The lovely Mary Alice Monroe has very graciously offered to answered some questions I’ve put together about her new book, THE SUMMER GIRLS.
I will begin by saying you are absolutely going to fall in love with this first book in the series. Yes, there will be three in all. What a pleasure to know each summer for the next couple we can look forward to another installment. And, here to tell you more about these books is…… Mary Alice Monroe!
I have put together some questions for our Q&A. Your book is still very fresh in my mind. It tackles so many issues. Okay, here we go.
Q. Is there a certain event that made you decide to tell the dolphins’ story? I guess what I’m asking is — Did something happen specifically, that made you want to write about them? And if so, what?
I have many ideas for stories related to species I want to write about. There are so many… I wait for some sign from the universe to tell me it’s time, NOW, to pick a specific one. It can be an incident, a dream, or a person. For The Summer Girls, it was several people. I’m on the board of the SC Aquarium and three years ago Philippe Cousteau and Stephen McCullough (Florida Atlantic University) came to present with Charleston’s Dr. Pat Fair from NOOA about a 5 year sister study of resident dolphins here and in Florida. The study revealed that in Charleston 48% and In Florida 52% of resident dolphins were sick! I was stunned. They look so happy and healthy out there, but like their smile, that is deceptive. The rate of neonate deaths for dolphins is up, as well. That, plus rising incidents of boat strikes, feeding of dolphins, and water quality issues. Philippe Cousteau and I were talking and he told me it was time to write the book. I was inspired and began my research under the mentorship of Pat Fair. I’ve since become a volunteer at The Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL. and consulted with MOTE Marine Lab in FL. There were so many issues that I decided to write a trilogy.
Q. Is there a house on Sullivan’s Island that is “Sea Breeze?” Or nearby?
Yes and no. There is a street called “Sea Breeze” that goes to The Cove behind Sullivan’s Island. The house I chose as Mamaw’s house is not on this street, but it does indeed exist on Sullivan’s Island. I simply used creative license to move it. I have the floor plan, indoor photos, etc. ,and like The Beach House on Isle of Palms, know Sea Breeze very well now– enough to set the family in it for three books.
Q. You have chosen to tackle several hot issues in this novel. One being alcohol abuse. Many families have members who struggle with this horrific disease that affects not only the user but the loved ones as well. Why did you decide to make Parker an alcoholic?
actions, flaws, strengths, and struggles to peel the onion, and elicit a fewFor the reasons you cited. I look for parallels with issues facing families with the animal I am setting the story against, in this case, dolphins. Dolphins seemingly become “addicted” to the free food offered by humans from boats, docks, etc. despite the fact it is not good for them. Even destructive. Given free food, its just too easy. Choosing the issues to confront in a book is layered. Once I selected Carson’s alcoholism, her genetic history had to be involved and all the repercussions, starting with her parents. Carson’s tragic history is the source of her attachment disorder, but of course I can’t simply tell my readers her diagnosis. My job as an author is to “show and not tell.” I present the symptoms, her history, her re tears in the process.
Q. You made Carson the focal point of this novel. And Mamaw, of course. Do you plan on delving deeper into the lives of Harper and Dora in the next two installments?
Yes. All the girls will be present in each book, but the focus will be with one woman in each book. For The Summer Girls I focus on Carson and the dolphin Delphine. In book two, Dora is the focus, her role as a mother and wife in the process of divorce, a woman who is emotionally and physically falling apart. In book three we delve into Harper’s shut-off life in the world of the internet. Yet, each of the women’s stories will unfold in each book in the trilogy. Including Mamaw and Lucille’s entwined history. There are a lot of stories there, and the thread that will seam all three books together is the charismatic dolphin, Delphine.
Q. Austism is such a big issue these days. It seems everyone has someone in their family dealing with it, or, knows of a family who is dealing with it. Why did you make Dora’s son a special need’s child?
The themes I drew from my research of dolphins are communication, family bonds, and the process of healing and release. Autism clearly presents issues of communication for the family. Also, I’ve worked with children with autism and dolphins at The Dolphin Research Center and the spark of connection between dolphin and child is a miracle to observe. My husband is a child psychiatrist and has been my advisor on all things concerning the autism spectrum disorder. My purpose for Dora’s son, Nate, is to reveal how his involvement with the dolphin acts as a means of connection for him, for his mother, and all the family.
Q. I know you’ve been spending time at the Dolphin Research Center. What are you learning now? It sure looks like you are making a lot of new “girl” friends:)
I am! And I miss my girls at the Dolphin Research Center! The humans, too! Recently I returned from DRC where I volunteered for the second year. This time I worked with the Pathways program for children with autism and the Odyssey program with Wounded Warriors. In both programs I witness barriers broken and connections made that will hopefully endure. I learned so much that I will share in my books. As for girlfriends… what a group of divas those dolphins are. So beautiful and full of personality! My goal was to make friends with Tursi, the supermom of the front lagoon. The previous year she was upset with me for getting the “kids” too riled up and she put me in time-out! I’ll write a blog about that story to share all the hilarious details. This year I was worried she’d still hold me suspect. She recognized me immediately and welcomed me. I’m always surprised when a dolphin remembers me after months absence, but I shouldn’t be. They are very intelligent and aware creatures. Each visit is unique. This year the boys stole my heart, especially Jax and Rainbow. Again, blogs to come!
Q. Your sense of place is impeccable. I know you live on Isle of Palm. Since you have become a best selling novelist, are you still able to move around without being pestered? And do the locals appreciate what you are doing to help the wildlife?
This is my home. I am just another neighbor here on the islands, another member of the Island Turtle Team. That’s the way I like it. Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are separated by a spit of water and our turtle team serves both islands. Folks who live here know and appreciate what all the members do for the turtles that everyone cherishes. When I’m working on the beach, I don’t use “Monroe” because visitors come here because they’ve read my books. I love meeting my readers, but when I’m on duty on the beach I’m just one of the team. Once in awhile I see a car or a golf cart filled with women stopped outside my house, but its not the least bit invasive. We’re really just a small town.
Q. I was amazed and happy to see you use Kite Boarding in the story. I have just become aware of this extreme sport. One afternoon just before sunset I was at Barefoot Beach, Florida, when a Kite Boarder appeared in the distance. We had not seen one before and did not know quite what it was. I took a photo and did some research. Then you introduced Blake and his passion for Kite Boarding. Have you actually participated in the sport? It looks like a real rush, but scary as heck.
My daughter is an internationally known kite boarder and one of the very first women kite boarders on IOP and Sullivan’s. So I know the sport well. Let me hasten to add this is NOT her story at all, but she did teach me about the sport. And the incident with the shark actually happened to her. How could I not write about it! When Gretta did kite boarding years ago, there were only a few out there. Today the sport is exploding in popularity. Not for me, however. I’m blissfully too old for extreme sports. In the next book Dora does kayaking… that’s more my speed!
Q. When will the second book of the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy be published? And are you working on it now? I am already chomping at the bit to get my hands on it.
Thanks so much! I’m writing SUMMER SOLSTICE now and will have SUMMER’S END finished by the end of the year to keep the trilogy seamless. Gallery Books will publish one each summer–and there is a Christmas special in the works for the series, as well. You heard it first here!
Thank you so much for such an informative interview. Readers are going to love feeling like they’ve been behind the scenes with Mary Alice Monroe! And everyone’s going to want to run out and get their own copy of THE SUMMER GIRLS.