If you like your historical fiction to have an Austenesque feel to it, check out this excerpt from My Dearest Miss Fairfax by Jeanette Watts. I also have an author interview for you and there’s a great giveaway at the end. Follow the tour for even more!
How much would you gamble for true love? Jane Fairfax dreaded her future as a governess. But genteel solitude seemed her fate. Then handsome, charming, rich Frank Churchill asked to marry her – IF his rich aunt agreed. If their secret engagement was discovered, Jane would be ruined. Frank seemed worth the risk; but the stakes got higher when the aunt refused her consent!
Read an excerpt:
This was, perhaps, the hardest of all the things Jane had to face in keeping her secret. She wished she could simply tell Mrs Elton to stop looking for a situation for her, because she was not going to be a governess. She would be marrying Mr Frank Churchill, and be helping him take care of Mr and Mrs Churchill, until the time they had their own children to take care of – and find a governess for. Unable to simply stop Mrs Elton’s intentions of helping by telling her the truth, she had to settle for the same excuses and vagaries she had been using over and over again, assuring her she would not at present commit to any engagements with any families. Mrs Elton refused to respect her wishes, and pressed her for the authorization to write to her sister on the morrow to accept. Jane was uncomfortably aware that everyone in the party had now stopped talking, in order to listen to them arguing. It was time for a strategic retreat. “We have been sitting here so long, now, our legs are going to get stiff,” she stood up. “Shall we walk?” If Mr Knightley had been a gentleman with any manners, he would have long since interrupted Mrs Elton’s clearly unwelcome advances with a distraction. She appealed to his duties as a host. “Would Mr Knightley do us the honor of showing us the gardens? All the gardens? We can see how extensive and perfectly cared for his strawberry garden is. I should like to see the whole extent of the other gardens.”
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Describe your book in one sentence or fewer than 25 words.
Girl meets boy, boy proposes, girl accepts, life would be simpler if it wasn’t for money and crazy families.
What kind of research did you have to do for it?
This book was unlike all the research I’ve done for my other books. First, it’s a retelling of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” So I started by buying a used copy of “Emma” from the second-hand bookstore, and a brand-new highlighter. Then I highlighted absolutely every single line that had even the smallest connection to Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill and the secret engagement.
When I wrote my previous book, I sat down with a copy of “Persuasion” and did a modern translation, chapter by chapter. This was MUCH more complicated. The information in the original text is not revealed in chronological order. I had to go back and forth as I wrote, and do a lot of rewriting when new information showed up in pink highlighter.
And THEN, all throughout, I had to stop to research answers to the historical questions as well as the Jane Austen questions. I discovered that Reddit is an amazing research shortcut! I had spent a lot of time wading through British military history without coming up with any convincing answers to the question of where Jane Fairfax’s father had been serving. I asked on the Reddit Jane Austen group what people thought, and got a very insightful response, that seemed exactly right.
Which character was your favorite to write?
It’s sort of a toss-up between Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton! Jane Austen used some very interesting tricks to create these characters’ voices. Both these characters are meant to be annoying, both these characters are very self-absorbed, and both these characters are so thoroughly established, you can take any quote out of context, and know who the speaker is.
Mrs. Elton was perhaps less difficult. The trick for her, which Jane’s character actually thinks about in my novel, is that every sentence she utters includes the word I, me, my, or mine. It’s actually kind of tricky, to write every bit of dialogue she utters while obeying that rule!
Miss Bates is a completely different kind of self-absorbed. She’s socially awkward, and subservient, and repeats herself endlessly, and says exactly what she shouldn’t be saying. This was a much bigger challenge for me to write. That is, when I wasn’t taking large passages verbatim out of Jane Austen’s original novel. It’s a very satisfying thing, once I got the dialogue polished to the point where you can’t tell where Jane Austen’s words end, and mine begin!
Tell us about your other published works.
“My Dearest Miss Fairfax” is my third foray into historical fiction, AND at the same time my third Jane Austen-inspired novel! So it’s the magic crossroads where all my writing endeavors meet.
My first two historical fiction novels are “Wealth and Privilege” and “Brains and Beauty.” They are a two-book series set in Pittsburgh at the beginning of the Gilded Age. It’s a Yankee girl’s answer to Gone With the Wind, a love letter to a city that gave me four years of excitement and magic, and an excuse to write about bustle dresses.
