It Wasn't Exactly Writer's Block


I’m happy to announce the release of my latest book, The Cottage on Dare Lake, the second book in the Dare Lake trilogy.

Almost three years have passed without publishing a new book. My last book was released in October 2020. Sure, I wrote some new material off and on over the last few years, but I couldn’t quite push myself hard enough to complete a manuscript.

I enjoy the fiction I create. A lot. So what happened? What got in the way of my creative output? Life. That’s what happened.

So a little background. In 2020, I did the work I need to do to reactivate my CPA license, and along with that, my work hours, responsibilities, and workload increased. As I’ve said before, accounting is a skill I learned to support my writing habit. (Which, by the way, includes my traveling habit. Because I absolutely must travel to research settings for my books, right?)

On to what happened. The first big thing that stalled my writing progress was the birth of my first grandchild. I spent a lot of time in 2021 caring for my grandson. He calls me Nana.  No regrets for the hiatus during this time. Spending time bonding with my little buddy is one of the greatest joys of my life. My accounting hours took a hit. I spent less time on the job and more time with the family. No regrets. Though my writing time suffered. It was almost non-existent.

Then in 2022, as the 2021 tax season approached (As a CPA, I always lived in the past), I made a promise to my employer to make up for the previous year’s decreased hours. I worked my posterior off during the 2021 tax season, which officially ended in October 2022. BUT I still spent a lot of time with the grandson BECAUSE his mom was expecting another baby, my second grandchild, and she needed my support as the birth of grandson number 2 approached. What’s a Nana to do? I have my priorities. My writing time was once again limited because I still had that accounting job.

Years ago, I read a book about trimming the excess branches off my tree of life. You know, getting rid of things that don’t add value or meaning to your life. I was in a good spot to do some trimming as I had just reached retirement age. (Sorry, I don’t remember the name of the book any longer and a browser search didn’t help me locate it.)

In September 2022, my husband and I took a much-needed vacation to Washington state to visit Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park, which included lots of day hiking. It was a good time to reflect on my life and how it had changed, and more importantly, what my life was missing. By the time I got home and back on the accounting job, I’d made up my mind. It was time to retire. I put in my years as a CPA, and I still have priorities that don’t include surviving another tax season.

So now, I spend time with both of my grandsons and have plenty of time to write. I’ve spent more time on my hobbies, like scrapbooking and baking. After nine years of public accounting, I finally feel like my life is back in balance.


Five Things I Love About Fall

It’s Fall ya’ll, or at least, our version of it. Here in north Louisiana we have four seasons: pre-summer, summer, deep summer, and summer-isn’t-over-yet summer. Winter? What’s that? There have been times when we wore short sleeves on Christmas Day. Sure, from January through March the temperature gets a little cooler, but I can only remember once when the temperature dropped to single digits during the day. It takes very special conditions to freeze the Red River, like during the Great Freeze of December 1983.

Maybe I exaggerate (But not about the Great Freeze. We still talk about that event down here). No, I’m not exaggerating. Not at all. Sure, I’ve seen snow in June...in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. It snowed on my birthday one year. I can’t remember which year.

Fall is when the high drops from 100 degrees to 75 degrees in one day and the cooler temperature struggles to return the next day but just can’t quite beat the heat. We love this time of year because it comes as a great relief from the burning hell of summer. So Fall is here in North Louisiana. I always look forward to this day for months...and months...and months.

So in homage to Fall, here are a few things that make Fall special for me:
1.    The smell of firewood burning. We don’t really need the heat from the fireplace. It’s for ambiance. If we get chilled, we throw on another layer of clothing. That’s all we really need.
2.   The crispness of the air in the morning. As I said before, the cooler weather is a relief from the burning fire of he... I mean summer. I love to breathe in the bright, crisp air on a fall morning. I luxuriate in the smell of leaves on the ground instead of mowed grass. I’m allergic to grass clippings.
3.   Cool-weather comfort foods. It seems odd to eat chili and drink hot cocoa when the temperature is over 80 degrees. So we wait and wait until the thermometer drops to 79 or below. Then we indulge. I know it’s truly Fall when I pull out my Daddy’s chili recipe.
4.   Wearing jackets and boots. I admit it: I collect jackets. It’s an obsession. I love outerwear. I’d wear a jacket, a blazer, a cardigan, a shawl, etc., every day, all year if I could. And boots? I love pulling my booties out of the deep, dark hole where they’ve been hiding for months. I can’t wear them in the summers (yes, plural). I inherited hot feet from my Daddy.
5.   Decorating the house for Fall. This is my absolute favorite thing about Fall. My daughter comes over and helps me pull the decorations out of the still-hot attic. It gives me the feeling that Fall has arrived even if it hasn’t.
I love this time of year. I think I’ll go make myself a cup of hot apple cider.


