Guest Hound, John Babb

By Jeff Salter

I’m pleased to welcome, as this month’s Guest Hound, the author John Babb — a relative newcomer to the stable at Dingbat Publishing, but a gentleman and scholar who’s been around the block a few times.

John’s been busy with a newly released novel, but agreed to stop by and answer a few questions. Little did he know that I had 23 questions to ask!

Author Bio:

I am a retired Assistant Surgeon General, and Rear Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. My experience in pharmacy, emergency preparedness/response, and public health administration has allowed me to write about medical issues which confronted people during our growth as a Nation. This not only includes the practice of traditional medicine, but also folk medicine, old wives tales, and even a bit of folk lore.
Although I write historical fiction (sometimes with a touch of a medical mystery or even the paranormal), great pains have been taken to assure the historical accuracy of my books, including my visiting almost every location mentioned in the stories, as well as related museums, libraries, historical settings, and battlefields.
I was raised in the Missouri Ozarks as what I would call a “free-range kid”, served in a variety of duty stations across the U.S. with the USPHS, and now live in Tennessee with my artist wife, Victoria, and fearless wonder dog, Rooster.


Web site:

Amazon page:



  1. Give us a few details of your “free-range” childhood in the Missouri Ozarks. What was life like that may be different from that experienced by many individuals you met later in life?

[ *** JB *** ] — I was raised in a town of 1500 in the Missouri Ozarks. Our town had no radio station, and only two weekly newspapers. So if someone died, there was no simple way to “get the word out”. One of my first jobs was to deliver paper funeral notices (white card – black border) to every store in town. Those businesses would then tape the notice to their counter-top, thus communicating with all their customers about the deceased and when the funeral would occur. Within a few weeks, I became known to all the businesses as “the bad news boy”. Hence, everybody knew me, and everybody knew my parents. If I acted out, my father would have known about it in about 15 minutes. With that in mind, my parents allowed me a great deal of freedom. As long as I did a few chores, I could be gone (fishing, hunting, playing ball, etc) all day, with no accountability (unless I acted out).

  1. Missouri is known (or used to be) as the “show me” state… implying that you had to prove nearly everything to a resident of that state. Have you found that characterization to be valid? If not, where did that notion come from?

[ *** JB *** ] — Having parents who suffered significantly during the Great Depression led both of them to be a bit skeptical if something sounded too good to be true. In fact, almost all of my friends had similarly affected parents. So baloney (or BS) was not tolerated.

  1. What were you like as a senior in high school?

[ *** JB *** ] — I wasn’t. I decided to go to college after my junior year.

My last year in high school, I was consumed with girls, academics, and sports — not necessarily in that order. I was lucky to play four sports in high school, and very fortunate to have great coaches in baseball and track. It was my dream to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, as I was a pretty fair pitcher, but life has a way of interrupting things. I once was accused by my English teacher of turning in a short theme which she said she “had read somewhere before”. In order to prove otherwise, I told her to give me an hour and I would write a 500 word theme about the back of her head. She took me up on it, and ended up apologizing.

  1. Tell us about your experience in the U.S. Public Health Service. Reaching such a high rank is quite rare. Can you point to a few career factors which allowed you to rise to that level?

[ *** JB *** ] — I had a series of spectacular bosses (with one sociopathic exception). They gave me responsibilities (and opportunities) that I never would have sought without their advice and counsel. I also had people working with me who were extremely dedicated professionals, and absolutely superb performers, thus making our entire undertaking look good.

  1. Over your military career, what was your favorite assignment / duty station?

[ *** JB *** ] — From 2000 thru 2006, my responsibilities were to coordinate the medical and public health readiness and response activities of the U.S. Public Health Service via the Office of the Surgeon General. These various responses included the attacks of 9/11, anthrax letters, many hurricanes/floods, school shootings, suicide clusters, influenza among chickens & turkeys in the DelMarVa Peninsula, Hoof & Mouth Disease in England, Indian Ocean Tsunami, Iran earthquake, wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, and many National Special Security Events.

  1. Is there an author you really enjoy reading? Does he / she also write historical fiction with medical themes? Have you ever read any of Robin Cook’s work?

