Writers on Writing: Densie Webb
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I recently had the privilege of interviewing Densie (not Denise) Webb. I first met her more than a dozen years ago when she was an editor and I a writer for the award winning nutrition newsletter, Environmental Nutrition Newsletter.
Webb has spent a long career as a freelance nonfiction writer and editor, specializing in health and nutrition, and has published several books and tons of articles on the topic over the years. A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites, her debut novel titled, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” was released as an ebook this past January by Soul Mate Publishing. A paperback and an audiobook will be released later this year.
A member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and SheWrites, Webb grew up in Louisiana, spent 13 years in New York, and settled in Austin, Texas, where it’s summer nine months out of the year.
Webb describes herself as an avid walker (not of the dead variety, though she loves anything to do with zombies, vampires or post-apocalyptic worlds), and as someone who drinks too much coffee. She also has a small “devil dog” that keeps her on her toes and has arrested development in musical tastes (her two children provide her with musical recommendations on a regular basis).
When I learned Webb had written a novel, I jumped at the chance to pick her brain about it and about making the switch from writing about health and nutrition to writing fiction (something I’m now pursing as well). Webb was kind enough to indulge me. Here are some highlights from our recent email interview.
EZ: What inspired you to even think about writing an adult novel, especially after being a writer and editor for so long?
DW: I can’t say that there was any one trigger. It just really appealed to me. I love to read and go crazy over lovely passages and well put together similes, metaphors and analogies. Basically, I love words. I just had a real need to do it myself.
EZ: What were the first steps you took to learn about fiction writing? Did you learn on your own, take any classes, or do a combination of things to get started?
DW: With my novel, “You’ll Be Thinking of Me,” it was a 5-year process with a very steep learning curve. I have a completed novel in the drawer that came before. It’s embarrassing to read now, but I have been thinking about pulling it out and seeing if I can make it better.
EZ: How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
DW: I’ve long been fascinated by celebrities’ lives. Not in a Kim Kardashian sort of way, but in a horrifying how-can-they-live-like-that sort of way. It’s like rubbernecking to view a car wreck. I can’t turn away. Anyway, I saw this interview with a young actor several years ago. He was incredibly popular and everywhere he went there were hoards of screaming girls and women. The interviewer asked him where did he think it would all go from here. He chuckled and made a blithe comment about someone jumping out of the crowd and stabbing him, ending it all. It just really struck me how vulnerable celebrities are and it was the seed of an idea for the story.
EZ: Did you do any special kind of research for your book?
DW: I knew nothing about stalking, other than what I had seen in movies, so I started researching. I Googled it, of course, and found textbooks, articles, memoirs of victims, and court records on stalking. Some were specifically about celebrity stalkers. I interviewed a psychologist who had worked on celebrity stalking cases, testified in court and had interviewed the stalker in a well-known case. He was gracious enough to speak with me for 45 minutes. I read a couple of his textbooks in advance and he provided some terrific insight.
EZ: What has been the easiest thing about writing fiction for you so far?
DW: I remember when I first considered writing fiction, I complained to a friend that I knew absolutely nothing about writing dialogue and I wondered how I could possibly do it. It turns out that dialogue is my strong point. It seems to come fairly easily to me without sounding stiff or unnatural—at least that what my critiquers say.
EZ: What has been the most challenging thing about writing fiction for you so far?
DW: Where do I start? For me, writing is easier than storytelling and you have to learn to be a teller of stories that hang together from beginning to end, to write a novel. Before this, I seldom wrote things that were longer than maybe 5,000 words. My novel is 95,200 words. Big difference.
EZ: How did you go about getting an agent/publisher for your novel?
DW: I queried and queried and queried. And I got what have been called “rave rejections.” Complimentary and encouraging, but in the end it was a “no.” One agent said something to the effect that she was sure I would find representation elsewhere, “elsewhere” being the operative word. In the end I found a small publisher without an agent. The publisher thought my story was “compelling” and I was and am a happy camper.
EZ: Do you write at specific times or in specific places or does it change depending on the day/how do you arrange your writing schedule—and how do you divide fiction writing time with the other writing/editing projects?
DW: I don’t have specific times. I’m afraid I’m not that disciplined. And my day job often gets in the way or drains my brainpower so that there’s not much left for fiction writing. Because I work at home, I prefer a change of scenery, so a couple of times a week I go to a coffee shop and write. Right now, I’m thinking of taking a couple of days off, going to a small town about 45 minutes from here and having a one-woman writing retreat.
EZ: What advice/suggestions would you give to anyone who is considering writing a book/fiction, especially if they aren’t writers or work in a completely different field that doesn’t require much writing/creative writing?
DW: I don’t have any original advice, but read as much as you can, especially in the genre you’re interested in writing in. Read and absorb everything you can on the craft of writing and editing fiction. There are tons of books out there, but among the best are anything by Donald Maass, Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Also, attend conferences and workshops if you can. If traveling and expensive registration fees are not an option, there are some good ones online that are much more affordable. And look for local critique groups to get unbiased feedback.
EZ: Any advice for writers like us who want to try their hand at a completely different kind of writing?
DW: It’s a tall order, but you have to sort of shed most of what you’ve learned about sentence structure and order. Science writing, like I do for my day job, is devoid of emotion, an unbiased representation of the facts. Fiction writing is the total opposite. Your job as a writer is have readers see the world from the characters’ totally biased point of view and even understand and empathize with, all the while creating your own writing “voice.”
EZ: How can people find your book (which I will read as soon as the hardcover/softcover is available; I can’t do digital)?
DW: Right now it’s available as an ebook on amazon (Barnes & Noble to follow) with a paperback due out later this year. An audiobook is also in production and should be available in April.
You can learn more about Webb and all her terrific work by visiting her website.
Image of book cover courtesy of Fiona Jayde.
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