How I Fell in Love With Day Hiking

It was 1987, and my husband and I were excited to go on our first trip together to Colorado. I’d been in love with the Rocky Mountains since I was a little girl. My parents had visited there before I was born, and I would often gaze at the pictures and postcards from their trip way back in the 1950s. Of course, by the time they took my sister and me there in the late 1970s, although some things were the same, a lot had changed. 

So my husband and I set out on our road trip. We settled into our motel in Estes Park and planned our adventure. The first full day there, we headed up Fall River Road, a trek that is only possible between July and October because the road stays covered in snow and ice for most of the year. We were so excited to be in the mountains, taking in the scenery, that we stopped at every pullout along the way.
That’s how we found the Chapin Creek Trail. We were thrilled to discover we could actually walk into the wilderness to see things we couldn’t see from the road. Our parents had never done such things when we were growing up, so we had little to no knowledge of such adventures. Both sets of parents were make-good-time sort of travelers. They weren’t dawdlers. So the idea of getting out of the car and diving deeper into the woods was a brand new concept for us. 

We started out and soon realized we were not prepared to venture into the woods. The wrong shoes. No water. We had no idea how long it would take to hike that particular trail. We were rookies. So we turned around and went back to the car with sad hearts. 
When we finally made it all the way up Fall River Road to the summit of Fall River Pass, we found the Alpine Visitor Center; and to our delight, we discovered trail maps existed for the entire park. So when we drove back into Estes Park, we bought provisions (water and trail food) for our first hike. It was getting late in the afternoon by then, so we couldn’t do any trail that was very long. We chose a short hike to Alberta Falls in the Bear Lake area of the park for our first hiking experience.
The view from the top of the falls was gorgeous. We truly felt like we were on top of the world and closer to heaven. The view seemed sharper. The air smelled fresher. Our bodies experienced the feel-good tingle of exercise. We felt connected to ourselves, to nature, to our Creator. This was when we realized we couldn’t truly see and experience the wonders of the mountains in the seat of a car. There was a whole other world off the road and down a path.
We were hooked. The next day we got to Bear Lake earlier and hiked all the way to Emerald Lake. Now, we plan trips around the possibility of day hiking. I’ve included some pictures taken during the numerous hikes we’ve done. I hope these photos will inspire you to get out of the car and discover the beauty and adventure that exists only a few miles from the road.


