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Short story collection now published!

posted Apr 5, 2017, 8:04 AM by Janie Watts

Mothers, Sons, Beloveds, and Other Strangers (2017, Bold Horses Press) is now available. If you are in the Ringgold-Chattanooga area, please join me on Sunday, June 4, 2-4 p.m. at Vintage Gathering for my book signing, or later in the summer at other events, to be announced.

To learn more, please visit amazon.com, and click on "Janie Dempsey Watts." 

A Neighbor's Gift

posted Dec 21, 2016, 3:06 PM by Janie Watts

She lived up the street in an aging house, and she was my friend.  With her neck permanently bent down at an angle from the ravages of arthritis, Mrs. B. was a kind and welcoming neighbor who invited me into her darkened living room filled with dusty books and ferns. The antimacassars placed on the sturdy chair arms could hide wear and tear, but not the musty smell of passing time. The house was silent except for the sound of a ticking grandfather clock, and when she spoke, it was with a voice low and gravelly, but always cultured.

Unlike many of our southern neighbors, she offered nothing to drink or eat. Our conversations were food enough. She would ask me about my day at school, what I liked to study, and what was I reading?  I was 10 or 11, and being the youngest of four children, not accustomed to so much attention from someone who seemed to have all the time in the world.

If I were lucky, Mrs. B. would take time to recite her favorite poem by the English poet William Blake.

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright.

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

Enraptured by her clear enunciation, the rise and fall of her voice emphasizing words she thought important, I sat still and listened. I imagined the huge tiger and a dark green jungle filled with ferns much like those perched on a shelf behind her sofa. I peered through the leafy ferns, hoping to catch a glimpse of the big cat’s eyes.

She recited the poem in its entirety. Afterwards, for a few minutes, we sat in shared silence.

 

          This happened on more than one occasion, and each time Mrs. B. recited her Tyger poem, she seemed to be in another world, in a place and time far away from the confines of her aging house and crooked body. Her hooded blue eyes would fill with light.

          Year round, I stopped at the squeaky, vine-covered gate to enter her yard and climb the stairs to her porch. I’d ring the doorbell, and she would welcome me into her world. One December when Christmas was approaching, she offered me a seat, and with much mischief in her eyes, she announced she had a gift for me.  With faltering steps, she left the living room to retrieve the present from another part of the house.

I waited, anticipating what I was about to receive. I let my eyes wander around the room to see the books, the ferns, the dim light that filtered through the yellowed windows.  I knew she didn’t have a lot of money, and I wondered if she would give me one of her books, perhaps even the book with the tiger poem.  She returned with a rectangular box wrapped in plain white tissue paper, the size of a book.   She placed the gift in my hands. 

“Would you like to open it now?” she asked.

Yes,” I answered, although I knew it was a book.  I would act surprised when I opened it. This would make her happy.  I placed my finger under the seam and ripped up, expecting to see a dusty cover. Instead, I saw yellow and black, some type of label. A box of prunes!

“Oh,” was the only word that popped out of my mouth. And a few seconds later, “Thank you.” 

“You’re welcome,” she said. “Now, would you like to hear the tiger poem?”

“Yes,” I answered.  She sat down near me and began with a dramatic flourish.

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright…”

On this afternoon, I was not transported to the jungle. All I could think about was the box of prunes sitting on my lap. Why had she given me with such an odd gift? I knew enough to act pleased with her gift, even though I was puzzled. I was having a hard time understanding why anyone would wrap up a box of prunes for a child.  Didn’t she know most children didn’t eat prunes? As soon as she finished the tiger poem, I’d thank her and run home to show Mama. Maybe she could make some sense of it.

A half century has passed since I got that box of prunes, and I am now closer to the age she was when I knew her. Unable to drive, and confined to her house, Mrs. B. wanted to share what she had. She took something she liked from her pantry and wrapped it up. She gave what she had on hand. She was a proper sort of person, well mannered, and she wanted to participate in a Christmas ritual.

I am ashamed to say I cannot remember if I gave her anything at all.  If I did, it was probably something handmade such as one of my horse drawings.

All these years later, I’ve changed my mind about those prunes. I’ve come to appreciate their rich, moist flavor, and I’m pleased when someone gives me dried fruit at Christmas.  I smile when I think of unwrapping that yellow and black box, yet I realize that gift taught me how to think beyond my expectations, how to receive a present graciously, especially one that seems odd.

I also now realize Mrs. B. was my first literary friend. What has endured is her real gift to me:  an appreciation for books and poetry, a love for the cadence of words, and always, a soaring imagination.

