Raised in Bloomfield Hills and educated in Birmingham schools, Paul Vachon is the embodiment of a longtime metro Detroit resident whose interests and heart belong to the city and its outer suburbs, as reflected in his latest book: "Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline."
The book traces the 300-year timeline of Detroit's history, from a French trading post to its fall to the British during the War of 1812 and beyond, as well as some of the lesser known people and happenings that formed Detroit and its suburban areas.
"There's a lot of material covering a wide swath of history," said Vachon, who has written two previous books, "Forgotten Detroit” and "Lost Restaurants of Detroit," for Arcadia Press. "Any city when it gets large enough gets quite complex and the history of that forms its records. If that's not written down, it gets lost."
Vachon's writing has also appeared in Crain's Detroit Business, HOUR Detroit, the History Channel Magazine and other publications. He has written two guidebooks about Michigan and its Upper Peninsula as well as two other books, one on south Oakland County and another on legendary locals of Detroit.
A graduate of Sacred Heart Seminary College in Detroit, Vachon worked in retail for two decades before jumping careers as an author. When the recession hit in 2008, Vachon decided to gravitate toward his interest in writing and local history. He pitched his first book, "Forgotten Detroit" to Arcadia which leapt at the book, leading to other book deals.
"I was fortunate that the publisher is open to dealing with first-time authors. They have a link to an application online where they ask for an idea and so forth. My idea was to write a book of themes of Detroit history that were lesser known," he said. "They called back and said they didn't want to do it. They thought it was too academic. I pitched it again, revising it... that's been one of the most successful books they have ever done. After that, we had a good rapport."
While authors typically find landing a deal one of their biggest challenges, Reedy Press approached Vachon on his latest endeavor, pitching the illustrated timeline project, similar to ones it had published in other major cities.
"It was an enormous amount of work. Much more than I had anticipated," Vachon said. "Promoting it has been even more work. It's a very substantial book."
"Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline," is a compilation of texts ranging from 100 to 300 words assembled in chronological order and broken into chapters, each telling the story of a particular event in Detroit's past, and each leading to subsequent events.
"For example, the very poor race relations that festered throughout Detroit in the 19th century carried into the 20th century," he said. "During the Civil War, in 1863, there was an incident in an area that was known as the Black Bottom area. So it was the bitterness from that experience that created racial animosities that grew over time," he said. "That's a major theme that I emphasize in the book."
While the latest work focuses mainly on the city itself, Vachon's other works illustrate the connections that helped form the entire area. It's that connection that guides his approach to writing and the end result.
"It really takes a local," he said. "There are exceptions, but you have to write what you know."
Photo: Laurie Tennent