This is the first in a three-part series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Ella Wood.
Part of the fun of writing historical fiction is research, and this time I was able to combine it with pleasure. My husband agreed to celebrate our 18th anniversary in Charleston, South Carolina, the setting of my newest book, Ella Wood. What a fun, fabulous trip! One I’d recommend to anyone looking for a great city to explore. Blessed with temps in the high sixties (In December! We Michiganians were loving it!), we stayed two nights in the historic district. And when I say historic district, I’m talking about 1-1/2 or 2 square miles. Charleston is located on a peninsula that juts out into the harbor where two major rivers converge. The historic district takes up the entire tip. The 1855 map I’ve included should give you a good idea.
We spent those first two days just walking around, familiarizing ourselves with the layout of the town, locating significant historical sites (many settings in my book), and admiring the architecture. Fabulous architecture. Street after street after street of it. Many of the homes date back to antebellum–even colonial–times. It felt like we could have been walking around in 1860 if it weren’t for the cars. City building codes are very specific about keeping the historic feel. Only one towering condo slipped in before the law that prohibits building above a particular height. With the low skyline, church steeples are predominant on the horizon.
The third night we spent on Charleston’s north side where we were within an easy drive of Middleton Place, plantation home of the historically significant and politically active Middleton family. (Also the site of the garden party in Mel Gibson’s “Patriot”.) Several guided tours familiarized us with the family and gave us a good look at the lifestyle on a plantation. Fabulous guides answered dozens of my questions. And the gardens provided plenty of plant names that made their way into my book.
We also got to see the river tides change, miles upriver from the ocean. (Tides were important in the production of lowland rice. At the appropriate time, gates in the dikes along the river were opened, and the heavier salt water pushed the fresh water up to flood the rice fields.) I jotted down lots of notes, lots of pictures, and lots of impressions. We even got a good look at a family of alligators who call the lawn home.
We spent an afternoon on Sullivan Island, just across the river from Charleston. We toured an aircraft carrier docked in the harbor (hubby’s choice), ate at a great BBQ place, and stood in Fort Moultrie where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.
Our last two nights we stayed at a bed and breakfast at Mansfield, a privately owned plantation an hour north of Charleston. They have a fabulous website that I had visited several times during my research–which is actually how the idea for the trip began. Several of the outbuildings have been remodeled into guest quarters. We stayed in the old kitchen house. Kathy, the host who lives on site, was wonderfully gracious, and golly could she cook! The B&B was secluded, quiet, with lots of acreage to roam. We just had to watch out for alligators on the path that ran along the river and through the rice fields-turned-bird sanctuary. A perfect way to wind down after lots of active tourist time. And when the weather turned sour, we relaxed with a movie or two.
In conclusion, it was a great look at the area I’ve been researching for several months and the best anniversary ever. I’m not sure how to top it. Maybe I’ll set my next novel in Scotland? 🙂
I’ll end with a few more pics.
Next post: the abolitionist Grimke Sisters.
Ella Wood: Charleston, Here We Come!