Friday, May 28, 2021

7 Questions with Dave Mayer, History Teacher and Author

Dave Mayer grew up in Illinois where he  earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees. After earning my Masters from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale he moved to Georgia over 18 years ago. Since the late 90s, he has taught social studies at the high school level and coached baseball.  He is a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan and Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. He's published three fictional books about teenagers, baseball, and life in rural Illinois, and a fourth will be published later this year. He lives with his dog (Sophie) and two outdoor cats (Kitty Kitty and Tiger) in metro Atlanta. 

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

 I can't really say when specifically but I remember in 5th grade working ahead of everyone else in our history workbook and really getting interested in the Civil War. 

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

Well I am a high school history teacher so it plays a role in that way.  It also leads me in my beliefs and the way I look at the world. 

3.                  How has history played  a part of your professional life/career?  

I am finishing up my 24th year of teaching. I have taught 6 years in a small school in southern Illinois and the rest have been in GA. I love teaching history and connecting the past to the present. When teaching history I try to stress that history is told through many points of views. 

4.                  Why is studying/knowing history important? 

I firmly believe you can't truly know where you are going without understanding the past so in that way that's how I approach history 

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

 It used to be the Civil War when I was younger. As I have gotten older I have really gotten more interested in the World Wars. One of my favorite subjects to teach though is imperialism and how that played a role in the 20th Century. 

6.         How has the pandemic affected you and your students?  

Well we have done almost everything virtually. It's affected me the most in connecting with my students. I would often feed off of the students when teaching and this year has been really hard because many of them I don't even know what they look like. 

7.         Tell us about your books. What prompted you to write them and what kind of readers would enjoy your books? 

My books are a coming of age series. They are mainly geared to young adults but I know of numerous readers who have read them and enjoyed them that are in their 40s or older. I started writing about 8 years ago because I felt like I had a story to tell. Some of that is born out of my experiences in southern Illinois where it was historically a segregated region and where the KKK resided.  My first three books are about two African American brothers and their family that move to an all white town. The books are about acceptance, friendship, racism, untimely death, and other issues young adults face as they grow up.


Friday, May 21, 2021

7 Questions with Author Victoria Arendt


Victoria Arendt was born in Toledo, Ohio. Inspired by travel and movement, she has lived in several different locations, including the vibrant city of San Francisco and the rugged mountains of Montenegro. Currently, she lives in Florida with her husband and scruffy dog named Simon. 

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


Like most people, the carefree days of childhood are brought to a halt with the passage of time and the death of loved ones. As a wistful, dreamy and introspective person, I wished to revisit the past, if only for a moment. That longing fueled an interest in who my people were and a question of "What was it like to live in their era?". I would dreamily drive past their homes, now filled with strangers, hoping for an imaginary trip back in time and a chance to obtain answers. Sentimental thoughts pushed me to discover more about my relative’s past and uncover fantastic historical events.       

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


Several years ago, family folklore began to appear in my oil paintings and a longing for unsettled answers began to boil. Then, I inherited my grandmother’s important documents. Among miscellaneous papers and memorial cards, I found letters about her son, responses to some sort of inquiry. A mystery developed and my personal determination to search for the truth pushed into a professional one. One where I began the research needed to write a historical fiction novel about events in her life.


 3.    How has history played a part of your professional life/career?


Historical fiction has always fascinated me as a clever and engaging way to learn about past events. The first historical fiction novel I wrote needed massive research to properly present the story and, during this time, I realized my love for uncovering details about the past and how to develop an outline for a book. My next book is also a historical fiction work.


 4.    Why is studying/knowing history important?


In searching history, I found myself. 

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


Currently, I’m under the spell of the 1930’s – 1940’s about an area of the United States known as the Rust Belt. But, before it got that nickname, it was a thriving manufacturing area. Factories were bustling and production was high, however, as decades passed, the industrial prosperity changed. I’m in that wonderment right now.


6.    What inspired you to write Broken Pencils?


Month after month, year after year, decade after decade, I had the same dream. Always the same dream. It was dusk. I was alone in my grandmother’s house, standing in her living room. An overwhelming need to close the heavy golden curtains shielding two large picture windows overcame me. Then I would wake.


As a child, I remember hearing snippets of information that my grandmother had another son who died. Questions were never asked and words rarely spoken about this unknown Uncle. One day, I was standing in my grandmother’s living room, alone. She entered the room heading to the back of the house. Just inches away, I asked her a question. She stopped, leaned over and quietly said, “Wait right here.” I stood in the room alone again, looking out the two huge windows to the world beyond. Uneasiness and anticipation floated through my body, my heart thumped. What was I hoping to know? In a moment, she returned holding a small black and white photograph of a baby. She handed me the image. My fingertips grasped the slim white edge of the weathered photograph, careful not to touch the printed middle. The picture felt cool and glossy between my fingers. A suspended silence threaded the air as I studied the photo of this unusual baby.


Broken Pencils tells the story of a young housewife struggling to keep her severely handicapped son out of the clutches of the abusive 1940’s Insane Asylum. It is a novel based on true life events.

7. What can you tell us about your next book?


Two books are coming soon. A historical fiction novel and an art book. Below is the synopsis for the next novel. And, below that is a snippet about the art book.


Champlain Street

The Battle of Toledo


In Toledo, 1934, during the heart of the depression and nearly 80 percent unemployment, the despair of factory workers gave the Toledo Electric Auto-Lite Co. a rich advantage over workers. Grisly working conditions, unfair production quotas and paltry wages were standard employment practices. With exposed hydraulic press machines stamping out shapes in metal, the punch press operators of Dept 2 were easily identifiable by their missing fingers. 


Knowing that hundreds were waiting to take their jobs, the men of Dept 2 made a difficult decision to strike for workplace safety, higher wages and, more importantly, recognition.  


The Electric Auto-Lite Co., in return, touted a million-dollar reserve to break the strikers and any formation of a union and, therefore, hired replacements. They used tear gas and vomiting gas against a growing picket line pushing a resilient group. However, unbeknownst to the company and the strikers, the picket lines would quickly swell with support of thousands from the most unlikely people, the unemployed.  


What resulted was an all-out fight for “The Battle of Toledo” that would, ultimately, bring in the National Guard and leave a deadly path of destruction.  


Champlain Street tells the story of this pivotal US worker’s strike. This novel is based on true life events. 


Coming January, 2022.




I also have an art book in the works. 


By way of painting, I attempted to dissolve the thoughts needed to write the heartbreaking true life story, Broken Pencils. The book will showcase eleven full-color images and each painting shares a title from a chapter in that historical fiction novel. The art book will share this artistic journey and is scheduled for publication at the end of 2021.

(Paintings by Victoria Arendt, from )

Friday, May 14, 2021

7 Questions with Florida Author Craig Pittman


Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. Born in Pensacola, he graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him "the most destructive force on campus." Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998, he has covered environmental issues for Florida's largest newspaper, winning several awards for journalism. He's written several books about Florida and Floridians, including New York Times  bestsellers Cat Tale  and Oh, Florida!   This year will see the publication of his latest book Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife. For more information about his projects, here is his website:   You can also hear Craig and his podcast partner Chadd Scott on their weekly podcast called "Welcome to Florida." The concept is that 900 new people move to Florida every day but nobody tells them what they've gotten themselves into, so they're  trying to do it. So far they've interviewed a python hunter, a gator wrangler, a guy who wrote a book on The Villages, a cockroach expert, a shark biologist and Carl Hiaasen, among others. Find it at or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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

History was always my favorite subject in school because of the last five letters -- STORY.  I'm hooked on stories, and history tells us how people used to live and how we got to where we are today. What could be more interesting than that? Plus some of the stories -- especially the ones in Florida -- are just so bizarre! The War of Jenkins' Ear, for instance, or the "Reign of Terror" in Cedar Key that resulted in President Harrison sending a Navy cutter to arrest the mayor. You couldn't make that up!

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

I thoroughly enjoy reading and researching Florida history and mining it for stories I can write up for magazines or books. I also enjoy chatting with such distinguished Florida historians as Gary Mormino and Jim Clark. Both gave me good suggestions for topics to address in Oh, Florida!

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

For 40 years I have worked as a journalist, and as Bob Woodward once observed, journalism is the first draft of history. Plus I have written five books so far that are all built on a foundation of history. Paving Paradise went all the way back to George Washington's work as a land surveyor to talk about changing attitudes and regulations regarding wetlands. Manatee Insanity delved into the 1890s in South Florida and the first effort to pass a law protecting manatees, and followed that thread to a pair of 2000 lawsuits filed against state and federal government agencies by the Save the Manatee Club.  The Scent of Scandal features the history of Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota and the history of humans' fascination with orchids as a backdrop to a bizarre flower-smuggling case that led to a criminal indictment against Selby. Oh, Florida! contains big chunks of Florida history in every chapter, ranging from how Panama City ex-con Clarence Gideon changed the legal system with help from a murderous ex-judge to how protests in St. Augustine led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (This is the book that made the NYT bestseller list and five years after it was first published I am still getting royalty checks from its sales -- yet another reason why I am a fan of history!) Cat Tale begins with a look at how Native Americans and early Florida settlers regarded the panther and then proceeds to tell how they were rescued from the brink of oblivion. Plus I've occasionally paid my mortgage by writing stories about figures from Florida history such as Ross Allen, the snake man of Silver Springs:

4.          Why is studying/knowing history important?

A: If you don't know where you came from, how can you tell where you're going? And how can you avoid the errors of the past if you don't know what they are?

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

The stories of Florida's 1920s land boom are simply mind-blowing, as are the ones about the post-WW2 housing market here. I am particularly fond of the tales of the shady operators who ripped off naive Northerners buying swampland sight unseen. We're still trying to deal with some of the mistakes made in those days, such as finger canal construction of waterfront homes. Here's a column I wrote about that for the Florida Phoenix:

6.      Your two most recent best-selling books are Cat Tale and Oh, Florida!. What are they about? And what’s your next book?

Oh, Florida! takes the position that Florida is the weirdest state in the nation, but also the one that wields the greatest influence over the other 49. I tried to explain why those things are true and give some side-splitting examples. It is by far my funniest book, although it also delves into serious issues such as civil rights history and the evolution of LGBTQ activism here. Cat Tale explains how the Florida panther became our official state animal, very nearly went extinct and then was saved by a ragtag band of biologists who pulled off an unprecedented scientific experiment. I wanted to write that one for 20 years because it has such a twisty plot and odd characters, but I didn't have an ending. Finally, about four years ago, something happened that gave me a good ending -- not a happily ever after ending, but a hopeful ending. My next book is a collection of stories and columns I have written over the past 30 years: The State You're In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife. It will be published in September but is available for pre-order now.

7.      You’ve written a whole book (Oh, Florida!) to answer this question, but can you give us a short answer:  What is it about Florida that makes it so unique?

You find weirdness wherever you find people, but Florida tends to produce more weird news than anywhere else, and it tends to be weirder. This is in part because we've undergone a wrenching demographic change -- going from the least populated Southern state in 1940 to the third most populous state as of 2014, when we surpassed New York. Plus, look at who makes up our population: gator wranglers, python hunters, avid nudists, professional mermaids, uniformed Scientologists, monkey breeders, spam kings, strip club moguls, retired South American strong men -- and we've got 29 electoral votes in every presidential election! Add to that the fact that we're not evenly spread over the whole peninsula but crammed into that 30-mile wide swath along the coasts and along the Interstate 4 "theme-park" corridor, and you can see why we're constantly ramming our cars into each other, chasing each other with machetes and arguing over whose dog pooped on whose lawn.  

