Friday, January 23, 2015

Meet Wendy Webb

I stumbled on to Wendy Webb's writing quite by accident, but it was a happy accident to be sure. I thoroughly enjoyed her book The Vanishing so much that I immediately bought her other two novels as well. Something she said in the back of The Vanishing prompted me to contact her and set up this interview. It was a philosophy I share. She said, "That's really what it's all about for me. With my novels, I'm not trying to define a generation, right any great wrongs, or change the way you think about the world or your places in it. I just want to craft a good story that will delight you, entertain you, grab you and not let go, and send some shivers up your spine along the way." Mission accomplished, Mrs. Webb.

If you'd like to read my review of The Vanishing, head over to See Spot Read. Go ahead, I'll wait. Back? Awesome. Without further ado, I give you Wendy Webb--

1. How old were you when you first knew you were a writer?

Very young. Two books influenced me in a powerful way when I was growing up, setting me on my path. My grandmother read “Little Women” to me when I was about eight years old. It was absolutely clear to me that I was, in fact, Jo March, the dark-haired, headstrong sister. I identified with her so strongly that, since Jo loved writing, apparently I did, too. That’s really how I looked at it. I started excelling in writing at school and got more and more praise for my essays, and I never had a moment of doubt about the fact that I’d be an author someday. Jo got her book published. So would I. I don’t know what I’d be doing with my life if Louisa May Alcott hadn’t written “Little Women,” but it probably wouldn’t be this. Last fall, I visited her home, Orchard House, and when I saw the desk by the window where Louisa dreamed up the book that would chart the course of my life, I burst into tears. Everyone else on the tour thought I was insane. But the guide didn’t. “You must be an author,” she said. “We get that a lot.”

The other book that turned my young mind toward writing was “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. A librarian recommended it to me when I was thirteen. The story didn’t have anything to do with writing — I already knew I was going to be a writer. I just didn’t know what I wanted to write about, until I read that book. It was magical and real and scary all at the same time, and when I finished reading it, I knew I wanted to write books like that one.

2. I know you are currently the editor of the Duluth-Superior magazine. How do you balance your editorial duties with fiction writing and a family?

Actually, the magazine closed last spring, but it was indeed a juggling act balancing my magazine responsibilities and a book tour. I was traveling all over the country for six months after “The Vanishing” came out, and I still had the same deadlines. The Internet made everything easier, though. I could get everything done on the road, but it was hectic at times.  I don’t write fiction when I’m on tour — too many distractions.

3. I think of your books as “modern gothic.” They include all the elements of the classic gothic genre (woman in peril; large, often isolated house; ghosts or some element of the supernatural; a romantic interest; an older woman; a villain of the piece; and a mystery), but they’re set in modern times. What genre do you consider your work and why?

When I wrote my first book, “The Tale of Halcyon Crane,” I didn’t think at all about genre. I just wrote the book that I wanted to read. It turns out it’s gothic, and “modern gothic” is a good fit. Reviewers have started calling me the Queen of the Northern Gothic, saying I invented a genre, because most gothics are set in England or down South. Again, I didn’t set out to do that, I just wrote a story set in the place that I know best.

4. Animals always seem to play a part in your stories, mostly dogs. Why?

The dogs in my stories are actually my dogs, Tika, Tundra and Molly, all giant Alaskan Malamutes. They never knew each other in life (one 130-pound dog in the house is enough!) but it has been really fun for me to put them together in my books, especially all three of them in “The Vanishing.” I’ve always walked through the world with a dog at my side and I can’t imagine life without them, so when I’m dreaming up my stories, it’s natural to feature animals as characters.

5. I’ve read that, for you, the setting inspires the story. How do you pick your settings?

I stumble across them. “Halcyon Crane” was inspired by a trip I took to Mackinac Island in Michigan, which a very haunted place, and a particular house you can see from the ferry on your way there. The plot of “The Fate of Mercy Alban” came to me when I was on a tour of Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minnesota. I started thinking of how great it would be to have a summer party on Glensheen’s magnificent veranda, and then I thought: “Ooo. What if somebody winds up dead at that party?” And I was on my way.

6. The spiritualism age plays a part in The Vanishing. Have you always been interested in spiritualism or did you have to research it for the book? Either way, what do you find the most interesting part of it?

I’ve always been interested in it but I did research before I started writing. There were a lot of charlatans at that time, but I believe there were, and are, mediums and psychics who can indeed talk to the dead. I absolutely believe there are spirits among us. I’ve traveled all over this country for readings, and every single time, somebody tells me a ghost story that happened to them.

7. And, on a more personal note, what scares you? Any silly phobias? Do you work your own fears into your fiction?

What scares me most is not a spirit floating around the house late at night, but an actual intruder in the house late at night. That said, though, I am also afraid of the dark side of the occult. In “The Vanishing,” I have a Devil’s Toy Box that unleashes a whole lot of bad stuff at Havenwood. I actually got one of those for my birthday the year before I started writing that book. It was a really pretty box, handmade by my brother, but before bringing it into my house, I called a friend of mine who is an expert in the occult. She told me that it was very dangerous and to destroy it. I did. Similarly, Ouija boards. Never use one. You won’t be talking to who you think you’re talking to. I’m researching demonology right now for an upcoming book, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to write it. That’s some scary, scary stuff.

8. What authors would you consider the biggest influences on your writing?

You already know about Louisa May Alcott and Madeline L’Engle, but modern authors who influence me are M.J. Rose and Carol Goodman, both of whom write beautiful, magical tales, and both of whom I’m proud to call friends.

9. Five favorite books?

Oh, boy. This is a hard one.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Shell Seekers and its sequel, September by Rosamund Pilcher (people are always surprised when I say that, but I love those books.)
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

10. And last but not least, best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

When I wrote my first manuscript (which didn’t end up getting published) my agent kept saying: “Show, don’t tell.” I couldn’t get the concept. I’d been a journalist my whole career and we tell stories. Then another author let me in on her trick. She said: “When you’re writing a scene, imagine that you’re the director of a movie. Visualize everything in that scene — where it’s happening, what the people are wearing, what they’re doing. Hear what they’re saying. In a movie, if a character is angry, you wouldn’t hear some narrator’s voice saying: “Jane is angry!” You’d see Jane throw her coffee cup across the table and stomp out of the room, and you’d know Jane was angry. Authors need to do the same thing with words. That’s showing, not telling.”

Wendy's Bio:

Wendy Webb is the author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane, a gothic mystery set on an island in the Great Lakes. Her first novel, Halcyon was selected as an IndieNext Pick by IndieBound, the Independent Booksellers Association of America; as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Booksellers Association; and as a Great Lakes Great Reads Pick by the Great Lakes Booksellers Association.

Wendy is also a career journalist. She is at work on her next novel.

You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon:
Twitter: @wendykwebb
Facebook: WendyWebbAuthor

Wendy's Novels:


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