By Dana Granger
To fans of romantic thrillers, best-selling author Debra Webb needs no introduction. Her enormously popular Colby Agency series is one of Harlequin Intrigue’s most-read series, and she’s written dozens of novels in the series, which is still going strong. In July, Colby Control, the latest book in the series, hits the bookstores.
I recently caught up with the busy author, wife, and mother, and she was gracious enough to chat with me about her writing career, her passion for suspense, and more.
DEBRA WEBB, born in Alabama, wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. However, it wasn’t until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain–and a five-year stint with NASA–that she realized her true calling. A collision course between suspense and romance was set.
Your Colby Agency series has been extremely popular and well received. What first sparked the idea behind the series?
I’ve always loved continuing storylines (The Closer, 24, Sex and the City). Following a core goup of characters through various dramas and traumas is, I think, immensely interesting. So when I decided to write a story for Harlequin Intrigue I went with that concept. Victoria Colby is a strong, determined, never-say-die kind of lady and she was the seed of the idea. I gave her a tragic past and filled her present with amazing heroes and heroines and–of course–the hint of a mystery that ultimately spanned fourteen books.
Tell us a little bit about this latest book in the series, Colby Control.
This year, for the Colby Agency’s tenth anniversary, I’ve done a special six book set revolving around the merger between the Colby Agency and The Equalizers (a spin-off trilogy I did in 2007). Colby Control is the first of the six to really show the internal and external conflicts and struggles for the investigators of the two agencies. Ted Tallant and Nora Friedman are polar opposites. Ted is a by-the-book Colby investigator while Nora is a risk-taking, by-the-seat-of-her-pants equalizer. The two don’t see eye-to-eye on anything except getting the job done. The case takes them to Vegas and things get hotter than blazes in more ways than one.
You write at a breakneck pace! What is your daily writing schedule like?
The first few pages of any story are slow for me, but once I’m in, I’m in and I focus solely on telling the story. Some days I don’t write at all, others only for a couple of hours…and then the story keeps me 24/7.
Who are some of your favorite romantic thriller authors?
That’s a tough question. There are dozens. Far too many to name.
You started writing in 1996 and sold your first book in 1999. How did that first sale come about? Did you sell the first book that you wrote?
I wish! I sold the fifth story I completed. Later I went on to sell two of the previous ones. I sold a lighter romance to Kensington’s Precious Gems first, one week later the same editor bought a second book from me that was already on her desk. A few weeks after that I sold my first Harlequin Intrigue, SAFE BY HIS SIDE–the first Colby book.
Was the Colby series an immediate success or did it build over time?
Readers responded really well to the series right from the beginning. When the sixth book hits the shelves this December, I’ll be nearing the 50th book in the Colby Agency series. In fact, I believe it is the largest (in terms of the number of books) author series in Harlequin/Silhouette’s history. I work very hard to “not” write the same story twice. I work equally hard to keep it real when it comes to the characters. I want them to feel like real people with the same kinds of worries and wonders that we all have. I’ve had fans who named their children after Colby characters and who have written to me for the past ten years, some after every single release.
What is it that appeals to you about the romantic thriller genre?
I have loved the idea of “being scared” when it comes to stories my whole life. Scary stories have always been my favorite. Racing for ones life…fighting the bad guys…and beating the odds. But what good is any of that if there’s no one to share it with. Falling in love…holding on to someone you trust…that’s the real story—for me. But it wasn’t until I lived in Berlin in the 80’s that the reality of just how scary life can get hit home for me. My husband was in the military and that was back when the Wall was still up and the city was deep behind the Iron Curtain. It was an eye-opening, life-changing experience. My passion for writing thrilling suspense was ignited in a way that refuses to be extinguished.
What kind of research do you do for your novels?
The Internet is an invaluable tool but what I love most is interviewing folks. I visit the settings as often as is feasible and I read everything from travel guides to magazine articles. I subscribe to a massive number of magazines and newspapers to stay up on what’s going on. There is a constant stream of news channels going in my house. AND I WATCH PEOPLE. There’s nothing like people watching to exercise your characterization muscles. It’s like taking a walk for your heart.
What type of promotion do you do for your novels?
Not as much as I should by many standards. I’m getting better. I have a website. I’m a regular blogger on MurderSheWrites (where the very coolest authors are!). I guest blog and I’m trying to learn to tweet (is that what it’s called?). I maintain a mailing list but I haven’t started sending out newsletters yet. Oh, and I do facebook!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the first Colby Agency book of next year for Harlequin Intrigue. And I’m also working on a big, mainstream suspense. Mostly I’m dwelling on twisted ways to scare, torture and murder my poor, unsuspecting characters.