Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Interview with author Jeanette Watts

Q ~ Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I wear out the people around me. I have way, way, too much energy. I blame it on too many sugar coated cereals as a child.

Q ~ What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love traveling! Any excuse will do. I travel for dance events. I travel for book signings. I schedule mini writing retreats for myself, ostensibly so that I get some concentrated writing time without the usual disruptions and distractions, but let’s face it, it’s another excuse to travel. If I ever get a blog up and running, I think it will be called The Travel Bug.

Q ~ If you could have lunch with one person, dead, alive, or imaginary, who would it be and why?
Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke. I want to find out if she’s really the person who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. It’s pretty clear from the lack of evidence that Shakespeare didn’t write them. There were very good reasons why she needed a front man. She was being protected by the poets who surrounded her. She was a musician, a poet, a writing instructor, an alchemist, and a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. She would be fascinating to talk to.

Q ~ What are you currently reading?
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. One of my dance students was writing an English paper and asked me some questions about a ball scene in the book. I teach Vintage dance (you could call it the history of dancing in the ballroom), and this book is filled with tidbits of etiquette, and fashion, and dancing, and all sorts of other yummy bits that I’d forgotten. I read the book in high school, before I had any understanding of this universe. Now, there are nuances that make me laugh aloud as I’m reading, not because it’s funny (although Tolstoy has a very delightfully tongue-in-cheek sense of humor), but because I recognize the environment.

Q ~ Are there any new Authors that have grasped your interest recently and why?
The person who wrote the Shades of Gray books. I’d had an idea for erotic fiction, but it wasn’t really something I “knew” how to write. Now that I’ve seen Fifty Shades spend as much time on the character development as the book spends on the sex scenes, I am thinking I really could write out my idea for a character – with a lot of secrets to tell.

Q ~ How did you begin writing? Was there a single catalyst or a series of events?
In elementary school I used to make up stories to tell my best friend while we walked to school. We were both huge Star Wars fans, I made up my own characters and situations inside the Star Wars universe. I had no idea then that there was such a thing as fan fiction, or that anyone would ever publish such things. These were just my stories. Then one day my best friend asked me to repeat a story for another friend of ours. While I would retell the story, I kept forgetting parts. That’s when she looked at me and said, “Aren’t you writing these DOWN?” That question changed my life.

Q ~ What’s the best thing that’s happened since you began writing? The worst?
I assume you mean since I began publishing, which isn’t quite the same thing, since I began writing in something like fourth grade. The best thing is having people love my characters every bit as much as I do. I have had so many readers talk to me personally, or write reviews, saying how much they love Regina, how they know someone who is just like Thomas. I even had a reviewer mention Regina’s dogs, Anthra and Bit, as their favorite secondary characters. Those dogs are my fantasy dogs, since my husband is allergic to everything with fur. I’ve lived with these characters in my heart for a very long time, while I wrote and rewrote their story until it was “true” for me. Having other people meet them, and love them, and relate to them, is beyond thrilling.

I think the worst thing I can say about being a writer is – agents. Agents are crazy. I spent five years looking for an agent before I decided to follow people’s advice and put it on Kindle. Almost every agent I queried loved the book, but then said I needed to rewrite it to their specifications before they’d represent me with publishers. I’d take 6-8 months rewriting the book… and then they’d hate it! Eventually I realized that every agent was telling me to rewrite the book to favor their favorite characters. So I went back to the original version, and published the ebook. Then people wanted hard copies. Now I have a lot of people asking for an audio book, and I’m looking for someone to record the audio.

Q ~ What are your biggest influences in life? Who are your biggest supporters?
One of them is Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. When I was in high school, my little brother and I were going to found a new religion based on it. I didn’t even understand then that Douglas Adams was an atheist, and there really is a philosophical world view contained in this very tongue-in-cheek blend of comedy and science fiction.

Another huge influence on my life is the TV show M*A*S*H. My husband and I have been watching the reruns on Netflix, and I frequently find myself thinking, “huh, is that where I got that from?” The show is about empathy, and liberal values. Take care of your fellow man. Watch out for your roommates. Care about something bigger than yourself. Tilting at windmills is an honorable practice, and sure beats sitting back and shrugging and saying “that’s just how things are, too bad.”

I am surrounded by hundreds of loving and supportive people. My husband is also my graphic artist who does amazing book covers. I have a couple best friends who will call me up every day when I ask them to, and nag me, “have you worked on your book today?” My dancers in my cancan troupe and belly dance troupe and ballroom dance troupe cheerfully take the dances I see in my head, and turn them into works of art so beautiful, I am frequently moved to tears. (Literally. New dancers get alarmed by it, dancers who have been with me for a while take it as a point of pride when they can make me cry.) When I had breast cancer two years ago, I put it on Facebook. I’m not shy. I had old friends from high school and friends that I know from folk dancing and friends from Vintage dance events sending messages, calling, sending cards (or cheerful yellow balls of fuzz). When I go back to Wisconsin for a dance camp, it’s like a family reunion, and I feel so petted and spoiled that I drive home thinking that I need to pop my head; if I’m not careful they will inflate my ego to unrealistic proportions.

