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.


Why I Pulled the Plug On My Twitter Account

True confession time. I didn’t create my Twitter account for the purpose of social interaction. There, I said it...or um...wrote it. No, I opened the account for the purpose of selling books. I know. That isn’t something I’m supposed to admit. My presence on social media is supposed to be all about developing relationships, isn’t it? But the honest to God truth is that most authors were on Twitter for the purpose of selling books, and so was I.
When I published my first short story through a now-defunct, small Canadian publisher, one of the first things I did was create a Twitter account for my author profile. Back then, an author was expected to establish a social media presence. That’s what authors did, especially new ones. I still see authors and publishers pushing book promos through social media, so I guess it’s still a thing to do, but I started questioning the effectiveness of marketing books through free social media a long time ago.
Sure, when I first signed on, I met some interesting people through Twitter. That was back when being on Twitter was new and authors actually hung out on their Twitter feed. There was some real-time social interaction. I still maintain some of those early connections I made on Twitter through Facebook.
As the number of people I followed grew, so did the speed of the tweets flying through my feed. There were too many to keep up with, and I couldn’t hang onto one of them long enough to start a conversation.
The people I met were other authors. I never once made a connection with a reader or book blogger through Twitter. Never. I followed authors, and authors followed me. So when I pushed my books over Twitter, I was peddling them to people who were doing the same thing I was doing. Were we even paying attention to each other’s tweets any longer? I don’t think so.
Then, the inevitable happened. I discovered there was a way to automate my Twitter feed. Twitter automation killed real-time interaction amongst authors. I wasn’t there. Just the tweets I had scheduled at the beginning of the week. When I signed on, there was no else there either. Just their tweets. One time, I tweeted, “Is there anybody out there?” I got no answer.
This exercise in futility didn’t sell books. It didn’t gain me any new readers. It didn’t foster new relationships. It was a waste of time. I stopped automating. I stopped popping into Twitter to see what was going on. My feed died from neglect. I almost forgot Twitter existed.
Now, I know there is social interaction on Twitter. I read about it in the news. Every day someone tweets something that someone else disagrees with or finds offensive, and the tweet receives a flurry of angry tweets in reply.
I don’t want anything to do with what spews forth from angry, hateful people on Twitter. For me, use of the medium has lost its intended purpose, and I don’t want to wander into the swamp of dissension that hangs out in other places on Twitter outside of author-land.

So bye-bye, Twitter. I wish I could say it’s been nice knowing you, but for the most part, you’ve been a pain in the butt.


I'm Not Mary Sue. My Name Is Denise.

Her name is Mary Sue. She’s a time and space traveler, zipping from book to book, scene to scene, unmindful of physics. The woman is disdained throughout the literary world because Mary Sue is a thinly-veiled representation of the author. She appears when the author interjects a little too much of herself into her characterization.

I'm not Mary Sue. My name is Denise.

My life is not entertaining enough or adventurous enough to be at the center of a suspense story. My characters are so much more than I am. I try to write them stronger, smarter, braver, fiercer, sassier, bolder, more flawed, more compassionate, more sensitive, more emotional, more impulsive, more conflicted, and so much more interesting than me. None of them are perfect.

So when a reviewer assumes the thoughts and opinions of the character are my thoughts and opinions, I’m disappointed and dismayed. Actually, I’m a little bit wounded. How could someone who doesn’t know me assume I’m that shallow, mean, cold-hearted, stupid, uninformed, disrespectful, immature etc.?

One review, in particular, has gnawed at me for years. I've considered responding, but responding to reviews is considered a really bad no-no. So I've kept my angst to myself all these years.

First, let me say I have a tremendous amount of respect for law enforcement officers and I believe most of them are trying to do the job right. So... Just because I write a bad cop character doesn’t mean I think all cops are bad. Just because I write an innocent ex-convict character doesn’t mean I think all convicted felons are great guys. No, I don’t think all police officers treat victims of violence as horrible as the detective character treated my heroine.

I started writing because I didn't want to read about one more perfect hero or heroine. Human beings are not clones, and characters in books shouldn't be either.

If I didn’t write flawed characters, if all my characters were wonderful pristine people, if they all conformed to stereotype, my characters would be dull and flat, lifeless, and boring. 

Maybe I should put a disclaimer at the beginning of each book:

The opinions expressed in this book are the characters’ own and do not always reflect the views of the author.

As strange as this might sound, I don’t always agree with my characters. I don’t always approve of their behavior. I don’t always think like they do. I don’t always behave as they would. Sometimes, they say things I wouldn’t say. Sometimes, they do things I wouldn’t do. Actually, most of the time, they don’t act or react like I would at all.

I’m not my characters. I’m not Mary Sue.


Reading Through the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge

Image Source: Popsugar Photography
   Every writer began his or her career as a reader.
   In the last few years, I haven’t done as much reading as I used to do. Actually, since I began publishing my work in 2012, I haven’t made time to read anything but my own manuscripts. This year, I challenged myself to read more books in a variety of genres. I happened upon the Popsugar Challenge.

   As I go through the list, I’ll update this post with my impressions of the books I’ve read. They will be listed in reverse order with the last book I read showing at the top of the list.

  Prompt 2

    True Crime -- In Plain    Sight by Kathryn Casey

  Review to come

  Prompt 6

    A novel based on a real    person -- The Black    Dahlia by James Ellroy

  Review to come.

  Prompt 7

    A book set in a country   that fascinates you -- The   Cockroach by Jo Nesbo

  Review to come.

  Prompt 5

    Nordic Noir - The Bat by Jo Nesbo.

