Friday, April 30, 2021

7 Questions with Tim Robinson, Author of the Tropical Frontier Series


Tim Robinson is a third generation Floridian, his grandfather having taken up a 100 acre homestead on Cape Canaveral in 1924. It was his grandfather and father who instilled in him a love for everything Florida. Tim grew up in West Palm Beach, halfway between saltwater Lake Worth and freshwater Lake Mangonia, where he spent his childhood and youth traipsing through the woods or biking over to the beach or taking in the wonders of Florida in some fashion or another. He lives with his wife, Connie, on a small farm in Indiantown, Florida. Three of his books have won the Florida Historical Society's Best Fiction award. For more information:

    Instead of the traditional & Questions, Mr. Robinson is allowing us to publish his 2018 acceptance speech for the FHS' Best Fiction Award for the book The Indian Fighter.

    A long time ago, back in 2001, before it ever occurred to me to write  a novel, I had an idea to write another book. It would be a comprehensive manual of history, telling the stories of the first pioneers of Southeast Florida, and it would be titled, “A Tropical Frontier: Pioneers and Settlers of Southeast Florida.” One of the reasons for writing this book was that, as I read many other accounts of early Southeast Florida, I got the impression that someone, a more casual reader, might come to the conclusion that Henry Flagler (Flagler is the man who brought railroads to the east coast of Florida and played a huge role in Florida's development.) was the first person to step foot on Florida soil.  Yes, I had developed a grudge; and at no fault of Mr. Flagler, I should admit. 

     It gnawed at me, however. I wanted those other stories told, the stories of those men and women who left the comforts of civilization and set off into the unknown, to become pioneers, those hearty souls that would not allow others to lead the way, those who hadn’t the patience to sit around and wait for a train to take them there.

    So, you might find it surprising to hear that I am wondering if I should thank Henry Flagler, though not only for “giving” me the idea to write that book.

    It starts with my great uncle, Ernest Robinson, who, after serving in the First World War as a captain in the Corps of Engineers, took a job on the FEC (Florida East Coast) Railway as a “road engineer,” his job to make sure the tracks stayed in such a condition that no trains would run off of them. 

    Yes, if it were not for the FEC, and thus Henry Flagler, I do not know if I would have grown up a Florida boy at all, much less be standing here right now.

     People ask me. Tim, are you a native Floridian? To answer that, we must go back to Uncle Ernest. Earlier, he had paid to put his younger brother, my grandfather, Frank Robinson, through college, and in 1924 he invited him and his wife, my grandmother, to come down from their home in Missouri to Florida so that they could, together, take up homesteads on Cape Canaveral. They did not live there real long, but long enough to receive their land patents and, more importantly, for my grandfather to establish roots here in Florida. So, for making it less likely that I would grow up in Missouri – although I am sure it is a very nice place – thank you, Uncle Ernest. But I was not yet out of the woods.

    Granddad and Grandmother did remain here in Florida where he worked as an engineer for several companies, including the E. F. Powers Construction Company, digging ditches and canals, building many of the early roads that we drive on today, and other projects, such as setting the foundation for Lake Worth’s first electric generator, designing and building airports in Zephyrhills and Tampa, reconstruction of the Pinecastle Airfield at Orlando, repaving runways and aprons at McDill Field in Tampa, and finally, building the first “rocket pad” and air strip for “skidding in the first missiles” at Cape Canaveral. Later, there were smaller jobs with the Robinson Construction Company, such as the excavation of Pelican Lake in Juno Beach.   Although my grandparents traveled frequently for his work and lived many places, all over the world, in fact, they always returned home, to Florida. So, thank you, Granddad and Grandmother.

    My father, who grew up in Tampa, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach, spent his youth riding around the old roads of Florida with Granddad. My own childhood was filled with stories as we drove around Florida, sometimes with Granddad along, of things they had seen and done. I recall names like Roy Shaw and Booker T. Hooker. Regardless, my father, Dick Robinson, went off to Georgia Tech, then to Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky where he met my mother. Hers was a close knit family, and my mother did not wish to leave home; so, sadly, a Kentucky boy is what it appeared I would be.

    But fortune looked down and, as a newly minted minister of music, my parents were sent off to a promising job in Panama City. Things were looking better, but, soon after, they took another job in Jefferson, Georgia, where my mother became pregnant with me. Once again, things were looking bad, and on a cold, snowy night in Georgia I was born. 

    Yes, there are those in my family – my brother – who insist on full disclosure, that I make it clear to all that I was not born in Florida, but in Georgia, which would make me not a “Florida Boy,” but, as Tom Gaskins might say, a “Goober Grabber.” 


 Thankfully, my father soon took another job, and, on my twenty-eighth day, we moved to Florida, West Palm Beach, where I grew up. So, while it is true that I am not a native, I did spend my entire childhood yanking sand spurs from between my toes and spewing salt water from my lungs. Thank you, Pop, for moving back to Florida. And, more importantly, thank you, Mom, for letting him do it.

    I also wish to thank the person most important to the writing not only of this book, “The Indian Fighter,” but every thing I do, my lovely wife, Connie, or “Mrs. Twain” as I sometimes refer to her, without whom I suspect I would never have written so much as a word, much less a novel worthy of an award bearing the name Patrick D. Smith.

Friday, April 23, 2021

7 Questions with Author Joshua Ginsburg


Joshua Ginsberg is the author of “Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” and the upcoming “TB Scavenger.” He is a writer, entrepreneur, blogger and curiosity seeker who moved to the Tampa Bay Area from Chicago in 2016. He has had numerous published works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, and has been a business proposal writer and professional resume writer for over 10 years. He currently lives in Tampa’s Town and Country neighborhood with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell. 

  1. How and/or when did you get hooked on history?

I’ve been fascinated with history for as long as I can remember. As a kid it was medieval times, as I got a bit older I developed an interest in ancient history, especially Mesopotamian history. I grew up in a house of readers and my father especially was a reader of history. I think he really helped instill that appreciation in me – we shared books like Steven Pressfield’s “Tides of War” about Alcibiades and the books of Gary Jennings. A lot of historical fiction around the idea of exploration. 

My mother later on went back to school and studied art history, which tells the story of our collective past in a very different way. I’ve always been interested in art as well, so she and I also shared this interest. She liked a lot of impressionists, particularly Mary Cassatt. I gravitated a bit more toward the more intense works of Caravaggio, but still we found a lot of common ground. 

And as a Gen Xer, of course I also grew up watching the Indiana Jones films, which had me and all my friends firmly convinced as kids that we wanted to be archeologists when we grew up.  

  1. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

Different types of history have and continue to play an increasingly integral role in my world. For one thing there’s personal history – my memories of my childhood and the friends I had back then. In particular I think a lot about my close friend Steven who passed away several years ago – he and I were both awkward, geeky kids and writers. I remember the mystery and novelty of everything – the way the whole world seemed to be infused with magic and secrets to uncover. That sense of wonder is something I’ve focused on trying to recapture, and in doing so, it put me on the path to write Secret Tampa Bay.

And then there’s History (with a capitol “H”) – our shared human experience of a time and place. For me the focus has largely been on the history of a specific location. After Steven passed on and my wife and I decided we didn’t want to spend the rest of forever in Chicago, I put together a list of things you can only do in Chicago, and we started working our way through it together as a way of saying goodbye to that city. Some of the things on the list were touristy like riding the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, or taking a mafia tour, or having a brownie at the Palmer House Hilton, and some were pretty obscure like finding the grave of Captain George W. Streeter. But all of these things showed me the city and its history in a new way. What I quickly realized was that even though I had lived in Chicago for ten years and thought I knew it pretty well, really all I knew was a couple dozen blocks of it. I had barely scratched the surface! The Haymarket Riot, the Pullman District, the Chicago Fire, and of course all the astounding architecture – so many things I’d never deeply examined before. It was a paradigm shift for me. It gave me a new way to see and understand a place, both its beauty and its ugliness. What started as a lark pretty quickly became a real passion for me. 

  1. How will history play a part of your professional life/career?

It has certainly been playing a vastly larger role than I expected. When I started writing Secret Tampa Bay, the prospect of filling ninety chapters with different local oddities and unique sites seemed pretty daunting, but by the end of it the issue was just the opposite – that I actually had more content than I could include. And the more questions I sought answers to, the more questions I found I had. The deeper I delved into the rabbit holes of local history, the deeper they seemed to go and I’ve still yet to reach the bottom of them. 

I’ve just finished a first draft of my next book, “TB Scavenger,” which is essentially a massive scavenger hunt throughout the Tampa Bay area composed of sixty rhyming riddles. This was great because it let me include a lot of things that I hadn’t been able to fit into Secret Tampa Bay. It’s also a way of “gamifying” the exploration of local history and sharing not only what I’ve found along the way, but a bit of my process – how I seek these things out and the thrill of finding them.

And then next year I’m scheduled to release “Oldest Tampa Bay,” which will be a compilation of the oldest of everything in the area, from boatyards to bars to bridges and lighthouses and skyscrapers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these books are also a way of preserving history – even in the five years I’ve lived in Tampa I’ve seen the city change, and a lot of things are vanishing. A couple years ago Airstream Ranch – a local roadside attraction, was removed. Just this past year after a century Haslam’s Bookstore closed its doors. So seeing and writing about these places is important to me, because not all of them will be around in the future. 

  1. Why is studying/knowing history important?

I like to understand not just how but why things happen, why cities get their nicknames, why the Cuban Sandwich became the official food of Tampa. That’s history – understanding why things happened, and as a result, being better able to understand what’s happening today. From politics to economics to technological innovations to environmental changes – these aren’t things that just happen spontaneously, but rather often over years and decades and even centuries. Being able to understand that – the direction of things, I guess what some would call “the arc of history,” without any interest in or sense of that, we become a sort of amnesiac culture. 

Living in Tampa has opened my eyes to ancient history in a new way too. Growing up, ancient history always seemed like something that happened somewhere else – Greece, Egypt, Europe, Asia. Distant lands. But being here in Tampa I’m surrounded by shell mounds and earthworks that are every bit as old as some of the pyramids, it’s made me fundamentally rethink what “ancient” is. Living here has really shaken me out of the persistent fallacy that American History begins with the arrival of Europeans, when it had been going along for thousands of years before that. 

Trying to understand the secret face of a place – that’s become a passion for me, and there’s just no way to understand a place or its people and culture without really getting familiar with its history. And in coming to understand a place, I’m finding that I come to understand new things about myself as well.

  1. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I wouldn’t say that I have one specific time period that I’m focused on, but lately I find myself fixating more on the idea of “Americana.” By that I mean those things that are quintessentially American, from road-side attractions to the circus and tiki culture and drive-in movie theaters. Most of those are from before my time, but I’ve developed a real affinity for them. And some of it is being lost – the last of the big top circuses is gone now, for example. I guess the closest thing to that today would be something like Burning Man or one of the big music festivals, but they’re not really quite the same things.

Conversely though, the pandemic has actually brought some of these things back. Last year was the first, I believe, in decades when more drive-in theaters actually opened than closed down. That gives me hope that maybe these things aren’t really truly lost but rather waiting for the right circumstances to be reborn.

Why is that important to me? For a few reasons, I think. For one thing, these were shared experiences that in many cases transcended gender, race and especially politics. These were American experiences, and in losing them we lose these shared points of cultural reference. We lose a bit of who we are. 

  1. How did you come up with the idea to write Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure.?

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity” before? That’s very much the case with how the book came to be – it was the confluence of several different things at just the right time. As I mentioned earlier, before moving to Florida I had just started to see places in a new way and was on this mission to reawaken myself to a sense of awe and wonder and curiosity. When my wife and I moved to Tampa, we continued on this trend, creating our adventure lists. I had found several resources like Roadside America and Weird Florida and especially Atlas Obscura, and eventually I wasn’t just using that latter site but also submitting my own writeups. 

A couple years into living here, my pipeline of work as a resume writer and business proposal writer started becoming less reliable, and I started thinking about ways to add in a new stream of revenue.

And then my wife and I were scheduled to go see my family in Philadelphia, but had to cancel when her dad had a health problem. I had this book I’d picked up called “Secret Philadelphia: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” and as I was leafing through it, I thought to myself, I could write something like this about Tampa. Suddenly it struck me that between my blog and some of the pieces I’d been writing for Atlas Obscura, essentially I already had written it. So I looked online to see if the publisher, Reedy Press, had a title covering Tampa Bay, which they did not. I put together a mock table of contents based on the things I would want to include, then I called and asked the woman I spoke to there if they were looking for someone to write Secret Tampa Bay. I expected her to say they weren’t interested, but instead I was asked to follow up with the owner, and after some discussion, writing samples and a marketing plan, I had a signed contract. Preparation and opportunity. It is in no way hyperbole to say that call changed my life.

  1. What are a couple of your favorite Tampa Bay secrets?

It’s hard to choose just a few, but I feel a special sense of pride about those things I really had to dig deep to discover. The Warlock’s House in Wesley Chapel – that’s the sort of thing that really only a small number of locals know about. The same with the Grave of Charlie Smith who claimed to be America’s oldest man. Kapok Gardens is another local gem – arguably one of the best places to take a date on a picnic. But almost every day it seems like I’m learning about new and unusual things, like the Weeping Icon of St. Nicholas in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs to the country’s first open-air post office in St. Petersburg (which is a remarkably beautiful building) to the prayer grotto at St. Leo University. 

Ultimately, for me there’s as much of a thrill in seeking these places as in finding them, so I guess you could say that my absolute favorite Tampa Bay secret is always the one I’m going to find next.

Friday, April 16, 2021

7 Questions with the Author of Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair, Ann Bausum


Ann Bausum is an award-winning author of 16 works of nonfiction for children, teens, and adults. Her books often explore under-told stories and examine social justice history, but she’s also written twice about a famous dog! Earlier this year National Geographic published her latest book for middle graders and up: Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair—Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge. ['s-lair.html] Find out more about her work at her website: []


1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

My interest in history dates to fourth grade if not before. That was the first year I studied history in school, and I fell in love with the subject. It probably helped that my father was a history professor and that I lived in an historic area in Virginia, so I didn’t just read about history—I was surrounded by it.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my community (Lexington) and my state history books offered a distorted view of the past that had been heavily influenced by the so-called Lost Cause mythology. I was in my 20s before I realized how misled I’d been by this false historical narrative. My love of history was undiminished, but ever since I’ve been guided by a passion to examine the past truthfully, warts and all.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

In addition to being steeped in history through my surroundings, I grew up during an era crammed with significant occurrences. My first memory of current events was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when I was in first grade. Plenty of other notable events followed with the Civil Rights Movement, additional tragic assassinations, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and so on.

At the same time the country was undergoing a social transformation. My mother was an educator, too, and she modeled the possibility of being a working mother. I attended high school in the Washington DC area and volunteered on Capitol Hill during my junior year for my local congressman. The Watergate investigation was underway and my representative served on the House Judicial Committee during those Congressional inquiries. During one of my volunteer sessions I three-hole-punched the entire set of transcripts that had been obtained by court order from the Nixon White House. How could I not get caught up in history? I had touched it, literally, and I would forever be drawn to its pursuit.

3. How will history play a part of your professional life/career?

Now I research and write about history for young people and teens. I’ve pursued this passion for more than two decades, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. There are so many underappreciated topics to explore, and it seems more important than ever to offer the newest students of history the facts and the context that will help them understand the past and make a difference in the future.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

I’ve focused my career on writing about the underbelly of our past. Some might say it’s better to focus on the most admirable stories. I cherish examples of human achievement at its best, but I also think we must plumb the depths to find lessons of pitfalls that would better be avoided than repeated. As individuals we practice facing our demons and learning from past mistakes. We would do well to follow that same therapy collectively.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I’ve been particularly drawn to two periods of U.S. progressive social change: the opening decades of the 20th century and the 1960s. But I’ve explored other countries and eras, too. More than anything I’m drawn to those under-told stories that deserve to be reclaimed from obscurity. The hidden gems of history offer unexpected inspiration and diversion. We may value seeing familiar masterpieces at a museum, but often it’s the previously unknown painting that catches our eye and comes back to stir our imaginations later own. History can work the same way.

And although I tend to focus on stories from the darker side of history, every now and then something different comes along, like Stubby, the stray dog who joined the fight during World War I and came home to a hero’s welcome. This loveable creature insisted that I write about him not once, but twice, and I enjoyed the diversion immensely. One of Stubby’s unofficial roles during and after the war had been as a therapy dog. I later realized he’d offered the same comfort to me between my forays into more troubling history.

6. How did you begin writing history books for young people?

My story is surprisingly similar to those of other children’s book authors: I found my way to this genre through the eyes of a child, or in my case three children. The first one was me. I adored reading children’s literature during my youth, and becoming an author of such books was an early career goal. I have always made my living by writing, but it wasn’t until I had two sons of my own that I found my way back to this earlier ambition. I watched books influence them the way they had once captivated me, and I had my eureka moment. Maybe I could apply my writing skills to this seminal genre. I’ve never turned back.

7. Your most recent book is Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair. What is it about and how did you choose this topic?


This book examines a little-known story from World War II history: Hitler’s vengeful response to the failed 1944 attempt to assassinate him and overthrow his regime. Most adults and some younger readers will know about the doomed Valkyrie plot, but few beyond German have focused on the punishments that followed not just for the captured conspirators but for their family members. More than 200 relatives were apprehended, ranging from elderly to newborn. Younger children were separated from their surviving parents and held for weeks or months in secret detention. These youngsters—who gained the name of ghost children during their captivity—are now in their eighties, and I was fortunate enough to interview several of them for this project. One of them had kept a diary of her experiences as a twelve-year-old, and she permitted me to draw from her text for my narrative.


My interest in this topic coincided with the 2018 separation of children from older family members at the U.S. southern border. I often examine stories from the past that can be used as a window for viewing current events. This history, with its focus on the role played by misinformation, propaganda, and fearmongering during the rise of Hitler, and the example of Hitler’s obsessive pursuit of revenge without regard for family suffering, seemed like a valuable episode to examine during this time of global unrest.


Looking ahead I’ve returned my gaze to my childhood and am examining the origins of that Lost Cause mythology. It’s not enough to know that I was misled. I want to understand the forces behind this deception. I hope the insights I gain can help to disarm a propaganda that continues to influence and distort our understanding of our nation’s past—and ourselves.

Monday, April 5, 2021

7 Questions Nick D'Alessandro, Creator of the Wait Five Minutes Podcast

Since the summer of 2018, Nick D'Alessandro has been producing a history and culture podcast about the state of Florida called Wait Five Minutes. Since those early days, the show has worked with experts from across the state and country, covering life in the Sunshine State as it is and how our history has shaped us. The central goal of the show is to explore the story of Florida with affection and scrutiny, sharing who we are through how we get here.


1.     How and/or when did you get hooked on history?


It’s nearly impossible for me to pinpoint a specific beginning, as my love of history has found new beginnings at so many different ages and periods in my life. My family all loves history and has certainly imbued me with their passions. I have had some genuinely incredible teachers in my youth, teachers that made me engaged with the history I was learning. The Smithsonian visits I was able to do at a very young age certainly imprinted on me, but it’s hard to overstate the impact of my middle school history teacher, Jason Leinheiser, and my high school aerospace teacher, Bill Yucius. They taught history in engaging ways, ways that made the people feel real, made them feel present, and I often find I’m trying to match their excitement and passion in every episode I write.


2.     What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?


History has just changed the way I see everything, even little things. I’ve always loved road trips and maps, and since I started the show three years ago, I often find myself searching up the towns, roads, natural landmarks, and everything in between whenever I travel. Name origins, town placements, the most menial insignificant stuff is so fascinating because I know for a fact that everything is connected to some broader historical trend or moment. I’m lucky my partner and my family enjoy hearing me rant about the things I find or the things I notice because I can’t contain myself at most points.


