Good morning everyone! Today I have the opportunity to introduce you to Janie Dempsey Watts, author of Return to Taylor’s Crossing, a recipient of the BRAG Medallion. Her book is on such an interesting subject, I hope you will love it too!
Heather C: Hi Janie! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court. Can you tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what the BRAG Medallion has meant to you?
Janie Dempsey Watts: Thank you for having me visit, Heather. I discovered indieBRAG through another author who had received the Medallion and encouraged me to try for it with my second novel. How glad I am that I did! I am so honored to receive this award, especially since Medallion books are chosen by a panel of readers from around the globe. Having the gold seal on one’s book is like the “Good Housekeeping” seal, in a literary sense. The Medallion tells readers that a book is worth their time. The Medallion has been a big boost!
HC: I’m so happy to hear that you have had such a wonderful experience with IndieBRAG!
Return to Taylor’s Crossing explores themes of racism and violence during the Civil Rights era that are becoming familiar again in today’s era. While writing did you draw any parallels between the two times?
JDW: I saw many parallels while writing. Our country is again in a time of rapid social change as it was in the 1960s. Many people feel threatened by these changes. As experienced during the Civil Rights movement, people may fear someone who is different than they are, for example someone of a different race or cultural background. Those who feel threatened by those not like themselves often lash out to express their fear or even hate. In the 50s and 60s, a group such as the KKK was a well-known way to express hate, and today, that group is still around. There’s now also a new way to lash out and express hate: social media. Back in the 50s and 60s, the attackers hid behind white robes and hoods; today, the haters can hide behind computer screens, and be emboldened by their anonymity. As the saying goes, “Haters are gonna hate.”
HC: It really amazes me how history seems to operate in cycles and we see some of the same trends come and go – unfortunately racism is one of those that we would rather not repeat.
How did the story of Return to Taylor’s Crossing come about?
JDW: When I was very little, my family often visited my grandmother who had a dairy farm where a kind and gentle African-American man worked, along with some of our family. He also helped with other farm chores. I remember him boosting all of us up on our big draft horse one day—all four of us kids! One morning, I woke up to find my parents very upset. The KKK had broken into his cabin, beaten him up, and told him to never return to the area. My parents couldn’t understand why someone would do this, and neither could I. After he was forced to leave, I always wondered what happened to him and how this attack had affected his life. I decided to give him a voice, and the seed for the story was planted.
HC: Wow! That’s an incredible basis for a story – uniting something you know from personal experience with something fictional.
There are 6 different narrators in your novel. Was it difficult to provide balance to the novel with this many narrators, especially considering that the page count is under 300 pages?
JDW: There are three African-American characters, Abednego, Lola, and Marvelous, and three white characters, Sewell, Adelaide, and Iris. Violent attacks spin their lives in different directions over a 50-year span. Abednego, the dairy worker, and his girlfriend, Lola, predominate the story since, being the targets, their lives are the most affected by hate crimes. The other four characters have fewer chapters, but come into the story as the plot unfolds. In order to decide whose perspective a chapter would be told from, I determined who was the character most impacted by the action. For example, the KKK attack is told from Abednego’s point of view since he is the one who fears for his life. As I got deeper into the plot, deciding whose chapter came next became easier. One “extra” narrator, the owner of the general store, Xylia, really needed her own chapter, too. So, counting Xylia’s one chapter, there are seven narrators! Each one moves the story forward.
HC: It always impresses me how authors can keep all of their points of view straight; it sounds like you had a little easier method here.
For those who have not read your work, how would you describe your writing style?
JDW: What a great question! Just throw me in the briar patch, as Mama used to say. My two novels, Return to Taylor’s Crossing and Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge, are both southern literary fiction with elements of history, mystery, and romance. The plots are character-driven. My writing style has been described as having a sense of humor and irony, and being realistic. Having written five screenplays before tackling novels, I enjoy creating settings and scenes where the readers feel they are right there with the characters, and creating dialogue that is true to the character speaking. In researching Return to Taylor’s Crossing, I researched African-American vernacular English to try and make the dialect true to the time and setting of the story. I also had several friends check the dialogue to make sure it was alright, and when it wasn’t, I changed it according to their suggestions to make it more authentic.
HC: It sounds like you put a lot of effort into the right places in your novel which shows why it was deserving of the Medallion!
What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher? Has there been anything that was more or less challenging that you expected? Would you do it again?
JDW: My first novel was published by a small, traditional publisher. At the urging of several author friends who had successfully self-published, I decided to try it myself. I liked the idea of having creative freedom in the editing of my work. The most challenging part was formatting the text onto the page the correct way. Spacing issues keep popping up in the galleys. My cover designer graciously offered to help me fix the errors. I had to proofread the book about 10 times before I got it right! And yes, I will tackle self-publishing again in early 2017 with my short story collection, Mothers, Sons, Beloveds, and Other Strangers.
HC: It is always fascinating to me to see where those who have independently published find struggles and how they overcome those – to help others trying the same thing. Thank you for sharing.
Are you a full time author or do you have to find time to write around a typical 9-5 job? How do you find time to write?
JDW: I write in my “spare” time, and there’s not much of that. I work four days a week in a college writing lab, so I work around that and marketing my first two novels. Marketing and selling books takes up a good bit of my time, and this can include making appearances at literary events or speaking to book clubs or other groups. Right now I am busy editing my short story collection, a very left brain activity, but I look forward to soon beginning my third novel which will also be set in the South.
HC: I’m sure it takes a lot of work and commitment to do all the roles of publishing and marketing yourself.
When you are not reading/writing – what do you like to do in your spare time?
JDW: Every chance I have, I spend with my horses out in the pasture which is located on my grandmother’s farm near Taylor’s Ridge, a prominent landmark in both my novels. I spent many happy hours there as a child. Sometimes I ride the horses, but often I just hang out with them, talk to them. I also enjoy spending time with my family. And when I can break away, I love taking a day trip over the back roads to fire up my imagination. I enjoy stumbling upon places with a lot of history—general stores, homes, and even graveyards. I also like eavesdropping in restaurants to improve the dialogue in my fiction.
Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience with us!
A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Janie Dempsey Watts has strong roots there and in Ringgold, Georgia where she spent much of her childhood on horseback. She holds journalism degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California. In addition to her novel Moon Over Taylor's Ridge, she has been published in newspapers and magazines. She also authored five screenplays. Her stories have been published in Christian Science Monitor, Guideposts, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and in Georgia Backroads Magazine. She is a columnist for Catoosa Life Magazine.
Janie's current emphasis is fiction. She has just completed her own collection of short stories and her second novel, Return to Taylor's Crossing. Two of her short stories were honored as finalist and semi-finalist by the William Faulkner Pirate's Alley Creative Writing Contest.
After many years of living in California, Janie returned to the North Georgia to live close to the family farm and Taylor's Ridge. When not writing, she and her husband care for three horses, a barn cat and their American.
Summer, 1959. In a small Georgia town, dairy worker Abednego Harris, 19, not only stands out for his skillful handling of bulls, but because of his color. When Lola James, 17, arrives to do day work for a nearby family, Abednego is smitten. As the young couple falls in love, racial tensions heat up, threatening their world. A violent attack tears them apart and spins their lives in different directions. This is their story, and the story of four others whose lives are forever changed by violence. One of them will return to Taylor's Crossing seeking answers.
A Message from IndieBRAG:
We are delighted that Heather has chosen to interview Janie Dempsey Watts who is the author of, Return to Taylor’s Crossing, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Return to Taylor’s Crossing, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.