Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Right out of the pages of THE VANISHING

Hi everyone!

I thought you might appreciate this. My new book, THE VANISHING, being released in January, features, among other things, three Alaskan Malamutes and a blizzard. The dogs are my three real-life dogs, Tundra, Tika and Molly. Molly is the only one still with us. And the blizzard — well, I live in Minnesota near the area where I set the book, so blizzards are nothing new to us. We're getting walloped right now with at least two feet of heavy, wet snow. Here are a couple of shots of Molly enjoying it, right out of the pages of THE VANISHING. I hope nothing else in the book comes true...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Goodreads Giveaway of The Vanishing!

Hey gothic suspense fans!

We just started a giveaway on Goodreads for The Vanishing! Just click on the link to sign up to win a copy of my new book before you can buy it in stores.

The Vanishing, out January 21, is the story of Julia Bishop, who receives an intriguing job offer just as her life is falling apart. A man appears on her doorstep asking her to be a companion to his elderly mother, who just happens to be a famous novelist the whole world thinks is dead. Julia sees this as a chance for a fresh start and accepts the position. But when she gets to Havenwood, the novelist's remote estate in the Minnesota wilderness, she begins to wonder whether this too-good-to-be-true job offer is exactly that.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Dark and Stormy Night: 10 Tips for Writing a Paranormal Mystery

I was recently asked to teach a class at a mystery writers’ conference at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The topic? The art of writing a paranormal mystery. Since I write these types of tales for a living, I readily accepted, thinking: “Hey, how hard can it be to teach others how to do this?” Turns out, it was more difficult than I imagined. I had never before sat down and thought about how to write these books.

Were there hard and fast rules I followed when writing? Not likely. I’m lazier than that. Was there a formula for a succesful novel? If there were, we’d all be bestselling authors. What was I going to tell this room full of people who had paid money to glean knowledge from me?

I do this for a living, I told myself. I have to know something. So I sat down came up with my top 10 tips for writing a paranormal mystery.

1. Real world or new world?
The first thing you need to decide is, how paranormal do you want it to be? You can create a real-world type of story, like my books, or like The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters or Seduction by M. J. Rose or The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe By “real world,” I mean your characters live in the real world and simply might have a hint of eeriness swirling around. Your hero or heroine might be psychic. Or a witch. Or she might remember past lives. Or he might see ghosts. But all of the action takes place in our real, flawed world in which something eerie and strange might be lurking around any ordinary corner.

Or you can create an entirely new world. Great examples of this are the Harry Potter series or even the Twilight series. Those are worlds in which wizards go to special boarding schools and Death Eaters are real dangers, and teenaged vampires drive cars in bright daylight and hunky werewolves carry torches for sullen humans.

Either choice works for your narrative, but if you create a new world, you’ll have to do a lot of legwork before you start writing. You need to create the rules, the mythology, the laws, everything about this world, before you put one letter on the page. You need to know your new world just as well as you know your own before you start writing, because one slip up, one instance in which your characters are caught doing something inconsistent with the laws in your new world, and you’ll lose your readers. Imagine if Captain Kirk all of a sudden started casting spells on his crewmen.

2. Once you’ve created your world, make your readers want to live there. And then pull the rug out from under them.
The books I love the best are the ones in which I want to live where the characters are living, or where I’m enticed to go where the characters are going. One of my favorite books is The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman, in which a group of artists and writers travel to an artists’ retreat in upstate New York. I’d love to go to a retreat like that! But no, no, no. As it turns out, I wouldn’t. If you make your readers want to live there, they’ll put themselves in the middle of the action and it will be all the more terrifying when things start to go wrong.

3. Even implausible situations must be plausible.
If your reader is questioning something about a character’s behavior in any given scene — Wait, why would she go down into the cellar when she heard the scream instead of just calling the police? — it pulls them out of the narrative. You need to answer those questions before they occur to your reader. She fished her cell phone out of her purse and tried to turn it on. Dead. She was on her own.

4.The “dark and stormy night” cliché isn’t a cliché for nothing.
Not being able to see two feet in front of you while you’re hearing strange moaning on the other side of the room is scary. Not being able to leave because it’s storming outside is scary. If it’s eerie in broad daylight, it’s going to be downright terrifying in the middle of a dark and stormy night.

5. Adapt The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a concept put forth by the great Joseph Cambell in The Power of Myth, in which he talks about a common narrative in myths from around the world. The hero lives an ordinary life. Something happens that causes an upheaval from this life. He receives a call to adventure, which he initially does not wish to accept. But then he does, and his adventure begins. One classic example of this is Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie. Or Harry Potter in the first of those books. I adapt this concept into something happening in the beginning of my books to cause my heroine to enter a new life. A parent dies. A strange letter arrives in the mail and turns the world upside down. A job offer materializes just as one’s life is in ruins. My heroines must accept these calls to adventure, and when they do, their stories begin. They’re the reason my characters can’t simply walk away from the strange things happening around them.

