Local author introduces new Austen-inspired book at The Literary

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Photo courtesy of Jeanette Watt

Jeanette Watt, author of “My Dearest Miss Fairfax,” will be speaking in Champaign at The Literary on Wednesday. Watt’s novels are heavily inspired by Jane Austen’s work, specifically her novel “Emma.”

By Kylie Corral , Assistant buzz Editor

On March 16 at 6 p.m., author Jeanette Watts will be at The Literary to talk about her latest book, “My Dearest Miss Fairfax.” 

Watts said she began writing somewhere between fourth and sixth grade, where she would tell her best friend stories while they walked to school.

When Watts began telling the same stories to a mutual friend, her best friend began to point out inconsistencies in the plots. That’s when Watts said she began to write her stories down.

“That thing about who your friends are is really important. She changed my life by making me write down my stories,” Watts said.

Watts said she began her career by writing TV commercials and marketing newspapers while writing stories. The most rewarding thing about being a writer and writing novels is the characters that she creates and meeting readers, she said.

“I am a storyteller. I have characters banging at the inside of my brain wanting to get out. Either I write these stories out, or they’re going to drive me crazy,” Watts said. “I’m surrounded by voracious readers who have this gleam in their eye.”

Book festivals are always rewarding to her because of the readers that attend and that’s where there is so much to talk about with readers, Watts said.

“When you have that moment of connection, that is very thrilling,” she said.

Watts’ newest book, “My Dearest Miss Fairfax,” is a novel in the narration of Jane Fairfax, the secondary character in the novel by Jane Austen, “Emma.” Watts has two other books based on novels written by Jane Austen.

She said the inspiration behind the novel came from a chatroom conversation where she found herself defending the character Emma Woodhouse from the criticisms of others, writing about Emma’s good qualities.

At the end of this conversation, Watts found herself writing all the events of Jane Austen’s novel from the perspective of Jane Fairfax. There she explored the relationship between the two characters and the events that surrounded them.

“But what does this all look like from Jane’s point of view? I combed the original text, looking for the clues and then went and bought a fresh copy from a used bookstore and attacked it with a highlighter,” she said.

Watts said that she wanted to make sure that there was nothing she left out of her own novel, no matter how uncomfortable it was, lifting the dialogue directly. She said it was important not to shy away from historical topics, such as slavery and offensive depictions of Romani.

“If it was in ‘Emma,’ I’m going to talk about it. We’re going to examine it. So that is all in there because I was doing such a careful re-telling of ‘Emma,’” Watts said.

She said that the novel created a good opportunity to bring up difficult topics from history so that they can be confronted and examined.

She said everyone is welcome to her March 16 book showing and that regency costumes are welcome but not required. There will be a $25 gift card drawing for all who are attending.

Depending on the turnout, she said she may also teach some regency dancing. Watts asked for those attending to wear a mask, relating the protection to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

She said that keeping on the masks for a little while longer is best in order to avoid Orpheus’ tragedy of turning too soon.

The Literary, Watts said, is a neat environment that is a cross between a bookstore, a coffee shop and the student union.

“The Literary, as an independent bookstore, is a more laidback, open, friendly and interactive environment. You get a better exchange of ideas and vibes, and it’s really exciting, nourishing and fun,” she said.

The Literary is a wonderful contribution to the Champaign-Urbana community, she said.

Watts said she is most excited to be talking to people in person about books at the event. She said that the event is like a party for all to celebrate.

“That’s what parties are for, to celebrate and have fun together,” Watts said.

 

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