 

"Return to Taylor's Crossing" Wins Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion!

posted Aug 24, 2016, 5:55 PM by Janie Watts

Happy to share the news that the Books Reader Appreciation Group (B.R.A.G.) has awarded my novel with a gold Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion. I am so honored to receive this award given to the top 10 percent of self-published books that are submitted for the review process.   

How I chose who would tell the story

posted Aug 4, 2016, 10:08 AM by Janie Watts

In this "Southern Writers Magazine" blog I discuss how I decided which characters would tell my story.
http://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2016/08/choosing-narrator.html

New story about my writing journey in "Southern Writers Magazine"

posted Jun 30, 2016, 5:22 PM by Janie Watts   [ updated Jun 30, 2016, 5:26 PM ]

The editors of Southern Writers Magazine interviewed me a few months back, and the result is a profile in the July-August, 2016 issue.  
To see a peek of the story, please click on the jdw-sowriters file below. 

"Southern Writers" Must Read

posted May 7, 2016, 6:00 AM by Janie Watts   [ updated May 15, 2016, 9:37 PM by Tony 建前 ]

Thank you to Southern Writers Magazine for featuring Return to Taylor's Crossing in their May-June, 2016 edition as a "must read" book!

Wonderful interview with Belen Galindo at the farm

posted Mar 12, 2016, 6:15 PM by Janie Watts

Recently had a visit from a Spanish journalist now living in Chattanooga,  Balen Galindo. I love what she wrote, originally published in  'Diario de Navarra', newspaper of Pamplona (Spain), where she is from. This is the translation into English.

'RETURN TO THE LAND OF CHILDHOOD'

Janie Dempsey Watts is jovial, lively, talkative and full of energy. She is a writer and she loves horses. After living nearly 35 years in Los Angeles (California), not a long time ago she decided to move with her family back to the state of Georgia, the land of her parents and the place where her childhood memories live. The strength of these memories has led her to write her latest novel entitled 'Back to Taylor's crossing’, where racial tensions in the Southern United States join the stories of people passing these places over half a century.

Summer 1959. In a small town in Georgia live Abednego Harris, a Black young farmer, 19 years old, skilled in handling the bulls. He falls for Lola James, 17, when she comes to town to work for another family. The love of the young couple grows in the middle of deep racial tensions and the many characters who orbit his universo (a young sister, a love interest, his boss, and a brutal Klansman seeking revenge).

This is the story of the novel 'Return to Taylor's Crossing' where Janie Dempsey Watts remembers the story of her own childhood. Today Janie invited me to visit her farm. We connected quickly and she tells me about her life in California, and the many differences between that place and this area of the country. She tells me about her memories and how there was a time when she felt that she had to go back to Georgia and write this story: "It was like a process of redemption or justice. Like my personal way to remember what happened in the past and how that affected so many people, marking our lives and even the country's direction. Because sometimes human beings need not forget the tragedies and the sorrow, in order not to repeat the same mistakes of the past.”

We talk about her novel, she shows me the diary where she used to write since childhood, but also we walk together through the lands that belonged to her ancestors and she tells me about her roots and the great influence that her paternal grandmother had on her. We walked through forests, we entered the cemetery where her grandparents and great-grandparents rest, she showed me the traces of the Cherokee Indians on the banks of the river and the mountains, and I met her horses, which connect Janie directly to the land from which she came and with the girl she used to be.

The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke said: "The true homeland for every man is childhood." Probably because it is at that time of our life when a seed germinates over the years and defines us until the end of our days. Janie Dempsey Watts remembers vividly a specific chapter of her childhood that marked forever: "When I was a child, we lived in this area of the state of Georgia. My father was a pharmacist and the pharmacy was in Chattanooga, a few miles from here, but every weekend and every summer we traveled to this place, to the farm of my father's mother (the grandmother Watts). We rode horses and visited the whole family. I remember that grandma had employed a very friendly and helpful African American man, about 19, who worked on the farm and also used to take care of our horses. When I was about five years, one night the Ku Klux Klan came to his cabin. They beat him, set fire to his home, dragged him out and told him not to come back anymore. My family suffered greatly from that event. The crime was investigated but the attackers were not captured. This young man never returned."

This is the origin of the novel 'Return to Taylor's Crossing' : "The novel is written from six points of view. From the perspective of three Black people and three White, and extends for a period of 50 years in time, although its extent is only 284 pages in the book. In the background, the novel is a love story set in the era of civil rights, with scenes set in the current Chattanooga and the mountain, but the trigger for the whole narrative is that real fact that I have never forgotten.”

