By Scott Graber
It is Thursday night and my wife and I are sitting on the carpeted, ornate balcony that overlooks the lobby at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. It is the week after Christmas and the Jefferson is full of people who are wandering — drinks in hand — through a gold and silver wonderland that reminds me, if just for a moment, of “Santaland” as described by David Sedaris in “Santaland Diaries.” We’re sitting with Lynn and Cele Seldon.
“We met in that room … you can just see the doorways coming off the lobby,” Cele says pointing down into the crowd. “It was 1992.”
“We were married a year later,” Lynn says. “In the Presidential Suite.”
Lynn and Cele are travel writers who spend most of their time on trains, planes and cruise ships. If they are not actually sailing to Juneau or Havana, they are pitching stories to magazines, newspaper editors and digital providers like the Food Network. “There is a continuing need for content,” Lynn says. “When we go someplace — a cruise down the Danube — we are constantly thinking about story ideas or what connections can be made. It’s nearly impossible for us to sit on the deck and read a book.”
Although Cele and Lynn have been a team since their marriage in 1993, Lynn got his start with Stars and Stripes (the American military newspaper) when he was a young officer in Belgium.
“I wrote a piece on Crete — then gave it to Stars and Stripes — and was astounded when they sent me a check for $50.”
After that first $50 check Lynn knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“When I got out of the army, my goal was to send out 100 ‘query letters’ every week,” he recalls. “I had an IBM Selectric and used ‘The Writer’s Market’ as my Bible. And I used a lot of White-Out.”
“You would conjure-up 15 ideas — 15 concepts for a story — every day?,” I marvel.
“Yes,” he replies.
Piedmont Airlines was interested in some of Lynn’s ideas and began to buy his compact prose for their in-flight magazine. When Piedmont merged with USAir, Lynn moved over to that magazine. When USAir merged with American … well, you get the drill. But along the way Lynn learned how to tell a compelling story in less than 1,500 words.
“There is the notion that print journalism — magazines and newspapers — are disappearing. Going the way of the buffalo,” I say.
“That’s not our opinion,” Cele replies. “Have you been to the magazine section at Barnes and Noble? The general interest magazines may be dying. But look at the niche publications — culinary magazines, for example, magazines devoted to bourbon. They’re everywhere.”
It would not be accurate to say that this writing life is entirely free from angst.
“We’ve got to be aware of what is going on with the airlines. British Air, for example, just announced twice a week non-stop service between London and Charleston,” Lynn says. “We know this connection will bring lots of new people directly into the Lowcountry. So we’re interested in British travel magazines, UK trade publications…”
“We do a lot of writing for RV associations, for AAA, for organizations that send out newsletters to a hundred thousand members,” Cele says. “Those newsletters also need content.”
In addition to their magazine writing, Lynn and Cele have written “100 Things To Do In Charleston Before You Die.” This small volume has met with remarkable success and will soon be followed by “100 Things To Do In Savannah Before Your Die.”
I didn’t meet Lynn (or Cele) until 2010, when Lynn appeared at Griffin Market — the Italian restaurant on Carteret Street. In those days, Pat Conroy, Bernie Schein, John Warley and I met for lunch every Thursday. From time to time other writers would join us.
In 2010, Lynn had decided he was going to complicate his peripatetic life and try his hand at fiction — having been encouraged to do so by Conroy. Lynn, a graduate of VMI, was then writing “Virginia’s Ring.”
Virginia’s Ring is set at the Virginia Military Institute and concerns the first women to go through the “Rat Line” at that storied military college. As it happened, Pat Conroy had written “Lords of Discipline” — and had been involved with Shannon Faulkner — so it was natural that Lynn would seek advice from a writer who had previously wandered in this particular garden.
Lynn and Cele became friendly with Sandra and Pat Conroy, visiting frequently, and eventually convinced themselves they could live in our febrile, superheated, hurricane-prone county. First they tried Port Royal — testing those waters — then rented a house on North Street. Then they found a small, live oak shaded house that backs-up to the Spanish Moss Trail.
When this couple is not writing, or cruising the Volga, they can reliably be found somewhere along the Spanish Moss Trail, daydreaming about story ideas, no doubt.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at email@example.com.