Heather Webber is drawn to the magic side of life, with mysteries that reflect southern charm, food, family, and a very light dusting of the supernatural.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and on Binge Reading today Heather talks about her magical mysteries, including one called Midnight at the Blackbird Café, inspired by a Beatles hit song. I bet you can’t guess which one.
As usual, we’ve got a great free book giveaway offer, more than sixty historical fiction books called Escape Into History. It’s a great selection to choose from, with a very wide range of time periods and locations. Links for accessing this offer can be found in the show notes for this episode on The Joys of Binge Reading website. It closes April 26. Get Clean Historicals here: https://books.bookfunnel.com/free-historical-romance-books/8coh49x3h5
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Links to information in this episode
The Lights of Sugarberry Cove: https://www.heatherwebber.com/p/the-lights-of-sugarberry-cove.html
Midnight At The Blackbird Café: https://www.heatherwebber.com/p/womens-fiction.html
South of the Buttonwood Tree: https://www.heatherwebber.com/p/south-of-buttonwood-tree.html
Heather Blake: https://cozy-mystery.com/heather-blake.html
Roald Dahl quote about magic: https://www.roalddahl.com/blog/2018/may/the-stories-behind-roald-dahls-quotes-magic
Beatles Song Blackbird: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/blackbird-story-behind-song-beatles/
The Lucy Valentine Series: https://www.heatherwebber.com/p/the-lucy-valentine-novels.html
The Nina Quinn series: https://www.heatherwebber.com/p/the-nina-quinn-mysteries.html
Quincy M.E. Tv series: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quincy,_M.E.
Severn House Publishing: https://severnhouse.com/
Love and Saffron by Kim Fay: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/679108/love-and-saffron-by-kim-fay/
The Beatles Lyric Book: https://www.amazon.com/Beatles-Lyrics-Stories-Including-Handwritten/dp/0316247170
The Mandalorian: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8111088/
Where to Find Heather Webber
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Heather. Hello there, Heather. And welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Introducing author Heather Webber
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to the show notes in The Joys of Binge Reading.com for important mentions.
But now, here’s Heather.
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there, Heather and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Heather Webber: Hi, thank you so much for inviting me. I’m so happy to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: You have a terrific history of publishing. You’ve got more than 30 books published and several Agatha award nominations for excellence with mysteries, but your most recent books are set in the South with charm, food, family, and magic all part of their ingredients.
The most recent one is The Lights of Sugarberry Cove, and we are going to be talking primarily about that one today. You live in Ohio, so where does your fascination with the South come from?
Heather Webber: I’ve been in Ohio for about 27 years now, but my first trip to Alabama was in 2007. I went down there for a book conference in Birmingham, and they had a sister event down in Wetumpka which is further south.
Discovering the magic of the South
I had to rent a car and somewhere on that hour and a half drive between the two towns I fell in love with Alabama. I could feel it, there was something in the air, the history, the magic, the energy of the land, and it felt oddly like home. It was such an overpowering feeling that, you know, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew that if I couldn’t live down there, then I could write books down there. I couldn’t live down there because my husband’s work was up here and he was a primary breadwinner at the time. I am so happy to be able to go back now in these books.
I wrote a mystery series as Heather Blake that takes place in Northern Alabama, but with these other books, the standalone novels, I’ve been able to travel around the state a little bit, which I love.
Jenny Wheeler: I guess you’d call them magic realism because each of these standalones has some underlying, slightly spiritual or supernatural thing going on. It’s not heavy handed but it’s there, and I wondered what drew you to that magical side of life.
Heather Webber: There is a Roald Dahl quote that says something like, if you don’t believe in magic, you’ll never see it. And I see it. I’m always looking for it. I love writing magical stories. Like you said, my magic isn’t heavy handed. Sometimes it gets a little heavy handed, but for the most part, it is not. I love the creativity it gives me to be able to write these kinds of novels.
Who would ever think you could have somebody who can’t feel pain, or a loon on a lake that may be a person, but maybe not a person. I love playing with the ideas, the what ifs. What if we did this? What if we did that? The roads those lead me down are kind of fun.
