Dramatic secrets on the way to finding true love on the dunes of Nantucket Island

“Secrets in Summer” by Nancy Thayer
“Secrets in Summer” by Nancy Thayer

Among the upcoming deluge of summer titles from the multibillion-dollar publishing industry is one much-anticipated seasonal niche – the classic beach read. The stencil is light fiction written mostly by female authors for a mostly female readership, tasty snacks to be enjoyed during vacation. Still, some are more richly textured than others.

Case in point are the 29 novels by Nancy Thayer, 73, the acknowledged “queen of the beach read.” Her agenda, she says, are stories that examine “marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step-parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, and the normal human hunger for personal connections.”

Thayer’s new title is “Secrets in Summer,” set on Nantucket Island off Cape Cod, Mass. (Ballantine, $27, 336 pages). It follows the adventures and self-discoveries of full-time resident and children’s librarian Darcy Cotterill, 30, on her way to finding true love.

Thayer’s novels have been translated into more than 12 languages. We caught up with her at her home in Nantucket, where she lives with her husband, Charles Walters, who hosts a jazz-and-blues show on local radio. Visit her at

Q: You’ve lived on Nantucket for 33 years. How did that happen?

A: I came out from Kansas to meet a friend, and I met my husband, Charlie. He was doing interviews on his radio show “Arts Views” and interviewed me about my third novel. And that was it.

Q: An inordinate number of beach reads are set on Nantucket Island. It’s a sea-and-sand summer colony with a who’s who of celebrity residents and visitors, but beyond that?

A: It’s romantic and very historic, much like (towns in England). The streets are cobblestone, the sidewalks are brick, no buildings in town are over two stories, and no chain stores are allowed.

I really write about two things here. First, it’s a small town, and I know everyone when I go anywhere, so there’s (a unique sense) of community. The other thing is the nature, which is so unpredictable and metaphorical and supplies wonderful plots for my books. In winter, when there’s a huge storm, we go slightly mad and stand on the beach and feel the energy from the ocean.

Q: Why are beach reads so popular?

A: Beach books are affirmative. When they come out in May with their beautiful covers and evocative titles, you know there’s going to be a happy ending, and there are many days when we all need happy endings. (Going in) you know that beach reads probably won’t have anything to do with politics or abuse or starvation, so you can read them and learn what people like yourself are going through, and go to sleep without having nightmares

Q: Darcy goes through quite a lot to find her own happy ending.

A: I’m from Kansas, where the state motto is “Ad Astra Per Aspera” – To the Stars Through Difficulty.” When I’m writing my books, I always think that I want to write about getting happy – getting to the stars – but you have to go through difficulties. Yes, Darcy’s (difficulties) are a whole lot of stuff, but it’s the ordinary stuff we all have. It’s life.

Q: A big part of the plot of “Secrets in Summer” involves out-of-towners renting houses and interacting with the locals. What are you seeing so far this summer?

A: I’m seeing a lot of what I wrote about in “Secrets,” (partly because) our house is in town and we do have a yard with hedges around it.

Q: Like Darcy, you have new neighbors all summer.

A: Yes, and sometimes it’s wonderful, other time it’s just interesting. A lot of parents rent houses for their college-age kids to summer in for a weekend or a week. We have an 11 p.m. loud-noise curfew, but the kids who come here have a good time and quite often throw their beer bottles over the hedge and into our yard. I used to pick them up and recycle them, but I’ve taken to throwing them back.

Q: What’s a typical writing day?

A: I get up early and work all morning, then I might have lunch with somebody, and then I do business stuff on the computer in the afternoon. I have finally lifted the ban that I imposed on myself, which was I couln’t read anything until 5 p.m. Now I allow myself to read at noon in the summer, which is wild for me.

Q: And your next book?

A: It’s about a mother who’s 55 and getting married, and her two daughters are coming for the summer. One of them is having an affair, and the other one’s husband is also having an affair. So there’s lots of discussion about what marriage is all about.

Q: Is there one thing your fans don’t know about you?

A: I really love my husband, but he likes being alone as much as I do. I’ve said to him that being with him is almost as good as being alone. He understands that completely, because he feels the same way.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe