Sunday, September 9, 2018

7 Questions with Author Jeanette Watts

Jeanette Watts is a writer, a dance instructor, a costumer, an actress, and a very poor housekeeper. Her previously published historical fiction includes Wealth and Privilege and Brains and Beauty. Her most recent book is Jane Austen Lied to Me. Her website is 

1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
It was fourth grade, and I discovered this AMAZING section in the library at school. It was straight back from the entrance, on the left hand side, in the corner. It was… the biography section.

In the next three years, I think I devoured every book in there. Books on Betsy Ross. Florence Nightingale. Juliette Gordon Lowe. Elizabeth Blackwell. Madame Curie. Years later, I was confused by all the feminists saying that History courses were really the history of men. It took me a while to realize my broader knowledge of history came from my independent reading.

By high school, history was my favorite subject. I moved to a different state in the middle of the school year, and I terrorized my poor high school history teacher my sophomore year. The textbooks at my new school were much less good than the textbooks at my previous school - and there was a copy of the better textbook on the shelf in my new classroom! The teacher made the mistake of letting me borrow it.

I would read the chapter from the school’s textbook, then I would read the same episode of American history from the other book. Next day in class, while the teacher is discussing the material, my hand would inevitably go up. “You know, that’s not how it REALLY happened. It was actually a lot more complicated than that. It was a logical process, but there were more like 15 things that happened to get from A to Z, not the 4 that are described here….” The Civil War, the Industrial Revolution; I specifically remember a chapter on the Haymarket Square riot and the labor movement that was particularly poorly written in the one textbook. I think I came to the conclusion at that point that I cared a lot more about history than my teacher.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
There are so many huge avenues of history that run through my life.

1) Clothing. I’m an avid seamstress, and almost everything I sew is historic costuming. I’ve worked for local history museums in Ohio and North Carolina, and simply can’t be a docent out of costume. How am I supposed to talk about the history of bicycles, if I’m not wearing a bloomer costume from the 1890s? If I’m giving a tour of a house built in 1800, I should be dressed properly for 1800. I have full court garb for the English Renaissance, Regency dresses, hoop skirts, bustles, flapper dresses. This last month I was working with a group on aviation history, so I made a Pan Am stewardess’ uniform. Had to be done.

2) Dance. I’m a dance instructor, and more specifically, I teach Vintage dance. The waltz as it was done in 1800 is not the same dance that was done in 1860, which is not the dance as it was done in 1914. The Victorians mostly favored set dances over couple dances. In the 1870s, however, the young folks were doing dance party games they called “Germans” which were mostly couple dances, although there was no doubt this was about the larger social group, not about two people facing each other for three minutes.

3) Acting. I have played Katharine Wright, the younger sister of the Wright Brothers. I have played Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate. And I have played Brigid Hussey, Countess of Bedford. In all of these cases, it might have been possible for some people to simply stick to a few dry facts, recite a few lines. But most of these roles were improv acting, not stage performances. When a small child asks a question, I need to be able to answer it, in character, and give an accurate answer. I am this child’s window into the fascinating story of our past. It’s the best storybook, ever.

4) Writing. My first two novels are set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the Industrial Revolution. While I was wallowing in research on the first one, a friend looked at me and said, “You know it’s historic FICTION, right?” I just shook my head, and explained that if I don’t know what it smells like, and tastes like, and sounds like, I don’t know enough to write about it yet. My current novel, Jane Austen Lied to Me, is a modern-day romantic comedy, and it perplexes me sometimes when it’s time to go out and sell it. The only way I know how to sell books is in costume. (See #1 above…) It was a fun departure, but my next project is back in my comfort zone. I’m tackling New York at the Turn of the Century, this time.

3.      How is history part of your professional career?
Your question, and my answers, say a lot about me… apparently I don’t make a distinction between my personal life and my professional life.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
It may be a tropism, but it’s true: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately this is may be more true for societies than for individuals. History helps explain who are, and how we got here. This is true for each of us as people, and us as A people.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Well, if we go by the number of books I own on individual topics, it’s just about a tie between the American Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Why? The flippant answer is the clothes. Hoop skirts and bustle dresses, what’s not to love?

I can blame my love of the Civil War on Gone With the Wind. I met the book in 8th grade, and I was hooked. The honest and complex storytelling was compelling, but so was the historical detail. Scarlett gets bored while Grandma Fontaine gives a hair-raising eye witness account of an Indian massacre. She reads the newspaper filled with little details, including a sly reference to abortion. And of course there’s the initial reaction to secession and the burning of Atlanta. While that sparked my interest, the real-live characters who fought the war held my interest. I adore Grant and Sherman. They aren’t perfect romantic heroes, they are flawed humans struggling to do the best they can in the times they face. Did Grant drink, and was Sherman crazy (his own term for it)? Oh, I hope so.