6. Create vulnerability or danger that the lead character doesn’t see for awhile, but the reader does.
One of the most engrossing, addicting and frightening books I’ve read recently is The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian In it, a family moves to a new house, and the reader knows that the daughters are targeted by an odd group of women in the town. Are these women witches? Maybe. Are the girls in danger? Yup. We as readers suspect it, but the lead character doesn’t. When done right, this type of situation will have readers screaming warnings to the narrator. Or maybe that was just me, reading this book. Either way, it will keep your readers turning the pages.

7. Give your readers breaks in the suspense.
Unless you’re writing a thriller, it’s always good to break up the suspense and tension with humor or a little romance. It gives the reader a breather, brings down their guard, and it takes your narrative back to the real world. Think of the Weasley brothers in Harry Potter, or the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones has been chased through the streets by a saber-wielding assassin, and after a dramatic display of swordplay, Indie simply takes out a gun a shoots him. We all had a good laugh, caught our breath, and dove into the narrative again.

8. You’ve got to believe.
I write ghost stories and I travel extensively for readings to promote my books. During almost every reading I’ve had, someone asks me if I believe in ghosts. Yes, is the short answer. But even if you don’t believe in your paranormal phenomenon in the real world — I highly doubt Anne Rice really believes vampires are prowling around New Orleans… or maybe she does — you must believe they exist in the world you’re creating. It has to be absolutely real, plausible and undeniable to you while you’re writing it, or your readers are going to have doubts, too.

9. Was it just my imagination?
What if, right now, you looked up from this article and saw a headless specter floating in the room before you? And then, just as quickly as that, it faded from view. What would you think? Would you immediately conclude that your house or office was haunted, you were in danger and it was time to gather up your things and leave? Or might you think it was just your imagination, brought on by reading about this topic? Or maybe it was just an undigested bit of beef, as Scrooge thought. Here in the real world, we like real-world, sensible explanations for things. We look to explain away eerie or strange happenings as completely normal. So, don’t make your characters jump to otherworldly conclusions too quickly.

10. To outline, or not to outline?
Some writers swear by their outlines. I don’t. I don’t want to know exactly where my story it going, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I don’t trust myself. If I know the answer to the mystery too early, I’m afraid I’d be giving it away too easily. Also, if I’m surprised while writing it, I know the reader will be surprised, too. And if I can’t wait to see what’s waiting on the next page, I hope the reader will feel the same way.

If any of these tips resonate with you, start writing! And if they don’t, throw them away and make up your own. My opinions are just that, my opinions. The great thing about writing fiction, folks, is that we get to make this stuff up.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Where do authors get their inspiration?

Here's an essay about where I find mine:

An Author’s Inspiration: On The Fate of Mercy Alban

Apr 02, 2013 in Guest Posts, Writing
doors1I’m lucky enough to spend my days writing novels of gothic suspense in which family secrets and scandals bubble to the surface in big, old, haunted mansions. Ever since my first book hit the shelves a few years back, I’ll oftentimes find myself on panels with other authors at various book festivals and conferences, and one question we’re always asked is: “What inspired you to write your story?” Believe me, when you’re asking mystery, crime, thriller or suspense novelists this question, you’re going to get some strange, eerie and, let’s be honest, borderline psychotic answers. Mine included.
Erin Hart’s imagination shifts into high gear when she reads news stories about ancient bodies being pulled out of the peat bogs in Ireland, perfectly preserved. In her four novels, the most recent of which is The Book of Killowen, her lead character investigates these archaeological sites and usually unearths a present-day murder in the bargain. David Housewright revealed that, while attending a crowded music festival, he looked around at the sea of faces and began to marvel at how easy it might be to kill someone and simply slip away unnoticed… and thus began his novel Highway 61, in which an unfortunate fellow wakes up next to a dead body after attending a similar music festival, and thinks he has made a clean getaway until the blackmail threats start arriving.
Now that I’ve got two novels on the shelves, one in the pipeline set for release in January 2014 and a fourth rattling around in my brain, I think it’s safe for me to say that I’m most inspired by place. I need to create the setting where my characters are going to do whatever it is that they do, and then the story flows from there.
My current novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), bubbled to the surface during a tour I took of Glensheen Mansion, a stately, old home on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota. Once a private home and now a museum, Glensheen has its own haunted history — matriarch Elizabeth Congdon and her maid were murdered in the house by Elizabeth’s daughter and her husband, no less, and reportedly both of the slain ladies remain — but I wasn’t interested in writing their story. I wasn’t looking for story inspiration at all. I was just taking the tour.
It was a gorgeous summer day on Lake Superior, and after wandering from room to glorious room inside, I walked out onto the patio that spans the whole length of the house. I stood there gazing at the meticulously-manicured lawn that flows out to the lake, which was glittering in the summer sun.
I thought: “What a great place to host a party!” And I started imagining it — men in their summer suits, women in long, cotton dresses, servers in black circulating with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. I could almost see the ghostly images of the revelers there in the yard, talking, laughing, listening to music wafting through the air.
And then, being the type of writer I am, I thought: “Ooo. What if somebody wound up dead at that party?”
I could clearly imagine that, too. A gunshot, a scream piercing the night air, the confusion that would follow — stunned onlookers, too traumatized to move, others running for the door, a police siren, faint at first and then growing louder. The anguished cry of grief as a love is lost forever.
I don’t know how long I stood there, caught up in the scene playing out in my own mind. The thought of it just wouldn’t let me go. And so began The Fate of Mercy Alban, a novel centered around a long-ago summer party at a stately old mansion much like Glensheen, where one of the party guests, a world-famous writer, winds up dead, and the daughter of the host and hostess disappears without a trace.
Now I’m looking for inspiration for my fourth novel. Know of any haunted mansions to tour?
Wendy Webb is the author of the Heartland Indie bestselling novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013, Hyperion), and The Tale of Halcyon Crane, (2010, Holt), which won the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction. Her newest book, The Vanishing, will be released in January, 2014. Visit her online at

