Speak briefly with Watson, who?s 85 and quick and sharp as a dart, and her other great passion emerges.
She loves history, as far back as it goes. Watson eats up cataclysms, political crises, clashes between empires, civil wars, castle plots, foreign occupations. Even more than the events and epochs themselves, she?s intrigued by the human beings who lived and loved and struggled or thrived at the times.
?I was always interested in the kind of history they didn?t teach you in school,? said Watson, a lifelong consumer of knowledge, a Judo blackbelt and Highland dancer.
?I want to know what people thought and what they wore and what they ate for breakfast.?
Watson is a historical novelist. She?s has spent most of her long life researching periods and incidents that enthrall her ? ancient Egypt, the reigns of the English kings George), pre-revolutionary America. ?I?m a fanatic about having historical accuracy,? she said.
She learns what she can about actual denizens of a time, then she composes historically true novels that weave the lives of actual people with people she makes up. There have been gaps in her production, but since 1954 she has written more than 20 books and has supported herself as an author.
Her early titles, most aimed at young readers, were released by major publishing houses. Henry Holt and Co. published three of Watson?s books in the 1950s: ?Highland Rebel,? ?Mistress Malapert? and ?To Build a Land.?
Other novels she wrote in the 1960s and 1970s were taken on by Doubleday, Knopf, Viking and Dutton. At this time of her life, she?s self-publishing through iUniverse and Book Locker, but she?s still writing and paying her bills with the proceeds.
She thinks the book she?s about to release may be her favorite. It?s about the Big One. The Big Ones, actually.
Its title: ?The Angry Earth.?
Watson first learned almost 20 years ago of one of the most dramatic natural disasters ever in North America, the series of nearly 2,000 earthquakes that struck between Dec. 16, 1811, and Feb. 7, 1812, near the doomed Mississippi River town of New Madrid in what would become the state of Missouri.
Huge areas of earth sank and new lakes were formed. The largest of the temblors were felt as far away as Boston and New Orleans. ?The Mississippi River flowed backwards,? Watson said.
There was no Richter scale then, but seismologists estimate the magnitude at an 8 or greater. Deaths and injuries were few because the areas hit hardest were sparsely populated.
But hundreds of lives were rocked by the New Madrid quakes. Watson spent years researching the mostly French and English immigrants who populated the frontier town and imagining the human dramas that played out as the earth convulsed for weeks on end.
She wrote that Monique Bogliolo and her young maid, Fleur, clung to each other as ?a series of heavy thumps on the roof suggested that the chimneys were abandoning any thought of staying together. In a tiny pause, they could hear the frantic animals outside. The house rolled, groaned, paused as if thinking it over, and then bounced briskly up and down. Everything that could fall off, or down, did so.?
Watson may have inherited her love of words from her late mother, Dorothy Taft Watson, who taught kindergarten and developed the phonics course called Listen and Learn. ?Mother said I wrote my first book when I was 4,? she said.