Up Close: Debra Webb
Finding Truth in Overcoming Trauma
By Wendy Tyson
In THE LONGEST SILENCE by USA Today bestselling author Debra Webb, we meet Joanna Guthrie. Eighteen years ago, Joanna was abducted and held captive by a dangerous serial killer who tortured her and forced her to do unspeakable things. She’s free now, but when more women disappear in a similar manner, Joanna knows she must finally break her silence.
The Big Thrill recently sat down with Webb to talk about THE LONGEST SILENCE, her tips for aspiring authors, and the inspiration behind her main character.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of THE LONGEST SILENCE, your fourth Shades of Death thriller. Although it’s a standalone, THE LONGEST SILENCE features protagonists from the first three novels in the Shades of Death series, including FBI special agent Tony LeDoux. Can you explain how this book fits with the series?
The first three books in the series, No Darker Place, A Deeper Grave, and The Coldest Fear, follow the journey of Detective Bobbie Gentry and serial killer hunter Nick Shade. At the end of the third book I really felt as if I had brought Bobbie and Nick where they needed to be. But there was one character that sort of took over occasionally, FBI Agent Tony LeDoux. I felt like readers of the series would want his story, too. So THE LONGEST SILENCE takes place several months after The Coldest Fear. It was only natural to bring Bobbie and Nick in to help. I loved writing this story. It felt like the right finale for the series.
THE LONGEST SILENCE is special. Can you tell us why?
I actually started this story eight years ago, but life got in the way and I wasn’t able to write it until much later. I am so thrilled to have THE LONGEST SILENCE as my first hardcover!
Joanna Guthrie is a hero who has to overcome a traumatizing past in order to do what she knows is right today. What was your inspiration for Joanna? Was it difficult to craft a character whose most harrowing experience is also the source of her greatest strength?
Capturing Joanna was definitely a challenge. I have a dear friend who lived with a man who mentally abused her for nearly three decades. But she stayed in the horrible relationship because she felt it was the right thing for her children. He was a careful monster, one who kept his ugliness behind closed doors so the children had no idea. Even trusted friends with whom she confided looked at her as if she were foolish for staying in the relationship. Foolish or not, she made the only choice she felt could be made and she lived with the consequences. She endured all the ugliness and then, finally, she was able to emerge from the nightmare and begin her life anew. I am humbled by the amount of courage it took for her to survive all those years and then to build a new life.
Along with the Shades of Death series, you write thrillers and romantic suspense. Regardless of genre, many of your books have a strong psychological element to them. What has drawn you to psychological suspense? Do you have any advice for new authors interested in increasing the psychological tension in their novels?
To me, there is no more profound fear than the not knowing what’s coming next in a scary situation. If it’s physical pain, you can brace yourself and ride it out. Once you’ve experienced the first blow, you have a measure by which to estimate the agony, and to be prepared for the next one. The relentless certainty that some horror is just around the corner and you can do nothing to stop it from descending is way scarier to me. The build-up can be terrifying. I grew up devouring Alfred Hitchcock, Shock Theatre, and movies like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. It’s no wonder I’m so twisted.
You’ve written an incredible 145 books. What did your journey to publication look like? How do you keep your material fresh?
I started writing stories when I was nine years old. My grandmother was a wonderful storyteller. I remember sitting in her house or on her porch listening to her tell stories. She was my inspiration. As I went from a child to a teenager, my focus shifted from storytelling to other things. I joined the workforce, became a wife and a mother. Our older daughter was born with numerous physical challenges and life was complicated for many years. But as she prepared to go off to college, I found the time to get back to my storytelling. Five years later I had my first contract. In my humble opinion, the best way to keep a story fresh is to never forget that every character is different. No two people are exactly the same. Every story is fresh when it comes from fresh eyes.
What are you currently reading?
I read some great books in 2017. Most recently I read The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn and The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Fabulous stories!
What’s next for you, Debra? Can readers look forward to another Shades of Death novel?
No more Shades of Death for now. Next up with my publisher, MIRA, is The Undertaker’s Daughter series. I’m very excited about this one. My protagonist, Rowan DuPont, grew up in a funeral home. She knew how to prepare a body by the time she was twelve. As an adult, she’s a psychologist who works with the police solving homicides. Rowan believes that each body is like a road map that tells the story of its journey. I’m also very excited about the standalone thriller I have coming out next month, There Once Was A Child! This one is a departure from my usual work. I hope my readers will like it!
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