July 16, 2014
In his first novel, local author brings a bygone era to life
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
lot of people say they’re going to write a book one day, but not a lot
of people actually do it. Of those who do, few actually get
published, and even fewer sell out of their first printing in just 25
“Well,” said Elvin Hooper, smiling with a youthful
exuberance that belies his 65 years of age, “I guess I’ve just always
been under the illusion that I was an author.”
Hooper is the
author of “Chicamacomico: How it was back then,” and on a recent
mid-summer afternoon, in between sips of sweet iced tea, genial
conversation, and detours into tangential stories, he discussed why he
wanted to write the book, how he made it happen, and what he hopes will
come of it.
It all started several years ago, when Hooper
approached Gee Gee Rosell, the proprietor of Buxton Village Books, with
a big idea and some early, rough pages. Rosell loved the content, saw
the potential, and told Hooper that if he would hire a professional
editor, she would help him get his book published.
heeded her advice, and, armed with a writer’s most essential tools—a
champion, an editor, a laptop, and, most importantly, a head full of
ideas—he set out to finish what he had started.
After years of
writing, editing, formatting, rewriting, and editing again, the work
was done. The book, which was published by Chapel Hill Press, was
officially released on May 28, with a signing and reception at Buxton
“Chicamacomico” chronicles life on Hatteras
Island in the days before the bridge, and the road, and the tourism. It
takes place in a time when lighthouses and life-saving stations weren’t
just attractions, fishing and hunting weren’t mainly for sport, and the
weather was much more than just a beach-day metric—or fodder for a
24-hour news media cycle.
And if anyone has the credentials to
write a novel about the way Chicamacomico used to be, it’s Hooper. His
island roots run deep.
He was born and raised in the village
of Salvo -- historically named Clarks -- and is a lifelong resident of
Hatteras Island. He has worked as a building code inspector for Dare
County, a carpentry teacher at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, and has
served as a director for the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative for
more than 20 years.
For 15 years, he served as Surfman Number
Four in the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station's reenactment team for
the breeches buoy drill, and he currently still works full-time for the
Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry operation as a night watchman and teaches
carpentry part-time at the high school.
If that wasn’t enough, he also plays in a classic rock band called—what else? —Chicamacomico.
Hooper, who was born in 1949, was too young to have actually
experienced the Chicamacomico of which he writes, he was not too young
to have listened to the stories of those who had.
“Most of the
material has been passed down through stories told by old-timers around
local gathering places,” Hooper writes in the prologue. “I would seek
out these gatherings and remain absolutely quiet, taking in their
stories about the good old days.”
Hooper himself is quite the
storyteller. Whether it’s a skill he acquired from listening to the
old-timers or whether it is simply in his blood, he certainly has a
knack for weaving a story together.
This particular story
begins in Boston, in a Cape Cod-style home, not too far from Little
Brewster Island, where Kristina Peterson is celebrating her 90th
birthday in the company of her seven children, 17 grandchildren, and
occasion coincides with the arrival of what will be a three-day
nor'easter. The celebration is winding down and the wind is
picking up. It’s a
classic recipe for nostalgia, and when Kristina remarks that the
weather reminds her of “down home,” her grandchildren beg her to share
her stories of that place—which, of course, is Chicamacomico, the area
that most of us now recognize as the tri-villages of Rodanthe, Waves,
Kristina lovingly obliges.
She shifted her
pain-ravaged body in her wheelchair and let her mind drift back over
the years. Thoughts of Barnacle, Hazel, and Cocoa began to flood her
mind. A huge smile developed on her aged, weathered face, and she
Kristina’s island adventures start when she and her
family—along with the colt she convinced her father to buy for
her—board a ship in Charleston, S.C., en route to their home in
Baltimore. Like so many others before it, the vessel fell victim to the
infamous Diamond Shoals, and the passengers had to be rescued by the
crew of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station.
follows Kristina’s exploits on the island that eventually becomes her
home, with the people who quickly become her friends and neighbors. It
is a touching and funny and enjoyable story. The prose is simple, but
rich and lively, and the voice is authentic and engaging.
And, it features a vibrant and original cast of characters, many of whom are inspired by Hooper’s own family.
for example, is based on Hooper’s only daughter, Kristina. Her best
friends in the story, Stan and Shanna, are based on (and named after)
Hooper’s actual nephew and niece. According to Hooper, Kristina’s
father, Edward, is a kind of amalgamation of all the Hooper men, and
Hazel, the fiercely independent, if slightly misanthropic woman who is
known for her ability to work with animals and who becomes one of
Kristina’s closest companions, is patterned after Hooper’s aunt, Lucy.
even though the places that appear in the story are real, and though
some of the characters and events featured in the book are based in
fact, Hooper is quick to point out that the book is entirely
fiction. Kristina’s Chicamacomico—and the adventures she has
there—are the product of Hooper’s imagination alone.
Or, as he put it, “Most of it’s stuff I’ve just made up.”
It’s an important point for Hooper, who says he doesn’t want the book to be studied and scrutinized, but read and enjoyed.
if you’ve ever wondered what the island might have been like “back
then,” pick up a copy of the book, grab your favorite drink, sit back,
relax, and enjoy the story.
of “Chicamacomico: How it was back then” can be purchased at Buxton
Village Books, as well as a variety of other locations on the island.
An e-book version of the text is available through the Buxton Village Books website:
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