Archive for the ‘On writing the sequel’ Category

Small but tantalizing morsel from “Return to the Outer Banks House”

February 23rd, 2015

My inspiration for the character Eliza Dickens had a lot to do with the Heart song “Crazy on You.” She’s a rifle-toting, britches-wearing woman that does not suffer fools, does not crack smiles, does not forgive and forget. And the kind of love she had for Ben Whimble still lives, will always haunt her, despite her efforts to forget. When she sees him again at a funeral in Whales Head, that love rears its powerful head once again. (Now cue the song: “Let me go crazy, crazy on you….ohhh…”)

“The sky above was all cloud, but even so it was like someone had shined a sunbeam on this face, just for me. I tried not to stare his way, but I couldn’t help myself. A brass band and gypsy parade could have marched us by, and I wouldn’t have even looked away from him.

He stood there, Ben did, and I hadn’t even seen him come. His face had thinned out since I’d seen him last, but he wore a coat I remembered from the old days. His britches were finely made, the collar of his wool shirt under the coat clean. He had on some leather boots too, not the shiny ilk that the Yanks wore, but nice enough. His yellow hair was combed back off his clean shaven face, and I reckoned he was more handsome than even before. But more than that, he stood so straight now, black slouch hat in his hands. He was a man full grown.

No sign of his wife, I saw.

Had he seen me too? I lowered the ugly black shawl from my head and smoothed out my hair. I knew my cheeks were red from the cold so I wouldn’t have to pinch ’em. I licked my chapped lips good, then looked down at my beat-up boots and Union coat and homespun dress. He’d see I hadn’t changed a lick, be bored with me and we hadn’t even said two words to one another.

Then, as the uncle kept on, I saw those blue eyes meet up with my brown ones. I saw that he saw it was me. He made me a smile, kind of a sad smile for Ben, and tipped his head to me. I kept my face flat though. Didn’t want him to think I was happy to see him.

Which I was.”

Do Eliza and Ben have a reunion of sorts? Or do they go their separate ways, once and for all? I think you know the answer, or there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell! You’ll have to read on to find out who wins Ben’s love in the end…his depressed yet steadfast wife Abigail, or the hot-mess, Eliza Dickens.

The sequel to The Outer Banks House is here!

January 14th, 2015

image004I am so happy and excited to share that my sequel to The Outer Banks House is here! It’s called–and I know this is creative genius–Return to the Outer Banks House, and it’s available on as both a paperback and an ebook. I started writing this book even before the first book got a publishing contract, mostly because I couldn’t let Ben and Abby and all of the other characters, especially Eliza Dickens, go! (And I was able to travel to the Outer Banks, circa 1875, whenever I felt like it…)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I loved writing it! Thank you very much for your support…and let me know your thoughts on the novel! If you are ever in a writing mood, please also consider posting a review for the book on Amazon. I would very much appreciate it!

Here is a very favorable review from Kirkus:


A heartbreaking yet uplifting novel that explores the destruction and beauty of love.

Set between 1875 and ’76, Ducharme’s story—this being the sequel to The Outer Banks House (2010)—is about love and its many faces, from young and reckless to unrequited. Specifically, she explores the unlikely passion that forms between smart, affluent Abigail Sinclair and uneducated, penniless Benjamin Whimble. The people of this tightknit island community on the Outer Banks, off the coast of North Carolina, are connected by their collective poverty and abiding love for the sea. Outsiders are generally unwelcome. When Abigail’s family visits for a summer, she starts teaching Ben, her father’s fishing guide, how to read. His love for literature and for his teacher grows, and slowly he drifts away from longtime girlfriend, Eliza Dickens, eventually leaving her to marry Abigail. Although this new love is strong, tragedy tests it. Seven years later, the worst behind them, the couple picks through their past separately, putting together the pieces of themselves they lost along the way. Meanwhile, all these years later, plucky and independent Eliza has never fully recovered from losing Ben. She fights for his return and learns much more about herself in the process. Supporting characters, many with equally interesting lives, float in and out of the story as well. Ducharme beautifully shifts among love stories, weaving lives together. She also daftly expresses the tensions between economic classes. In her fog of love, Abigail joyfully leaves behind the security of her life at home so she can be with a man who could never financially provide for her in the ways she’s accustomed; only after the wedding does it hit her. “Words had failed us that night, and I’d welcomed the silence,” she thinks. “Words had escaped me the next morning as well but in a different way, when I came to realize that I was married to a fisherman for the rest of my days.”

A study in love, class, and the profound ways people grow and adapt to life’s challenges.


No, I’m not dead, just a mom

October 10th, 2013

No, I’m not dead. You didn’t miss my obit in the paper or anything. I’m just a frazzled mom of three who tries to cram in some fiction writing here and there. Blog writing kind of falls by the wayside, even though I do enjoy it. I swear I do! Probably about as much as I’ll enjoy penning my own obit one of these days! Because my life will have killed me…

But good news! All of my hectic, squirrel-like industriousness has resulted in a stockpile of words–the sequel to The Outer Banks House is now revised and complete and in the hands of my agent!

Ah, happy endings. Don’t you love them? Like in those Ephron movies with people like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. You actually cry at the end, you’re so relieved and giddy and full of goodwill and optimism. Then you go about your life and you’re like, “Why isn’t my life so lovely and rosy and so darned easy? Where is the jazzy piano music and gorgeous autumn leaves and perfect springtime flowers? Why are people mean to me?” Because despite your best intentions, your whistling while you work, your spring in your step, your perma-smile on your face, life will smack you down anyway and crush its cigarette on your bruised head with its spurred cowboy boot-heel. Happy endings? Only sometimes, if we’re really really lucky and we are sentient enough to realize that something happy has actually happened to us.

Which brings me to the sequel, tentatively called Return to the Outer Banks House. (Clever, right?!) It was gently suggested to me by my agent and a colleague of his that I sort of change my happy ending into a sort of hmmm, shall I say this? An unhappy one. I don’t want to spoil things for you, and let me just say that I balked at the idea at first. Poor Ben and Abby! They have suffered enough! I worked up some tears for them. Happy endings are so…happy.

But just consider this brilliant hypothesis for a moment: think of the times where you’ve read a book that didn’t end quite as nicely as you’d wanted, but even so you put it gently back down on your bedside table and sat back on your pillows and wept for the god-awful truth of it, the way it broke your heart with its damnable accuracy, the way it nailed both the beauty and mess of life in only 250 pages or so. Think of those books, and think of how fondly you remember them, like loved ones that have died or have moved far away, but who still  live on the edges of your consciousness and whisper to you, remind you of the marvel that is life, that you are not all by yourself after all.

Now that I’ve made you cry, do you really need a happy ending? Or do you just need a truthful one? I’m not saying that Return to the Outer Banks House is one of those books–the kind of books that made me want to start writing in the first place–but I am saying that you will want to read it. With a box of tissues. Alone.


Outer Banks House sequel almost finished…synopsis included!

February 25th, 2013

I am ashamed. (Picture my toddler Ellery doing a strange sort of cross-eyed look that she does when I use my mean-mommy voice with her, usually after she’s pulled the dog’s tail too hard–well, that is what I am doing now, in my shame. It is a  look that suggests that I am not quite repentant, but it doesn’t scream defiance either.)  I call myself a writer,  yet I haven’t posted on this blog in a very long time. But the good news is I have been putting all of my writerly efforts and very precious time into completing the sequel to the Outer Banks House! I am so happy to say that it is almost finished! I am in the revision phase and hope to have a final manuscript ready for my agent to read by the end of May. It is tentatively called The Whales Head House. Yes, I like to work a theme.

Here is a little synopsis: Now married and living in a prior missionary’s house on Roanoke Island, Ben and Abby have fallen upon hard times: poverty, miscarraige and weakened family ties have eroded their love and passion for literature. Ben has gone to isolated Whales Head on the northern Outer Banks to take a job as a surfman with the Jones Hill Lifesaving Station, while Abby remains on the island with Asha to continue to teach the freedmen and women in the Eljah Africa schoolhouse. Lonely and lost, Ben finds familiar comfort with his old flame, Eliza Dickens, who is working as a housekeeper at the newest hunting club on the Currituck Sound. But when Abby travels to Whales Head to surprise Ben on Christmas Eve, she discovers just how precarious their marriage has become and endeavors to rediscover her history, foster her lost family connections and consider a possible departure from the Outer Banks for a normal school in Nashville, Tennessee. Ben must win Abby back the only way he knows how…by reading literature long ago thrown by the wayside, literature that just might prove too difficult for him to understand without his favorite teacher to help him through.

Watching movies inspires the muse

February 19th, 2012

While writing The Outer Banks House, I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice to fire up my writing muse. I had read the book by Jane Austen as well. But outside of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, every time I watch a movie based on a book, I walk away disappointed. But Pride and Prejudice was very well done, and I thought Kiera Knightly protrayed Elizabeth Bennett perfectly. The era of the book wasn’t the same as the era of which I was writing (1868) but the love story (of a mismatched couple–one extremely wealthy and one from a much more modest background) put me mind of my own love story (between a rich planter’s daughter and a penniless fisherman). I even listened to the soundtrack while I wrote sometimes. God, the sound of that soaring piano music still makes me want to cry. And write.

Now that I’m writing the sequel, I found that I needed a new movie to fire up the muse. I watched my copy of Pride and Prejudice again, and loved every minute of it. But I’d been there, done that. I’d just finished reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier for the second time, so I decided to purchase the movie Cold Mountain, which I’d seen in the theaters when it first came out in 2003, and starred Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. In addition to the similar period details as my book, I like this particular book/movie because of the love story. The two tentative lovebirds, Inman and Ada (and another odd socioeconomic couple), are forced apart by the Civil War, and their lives change dramatically while Inman is off fighting and then walking all the back to Cold Mountain to a woman who he doesn’t even think will want him anymore. They are hardly together for the entire book except through flashbacks, and this style of narration is very similar to my sequel. I find separation of true love very inspiring! The reader can’t wait for the two lovers to get back together, and this excitement keeps the reader reading. At least, it works for me, and I’m hoping it will work for my lovely readers as well!

“Moby-Dick” is actually good! Who knew?!

January 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading Moby-Dick by Herman Melville the last few weeks because I’m going to use the novel as a turning point for my  star-crossed characters in the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. In my first novel, I used Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe as a turning point for the same characters. I also began each chapter with a relevant quote from Robinson Crusoe, and I plan to start each chapter in the sequel with quotes from Moby-Dick. Such grand ideas!

But first, I have to read the darned book.

Moby-Dick is a large book, as far as books go (655 pages), and as alien to me as a T.S. Eliot poem. And yet, I was an English major at UVA. How did I manage to dodge what some believe is the greatest American novel ever written? I mean, it’s so large! Hard to miss on a syllabus, and even harder to dodge when thrown at you. I have considered the fact that I might have been assigned the book at some point in my college career, but just squeaked by on the Cliff Notes so that I could keep up with all the keg parties. I mean, I had my priorities, and the classics were kind of low on the list.

Moby-Dick’s important reputation precedes it , but that wasn’t the case when it was first published. In fact, the book was mostly panned by British and American critics, and Melville, who at the time was a rather popular author, never quite recovered from the blow.

But throughout my lifetime, I’ve been intimidated by even the tiniest mention of the book Moby-Dick. Its title alone suggests monstrosity and a dark abyss of confusion. I’d have been perfectly happy to while my days away reading Diana Gabaldon’s novels over and over, but something in my subconscious told me to consider it for my sequel. See, Ben finds a byproduct (can’t reveal what it is, it would spoil it!) of a sperm whale, but eventually finds that the booty isn’t necessarily his for the taking. He gets rather obsessed about his secret find, thinking things will now get better between him and Abby when he trades it in for cash. In the name of his treasure, he makes decisions that compromise his character.