The Industrial Revolution I fell in love with while writing Wealth and Privilege. It was hard figuring out WHEN my novel was set. There was always something messy and interesting going on in Pittsburgh - fire in the 1845, a cholera epidemic in the 1850s, the war in the 1860s. I decided to start in 1875 during a bad recession, touched on the railroad riot of 1877, Garfield’s assassination in 1881 (which wasn’t Pittsburgh history, but the whole country was affected), and the Johnstown Flood in 1889. If I would have gone further in time, there was the Homestead Strike of 1892, the opening of Kennywood Park in 1898, the annexation of Allegheny in 1907…

Once I settled on 1875-1889, and got into the research, I fell in love. It’s a vibrant time, full of tumult, full of change, full of progress, full of horrors. We created new problems for ourselves as a society.  And we groped our way forward towards solutions.

6.      What  is the story behind Jane Austen Lied to Me? 
I was driving home from the Jane Austen Festival in Lexington, Kentucky when the premise came to me. And you know how it goes sometimes; once you think something, you can’t UNthink it. So I had to run with it.

I am always a questioner. It gets me in trouble, I’m sure, but I can’t NOT ask questions. So the question I had to ask was, as much as we love Jane Austen, and romanticize her characters and stories, how would those same characters and situations really play out, today? For example, if you meet a guy, and he’s a rich jerk, is he necessarily going to turn out to be a nice guy when you get to know him better?

7.     Is there any part of your life that doesn't have to do with history?
Well, we just moved to a house that was built in 1938, so it’s got a touch of history about it. My husband and I have been married for 27 years; we have a history. My car is a 2007 Mazda, once cars have 237,000 miles on them, I think they have a history.  The Out box on my email has 9,669 messages going back as far as 2006. There’s some history, there. The contents of my sewing room include a work basket from my mother-in-law, pincushions from my grandmother, thread from grand-aunt Rose, and a cabinet from my girlfriend’s great-aunt Ludie.

So, I think the answer is: nope.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

7 Questions With Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn, Publisher of 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life With Five Presidents

Rufus Wayne Youngblood is best known as the U.S. Secret Service agent who shielded Vice President Johnson during the tragic Kennedy assassination. Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1924, he was raised in Atlanta and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. During World War II, he flew in some of the Eighth Air Force’s earliest combat missions. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with an industrial engineering degree, he joined the Secret Service in 1951 and protected Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon during his 20-year tenure. He retired in 1971 as the agency’s deputy director. He penned his memoir, 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents, before returning to Georgia, where he resided with Peggy, his wife of 53 years, and his family until his death in 1996.

Rebecca Youngblood Vaughn, MD, is the youngest daughter of Rufus and Peggy Youngblood. She is a physician and published author. While researching her parents' lives to write their story, Vaughn re-discovered the veritable treasure-trove of mementos from her father's 20-year tenure as a high-profile Secret Service Agent, which inspired her to publish a new edition of his memoir, 20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life With Five Presidents. The mother of two young adults, she lives in Acworth, Georgia, with her husband of 31 years. Vaughn is a speaker who brings her father’s legacy to life by sharing his frontline point-of-view of some of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history. Vaughn will be presenting at the Decatur Book Festival 2018, Labor Day weekend.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history? 
Medicine was my first love and main focus for many years. When I decided to leave private practice (after 25 years of practicing Dermatology) to pursue a teaching position, I elected to take some time off to study and write about my parents’ lives. I have always thought their stories of growing up in Georgia, serving our country during WWII, and their experiences, while Dad worked for the US Secret Service, were fascinating. As I researched their stories, I dove into studying history and find it so interesting.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life? 
I was so close to famous historical people and events during my childhood while growing up in our nation’s capital with my father being Deputy Director of the Secret Service that I took it for granted. We went to the White House frequently and to the Inaugurations and other ceremonies. I was very young, and I often complained about it. It was "too cold," or my shoes were uncomfortable. “Do we have to go to the Smithsonians again?” And the people who talked to me! I think back and am amazed that I had conversations with some of them. I wish I would’ve appreciated it more at the time.

