Posts Tagged ‘Outer Banks House’

Excerpt from Chasing Eternity on my website!

June 11th, 2012

Now that I have TWO published novels, I thought it was a good time to upgrade the website to accomodate my growing repertoire. My website was designed by Brian Landis of Richmond-based The Hatchery back in 2009, when my first novel, The Outer Banks House, was in production at Crown. He had done fellow author Dean King’s website, which I drooled over every time I clicked on it, so he was my first choice. And come to find out, he plays and sings in the band Lorem Ipsum and likes Radiohead even more than I do. It was a perfect fit.

No surprises, I absolutely loved the look of the site–seagulls, blue sky, simplicity!–and all of the cool things it could do. Then when I wanted to start a blog, he helped me get it going through the website. So of course I went to Brian when I wanted to add my ebook Chasing Eternity  to it. Thank you Brian for all of your technical and visual powers! You’re like a super-hero for website designers. I might have to buy you your own white cape with your little egg and exclamation mark on the back.

You’ll have to click over to Works section to be able to read the excerpt from Chapter 10…I think you’ll find it intriguing since it deals with really old grave markers in an ancient Irish cemetery that indicate that one of the buried lived for a few decades past the age of 100! Don’t you just love supercentenarians?? I find them magical, as you’ll find when reading the book. Like hobbits, or dragons, or vampires…my elderly characters possess the element of fantasy about them, making them perfect subjects for transportive summer reading.

You can download the book on Amazon, B&, iBooks, and Kobo today for the low price of $2.99! Cheers to summer and squinting at our ereaders on the beach! Enjoy!

Adoption Update: Birth Mom on the Banks!

May 10th, 2012

The last time I stood in the Atlantic. Ellery is cooling off her "chunkers."

So my birth mom just got back from the Outer Banks! She read my novel, The Outer Banks House, and I’m not sure if she booked her trip after that or what, but she and her sister soon traveled all the way from Indiana to Nags Head, North Carolina, my old stomping (well, really stumbling) ground! A few weeks ago she told me that some people in her family were reading my book, and I was so touched by that, these family members I’ve never met picking up copies of my book and actually reading it. She said that she’d read it as well, and maybe she was just being birth-mom polite, but she said she enjoyed reading it, and even saw some of herself in my main character Abby! (I think she’s got some stories to tell me…)

When I found out that she was going to the Outer Banks in late April, I booked my friend Eliza to go with me so that I could meet her down there. I envisioned having her to the beach house for lunch, or meeting her at Chili Peppers for lunch, or having lunch on the beach if the weather was nice…well, there was a lunch involved, and I was happy that I was going to have my BFF with me. But the date fell through for me and Eliza, and my crazy life (kids’ soccer, and lacrosse, and tennis, oh my! not to mention school and work) didn’t permit me to leave my family for a beach jaunt at any point during her week-long stay.

So I contented myself with imagining her down there, going to a few of the places I told her about…where I got married (Duck United Methodist Church), where the reception was held (Sanderling Inn), where I used to waitress (The Roadside), where the family beach house is, where I had a couple of book signings (the wonderful Manteo Booksellers and the charming Buxton Village Books).

All I know is, she stayed in south Nags Head and went to Owens restaurant…that was one of my parents’ favorite places to eat down there, and a real treat for the family. My sister and I would have to deal with pulling on sundresses and sandals over our sunburned skin and get in the station wagon and drive down the sandy beach road to the “fancy” restaurant, where everyone but me would order seafood. A fond memory of mine is dining there with my husband during a terrific rain storm and not being able to leave–I mean literally, not being able to set foot from the restaurant–because the parking lots had flooded so badly. The memory is vaguely Titanic-like in its tension, even though we didn’t have to enlist  lifeboats to get to the safety of our cars. The food there is great though, and so is the (normally dry) nautical atmosphere.

My birth mom posted some beautiful photos of the ocean on her FB page. My heart squeezed, looking at them, because I haven’t seen the Atlantic (with my family, that is–I had an Eliza girls weekend last November–see posting!) since Labor Day!! Inexcusable, but there it is. Such is the state of our lives now. But as it turns out, I’m going down there with Eliza next weekend to drink too much red wine and eat too much cheese and pate and white flour. This weekend is a major coup for me, considering I had to enlist two sitters plus the sitter’s mom to help my husband out. I expect I’ll be seeing my birth mom here and there (in my mind, of course, and yes, the wine might induce this reaction). But I’m really so happy she was there, that she took the time to discover a little bit about me and the things I hold dear. I’m sure I’ll be doing the same for her in the future…

Adoption Adventure Part 2

March 23rd, 2012

Motivated by a desire to find out my medical and ancestral background, I set out to connect with my birth mother a few weeks ago. In the short span of time between now and then, I did indeed find out all that I needed to know. But I also was introduced to probably the coolest birth mother alive! She emailed me when she received my contact information in the mail that day, and she said she did open the envelope while standing at the mailbox, just the way I imagined it. She then spent an emotional day with her sisters before penning a long email to me. The subject line of the email was “40 years ago;” I read the name and subject line on my blackberry while our family was on the way home from my son’s afternoon piano recital. (I had yet to receive her contact info at this point.) I’m sure I paled when I turned to my husband and said, “I got an email.” I read the email alone in our bedroom (while drinking a dirty martini my husband made for me!) when we got back home, and I think it must have been the most emotional email I’ve ever read or will ever read again.

I cried from joy and shock, mostly, at the revealing of such dramatic information, but also from the sadness she must have felt in giving me up. She and my birth father were briefly married, and young, when she gave birth to me. They were having problems, stemming from his issues as a Vietnam vet, and he wasn’t ready for a child (in fact, he wanted to return to Vietnam as a mercenary and was purchasing combat gear instead of baby clothes). Her family convinced her to put me up for adoption, and my birth mother and father divorced soon after that. She said it was very hard for her to give me up, and to make it easier for her in the hospital, they only let her see me once and then took me away for good. Soon after, she joined the Navy and traveled the world, eventually marrying again and having one child, my half-brother. She is now retired from the post office and living in Bloomington, IN, where she gave birth to me, living near her sisters and her mother.

She is tall–at her grandest, she was 6 feet tall, but is now 5’10”. She said her family has always been tall. Of course the first thing I did after reading the email was  Goggle her…and she is on Facebook. So I poured over her photos for a long while, just soaking it all in. I must say that she is very beautiful, with blondish red hair, fair skin, long legs and a big smile. She had posted some photos of herself in her Navy uniform, back in the day, and wow, those Navy men must have mooned all over her! My sister says we have the same facial shape and smile; even my kids said that I look like her.

She told me that my birth father’s background is all Irish Catholic. Lo and behold, that is why my son looks like an Irishman! Red hair, “the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen,” freckles–describes both my birth father and my son. But my birth mother’s side is English and Scottish and Indian. In fact, she told me that I have some “distinguished ancestors” in my background. On her Facebook page, I saw a family tree that one of her sisters had put together…utterly fascinating! One of our ancestors was a governor of New Jersey and the “father of Newark” when it was still a colony, and his grandson was a signor of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a delegate from Massachusetts! She also said there are some presidents in the line somewhere too (she wouldn’t mention them because she is not a Republican!!), but I haven’t figured it all out yet. I do feel like I am researching for a novel that I’m thinking of writing though–it doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Just when I was lamenting the fact that I had no family tree on, I find that I do indeed have one…and what a tree it is! It is a strange thing to find that you have an entirely different family from the one you know…aunts, grandmother, cousins, the works.

Her family has a history of osteoporosis and heart problems, and she had breast cancer years ago, although there is no history of breast cancer in the family. That is about it, on her side. These are wonderful things for me to know–health issues that I can monitor and try to prevent, and I can pass this information along to my own children. And now that I know what most of the medical background is, it sort of pales in comparison to the monumental connection that I’ve made with my birth mother. At first, I was pretty freaked out…my whole sense of self was thrown on its head. There was so much information to process, so many emotions to deal with. I just wanted to be “normal” for a little while, to have my old self back–mom, wife, sister, friend, daughter. I kept checking and rechecking my memories (I grew up in Newport News, I went to college, I was a teacher, I had a mom-she died of cancer), as if to remind myself who I was, what I’d done. I felt lost, sort of, even though a part of me was found. Soon, though, my husband and I took our kids to Orlando for their spring break. Nothing like endless amusement parks to take your mind off things! I returned to Richmond much more at peace with this new dimension to my persona.

The strangest thing about the experience has to do with the technological era we’re in. The first thing she did when she found out my name was Google me, and there is a bit of information about me on the internet, since my novel got published in 2010. Of course, as luck would have it, the first thing she read was the most recent blog post about my adoption! Yikes! When I wrote it, I figured she would read it at some point…and she saw photos of me as well, including the video of me on a Richmond morning talk show. But now we are friends on FB and can see each other’s photos and learn information about each other. This is a fabulous thing, this electronic sharing, for instead of being forced to endure awkward phone conversations and write long letters, we can pen emails and post on Facebook pages. We don’t have to talk on the phone until it’s comfortable for us. We can get to know one another at our own speed. In a recent post, she told me that her family is now reading The Outer Banks House, and I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. She told me that she had already read it and loved it. She too is a beach person!

 We will meet some day, I’m sure, and that too will be a whirlwind of emotions for us. But the hard part has already been done–the making of the connection. This connection with my birth mother has filled a hole inside me. This hole, however much I didn’t notice it on a day-to-day basis, made me who I am today. Some might think that because I was adopted, I must have felt lesser somehow, unwanted, broken. But really, the opposite is true. Because I was adopted, I have always felt fortunate, chosen, given a second chance, saved for some reason. I have always wondered what that reason was–raising children of my own, teaching, writing books and columns and blog posts that other people appreciate, being a good friend, sister, wife, daughter, aunt. Perhaps it’s all of those things, or perhaps the reason is still waiting for me, later in life, and some day I’ll go, “Oh, so that was the reason!” Being adopted has given me the courage to tryvarious endeavors–writing a novel, having a third child, or even finding my birth mother–because I have always tried to make my life “count,” to enjoy and appreciate my life as much as possible, but to also push myself into unfamiliar terrain, somehow knowing that it will do me good, because someone “up there” is watching over me and wanting good things for me. And for that golden feeling, I thank my birth mother for her courage in giving me up, for having enough faith in the goodness of the universe that the decision she was making was the right one.

