Heather Webb’s historical fiction has reimagined times and places ranging from Ellis Island to the Great War. Now, she takes on two well-known figures and their love story in Strangers of the Night, newly on bookshelves everywhere. What does it take to spin a novel about stars as well known as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner? Webb takes us Behind the Pages in this Career Authors exclusive.

  1. What’s the title of your book—and was that always the title?

The title of my book is Strangers in the Night, and no! It wasn’t always that. Originally I’d named it Come Fly with Me, but my editor and I decided that felt to light and jaunty for a book that ultimately has a somewhat tragic ending. The next iteration was It Had to Be You, but there are other books out there with this title and it didn’t necessarily say FRANK SINATRA the way Strangers in the Night does.

  1. Who are your main characters?

Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner—the real people.

  1. At the start of the book, what’s the character’s goal?

Frank wants to be a Hollywood hot shot—he had already become a famous crooner with the bobbysoxers—and he also desperately wants Ava Gardner. At that time in the late 1940s, though, Frank’s singing career was hitting a real low point for various reasons including his fights with the media, and he’d also only booked singing roles in a very few movies (or pictures, as they called them) so he wanted a real role. To do real acting in a real film.

Ava also wanted a starring film role. For the first five years she was in Hollywood, she had very small parts that were silly, non-speaking, or she was relegated to pose for posters in swimsuits and such. She was incredibly frustrated by the sexism that held her back and the assumption that because she was from the rural south and stunningly gorgeous, she must be a little bit dumb and lack talent. She sure showed them.

  1. What was the core idea for this novel—a plot point? a theme?—and where did it come from?

This novel is about the tumultuous relationship between two of America’s—and the world’s—biggest personalities and talents.

Themes range from the emotional rollercoaster of the life of an artist to sexism and ageism in Hollywood, to the nuance of different kinds of love, romantic and otherwise.

  1. At what point did you come up with the final version of the first line?

By my third draft. I had a version of the opening line in the first draft, too, but it didn’t quite pack the punch it does now. In Frank’s point of view:

“Every important moment of my life could be measured in notes and captured by a song.”

  1. Did you know the ending of the book when you started?

Absolutely, but this isn’t unusual for biographical fiction. The person lived and died already so you look for the arc in the events of their lives that serves the story you’re trying to tell about them.

  1. What’s something in this book that you’ve never done before?

I wrote a very detailed scene outline because nearly every movement Frank Sinatra made was documented and many, many of Ava’s were as well. Plus, they knew God and everyone so I had to get the details right! It was mind-numbing at times, but very rewarding in the end.

  1. What part of your launch events are you most excited about?

Publication day is the most fun because of all the online buzz and my excitement over the book finally being available to readers. I usually treat myself to a really nice lunch with champagne, unless I have an event that night. And this time, I do! I’m celebrating in Southport, CT, at the Pequot Library with two other authors, Lauren Willig and Sarah Penner, who share a March 21 publication date with me.

  1. Who in your #writingcommunity deserves a special shout-out for supporting you in writing this story?

Kris Waldherr and Amy E. Reichert for reading early drafts and for listening to me go on and on and on about the book! And a very long list of writerly friends who have spread the word, offered encouragement or opportunities and more, including Career Authors’ very own Jessica Strawser and Hank Phillippi Ryan!

  1. How do you want readers to feel when they close the book? 

I want them to be weeping! And if they’re not tearing up at least a little, I’d like for them to be driven to watch Frank and Ava’s films, listen to Frank’s music, and to look up more about this incredibly wild, volatile, fascinating, brilliant couple both as lovers and as individuals.

  1. What did YOU learn from this book?

I learned that I don’t want to write another novel about people who very recently died! With so much documented, it made it incredibly difficult to navigate all of the facts. I prefer writing time periods and/or people that leave a little more breathing room and more to the imagination. Still, I so very much love these two people as if they are my real-life friends. That’s one of the coolest things about writing biographical fiction. They aren’t just characters, they’re real people, and you feel as if they become a part of you.


Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of eight historical novels, including The Next Ship Home. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. Meet Me in Monaco, was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro RNA award in the UK, as well as the 2019 Digital Book World’s Fiction prize. Heather’s upcoming release is a novel of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner called Strangers in the Night. To date, Heather’s books have been translated to 17 languages. She lives in New England with her family, a mischievous kitten, and one feisty rabbit.