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'Becoming Josephine' author Heather Webb talks writing, research, Napoleon

By Tania Rivera
On January 31, 2014

Thursday night at the UConn Bookstore at Storrs Center, Heather Webb talked about her first novel, "Becoming Josephine." The book focuses on the life of a Creole woman that changes her identity and accidentally wins the love of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Webb is from the Mansfield area and was a French teacher who has traveled to France on numerous school and study abroad opportunities. Webb is a freelance editor, posts on publishing and writing blogs, and is currently writing her second novel, which is hopefully to be as popular as her first.
She found the inspiration one night before she left her teaching job to write a novel. That novel ended up being based on the empowering female figure, Josephine. As Webb described her, there was a twinkle in her eye that showed the admiration for the woman. She discussed why she liked Josephine and even said that the night she chose her as a topic of writing, she had a dream about Josephine.
Digging into the life of Josephine, Webb described her researching process. It was a time consuming but was well worth the investment of her time to discover what Josephine's home was like and what make-up was produced with, along with what the make-up was contained in. As she did this research, she learned more about the woman she felt a distant yet strong personal connection with. Another one of the concepts that Webb really admired was Josephine's focus on women. She learned through her research that if Josephine found out about a popular female in almost any sort of business, she would invite them all over for a large gathering and applaud their work. The talk then focused on fun facts about Josephine. The woman bought 900 dresses in one year and even collected plants.
Webb discovered that many old biographies about Josephine were written by men and had a very biased story about what she stood for as a female. "She slept around to get her way to the top," Webb said in a matter-of-fact manner. In her novel, she includes distasteful quotes directed toward Josephine because they were true. She claims her novel is 90 percent historical fact but there were some minor details that she decided didn't have an effect on the big truth of the novel. Webb jokingly says that the last 10 percent of the novel is influenced by her life.
By the end of the discussion, Webb returned to her writing process during the Q&A portion of the talk. It had taken her about three years to establish a novel that was ready for editing and revising by the big publishing houses. Once she started the hunt, she got one particular rejection letter that helped her go back to the novel and truly work hard to get the final product.
"Becoming Josephine" is a novel that should be brought to the light for women studies. She was a figure that may have made poor choices but had great intentions for other women surrounding her.

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