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.

Steamboats and boatsickness,
flies and neck wounds: Introductions

October 23rd, 2011

I think this will be a perfect post for a cool Sunday morning in October: my favorite sentences/sections from chapter one of the historical fiction novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The language is soothing, rich with (not too much) description. And the first two sentences are doozies, of course. All writers are encouraged to jazz up their first sentences, as well as their first paragraphs, to grab the interest of readers and hook them into turning the page. A writer must also orient the reader to time, place, and even character in these introductory sentences. A tough job with just a few words! Here are my first sentences from The Outer Banks House:

I was the first passenger off the steamboat. My fellow travelers had insisted, for I had spent the duration of the journey in the throes of boatsickness. Everyone, including mama and daddy, had watched me from afar, afraid to get their Sunday best too close to me.

Hopefully the reader was oriented to time (era of steamboats, language: “boatsickness” instead of the more modern term of seasickness, “Sunday best”) and place (the character just took a journey by water and is now disembarking) and character (likely a person not used to traveling by water–a landlubber. Also a person who doesn’t have a good relationship with his/her parents, people who seemed more concerned with appearances than in assisting an ill child). Would you want to read more, based on the first sentences of my book? I hope so! Here are the first sentences from Cold Mountain:

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward.

The reader is oriented to place (morning in a hospital) and character (a man named Inman who is suffering from a wound at his neck, he is perhaps familiar with farming due to the reference to roosters).  Neck wounds and flies are intriguing enough to most people to want to keep reading, not to mention the perfectly worded metaphor comparing the flies to a yardful of roosters in their ability to wake someone up.

Here are some more particularly juicy sentences just from the first two pages: The window was as tall as a door, and he imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there. During his first weeks in the hospital, he had been hardly able to move his head, and all that kept his mind occupied had been watching out the window and picturing the old green places he recollected from home. Childhood places…The window apparently only wanted to take his thoughts back. Which was fine with him, for he had seen the metal face of the age and had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled.

Right away we realize that Inman is away from his home, for he is feeling nostalgic. We could even infer, from his reference to the stunning “metal face of the age,” that he has been fighting in a war and has gotten the neck wound in battle.

I wonder how many times Frazier wrote and rewrote those first few lines. As an author, I know that it was likely a few, for our job is to make it all look easy. Those first lines of The Outer Banks House weren’t even the first lines until I had begun editing it for Crown. Here are the first lines that got the book picked up by my agent and then my editor:

Picture this, if you will: A trigger is squeezed in earnest by a crooked Fed’ral forefinger, and a minie ball tears out the rifle’s slender barrel. It screams through the smoky air and slams into my skull bone like an iron stake pushed through wet, rocky dirt. My head explodes so quick I don’t even feel a thing. I just fall down in the brain-splattered thicket, dead forever.

Only, it didn’t happen that way a-tall. While my unit camped in the slushy Virginia pastures, I acquired a bowel affliction that’s slowly roasting the tender insides on the hot embers of its cookfire.

I’d take a minie ball to the brain over this rusty creak toward death’s depot any day.

Kind of different from the first sentence that ended up getting published, right? It’s even from a different character’s point of view–Abby’s Uncle Jack, a Confederate soldier. In fact, the entire chapter ended up getting cut, a fact that disturbed my agent, who loved that first chapter probably more than the rest of the book’s chapters combined. Am I right, Byrd? My editor wanted me to blend the information that I provived in Uncle Jack’s chapter into the new first chapter, written in Abby’s point of view. I used a letter from Uncle Jack to Abby, written in the hospital while he’s dying, to convey some of the love the two have for one another, the history between them. So Uncle Jack died, in more ways than one. You can still read this lost chapter on my website though!!

I am still working on the first sentences of the sequel, but here is a sneak peek for you lucky blog readers:

Mr. Parrish’s case was so heavy, I had a notion to just let fly with it, watch it thud its way on down the staircase. My right arm burned like I’d dragged it through flames. “Shitfire,” I said, and not under breath neither. What on earth was in the damned case anyway, bricks of gold? Just a glance at Mr. Langston Parrish, and I knew he was the richest man I’d ever laid eyes on. Out here in Whaleshead, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I was hard pressed to find a man that even owned a pair of shoes.

I won’t tell you whose point of view this is…I have to keep some surprises, you know. Maybe you can figure it out! Leave me a comment if you feel like guessing, and if you guess correctly, I’ll let you in on some secrets to the sequel!

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!