A while back, I received a lovely email from Tam Francis of the website ‘The Girl in the Jitterbug dress’, introducing herself and her new book. After several emails back and forth we started to realize that we were clearly kindred spirits, with many of the same hobbies and likes (Lindy Hop, 1940s, Vintage Fashion, Husbands who Lindy Hop, Love of Scottie Dogs and the list goes on and on.). I have really enjoyed getting to know Tam these last few weeks and I know you will too.
So without further adieu lets begin my Behind the Scenes interview with Tam of the ‘The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress’.
What was your inspiration behind your latest novel the ‘The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress’? How long did it take to write?
(Liz Note about the Book: I really enjoyed reading this book and found it quite delightful, interesting and a fun read and recommend you pick up the book).
My husband was deployed, and I was home with two children and no family. I had been blogging my dance adventures, and a friend suggested I write a book. Sure, why not. I wanted to write about all the things I loved: swing dancing, vintage fashion, classic cocktails, retro music and lifestyle. It took about a year to write my first draft, but I didn’t really start re-writes until we moved to Texas and I joined a local writer’s group.
If you only have one sentence to describe why someone should read the book (and they really should), what would that sentence be?
If you love anything vintage, (specifically fashion and swing dance) this book is for you, and I haven’t found another that highlights all those things we love about vintage lifestyle—plus it’s an emotional roller-coaster with enough depth to carry you through, but not too heavy that you can’t read it in a weekend.
Beyond writing really cool books you are also a poet. Does your poetry carry a vintage theme to it as well, or do you write about other topics?
I’ve written a half-dozen poems about dancing and music which will appear in my upcoming short story collection in 2017, “Swing Shorts,” but my poetry chick phase was in my college days when I wrote about everything and anything—social issues to existential contemplation.
How long have you been blogging and what made you start (my reason was to share my love of vintage with like-minded readers)? Could you supply one piece of advice for newbie bloggers?
I started my blog years ago on MySpace. I would be so wound up from dancing, I couldn’t sleep, and I had all these wonderful feelings and ideas about the people and places—I had to write them down. It eventually morphed in a swing dance magazine, Swivel: Vintage Living Magazine.
My advice to bloggers or any writers is to read books on the craft of writing or follow other writing advice bloggers. My early blogs are embarrassing. There’s a difference between good story-telling and good writing. Those of us who gravitate to writing, whether it be novels, short story, blogs or poems, are natural story-tellers. It’s the learning the craft of writing that is hard. I am always on a quest to learn how to be a better writer.
And learn about SEO. Unless you want your blog to be an online diary that few read, you’ve got to understand some basic SEO stuff and basic marketing.
What was your journey into the vintage world like?
As a young girl, I had always had a fascination with the past, and was drawn to the fashions of the 1920s-1950s. I watched old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies and my heart filled with the beauty and glamour of the era. I started seriously buying vintage in the 9th grade from thrift shops and yard sales. I loved the hunt as much as the find. In my early days, I mostly gravitated toward either 1950s or 1920s. I hadn’t yet developed an eye for the other eras.
I see that the 1940s is represented pretty well on your blog, is this your favorite vintage era? And why (and if not, then tell us about your fav era)?
If I had to pick only one, I would say, yes, the 1940s is my favorite. I NEVER get tired of listening to the music, and set against the backdrop of the war, there is always this heightened sense of tension and immediacy to life. But there are specific things I love about the 1920s, 30s and 50s. It’s wonderful to have the choice to dress any vintage era we like, isn’t it?
I’m a mood dresser. Fashion reflects my state of mind or daily intention. Some days I feel sassy and want to show the world I’m in charge, I don a fitted two-tone 40’s suit—like when I’m going to a Town Hall meeting or advocating for something to the school board.
Some days I feel romantic and languid and wear a flowery 1920s dress. Other days, I want the world to know I’m a capable, cute 50s-style housewife and or pert teacher. And of course, there’s the nights when I use all the tricks of late 1930s glam to imbue myself with unique style and confidence.
Does anyone else make your fashion choices this way?
You’re a Lindy Hopper like me, how did you fall in love with the dance that would become one of the main “characters” in your new book?
I had ALWAYS wanted to learn how to dance. Just like in the book, I was at a show when I was knocked out by this couple decked out in vintage, swinging around the floor. I’d only ever seen dancing like that in movies. I found out where they took lessons, started going, and never stopped. At first, it’s like a drug. You can’t get enough dance. I read about it, found old movies with Lindy, collected big band music and created scrapbooks of “vintage inspiration.” It become and integral part of my identity.
Favorite Lindy Hopper past or present?
I know it’s cliché, but I adore Frankie Manning. I was lucky to meet him and interview him for my magazine. He was always so generous and filled with love and love of dance. He was truly an inspiration.
As far as style goes, I try to emulate the 40s style of Jean Veloz and Jewel McGowan. They’re both old-timers you can see in many of the bobby soxer movies. Jean is still alive and dancing, and that is an inspiration, too.
I’m a romantic at heart, tell everyone how you met your husband?
We both worked retail in the shoe department—he in men’s, me in women’s. In the stock room, I would glimpse this cool looking guy who was dressed in vintage suits, black and white shoes, and even a fedora when he left for the night.