[ *** JB *** ] — Once upon a time, I thought I could write about pain and suffering. At least until I read several books by the Irish writer, Roddy Doyle. His descriptive writing about hunger, malnutrition, living in mud huts in absolute poverty, as well as the unbelievable inhumanities heaped on the Irish people, made me realize I could never hope to even carry his lunch bucket. His historical fiction did not have medical themes. He needed nothing except the experiences of his early life and that of his parents. I have read several of Robin Cook’s novels, but that’s been 20+ years ago.

  1. There must be a compelling story behind your dog being named “Rooster.” Let’s hear it.

[ *** JB *** ] — My dog is a rat terrier by pedigree.  His fighting weight is something like 12 pounds, but he would happily start a fight with a dog 50 pounds larger, let alone every mailman who ever stepped out of his vehicle. His attitude – sort of like a bantam rooster – is what earned him his moniker.


  1. The artwork for your covers is obviously NOT from stock photo caches. Who created those very expressive covers for Volumes 1 & 2? Are they by your artist wife, Victoria, perchance?

[ *** JB *** ] — My wife, Victoria, is a trained artist – mostly in oils, but also using a variety of mediums. The book for Volume 2 of the “Creole Voices” series actually started in reverse. Rather than creating a cover to match the theme of the book, I was struck by an oil painting Victoria had done after we visited New Orleans, and saw the site of the old “Absinthe Room” at Bourbon and Bienville Streets in the Quarter. So the book was written to match the painting. In fact, for book 2, “The Girl Who Had No Shadow”, my wife and I wrote it together.

  1. How did you decide on Creole Voices as the series you wanted to write?

[ *** JB *** ] — One of the main characters of “Voices of the Dead” is a Creole nurse, who is able to hear the voices of the dead when she wears her grandmother’s locket. This theme, and the locket, is continued in all of the series.

  1. How many books (beyond Volumes 1 & 2) do you envision?

[ *** JB *** ] — I’ve started work on Volume 3, which again includes the nurse and her locket. In this story, which takes place in New Orleans also, from about 1885 to 1910, there are several diseases discussed – all of which can be transmitted to others. The main focus is on leprosy. I hope to publish this book in early 2021.

  1. How did you arrive at the subject, general plot, and major characters of Voices of the Dead [Book One]?

[ *** JB *** ] — I began this book, thinking I would be writing about the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878, and it would be entirely focused on Memphis. For sure, Memphis suffered the greatest number of deaths during the epidemic, but 154 towns and cities were stricken, and 20,000 people died. I soon decided I had to tell a bigger story – the research for this book took 18 months. I used many historical characters, but only in so far as being able to quote them from historical sources. I didn’t put words in the mouths of historical characters. I did, however, add fictionalized characters which allowed me to fill in the blanks where the historical record needed “assistance”.

  1. If Voices of the Dead were made into a movie, which actors / actresses would you like to cast in the primary roles?

[ *** JB *** ] — I confess that I have not been a movie buff for the last 20 years or so. My favorite stars would be way too old by now to be believable as the mostly youthful characters in the story.


  1. I’ve done considerable research on yellow fever, for one of my own novels. Avoiding any political commentary (please) would you discuss any comparisons you find between what the blind-sided doctors faced in 1878 and what we’re seeing now, in early 2020, with CoVid-19?

[ *** JB *** ] — I think physicians and scientists are working very hard to understand this brand new virus. Of course, our technology today will speed up the process. In the old days, yellow fever struck the United States for some 200 years before they finally discovered the vector of that virus was the Aedes aegypti female mosquito. Not only did they not connect the vector with the disease, but they had no idea what a virus was. Most physicians in the 1800s believed that all illnesses were caused by a fullness of the blood or a fullness of the bowel. Hence they bled the patient, or they administered very strong laxatives. Neither “treatment” was helpful in yellow fever.

  1. In my own research, I came across quite a few gruesome descriptions of the symptoms and progression of yellow fever. From your own medical background, do they compare with any other illness?

[ *** JB *** ] — Malaria and Dengue Fever come to mind, although yellow fever is usually more deadly, the symptoms can be similar.

  1. I’m intrigued by your mention of that town – Holly Springs, MS – which “invited citizens of Grenada to come to their city to escape the fever… and ended up almost destroying their own town as a result.” In the generations since, has there been any ill will between those two communities, related to that ill-fated sacrifice?

