Charleston, SC Time to Return to LA

Well, it seems my Charleston trip has suddenly been cut short. My mother is going into the hospital for a test that requires her to be knocked out for a while. Obviously she’ll be too loopy to drive and take care of my diabetic father who just had a stroke a while back, so I’m leaving my beloved Charleston tomorrow morning at first light for Monroe. (12-14 hour drive). Then I’ll spend the night there, wash some clothes and be off to Oklahoma sometime Wednesday. I’ll take Mother to the doctor for this inpatient business, spend the night, make sure she’s okay, and then be back on my way back to Monroe on Friday. Ah, the duties (and as Jong says, “the perils”) of primogeniture.

I plan on returning Friday because this Saturday I have some out of town band business I must attend to in Mississippi, so I’ll have a short drive and will spend the night in a hotel. Must figure out how I can contact my friends in the area so we can get together for a couple of hours. I’ve learned that while traveling there’s no guarrantee of having wireless service, thus I can’t promise when I’ll post on my blog again. I still have much I want to say about my Charleston trip.

Fort Sumter (Continued)

Fort Sumter II

When we docked at the island fort, after receiving behavior from the rangers, we disembarked. I meandered through the fort, poking my head through the gun-holes and sighting down the barrel toward the detained Egyptian ship we had passed. I know the detained Egyptian sailors on board may be pissed, for they are truly victims of legal issues beyond their control, but imagine how the hundreds of arrested Northerners felt during the War Between the States when Lincoln suspended the right of Habeas Corpus. (Shades of Patriot Laws!) He really did that. In all, Lincoln arrested about 13,000 IN THE NORTH under martial law. It seems he was not open-minded about some things. I think 200 of them were newspaper editors who criticized him. Here’s a site where you can read Lincoln’s and Secretary of State Seward’s proclamation of that sad decision:

Of course, my view from the fort could only be partial. Fort Sumter was once much higher, with three levels—now it has only one. A good bit remains considering it was first pounded by the Confederates, followed by an extended pounding by the Federals, then by years of neglect, then remodeled a bit when it served as a WWII fort. I thought about the 400 or so Confederates stationed here during the war, and wondered how they stood it. I strolled through the museum, found a water fountain, then climbed as high as I could legally. I studied the sailboat regatta/beach party. I wandered through the tiring tourists. Within ten minutes of disembarking, some had already made their way back to the ferry. I stepped outside the fort to the smoking area, then because it was low tide, I strolled the beach. Returning inside the fort, I pestered the ranger with more questions. He seemed eager to talk, and as I said, was fairly knowledgeable. Five minutes before departure time, I joined the other passengers on the ferry. As we sailed back to the National Monument dock, I reflected on the trip, and I noticed that I hadn’t spoken to anyone other than the Tennessee worker and the rangers. That’s really not like me. I tend to be more gregarious and initiate conversations, but I guess at times I need introspective days like that, returning to that solitude that a writer must have.

I’ve got more words than I can put down tonight, more things I want to say about my Charleston trip. I’ve had a good bit of solitude the past few days. Maybe it worked.

Allusions: A Poem

Here is the first draft of a new poem I wrote this trip.


Allusions . . .
Points of reference to the past
To literature and art, to people and places.
Allusions are essential to create meaning,
Enhancing symbolism, setting a tone or theme,
Some are obtuse, literary dead ends,
Others are ambiguous,
Subject to supposition, requiring
Knowledge or investigation of the source
To feel or understand their purpose.

Women are like good books,
Full of complex allusions,
Requiring a close, and
Sometimes, a second reading.
Yesterday, I saw a stream,
A collage of beautiful women—
The freckle-faced lady with
Long strawberry blonde hair,
The olive-skinned ingénue
Showing legs and cleavage,
The Siren in a halter shirt
With the beautiful bare back,
The slim beauty with the long flowing skirt
That the wind twice teased up to her thong—
In the past, I would have studied them individually,
Now I look only to find points of reference,
To form mental images of comparison,
I read them as I read allusions,
The true meaning behind my noticing them is
Found somewhere else.
I think only of you,
You are the point of reference.

Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter

I found a parking lot near the Charleston aquarium and walked to the Fort Sumter National Monument. I purchased my fourteen-dollar ticket and strolled through the facility. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quote of Abraham Lincoln clearly stating his racial prejudice. It must be puzzling to recent generations who have incorrectly been taught that prejudice existed only in the South and did not exist in the North. And from Saint Lincoln, of all people! Well, I digress—back to my subject.

I waited for the ferry, The Spirit of Charleston, and chatted with a young, cute, and vibrant female park worker from Tennessee. She had only been working there a month and had not learned much about the fort or the Civil War yet. After I boarded, she waved to me. I returned her wave, thinking I would have liked to have known what brought her here. School? Work? Wanderlust?