Friday, May 7, 2021

7 Questions With Kim Campbell, Director of Interpretation and Preservation, Coastal Georgia Historical Society

 Kim Campbell is the Director of Interpretation and Preservation with the Coastal Georgia Historical Society and has managed the World War II Home Front Museum since September2018. In this capacity, she supervises daily operations on-site, assists with educational and interpretive programming, and helps maintain the Society’s historic buildings. Campbell previously served as the Director of Preservation Field Services at Historic Macon Foundation from July 2017 to September 2018 and was the Preservation and Education Coordinator at the same organization beginning in November 2014. Before moving back to Georgia, Campbell worked as a National Register of Historic Places contractor for the Historic Columbia Foundation. She holds a master’s degree in public history with a concentration in historic preservation and a certificate of museum management from the University of South Carolina, as well as a bachelor’s degree in history from Mercer University in Macon.  Campbell is a published researcher, most recently in the National Council on Public History essay collection Preserving Place and in the South Carolina Historical Quarterly. Campbell also researched and wrote the material for the National Register of Historic Places listing for the James and Olive Porter House. For more information about the World War II Home Front Museum, see their web page 

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

I don’t really have many memories of a time when I wasn’t interested in the past. One of my first distinct memories of engaging with history was on a field trip to the Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, Georgia as a second grader. I was fascinated by the idea that I was literally walking where people had been hundreds and thousands of years before and was so curious about their lives. I still feel that historic places offer people today a tangible connection to the past that makes history feel real in a way almost nothing else can.

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

While I largely research and present local history professionally, I engage in a much wider range of historical topics in my personal time. In the past year, I’ve read histories on everything from the role of fast foot in civil rights (I highly recommend Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain.) to a book about the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, a woman who ruled Egypt in her own right. I’ve also watched documentaries about subjects from videogames to Malcolm X.


Besides providing entertainment, the practice of history informs how I navigate everyday life. Knowing how to research a topic and sort through whether or not a source is reliable are both really helpful skills in navigating the largely digital world we now live in.

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

I’m a practicing public historian, so I’ve built my career around researching history and then interpreting and presenting it to as many people as possible, with a particular emphasis on reaching people outside of the academy. Essentially, my career doesnt exist without history.

4.         Why is studying/knowing history important?

Imagine for a moment that you are dropped into a moving car and told to drive to a particular town. In order to navigate to where you want to go, you have to figure out where you are, and since you’re still moving, the best way to figure out where you are is to learn where you’ve already been. History is a lot like this car scenario; you can keep moving forward without bothering to figure out how you got to where you currently are, but the chances you’ll successfully find where it is you want to go without that information are pretty slim. We have to understand our past in order to make informed decisions for how to create an equitable and just future.

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

As a public historian, my work often has me study a topic briefly, interpret that history for a specific audience, and then move on to the next topic. The one subject I consistently return to though is memory. Memory is the public perception of history, and we can study it through monuments, novels, historic markers, films, and many other aspects of popular culture. In addition to sometimes having fun source material to examine, memory also gives me a view of what someone like myself may have presented to the publics of the past.

6.         How did the WWII Home Front Museum come into existence?

From 2006 to 2016, the Coastal Georgia Historical Society operated the Maritime Center at the Historic Coast Guard Station on St. Simons Island. That museum had exhibits on subjects like the Coast Guard, archeology, marsh ecology, and World War II. When the Society updated the exhibits in our other property the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, we discovered that the World War II story in our community was far too large to fit on a single panel in that exhibit on St. Simons Island history. By 2016 it was time to update the Maritime Center, and since the Coast Guard played a major part in Glynn County’s World War II story, we decided this was the best home to share this narrative.

7.         What is the main story your museum aims to tell?

The World War II Home Front Museum brings to life Coastal Georgia’s extraordinary contributions to winning World War II. Through immersive galleries and interactives we tell the stories of ordinary Americans doing their part to win the war. While the details of our story are specific to this area, the overarching narrative of sacrifice and participation in the war effort played out in countless small towns, large cities, and rural farms across America.