[ *** JB *** ] — I’ve seen no evidence of ill will between the two towns. However, both towns are historical treasure troves – antebellum homes, old cemeteries, “the old south”. Both towns were substantially damaged by the 1878 epidemic. Holly Springs was one of the wealthiest towns in Mississippi until the epidemic. Holly Springs makes a great effort every year to celebrate the heroism and altruism of their citizens in 1878. I don’t think any other town in the south makes that kind of annual effort. In fact, many towns have literally no idea what occurred to their forebears in that fatal time.

  1. I’ve also read a historical novel — Fever 1793 — about an epidemic which swept through the area around Philadelphia (among other large northeastern cities). Does that ring any bells? Was it similar to the yellow fever outbreak in the lower Mississippi valley in the late 1800s? As I recall (from that book) the physicians of the day used “bleeding” as their primary attempt at treatment.

[ *** JB *** ] — Sorry, I don’t know that book. However, epidemics of cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria, and typhoid were quite common in the U.S. in its early history. George Washington was a victim of smallpox as a young man. Thankfully, he was thus immune to the disease when smallpox struck his troops during the Revolution, as he was able to lead when so many of his men lay ill.

  1. You indicate some of your writing is influenced by “folk medicine [and] old wives tales”. As a high-ranking medical officer in a military / governmental establishment, did you ever have a situation in which you bucked the system by interjecting some old-fashioned, common sense, holistic ingredients into the prevailing protocol?

[ *** JB *** ] — No comment


  1. If you were not a writer, can you imagine what else you might do to express the creativity within you?

[ *** JB *** ] — I’m not nearly as creative as I’d like to be. Most of my writing follows a whole lot of research. For example, the leprosy story I’m currently writing requires that I write in terms of the level of knowledge about the disease in the late 1800s/early 1900s. To accomplish that, I had to use a medical reference book written in 1902, so it is THAT level of knowledge I have to use in the story.

  1. Have you ever encountered people who seem unable / unwilling to comprehend that writing is something you are driven to do?

[ *** JB *** ] — Not really. Perhaps because my writing is not “cerebral” at all. I just try to tell a story using the language of the day and the knowledge of the times.

  1. If sales (money) and critics (reviews) were immaterial to you, what genre and length would you write?

[ *** JB *** ] — Since historical fiction is not among the common best sellers, it’s fairly obvious that I’m writing about what I want to write rather than what economics might dictate.

  1. Give us one example of someone who has contacted you and expressed how much your writing meant to them.

[ *** JB *** ] — My first novel, “Orphan Hero” was about my great-grandfather, who ran away from home in 1849, chasing his father from Indiana to the California goldfields. He was EIGHT years old. He paid his way by cutting hair. His story was recounted to me by my great-aunt (his daughter) when I was a kid. Many people have spoken about how much resilience/courage/gumption he showed in his life, and how uplifting his story was.

  1. In the conversations (about writing) that you’ve had over the years, what is one writing question which you’ve WISHED had been asked of you… but never has been asked?

[ *** JB *** ] — “Can you attend this year’s Pulitzer Prize award ceremony?”

  1. What’s your answer to the question above?

[ *** JB *** ] — “Probably”


Voices of the Dead
Battling the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878

A big, sprawling novel for fans of James Michener…

During four terror-filled months in 1878, a yellow fever epidemic in the Lower Mississippi Valley struck 154 towns and cities, killed over 20,000 people, and wiped entire families and businesses from the face of the earth. A determined band of volunteer heroes and heroines fought the virus despite their limited medical knowledge. A Creole nurse from New Orleans travels north to help, bringing with her a very special locket she inherited from her Haitian grandmother. An Irish chambermaid learns nursing and puts her life at risk trying to bring down her patients’ fevers. A Jewish physician volunteers despite lacking immunity to the virus. A fisherman becomes one of the first black policemen in the South when the white force is decimated by the disease.

Priests, sisters, reverends, rabbis, physicians, nurses, hearse drivers, gravediggers, retired military, an unashamed madam, a gambler…

Some survived. Others paid the ultimate price. And only one person can hear the voices of the dead.

Buy Link:


When you read historical fiction, is accuracy more important than entertainment, or vice-versa?