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Best Ghost Stories I've Heard on my Book Tour

I've got a new blog on the Huffington Post's books section — which I'm thrilled about!! — and I thought you might like to read my newest article about the best ghost stories I've heard on my book tour.

It's a lot of fun, and I mention several bookstores I've visited in the past month. Have you ever had a ghostly experience? Do tell!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reader's Loft Bookstore

What a fun night at one of my favorite bookstores, Reader's Loft Bookstore in Green Bay. It's a beautiful, welcoming, comfortable place with two cats prowling the shelves and fantastic booksellers who always have recommendations for the next wonderful read. And they create great events for authors. Tonight, I met with a large book club that read Mercy in advance of my visit — this is what authors love! I am forever grateful for this kind of support! Here are a few photos of the beautiful Readers Loft Bookstore and the wonderful people who came out to see me.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Magers & Quinn Photos!

I had such a fantastic time last night at Magers & Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis. This fabulous neighborhood bookstore was the site of my first-ever reading for my first novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane, and it has held a special place in my heart ever since.

The events organizer introduced me with the greatest compliment I've ever received about my writing, saying that at M & Q they think of me as the "Daphne Du Maurier of Duluth." How about that?!

I was really touched by how many people came out to support me in my home town. As I was reading, I looked into the crowd and saw old friends I hadn't seen since high school and college, new friends I've made through the incredible book community here in the Twin Cities — author Peter Geye and local bookmaven Pamela Klinger Horn — and lots and lots of readers. Every seat was filled and people were actually standing in the aisles!

If there was a reading made for me in heaven, this one was it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Photos from Common Good Books, 3/6/13 with Erin Hart!

I had a fun and fantastic reading last night at Common Good Books in St. Paul with my friend and fellow author Erin Hart, whose new novel, The Book of Killowen, was released this week. We each read from our novels and then took questions as a team. The crowd was very engaged and asked lots of good questions. A great night at a great bookstore! Here are a few photos.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bestseller List!!

I'm thrilled to report that Mercy has landed on the Heartland Indie Bestseller List !!! That means, in all of the independent bookstores in the greater Midwest region, Mercy is the #3 top seller!  I am so grateful to the independent bookstores and all of their fantastic booksellers for recommending Mercy to their customers!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Launch Party for The Fate of Mercy Alban!

On Saturday, February 9, my dear friends Jane and Jeff Bertani opened their gorgeous, historic home in  Duluth to nearly 200 people, all there to celebrate the launch of Mercy!

Jane is such an elegant hostess. This lady can really throw a party. From the moment guests arrived at the glittering, 100-plus-year-old mansion, pulling their cars into the circular drive to waiting valets, people knew this was going to be THE event of the season. And it was.

The magnificent rooms were filled with a fun mix of people. The entire staff of Duluth Superior Magazine was there to support me (not ones to turn down free booze), as were friends from the arts community here in Duluth — writers, artists, dancers and more. Doctors and businesspeople mingled with innkeepers and potters. Local book groups came, even one called the Bad Girl Book Club (motto: Half of us don't read the book, the other half of doesn't show up.) But they bought 10 copies! Sally Anderson from The Bookstore at Fitger's  was kept busy selling books, and I was kept busy signing them.

Those of you who already have read Mercy know that a similar party took place at Alban House (a house not so very different from the Bertani Mansion) in the 1950s. Jane took a page from my book and served hors d'oeuvres and cocktails from the 50s that might have been served at that veryparty! She also researched a couple of floral arrangements I describe from Adele's funeral and had them recreated, even taking the book with her to the florist so they could read the descriptions and create the arrangements just as I had described. Who knew I had such a way with flowers? They're gorgeous! She even had glasses engraved with the book title and napkins printed as well.