Jenny Wheeler: You very much draw on the magic of natural surroundings. You mentioned the loon on the lake, and there’s that sense of the creative realm of nature having something to tell us that we might be a bit blind or deaf to.
Nature has a special magic
Heather Webber: Yes. I feel like if we’re going to find magic anywhere it’s going to come from nature. I am especially moved by nature. I see magic in the veins of a leaf, in the bark of a tree, in the way a hummingbird’s wings flutter. To me, those are all magical things that are just stunning if you stop and think about it. That is the kind of magic I like to draw on in my books.
For the standalones, for Midnight at The Blackbird Café I had blackbirds as the primary magical source. In South of the Buttonwood Tree, I had a magical tree. I had wind that was magical. In The Lights of Sugarberry Cove, we had the lake and the loon and magic that happens within your own body. With my next book that comes out this summer, I have a magical garden. I love drawing nature into my stories.
Jenny Wheeler: The Lights of Sugarberry Cove tells the story of two sisters, both of whom are estranged from their mother from quite an early age. They are drawn back home because she has a health episode that makes them run back to her side. It’s not as if they hate her, but there is a certain estrangement there. I wondered if those family relationships were also a very important part of the mix.
The importance of family to story
Heather Webber: Yes, definitely. Each of the standalones has two main characters, and family and love and loss all play a big role in the stories. I feel like families are a great place to draw from. You have mysterious side of them, you have your disagreements, but the foundation of love is usually always there. I like playing with those themes.
Jenny Wheeler: Sadie in Sugarberry nearly drowns at college age. She is now quite a bit older but that near drowning incident has haunted her. She has that survivor guilt almost, not that anybody else was threatened in that incident, but she questions, why was she saved? Why is she still here seeking her purpose in life?
When the book opens, she still hasn’t really had any final answers to that story. Do you think that’s something that’s important to us too – that seeking of a purpose?
Heather Webber: I think so. When I started writing this book in particular, in my head I had the question on almost every chapter: what is the meaning of life? With all the different characters within the story, not just Sadie, what is the meaning of life? I was writing this book during the start of the pandemic, so there was a whole bunch of grief and loss and shock almost at what the world was going through. I was surrounded by it like everybody else.
What is the meaning of life? I tried to get through in this book that the meaning of life is to live it and you should live it every day, not just when tragedy strikes. I hope that came across to the readers who read the book and they came out with that in the back of their head. It was a tough time to write a book.
Physical states reflected in emotions
Jenny Wheeler: After Sadie’s near-death experience, you’ve referred to the fact that she doesn’t experience physical pain. She heals abnormally fast. When certain developments through the book make her more emotionally whole again, she then experiences a reversal of those conditions. It’s almost like she’s been numbed a little bit at a very deep level. I thought it was interesting the way her physical state is reflected in her emotional and psychological health as well.
Heather Webber: They definitely went hand in hand in the story. She had to heal certain things within herself to be able to heal herself outwardly. You would think being able to heal yourself or not feel pain would be wonderful, but I know there are people out in the world with conditions like this. I’m sure they would love to feel a little bit of pain because it’s so unusual.
Jenny Wheeler: I guess you would also have to conclude that if you can’t feel pain, possibly your joy is a bit muted as well.
Heather Webber: Yes. I think they go hand in hand, pain and pleasure. There’s a line in the book, you can’t enjoy the bitter without the sweet or the sweet without the bitter. They go together, and you don’t appreciate the sweet unless you’ve tasted the bitter. That’s what she went through in this story.
Drawing on Beatles songbook
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. You mentioned one of the other books. This is a standalone series of four books at the moment, and there’s a fifth one coming out later on this year. One of those has been highly successful, Midnight at the Blackbird Café. That was inspired by the Beatles’ song Blackbird. Tell us how that book came to be written and imagined.
Heather Webber: In 2014, I was writing two mystery series a year, so I didn’t have a ton of time to write anything else. We had gotten a streaming service for music, and we had added to our playlist, and then the streaming service suggested the song Blackbird. I had never heard it before, and I became obsessed with that song. I played it over and over and over again. I’m still slightly obsessed with that song. When that kind of thing happens to me, when I fixate on something like that, my writer brain knows there’s a story there.
