Posts Tagged ‘Outer Banks’

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.


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…

Outer Banks in winter

November 13th, 2011

I can’t seem to get the Outer Banks–the present version–out of my mind. My friend and I went down there last weekend for girls’ weekend (check out my post entitled “Wacky Weather Inspires the Writer”) and our experience is still kind of haunting me. As you can probably deduce from the title of my last post, the weather was cold and windy and generally unpleasant, although the ocean was terribly gorgeous in a Medusa-like, fatal-if-you-stare-too-long-at-it sort of way. And I love it when the beach is vacant, with just a few dog-walkers to distract you from nature’s awesome bounty.

But from the moment we got down there, everything seemed a little off. First of all, I forgot the good bottles of wine and my Kashi cereal and boxes of yummy crackers at home. Crackers and cereal, I could understand forgetting, but the wine?? Even though we had to pee (for the second time in a three-hour car ride), we were obliged to stop at the local Outer Banks wine store for more red. Then Eliza realized she’d forgotten the Stilton cheese we’d been salivating over during the car ride down! The way we were talking, Stilton cheese could cure all of the world’s ills. Penn State scandal, Hermain Cain allegations–just throw some Stilton at them and it all goes away. But after carefully unpacking her cooler and going over and over the items, we sadly realized the Stilton’s absence. What was happening to us?? we wondered. Were we already losing our memories, at the tender age of 40? YES!

Then came another sad realization: I don’t know how to use the gas fireplace in the beach house. I never learned, and never cared to, since I usually come down in the summers anyway. Plus, my parents knew how to light it, and so does my husband and brother-in-law, so I never had to learn myself. (If you want to learn a little something about me, I hate fire, no matter how small its form is. Even though I love candles, I am still a bit wary of matches and lighters, so using one to light a gas flame is particularly scary for me.) And I am sort of spoiled–our gas fireplaces at home are remote-operated. And even then, I get annoyed at the slowness of it sometimes. You can probably see how historical fiction appeals to me! It always amazes me how much work went into just getting a fire going in the morning. It’s amazing that people even got up in the morning.

But lucky for me, my friend Eliza knows how to light a gas fireplace, but she didn’t know how to get our gas turned on. I had to text my brother-in-law (he told us how to do it last time but we’d forgotten!). We hadn’t heard from him for a little while, so we opened a bottle of red and got out some cheese and crackers and plopped down on the sofa. But then it seemed that all we really wanted was a nice cozy fire in the fireplace. A cozy fire would make everything perfect, wouldn’t you agree? We started looking around for the mysterious “valve” on the outside deck, then on the decks outside, using our powerful engineering and physics intuitions to follow the copper gas lines in and out of the house.

As Eliza opened the door to the downstairs deck for further investigation, however, a wild bird flew into the house and flapped crazily around one of the downstairs bedrooms.  In my estimation, this phenonemon might even be scarier than matches and lighters. It puts one in mind of “The Birds,” believing that the evil thing has a hankering for human flesh, overprocessed hair for its nest. All we wanted to do was run upstairs, back to our wine and cheese, and forget that there was a wild bird possibly crapping all over Eliza’s very nice things. But we stood in the hallway, cowering with a broom (what we planned to do with it still remains a mystery!). The bird fortunately had the good sense to see it was outmatched by two manic women with fire on their minds, and flew back out the open door from whence it came. Yikes! We didn’t want to admit it, but that bird seemed a bad omen for our beach weekend. We debated even going out that night.

But we were determined to have a good time, despite the missing Stilton, the wild bird and the stupid gas fireplace! It turns out that the “valve” is in the back of the fireplace itself. Trust me, we will never forget that little bit of trivia again!

Out on the local’s scene that evening (the cab was very late, another bad sign) we tried to relax a little. Things were going alright until the female bartender, engaged in an extended conversation with another bartender) rolled her eyes at me when I signalled for another drink (I waved my arm at her–is this obnoxious? You can tell me, it won’t hurt my feelings more than having a bartender roll her eyes at me). Flash-forward through socializing with bar-goers and a listening to a great band…at the end of the night, I tried to ask who I thought was the hostess if she could call a cab for Eliza and me, but she mocked me, telling me that she didn’t work there and walking off! But she’d been standing at the hostess station, talking on the phone and writing things down. I was very confused. And growing a bit bitter about my locals experience. My husband and I eat at this very same restaurant in the summers and never have anything but great times there. Was I being treated this way because I was with another female, instead of very tall man? Eliza and I pondered this, and thought very well that that might be the case. We nobly quoted our mothers: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated”! Is that asking too much these days?

I love the local’s scene on the OBX. It’s one of the reasons Eliza and I like going down there in the off-season. Great music, good people, total relaxation.  But the experience at the restaurant made me think, as you can tell, about my Outer Banks feelings. See, I have this idea of the Outer Banks in my mind now. It’s based on many collective experiences, both as a child and as an adult, and involves many people, family and Outer Banks residents included.

But it also includes what I know of the history of the Outer Banks. Even in the early 19th century, the fragile barrier islands were a tourist destination. The people on the Banks learned to adapt to outsiders encroaching on their turf–and the Bankers sold the vacationers things they needed during their visits, provided them with hotels and other accomodations, served as guides for their hunting expeditions. And not much has changed. The Outer Banks are still in the tourist-pleasing business, as they always will be. And I can see how it gets old, catering to people and their needs. My characters Eliza and Ben are Bankers, are still assessing their interactions with completely different outsiders. In the sequel, Eliza grows to adjust to it, although she’ll always want her independence from the outsiders. Ben chooses to marry an outsider, but then takes a job that has nothing to do with them, a job that honors the nature of the Outer Banks itself.

I find that enjoy writing about the dynamic between Bankers and vacationers. But I find that I don’t care for it so much when I’m the one involved in the drama! Yet through this lens of history I now have, I can feel something like sympathy for that rude bartender. I imagine that it gets tiring, filling glasses all night and watching folks you don’t know get loopy. And yet, people will always descend on the Banks, they will always have their needs, even in the off-season! I’ll return to that restaurant, hoping for a better experience.

In hindsight, I thought that maybe Eliza and I should have listened to that wild bird’s message and stayed out of places where we didn’t belong. But the thing is, I feel I do belong on the Outer Banks, even if I don’t live there. Even without wine, Stilton and a working fireplace, I will always have it in my heart.

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!

Welcome to my blog

October 13th, 2011

I am suffering from Outer Banks withdrawal. It always sets in around October, November, several weeks after Labor Day weekend, our last summer trip down from Manakin Sabot, Virginia. Perhaps someone should start an “Outer Banks” withdrawal rehab facility, where my fellow beach-loving Virginians can go to hear the digitized sounds of the Atlantic, walk barefoot in a giant sand box, spray themselves with a bottle full of actual sea spume (great word). Reading and/or sleeping in a beach chair would be mandatory, as would a prolonged dip in a big vat of salt water, complete with a wave machine. But of course, we would all know that nothing compares to actually being there. A three-hour drive for us Richmonders. And with tennis tournaments, soccer games and social obligations, my family and I have a hard time going down to the Outer Banks in non-summer seasons. So I must content myself with writing about it. I am diligently working on the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. And research and imagining are my favorite parts of the process. Of course, I am writing about the Outer Banks over 130 years ago, so my imagination is rather limited. But I do know that certain things haven’t changed on the Outer Banks– how whitecaps look on a winter sea, how hot the summer sand can get, what the gulls will do for just a small bit of your food, how much people love to spend time there. Welcome to my blog! I hope you’ll find inspiration from it. Until tomorrow…