Author Mary Alice Monroe shares her love of the Carolina coast and explains why her books are best read by the sea.
We’re nearing the end of our summer reading author interviews but didn’t want to miss talking to Mary Alice Monroe. Her new book “The Summer Girls” was released in June and follows three granddaughters who spend the summer with their grandmother on the South Carolina coast. Good news for Monroe fans, the book is only the first in a trilogy. The author says that once the idea for the story came to her, she just couldn’t stop writing. While the first book focuses on sister Carson Muir and her astonishing bond with a dolphin, Monroe will dive deeper into each of her “summer girls” in the next two books. Living on Isle of Palms, next to Sullivan’s Island where “The Summer Girls” takes place, Monroe is deeply familiar with her setting. “These beaches, villages, restaurants, people – they’re my home,” she says.
Read on to find out more about the place Mary Alice Monroe calls home and how she’s helping to honor its characters both on and off the page.
How did you come up with the storyline for “The Summer Girls,” and why did you decide to make it a trilogy?
For me, the inspiration comes from some signal from the universe that its time to write this book at this time. For “The Summer Girls,” I was in a meeting for the Board at the South Carolina Aquarium. Dr. Pat Fair of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Philippe Cousteau presented statistics on the health of the resident dolphin populations in the Charleston and Florida estuarine waters. I was shocked to learn that 48 percent of resident dolphins in the Charleston area were sick. 52 percent in Florida. I began researching dolphins three years ago at NOOA and other organizations in the U.S. Through my volunteering and personal observation of dolphins and the people who serve them, I developed themes – the bedrocks of my novel.
For “The Summer Girls,” the primary themes I built my story around are: communication, family bonds and finding joy in one’s life. I had so much to share that I decided to create a trilogy: The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. Each book will focus on one of the granddaughters yet all the characters are present in the entire trilogy. And that includes the dolphin Delphine! I’m enjoying the opportunity to tell more of my stories in this manner.
Are your characters inspired by any people in your life?
Yes and no. I never write about real people. I would find that limiting as characters have a story arc to follow in a novel complete with flaws. I create characters inspired by the real life people I meet volunteering in my story world. I know the jobs they do, the hours they keep, the attitudes, disappointments, commitments. Also, as an observer and interviewer, I share the stories I hear. I cannot make up anything better than what happens in real life! For example, Carson’s terrifying incident with the shark happened to my daughter. Though the character is fiction, the incident is true.
I live on Isle of Palms, a neighbor to Sullivan’s, and I’m a turtle volunteer for both islands. These beaches, villages, restaurants, people – they’re my home. Charleston is a small town in that we who work with the environment know each other. So in “The Summer Girls,” Carson would meet Toy and Ethan from “Swimming Lessons.” In book two, Cara and Brett from “The Beach House” will make an appearance.
Did you purposefully set out to write a beach read?
I don’t know what “beach read” really means. People carry all kinds of books to the beach, the mountains, wherever they go on summer vacation. Summer is when a lot of us have time to read and we look forward to the free time. I don’t design my books to be read in summer. Though the titles often signal the beach season because my books come out in the summer. My stories are usually set in a beach community against marine life – sea turtles, dolphins – and nature. I write about traditional Southern families in the Charleston area. What better time to read about a family and dolphins then when looking out at the sea? Or just wishing you were on the beach.
I am on book tour now, but when I relax at the end you’ll find me sitting by the pool with books I’ve stockpiled. I love my fellow lowcountry authors and will catch up with the best of them: “The Last Original Wife” by Dorothea Benton Frank, “And Then I Found You” by Patti C. Henry, “Moonrise” by Cassandra King and “The Girls of August” by Anne Rivers Siddons. I also have books by authors requesting quotes. I never blurb a book without reading it first. I have a lot of reading to look forward to before the summer is over.
“The Summer Girls” is one of our summer reading picks, and we have two copies of the book to give away today! Just leave a comment below, and you’ll be entered to win. Two winners will be chosen at random on Monday.