heather: book clubs? I definitely do book clubs. I do lots of them. And that’s all on my website and I’m very easy to find. Like most of us, I’m on all the major platforms, except TikTok. And I do have an account, but I just can’t, I can’t.
[00:30:11] Jane: Same. It’s too late.
[00:30:13] Heather: Videos of myself. I’m sorry. No, nobody wants to see videos of me. I’m here to do books. I’m not here to do videos. At least I don’t want to see videos of me.
So anyway, anywhere else on the internet is great. But my website’s always the most direct and I do have a newsletter. I give away historical fiction every month. I share lots of articles for writers as an editor and and retreat information, that kind of stuff. But I also share research, fun fact kind of things and just upcoming events, sales, that kind of thing.
Yeah, so that’s a great that’s probably the best way to keep track.
[00:30:51] Jane: Very good. Okay, I’m going to look there’s some good questions in here. I’m going to scroll. Let’s see. Oh, Mindy. Hello, Mindy. Mindy is a loyal.
[00:31:01] Heather: Oh, I love
[00:31:01] Jane: Mindy too. Hi, Mindy. Who is your favorite character to write because there were such great characters that elicited feelings from the reader.
I agree. What was your
[00:31:10] Heather: favorite? That was hard. I feel like both characters are nothing like me at all and also have. An inkling. Each of them have a different inkling of who I am too. So I was a foreign language teacher. I taught French and Spanish at a high school for a decade. So this love of language with Alma is my homage to language learning and in culture and how culture and language influence each other and how you can learn about people and come to understand them through language.
And in fact, the title of the book used to be. the language of dreams until the publisher changed it which they often do. Yeah, but I love Francesca because she’s fiery and she’s courageous and I’m an adventurer at heart. I’m a I’m, I would say I’m fairly bold person in terms of striking out when I need to.
And so I think Francesca mirrors that in me, at least. There’s a lot that’s not like me, but that is definitely one aspect. So they both get pieces of me as an author and nothing at all in terms of other things. So I think that’s true of all of us, isn’t it? When you say Jane?
[00:32:18] Jane: Oh yeah. I think, yeah, there’s always little elements.
You can’t help it, yeah. Yeah.
[00:32:24] Heather: Oh, I don’t have a favorite. Sorry. I didn’t even answer that. I don’t know
[00:32:29] Jane: if you could have a drink with any author alive, dead fictional, who would it be? And why? That’s a good one.
[00:32:36] Heather: That is and that’s tough because there’s so many. I’ve had a drink with Diana Gabaldon a few times.
And she’s lovely. She’s funny as hell. She’s great. She’s quiet and introverted and then she’ll just rip out some hilarious stuff. It’s out of the side of her mouth and you’re like, what? She’s so funny. But that’s hard. Who, who can’t say Jane Austen? I have to say Jane Austen.
[00:32:58] Jane: That’s so funny.
That’s who I was going to say.
[00:33:02] Heather: It’s hard not to say Jane Austen. She’s a fave, right? Pride and Prejudice. And I love Weathering Heights too, but I don’t feel like I need to talk to the Brontes as much. I love Jane Eyre. Yeah, but I love Jane Eyre.
[00:33:14] Jane: Yeah, I was taking a break from the news, so I’ve been listening to Sense and Sensibility on audiobook, like just trying to listen and read less news.
And it’s so delightful all over again, and the narrator’s great. It’s Rosamund Pike, I think, is the narrator.
[00:33:29] Heather: Oh, nice. I just listened to The Secret Garden. I hadn’t read it since I was in seventh grade. And there’s a little bit of, there’s definitely some sort of racist undertones in terms of how they refer to Indians, which I did not like.
Oh, but it’s it’s a minor part of the story that then I was struck by it oh, wow, that part didn’t age well, but the whole rest of the book was. So beautiful and I really, and it was a wonderful audio book. So that was fun to get back into. So I don’t know, I’m straying from the question again.
The problem is there’s too many, I, whatever book I’ve just read that I love Alex Harrow, who wrote the thousand doors of January and once in future, which is, I would love to sit down and have a drink with her. Cause I loved both of those books so much. And I would just like to. Chat with her about how she creates her magical worlds.