Moby-Dick is himself a sperm whale, at first hunted for his byproducts of oil and spermaceti as all whales were, but as the novel progresses, we find that the particular white-headed whale is being hunted by Captain Ahab for revenge purposes only. Ahab took it quite personally when Moby-Dick bit off one of his legs, and he is obsessed with his killing quest, much as Ben is obsessed with his treasure. I can see the light in your eyes; you’re getting it! I’m happy with the choice of Moby-Dick as well.

But I’m also happy to be reading it. Melville writes with a sense of humor that I find rare in a mid-19th century author. It’s not even that hard to understand the high-blown style of language. It’s easier than reading Shakespeare, if that helps. Mind, it won’t do to read the book while drinking wine. You need all of your mental faculties about you when pick up the book. And a Cliffs Notes wouldn’t hurt either. (After every chapter, I read the Cliffs Notes to see what the hell the chapter was really about.) Here is a funny bit about narrator/sailor Ishmael’s observations about a dark-skinned harpooner Queequeg that he is forced to share a bed in a crowded in with:

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife…I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm–unlock his bridegroom grasp–yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him–“Queequeg!”–but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! “Queequeg!–in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!” At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there…”  p. 54.

I could go on and on with quote after quote; Moby-Dick is filled with gems of comic genius! I wouldn’t lie to you, it’s worth a read. I’m not even half-way done, but I actually look forward to reading it at night. Those long-ago critics had no idea what they were dealing with.


Wacky Weather Inspires the Writer

November 7th, 2011

My friend Eliza and I went down to the Outer Banks this past weekend and stayed in my family beach house in Kill Devil Hills. We do this about twice a year, just to relax and have fun. Our lives are so crazy now that we can’t even catch up properly over a lunch, so it’s nice to spend a good two days with each other, eating more food than we should and drinking more red wine than we should and just catching up on what has been going on in our lives.

But I am having a hard time understanding why we always pick the worst weather weekends to do this. We don’t go down in the summers for whatever reason, so we always choose an October or November weekend to go down. This seems to suit us because those autumn months are so busy, full of children’s activities and school and work–we need a break to rejuvenate and refresh ourselves, perhaps to better face the holiday onslaught. Then we often pick a March weekend after the cold and boring months of January and February, but before the packed months of April and May. But I kid you not, every time we go down, it either snows, storms or is so frigidly cold, we can’t even go for a walk on the beach.

Eliza took the photographs of me for my book jacket, and I will never forget how cold it was that 2008 November day. She took photos of me on a bench outside my beach house, on the beach, on Jockey’s Ridge and then on the beach again. It was like torture, but I just tried to tell myself that that was what the super-models had to do all the time,  and it was a price we had to pay for our work, our art. The photos did turn out beautifully. It was something to do with that ocean breeze and cold sunshine. (You can check out the website for the author photo.)

This weekend brought the Outer Banks something like a nor’easter. It was windy and cloudy and cold the entire weekend. Thankfully, it didn’t rain or snow. But poor, poor Eliza and I, we can’t help but get down about the crappy weather. We can’t seem to catch a break. Is the wish for a little sunshine asking too much of the weather gods? A little sun on our pallid faces, a little warmth on our overworked bodies? Perhaps so. The weather gods have been working overtime up there lately. Maybe the effects of global warming have gone to their heads, making them all hot, crabby and unstable of mood. Is it time for an earthquake or a flood? What about a hurricane or a nor’easter? Or a drought? A tornado? A tsunami or a volcanic eruption? A freaky snow storm at Halloween, right after an Indian summer? Or how about all of the weather phenomena at once? Yeah! That might get their attention! Lately it seems we are just sitting ducks, bobbing about waiting to see what the weather will bring us next. I’m so tired of weather, of hoping for greatness but getting nastiness and even fatal destruction instead.

