I’d like to welcome Diann Ducharme today to Layered Pages to talk with me about her book, The Outer Banks House. Diann was born in Indiana in 1971, but she spent the majority of her childhood in Newport News, Virginia. She majored in English literature at the University of Virginia, but she never wrote creatively until, after the birth of her second child in 2003, she sat down to write The Outer Banks House. She soon followed up with her second book, Chasing Eternity, and in 2015 the sequel to her first novel, Return to the Outer Banks House.
Diann has vacationed on the Outer Banks since the age of three. She even married her husband of 10 years, Sean Ducharme, in Duck, North Carolina, immediately after a stubborn Hurricane Bonnie churned through the Outer Banks. Conveniently, the family beach house in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina provided shelter while she conducted research for her historical fiction novels.
She has three beach-loving children and a border collie named Toby, who enjoys his sprints along the shore. The family lives in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, counting down the months until summer.
Diann, please tell me about your book.
Its 1868, the era of Reconstruction in North Carolina, and times are tough. Yet the barren barrier islands of the Outer Banks offer a respite for the Sinclairs, the once-wealthy plantation owners. The family of five and three servants plan to spend the summer in the newly constructed cottage, one of the first cottages on the ocean side of the resort village of Nags Head.
There, on the porch of the cottage, the 17-year-old daughter, beautiful, book-smart and boxed-in Abigail, teaches her father Nolan’s fishing guide, good-natured, ambitious and penniless 19-year-old Benjamin Whimble, how to read and write. The two come to understand, and then to love each other, despite the demands of their parents, the pursuit of prim and proper medical student Hector Newman, and Ben’s longtime relationship with sour-tongued net-mender, Eliza Dickens.
But as Abby and Ben come to learn, tackling the alphabet is the easy part of the summer. Against everything he claims to represent, Ben becomes entangled in Nolan’s Ku Klux Klan dirty work, and Abigail’s mother Ingrid, unexpectedly pregnant, reveals facets of her personality to Abigail that shed light on her growing madness and inability to mother. As Abby and Ben venture from the cottage porch to a real schoolhouse—a schoolhouse for the slowly dwindling Freedmen’s Colony on nearby Roanoke Island, they soon come face to face with her father, dressed in KKK robes and hunting a man that the entire colony of freed slaves has come to love and respect. It becomes doubtful that Abby and Ben’s newfound love will survive the terrible tragedy and surprising revelations that one hot Outer Banks night brings forth.
The Outer Banks House is the first historical fiction novel set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the mid-19th century. It combines history, romance and coming-of-age drama, as Abby tries to adjust to life in a post-war South. Each chapter begins with a pertinent quote from Robinson Crusoe, the novel that sparks such controversy (over slavery and racism), and finally appreciation and love, between Abby and Ben.
What are some of your interests in the Civil War?
During that post-Civil War Reconstruction era, vacation homes were starting to be built along the ocean side of the Outer Banks. The questionability of such endeavors—something at which the local “Bankers” looked askance, due to the cottages’ dangerous proximity to the sea–captivated me. I wanted to write about people that would do such dramatic things. I also enjoyed imagining women in hoop skirts, fresh from the war, hanging out at beach cottages. I didn’t know much about the Civil War, nor Reconstruction in North Carolina, but I did know about hanging out at the beach, so I learned as much as I could about that time period and blended what I knew with what I had learned.
What is some of the research that went into this story?
During my research, I read a terrific book called Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony by Patricia Click, about the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island during and after the Civil War. The book taught me everything there was to know about the Freedmen’s Colony, of which I had previously heard nothing. Learning about such a unique and unheard of aspect of the Outer Banks piqued my interest enough to use it as a major point of reference in the novel.
I also learned during my research that many residents of the Banks were pro-Union during the Civil War. As much as North Carolina is considered a southern state, it was interesting for me to know that the people of the islands didn’t necessarily hold the beliefs that were championed by people of the mainland. This fact helped me to form Ben’s character, as well as create a picture of the independent-mindedness of the people of the Banks.
I also dragged my family all over the island in the name of research. A pivotal scene occurs on the large dune system called Jockey’s Ridge, located in Nags Head. My family and I climbed the dunes several times, and it never failed to amaze me just how high they were—a giant hill made of sand! And too, a much smaller dune system exists to the north of a unique maritime forest called Nags Head Woods. The dune system, called Run Hill, is pretty much a secret to most visitors of the Banks—eerily quiet in the dead of summer. This is where I found the trees—the northernmost beginnings of Nags Head Woods—whose trunks were buried in sand. Just as my characters stumbled upon these feats of nature, so did I explore them for the first time as well. I think such exploration made the writing more believable.
Please tell me a little about Abby’s father’s work with the Ku Klux Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 as a way to reassert white southern resistance to the Republican Party’s Reconstruction-era policies that favored politician and economic equality for the newly freed blacks. The Klan extended into every southern state by 1870, including North Carolina. Nolan Sinclair, being a wealthy plantation owner, was a politically connected man before and after the war; these during Reconstruction these humiliated and temporarily hobbled politicians and former slave-owners set about righting a white supremacist agenda which eventually made its way into many southern legislatures.
Why did you choose the Outer Banks of North Carolina for your story?
The Outer Banks is a long, skinny chain of barrier islands that run along a good portion of the coast of North Carolina. One the one side, the ocean crashes against the naked sand, all drama. On the other side, the sounds caress the maritime thickets and marshland, more forgiving. I knew that I wanted to compare the two ecosystems, similar to the way in which I pit the “Bankers” against the mainlanders who build their vacation homes there.
Also, nothing there stays the same—everything is dynamic, fleeting—yet the tiny strip of land still hangs on, facing the wild weather year after year. The concept of change suited my characters as well.
I have vacationed on the Outer Banks since the age of 3, so it is a very special place for me.
Please tell me a little about the Sinclair family.
Nolan Sinclair, the once wealthy and powerful planter from Edenton, North Carolina, is fearful of losing his plantation in the Reconstruction aftermath of the Civil War. In a desperate act of assertion, he moves his family to the unusual house on the sand for the summer of 1868. His connections with the KKK threaten his otherwise peaceful summer plans at the seaside. His fiercely intelligent and aloof wife Ingrid is in the early stages of pregnancy, but she fears that her body cannot safely bear any more children. And their eldest child, 17-year-old Abby, misses her Uncle Jack, dead from an illness contracted during the Civil War. Their faithful servant, Asha, travels to the beach with them for the summer.
What are some of the fictional aspects of the story?
The setting is very real, but I had to imagine what it must have been like in 1868. Not a lot was written about the area during this time period.
What was your writing process and how long did it take to write your story?
It took me about 3 years to complete the first draft of the novel. I wrote during my second child’s naps and on weekends when my husband took over the household duties. But I was thinking about the novel at all times of the day and often at night!
What are you working on next?
I am working on a present-day novel about a once-beautiful woman, now scarred, who struggles to overcome her agoraphobia in order to regain custody of her two children. During her recovery, a love interest with a deer hunter ensues when she moves to her blind aunt’s home in the mountains of western Virginia.
Buy The Outer Banks House
The Outer Banks Series Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, May 25 Spotlight & Giveaway at Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, May 26 Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing
Wednesday, May 27 Review (Book One) at Back Porchervations
Thursday, May 28 Review (Book One) at In a Minute
Saturday, May 30 Spotlight at Becky on Books
Sunday, May 31 Review (Book One) at Book Nerd
Tuesday, June 2 Review (Book One) at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, June 3 Review (Book Two) at Back Porchervations
Thursday, June 4 Spotlight & Giveaway (Book One) at View from the Birdhouse
Friday, June 5 Review (Both Books) at Bibliotica
Sunday, June 7 Review (Book One) at Carole’s Ramblings
Tuesday, June 9 Review & Giveaway (Book One) at A Literary Vacation
Friday, June 12 Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes
Sunday, June 14 Review (Book Two) at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, June 15 Review & Giveaway (Both Books) at Genre Queen
Wednesday, June 17 Review (Both Books) at Luxury Reading