I got to thinking about blackbirds and there are lyrics in that song that say, blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly. I kept going over and over, and then I got to thinking about all the different ways people can be broken, whether it’s from grief or a job loss or a divorce and things like that. It tumbled into the story in my head, but I didn’t have time to write it. I was under contract for other books for a couple of years ahead of time.
Tumultuous times in publishing
But in 2017, the publishing world took a little change, and I was suddenly out of contract. I knew I could write another mystery series if I wanted, but I kept thinking about those blackbirds and what to do with them. I decided that if there was ever a time in my career to take a leap of faith and do something else, that was the time, so I took a leap of faith and left the mystery genre behind. Thankfully, it flew, so I was able to write Blackbird and it sold and it’s doing so well. I’m so grateful for it.
Jenny Wheeler: Did you indie publish that or did you find another publisher?
Heather Webber: It’s the same publisher I have now, Forge Books.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. You mentioned those mystery series. They both sound really interesting. The Lucy Valentine series mixes clever romance and wildly inventive mystery. Lucy is a smart single who is so unqualified to run a matchmaking business, but that’s obviously what she ends up doing. Where did that one come from?
Heather Webber: I love Lucy and she’s still one of my most popular series. Lucy was born into a psychic matchmaking family. Everybody in her family can see auras around people and they match people based on their aura color, so if you have a blue aura, you match with a blue aura, that kind of thing.
But a strange twist of fate happened to her in her teens where she lost her ability to see colors, but she gained the ability to find lost objects. She thought for a long time that was pretty useless. It’s fine if you lose your wallet. She can find it for you, but again, it kind of goes back to the meaning of life. Maybe this has been a theme in all my books. I don’t know now.
The Nina Quinn mystery series
She wanted a bigger purpose for her gift. When she sees a story in the news about a lost little boy in the woods, she wonders if she can make a difference that way. She ends up helping to find that little boy and joining up with the State Police to solve missing persons cases using her gift. She’s not quite in the matchmaking world, but she does use the matchmaking business to find lost loves.
Jenny Wheeler: The other series is the Nina Quinn series, I’m a gardener so that really appealed to me. She’s a landscape gardener, but the only thing that’s thriving in her life is the gardens. All the rest is not doing so well. Tell us about that. Did that precede Lucy or was it after Lucy?
Heather Webber: It preceded Lucy, but it wasn’t my first series. My first series was a trilogy of historical romances, but I realized as I was writing the historical romances that I put so much mystery in them that my heart was really with the mystery world. I switched gears and started writing mysteries with a little bit of romance in them.
There were five traditionally published Nina Quinn books. I have self-published two more and a third is almost done. I’ve been working on it for about five years now. She kept getting pushed by the wayside, I’m sorry Nina. Then I started the Lucy Valentine series. There are five of those. I also write as Heather Blake. I have several witch series. They’re lovable, funny witches. I have two series of that.
After those series is when I made the jump to writing the standalones. The standalones combine the romance and the mystery and the magic, and I’m able to explore the emotional journeys of my characters a lot more, which makes me happy.
Jenny Wheeler: Is there a difference in the way you approach writing those to writing mysteries?
Writing standalones to mysteries
Heather Webber: Not so much in terms of plotting, but in terms of wrapping up the book. With the series you always leave something a little bit open-ended to carry it through to the next book. Sometimes it’s a big cliffhanger and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s just this thread that ties all the books together.
You don’t have that in a standalone. You have to wrap it all up by the end of the book. I struggled with that at first with Blackbird, but luckily I had a great editor and she guided me to get the word count down because I kept adding, and I have to get to the end. But it all worked out in the end.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s great. I read somewhere that you played the flute when you were younger. Did you ever try to play Blackbird on the flute?
Heather Webber: No, I had never heard of this song until 2014, but my flute days are long over. I still have it though. It’s in the basement. I can’t seem to let go of it, but I don’t know how to play it anymore.
Jenny Wheeler: When was the last time you blew in it?
Heather Webber: It was probably a good 10 years ago just to see if I could remember scales. I think I remembered about two notes of them. I’m like, how did I do this for so many years? I don’t know.
