Wealth and Privilege
by Jeanette Watts
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Money. Family. Love. Hate. Obsession. Duty. Politics. Religion – or the lack thereof. Sex — or, once again, the lack thereof.
Thomas Baldwin finds himself married to a woman he can’t stand, while head-over heels in love with another woman he can’t have. Talk about bad planning. He feels like a kite, buffeted by circumstances which blow him not only through personal crises, but also through some of the most significant events in Pittsburgh during the late 1800s, including the railroad riots of 1877, the creation of the Homestead Steel Works, the assassination of President Garfield, and the Johnstown Flood. Over time, and with the help of his muse, who dances maddeningly just beyond his reach, he takes control of his life, wresting it from the winds attempting to control him.
A carefully-researched historical novel about life among the privileged class of Pittsburgh during the Industrial Revolution.
The troops had achieved their objective. The tracks at the crossing were clear. They stood in formation, at attention, their arms at their sides, guarding the tracks. Their faces were impassive, and not one of them looked down.
The dead and dying lay scattered about the rail yard. There were men, women, even children lying face down in the dirt. A young man in the uniform of the 14th National Guards, one of the Pittsburgh regiments, was crawling away from the scene, his right arm and leg both covered in blood.
From his elevated viewpoint, Thomas could see movements beyond the rail yard, as people half-dragged, half-carried dead and wounded away from the crossing. He could see the shock on people’s faces – he could also feel the anger. It was a burning, deadly anger. These Philadelphians shot down protesters in cold blood. By God, this wasn’t over yet.
Thomas and Regina both sat down on the hard metal deck of the water tower. They sat in silence, too appalled by the scene below to say anything.
“They could have shot over people’s heads, and probably had the same effect without killing anybody,” Regina said eventually.
“Could be,” Thomas answered, only half paying attention. He’d seen movement on the streets below. Yes, indeed: the protesters were returning. He nudged Regina – easy to do, since she’d been leaning against him – and pointed. She looked, and a grim, glad smile reached her lips, if not her eyes.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Jeanette Watts, author of Wealth and Privilege.
Hi Jeanette, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Well, I’m a dancer, a seamstress, a history buff who loves reading histories of the Civil War and biographies on just about anybody. I’ve lived in seven states so far, and now that we’ve paid off our house in Dayton, Ohio, I keep looking around and wondering, “Okay, what is going to be state number 8?”
What were you like at school?
Transitory. We moved a lot when I was little. The longest we were in one place was about 5 years.
Were you good at English?
I would say I was, but after completing my undergraduate degree in English, I didn’t do all that well on the GRE. After I’d taken the test, I took a class in the Theatre Department, just for my own edification. I kept recognizing quotes from the GRE.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
After James Cameron directs the movie version of Wealth and Privilege, women are going to be making slavish copies of the dresses that my heroine wears.
Which writers inspire you?
Margaret Mitchell. That woman did her homework when she wrote! Edith Wharton. Her characters are always so memorable. (And she knew how to describe dresses, too.) David McCullough and Shelby Foote (that thing I said about being a history buff? Yeah.) I love writers who do their research. I want to be able to trust a writer while I’m reading. The moment I read some historic fiction, and there’s a description of someone using a telephone the year before it was invented, that writer has lost me.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
He learns to fight back. The world is trying so hard to run him over. He’s a laid-back guy, at the beginning he trusts the wrong people too much. He has no faith in himself. But he finds it.
What are you working on currently?
Too many things at once! I’m writing the pilot for a television show I would like to produce about social dancing in America. Not Dancing With the Stars, but Irish dancing at Celtic Fest. And belly dancing and swing dancing, and Argentine Tango dancing… meanwhile, I’m putting the finishing touches on a satire called Jane Austen Lied to Me. And the sequel to Wealth and Privilege, which I’m calling Brains and Beauty, is in the hands of editors right now.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead characters?
I don’t actually have an opinion on the actors. But I want James Cameron to be the director! He would do such a splendid job with the action scenes, and he would do a great job translating my characters to the screen.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing?
I’ve been a writer since I was about 10 years old. I used to make up stories in my head and tell them to my best friend while we were walking to school. I’d have an ongoing serial, and every day I’d give her the new installment. One day, she dragged me over to another friend of ours, and she told me to tell one of my stories to this other person. I tried to reproduce it as best I could, but I kept leaving out details. That’s when my best friend exclaimed, “What do you mean, you aren’t writing these down?!” She changed my life that day. I’ve been a writer ever since. I’m always starting something. The trick is finishing something.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Whenever I have the time! I will write when I get up, or late at night, or while waiting for a plane. On a couple of occasions now I’ve set up my own little writing retreats, where I hole up somewhere, alone, away from my house and all the distractions, and I write. With a break to go investigate the nearby local winery, or to hike along the lake, or something. But a refuge with few distractions is a grand thing.