My NOT Bucket List

Ever since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson created a wish list of things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket, people have talked, dreamed, blogged, posted, and written about their Bucket List. But I wonder...how many people actually make a list and then go about fulfilling their dreams and living their fantasies?
Most people are too busy living every day on a get-by basis to pursue their bucket list goals. Does that mean most people have lived unsuccessful, underachieving lives? I don’t think so.
What if success is defined by not what you’ve done but what you haven’t done, or rather what you’ve avoided doing that could make your life a disastrous mess? What if a successful life is a life not filled with regret or life-changing consequences? What if the best thing you could do for yourself was to consider a NOT bucket list? Unlike an Unbucket list where you list things you’ve done that you would never do again, a NOT bucket list is a list of things you would never, ever do in a million years.
So I thought about what I’d put on a NOT bucket list. And here it is:
1.     Go to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. Why would I risk a serious miscommunication? I would end up in a foreign jail for the rest of my life. I watched Brokedown Palace. I know what kind of trouble a tourist can get into, especially if you don’t know the language and don’t know where you’re going.
2.     Go into the woods alone at night. Why would I do this willingly? Aren’t there enough horror movies that everyone should know better than to do this? Haven’t we all been warned? Anybody remember Friday the 13th? Art imitates life, doesn’t it? I would end up dead because I would trip over a large something or other and fall, probably breaking my neck. Or I would meet an ax murderer.
3.     Go skydiving. Why would I jump out of a perfectly good airplane? My parachute wouldn’t open. I know this. Deep in my heart of hearts. I don’t understand D.B. Cooper, the guy that hijacked a plane, demanded a ransom, and then jumped out of the plane with the money. There isn’t enough money in the world that would entice me to hatch that kind of plan. His body was never found. Mine wouldn’t be found either.
4.     Go back in time. Why would I want to relive this life? Redoing the good times wouldn’t be the same, and redoing the bad times wouldn’t make them any better. The good times and the bad times have made me who I am, and I’m okay with that. Besides, if I had a do-over I’d probably disrupt a time-space continuum and erase the universe...or something like that. Didn’t Marty McFly almost erase himself in Back to the Future? I don’t want to erase myself.
5.     Go swimming in shark-infested waters. Why would I want to tempt a shark to take a bite out of me? Why would I want to play tag with one? I would bump into it or it would bump into me, and I would either freak out or freeze. But whatever I would do, it wouldn’t be the one thing that I should do if I were ever to encounter a shark...whatever that one thing would be. Is there any good way to deal with a shark encounter? Probably not. That situation would not go well for me. The shark and I would not become friends. The Great White would smell my fear. It would stalk me and play with its food before doing its worst. Have you seen The Reef?
This may seem like a negative list, but really it isn’t. This list represents my deepest fears, so if I avoid things that make me fearful, I should be able to live a happier, less stressful life. The absence of negativity is positivity, right? That’s my theory anyway.
I could have made a long list of things I would like to do before I go, but I’m not going to waste my time writing lists. (Oh, okay. I know I just made a list, but it was a short list.) I’m going to spend my time reaching for my dreams and pushing toward my goals. Living my life to the fullest in every moment is the only item on my bucket list.


Adventures In Charleston, South Carolina

I needed ideas and inspiration. River Road Hauntings was complete, but I didn't want the Haunted Hearts series to end. So where could I take my readers next? The next locale for the series had to be a setting rich in history and potential ghost activity.

Charleston, South Carolina, of course.

Aerial view from the eighth floor of The Francis Marion Hotel looking
south down King Street. © Denise Moncrief
So I asked my wonderful assistant, Katy, if she would join me on my adventure, and off we flew for a very quick three-day weekend. We arrived late on Friday night, exhausted from a multi-leg flight to Charleston. It was the smoothest and easiest airport/flight experience I've ever encountered.

On the flight from Charlotte NC to Charleston.  © Denise Moncrief

Thank goodness for my wonderful assistant. She was up for anything I wanted to do on this trip. And we walked our butts off. In the heavy humidity. And we drank lots of water because it was hotter than Hades. What were we thinking booking our trip for the weekend before July 4th?

We stayed at the Francis Marion Hotel at the corner of King and Calhoun. The hotel was first opened in 1924. Although the furnishing had been modernized, the hotel still felt like an old, elegant hotel.

The lobby of the Francis Marion Hotel. © Denise Moncrief

Our first task on Saturday morning was to find a brunch place. The first restaurant we tried was Virginia's on King. Be aware that Virginia's requires reservations for breakfast, which we didn't have. So onward we trekked north on King and found Callie's Hot Little Biscuit.

Callie's is a very narrow shop front, really narrow, with a kitchen along one wall and a few barstools against a bar along the other wall. Very crowded. Most patrons ordered their biscuits to go, and we did as well. My bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit was the best I've ever had. The biscuits are made fresh and are very light and tasty. I highly recommend Callie's for an on-the-go breakfast.

After we had filled our tummies, we headed south down King Street toward Charleston City Market.

Charleston City Market. © Denise Moncrief

As you might be able to see from the above photo, the market was established in 1807. The building is long and narrow and went on for several city blocks. One building would end, we'd cross a street, and the next building would begin. The market is full of both touristy type items as well as locally made arts, crafts, and jewelry. Katy and I both bought a pair of unusual earrings that could either be worn dangling or nestled in the ridges of the outer ear. We enjoyed our shopping experience so much that we went back on Sunday morning after brunch.

