Joanna Waugh: Thanks so much for inviting me in today, Loraine. And thanks for the great review of BLIND FORTUNE.
The first question I always ask is if you have a response to my review. Is there anything you'd like to highlight or argue?
JW: I only want to say how pleased I am you liked the book. The feedback from readers and reviewers has been heartwarming. I’m overwhelmed by the positive response BLIND FORTUNE has received.
It’s all well deserved! Debut novels tend to be a huge learning curve and I think you’re starting ahead of the game. Speaking of starts, as I mentioned in the review, the amount of research you did for the novel is impressive. Are you a researcher by nature?
JW: I think so. I discovered I had a knack for it in the late 1980s when I researched my husband’s family tree. I was able to ferret out information about his great grandfather others had spent a decade trying to track down. Later, this talent stood me in good stead when I became involved politically. I think I would have made an excellent investigative reporter!
Yes, I’m guessing you would, also. Family tree research is an admirable skill, and tedious. I’ll bypass the political question that’s skimming my brain since I try not to do that here ;-) and move on.
The Regency Period covers England in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries. How long have you been interested in this era? Did you grow up reading Regencies? If not, what was your favorite reading material?
JW: My mother belonged to Book of the Month Club and I grew up on authors like Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier. I had a voracious reading appetite. By junior high, I was sneaking into the grown up section of the public library. I couldn’t borrow the books so I’d sit there all day, every Saturday, reading them.
Mom loved history and historical romance. She still does. I remember once, when I was in grade school, the Kroger store had a special promotion of young adult biographies. Every week Mom bought me a new one – George Washington, Stephen Decatur, Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott. I loved American history! But I got hooked on the English Regency when I discovered Georgette Heyer as an adult.
How wonderful of your Mom to feed that interest! I started reading historicals because Mom did, as well, particularly with John Jakes and Irving Stone. I may have to look up Georgette Heyer.
Joanne, as well as history, I sensed a love of art in general from within "Blind Fortune" and had to go peruse your website to fulfill my curiosity. Can I say I'm not surprised you studied art? Now I have to say I also began college heading toward commercial art and changed paths, as well as also being pulled out of college for marriage. This is leading to two questions:
Was your art love a planned theme for this novel or did it appear as you wrote?
JW: How wonderful we have so much in common, Loraine!
Most blind people possess an affinity for music so it seemed logical that Lady Fortuna would play the pianoforte by ear. And because music speaks so deeply to the soul, I knew it had to be important to my emotionally wounded hero, Charles Lowden, as well.
Music, art and classical literature were an integral part of 19th century life. Some of the greatest painters of the 18th and 19th centuries came out of England—Joshua Reynolds, John Constable, JMW Turner. William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson were wildly popular with their satires of English life.
Remember, this was before photography. The only way to memorialize a scene or person was in a painting or illustration.
That’s something I didn’t know about the blind. Interesting. And I’m applauding your point about music and healing. Speaking personally about the soul, did your own experiences play a role in Lady Fortuna's feelings and fears about married life or about life for women in general?
JW: I wrote BLIND FORTUNE based on personal experiences with my husband’s loss of sight from diabetes. Most human communication is nonverbal so he often misunderstood conversations. It struck me as an excellent premise around which to craft a romance.
I tried to imagine what life would have been like for a blind woman of good birth during the Regency. But the story really came together when I read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria or The Wrongs of Woman published in 1798.
Women of the Georgian and Regency periods were owned body and soul by the men in their lives. In BLIND FORTUNE, Lady Fortuna fears a husband might lock her away once he gets his hands on her dowry. It’s a legitimate concern, given how little time alone courting couples were allowed in order to get to know one another. An unscrupulous man could hide behind exemplary behavior until the marriage vows were exchanged.
In Mary Wollstonecraft’s world, a woman’s identity was subsumed with that of her husband when she wed. People literally believed the biblical doctrine “two become as one flesh.” Divorce was almost unheard of and required Parliamentary approval. Once married, a woman was trapped for life.