My Jane Austen books have nothing to do with each other. “Jane Austen Lied to Me” is a modern romantic comedy that romps through all of Austen’s published works (and is as much about Janeites as it is about Jane). “A Woman’s Persuasion” is a faithful chapter-by-chapter modern translation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” set in 2007-8 in the United States. I had been at a lecture discussing Jane Austen fan fiction, and someone said that people didn’t write fan fiction about “Persuasion” because it just doesn’t translate to modern times as well. I sat there thinking “yes it does. You just have to have the stakes right.” So my version of “Persuasion” asks what would happen if Captain Wentworth was another woman. All the family objections, all the quiet agony, all the second guessing fell perfectly into place.
What is your writing routine?
I love to write in pretty places, away from home distractions. Hotel lobbies, the back patio at the Air BnB that overlooks the woods, a rental at the beach. Once I stayed for a week at a friend’s cottage in Canada overlooking Lake Erie. This last book I wrote after moving to Champaign Illinois, where I discovered we have a gorgeous library (it’s like going to an art museum, climbing the stairs to where the tables are, along the big glass windows) that’s good for writing. I also have a winery only ten minutes away, where I can sit at a table inside, or on the patio under a tree with a glass of wine and my laptop.
What are you currently reading? Up next on your TBR?
At the moment, I have “A Gentleman in Moscow” on my exercise bike’s bookstand. When I finish that, I have two books on Waterloo and the Napoleanic wars that I just picked up on vacation in Belgium! I know I’m kind of finished researching British military history since my book is now finished, but apparently I’m not done studying the history…
When not writing, what can we find you doing?
Dancing. I am a dance teacher, and it’s not just a job, it’s a calling. I love dancing. I love the way it connects people, I love the feeling of being in motion, the release of energy, firing off all cylinders at once, listening to the music, creating beauty in that moment. I teach belly dance, and social couple dances. All through the pandemic, I helped my dance groups stay together by teaching classes online. The pandemic also gave me the opportunity to take dance classes via Zoom from teachers all over the world!
What is one skill you wish you had?
How to ask for money. There are people who know how to ask for grants, or how to get their film projects funded, or even how to get paid to use their skill sets. I just have no idea how to do that. Ideas always require money to be turned into realities, and where does that money come from? I’ve never known. So many projects sitting in my head, in my files, or on my computer that need finishing, but they need money and attention to come to fruition.
What is something on your bucket list you have accomplished? Want to accomplish?
For me, it’s all about travel. I wanted to see Charleston, South Carolina, where the Civil War began. It took me years, but I finally got to go there a couple of years ago. And that same year, I also got to Appomattox Courthouse where the Civil War ended! I’ve been to a lot of National Parks, and my National Parks passport is full of stamps. But I want to see them ALL. I have a long ways to go.
I have also traveled outside the US, but I still haven’t been to Egypt, where I have wanted to go since I was 9 years old and my father’s aunt came home from her trip and showed me pictures. Macchu Piccu is really high on my list, too.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
I would produce my reality TV show about social dance in the United States! Shows like “Dancing With the Stars” are dreadful. There are people all over the country doing salsa, and swing, and tango, and waltz, and it’s nothing like the current TV shows about dancing.
What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?
That I really AM that WYSIWYG. I really AM that gregarious and I really DON’T run out of energy and I really DO talk to complete strangers in grocery stores about the history of the Civil War and I really AM perpetually in motion and I really DO tell my brand-new assistant “Hey, can you come over to my house, I need to make you a Regency dress.” My friends tell me I exhaust them whenever they look on Facebook to see what I’m doing. So I try to post less. Or put it on TikTok instead.
Jeanette Watts has written three Jane Austen-inpsired novels, two other works of historical fiction, stage melodramas, television commercials, and humorous essays for Kindle Vella.
When she is not writing, she is either dancing, sewing, or walking around in costume at a Renaissance festival talking in a funny accent and offering to find new ladies’ maids for everyone she finds in fashionably-ripped jeans.
Jeanette Watts will be awarding a crazy quilt tea cosy to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway