I am happy to introduce fellow Wisconsinite and author, Brenda Marie Webb. Last year Brenda and I connected on Instagram, and I bought and read her book, A Thousand Mothers.
Brenda is a self-proclaimed history nerd and a member of the Historical Novel Society. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, 2 crazy rescue dogs, and a lot of cats.
A Thousand Mothers is Brenda’s first historical fiction novel. She recently finished working with other writers from around the world on a Holocaust Survivor interview project through the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Philadelphia. The project paired historians, professional writers, journalists, teachers, and professors with a Holocaust survivor, liberator or resistor to document history based on their testimonies. The essays have been published and are available as academic resources for educators and students.
Brenda has a BA in history and has taken advanced courses in Holocaust studies through Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. She has a passion for helping Holocaust and concentration camp survivors tell their stories.
My Author Interview with Brenda:
Tell us what A Thousand Mothers is about.
To sum up A Thousand Mothers in just a few words would be to say that it’s about love and bravery. It tells the story of beautiful, courageous women and what they had to do to survive the misery surrounding them in a concentration camp.
A Thousand Mothers starts out in December 1942 in the Plonsk ghetto in Poland. The ghetto is being liquidated and a young wife, Perl, is being deported to an unknown destination. Perl is sent to Ravensbruck where she meets a group of women who become her family. Tragedy strikes and the women do whatever they have to do to honor a promise they made to Perl.
The women are strong, brave, and loyal and form bonds that last through the horrors of life in a concentration camp, through liberation and into the future.
How did you start working with the Holocaust Survivor interview project through the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Philadelphia?
I was taking an online class on Nazi Antisemitism and The Evolution of the Final Solution through Yad Vashem in Israel and my professor sent me an email about a writing opportunity that he thought I would be interested in. I filled out the application and sent in a sample of my writing along with a letter of recommendation from my professor and to my surprise, I was one of the twenty applicants from around the world selected to work on the project.
I was paired with a Holocaust survivor in Pennsylvania and I was able to go to Pennsylvania and spend two days with him and his lovely wife.
Why is it important for you to tell the stories of the survivors?
The average age of remaining Holocaust survivors today is 83. We’re losing them every day and when they’re gone, their stories will be gone, also. It’s so important to get their collective memories and testimonies written down.
After liberation, many of the survivors wouldn’t talk about their experiences. Some out of fear of not being believed and some because they were told to forget about what happened to them and move on. Just because the war was over and the camps liberated, it didn’t mean the end of anti-Semitism. It was still widespread, and Jews were still being persecuted.
What prompted you to take your project further and craft a novel from your work?
I want to write about what I’m passionate about and I want to give a voice to those extraordinary, fearless victims history may have forgotten. The Holocaust is a subject that many people, especially young people, don’t know about.
I read Martha Hall Kelly’s book, Lilac Girls, in 2017, and the concept of a female-only concentration camp, staffed with female guards fascinated and horrified me. These guards were wives and mothers and yet treated their prisoners worse than their male counterparts. I started reading everything I could about the camp and the more I learned about the camp and the “rabbits” of Ravensbruck, a vague idea for a story came to me and I began outlining A Thousand Mothers.
The Holocaust survivor that I was paired with had spent some time Ravensbruck before finally being liberated from Bergen-Belen. He was a small boy but still remembers the horrors of the camp and being terrorized by the female guards. After hearing his story, I knew exactly what I wanted to write.
Please tell us about your road to publication with A Thousand Mothers.
My road to publication started with a year of research and outlining. I read everything I could get my hands on and filled notebooks with facts, dates, and ideas. I finally had to force myself to stop researching and concentrate on writing. It was easy to fall down the “research” rabbit hole because it was comfortable.
I’m a plotter and as I had mentioned, before I ever started writing, I had an outline and a timeline in place. It was important to me to make sure it was as historically accurate as I could make it. It is a fiction book, and I had to change some facts to make them fit the story, but the setting of Ravensbruck is true and is described as accurately as possible.
After my year of research, the first draft of A Thousand Mothers was written pretty quickly. I sent the very rough first draft to alpha readers and then spent about 4 months working on edits and revisions. After that, it was off to a round of beta readers followed by a month of more edits and revisions.
I sent it off to my editor for developmental edits and copy edits in June 2019 and then it went to the proofreader and formatter.