[00:34:20] Jane: I feel like that about B. E. Schwab. I think she’s just, I think she’s so brilliant and she just seems like a very cool person. And I’d love to like process. Yeah.
[00:34:30] Heather: She’s another one that book, the invisible life of Addie LaRue, which I love so much. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
[00:34:37] Jane: Oh, and this Armstrong asks what do you wish you knew now you, what do you know now as an author that you wish you knew just starting out.
[00:34:48] Heather: Oh, there’s a lot of things I shouldn’t say aloud on air.
Business of publishing. So I will stick to something that’s a little safer and just say, I wish I had known that. I’ve written a lot of books at this point. I’ve written eight. I’m working on book nine and pretty soon. Hazel and I are starting a new collaboration that we’re going to announce pretty soon.
So I’ll be working on nine and 10 together, a solo and a collaboration and and I wish I had known that, no matter how often you’ve done this, that every single book has its own needs and its own demands. And it, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Certain things get easier. Like I understand that when I get to the middle of the book that I’m going to hate it and I’m going to think that I should quit because I’m a terrible writer and nobody wants to read this and it’s awful and I should just stop and quit while I’m ahead.
Now I know that as soon as I hit 30, 000 words until I get to about 70, 000 words, I’m just like this is terrible it’s so thin it’s awful it’s never going to go anywhere. And I see myself getting there and I just complain through it. And my writing partner, friends are just like, ah, you must be in the middle of the book and I had no idea it was going to be like that.
[00:36:07] Jane: It’s so validating to hear that from you because I, I just finished my fourth novel that’s coming out next year. And my husband, I hit the middle and my husband’s this is what you do. This is what you do all the time. You just like gnashing your teeth.
[00:36:20] Heather: It’s so awful. No one’s going to read it.
[00:36:23] Jane: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It’s part of the process.
[00:36:26] Heather: Yeah. I think the first two books, when you’re working like that, you feel like. Hopefully, you do you feel hopeless and I so I wish I had known that this is just part of the process and that’s okay. Just write it out. Keep going.
[00:36:39] Jane: Exactly. Yeah, now I know that’s yeah, that’s true.
That’s one thing you learn. Do you ever get. Okay, last question and then we’ll wrap it up to you. This is for an peer point. Sorry. Do you ever get stuck in developing your storyline or characters and how, if you do, how do you get unstuck? That’s a great question.
[00:36:55] Heather: Yes. It’s a great question.
I do get stuck and typically what I have come to learn, and this is one of those things where when you’ve written enough, you start to recognize this and go, okay, I don’t need to panic. It’s because I either need to do more research, and I just need to stop and research the research, even if it’s not directly related to the very incident you’re working on.
There’s something about it that unlocks. your brain and it catapults you forward. So I either need more research or I need to run through my list of questions. And the list of questions goes something like what’s the goal of this scene? What’s the conflict? What does it reveal about my main character?
How is it advancing the plot? Yeah, I can run through these few questions and I tend to do it walking a loop around the neighborhood out loud because I’m an extrovert and I process out loud and people look at me like I’m insane, but I don’t care. And I, if I can talk through those questions, I realized, okay, this is where I’m trying to go with this.
And or this is why it doesn’t work because I don’t have any of this figured out and then I become unsuck.
[00:38:05] Jane: Yeah, that’s excellent. I want to say, I hope you’ve seen some of the comments because people have been so lovely talking about your books your solo books, your books with Hazel. This will be recorded so you’ll be able to go scroll back.
Colleen, and Mindy, and Susan, and people are just sharing. And this is a big year for us. Yeah, you’re all amazing. Thank you for coming out to, we’ve been doing these a year and people are still showing up, which is amazing. And and congratulations on all your success, Heather. And thank you for taking time.
[00:38:36] Heather: Thank you for having me. I am. I am. But you know what? It’s a nice break to be a. A showered, , collected professional for a minute.
[00:38:47] Jane: There you go. Good luck with the move and maybe we’ll get, thank you so much person soon. So that’s .
[00:38:52] Heather: Thanks everyone for coming tonight. Thank you so much.
[00:38:55] Jane: Have a good night.
[00:38:57] Heather: Bye bye.
HISTORICAL HAPPY HOUR
Hosted by Jane Healey, Historical Happy Hour is a live interview and podcast featuring premiere historical fiction authors and their latest novels.