Ah, I read part of “The Wrongs of Woman” as part of a women’s literature class some time ago. Powerful writing. It’s amazing how far women have come and we need to pay homage to women such as Wollstonecraft for helping that come about. I’m glad you mentioned her.
As romance writers, we know there is a tendency for the general public to look down on romance novels. And yet, they are the best selling genre consistently. I know from your website that women's issues are important to you and you've done a fair amount of research in that vein. Do you think there's a connection between a general degrading of romance and 'chick flicks' that relates to women's fight for equal recognition?
JW: You are right that women’s issue are close to my heart. In the early 1980s, when my husband lost his sight, I needed to find a better job to support my family. As a union employee with the local gas and electric company, I was able to leave my clerical position and become the first female journeyman electric meterman.
As a writer, particularly an American one, I can’t help but bring this experience to my stories. Unfortunately, it makes them less true historically. I mentioned before that women of the 19th century were at the mercy of the men in their lives. Most of them were content with this position. But that attitude doesn’t resonate with 21st century women. More of them are entering the military; more are opting to have children outside of marriage. It’s difficult for them to identify with the past as it truly was so an author sometimes must bend the truth to fit modern sensibilities.
I think you did a nice job showing both, balancing the historical aspect with the needs of modern fiction. I also have to think many women were not content with that slavery but unsure how to go about changing it. It was widespread battered women/victim syndrome where only the strongest dared fight it.
To lighten things up again, what is your favorite color? Do you wear this color a lot?
JW: Blue has always been my favorite. But over the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward purple and lavender. It goes well with my gray hair!
Are you an outdoorsy type or do you prefer being within closed windows?
JW: Despite working outdoors for almost thirty years, I’m not the woodsy type. I don’t camp or hunt. My idea of roughing it is the Holiday Inn! But I do adore walks along Lake Michigan and boating.
There’s another similarity. I agree! So do you have any "different" hobby you'd like to share with us? Do you collect anything outrageous or scuba dive or so on?
JW: I collect Russian nesting dolls. Lovely little works of folk art. I have one whose smallest doll is roughly the size of a sesame seed. And it’s painted. With a magnifying glass you can make out its little smiling face.
Oh, those dolls are precious! I have a set we picked up in Germany but the smallest is nowhere near that small.
Speaking of painting and art, if you could claim one famous work of art as your own, which one would it be and why?
JW: Only one? What an impossible task! Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Salvador Dali’s Invention of the Monsters with its flaming giraffe and his Persistence of Memory with its melting clocks. I absolutely adore Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It’s on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. When my son was in grade school, I took him to see the painting. I dragged him up close before he had a chance to assimilate what the picture was about. Shoving him within inches of the canvas, I asked, “What do you see?” “Dots.” He said. Then I dragged him back and watched the wonder dawn on his face as the picture gradually coalesced. “The original dot matrix image,” I told him.
Joanna! La Grande Jatte is one of my all-time favorite works of art! I saw it at the Art Institute back in my college days after I’d studied it in art history class and it’s amazing. I had to use it in one of my books, I was so struck by the piece. Van Gogh is another fave. I love your picks.
Back to writing, tell us what you're doing now. Any projects in the works?
Right now I’m working on a Regency paranormal set on the border of Scotland in 1816. Home from the war, my hero accidentally releases the 6th century spirit of a pagan king from a well in which it has been trapped for twelve-hundred years. The spirit follows him home and begins wreaking havoc. The hero and heroine must overcome their differences and work together to banish it. In the process, they rediscover the love they lost two years before.
Sounds like another great read. I’ll be watching for it.
Joanna, thank you for taking the time to be with us. I wish you all the best with future books. I also encourage any art and music loving readers out there to pick up Blind Fortune. Is there anything you would like to add? Be sure to leave us your links to find you!
Check out my resources for Regency readers and writers at http://www.joannawaugh.com
(Click on “Joanna’s Books” to read excerpts from BLIND FORTUNE)
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And don’t forget my blog about British customs and holidays at http://www.joannawaugh.blogspot.com/