Jenny Wheeler: Blackbird was a song I grew up with from my adolescence, so it seems amazing to me that somebody would not have heard of it until quite recently. It is a haunting song, isn’t it?
How life experience fed writing
Turning away from talking about the specific books to a little bit more about you and your career. Before you became a full-time writer, did you have any other work and life experience that fed into the books or did you more or less start writing straight from when you were a young person.
Heather Webber: I didn’t have any aspirations to be a writer when I was younger. I have so many writer friends and authors who wrote their first book when they were five. They have all these stories. They still have them.
I wanted to be a medical examiner, a coroner when I grew up. I don’t know if they have the show Quincy ME in New Zealand, but here it was a popular show featuring a coroner. It’s old now, but I loved that show. I used to watch it every day after school and I thought, this is what I want to do with my life. It took one biology class where we were supposed to dissect a cat where I was like, no. People were okay, but animals are off limits.
So, I was destined to write some cozy mysteries. When I started writing, I was 25 and I had three little kids at home. My youngest was two and I found that I could sit her in front of Cinderella for about 72 minutes or so and get some writing done, or during her naps. It was a dream that led me to writing, a literal dream.
Waking up with an entire story
I had woken up one night with this entire plot line in my head and I told my husband, I had this amazing dream. I can see all the characters. I know what happens throughout the whole story. I said, it would be a great movie, and then I said, no, it has to be a book because there was just too much there. He looked at me and said, why don’t you write it.
I didn’t have any writing experience. I love to read, but I didn’t have a background in writing, but I think I was young enough and naïve enough, and I had this burning story in my head that I had to get out, so I was like, all right, I’ll do that. I wrote it. It was 460 pages of family and love and loss and a little bit of magic. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I sent that off to editors and agents and I got rejected across the board.
I gave myself five years, I said, okay, that book’s not going to work. It’s up in my closet collecting dust where it remains to this day. I can’t seem to get rid of it because I love it. But I gave myself five years to get published. I figured that was enough time to learn the craft of writing. It really is not long enough to learn the craft of writing.
That’s a lifelong process, but it gave me a foundation to learn the ins and outs of publishing, how to format a novel, that kind of thing. I wrote probably five or six books in that time, and it wasn’t until six months before my deadline that I got the call that I was going to be published, so I cut it close.
The ‘secret of success?’ Is there one?
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fantastic. And all that time, you were also a full-time mom.
Heather Webber: Yeah.
Jenny Wheeler: That takes some dedication to keep going when you’ve got so much else. You could make excuses that you didn’t have time and that kind of thing. I guess it might have been a bit tempting sometimes to do that.
Heather Webber: Sometimes it’s still tempting. I think because I gave myself a timeline, that was the key for me. I gave myself five years and I was going to see that through, even during those times where I wanted to quit. That’s what pushed me through.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great, because the next question I was going to ask you, and it’s one that I ask everybody, is what do you credit with the “secret of your success”. Perhaps that’s it. What do you think is your secret? I know it’s not necessarily a secret, but the key thing that made you keep going and see it through to the end.
Heather Webber: It truly is persistence. It’s a little bit of stubbornness too, actually. When those first rejections came in, I was so upset by them, even though it is a business and you have to learn that it is a business and it’s not personal when your writing is rejected. I got a little chip on my shoulder. I will do this. I can do this. I know I can do this. I want to do this. That’s a big thing – wanting to do it. How badly you want something drives how much work you’re willing to put into it. Persistence is really key.
How Heather Webber chooses to relax
Jenny Wheeler: I guess in those days a lot of your time was spent working in one way or another, but when you’re not working, how do you like to relax? What’s your choice of leisure?
Heather Webber: My biggest relaxation is baking, followed by crochet and of course I love to read.
Jenny Wheeler: That was one other thing. Your books are full of food and you do put some recipes into your books, don’t you?
Heather Webber: The recipes aren’t so much in the books as they’re referenced in the books. I have different sites that go along with the book, the recipe cards for promotional things.
