I recently overheard two women talking about their summer vacation plans while I was browsing at Park Road Books. One of the women was about to head off for the Outer Banks the next week. She said to her friend, “I’m looking for a good beach book,” and her friend started recommending different titles. They eventually wandered out of earshot, but I had a pretty good sense of the sort of book the woman was hoping to find. She wanted an accessible, entertaining book that would be fun to read while she was on vacation. She wanted a book that would help her escape her everyday life for a few hours. In her case, she wanted a book about the pleasures we often associate with the summer months. I have no idea what beach book the woman ended up buying, but I do have recommendations for anybody else who is looking for new beach books.
I am pleased to recommend three new beach books by Charlotte writers. Cheris Hodges’s Open Your Heart isa romantic-suspense novel that relates to both Charlotte and Charleston, South Carolina. Erika Montgomery’s A Summer to Remember isa mystery in which both Hollywood and Cape Cod come into play. Kim Wright’s The Longest Day of the Year is a novel about four women whose lives intersect while staying at a small beach in South Carolina. I contacted all three of these authors and asked them about their new novels and their experiences as Charlotte writers.
Here is what Cheris Hodges sent to me:
Open Your Heart is the third book in the Richardson Sisters series, and much of the story takes place in Charlotte. I think Charlotte is such a rich place to write about because the city is evolving and changing so much. In this book we meet Yolanda Richardson who is running from a horrific event that she’d witnessed in Richmond, VA. When her father and youngest sister, Nina, find out that killers are after her, they hire a bodyguard to protect her. Charles “Chuck” Morris knows better than to fall for the fiery Yolanda, but with danger pushing them together, can they resist the temptation?
Another great thing about Charlotte is all of my writer friends who are here. There is an active community of romance writers in the city and we get together often for writing sprints and brainstorming. Pre-pandemic Sunday afternoons were spent at Amelie’s pounding out words, cleaning up plots and creating meet cutes. Writing is such a solitary gig that it’s always amazing to have people in your corner who understand what you’re going through and are willing to help you make your story pop. Charlotte is a quiet, but powerful literary city. And it’s full of so many stories.
Here is what Erika Montgomery sent to me:
I always refer to A Summer to Remember as my love letter to Hollywood and movies—though it didn’t start out that way. It was the “idea seed” of a sealed letter, never delivered, and how someone might find themselves feeling cosmically obliged to see that letter finally arrive at its destination that first drew me into the story. Of course, like all novels, the plot shifted in many unseen ways after that and became a story about a woman looking to find the identity of her father and uncovering instead a secret season of her late mother’s life with a famous Hollywood couple on Cape Cod. My main character, Frankie, owns a Hollywood memorabilia store, and the theme of memories and how we hold them as a way to hold on to people we’ve lost is a central one in the book. I lost my mother while I was writing the novel and I believe that my need to honor the joy of her memory informed the story as much as my grief did.
When I first moved to Charlotte in the summer of 2009, I had no idea I would find such a remarkable community of writers, all of whom graciously folded me, a new writer, into their universe. In fact, a group of us, who are all still close and have toured with our books together over the years, used to refer to ourselves as The Panera Bread Society, for our regular meet-ups to brainstorm over WIPs and the writing life (and life in general, too!). Halfway through the writing of A Summer to Remember, I moved with my family to Maryland and even though I am no longer living in Charlotte, my ties to the writing community there remain as strong as ever. I continue to be in constant touch with my very dear writer friends, and we have plans to tour again as the world starts to emerge from the pandemic. If that isn’t a testament to the strength and lasting power of Charlotte’s writing community, I don’t know what is!
Here is what Kim Wright sent to me:
The Longest Day of the Year is in some ways my love letter to Cherry Grove, SC, where I’ve gone since my parents bought a condo there way back in 1979 when I was in grad school. My kids grew up spending summers there and now so do my grandkids. I love the gestalt of the place in general and it’s taken on even more meaning for me since my mom died this past spring. I wrote The Longest Day of the Year for her, and I’m really grateful she got to read it before she passed. It was her favorite of my books but that probably has as much to do with the (relative) lack of sex as it does with the setting!
I got the idea for the book in a single afternoon as I was taking my daily walk to the pier and back. I noticed all the groups of ladies sitting huddled together in their beach chairs and ball hats, gossiping and reading, and I was thinking about how there’s something confessional about the beach. You loosen up and say things there, even to (or especially to) strangers that you’d never normally say out loud. And it also occurred to me that whenever you cross those dunes, you’re not only there in the moment but you’re almost transported back in time to all the other times you’ve been to the same place. There’s a timelessness about looking at the water. When I’m there I’m 66, the age I am now but I also have memories of being there at 22 and 37 and 50 and all the other years. So I got the idea of four women at very different points in their lives—but all at a turning point of some sort—sitting on the beach telling each other their stories and added the additional challenge of having all four story lines play out in the course of a single day. June 20. The summer solstice.
As for being an author in Charlotte, I think the city is underrated as a literary hub. I’ve met lots of wonderful writer friends in the city and there are places like Charlotte Lit, where I teach, and the Queens MFA program which do a great job of drawing like-minded people together. I also don’t think Charlotte’s sheer friendliness gets enough credit. Some towns have the reputation of being cities with a thriving art and literary scene but are so exclusive and snobby that it’s hard to break in. That wasn’t my experience here.
All three of the writers featured in this blog post have their own website. For readers who want to know more about Cheris Hodges, please click on the following link: https://thecherishodges.com/ For readers who want to know more about Erika Montgomery, please click of the following link: https://erikamontgomery.com/ For readers who want to know more about Kim Wright, please click on the following link: http://www.kimwright.org/
In my interactions with these writers, I have a sense that they all see themselves as belonging to a community of readers and writers…it’s a community that I call Storied Charlotte.