Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Heather Webb & Rodin’s Lover

Cover 1- hdSome stories pierce parts our lives, our secrets, our wishes, and the characters stay with us for a lifetime, this is one such story. Heather Webb’s Rodin’s Lover is a novel that will enrapture creatives and captivate those curious about art, artists, and the world of art during the Belle Époque era in France.   This life story of sculptor Camille Claudel fully embraces her beginnings, family connections and conflicts, paranoid-abrasive spirit and social challenges, and her voracious passion for sculptor and the tempestuous but informing and agonizing relationship with fellow sculpture Auguste Rodin. Wholeheartedly, Webb ventures into the trails and triumphs of Cauldel and Rodin’s lives, the toil, dedication, works and opposition of being a talented cutting-edge artist female and male. The novel explores and exposes the unique concerns and hurdles the gifted and driven Caudel weathers and contends with while struggling to create masterful works in a tradition-bound male-dominated arena of competitiveness and connections, jealousy and gaming — one plagued by patriarchy. Claudel’s story is the heroine’s journey with monstrous obstacles, some overcome, others endured.

The novel’s mental illness thread of the gifted creative stalked by the disturbances of the mind tore me at the core as I have also lost a dear talented friend to mental illnesses. Webb has heart-piercingly rendered with perfection the devastating process of a troubled mind and how mental affliction slowly begins and takes over little by little, then consumes the precious person one has laughed with and loved for years.Through precise prose, Webb’s story undulates and flows like the surface of one of Camille’s burnished bronze cast pieces, shinning bright at the edges and going dark in the folds. This book is written with passion and love and with deep reverence for the call to create against all odds. I wept bitter-sweetly at the end of the novel because of Caudel’s fate, and because Webb expresses aptly the essence of the pursuit of the creative life. 

Enter into the artist studio…throw the clay, knead and roll, feverishly pinch and shape and score and mold and smooth and shave and cut and labor away on your life works, as did Camille Caudel, as does this story infused with raw heart and soul…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos: After spending so much time researching and writing about sculptor Camille Claudel’s art and world, what would say is the most important thing you learned from her life story? What has she left you with? 

Heather Webb: The most important thing I learned from Camille’s story is to take pride in the beauty we create, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. When all is said and done, it is that beauty which transcends the tragedy of our lives and leaves a meaningful mark on the world–or at the very least, on the people we have known and loved. 

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

HW:  I’ve always been an art lover, even as a kid. We did a lot of moving with the military and I have to say, my parents did a great job of making sure we hit the big museums in every town we lived in, as well as any special exhibitions. To research more about sculpture was a natural extension of my interest.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?


Sakuntala by Camille Claudel–private collection that rotates through the Musee Rodin as well.

HW: I’ve adored Camille Claudel’s story since I saw the film Camille Claudel in my French film class in college. Camille’s struggles haunted me. As for sculpture, I’ve always been intrigued by it as an art form. It isn’t just inspiration and years of work, but brute strength and stamina that’s needed for all of the lifting, scrubbing, and building that goes along with being a great sculptor. To create this pearly structure that seems to breathe, leap from the stone, is just mind-boggling to me still—even after all the time I’ve spent researching it.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

HW:  Several of Camille’s works inspired the narrative including Sakuntala, The Waltz, and La Petite Châtelaine, as well as her Bust of Rodin. As for Rodin’s pieces, The Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais, The Eternal Idol, and Monument to Balzac, among others.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

Burghers of Calais by Rodin

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, Musee Rodin

HW:  I tried to show how art defines a creative’s view of the world, their passions, their dreams, as well as how those views shape their works. In addition, I’ve highlighted one political scandal in particular—the Dreyfus Affair—and how that affected both Rodin’s state of mind and his later pieces, as well as how the politics of art affected other artists during that time. His Monument to Balzac was groundbreaking in terms of beginning the revolution of modern art.

As for Camille’s works, she was caught in a web of male-dominated critics and artists, and I highlight how this affected her career and her mental instability. I believe if she were toiling today, she would have great success, which makes this book very relevant and era-specific.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

HW:  For one, they can learn all of the fascinating backstory behind different pieces—it creates a bond between the work and its viewer that is unique and cherished. It’s a special thing to be transported into the heart and mind of a creative. I think, on some level, we all wish we possessed one of these extraordinary talents and it’s truly intriguing to see how an artist views the world. Readers can also learn a bit about the politics of art and how the culture of the day impacted an artist’s pieces.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

The Waltz by Claudel

The Waltz by Camille Claudel, Musee Rodin

HW:  So much! I learned a ton about sculpting in general—about the different types of stone and where they’re mined, loads about Claudel’s and Rodin’s contemporaries including painters and writers from the day. I was dying to include more about Victor Hugo, for example, as well as Emile Zola, but I had to stay true to the book’s point of view and vision, which meant those two men could only be included as they intersected Camille’s and Auguste’s lives.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

HW:  I adore reading books with artists myself, so I hope authors continue to write them!

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

HW:  I can’t say too much at the moment, but I can share that my next book doesn’t have a visual arts tie-in, but a performing arts emphasis. It’s shaping up to be somewhat of a Gothic thriller, and a retelling of an old popular story.