3.     How will history play a part of your professional life/career?


This podcast started out as a current event show approaching the 2018 gubernatorial election in Florida. There were so many issues in Florida I knew so little about, and I wanted to make a show to answer questions I had about the election itself. But as the election passed, I realized how much I preferred to write about the historical backgrounds of these stories, how much richer the stories were, and I instantly pivoted. History is just more thrilling to explore for me.


That being said, I call the show a history and culture podcast, but in many ways it’s a show about experts in those fields. Nearly every episode has a historian, a biologist, a journalist, a writer, a scientist, an expert of some kind. They are certainly on the show to discuss their expertise, to provide some insight, but I’ve had dozens of guests now and, in many ways, the show is really a testament to them and how crucial their work is. Getting to talk with them and learn from their experiences and studies has been really one of the most rewarding elements of creating this show. I hope I get to celebrate them for the rest of my career.


4.     Why is studying/knowing history important?


I think about this often. Sometimes, when I’m making an episode, I pause to consider why this is the story I want to tell. I think the idea I always come back to and can’t quite shake is how often history is still happening. The impact of events is just a straight line, a solid string, connecting events from centuries ago to this exact moment, in everything we do. It would feel foolish to live in a world where we didn’t understand how we got here. We can only get better as a society, as a people, if we understand the tragedies and injustices and conflicts that have shaped us, warts and all.


5.     What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?


This is such a tough question. Obviously, my passion is for Florida history and I love all aspects of its history, from the earliest inhabitants, through the Spanish period, through the years as a territory, to the last century of development. It’s all just so fascinating.


However, if I have to pick a time period, in Florida or nationwide, I think I have a keen interest in post-Civil War, as in Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. There’s so much to be learned about our nation today by examining the things that occurred in those years, by exploring how the expansion of the West, and the changes in the South, and the political strife approaching the 20th century explained so much of our country in the successive years. Florida especially faced so much change in that era, and I always find myself drawn to those stories.


6.     What is Wait Five Minutes about and what was your inspiration?


Wait Five Minutes is a podcast about Florida, by a Floridan. That’s the tagline, and I think it’s important to the character of the show. I feel that the perception of our state is so tied to people seeking to minimize us, to mock our history or our presence in the world. In truth, Florida is so formative to our entire nation, so indicative of the things that have transpired in the last three centuries. People often write off the problems of my state without considering why those problems exist, the history of how we came to be the way we are. I think everything deserves that consideration and, since I’m from here and since I love it the way I do, I take it as a personal mission to do my level best to tell the truth of our state, our backstory, with as much love and attention as it so rightfully deserves.


7.     What are some of the topics you’ve covered?


I’ve covered authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. I’ve also talked to many current authors, like novelist Kristen Arnett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilbert King, and the expert on all things Florida, Craig Pittman. I’ve covered the development of various cities, from the tiny Sanibel Island, to the massive Jacksonville. I’ve discussed a variety of animals, from the gopher tortoise to the bonneted bat, from sandhill cranes to the common house spider. I’ve done a handful of episodes on the supernatural, including UFO sightings, ghost stories, and everyone’s favorite cryptid: the Skunk Ape. We’ve talked about archaeology, geology, botany, astronomy, anthropology, and more. We’ve discussed the Floridian who brought a sandwich into space, we’ve discussed the town that banished the Devil, we’ve discussed basketball, football, baseball, and golf. Whatever kind of Florida story you want to hear, you can bet there’s an episode about it in the catalog.


People have often asked me where a good place to start on the show is, and I always recommend doing what I do whenever I start a new podcast: I search the back catalog for a topic that jumps out to me, and I listen to that episode. I promise, whatever you’re looking for, there is an episode in the list that will fit your criteria, and there’s even more to come. In my opinion, Florida is a place with stories always unfolding. There’s no end to the tales we’ve yet to explore.