By Wendy Tyson
A DEEPER GRAVE is USA Today bestselling author Debra Webb’s third novel in the popular Shades of Death series. In this latest installment, Montgomery detective Bobbie Gentry joins forces with serial killer Nick Shade to pursue a copycat murderer.
Webb writes thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and romance, and she’s the recipient of a number of awards, including the prestigious Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Romantic Suspense. I recently had the pleasure of talking with Webb about A DEEPER GRAVE, thriller-writing, and her inspiring journey to publication.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of A DEEPER GRAVE! No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
Detective Gentry’s story of survival and determination to keep being a cop is based a bit on my recovery and determination to continue writing after a serious accident.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
A DEEPER GRAVE, the newest in the Shades of Death series, takes readers on the journey of Detective Bobbie Gentry’s determination and survival through a deadly killing spree. Joining forces with Nick Shade to find the killer haunting her gives Bobbie hope that she can not only survive but take her life back.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
A DEEPER GRAVE explores the evil sometimes buried deep in the least expected place.
Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote this book?
When writing a suspense or thriller you really want to put your characters through the paces. I’ve surprised myself at just how far I could push the characters.
Detective Bobbie Gentry is an intriguing character. She’s a smart, incredibly resilient woman who spends her days hunting criminals and seeking justice, yet she’s rebuilt her life after enduring her own horrific trauma. What elements of Bobbie’s past have shaped the woman she is today? How has her character evolved?
At the beginning of the series we see a very broken Bobbie whose only purpose in life is to lure the killer who murdered her husband and caused the death of her child into a trap so that she can have her revenge. Her motto is that she doesn’t care if she dies as long as he dies first. Over the course of No Darker Place, the first novel in the series, Bobbie comes to terms to a large degree with the changes in her life. Having lost her mother at a young age, she is no stranger to devastation. The memory of her father’s strength during such a tough time and the support of her friends in Montgomery PD go a long way in helping her see past the most devastating tragedy of all—losing her husband and child. Working with serial killer hunter Nick Shade whose own life has been equally devastated proves the turning point in Bobbie finding her way once more.
You’ve been called a “master storyteller” by author Allison Brennan, and Lisa Gardner had the following to say about No Darker Place, the second book in the Shades of Death series: “A dark, twisted game of cat and mouse! Debra Webb mines our innermost fears…You will fly through the pages of this action-packed thriller!” What attracted you to thriller writing? Are there certain themes you find yourself drawn to again and again?
I do love to torture my characters. I suppose my personal experience with tragedy and heartache prompts me to take characters to a very dark place. The truly amazing part of the journey is watching those characters lead me back to the light. It’s funny how that works. I think most authors will tell you that once a story gets started the characters really do take over and do the leading. Though the Shades of Death series is very dark suspense, my storytelling roots are deeply entrenched in the romance genre so some part of me always longs for a happy ending which is not always possible. So I work really hard to find a real life ending for the struggle my characters face. Life is messy sometimes.
What advice do you have for aspiring crime novelists when it comes to building tension and suspense?
Dig deep into your own emotions and pour them out onto the page. Make your characters feel every single one. The more deeply you delve into your characters, the more compelling they’ll be. Escalate the problems. Start with an issue—perhaps a murder—and spin it out of control by making it personal to a character. Just as soon as your characters think they’ve seen the worst of the situation, throw something else at them. Doubt, suspicion, secrets, lies—all ingredients for building tension.
You have an interesting background. Please tell us about your career history and your journey to publication.
From the time I was nine years old I wrote stories. I still have many of the stories I wrote as a young girl. But, like my characters in the Shades of Death series, sometimes life sends us on a different journey. My first child was born with incredible physical challenges. So for nearly two decades after she was born I put all else aside and focused on taking care of her and helping to keep a roof over our heads during the darkest of times. I was very fortunate to have a number of interesting jobs ranging from being the assistant manager at a fast food restaurant to working in the commanding general’s office behind the Iron Curtain before the Berlin Wall came down. But no matter where I lived or worked, I always created stories even if they never made it to paper. Finally, when our oldest was off to college, I decided it was time to write the book I’d always wanted to write. Twenty years and nearly 140 books later, I still love the art of storytelling.
As a matter of fact, in 2015 you were awarded the distinguished Centennial Award for having achieved publication of your 100th novel. Congratulations—that’s an incredible accomplishment! Where do you find inspiration for your novels? What’s your writing process like? Has it changed over time?
Thank you! People inspire me. Music inspires me. Places inspire me. My favorite way to brainstorm is driving around to new locations with my husband and just watching people and searching for a great setting. I try really hard to write every day. Early in the day—before the world intrudes—is better.
The process has changed over time, yes. I was in a devastating accident seven years ago. When all was said and done, I had lost a great deal of the use of my right hand—my dominant hand. I had to learn how to reuse my right arm and right hand. It took me three years to learn to write my name with that hand again. My right hand won’t ever work the way it did before, but I learned to do most of what I do with my left. The change slowed me down considerably but it didn’t stop me!
Do you have a favorite spot from which to write?
I used to be able to write any place, but these days I prefer my office. I started building an inspiration board for my stories and I kind of like having it close by when I’m working.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer?
Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series. Anything by Lisa Gardner or Karen Rose or Allison Brennan. Cindy Gerard and too many others to name!
What’s next for you, Debra?
Well, there are four books so far in the Shades of Death series. A DEEPER GRAVE that’s coming out this month and then The Coldest Fear in September. Finally, The Longest Silence comes out in April of next year and it will be my first hardcover. I am so excited about that. I’m working on a new series and hoping my publisher will love it.
Debra Webb is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 125 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra’s love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama.
To learn more about Debra and her books, please visit her website.