New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe will be the featured speaker at a benefit event for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust and Nemours Wildlife Foundation this Sunday May 22.
Monroe also has a new novel out —“A Lowcountry Wedding” — the latest installment in the popular “Lowcountry Summer” series.
We talked with the Charleston-based author by phone recently about the new book and her work promoting environmental and conservation organizations. Here, edited for space, is that conversation:
What are the challenges, if any, of writing a series or continuing a story with a set of characters you introduced years earlier. Do you ever hear from your fans who keep track of characters, for instance, and who may call you out if you don’t get something right about one of your characters?
Never miss a local story.
(Laughing). A series is a challenge for any author. It’s a nice idea of continuing a story but to pick it up and move into another book, especially when that book comes out a year or more later, your craft is called upon to reintroduce the story to readers without dumping too much information on them that they already know.
...So it’s craft and that’s our job to do it.
For this series, I chose to have each book intended to be read one after the other. The story continued. So I focused in each book on one of the three young women, the three sisters. But all of the story continued on over one period of time.
What held the book together was one summer for the time period and the tent pole characters of the grandmother, “Mamaw,” and the dolphin, Delphine. They sort of bound the seams of the story together like thread.
...This is different than the Beach House series which focuses on mother-daughter relationships and sea turtles. That series I wrote several years apart. Each one I had written maybe three to five years apart.
As I get involved in a new area of sea turtles, whether it’s nesting or rehabilitation, I write another book using the same characters but they jump forward a number of years.
...I’m actually writing another Beach House book. It’s coming out next summer. “Beach House for Rent.” I left the beach house for rent in the last book “Swimming Lessons” and now, years later, I’m going to show a new character moving into the beach house. So I can continue it and have it be read as a stand alone novel.
Do your characters wake you up at night when you leave off like that?
(Laughing) That’s a good question.
That happens with every book. Every book I write, the characters start to come alive. When I’m with a series however like “The Summer Girls” and “The Summer Wind” and “The Summer’s End,” those three books were done back to back and by the time I finished with those I was heavily invested in those characters.
They were like real people to me and to my readers apparently, because I did get so many letters from readers begging me to continue with this family.
It wasn’t an intention to continue after the trilogy, but then I realized that Charleston was the number one wedding destination in the country. ...So it seemed like a logical flow. Plus, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
The trilogy took place over one summer and this is now a year later and everyone was curious how did they work out? How is Delphine the dolphin?
So actually, I did want to continue with Delphine the dolphin because the final statement I wanted to make regarding dolphins was with water quality. And that’s an issue that’s very close to all of our hearts.
...Almost half of all the dolphins in the Charleston estuary are deemed not healthy and you can expect that’s true for the Beaufort area as well. There are a lot of reasons for that which I can go into, but I did want to make a statement about the magnificence of what is wild, especially with dolphins.
I just started reading “A Lowcountry Wedding” and know a new mysterious sibling will be introduced. Do you plan to continue with the series after this book?
I would like to. I don’t know though. I honestly don’t know. I think I’ll let the readers let me know what they want me to do.
I’m very interested in the new young character that’s introduced. There are other stories I want to tell and other species I want to explore.
Are you OK with the description “Beach Read” and if so, what elements do you think make for a good beach read?
Thankfully, I don’t have any problems with the description because my books come out in the summer and to my mind summer is when people have time to read.
And my books are set against many marine animals and I love the idea that someone could be sitting on the beach reading “A Lowcountry Wedding” about the dolphin and will look up and search for a dorsal fin in the water. They are right there and are excited to learn about what’s going on in the ocean and in the wetlands.
I love the idea that someone could be sitting on the beach reading “A Lowcountry Wedding” about the dolphin and will look up and search for a dorsal fin in the water.
Mary Alice Monroe
(Also) there’s a connotation that it’s a light read, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. People read what they want to read when they are on vacation and that’s often at the beach.
I know you’ve been very involved in conservation and the environment whether through your work at the S.C. Aquarium or The Leatherback Trust. How did you come to be involved with the Beaufort County Open Land Trust and Nemours Wildlife Foundation?
I have worked with land trusts before. This is my first involvement with the Beaufort County Land Trust. ...I am a great supporter of all land trusts. They are doing God’s work in my opinion. They are preserving and protecting tracts of land that could be lost to development and once it’s lost, it’s lost forever.
I’m also very concerned with water quality. And the Beaufort County Land Trust is also concerned with this issue and protecting water tables and wetlands.
This is our moment in time as growth is unprecedented and they must regulate for smart growth and protect what it is people are moving here for as well as our heritage which is the Lowcountry.
Do you ever get feedback from readers who may have been unaware of these environmental issues before reading your books?
Absolutely. Every day and many times a day. Especially when I’m on book tours people thank me for ...making them aware, for helping them know how they can protect.
My mission is to make my readers aware of issues facing landscape and wildlife through the power of story. I don’t write nonfiction. I write stories. And I believe in the power of the story to make readers aware of the issues facing landscape and wildlife. If you can connect the reader emotionally, which is what story does, to the species then they care.
I believe in the power of the story to make readers aware of the issues facing landscape and wildlife.
Mary Alice Monroe
I’m so grateful because that is the ‘why’ of my writing.
I also read where you’re offering an all-expense paid wedding in Charleston as part of the release of your new book. Anyone can submit a short video to say why they feel they should be selected, and I see where finalists will be selected and the public gets to vote on June 13. How is that going?
I have to tell you, it’s been the most amazing experience of my life to put this wedding together. It’s so typical of the South and Charleston in particular to want to put this wedding together. I call it “wedding fever.”
Once we connected with the Charleston Visitors Bureau, it shot off from there. They get countless queries all year from people who want to get married in Charleston. And when I told them what our idea was, we had top of the line A-list vendors come on board and volunteer their services.
Do you think you’ll forever feel connected to this couple, whoever they are, once the wedding gets underway?
Yes...I hope just to get invited to the wedding. (laughing)
If You Go
The Beaufort County Open Land Trust and Nemours Wildlife Foundation will co-host a Lowcountry Barbecue featuring Mary Alice Monroe as guest speaker.
The benefit event is at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday May 22, on the grounds of Nemours Plantation, 161 Nemours Plantation Road, Yemassee.
Tickets are $85 and are limited. Each ticket includes a signed copy of “A Lowcountry Wedding,” lunch and one-year membership in the open land trust.
To reserve call 843-521-2175. For details visit www.nemourswildlifefoundation.org.
For details on the free dream Charleston wedding and how to enter, visit www.maryalicemonroe.com/weddingcontest.