Q ~ Why did you choose the primary genre you write in?
Almost everything I do in my life is a blend of education, entertainment, and history. My cancan troupe is entertaining, but it is also a representation of French culture while we present a dance from the 1890s. I teach Vintage dance – I’m not just teaching people how to waltz (I have a textbook on Waltzing called The Mechanics of Waltz), I’m teaching the waltz from 1803 – and the waltz from 1860, which is different, and the waltz from 1890, which is different again. Writing historic fiction is that same blend. The history part, well, duh, it’s set in a historical setting. I love doing the research, I think it’s very important that the reader trusts the author to have done the homework before going to print. That’s the education part. I love that I’ve had people write reviews to say they’re from Pittsburgh, and they learned things about their native city that they never knew before. And the entertainment is of course in writing compelling and believable characters.

Q ~ Do you prefer to write in a small town or big city setting? Why?
Do you mean, 1) the story is set in a small town or a big city, or that 2) I prefer to physically be sitting in a small town or a big city while I am writing?

1) The population of the town where the story is set is irrelevant to me. What matters are the characters.

2) Small town or big city isn’t the issue. I like writing someplace pretty. I think that’s why I like scheduling writing retreats for myself. It isn’t just nice to get away from the distractions of home – laundry, dishes, email, etc; it’s also nice to sit on the veranda of a cottage in the woods, or in the mountains, or the desert, or next to the ocean, or in the gorgeous lobby of the hotel we’re staying at while my husband is at a conference. Not that my house isn’t beautiful, but my cluttered desk isn’t.

Q ~ Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release and what inspired you to write it?
Brains and Beauty wasn’t exactly inspired. It was insisted upon. When I finished writing Wealth and Privilege, I didn’t know if I had any more books in me. The ending does not wrap up everything neatly and tidily. I was taking my cues from Gone With the Wind, and Edith Wharton novels, and Casablanca, and The Empire Strikes Back. Ambiguous endings have a way of getting under the skin. When friends finished reading Wealth and Privilege, they wrapped their hands around my throat and yelled “What happens!?!?!?” For every reviewer who thought that the ending is perfect the way it is, there were three who were angry with me because there isn’t another book. Eventually the insistence upon a sequel got me thinking about what direction I could take. I didn’t just write a sequel, I wrote a companion book. The story takes place from the exact same starting day to almost the exact same last day. But while the first book is from Thomas’ point of view, the second book is from my heroine’s point of view. And I, and the readers, get to find out that nothing is what it appears to be.

Q ~ What was the most difficult part of the process while writing?
Finding the time to do it! Funny how life is full of distractions…

Q ~ What characters did you find yourself especially drawn to and why?
One of my favorite characters is George, Thomas’ carriage driver. He’s quiet, understated, discreet, always there, always reliable, and we are never told what he really thinks. They say always watch out for the quiet ones.

Q ~ Do you have anything in the works at the moment? Care to give us a hint about it?
The first thing coming up after Brains and Beauty is a modern satire called Jane Austen Lied to Me. It’s a total departure from the historic fiction. It’s a lighthearted little romp designed for Jane Austen fans. Kind of like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you need to know your Jane Austen to understand why it’s funny.

Q ~ What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
1) Write. Keep writing.

2) Edit, edit, edit, proofread, proofread, proofread. There is so much bad writing out there. With the ease of self-publishing these days, so many people throw things into print when the manuscript is only half-baked. I’ve seen books with typos on every page. Ten typos on every page. Twenty typos per page and run-on sentences that fill a very long paragraph. I proofread a book for a friend who was turning a screenplay into a novel and thought he was ready to go to print; “Lights up on studio executive and director, cut to audience leaving the theatre” is not what I would call the makings of a good novel. Don’t get angry when people point these things out to you. Thank them for preventing you from embarrassing yourself. Get at least six people to proofread your book when you think it’s ready to be seen by the public. Proofread it yourself in between everyone else’s proofreads. Do your homework. Do more homework. At the eleventh hour, when someone points out an inconsistency in your timeline, or a fact that you got wrong, thank them for preventing you from embarrassing yourself, and rewrite.

About the author:

Jeanette Watts is a dance instructor and performer of many different kinds of dance, a costumer, a former television producer, and a big softie who can't learn to say no when people need help with their festivals. It makes it really difficult for her to get time to write.

website - Facebook - Twitter: @JeanetteAWatts

About Wealth and Privilege:

Boy meets girl, falls in love at first sight. Oops, she's already married. Bad planning. She becomes a friend and a muse, helps him find his voice. He knows that no one gets to capture their own muse, but he can dream, can't he...?

About Brains and Beauty:

Girl meets boy, falls in love at first sight. Kind of unfortunate for a married woman. He becomes her best friend, the only man in her life that she can really count on. She wishes there could be more to it. There can't be, but she can dream, can't she...?


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1 comment:

  1. I love your interview 'voice'. I know that will translate into a wonderful read of your book.