But yes, I love baking. Baking makes me happy. Baking makes other people happy when they get to eat it. You know how I look for magic in everything. There’s a little bit of magic in baking to me, the chemistry of it. This afternoon I made brownies and you have chocolate and flour and butter and sugar, and you mix it all together and you get this fudgy goodness. That’s magic.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. We are starting to come to the end of our time and this is The Joys of Binge Reading, so we always like to ask our authors what they like to read and the things they’re reading at the moment that they might like to recommend to others. What do you like to read?
Heather Webber: I like to read the things I like to write. I think that’s because I write the kinds of things I want to read. There is a lot of magical realism and heartwarming, emotional stories, and some mysteries and some romcoms.
What Heather Webber likes to read
When I like to mix it up, I switch to non-fiction for a little bit. I am reading the Beatles lyrics book right now. I love all that background information. For a recommendation, it’s a book that comes out in a couple of weeks. I was able to read an early copy of it. I love it and I hope readers all over find it. It’s called Love and Saffron by Kim Fay. It is such a heartwarming, uplifting book and full of friends and family and the friends that become family, and food of course. It’s a wonderful story.
Jenny Wheeler: Is there a book that’s influenced your life or your writing?
Heather Webber: I don’t think so. Not one in particular, but all books. The books I tend to love and the books that speak to me in some way, that either have taught me something or have agreed with something I feel inside. Like, oh yeah, I think that too. The ones that give me the warm and fuzzy feeling that you’ve just spent time with friends. I love that kind of thing.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, if you were doing your writing career all over again, is there anything you would change?
Heather Webber: This is a tough one because I feel like every step I’ve taken has led me to where I am, and I’m happy where I am right now. If I had to choose, I would tell myself to take that leap of faith a little bit earlier than I did of switching genres.
What Heather Webber would change…
Jenny Wheeler: Would you go to the standalone, family, emotional, magic realism, and drop the history series?
Heather Webber: Yes, the mystery series. But again, the mystery series helped me to see what I really wanted to write, so they all go hand in hand.
Jenny Wheeler: What’s next for Heather as writer over the next 12 months? What are you looking to produce from your keyboard?
Heather Webber: I have a book coming out in July, In The Middle of Hickory Lane, about two women who get life lessons from a magical garden, which I’m excited about. I love that story. I’m currently writing the book that will be out in 2023 which is due later this year, and once I turn that in I’ll have to start the book that comes out in 2024. Which seems crazy. 2024 – I can’t believe I’m already thinking about that, but I am.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you jot down ideas as you go, thinking this might be something later on?
Heather Webber: Yes. I have notebooks full. The note section on my iPhone is full of ideas, and so when I’m ready to propose a story to my editor, I pull threads from all of those ideas and forge them into one plot.
Jenny Wheeler: I’m sure you like interacting with your readers. How can they find you online? How do you go about that, especially in this time of COVID when you can’t do much personal interaction?
Heather Webber: My website is Heather Webber.com. I’m on Facebook, Heather Webber Books. Instagram is Books by Heather and Twitter is books by Heather as well, but I’m not usually on Twitter so much.
Finding Heather Webber online
There are lots of great ways to keep up with me and I love interacting with my readers, so I’m happy to see new faces.
Jenny Wheeler: Excellent Heather. We will have all of those social media links on the show notes for this episode so people will be able to find you without any difficulty. Wonderful to have you on and thank you so much.
Heather Webber: Thank you so much. Those were some great questions.
Next Week on Binge Reading
Next week on Binge Reading we have best-selling and award-winning romantic suspense author Lynette Eason and her new Extreme Measures series – high octane tales of close calls, narrow escapes, and the fight to bring a nefarious criminal to justice.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss future episodes, and if you would like to go that extra mile then offer us support by checking in on Binge Reading on Patreon. That’s where you will find entertaining extra bonus content and Heather’s answers to the five Quickfire Questions.
That’s it for now. Happy reading and see you next time.
Next Week on The Joys of Binge Reading
Some other recommendations…
If you enjoyed Heather you might also enjoy: Karen White also writes mysteries with Southern charm and a touch of the supernatural.. https://thejoysofbingereading.com/karen-white-hope-in-darkness/
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