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Interview with Chattanooga Writers Guild

posted May 2, 2019, 1:55 PM by Janie Watts
Thanks to the Chattanooga Writers Guild for featuring me in their May newsletter spotlighting a member.  I had a blast answering these questions, not necessarily about my craft.  Here it is:
Janie Dempsey Watts
What was the best concert you’ve ever been to? I fell in love for the first time when I was 13--with George Harrison of the Beatles. So when I heard a contest on a Chattanooga radio station to win tickets to a concert, I filled out 50 or so entry slips every night and mailed them in, about 500 total. Not surprisingly, I won two tickets to an upcoming concert in Jacksonville, FL. I found another Beatlemaniac, and she convinced her father to drive us there, despite Hurricane Dora which had just passed through Florida. We arrived to find the hotel windows taped up, but we settled into our hotel rooms. A few hours before the concert, we heard screaming coming from somewhere near the hotel. Following the sound of the fans, we found a group swarming around a limo parked in a driveway next to the hotel. Soon the four Beatles came out, walking towards the limo. We went wild! I was closest to John, and I jumped across the limo’s front hood and stretched out my arm as far as I could to touch his sleeve as he passed. Then someone pulled me back. The Beatles climbed into the limo and slowly drove away through the throng of fans. Later, at the concert we cried and screamed through every song. George, my first love, was actually in person although he looked smaller than I had imagined. From my spot in the audience, far from the stage, I sent him all my loving.
What does your writing area look like? My writing area is filled with stacks of relevant research materials such as newspaper clippings, photographs, notebooks, and yellow legal pads where I’ve scribbled notes. Always I keep several black fine-tip ballpoint pens and yellow pencils. Sometimes I have an object that reminds me of what I’m working on at the moment. And two framed photos of my late mother are on my desktop to cheer me on. She was the most creative person I’ve ever known, and always encouraging.
Where is your favorite place to spend a beautiful spring day? Certainly not behind a desk. On sunny days, and even on chilly days, I find peace walking back to visit my horse in the pasture. I enjoy listening to the birds and looking for rabbits. I am inspired by nature, and the land where Native Americans once roamed and hunted.
Where is your favorite place in Chattanooga? The Bluff View Art District. The feel of it reminds me of Paris--the sculpture garden, shops, and restaurants. I like to walk through the passageways and pretend I’m somewhere else. I find the area so intriguing, I included it in my second novel, Return to Taylor’s Crossing, which spans from 1959 to the present. One of the main characters, Abednego, stays there at a B & B as he seeks to find his first love, who he was torn apart from during a racially motivated attack when they were a young couple. There’s even a fictional Bluff View art shop featured.
Which award are you proudest of? There are two honors that stand out. My second novel, mentioned above, won third place in the Yerby Award for Fiction. Frank Yerby was a successful African-American author of 33 novels. At the Augusta Literary Festival, I lined up with other finalists to await the results. My heart raced as we waited. When my name was announced, I could not believe it! They gave me a fancy wood and brass plaque which now graces my office.
The other honor that I will always cherish is from the Catoosa Citizens for Literacy. They chose my first novel, Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge, as their community-wide read in 2013. I was especially happy that this novel was used to encourage literacy in our community. And they also gave me a lovely crystal book weight inscribed with their logo, a shooting star. I feel reading can help everyone rise above their circumstances and aim high.