By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
MOOREVILLE – Author Peggy Webb is the kind of person who can get very cold on a summer’s day in Mississippi.
Sure, air conditioning can do that, but Webb’s chills are a product of her imagination.
“One time, I was writing a winter scene and I got so cold,” she said. “I’d put on sweat pants and cold weather gear.
“When I saw the mailman come up, I went outside in my winter garb. The neighbors probably said, ‘She’s doing it again.’”
Whatever the neighbors say, there’s no denying the results. Webb’s imaginative powers have produced 67 novels during her prolific, 25-year career. She’s sold more than 10 million books, and her works have been translated into 17 languages.
“I write about Mississippi. My settings are always, always here,” she said. “I’ve written about Tupelo, Mooreville, Saltillo, Fulton, Pontotoc. The places you know and travel every day, these are my settings.”
Perhaps you know her as a romance writer because she’s produced more than 50 books in the genre, but Webb has been exploring different territory in recent years.
“I’m writing mysteries. That’s what I’m doing now,” she said. “I haven’t written romance, per se, in five years.”
But she’s kept some of her romance-writing ways. At a mystery writer’s conference, she put out a bowl of Hershey’s kisses to encourage fans to drop by her table. It was an oddity for the other writers.
“Romance authors are some of the best promoters in the world,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not against bribing someone to come to my table.”
Making a change
More than a quarter century ago, Webb realized her children were about to leave the nest. She needed something to do, so she went back to school for her master’s degree in English.
She taught junior high school English for a short time, but she had another plan.
“I made a conscious decision to write novels,” she said. “I chose romance because I went into the bookstore one day and there were so many romance novels. It was an enormous genre.”
While waiting to find a publisher for her first book, she wrote her second book. It was No. 2, “Taming Maggie,” that went to press first.
“I was the first to have a debut novel make it on the Walden Books Romance Best Seller List,” she said.
That first book she wrote, “Birds of a Feather,” came next, then she really got to work.
“I was writing five books a year,” she said. “One year, I did seven.”
Her prodigious output stunned the other authors at that mystery writing convention.
“All of the writers went into a room. We introduced ourselves and told how many books we’d written,” Webb said. “’Twelve.’ ‘Six.’ ‘Two.’ I went, ‘67.’ They all looked like they wanted to kill me instantly.”
Help from Mama
A few years ago, the flood of words turned to nothing.
“I had burned out. It was a period when my mother was sick,” she said. “I took a two-year break. When I stopped writing, I said, ‘Gee, that was a tremendous relief.’”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a muse is “the spirit that is thought to inspire a poet or other artist.”
Webb lost track of hers, even though it was closer to home than she thought at the time.
Webb’s mother, Marie Westmoreland Hussey, had always encouraged her daughter to read. Before she died, she encouraged her daughter to write.
“She said, ‘You’ve got to keep writing. You love it so much,’” Webb said.
She advised Webb to get in touch with a friend in the publishing business.
“After she died, I did what Mama told me,” Webb said. “My muse came back.”
This was a different muse, one less inclined toward romance. “Driving Me Crazy” is a comedic story about an older woman on an adventure.
“That’s not a character. That’s my mama,” Webb said. “’Driving Me Crazy’ was by far the most popular novel that I have ever written.”
It’s not a romance novel, but you might find it in the romance section.
“I was at a bookstore, and someone was looking for one of my books and couldn’t find it. She was talking to a clerk,” Webb said. “She said, ‘Do you carry her? I think she even comes here for signings.’
“I was listening. I was eavesdropping, really. I hopped up and said, ‘Here I am,’ and directed them to the book.”
These days, Webb’s career has gone to the dogs, or more precisely, the dog. “Elvis and the Dearly Departed,” which came out in 2008, envisions Tupelo’s favorite son as a reincarnated hound dog who helps solve mysteries.
Her late dog, Jefferson, inspired the choice.
“His place was under my desk. That’s where he stayed when I worked,” Web said. “Jefferson sat up and did a shake, rattle and roll. I said, ‘Oh, my, Elvis is a dog.’”
“Elvis and the Grateful Dead” came out last September. “Elvis and the Memphis Mambo Murders” should be out in October, with “Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble” due out a year later.
She’s gotten ahead of her editor with the Elvis mysteries. He wasn’t used to dealing with someone as prolific as Webb.
“I’m doing two books a year now. It’s a huge cutback for me. I do writing workshops, lectures and book signings, too,” she said. “The energy declines. The real energy, the creative energy, declines.
“On the other hand, I’m a much better writer than I was earlier in my career. You just look at the thousands and thousands of pages that I’ve written, and it’s hard to imagine.”
Webb’s imagination remains hard at work, delivering stories set in and around Northeast Mississippi.
Who knows where those stories will end up?
A few years ago, she was visiting Italy with a friend. They stopped by a bookstore and found one of Webb’s books. Her friend served as translator.
“She said, ‘Here’s the author.’ They got very excited. We had a book signing on the spot,” Webb said. “That was a lot of fun.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or email@example.com.