But weather’s many mood shifts do inspire the muse in me. There is something about a stormy sea that pleases my eye–the endless white caps, the crazy, frothing waves, the fast-moving clouds, the gulls that fly in once place  in the wind. And since I don’t live on the Outer Banks, it helps me to experience such things on my brief visits down. I got an eyeful of the ocean this weekend, when we forced ourselves to go for our walk (more like a tug-of-war with the wind) on the beach. Even for me, a writer, it’s hard to describe the awesome power of a stormy sea. There are no words–a dictionary and a thesaurus are useless, your brain can’t comprehend what it’s seeing. It’s actually scary to watch it, to imagine my helplessness in the face of it. And in the sequel to The Outer Banks House, I must describe such a sea in the first chapters. I must describe how Ben sees such an ocean, knowing that he might have to venture into it in order to save people stranded at sea. I must describe how Abby sees it, knowing she is alone in the house, that she is the one who must help herself for once. I am actually glad that I saw the sea in its ferocious state this past weekend, so that I can better describe what it looks like to my characters.

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have preferred  blue sky and sunshine and 70-degree temperatures. Eliza and I deserved all of that and more! Girls’ weekends are harder and harder to come by these days. But I’m trying to look on the positive side. Bad weather makes for great writing.

Thank God for air
conditioning and deodorant

October 19th, 2011

I enjoy writing historical fiction, primarly because I like learning about the past.  I get a bit nostalgic, until I realize how good we now have it in the 21st century. (Then I go back to the nostalgia.)

I chose to set my first novel, The Outer Banks House, in Reconstruction-era Nags Head, N.C., because I’d read about well-off planter families of that time period going to the beach for entire summers (in the wonderful nonfiction book Nags Headers by Susan Byrum Rountree) and doing nothing but lounging on their porches, bathing in the sea (only men, of course), bowling at the hotel, and taking cart-rides up and down the shore. I pictured women in hoop skirts stepping through a hot, sandy beach, and I was permanently hooked on the setting. It might have been relaxing to do absolutely nothing (they brought their servants from their plantations), butI know it must have been  uncomfortable, with all of those crinolines and long-sleeved dresses in the heat of summer with no air conditioning. Did they all smell of underarms or what? Maybe they didn’t care, being so close to the sea, for everything smelled of fish anyway.

As I read more of Rountree’s book, I learned that building a cottage on the ocean side of the Outer Banks was considered the height of stupidity by all of the Banker natives. The locals chose to build their homes on the more forested soundside, where they’d be protected from the wind and waves. Some even built their homes on stilts in the sounds. (But it seems that those mainlanders had the better idea…just look at the ocean front developments now! It may be dangerous, but ocean front is prime real estate these days.) But I figured it would make for intriguing fiction to have a family build one of the first houses on the ocean side of the Banks, which happened to be right around the time of Reconstruction, immediately after the Civil War. Some of these old houses still exist, and I think they are truly beautiful. When I was writing the novel, I would love to just drive down the beach road and stare at those houses, to imagine what life must have been like back then. Open windows to let the ocean breezes blow through; detached kitchens to keep the heat and threat of fire away from the main house; sandy floorboards; no sounds except the ocean’s waves, the calls of sea birds.

I contrast that way of beach living with what I now know. The sound of cars, trucks, construction, fireworks, corn hole games and cook-outs interfere with the ocean noise. Packed beaches during the summers, roads clogged with cars, tourist shops and restaurants and motels everywhere you look. Cottages on the beach as far as the eye can see. Yes, we do have air conditioning, a welcome invention when it’s hot and humid. We have ice-cold beverages, gas grills, frisbees, Kindles. It’s perfectly acceptable to parade around in a bathing suit; imagine what the ladies back then would think if they saw women of all ages strolling the beaches in nothing but skimpy underclothes and swimming in the ocean alongside men. We have loosened up our restrictions, widened our expectations. In many ways, things have gotten better at the beach.