Heather Webb Smiling (1)About the author:  Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover (Penguin 2015), a freelance editor, and blogger. In addition she contributes to award-winning writing sites and She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.



For more about Heather’s work:

website  Twitter @msheatherwebb

To purchase: Rodin’s Lover

Join us here February 28th for an interview with Alyson Richman, author of The Mask Carver’s Son!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release)

An Interview with Heather Webb BECOMING JOSEPHINE

350 josephine 3 LRThis Valentine’s Day I’m pleased to introduce and welcome to my blog author Heather Webb and her debut novel Becoming Josephine. A historical about the life of France’s beloved Josephine Bonaparte and her famous and heart-wrenching love story with Napoleon Bonaparte.

Through concise storytelling and cleaver descriptions Webb brings to life Josephine and her plight.

Q: What sparked your interest in your protagonist, Josephine Bonaparte?

The idea for this novel came to me in two parts. I taught a unit about the French Revolution in my high school French classes for several years, which sparked my interest in the time period. Yet despite my teaching, I knew little about Josephine and I “discovered” her later. Ultimately she was a minor player in a sea of France’s most famous and infamous people during the Revolution—at least until Robespierre fell and the Directoire took over the government.

When I began to feel the pull to writing a book, I had a dream about Josephine. Strange, but true. From the very first biography I read, I was hooked. Her vivid childhood home, her adaptable nature and courageous spirit had me enthralled. Her rich life story set to the backdrop of the chaotic Revolution and the opulent Napoleonic Empire cinched the deal.

Q: Will you share with us one of your favorite things about Josephine?

There are so many things I love about Josephine—she was a patron of the arts, an enthusiastic botanist, a fashion icon, but the most captivating things about her to me were her adaptable nature and courageous spirit and her generosity to everyone she knew. I also enjoyed reading about her tumultuous love affairs!

Q: What was one of her eccentricities that is little known?

She chewed sugarcane as a kid and her love of sugar never went away. She had quite a persistent sugar tooth.

Tarot of Lovers - Copy

The Tarot de Marseille is one of the French standard patterns from which many tarot decks of the 19th century and later were derived. This card is L’Amoureux (The Lovers).

Q: Uniquely you have focused on Josephine’s use of Tarot cards, where did you uncover this intriguing detail?

It’s in a lot of the research, believe it or not. She used her cards faithfully and found relief in reading their messages, particularly during some of the more tumultuous times of her life.

Q: What archival documents did you reference to help create the Martinique  sugar plantation scenes of the novel?

I read many documents on JStors, a journal database, that focused on sugar plantations specifically, but also I have a Master’s Degree in Latin American studies and have spent time in the jungles of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico for my field work so I know exactly what a jungle smells, sounds, and feels like. I’m very familiar with the histories of the region.

Q: Okay, I have to ask: fact or fiction on the sponge cake guillotine heads? If true, where did you discover such a deliciously gruesome minutia?

That was fiction! I made it up in this crazy head of mine. As a matter of fact, it was one of my favorite scenes to write because I’m a foodie so I REALLY enjoyed being creative there.

Q: What interesting tidbits did you discover in your research but could not include in the book, but can share here?

There’s so much! The French Revolution itself is a gold mine of fascinating and horrifying facts, but also with Josephine and Napoleon’s lives, I left so much out. If I had incorporated it all, it would have been a four book series. For example, Napoleon massacred whole peoples and I don’t go into that much at all in the book. Also, he fell in love with Maria Walewski, his Polish mistress who was already married at the time, and impregnated her. All of the Bonapartes led intriguing lives with some really incredible stories.

As for Josephine, she collected artworks of all kinds and was the patron of many females artists in her day. In terms of her sexual life, she truly loved Hippolyte Charles and spent quite a bit of time with him—much more than I gave her credit for in Becoming Josephine. In addition she went on dozens of pilgrimages like every queen before her, but gave away jewels and money to the poor at each of her stop

Q: What is your writing process?

This is a tough question to answer, because I feel I’m always learning and changing to see if new processes will work better for me. What I begin with is extensive research—biographies, journals, nonfiction books about specific subjects I need to learn more about, documentaries, travel. For at least three months I read for hours and hours each day, take notes, and organize a historical outline. From there I devise a scene outline that I put together in a three act structure. It’s a fairly general outline, but it helps me keep track of what goes where. The next step is to work on the opening scene. I’m fairly linear in my thinking so once I start writing I go from beginning to end. I revise from beginning to end as well. With each draft of revisions I focus on one or two aspects at a time and then begin again. When I get close to finishing, I print it out and edit the chapters out of order (reading them aloud) to catch final errors, word choices, and flow.

Q: What are you working on next?

Currently I’m revising RODIN’S LOVER, a novel of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin—sculptors, collaborators, and lovers—set to the backdrop of the Belle Époque. The novel explores the themes of struggling in the art world, obsession, and madness. It releases in winter of 2015.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thank you so much Heather for this fascinating interview, and I already can’t wait for your next release!!!

This is a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift for yourself or loved one! Becoming Josephine

300 Heather Webb SmilingHeather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time novel writing and freelance editing. Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, released January 2014 from Plume/Penguin. Her forthcoming novel, RODIN’S LOVER, will release in winter of 2015.When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb) or via her blog ( Stop on by! Pinterest: