Brains and Beauty
by Jeanette Watts
Publication Date: November 5, 2015
Genre: Historic Fiction
Regina Waring seems to have it all. A loving husband, a successful business, and the most expensive wardrobe in town. But nothing is what it appears to be. Her husband is critical and demanding, the business teeters on ruin, even the opulent wardrobe is a clever illusion.
Regina’s life is one long tiptoe through a minefield; one wrong step and her entire life is going to blow up and destroy her. Attempting to hold it all together, she appeases the husband, dresses the part, and never, never says what she is really thinking. That would get in the way of getting things done. And, if there’s one thing Regina did really well, it was getting things done.
Enter Thomas Baldwin. Young and handsome and completely off limits, Regina is smitten at first sight. Then, to her great astonishment, he slowly becomes her best friend. He’s the one person in her life who never lets her down. Torn between her fascination with him and her desire not to ruin a marvelous friendship, she tries to enjoy each moment with him as it comes.
If only that were enough.
There was grunting, and the sound of wood groaning, and then a wet thump as they lifted and threw something. Regina could tell that there was a little more room behind her shoulder blades. There was more grunting and dragging and thumping. Then she heard them both groan.
“What’s going on back there? Have I been cut off at the waist?” she asked. Not being able to see what was wrong, or the progress they were having, was making her anxious.
“The next layer is completely wedged in. We can’t do this without tools,” Isaac told her.
Both men hurried away from her, making her worry for their safety. She had also found their company reassuring. What if neither one of them was able to find her again?
That’s when she saw the flickering orange glow in the distance. “No.”
Yes. It didn’t seem possible – but in the midst of water floating below, and pouring from above, something had caught on fire.
Regina started listing in her head all the accelerants that might be contained in a single drygoods store: tar, pitch, turpentine, kerosene. How many homes used all of them? How many gas lines were ruptured all over the city? How many wood stoves were knocked into them? There was no way this heap would NOT be set on fire.
And here she was, stuck, in the middle of it. No doubt about it, she was about to die in the same town in which she was born. It was a shame, really. She had such high aspirations.
Q&A with the Author
1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m an English major who double-majored in Communication Arts-Radio/Television/Film, so you could say I was educated in storytelling, of any sort. I’ve worked in television making commercials – which is storytelling in 30 seconds. I’ve been a secretary, I’ve worked on documentaries, and for the last 13 years, I’ve been a dance instructor.
2) Where and when did your writing journey begin?
It starts with the love of words. Like every other three year old I could correct the adults reading to me if they skipped a word while reading my favorite bedtime story. I was four years old when I discovered this magical book in my father’s desk drawer. It was a collection of Peanuts cartoons. And I could read every word! Finally, at four and a half my parents were in a bookstore, and I handed them a copy of a book called “Teach Me to Read.” I was sick of waiting. I needed to be able to access all the words I wanted, by myself. By first grade, my school had me going to a third grade class for reading. My teachers gave up trying to keep me happy. A few years after that, I was writing stories to entertain my best friend. Or, I should say I was making up stories. She had to chew me out for not writing them down at first. Once she pointed out the obvious, of course I was happy to oblige.
3) Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
Margaret Mitchell, Laura Ingalls Wilder, David McCullough, Shelby Foote, Edith Wharton. All of them are superlative in their historical detail. Laura Ingalls and Edith Wharton lived it, which isn’t quite the same as doing research, but in all cases, I trust these writers. If Margaret Mitchell says there were ads for abortifacients in the newspapers in Atlanta during the Civil War, then people were selling abortifacients during the Civil War…
4) What does a typical day in your life look like? And how does your writing routine fit into your day?
When I can actually follow a daily routine, it starts with an hour or so on the exercise bike. That’s the only way I ever seem to get time to read anymore. After that, my life is a perpetual response to deadlines. Some time in my sewing room. Some time at the computer beating back the influx of email. Some time dealing with bills and finances. There’s almost always Cancan business I have to attend to for my troupe – either new contacts for new gigs, or I need to update the webpage, or I’m preparing to hold auditions. Or I’m writing a new choreography, or working on a new set of costume designs. Or I’m preparing for my other dance classes. I try to spend a little time every day on promotions for the books that are already out… and then there’s time with the book that is currently in progress. How much time I portion out to what is highly dependent upon what deadline comes first.
5) How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
The newest one wasn’t my idea… it was my readers’. The ending of my first book, Wealth and Privilege, ends ambiguously. I love Gone With the Wind, and Casablanca. My favorite Star Wars movie is Empire Strikes Back. I love Edith Wharton Books. None of the above wrap up every thread and tie the package with a neat bow and say “And they all lived happily ever after.” Life doesn’t work that way, why should fiction? My readers had other ideas. I got angry emails and messages, and reviewers who gave me a one because they loved the characters but hated the ending and they were never going to speak to me again… Eventually, I bowed to the pressure, and the result is Brains and Beauty. I am very happy with the outcome. I got to spend more quality time with these characters I love than I ever thought I would!
6) What do you think sets your novel apart from others current on the shelves?
Detail. I don’t want to “talk trash” about other authors, but so many works of historic fiction are written by people who don’t do their homework. Just today, I reposted an article on the Wealth and Privilege Facebook page about women and trousers. The writer said she stopped reading a popular mystery series set in the 1920s, because the author completely failed to get the clothing right. Just because trousers for women existed, it didn’t mean you were wearing them out on the town. (Katharine Hepburn is the only woman who would wear trousers for a studio-wide group photo in the late 1930s – because she always had to be a rebel. Mary Tyler Moore created a huge flap in the 1960s wearing capris on the Dick Van Dyck show.) Homework, homework, homework! There are actually two inaccurate bits in my initial release of Wealth and Privilege. They are small, and they drove me crazy. I had to update the book and get rid of them. Failure to do enough homework in the first place… I am trying to live up to my favorite authors. I can trust Margaret Mitchell and Laura Ingalls and David McCullough. My readers should be able to trust me.
7) Which character in your book is your favorite and how much of yourself is reflected in that character?
Abi, Regina’s youngest sister, might be my favorite character. In ways, she is completely NOT like me. She’s shy. I don’t have a shy bone in my body. She’s the youngest sibling. I’m the oldest (with all the birth-order stuff that goes with it). But she’s my seamstress. Fabric talks to her. It obeys her. She takes great joy in taking pretty fabrics, and molding them into even prettier garments. As do I!
8) Which scenes in your book did you have the most fun writing?
The big historical events! The riot when the mobs burned down the Pennsylvania rail yards is covered so thoroughly in my first book, I couldn’t really write about it again in the second book (it covers the same time period and events – from a different point of view). The Johnstown Flood I got to write about TWICE. Garfield’s assassination was fascinating. Everybody knows about Lincoln’s assassination, but what does anyone know about Garfield? Here’s a great tidbit I can share with no spoilers: Garfield lived on for quite awhile after he was shot. But the bullet was still in his body. Alexander Graham Bell invented the metal detector so that the doctors could find the bullet. But when he brought his invention to use on the President, it found metal everywhere! Bell went home in defeat… not knowing that he was examining the President on a brand-new invention: the box-spring mattress! The bullet was never removed, and Garfield died.
9) What do you hope for your readers to take away after reading your book?
That they will love (or hate) my characters as much as I do.
10) What are your hopes for this novel?
That James Cameron will direct the movie version!
11) What do you have in store next for your readers?
I am now putting the finishing touches on a modern satire. It’s called “Jane Austen Lied to Me.” Meanwhile, I’ve got a book I’d like to write set in early 1600s England, and another book set around 1900.
About the Author
Jeanette Watts only lived in Pittsburgh for four years, but in her heart, she will always be a Pittsburgher. She missed the city so much after her move to Ohio, she had to write a love story about it.
She 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.