I found the straw-hat wearing rangers more conversant and knowledgeable. I asked many questions, and refrained from expressing my opinion on Southern issues as I asked them.
The rangers were sympathetic to the city’s suffering during the war, but not exactly pro-South. But then, how could you even get a job as a National Parks interpreter if you were pro-South?

From the bow of the ferry, I could see the fort—3.2 miles out in the harbor. The Charleston peninsula is bordered by the Ashley River on one side and the Cooper on the other (the Park’s side). I had my writing pad and my binoculars—the only pair I saw—but I had forgotten my camera, so I scribbled everything down I could notice. With my ten-power binoculars, I studied the island fort that I had not seen in nearly twenty years. The island the fort rested on was manmade, from 70,000 tons of granite imported from either New England or England. The fort itself was constructed with 7-10 million bricks made on local plantations.

According to the Ranger, we had about 350 passengers on this one trip. At fourteen dollars a head, I can see how this little ferry trip to this piece of history had become a money cow to the government. Not all the passengers were as excited as I was. I heard more than one passenter say, “Is this really going to take two hours?” It seemed like simple math to me. One half-hour ferry trip there, one hour on the island, and another half-hour back. There would be water and bathrooms, and it was a nice day. The trip seemed like a bargain to me. What’s a couple of hours when you can learn and walk on history? Oddly, the foreigners on board seemed most excited.

The ferry ride alone was worth the trip. It was the first time I had been on seawater since 1990 (another story). We were told to sit. As I had seen passengers at the bow on the incoming ferry, I didn’t. I stood alone at the bow at first, but after a few minutes found myself surrounded with other passengers. The wind increased, and I had to fasten my ball cap to my wrist with its Velcro strap. The wind tore at the pages of my notebook so hard I had to stop writing. I have LONG hair, and soon it was flying out of the ponytail holder and going wild. I must have looked like a madman, which I admit to being on occasion.

As the ferry chugged its way across the bay, I saw several porpoises and flocks of floating and flying gulls. Occasionally a gull would crash dive into the water like a kamikaze pilot. For all that trouble, I hope it got a fish. There was a herd of sailboats anchored around Morris Island, where the soldiers in the earth and log Fort Wagner (subject of the movie Glory) had annihilated the 54th Mass. The flotilla was too far out for me to observe in detail even with my binoculars, but it looked like they had a giant beach party going. Behind us was the new Cooper River Bridge, a cable stay bridge designed to last for a hundred years. The supporting cables are hung from diamond design towers, and from a distance in the sunlight, the bridge looks like its supporting two giant sails. You can see and read about the bridge here:

We also passed the Edco, an Egyptian cargo ship that is being held prisoner in Charleston Harbor over some legal matters. The government is not allowing any of the more than two-dozen crewmembers to come ashore since they do not have visas. I think they cargo they came in with was salt from Chile. They’ve been there since June, but they may have a long wait. The last time this happened to a ship and crew in Charleston Harbor was in the 90’s. They sat there for about two years. You can read about the Edco’s predicament here:′

After a wonderful thirty-minute choreographed ride listening to the recorded lecture, we docked at Fort Sumter. I’ll give part two of this soon. Tomorrow morning I’m going on a walking Civil War tour. I’ll let you know about that little walk too.

Charleston, SC

Yesterday morning I rose at 6 am and drove to Folly Island. I was looking for a place to metal detect, but I found none—the island was much more built up than when I lived here in the 80’s. Incredible. Charleston was one of the richest cities in the New World, and it still has signs of having a rather healthy economy.

Then I went to C.S.A. galleries in North Charleston. A fantastic store—full of artwork and a wide array of Southern clothing, souvenirs, and Confederate items. They agreed to carry my book, Stories of the Confederate South. They are in the process of moving, but if you’re in Charleston you should look them up. I bought a South Carolina flag, a ball cap with the crescent moon and palm tree on it, and a Wales flag bumper sticker. I’ll place the sticker on my Toyota truck next to my Real Men Wear Kilts sticker.

From that store, I moved on to downtown Charleston. I spent twenty minutes searching for a parking place. I finally found a pay lot near the market. Charleston is full of tourists this time of year it seems. I walked up to Calhoun Street and left materials at the Charleston library, then moved on to the Confederate Museum, then to The Old Heritage Shop below in the market area, presenting my book and getting them to take orders. Though I saw a lot of neat stuff—like the baskets woven by the Gullah from palmetto and sweet grass—I settled for a tee shirt that read, SC Standing Alone Against Northern Aggression Since 1861.

After strolling through the market, I drove to another parking lot at Liberty Square so I could take the Fort Sumter tour (the rates are higher than the meters where you can only park for an hour, but they are not New York City parking rates for sure). I’ll write about the Fort Sumter trip next entry.

