Five Things Heather Webb Didn’t Know She Needed to Know Before Writing Her Novel BECOMING JOSEPHINE

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This week, Heather Webb visits my blog to divulge five things she didn’t know before writing BECOMING JOSEPHINE, which takes place in Paris during the 18th Century.

JosephineBECOMING JOSEPHINE is the story of Rose Tascher, who sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century — Napoleon Bonaparte.


Heather says: There were more things I DIDN’T know than DID when I first began researching Josephine Bonaparte’s life. Here’s a sampling:


(Click on the question to reveal the answer.)
[expand title=”1. Josephine was from a sugar plantation in Martinique so at one point I needed to know how sugar cane was harvested and what it smells like.”] 1. Sugar cane fields are burned before harvesting from March to November to make the process of collecting and transporting it easier. And it smells smoky and sweet, as one might expect. It also causes a lot of respiratory problems from all of the ash floating in the air during much of the year.[/expand]
Sugar Cane Plantation in 18th Century Martinique

Sugar Cane Plantation in 18th Century Martinique

The catacombs of Paris

The catacombs of Paris

[expand title=”2. There wasn’t enough land space in Paris to bury all of the murdered victims during the French Revolution, so where did they put the bodies?”]

Some rotted in giant heaps in fields or on the street. Others were buried haphazardly in unmarked graves. And thousands and thousands of others were dumped in abandoned mine shafts once used for quarrying stone in the Middle Ages. At the time the mines were first used, they lay on the outskirts of the city, but now encompass much of the southern half of Paris. Tourists can visit the ossuaries (better known as the Catacombs) today, where over 6 million skeletons have been accounted for from the French Revolution up through World War II.[/expand]

[expand title=”3. What were 18th century fans made of and were they all painted with flowers?”]

The materials varied, but lamb skin and chicken skin were of the more expensive varieties. In terms of what was painted on them, it changed based on what was popular in the news of day. For example, the first hot air balloon was launched to impress King Louis XVI in 1783, and soon after, many ladies fluttered their fans decorated with brightly colored balloons. When Napoleon returned from his Egyptian campaign, pyramids and camels graced ladies’ fans.[/expand]


[expand title=”4. How did Josephine manage to acquire so many plant species for her famous gardens at Malmaison?”]

With each of Napoleon’s international expeditions, Josephine sent a couple of her most trusted botanists to collect samples and transport them back to France, including 200+ species of roses, purple amaryllis, dahlias, and fruit trees.[/expand]

Chicken-skin fan from 18th century painted with country girls and their lovers

[expand title=”5. What was the bals des victimes?”]

After the Reign of Terreur ended, survivors (mostly the former nobility), attended balls wearing red ribbons around their necks to signify the cut of the bloody guillotine as well as red accessories like shawls. Ballrooms were decorated in a macabre way in dark fabrics, etc, and there was even a dance where the attendees mimicked a beheading. A gruesome business![/expand]


Heather_Webb_SmilingHeather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Plume/Penguin 2015). A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills — something she adores. Find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites and Drop by her website to say hello at