Our next destination was Folly Beach. The popular beach area is located 26 miles south of Charleston. Since we went on a holiday weekend, the main intersection was jammed with both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. It was nearly impossible to find a parking place close to the hub of everything, but we finally found a restaurant a block or two away with parking available for customers only.

My lovely assistant Katy at Washout. © Denise Moncrief
The Washout is an open-air restaurant, and we could imagine the place hopping with bar business at night. Katy ordered a hamburger, and I ordered jerk chicken and tomato pie. I'd never had tomato pie before. Oh, my God, I fell in love.

Jerk chicken, tomato pie, and cole slaw at Washout. © Denise Moncrief

Once again, we had appeased our hunger, so we headed out in search of a parking spot near a beach access and lucked upon a spot right next to the walkway out to the beach.

Folly Beach. © Denise Moncrief

Already tired from a busy day, we headed back to the historic district and decided to drive down the peninsula to gawk at the houses south of Broad. We started at the Battery and worked our way north. This gave us a nice introduction to the walking tour we planned for Sunday morning.

After our gawking, we went back to the Francis Marion for a bit of a rest because we knew we were about to do more walking.

Our next adventure was a guided ghost tour in the French Quarter area of Charleston. I found the tour a bit schmaltzy and the tour guide eccentric (which only added to the fun of the adventure), but despite the somewhat cheesy nature of the tour, the adventure gave me what I craved: inspiration for the new book series. Sadly, I saw no ghosts and captured no apparitions on camera, but I really didn't think that I would.

St. Michaels on Broad. Haunted or not? Our tour guide thought so. © Denise Moncrief
After our walking tour, we searched for a place to eat along King Street and were disappointed to find that most restaurants along King close up around nine on Saturday night. We finally found Mod Pizza. Mod is a build your own pizza joint. I ordered a large--my eyes were bigger than my stomach--with regular pizza sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, mushrooms, and roasted garlic. Very tasty. But I couldn't eat it all. I'd recommend getting the smaller size if your appetite isn't that big.

Sausage, mushroom, and garlic pizza from Mod Pizza at
the corner of King and Calhoun. © Denise Moncrief

We slept well that night. The next morning, we took our time getting out the door.

Our first stop was Slightly North of Broad for brunch. I highly, highly recommend SNOB for brunch. I ordered shrimp and grits, and Katy ordered French toast with Red Harbor maple rum syrup and walnut streusel. Both dishes were excellent. We both ordered a Mimosa, which we both enjoyed. Considering the socio-economic history of that part of Charleston, I do think the name of the restaurant was slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Brunch at Slightly North of Broad. © Denise Moncrief

After brunch, we found a parking lot closer to the market and hit it again. Of course, we needed to bring back souvenirs for those that we left back home.

We spent the rest of the morning on a walking tour of the area South of Broad. We parked on East Bay and passed the magnificent Rainbow Row on our way down the peninsula.

Rainbow Row, Charleston, SC. © Denise Moncrief.

The houses in the district were even more beautiful than the pictures I'd been drooling over ever since I started planning this trip. The tour was worth the time spent walking in the heat and humidity to get an up-close view of some of the city's oldest homes.

I'm going to leave a few pictures below from the walking tour.

© Denise Moncrief

© Denise Moncrief

© Denise Moncrief

For our final adventure before we headed toward the airport, we drove out to Sullivan's Island to take a tour of Fort Moultrie. The island is 28 miles east of Charleston over the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. We would have liked to tour Fort Sumter, but the tour would have taken two and a half hours. We didn't have that much time to spare on a short, fast weekend. The tour of Fort Moultrie gave us an insight into the harbor defense of the area throughout the history of Charleston.

We left Charleston knowing that we wanted to return. Even though there was so much we'd left unseen and undone, I considered the trip a success. I boarded the plane home brimming with ideas for the new book series.

So...be on the lookout for the new series. I'm titling it Carolina Hauntings, and I'm excited to begin development of the series premise and the book plots. I'll keep you posted.

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