  I loved the dark and gritty tone of this book. Sometimes the pacing was a bit off and the dialog seemed contrived. Between the plodding plot, the side stories, and the Australian cliches, I caught glimpses of potential. The writer was able to suspend my disbelief enough to keep me engaged.

I found myself rooting for the alcoholic, self-destructive main character, Harry Hole, despite his many, many character flaws. Harry may have had an unusually effective method of solving a crime, but his inadequacies as a law enforcement officer were numerous and his defiant I'm-going-to-do-it-my-way attitude was potentially career destroying. It appears solving the crime was enough to keep him employed because he continues to work as a detective in the next book in the series. If you're looking for gritty realism, this may not be the book for you.

Although Harry is from Norway and quite a bit of the series is set there, the setting of this first book in the series is in Australia, a country that has always fascinated and enticed me. I didn't get enough of the culture and climate of Australia to satisfy my need for descriptive information about the country or its people.

I liked the first book enough to read book two and three, effectively sidetracking me from sticking to the Popsugar challenge list. I'd give The Bat three and a half stars. It kept my attention but occasionally aggravated the snot out of me as a writer reading someone else's work.

  Prompt 4

    A book involving a heist -- The Wanted by Robert Crais

  This was my first read by Robert Crais. I enjoyed the plot, pacing, and characters. My favorite character was actually Joe Pike rather than the main character Elvis Cole.
  It wasn't a heavy read, very light and quick. Nothing that made me think too hard or too much. Just right for a lazy day's entertainment.
  It's a story of unintended consequences, and I like that kind of book. The Wanted had me hooked from the start, and I would like to read more of Crais's work. However, I felt the ending was rushed. I needed a little more closure.

I give the book four stars.

Prompt 3

  The next book in a series you started – Return to Tradd Street by Karen White

  This is the fourth book in the Tradd Street series. I really enjoyed books one and two. The ending of book three was rather disappointing. Book four drags the Melanie/Jack relationship out to its ultimate happy-for-now conclusion. I wouldn’t call this a happily-ever-after sort of book. This couple still has relationship issues, which I understand continue to cause them problems in book five. I’m not sure I’ll read book five. I think I want to leave Melanie and Jack right where they are.
  White’s series is paranormal romance. Actually, this series, along with Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series, inspired me to write paranormal suspense. So, as you can imagine, I enjoyed reading the haunting scenes. Interwoven with the ghost story was a nice mystery to resolve. White wrapped up both the mystery and the ghost story satisfactorily for me.
  The Tradd Street books are not by any means an intense read. If the reader can get past Melanie’s annoying personality and Jack’s obliviousness to the obvious, this book is a fun read. The book was a refreshing departure from the serious content of the previous two books I read.

  I give Return to Tradd Street four stars because the author gets a bit redundant in describing Melanie’s annoying habits and her continued lack of self-esteem. White needs to grow the woman up a bit. She’s had four books to accomplish some character growth, and Melanie is still whiny and irritating.

 Prompt 8

   A book with a time of day in the title – Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

   Midnight is not a true crime story in the accepted definition of the genre. Rather it is a real-life event portrayed in a fictionalized manner. Sometimes it seemed a bit too fictionalized and a bit too literary. The story suffered from lack of the grit of a documentary exposition of a murder. A true murder story should show blood on the page. To be fair, the book is listed on Amazon under Customs and Traditions rather than True Crime.
   The author spent the first part of the book doing in-depth character sketches of eccentric personalities who lived in Savannah, Georgia, at the time of the Danny Hansford murder. By the time part two began and the author dove into the murder and its aftermath, I had almost given up on reading anything at all about the crime. The central event in the book, the murder, was secondary to the unnamed narrator’s impressions of the people of Savannah. I wanted to know about the murder and all its gory details. I didn’t get my true crime fix.
  Midnight attempted an in-depth analysis of the socially inbred culture of a town that had for all intents and purposes isolated itself from the rest of the world. The author exposes his perceptions of the ugliness underneath the polished veneer of Savannah society, but then he glosses it over as if to say, “That’s just Savannah being Savannah.”
  I give the book four stars. Sometimes the excessive characterization bogged down the narrative. Underneath the in-depth analysis of Savannah society, there was, after all, a murder story that was dying to be told.

  Prompt 1

  A book on which a movie I’ve watched was based – Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

  I expected so much from this book because I enjoyed the movie. Now, I look back on my movie-going experience and I wonder why I did. Maybe I don’t remember the movie quite as well as I thought I did.
  So much about this book and its characterization disturbs me. I think the author meant for the heavy premise to be softened by the antics and eccentricities of the Ya-Yas. On the surface, this would appear to be a chick book about the never-ending loyalty of a group of eccentric friends. Not so. I found it to be a book about a grown woman caving in to her demanding mother in exchange for some grudging affection. The book was more about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship than the power of healthy friendships. The ending left me unsatisfied.
  Possibly the most annoying thing about the book was the author’s word choices. I’m from Louisiana. I’ve lived here all my life, and I can tell you for a fact that ya’ll is not spelled yall without an apostrophe. Never has been; never will be. No self-respecting Louisianan would call the small, red crustacean a crayfish. About the only thing authentic about Louisiana was the author’s description of the unbearable humidity in...well, most of the year.

  Don’t even get me started on the contrived dialog. No one in real life banters like Sidda and her friends or Vivi and the Ya-Yas. The dialog sounded like it came straight out of an old Hollywood movie.
  I give the book two and a half stars. It kept my attention, but I grumbled a lot while I read it. I found nothing at all divine about the Ya-Yas or their secrets.
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