After watching (okay sort of spying on him) for weeks, I got the nerve to talk to him. I asked him, “Where’d you learn to dress so cool?”
“Old movies,” he’d replied.
We went on to talk about 1930s and 40s movies, big band music, and vintage fashion. I told him I was taking swing dance lessons and did he want to check it out. He did! He was a natural. We became dancing fools in love. Our courtship consisted of vintage fashion quests, old-movie watching, and lots and lots of dance.
When he joined the Navy and went to boot camp, I thought that was it. We’d drift apart, but our feelings for each other grew. When I went to see him graduate in Chicago, he asked me to marry him. That’s a whole long story for another time! But I will say it was delightfully spontaneous, romantic, and vintage-esque!
Teaching Lindy Hop with your husband, must have been a blast (and a lesson in working together and patience I’m sure). What did you love about the teaching process?
When we first moved to San Diego—Navy stationed us there—we were some of the first Lindy Hoppers in town and one of the few couples who stressed the “vintage” aspect of the dance.
We are a good match and a bit comedic. I like to think we’re a little like Gracie Allen and George Burns in our repartee. My hubby gets very focused on small details and often would stop the class to help someone who was struggling. I would keep track of how antsy the other students were getting and keep us rolling forward.
We both have our way of expressing the rhythm. My hubby is a numbers kind of man. I like to use sounds and positions to teach. It makes for a perfect match since everyone’s learning style is different, too. We cover all the bases and make sure to keep it really fun.
I love sharing the love of dance and the history of it. Plus, some days I’d be tired or crabby and think “Ah, hell, I don’t want to teach tonight.” But by the end of the night I was refreshed and the negativity drained away.
Favorite vintage item in your home and why?
Non-clothing? It might have to be my vintage kitchen table. When we first moved to Texas, I was looking for a bed for my daughter at an antique store and I saw this table and totally geeked out on it. I seriously started sweating. My husband was in San Diego, getting our house ready to go on the market, and I bought it without him seeing it. But he loved it.
I love to cook and am in the kitchen a lot. Every time I look at it, I get a thrill. It is so damn vintage and in my mind, represents all the good things about the past that I love.
Coolest vintage event you have attended to date?
Camp Hollywood, which is still ongoing and in its 19th year. Holy Smokes! I was at the first one. (yikes I feel old). Then there was also this event called Swing Camp Catalina that brought instructors from all over the world to beautiful Catalina Island (which makes an appearance in the sequel: The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress Hops the Atlantic). The island itself is magical, but the historic ballroom made you really feel like you’d time-travelled. It was enchanting to dance there.
You live in Texas, tell everyone why Texas would be a cool vintage destination to visit?
I can’t speak for all of Texas, but my little town of Lockhart is adorable with a vintage square and the BBQ Capital of Texas. Plus, we have the oldest, continually working library in the state, as well as the most photographed courthouse.
But that’s all sight-seeing stuff. If you want to do dancing and vintage, you’d have to go to Austin a mere 30 miles up the road from me. They have an amazing swing scene and Austin is the live music capital of the world!
There are so many great swing band. My husband and I love to go to the Continental Club and hear, Continental Graffiti or Hot Club of Cowtown! And anywhere White Ghost Shivers are playing, we try to go. Not only are they fun to Shag, Bal and Lindy to, but they put on a hell of a show, reminiscent of 1930s vaudeville.
There are two very old (Western) dance halls, one is the Broken Spoke. We go there when they have Western Swing bands like Big Sandy or Billy Mata. It’s pretty rough and a little seedy, but has a nostalgic vintage cowboy feel. The same goes for Gruene Hall (pronounced green). It’s one of the oldest continuing operational dance halls in Texas, located in Gruene, TX.
In downtown Austin, we also like to patronize the old Driskill Hotel and have heard some great band there as well. The joint oozes vintage ambience and is supposed to haunted.
And did I mention the shopping? SoCo (South Congress), as the local’s call it, it ripe with vintage, thrift, and unique stores for a day or two of eclectic shopping.
You collect vintage patterns, do you also sew like many other vintage enthusiasts out there?
Absolutely. I’m trying to drop a little weight—Texas beer and BBQ snuck up on me—but will get back to sewing as soon as I do. I found that I couldn’t afford all the beautiful vintage I wanted, so, I started sewing it. Plus in comes in handy when you rip seams dancing.
Your bio at the very beginning says “Tam Francis is the girl in the jitterbug dress, writing vintage romantic short stories and novels with a cocktail in one hand and a pen in the other”. Name that cocktail in your hand.
Lavender Lemon Drop! Want the recipe? I just made my own lavender bitters from my home-grown lavender, too! It’s my latest fave.
Okay here is a tough question (and last one).Cary Grant or Gene Kelly?
Oh My! Are you kidding? I LOVE Gene Kelly (got to interview his brother Fred for the magazine years ago), and Gene is one hell of a dancer and that cute butt. Seriously, best butt EVER! (Is that rude of me to say?) But Cary Grant is my kind of handsome with a nice balance of humor. The way he jumped around in Indiscreet (1958) makes me think he’d be an excellent Lindy Hopper and my man has got to hop.
Thank you Tam for such a wonderful Interview, it was a pleasure getting to know more about you and I look forward to visiting Texas some day soon. And don’t forget to check out my Interview that Tam did on me, HERE.