The novel was published in October 27 of last year, and won first prize in the Novel Category of Writers Guild of Knoxville. The novel also was a finalist in the Fiction Award Frank Yerby, part of the Literary Festival Augusta. (Frank Yerby was a prominent African-American fiction writer), and semi-finalist in the Creative Writing William Faulkner, edition of 2015. The book has also been nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year. Her first novel "Moon Over Taylor's Ridge 'was published in 2012.

Some critics compare Janie Dempsey Watts with Harper Lee, for her ability to structure a human frame, covered in a deep understanding of social and racial problems suffered in the United States between 1950 and 1960. Her great success, probably, is being able to write a story that connects the past with the present, because the novel touches the roots of racial inequality and injustice that plagued a small fictional town in the South, while serving as a reflection on the larger history of this country, an era that still shames Americans today, because of the implications that continues today.

We spend part of the morning feeding the the horses. They are beautiful and wise. "In their calm -Janie tells me- there is something left over time. A residue of all living beings who have passed through here. The horses are like trees and mountains, silent witnesses to the history of this land and they find an energy that makes me feel very good. " It's contagious. I appreciate the opportunity to feed these beautiful animals, pet them, watch them ... Their presence makes me feel good and at peace. As it happens to Janie each day, like a part of a liturgy that connects her even more to this place.

Before leaving, Janie offered me iced tea and fried okra, prepared with the same recipe that her grandmother cooked. In my head are stories of the past. They are the echoes of a hard time that still hurts in these lands. I spent about two hours listening to this great woman. Her memories and her stories are exceptional. I feel that not only her novels reminiscent of the great writers of the South as Harper Lee and William Faulkner, but every minute I have shared with her today was like having the opportunity to journey times and places which could well have been part of 'Killing a Mockingbird 'or' Absalom, Absalom.”.

Upcoming Book Events--Winter-Spring, 2016

posted Jan 20, 2016, 10:24 AM by Janie Watts   [ updated Jan 20, 2016, 10:24 AM ]

I'm delighted to be invited to read, and speak, in the coming months about my books.  I hope you can come to one of these. Here's the details, thus far.

River City Sessions, The Camp House, Chattanooga, TN -- Friday, February 12th--Doors open at 7 p.m. I will read from my novel, and there will be some music acts, as well. Always a fun evening, hosted by Michael Gray.

Dalton State College, Roberts Library, Dalton, GA -- Wednesday, February 24, 6 p.m.-- Book Talk, Return to Taylor's Crossing. All are welcome, but come early so you can get a seat.  Q. and A. following short talk.

Rome Area Writers Forum,  Saturday, April 9, WinShape Wilderness on Berry College Campus, Rome, GA
The event is all day, but I will speak at 10 a.m. on "The Evolution of the Book I Had to Write."  I plan to cover setting, point of view, character development, research and anything else you wish to ask!  I'll be speaking right after author Victoria Wilcox.  Book sales will be handled by Dogwood Books.  Can't wait for this event and the opportunity to be with some fine writers!

Book Signing for New Novel December 5!

posted Nov 25, 2015, 3:21 PM by Janie Watts

Barnes and Noble, Chattanooga, has invited me to sign copies of my new novel, Return to Taylor's Crossing, Saturday, December 5 at 2 p.m.  Come on up and join the fun at the Hamilton Place Mall store.

My soon-to-be published novel wins first place!

posted Oct 4, 2015, 3:13 AM by Janie Watts   [ updated Oct 7, 2015, 9:40 PM by Tony 建前 ]

Return to Taylor's Crossing won first place in the Knoxville Writers' Guild the "novel excerpt" category for 2015.  The judge was Pamela Schoenewaldt, USAToday Bestselling author of WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS.  Here's what she said about my novel:

"In Georgia, in the fifties, racial tension builds like summer heat in a small farming community where lines of wealth, color, and gender are tightly drawn and those on both sides of each line yearn for what is not quite in reach. Rich characterizations, sensory depth, well-choreographed scenes, strong dialogue and fine sense of place earned RETURN TO TAYLOR’S CROSSING first place in the 2015 Knoxville Writers Guild Novel Award."

I wanted to thank Ms. Shoenewald for her remarks, and the Knoxville Writers' Guild for sponsoring this literary competition. 

Return to Taylor's Crossing is scheduled for a late October release and will be available through Amazon.com.  Stay tuned.

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