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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26 Responses to Guest Hound, John Babb

  1. Welcome to the blog, John! There is so much that I can ask about or comment on, I don’t know where to start. What an interesting dinner guest, (or next-door neighbor), you must be!
    I am so glad that your great-aunt relayed the story of your great-grandfather to you. Although that is one of the most fantastic I have heard, there are many interesting or courageous s stories within people’s families, but unfortunately, no one seems t be handing down st ories any more.It is a real shame.
    I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Babb says:

      Thank you, Tonette. Perhaps my next door neighbors would disagree. In today’s world, the idea of children running around all over the country seems “fantastic”, but in the middle of the 19th century, orphans were very common. Unless they had someplace to land, they were literally on their own. My g-grandfather was undoubtedly extremely resourceful, but if the story had been published in his day, it would have been entirely within the realm of believability. (After the 1878 yellow fever epidemic, one of the greatest problems across the South was the huge number of unclaimed orphans – hundreds in Memphis alone. All of them either were taken in by an orphanage, or made to find their own way.)

      Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I agree, Tonette — wonderful that the family handed down that oral history… and awesome that John took the time to commit it to paper (for the future generations).


      • John T Babb says:

        Jeff – back in the 1960s, before she passed away, my great-aunt told me she expected three things from me: 1) become a Baptist preacher, 2) become a Democrat Congressman, and 3) write a book about my great-grandfather. One out of three is not bad – at least for a batting average.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Salter says:

    Welcome to Hound Day, John.
    I’m getting a slow start this morning, but I’ll be in and out during the day (hopefully).


  3. jbrayweber says:

    What a great interview. John…I’m fascinated by your life. You had me at “bad news boy”. And your great-grandfather! What gumption and courage for someone so young. I agree with Tonette. Stories from long ago don’t seem to trickle done anymore.
    As for your question, I like my historical fiction to be entertaining but it should also regale me with a healthy degree of accuracy. Liberties can be taken for the sake of entertainment, so long as they are minor.
    Beautiful cover!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for your comments. The book cover is by my wife. She also created the one for a more recent book, “The Girl Who Had No Shadow”. I’ll share your compliment with her. I go to a great deal of time and trouble to make sure even the streets and stores are correct as my characters make their way through the story, trying to impart a true feel for the time and place. I’ve discovered that some who read historical fiction will pounce upon any historical error, so I try to get my story reviewed by very knowledgeable people BEFORE its actually published. (I sometimes wonder if the moniker “bad news boy” scarred me for life!) Ha.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn.
      I agree that the gumption, courage, GRIT of earlier generations seems to have filtered out of many of the folks in more recent generations. Even though the newer generations face very different challenges.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Welcome, John. Jeff and Tonette are famous for their detailed interviews. What a fascinating premise for a historical series! Best wishes for its success.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Interesting interview, Jeff. Unique questions for the author. I especially liked the one that had the “No comment” response. LOL A lot could be read into that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Denise W says:

    To answer your question – My Druthers – When reading historical fiction, I expect accurate information and language. However, should the author move or add locations, it is fine with me. Please keep today’s slang out of the 1800’s characters’ speech!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks for visiting, Denise.
      I totally agree about anachronistic language. That’s one of the things that really bother me about modern movies which are supposedly set in earlier generations or even earlier centuries.
      In my own writing (with characters from an earlier era), I sometimes have to check the etymology of terms. Often, I learn that the term is a LOT older than I imagined. Though, of course, some of the terms have changed their meaning or usage.


    • John T Babb says:

      Denise – Glad to see you use ‘my druthers’ in your comment. That kind of phraseology is common to at least some of the time frames in which I write, and particularly so to many of the people I came to know and appreciate as a kid. I once used an expression which did not yet exist in the common vernacular of that date. Thankfully, one of my beta readers – a Catholic Brother – picked up on the inaccuracy before it made its way to print.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Thanks for the interview John and Jeff. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Joan McNeill Clark (CHS class of 67) says:

    From Joan Clark
    You amaze me with your literary skills.
    I read the entire interview to realize that you have had an interesting career.
    God Bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      thanks for visiting, Joan.
      I enjoyed having John as my guest hound.


    • John T Babb says:

      Joan – Great to hear directly from you. Per your career comment – I’ve had the great fortune to be in the right place at the right time, led by, and working with, the right people. I couldn’t miss!! Hope you and yours are staying well.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Welcome Back, John Babb | Four Foxes, One Hound

  10. Pingback: More Chaos from John Babb | Four Foxes, One Hound

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