Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Q&A with Heather Webb




Heather Webb is the author of the new historical novel Strangers in the Night: A Novel of Frank Sinatra & Ava Gardner. Webb's other books include the novel The Next Ship Home. She lives in New England.


Q: What inspired you to focus on the relationship between Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra in your new novel?


A: My publisher approached me to write the book, actually! While I’ve long been a fan of Frank Sinatra, I’d never considered writing a book about him, and as for Ava, I knew very little about her before I began digging into research.


It didn’t take me long to become hooked on their wild and ultimately endearing story. They were such dynamic and incredibly talented people and who can resist a love story like theirs?


Q: How would you describe the relationship between the two, and do you think it changed over the decades? 


A: I think any relationship changes over decades—we do, so how could our relationships stay the same?


Frank and Ava began as acquaintances whose paths crossed regularly because of studio life at MGM, friends, parties, etc., but Ava couldn’t stand him. She thought he was egotistical and pushy. But as his initial fame waned, he was humbled a bit and he wooed her. In time, they grew close.


At any rate, through the years their passion for each other never really lessened but it matured.


Q: The author Jillian Cantor said of the novel, “Strangers in the Night is a gorgeously written, impeccably researched historical novel that delves into both the glamour and darkness of old Hollywood, as it details the passionate and tumultuous epic love story of Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra.” What do you think of that description, and how did you balance the history and the fiction as you worked on the novel?

A: I’m both flattered and thrilled by such a description, but I also believe it to be true. They were incredibly fiery, passionate, headstrong individuals with different ideas of what being devoted to each other meant. It wreaked a lot of havoc in their relationship.


As for balancing history and fiction, I found this kind of biographical novel challenging because so much is documented that there’s less room for poetic license which is often where the fun comes in.


I discovered, though, that in this novel the fun and the fiction came in channeling their voices, through the dialogue and spending time in their heads, as well as through the descriptions.


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?


A: Oh, the research for this book was incredibly consuming! Every inch of Frank’s life has been documented either through nonfiction works or documentaries or the FBI case files! Everyone has something to say about Frank Sinatra. Much of Ava’s life was documented, too, and she knew everyone!


As people who became stars during a time that the paparazzi was invented and then living into the information age, there’s far more on record about this duo than any other subject I’ve ever researched. It was epic!


In terms of what surprised me, it’s kind of endless. Who the pair knew together and separately, their often outrageous behavior toward each other and others…there is so much. It’s impossible to choose one thing! I hope readers will be interested in finding out through the pages of Strangers in the Night!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m so incredibly excited about what I’m working on now! It’s called Queens of London, set in 1925, and it’s about an all-female gang called the Forty Elephants, featuring one of the most infamous female thieves in Britain’s history, Diamond Annie (Alice Diamond).


I have three other points of view including Lilian Wyles, the first female policewoman to be admitted to the Criminal Investigative Department at Scotland Yard; a fictional orphan who is half-Indian and half-white/English; and also a fictional shopgirl. It’s a little gritty, a little glamorous, and quite a bit rowdy. Coming next winter or spring.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The Historical Novel Society Review says about Strangers in the Night, “Webb grabs hold of the reader and does not let go…intimate…rousing and well-done.


 --Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Heather Webb.

No comments:

Post a Comment