Charleston, SC

Tonight, I’m in Charleston, SC. I lived here 1987-88. It’s my favorite city in the whole world. My hotel tonight is a Day’s Inn on Montague in North Charleston. I would have posted last night in Conyers GA, but either the Holiday Inn’s wireless service was not compatible with my iBook, or I just have much to learn about MACmatics and technical issues. I did call the hotel tech service for help, but he was unable to explain why I couldn’t connect. I’m sure it’s something simple I’m missing. Just another case of my ignorance showing. I’ve made a resolution to learn more about MACs and wireless, as it seems I’ll be traveling a good bit this next year.

Back to Charleston: The last time I was here was for the funeral of the Hunley crew. I need to record a blog entry on that event and get some pics up. I’ve missed this city–the smell of the marsh, the ocean, the beach, the palm trees and giant oaks, the plantation houses and museums. Tomorrow, I plan on visiting Folly Island, perhaps looking for some Civil War relics with my metal detector. I also want to see the battery–that part of Charleston is the most beautiful city in the world to me and is the epitome of the South. The houses in that old part of Charleston, are truly (and by design) hurricane resistant. I think Charleston is a tough city. Even weeks of Yankee bombardment couldn’t conquer Charleston during the Civil War. I have a huge framed photo of Charleston in my study. It was a gift from a friend I loved greatly. Sometimes I look at that photo and I crave living in Charleston again. A part of me wants to say, “You don’t have to go back to Louisiana. Just stay here and write.” It’s tempting.

In a few minutes, I’m going to look through the hotel’s phonebook and some tourist books I collected on my way here. Perhaps I’ll find some bookstores to pitch my book, Stories of the Confederate South. I’ll at least resurrect some memories, perhaps some ghosts. I think a writer could do well in Charleston. Certainly, there would be no shortage of writing ideas here. But I don’t think it’s ideas I need. I just need to make myself sit down longer and write more.

Book Signings

It seems interest in Stories of the Confederate South is increasing. I’m on my way to Oklahoma, and it looks like a busy week promoting my new collection of short stories. I’ve got a TV interview Tuesday on KXII in Sherman Texas, an interview on a local radio station in Durant, Oklahoma, then a two-day signing (July 14-15) at Roby’s Hallmark also in Durant. I had such great success when I was there a few years ago with my first novel. I’m confident I will sell a lot of books. By the way, I have an order form I’ve made that meets Booklocker’s standards. It gives the bookstores quick reference information. Make it easy on stores to order your books. If you write me, ( I’ll send it to you so you can have a model to promote your own books.

After I return from Oklahoma either late Saturday or Sunday, I have a radio interview in Monroe, Louisiana, then a signing at the Lincoln Parish library in Ruston, Tuesday night, July 18, at 6:30. I’m picking up more business cards and setting up orders and a signing at the Ouchita Parish library on my way out of town this morning.

Sometimes I cringe at the amount of work and shamelessness required to promote one’s work, but I’ve read enough biographies of writers to know that I’m not alone in this. For example, Presently, I’m reading Erica Jong’s The Devil at Large, about Henry Miller. He’s an examplel of how self-promotion can pay off. Anyway, if you have any interest at all in Henry Miller, I’d encourage you to read that book.

Detail in Fiction

I just finished reading the English Patient. I know–I’m late getting to it. At least my “to read” list is one shorter. I enjoyed it tremendously. As a writer, I was most intrigued by how he presented the men who explored, mapped, and were devoured by the desert. I like fiction like this–the book was sensual, engaging, and the researched details fascinating. I think Ondaatie’s acknowledgements is the finest model of how to do that I’ve seen. In short, it was a read that moved me and informed me. That makes for good fiction.

The Civil War Writer

My next nonfiction book has a working title of The Civil War Writer with 100 Story Starters for the Fiction Writer. The idea came about as a result of my research for my collection of short stories, Stories of the Confederate South. You can see the link to the book on this page. The book should be of great benefit to anyone who likes to write historical fiction. The main sections will include: Why the Civil War appeals to readers, some common pitfalls to avoid in writing about the Civil War, how to do research on the Civil War, a glossary, and of course, the stoy ideas themselves. I have been a collector of stories, anecdotes, and facts (some of them VERY unusual, thus lending themselves to writing some unique fiction about them). Hopefully, I will have it completed sometime this summer. One of the true values of fiction is that it speaks to the heart and to human experience. There was so much emotion before, during, and after the War Between the States that I don’t think we’ll ever get it all down. I know I’ve collected so stories I’ll never get to, and perhaps the b ook will help some writers. I do know that they are stories that need to be told, and that they are stories waiting to be written.