I was always good at Show and Tell. It was my best subject in elementary school, and I managed to continue the practice through junior high and high school by bringing stuff to my history classes, things like my grandfather’s old Army helmet when we studied the Battle of the Bulge and my family’s letters from Helen Keller when we read about her life. It wasn’t until I started working for Colonial Williamsburg in college that I could give this a name–as the jargon would have it, I was using material culture to teach history.
I can’t stop. After years working at Colonial Williamsburg making eighteenth-century history come alive through antiques and other objects, I spent 13 years teaching American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, still schlepping stuff into every class: antiques and reproductions, song recordings, period foods, whatever would capture the students’ attention. As my children went through elementary and middle school, I volunteered to bring items to class to supplement whatever history lesson was being taught that week: Roman coins, colonial-style licorice sticks, runaway slave advertisements. My collection continues to grow as I buy, find, trade, or inherit items I can use and share.
So now I’m a writer with 8 nonfiction books and more than 175 magazine articles (most on history, museum, or travel topics) to my name. See my web page, www.marymileytheobald.com, for more on both books and links to articles. A couple years ago, I started writing fiction. Historical fiction, of course, set in the decade of the 1920s, and I still can’t stop with the material culture impulse. In the course of my research, I come across all sorts of intriguing tidbits, objects, music, and movies from the Roaring Twenties, some of which I can work into my plots, but most of which was going to waste. Hence this blog, my latest effort at Show and Tell, this time aimed squarely at the fascinating Roaring Twenties. Vaudeville and silent movies, gangsters and flappers, bootleggers and bathtub gin, votes for women and bobbed hair liberation, and all that jazz.
The first in my Roaring Twenties series, THE IMPERSONATOR, is being published in 2013 by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. I can’t wait to see it in print. Here’s the short summary:
To Jessie, a young vaudeville performer who occasionally finds herself on the wrong side of the law, the stranger’s proposal spells Trouble. But desperation drives her to accept a major role in his inheritance scam, impersonating a long lost heiress for a cut of the fortune. The charade convinces everyone—except the one person who knows what really happened to the heiress and now must kill the impostor. With help from a handsome bootlegger, a mysterious Chinese herbalist, and a Small Timer named Jack Benny, Jessie deduces the identity of the murderer. But it’s a stand-off—exposure of either destroys them both.