Monday, August 10, 2015

Interview with historical fiction author Jeanette Watts

Historical fiction author Jeanette Watts is here today to chat with us about Wealth and Privilege.

Jeanette is doing a virtual book tour with Goddess Fish Promotions. As part of the tour, Jeanette will be awarding a Victorian cameo to a lucky winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Jeanette Watts only lived in Pittsburgh for four years, but in her heart, she will always be a Pittsburgher. She missed the city so much after her move to Ohio, she had to write a love story about it.

She has written television commercials, marketing newspapers, stage melodramas, four screenplays, three novels, and a textbook on waltzing. When she isn’t writing, she teaches social ballroom dances, refinishes various parts of her house, and sews historical costumes and dance costumes for her Cancan troupe.

Welcome, Jeanette. Please tell us about your current release.
Wealth and Privilege is historic fiction, set in Western Pennsylvania between 1875-1889. It’s an overlooked period in American history. Everyone loves to write about the Civil War, but the Industrial Revolution is an inspiring time. It’s full of very juicy bits of history, and full of colorful individuals whom we all know and love – or hate. Like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick.

What inspired you to write this book?
I was waiting for a friend, and reading the back covers of her immense stack of romance novels. I couldn’t help but notice that all romance novels seem to be set in the south, or occasionally the west. What’s so unromantic about the north? Or the east? I’m a Yankee girl, I thought I needed to set this right. Atlanta has Gone With the Wind, now Pittsburgh has Wealth and Privilege.

Excerpt from Wealth and Privilege:
It was blessedly quiet in the conservatory. If Thomas listened very hard, he could hear the orchestra playing a lively polka. His head ached mildly and his ears were ringing from the incessant giggling of his various feminine partners. Just once, he thought, he wanted to hear a woman laugh. A deep, hearty, belly laugh. He’d marry a woman if he could stand the way she laughed.
As if on cue, his mother appeared in the doorway of the conservatory. “Thomas? I told you, no running off to hide tonight. You’re the host, for goodness’ sake. What are you doing here?”
“I had to get away for a moment, Mother,” he said, trying not to sound petulant. “My head aches something awful.”
“Don’t talk to me about headaches, boy,” his mother answered sharply. “You’re giving me quite a headache right now.”
Thomas managed a small smile. “I’m sure I am, Mother. Please don’t lecture me about my manners. I had to sneak out. Otherwise, that flock of girls would have wanted to come along to comfort me, and I wouldn’t get any quiet.”
Eugenia saw her opportunity. “Well, if you’d only pick one of the crowd that’s been hovering around you, then you could have one companion to comfort you.”
Thomas groaned. “Mother…”
Eugenia interrupted, “Don’t ‘Mother’ me. Honestly, I do wish you could be just a little more like your brother.”
Benjamin had been six years older than Thomas, and was seventeen when Southern rebels fired on Fort Sumter. Ben impatiently followed the Rebellion for a year, while both parents loudly and frequently forbade his enlistment. But when the call went out seeking men of good character for a volunteer cavalry, it was more than Ben could stand. His parents were horrified, and livid – for a month, until Ben’s unit was called out of drill practice and sent to Antietam. Ben became a hero in the field – and became a hero again when he died someplace in Tennessee called Stone River.
His mother had worshipped her first-born son thoroughly enough while he was alive. He was completely sanctified in the twelve years and two months since his death. So much so, Thomas had trouble separating the facts of the brother he remembered from the fiction his mother created.
“Benjamin never had so many girls following him around as you have - you’ve always been the handsome one - but at least he could talk to them. Somehow, he got all the charm, you got all the looks.”
Thomas had been hearing that particular phrase as long as he could remember. Sometimes he entertained himself wondering what clever answers Ben would have given their mother. “So you’re saying I’m as ugly as an old shoe, eh, Mum? You’ve wounded me!” Ben could - and did - say anything to their mother, and she would only smile. Thomas could say the same things, and usually got a sigh and a frown instead. He wished he could have been blessed with the charm, instead of the looks.
“I’m not Benjamin, mother. And if he were standing here with us, he’d roll his eyes and say ‘Thank goodness for that!’ ”
His mother wasn’t listening. She’d passed on from one of her favorite subjects – comparing him to his brother - to her other favorite subject - complaining about his father. “I told your father that compared to Benjamin you were backward. But he couldn’t seem to find any time to help me raise his children. I had to try to bring you up all by myself.” Thomas wisely held his tongue.
“You’d think I was a widow, for all the help I got with you. Fathers are supposed to teach their sons how to talk to women. All your father can teach you is business.” The combative gleam in her face told Thomas she was coming full circle; he was about to become the recipient of her ire once again. “But you’re not trying, Thomas,” she frowned at him, a puzzled look twisting her face. “Maybe I’ve taught you how to treat girls too well. I don’t fault you for being a gentleman, but maybe you’re being too much of a gentleman.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I wasn’t planning on writing a sequel to this book, but my readers were rather insistent. So, the sequel will be called Brains and Beauty. And, on a completely different note, I’m also putting the finishing touches on a satire I’m calling Jane Austen Lied to Me.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Since I was in about 6th grade. I used to make up stories in my head, and tell them to my best friend. One day, she dragged me over to another friend, and asked me to repeat one of my stories. As I retold it, I kept missing things. Finally, she asked, “Aren’t you writing these DOWN?” Which, up until then, I hadn’t been. She changed my life the day she asked that question.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am also a dance instructor. I teach students to waltz, tango, polka, cha-cha, and do any number of other dances. I give private lessons to bridal couples, and group lessons to college kids, senior citizens, and just about anything in between. There is such joy in teaching people to move to the music. I love what I do.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Since I am also a costumer, I can almost never resist the urge to put in rather detailed descriptions of the clothing. That’s probably why I have to write historic fiction. Once there are no longer bustle dresses, where’s the fun in writing about clothes?

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer. See above….

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
For any Gone with the Wind fans out there, while you’re reading the scenes with my heroine, think about Rhett Butler….


Thanks, Jeanette!

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Jeanette Watts said...

Good morning! Thanks for having me!

Mai T. said...

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Unknown said...

Great excerpt and interview~I really enjoyed learning about you and your book! Lovely cameo! Thank you for a great post and contest!

Rita Wray said...

I liked the excerpt, thank you.

Jeanette Watts said...

@Mai T: Margaret Mitchell. I adored Gone With the Wind growing up. The characters are full-bodied, full of quirks and foibles, and not 100% admirable. Just like real people. She also did her homework. When she describes the burning of Atlanta, you can trust that her description is based on eyewitness accounts, and we feel like we're really there.

Those are the standards that I had to live up to. My characters are all as honest and full as I could make them (and if Regina's black eyes and black hair and worldly attitude remind you of Rhett Butler, that's not a coincidence!). I also did my homework. When I describe the railroad riot of 1877 and the Johnstown Flood, I am taking the details from several eyewitness accounts. My favorite sources are Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and there are 3 or 4 good books on the flood and the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.

Thanks for the question!

Jeanette Watts said...

Rita and Betty, thank you for checking in today!