3. How is history part of your professional career? 
Currently, studying my parents’ life story and the related history is my career. I have republished my father’s memoir, “20 Years in the Secret Service: My Life with Five Presidents,” adding a gallery of archival photos, and now I am scheduling presentations to give to schools and various libraries to present his story...which is history! (pun intended). I am also still writing my book about my parents' lives before the Secret Service years.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important? 
I now appreciate how understanding history increases one’s comprehension about everything. Life makes more sense when you understand the history and evolution behind it.
And with hindsight, we should learn from our mistakes.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I enjoy studying the history of Georgia since both of my parents' families have lived here for hundreds of years. My parents were raised in West End, Atlanta, and I am fascinated by their lifestyles then. I enjoy studying the 1940s and WWII. That generation was not perfect with the enforcement of the Jim Crow laws in the South, but the way the American people came together and worked during the war, and the sacrifices they made for the love of country is refreshing.

6. What misconceptions do people have about the Secret Service and its agents?
The Secret Service is a non-political organization. The agents do not choose sides. They are assigned a “principal,” and they protect that person dutifully in the name of the Office of the U.S. Presidency. My father wrote in his book:

"In the flood of printed and spoken comment that filled the days, months, and years that followed (the assassination), there were statements to the effect that Secret Service men were “switching allegiance” almost before President Kennedy was rushed into the emergency room at Parkland. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The agents in Dallas did not have allegiance, in this sense, to an individual. Their allegiance was to the mission itself. John Kennedy was dead. He was beyond the protective efforts of the Secret Service.
As of the time we boarded the plane, we had not heard the name of Lee Harvey Oswald. The possibility that the death of John Kennedy was part of a far-ranging conspiracy that had not yet run its course was very real indeed and was in the thoughts of everyone—especially in the thoughts of the Secret Service. We did not know what we might yet encounter, but we knew that Lyndon Johnson was the president, and our mission of presidential protection was no less clearly defined simply because he had not yet taken the oath of office."
7. What's something you learned about your father and his work or life when you worked on the book?
I never truly appreciated how much responsibility my father had and how hard he worked until I started searching the photographic archives for images to add to the book. When I studied the itineraries and diaries, I had a better appreciation of the demands of his job. He traveled all over the world, often with very little notice, at days on end. I was particularly amazed at the paucity of agents assigned to protect Vice President Johnson during the early 1960s. He traveled to Vietnam and many other countries with just a few agents.  Amazingly, my father was one of two agents who accompanied VP Johnson to West Berlin in August 1961 as the Berlin Wall was being erected. The U.S. Army rolled into West Berlin as the vice president arrived and tensions mounted. The threat of war was very real between the U.S. and Russia at this time. My father and Secret Service Agent Stu Knight toured Communist-occupied East Berlin with a group of U.S. Army officers in Vice President Johnson’s stead. How about that for a day's work!

Friday, July 13, 2018

7 Questions With Cele Seldon, Co-Author of 100 Things To Do in Charleston Before You Die

Lynn and Cele Seldon make up the team that is Seldon Ink and have spent more than 25 years as travel journalists. With a keen focus on the Southeast and a particular love of the Carolinas, they have written hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles about the region. Their work has appeared in Southern Living, Taste of the South, The Local Palate, Cruise Travel, South Carolina Living, South Carolina Magazine, TrailBlazer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Charlotte Observer, various in-flight publications, and many AAA magazines. Their new book, 100 Things to Do in Charleston Before You Die (Reedy Press) was released in February 2018. Lynn also contributed to the highly anticipated anthology of essays honoring Pat Conroy, Our Prince of Scribes (University of Georgia Press), due out in Septmeber. Follow along on their adventures at or @seldonink. They are presenters at the Decatur Book Festival 2018, Labor Day Weekend.

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I’m not sure I would say that either of us are hooked on history. But we are hooked on travel. And so much of travel is history-based. You can’t visit the South without getting a huge history lesson on the Civil War. And you can’t visit New York City without learning how our nation evolved with the arrival of the first immigrants. And you can’t visit Greece without a history lesson on ancient Greek civilization. You get my point. History is wrapped up in travel and travel is wrapped up in history. And we were both bitten by the travel (and history) bug as young adults.

2.  What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
The opportunity to travel has opened up a world of curiosity. And much of that curiosity centers on history. How did cultures develop? How do (and did) people live, both in our own culture and in the cultures of others? History has made us stop to ask why, how, when, where. And we use that curiosity to constantly learn about the world around us.

3.  How is history part of your professional career?
In writing travel stories for magazines and travel books, like 100 Things to Do in Charleston Before You Die, we are constantly having to research the history of a place, people, building, attraction, customs, etc., and translate that into an interesting and compelling story of where to go and what to see. Although we travel and visit places to see what they offer today, it’s the history of the location or destination that complete our stories.

