It was 2004. I was forty-five years old. During most of my 20s and 30s I had written several novels (unpublished and mostly unfinished.) In 2001 I became a city of Charleston tour guide and began to immerse myself in the city’s history, reading almost every book written about Charleston. Some were entertaining, most were factual, and many were often boring. I began to compile my favorite tidbits from all these books and other sources. You know: prominent powerful gentleman gets caught in a compromising circumstance; cross-dressing socialite throws a debutante ball for two chihuahuas; a whorehouse operates out of a service station (from the back seat of a car on a lift) in the middle of the historic district – kind of like an antebellum TMZ.
One day, a fellow tour guide was reading through my computer notes and asked, “How many pages of this stuff do you have?” I looked. It was about 50,000 words. He suggested, “You ought to write a book.”
Bam! Light bulb! It had never dawned on me to write something other than fiction. In less than three months (discounting the three years I spent reading and compiling my notes) I had written a 70,000 word manuscript titled Wicked Charleston. The first publisher I queried, The History Press, bought it.They requested I turn the manuscript into two volumes, so after another month of work I had two books finished, Wicked Charleston: The Dark Side of the Holy City and Wicked Charleston, Volume 2: Prostitutes, Politics and Prohibition.
My goal with the Wicked books was to write a “good parts” version of Charleston history. I took inspiration from one of my favorite novels of all time by one of the best writers of the past 50 years, William Goldman’s 1973 classic, The Princess ride. Those who are familiar with the novel (as opposed to those only familiar with the equally classic movie based on the novel) know that Goldman’s novel was the “good parts” version of a rather turgid old-fashioned satirical romance written by someone named S. Morgenstern. Of course, none of that was true. It was nothing more than an ingenious literary device created by Goldman.
None the less, Goldman inspired me to write a “good parts” version of Charleston history, leaving out all the stuff I found boring. Seven years later, both books are still in print and selling steadily. Since then I have managed to write and publish three more works of narrative non-fiction, the most recent was published in September 2013, Doin’ the Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music. & the Jenkins Orphanage Legacy.
And now, on to the next project. What is it? Well, I keep threatening to write a book titled How The South Started the War of Northern Aggression. Maybe this time around I just might.