Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Henry Webb just published his first novel, With The Children, the story of a 6th Grade teacher in a rough New York neighborhood in the late 60’s and early 70’s.He read an excerpt at The Scarsdale Salon on October8th,2015, and was happy to be interviewed by Ines Rodrigues. Ines is an author, and has just completed her book Days of Bossa Nova.
It’s difficult to have a short conversation with Henry Webb when we talk about books. We met on a hot summer afternoon for a coffee, and two hours flew by while I was filled in with his amazing memory for detail, his travel stories, also noticing the extra shine on his eyes when he talked about his favorite authors.
In With The Children, Neil Riley, the main character, keeps his job at a public school to escape going to Vietnam, and the author uses a quote from Dostoevsky, one of his preferred writers, in the opening: “I was always with the children, only with the children…It was not that taught them…they can teach us.”
TGBC: You were a schoolteacher in the past, and through your characters’ experiences you give us a panorama of public education at that time. Do you think it got better or worse?
HW: “I can say it got worse in general, classrooms are too big and kids get lost. But nowadays there are many different efforts to address the problem and these efforts didn’t happen then. Unfortunately in some places the problem hasn’t been addressed at all.”
TGBC: Did you always work as a teacher? When did you feel you would become a writer?
HW: “I worked in many different jobs but I always loved to read and I started to write when I was very young, back in Jacksonville, Florida, where I grew up. I moved to New York when I was still a teenager to live with my sister and I felt at home right there. I attended Erasmus Hall High School in the Bronx, worked part time and started writing more seriously. I even started a novel at that time called “The Search”, but I burned it years later when I was in college in Chicago. Then I joined the Army and was posted in Hawaii for 18 months. At the time I did all my work and then escaped to the library, I read like crazy, I even used to type Conrad books to pretend I was busy… During those months I also discovered Faulkner, one of my greatest passions. Years passed, I got married and moved back to New York City, taking a job in the New York Times at the Foreign News desk. I did the editor’s typing, worked just four hours a day and wrote for the rest of the time. At this point I wrote another novel about growing up in Jacksonville. After taking a few more different jobs I ended up studying to become a school teacher and I loved it!”
TGBC: What happened to the novel about Jacksonville? Did you still write while working as a teacher?
HW: “I applied for the Iowa Writers Workshop and I was accepted there on a scholarship for four years. I kept writing and teaching there, I managed summer college experiences for poor kids. I had to go back to New York for personal reasons and couldn’t find work as a teacher, so in 1976 I took a different job at the Department of Labor. My novel about Jacksonville never got published and I wrote three unpublished novels before With the Children.”
TGBC: When did you start writing With the Children?
HW: “I started taking Steven Schnur’s classes at the Writing Institute – Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville NY, in 2008, and I wrote it there as a short story. Later it became a massive novel of almost 1,000 pages. I had to do a lot of editing to reach the novel’s current 440 pages and I am already preparing a sequel called Finding a Way Home, where Neil, the same main character, visits his hometown with his girlfriend CC.
With the Children was published by Outskirts Press, a publishing house from Colorado, and I am very proud of the drawing that appears on the book cover, it was made by my step granddaughter when she was 13, based on an excerpt of the book she had read.
TGBC: What’s your writing routine?
HW: “I write every single day and I make my whole schedule around writing.”
TGBC: I know this is a difficult question for a writer or an avid reader, but if you had to pick a book among your favorites, which one would it be?
HW: “I think it’s From Here to Eternity, from James Jones, a book that impressed me a lot when I read it.”