4.  Why is studying/knowing history important?
Everyone should have a curiosity in the world around them. The hows and whys are as important as the what and wheres. Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t question or ask about the past. And how can we make the future better without knowing how we got here in the first place. To me, they go hand in hand.

5.  What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I’m kind of partial to the WWII era. As a Jewish woman, I’m fascinated by the Holocaust and all of its implications. And how the world changed after the war. It really was the beginning of a fascinating era. As a Southerner, the Civil War era is also part of my fabric.

6.  What sets Charleston apart as a destination?
Charleston has become the darling of the Southeast for her grace, beauty, history, and oh-so-Southern dining and hospitality. She charms visitors with her lush Lowcountry landscape, Civil War history, antebellum plantations, cultural and artistic opportunities, James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs and restaurants, shopping, and the gracious and welcome reception from residents. Naturally you can find tons of suggestions of where to go, what to see, where (and what!) to eat, outdoor recreation, events and entertainment, and where to shop ‘til you drop in our new book, 100 Things to Do in Charleston Before You Die, available on our website,

7.  How did you become travel journalists? Any advice for others who want to become travel journalists?
Lynn came by it honestly as a young army officer stationed in Germany who took advantage of being in Europe. He traveled around on weekends and started writing for Stars & Stripes, the Armed Forces newspaper, as a creative outlet. Once he returned to the states, he had amassed a portfolio of clips and decided to try making a career of it. I, on the other hand, went the easy route and married into his already established travel journalism business after a corporate career in marketing. As far as advice goes, visit a book store and buy magazines and study what they are covering. Research the publication, the editor, and the topics extensively. Then travel with your eyes wide open. Look for places and people (and history!) that inspire you. And that would make a good fit for your targeted publications. It really isn’t rocket science.

Monday, January 1, 2018

7 Questions with Billy Puckett, Co-Host of She the People

Billy Puckett is the co-host of She the People, a podcast where two friends drink beers and talk about influential women in history. When he's not doing research for the podcast, you can usually find him watching a Cincinnati Reds game or hanging out at a live show. He currently works in development for a private university in Chicago, the greatest city in the world. You can subscribe to She the People on iTunes, GooglePlay, TuneIn & just about everywhere else you may listen to your podcasts.

1.      How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
My dad was a history major for a while in college and was always either reading or watching something on historical wars, or the early days of the western frontiers. Usually, he would start explaining how or why a particular battle played out the way it did and I started becoming fascinated by it by the time I was 9 or 10 years old. I really got into sports history, specifically. From the early days of football and baseball, to the sports that people played thousands of years ago.

2.      What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Until recently, it didn't play a huge role outside of shaping what I would read about, however, when I started hosting She the People, it reminded me how much I really enjoy doing the research and digging into a specific person's life. I'm also pretty good at bar trivia because of it.

3.      How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
As far as my full-time work, it doesn't have a huge part. I'm in fundraising for a private university, and aside from learning about the awards previous professors have won, there isn't a huge place for it. However, it plays a huge role in the direction of our podcast, as both Heather and I were really interested in history.

4.      Why is studying/knowing history important?
Where do I begin? It reminds us of how far we've come in some areas, and how little we've advanced in others. It highlights some of the beautiful things that have happened while also reminding us not to make some of the same horrific mistakes that have been made before. I think studying individuals, specifically, also is crucial in teaching that it's okay to be different. Rarely are the people we talk about on STP the ones who went along with the crowds. They're people who stood up and thought differently, and were able to make huge changes because of it.

5.      What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
I think the 1600-1900 A.D. range is fascinating because it really wasn't that long ago, but it was before any modern technology existed. We take so many things for granted right now while you can go back three generations and their minds would be exploding at the explanation of why I'm answering questions for a blog right now. 

6.       What is She the People and how did it start?
She the People is a podcast that was created by Heather Linder and myself to help shine a spotlight on some of the most influential women in history that we never learned about in school. We've been friends for 10 years and are constantly discussing current events and historical issues. When we decided to do a podcast together, the topic really came pretty naturally. The basic theme was Heather's idea and we kind of built on that to the format we have today.

7.      What are some of your personal favorite stories uncovered so far ?
They have really all been fascinating people to research, but hands down, my favorite story has been on Nancy Wake. You really have to listen to the whole thing, but the short story is she was an upper-class woman living in France when the Nazis started to invade. She started sneaking Jewish families to safety and ultimately became a fully trained spy and guerrilla warfare leader for the British troops. At one point she was THE most wanted person by the Nazi Gestapo, and I had never even heard her name before. I can't get enough of her story.