Even so, I do wish for the days of simplicity. That’s why I’m looking forward to a girls weekend in November. November is a great time to go to the beach; you can actually drive and walk on the beach without having a heart attack. And I can more easily imagine what it must have been like 130 years ago. I get my best ideas in the off-season. Yes, it’s colder, but that’s what the gas fireplace is for!

Writer down. I repeat, writer down.

October 17th, 2011

I really want to be a professional writer. You know, the kind that write all day. Leisurely, creatively, purposefully, for money. What might a writer accomplish with hours of unimpeded writing time? I would not know, but I’m guessing she would crank out a lot of writing. Time is a writer’s very best friend.

I had a hint of such gloriousness when my second child went to kindergarten, over two years ago. I was used to sitting down at the computer and writing myself silly for about two hours until it was time to pick her up from preschool. But when she went to kindergarten, the gates of heavenly writing time opened before me, and I knew not what to do with myself. Oh, I wrote. I actually finished a book by the time she completed up kindergarten. (I will definitely be writing more about this book in future blog postings.) It was a short book, but suffice it to say, it was definitely a book. I patted myself on the back for finishing it, my second book ever. I saw what I could accomplish, if just given enough time.

But I just couldn’t be happy with a life of such ease. Oh no. I had to go and birth another (my third) child last year. And she is a doll baby; everyone loves her and she loves everyone (see photo for proof).  I would never for one second regret the having of her. She enriches my life, more than writing ever could. But (cue the sad piano music) oh, the writing time. Where did it go? Out with the placenta, I’m afraid. I try to sit at the computer when she naps, and if I’m lucky, she will nap twice a day, for an hour at a time. It’s just enough time for me to get the old brain in gear, perhaps write a good couple of pages, before I have to get up again. Sometimes it’s just easier to post on my blog! Aren’t you lucky?

And today, I have a dentist appointment. Friday, a dermatologist appointment. My precious writing time is done for. I tell myself that I could always write at night…yeah right!  I’m a mother of three! Owner of a border collie! Wife of one very busy lawyer! I’m exhausted at  night. I get very jealous when I’m zipping up the baby into her footie pajamas. I would like nothing more than for someone to zip some footie pajamas onto me, plunk me into bed, turn off the lights and turn on the noise machine. Good night nurse! Writing doesn’t hold a candle to sleep. Little does, in my opinion.

But I’m looking toward the future, my friends, toward the golden, glittering chunks of writing time. I have seen them; I know they exist.

Time-traveling Englishwoman versus Reconstruction-era Southerner

October 16th, 2011

Some writers don’t like to read other’s work while in the midst of writing their own work. They fear that the author’s voice and style of writing will unduly spoil their own inner voice. I used to think such behavior indulgent overkill, but I have revised my opinion.

I am currently reading “The Fiery Cross,” the fifth book (I think! I’ve lost track now) in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Since it is the fifth such book in a series, I have grown very fond of the heroine, Clair Fraser, a time-traveling Englishwoman/doctor-healer in both the 20th and 18th centuries. And sometimes, when I sit down to work on the sequel to The Outer Banks House, my own heroine Abigail comes out sounding a bit, shall we say, English. This just won’t do, since Abigail is a 19th century Southerner and teacher. Also, my style starts to mimic the writing style of Gabaldon, which often makes use of long and descriptive sentences and detailed dialogue. Her language is beautiful, and easy to read, making it easy to get lost in the stories she’s telling. But when I go back and re-read, I find my writing bloated, compared to how I usually write, and I delete and refine over half of what I wrote. 

But I can’t stop reading the Outlander series! I’m addicted. I look forward to reading it every night. And the same goes for any and all books that happen across my bedside table. I could never stop reading, just because I’m a writer. Reading is a pleasure for me, and it often informs my own writing. I’ll sometimes stop in my tracks and marvel at the way an author used language, or twisted a plot, or just plain made me cry. I’ll try to see how I could do the same thing in my own writing the next day. Reading grew me into the writer that I am today.

I have, in the meantime, grown more aware of my writing, how I need to be true to my own voice and style. Every word, every sentence must ring true for me or it’s the delete button!