It was a night of laughter, storytelling, elegance and fun — definitely the best party of the season here in Duluth. When it came time for me to do my reading, I stood on their grand staircase staring out over the sea of people and was so honored and grateful that so many came to celebrate my launch, and that Jane and Jeff opened their magnificent home. And the best part? My parents were there to experience it.

Here are a few photos from the event.

Who says women of a certain age can't rock? Here are Diane Winkler and Cheryl Husby of the Grrrl Band on their way to a gig, flanking pal Chevon Gallagher.

Here's the hostess with the mostest, Jane Bertani, with Daniel and Patricia Mullins.

My very proud parents Joan and Toby Webb with the handsomest young man in Duluth (or anywhere), my son Ben Lyso.

My dear friends Toni Piazza, Andy Alander and Sarah Fister Gale, with yours truly.

 Our county attorney Mark Rubin and his beautiful wife Nancy.

 Me sharing a laugh with Andres Gonzales.

 Deb and Matt Pawlak. Matt is the art director at Duluth Superior Magazine. Deb puts up with him.

Joseph Gallegos with Denise Lisdahl, a woman who is not his wife.

This woman is his wife, my dear friend Mary Gallegos, with another dear friend, Robert Gardner, director of the Minnesota Ballet.

Paul Duray, rock star and critical care nurse, Cheryl Husby, potter extraordinaire and rock star, and Amy Duray, who simply rocks at all times.

Leave it to Mary to get in a photo with the dashing Dean Bruss. Behind them lurking by the door is my husband Steve, who somehow avoided all the photos.

Peter Schmidt and David Gale, two excellent party guests.

Colleen Schmidt, Stan Augustine, and Suzanne Johnson, whose name I misspelled when I was signing her book and now she'll never let me forget it. Suzanne is the owner of the Red Mug, the hippest place in Superior, WI. So hip that Joe Biden stopped in when he was in town.

My very proud brother Jack Webb, and our dear friend Kathi Wright, who grew up across the street from us. Kathi and I have known each other since we were 3 months old. She's my old same.

 David Hileman, the publisher of Duluth Superior Magazine and my partner in crime, and Kim, his beautiful wife.

Sam Daml, Tom Marcouiller and his wife my dear friend Bobbi Voss, who I met in seventh grade French class. We've come a long way, Babette.

Justin Paul Hoivik, who is the only person on earth I trust with my hair, and his friend Valerie Adams.

 A rose between two thorns, as my grandma used to say. Ha! Me with Deb and Matt Pawlak.

 The lovely Monica Bertani, who helped hostess the event, with Marchia Lemay.

Asha Long, our web and calendar editor at DSM, with Deb Pawlak, who has gotten into 3/4 of the photos.
 The lovely Suzanne Avello with the equally lovely Lyn Mahnke

The lord of the manor, Dr. Jeff Bertani, with Mary Berry, whose family built the house so long ago.

 Where Jane was able to find tulips in Minnesota in winter, I don't know. But they were gorgeous.

People listening to me read. This is a fun shot for me to see, a perspective I don't ever get!

Me signing books. I was so grateful! People bought multiple copies each.

Here I was figuring out what I was going to read to the crowd.

And here's me reading. I was standing on the stairs overlooking their grand foyer, where everyone else was standing.

Isn't that plaster ceiling cool?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pub Day for The Fate of Mercy Alban!

The Fate of Mercy Alban hits the streets today! Or should I say "shelves"? I'm excited and nervous! I hope people like it!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Dark and Stormy Night

I'm working on the session I'll be teaching at the Loft Literary Center's Mystery, Crime and Thriller conference in April. Thinking of calling it A Dark and Stormy Night: Writing Paranormal Mysteries. (cue the spooky organ music). This is going to be a fun event. MN author pals Ellen Hart, Erin Hart, and David Housewright (who will no-doubt be insufferable because he's up against HIMSELF for the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction this year) will be there teaching their own sessions. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Read an excerpt of The Fate of Mercy Alban

My new book is being released on February 5, but if you want a sneak peek, check out the first 30 pages that have been excerpted on Scribd!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Goodreads Giveaway!

There are only six hours left of the Goodreads Giveaway of The Fate of Mercy Alban! Enter here to win a copy of the book before you can buy it in stores. We're giving away 35 copies, so the odds are pretty good!

This is my first giveaway on Goodreads and it really has been a lot of fun. I find myself logging onto the site periodically to see how many people have entered, and getting more and more excited as the number continues to climb. As of this writing, it's almost 1,400!

Thank you to everyone on Goodreads who has entered. I'm grateful for your interest in the book!