Where do your ideas come from?
The ideas can come from all sorts of places. I got the idea for Wealth and Privilege while I was waiting for a friend. She was taking forever to get ready to go out, so I started 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.
I have also written a textbook on waltzing. I am a dance instructor, and I see such dismal waltzing from time to time, I want to teach everyone a better way. It’s a beautiful dance, and a joyous one. No one should frown while waltzing. I got the initial idea after seeing a Broadway show in which the dancers were leaping about the stage like gazelles…until they had to waltz. They lurched around the stage in a clunky box waltz that hurt my soul. So I wrote a dance manual about waltzing that I really ought to be sending to Broadway choreographers. Apparently they need it.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
The problem with outlines is that characters tend to take on a life of their own, and they aren’t going to be interested in obeying the outline. If you try to force the characters to stick to the outline, it doesn’t make for a good final product.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Finishing. Everyone starts writing a book or screenplay or whatever. You have to finish it. To finish Wealth and Privilege I made a pact with my girlfriend, Leah, who would call every single day and ask “Have you worked on your book yet?” Many a day I would have to say no, I got the laundry done, and the lawn mowed, and costumes sewn for one of my dance companies, but I hadn’t sat down once with my book. After three days of saying “no,” I couldn’t stand saying no to her again – and I’d get some writing done.
Do you read much and who are your favorite authors?
I read for about an hour every day. I’m usually reading biographies. I’m reading one on Amelia Bloomer right now. I love Shelby Foote and David McCullough. The one author who has had the most impact on my writing would be Margaret Mitchell. She did her homework, then did some more, then did some more. The characters may be fictional, but the eyewitness account she gives of the Civil War and Reconstruction are spot on. I spent a lot of years researching for Wealth and Privilege, because I needed to live up to that standard.
For your own reading, do you prefer eBooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
Hard copies. All the way. I have tried reading eBooks, but the researchers who say that people don’t absorb the information as well were obviously talking about me! I envy the Kindle readers. It looks so much more convenient!
What book are you reading at present?
Bloomer Girls, about Amelia Bloomer. Remarkable lady, I hadn’t known anything about her!
Tell us about the cover and how it came about.
When I got talked into putting my book on Kindle, I got everything formatted, and got it loaded in. The next prompt was “Load your Cover Art.” And I was stopped in my tracks. I hadn’t even thought about the cover! I went through several years of vacation photos, which gave me several good options to choose from. My husband and I are Vintage dancers, so our life is basically a costume party. I picked the one that made the most sense, and handed it over to my husband, who is a very talented graphic artist. He perfected the cover art, and we sent it off!
The funny thing was, the same question surprised me again when I finished the hard copy. I had the book formatted and loaded, then I proudly uploaded my front cover…and then I was asked to upload the back cover. You think I would have seen that one coming. But no. Fortunately, my husband had the idea for the back cover with the man’s chest and the lady’s glove, which I love.
Who designed your book cover?
My husband, Mike.
Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your book
Books have trailers??? Cool!!! I’m SO doing that!!
Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
I like to think it does, since the best advertising is a reader who likes the book. Free books get more people reading it, who then tell their friends about this great book they read.
How do you relax?
What is your favorite quote?
“I’d rather be lucky than good.” Lefty Gomez.
He was a goofball of the finest order, but this is a profound statement. There are supremely talented people all over the world. Only some get a “lucky break,” and become a famous movie star, or a basketball hero.
What is your favorite movie?
Well, if the movie lives up to the trailer, it’s going to be the new Minions movie that’s coming out!
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
A good place to start is www.JeanetteWatts.com. Wealth and Privilege also has its own Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WealthAndPrivilege. Unless you want to see lots and lots and lots of dancing, then searching YouTube under DaytonDanceGypsy will give you about 94 videos.
Any final words?
I’m available for speaking engagements at book clubs, etc. Although it might turn into an impromptu waltz lesson. These things have been known to happen.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
Jeanette Watts 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.
Jeanette will be awarding a Victorian cameo to a randomly drawn winner (International) via Rafflecopter during the tour.