Monday, July 15, 2019

Heather Webber, An Interview

When I read that Heather Webber's Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe was "perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen", I knew I'd want to try it. Tomorrow is release date for the book, and today I'm lucky to have an interview with the author. I hope you enjoy "meeting" Heather Webber.

Heather, would you introduce yourself to readers?                      

I've been writing for more than twenty years now and have been published since 2002. I started out writing sweet romance, then switched to mysteries (I also write as Heather Blake), and now I’m writing women’s fiction.

Small pieces of my life tend to work their way into my books, like my love of baking, coffee and tea, nature, magic, and family.  

Would you introduce us to Anna Kate?

Twenty-four-year-old Anna Kate Callow knows grief. She’s lost everyone close to her, most recently her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café in Wicklow, Alabama. 

To settle the estate, Anna Kate travels for the first time in her life to Wicklow—the town her pregnant mother ran away from twenty-five years ago, vowing never to return after the mysterious car crash that killed Anna Kate’s father. 

While in Wicklow, Anna Kate stays busy running the café, looking into the details of her dad’s death, figuring out her grandmother’s recipe for the magical blackbird pies, trying to forgive her paternal grandparents for what they did to her mother, and keeping the overly-friendly townsfolk at arm’s length so she doesn’t get hurt again when she leaves town.

What she  ultimately finds in Wicklow is a community that needs her as much as she needs it—and also the friends and family she’s always wanted. But is she willing to break a promise in order to allow her own dreams to take flight?

Before you tell us about Midnight at the Blackbird Café, would you tell us a little about Wicklow, Alabama?

I'm charmed by mountains, often feeling like they’re magical in their own right. For this book, it was a natural fit to place Wicklow in the mountains in northeastern Alabama.  While doing research, I came across a snippet about a former artist’s colony in Alabama, and with that I knew I’d found the heartbeat of Wicklow—because I believe artists are a little bit magical, too. The town is down on its luck, still struggling after most of the artists moved away during the recession. A revitalization committee is trying to rebrand the town as a mountain resort destination with a focus on nature, hiking, and biking, but it’s a struggle…until they realize how much their past can help their future.

Tell us about Midnight at the Blackbird Café, without spoilers, please.          

Midnight at the Blackbird Café is the story of two young women, who in the midst of grief, are struggling to figure out who they are, and how they can fix a family broken by long-ago—and current—tragedy. Throw in magical “blackbird” pies, birders who help reinvigorate a struggling small-town community, a couple of mischief-makers, a dash of mystery and romance, and these women realize that there might be more to life—and death—than either of them dreamed possible.

Personally, I don’t feel it’s a big switch from mysteries to a story of magical realism. However, what spoke to you in this book that made you write it? Characters, the setting? Something else?

It was a song that inspired this book. It was 2014 and my husband and I had signed up for Pandora and started filling our playlists. The Beatles are a favorite, but for some reason I’d never heard “Blackbird” until Pandora suggested it. I became obsessed with the song, listening to it repeatedly. When that kind of thing happens to me, the writer in me pays attention. The line “take these broken wings and learn to fly” stuck with me, and I started thinking about how people can be broken, too, and what could help heal them. A story started taking shape. Add in a research tidbit about blackbirds being the gatekeepers to the “Other” world, pies from “Sing a Song of Sixpence”, and what kind of messages I’d most like to hear in a blackbird’s song, and you have Midnight at the Blackbird Café.

I’m originally from Ohio. Where do you like to take visitors to Cincinnati?

Cincinnati is such a wonderful city. One favorite is the zoo, not only for the animals but for its gardens. So beautiful, especially in the springtime. The Cincinnati Art Museum is always worth a visit, as is the Museum Center. There’s always something happening on the river, a festival, event, or football or baseball game. There are many great nature parks, and there’s also Kings Island if you love amusement parks. And of course, a trip to Graeters ice cream is a must. My current favorite flavor is Chunky, Chunky Hippo, inspired by the zoo’s beloved hippo, Fiona.

Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about writing your first book. Was that the one that was published? How did you become a published author?

I started writing my first book in 1998 after (literally) dreaming the story. I had no writing experience, no higher education (three weeks of college hardly counts), and was a young mom of three small children at the time. When I couldn’t get that dream out of my head, and excitedly talked nonstop about how it would make a great book (a movie would be too short!), my husband simply said, “Write it.” And so I did. It was a women’s fiction novel with magical elements, so it kind of feels like I’ve come full circle. That book was never published—it lives in my office with a cozy family of dust bunnies, but it’s still one of my favorite stories. 