It was published November 25, 2019
Are you with an independent publishing group or self-published?
I went the self-publishing route. I didn’t want to spend years querying publishers. I’m old! I wanted to see ATM published in my lifetime. I also wanted full control over my book.
What has surprised you most about being an author?
- There are a few things that surprise me. The first thing that surprised me was how hard it was to get ATM published. There are so many steps involved to get a book ready for publication. Writing the 1st draft was easy! There are beta readers and more edits, developmental editors and more edits, copy editors and more edits. Formatting, proofreaders……
- Then there is the never-ending marketing that must be done. You need to have a social media presence, a website, a newsletter, etc. I’m still trying to find a balance to get everything done and continue writing.
- I had a book signing on February 15th at a local bookstore and the turnout was amazing. I was so stunned that all these people gave up their time on a cold, snowy Saturday afternoon to come to see me. A teacher I had in high school came to the book signing and an old friend that I haven’t seen in years came out. I’m so honored and touched!
- The other thing that surprises me is that people want me to sign their book. It makes me laugh every time someone asks me for an autograph.
What aspect of being an author/writer do you struggle with the most?
My biggest struggle is self-confidence, or in my case, lack of self-confidence. One-hundred people can tell me how much they loved my book, and I feel the need to tell them how awful it is! I’ve given away so many copies of ATM because I don’t feel I should be taking money for my novel.
My MIL asked for a copy at least 4 times before I finally gave one to her and I pleaded with her not to read it.
I just read a book about “self-worth” and a sentence really resonated with me. It said “Confidence is internal. It has nothing to do with skills.”
My 2nd struggle is marketing, which sort of ties into my confidence struggle. Marketing doesn’t end when your book is published, which you know. BTW, I just read Ruby Moon and it’s wonderful! Your story is so interesting and unique. I love your style of writing, it’s poetic. I got lost in your words.
I know I should be pitching my book to bloggers and podcasters, but I can’t. I also should be asking for reviews, but it’s so hard to put yourself out there.
What inspires you most as a writer?
I’m inspired when I read other author’s beautiful writings. Anne Franke was 15 years when she died in Bergen-Belsen, but her book changed the world. I’m inspired by people who give their best to make the world a better place.
History inspires me, photos, quotes, art. They all get my imagination going.
If you could give a couple of tips to other aspiring writers out there who are dreaming of publishing their work, what would you say?
#1 Don’t give up! It’s a long, arduous process but you’ll get there, and it will be worth it!
#2 Take your time and make it as perfect as you can.
#3 Edit Edit Edit! Don’t be surprised if your final draft is completely different from your 1st draft. If you can afford it, hire a developmental and copy editor. They’re invaluable!
#4 Believe in yourself! You have something to say!!
Are you working on future projects?
Yes! I’m working on my 2nd novel, which is a follow up to A Thousand Mothers and tells Mattie Kaczlowicz’s story and his journey through the horrors of Auschwitz concentration camp.
I don’t have a title yet, but I hope to have it published in the spring of 2021.
Thank you, Brenda for guest blogging and answering my author interview questions! It was a pleasure to host you, and I look forward to doing so in the future. Following is my brief review of A Thousand Mother’s.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️I found A Thousand Mothers an inspiring and hopeful story despite the depiction of the horrific circumstances of the Nazi death camps. I had to take breaks between readings. The suffering of the characters became real as I read. I could taste the tears, feel the pain, and yet sense the determination to keep going.
The story unfolds in part at the camps through different perspectives, which all revolve around keeping one baby alive. Against odds the women of Ravensbruck band together to preserve the life of Flora. The second half of the book tells the story of the survivors and their lives after the war. The story is ripe with history and well-researched.
I found the varied view points throughout the book a little confusing. I think the story would have benefited from less perspectives, but I can see in the passing of the responsibility of Flora from one woman to another that may have not been feasible in the storyline. Time stamps at the beginning of chapters would have been helpful as well.
All in all, Webb wove an intricate tale of hope in the darkest of times. A Thousand Mothers is well-worth the read!
Thanks for reading!
As always, thank you for following my blog and reading. I hope you’ll take the time to read Brenda’s inspiring book, A Thousand Mothers. The ebook if only $2.99 in Amazon. Click the above graphic to purchase. To connect with Brenda, follow her on Instagram or Facebook.