Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | October 13, 2010

Author Interview: Diann Ducharme

 

Photo courtesy of Diann Ducharme

 

Last Friday, local author Diann Ducharme participated in a panel on Writing the South at the James River Writers Conference.  Diann’s open posture and her ever-present smile showed a comfort and ownership of her new role as author, not attendee, but she exuded a humility while talking with Gigi Amateau, Margaret Edds, and Silas House.  I wasn’t surprised to find Diann alongside established authors discussing the South.  Pick up Diann’s début novel, The Outer Banks House, and you’ll find descriptions of Southern landscapes that bring the dunes of Nags Head and summer sunshine into the Virginia fall.

From The Outer Banks House

Our first full day in Nags Head unfolded as thick and warm as honey from the hive.  There wasn’t a thing to do except eat, sleep, and daydream, and I imagined the days following like a stack of goose-down pillows, white and fluffy.

No Shakespearean sonnets to learn, no Latin lessons to strain over.  No more filling my head with things that had already happened, things already written.  Nags Head was a whole new language.

Q&A with Diann Ducharme

Writers Digest (September 2010) recognized you as one of ten notable debuts.  What was your reaction when you found out?

I was delighted! It’s great to be recognized for hard work.

Why the aftermath of 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.

When you wrote the novel, what audience did you have in mind?  Was it a “Southern” audience?

The audience ran the gamut, from men to women in all areas of the country, of all ages. However, imagining Southerners, especially North Carolinians, reading the book with knowledgeable eyes led me to strive for greater accuracy and believability.

How did Richmond influence your road to publication?

I have attended the James River Writers conferences in Richmond for the past six years. The many insightful sessions at the conference helped my writing immensely and perhaps more importantly, gave me the courage to keep writing in a sometimes difficult profession. I met my agent Byrd Leavell at the conference as well. Full circle, four years later, I [was] on a James River Writers conference panel myself (October 9, 2010), sharing my story (from manuscript to agent to editor and publishing) and hopefully inspiring others.

Pittsburg Post Gazette picked The Outer Banks House as one of its summer beach reads.  “Good Morning San Diego” aired literary publicist Antoinette Kuritz naming your novel as one of her summer picks.  How does it feel to have your first novel recognized around the country?

The San Diego mention really blew my mind! I had vacationed there with my family two years ago, and we really loved the city. So much to do there, and so beautiful, right there by the Pacific Ocean. It astounded me that the people there—in California, all the way across the country!—had heard something on t.v. about my East Coast novel. I wondered if anyone would be intrigued enough to buy it!

Antoinette Kuritz said, “I love books that feature the South.  This book – The Outer Banks House – is set right after the Civil War, gives you a sense of history and place, and also gives you a sense of the politics that were going on, but there’s a really great love story.  It’s just a good read.…It’s just a beautiful book….The setting here is a character in the book.”   How did you choose elements of the setting to complement your characters’ stories?  Were there any descriptions you hated to exclude?

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.

Of course, 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.

How did delving into the history of the Outer Banks affect your view of your long-time vacation destination?

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.

You switch between two first person narrators, one an avid reader, the other illiterate; one female, one male; one originally complicit in injustice, the other blackmailed into aiding brutality.  How did you develop the two voices?  Which was more difficult?

Ben’s voice actually came very easily to me (no, I don’t talk like a southern “Banker”! He always seemed like a good friend to me—I have no idea where he came from). Abigail’s voice was a bit harder for me, using the first-person point of view, because I didn’t want her to sound too much like me—a boring, twenty-first century wife and mother. See, a lot of Abigail’s bookish, teacher-minded, stuffy character traits are also mine! She needed to also have a raging inner fire, which I only have on certain days of the month.

I originally wrote from Abigail, Ben, Uncle Jack, and Winnie’s perspectives, but when editing the manuscript for my agent, I removed Winnie’s chapters, mostly in an effort to shorten and streamline the novel. The “Uncle Jack” chapter started off the novel (my agent loved this chapter), but this chapter was removed when editing the novel for my editor—she didn’t understand why I started the novel with a character who immediately dies! But the chapter isn’t completely gone; this chapter is now on my website so that everyone can read it!

Quotes from Robinson Crusoe introduce each chapter in the novel.  How did that story develop as an appropriate association for The Outer Banks House?

Early on in the writing I had been looking for examples of literature that Abigail, as an educated young woman of the South, might have been familiar with, and I came across Robinson Crusoe. I’d never actually sat down and read that particular classic, but it’s themes of isolation, and self-reliance, among others, appealed to me. After I read it, I was struck with the underlying racial theme coursing through it as well, and these themes related back to the ones I was writing about in The Outer Banks House. I thought using the quotes to highlight aspects of the chapters worked out perfectly!

With what Richmond metro area organizations are you involved?

I participate in the James River Writers events, visit and support local book clubs, book stores and libraries, and volunteer at my children’s school.

Where are you most likely to be spotted in Richmond?

Walking my border collie through my neighborhood, or driving in my car to chauffer my kids from school to after-school sports activities. Most other times I am inside my house, un-spottable, working on the sequel to The Outer Banks House.

Meet Diann October 13, 9am at the University of Richmond, Jepson Alumni Center.

You’ll find Diann’s book recommendations for River City Fiction here.

Check back later this week for a recap of the James River Writers Conference.

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Responses

  1. […] there were hundreds of writers there, after all).  I was excited to see Michele Young-Stone and Diann Ducharme, both local authors who’ve spoken to River City […]


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