From that book, I wrote and sold some short stories, but I still wanted to write longer fiction. I joined RWA and online groups for writers, and set about learning everything I could about the craft of writing. When Tall Stacks, a steamboat festival came to town, I found the perfect inspiration for a historical romance trilogy. I signed with Avalon, a small press (that was eventually sold to Amazon), for those three books, which I fondly call my “Three Sisters and a Steamboat” series, but the publisher called the “River of Dreams” series. The first one was published in 2002. While writing that trilogy, I realized I couldn’t keep mysteries out of the romance, so I decided to try writing a mystery series. The Nina Quinn books were born, and the first in that series was published in 2004 with HarperCollins. From there I’ve had several more series, and each one is a blend of mystery and romance. But the later books also have a new element: magic. I love to write magical books because I want to believe there's magic in this world, giving humanity a helping hand. 

Midnight at the Blackbird Café will be my twenty-ninth published novel, and sometimes it’s hard to believe my career all started with a dream I couldn’t get out of my head.

If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read to get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?

This is a tough question (and my answers are subject to change)! Okay, let’s see.

1.    The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
2.    Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
3.    My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg
4.    Where’s My Teddy by Jez Alborough
5.    The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

What books did you love as a child?

My earliest memories are of the Little Golden books. Seeing that shiny gold binding still gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. In grade school, I adored Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books and the Little House series. I fell in love with mysteries in high school thanks to Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mary Higgins Clark. That’s also where my appreciation of Jane Austen came from as well.

Heather, I’m a librarian, and I always end my interviews with this comment. Please tell us a story about how a library or librarian influenced you.

Something Anna Kate and I share in common is that we were both latchkey kids. Both my parents worked, and my brother and I were on our own after school. Like Anna Kate, I often found myself at the local library to while away time. This snippet from the book could very well be from my own POV:

And sure enough, there was the library. One of the double doors was held open with a plastic wedge. 

I stepped inside inside and immediately felt at ease, as though in the presence of close friends among the many books with their colorful spines, the towering wooden shelves, and the scent of old paper, mustiness, and memories. Growing up, I’d spent a lot of time in libraries—which had been sanctuaries in the hours between school letting out and when my mother came home from work.  >>

I still consider books as friends, love the smell of a library, and think libraries are the best sanctuaries.

Thank you, Heather, for taking time to answer questions.

Heather Webber is the author of more than twenty mystery novels and has been twice nominated for an Agatha Award. She's a homebody who loves to be close to her family, read, watch reality TV (especially cooking competition shows), drink too much coffee, crochet, and bake (mostly cookies). Heather grew up in a suburb of Boston, but currently she lives in the Cincinnati area with her family and is hard at work on her next book. Visit her online at 
Heather Webber  
Forge Hardcover / ISBN: 9781250198594 / 336 pages/ $24.99  
eBook ISBN: 9781250198600  
Also available in Audio from Macmillan Audio

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holdenj said...

I am a long time fan of Heather's books, what a fun interview! And I am looking forward to reading this!

SandyG265 said...

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this book from Heather. It’s the best book I’ve read all year.

Lesa said...

I am, too, Holdenj. Normally, I would have read it by now, but I haven't had time.

Lesa said...

Sandy, That's so good to know! I'm looking forward to it.

Gram said...

I'm reading this now. So far so good! Thank you for writing! Becuase we all love to read!

Lesa said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it, Gram!

Grandma Cootie said...

Very nice interview, thanks. I follow Heather on FB and enjoy both her posts and her books.

Lesa said...

You'e welcome, Grandma Cootie! Thank you!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

I can't wait to read this. And what a wonderful interview - thank you!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye! Oh, look! A book you haven't read yet!

NoraA said...

Heather is an amazing writer and I am thrilled to own quite a few of them in my home library. She's also a very lovely dinner partner as some years ago my friend Dru and I had dinner with her while she was attending RWANY 2013 I believe it was. I'll never forget that evening.

Lesa said...

Nora, What a wonderful opportunity to have dinner and the chance to talk with Heather. I hope you take the time to read her new book.