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Literary Road Trip: Mary Alice Monroe

June 6, 2010

I’m a big fan of Mary Alice Monroe‘s work, so I was thrilled when she agree to answer a few questions for me!  Here’s what she had to say:

How long have you called South Carolina home?

I’ve been coming to Isle of Palms for over twenty years, and have called it my permanent home for eleven years. The summer I moved all my possessions here there were three hurricanes. Talk about a baptism by wind!

There seem to be so many talented authors in the lowcountry. What is it about the lowcountry that nurtures the arts?

The lowcountry embodies so much of what makes southern literature rich and unique. First and foremost, the lowcountry has a strong sense of place. The landscape is sultry and intoxicating, and holds as many secrets as fiddler crabs in pluff mud. I am enamored with the mysterious marshes, the winding creeks, and the majesty of the ocean. The people of the lowcountry are as colorful as the landscape, and as generous with their spirit as the ocean is with its bounty. Add the history of Charleston with its study of manners, and you have a feast of the senses and imagination for any author.

Please share the story of how sea turtles changed your life.

When I moved to the Isle of Palms I knew I wanted to write a story that included the loggerheads. I began what has become a fundamental of my research –I volunteered. I joined the Island Turtle Team and over the course of two years performed every task from walking the beaches in search of turtle tracks, to moving turtle nests, monitoring hatchings, and keeping records. I was committed to write a novel that didn’t merely use loggerheads as a setting, but rather, to bring an awareness of the plight of this threatened species and to educate the readers as well as entertain them. I wrote THE BEACH HOUSE and its success validated my efforts and green lighted my future books. It helped focus my career as I created my own niche. I’m currently licensed with DNR, I serve on the board of the SC Aquarium, and will always be a “turtle lady” on our barrier islands.

I love that your newer books have an environmental message to them. Can you tell us about your involvement in environmental issues?

Each book I write is set against the backdrop of some environmental issue I feel is timely and that my readers were resonate with. My novel SKYWARD is a love story set at the SC Center for Birds of Prey, SWIMMING LESSONS and my children’s book, TURTLE SUMMER, return to sea turtles. For both, readers participate in their rehabilitation and their uplifting and emotional release back to the wild. SWEETGRASS (re-released May 2010) tells the story of a plantation family struggling to hold on to their land and highlights the area’s historic sweetgrass baskets. TIME IS A RIVER is unique in that this story of a survivor of breast cancer learning to fly fish in the mountains near Asheville, NC holds the message of the healing power of nature. My latest book, LAST LIGHT OVER CAROLINA, is the story of a shrimp boat captain and his wife’s long marriage and depicts the clannish and poignant ties found in the vanishing shrimping communities.along the SE Coast. This book has become suddenly very timely in light of the tragic oil spill in the Gulf.

I know that your next book is about butterflies. Can you tell us a little bit about it? When will it be published?

THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER might be my most ambitious book yet. Of all the butterflies, I chose the monarch butterfly because it is the most unique and magnificent of all butterflies, and the most common throughout the United States. Who doesn’t know and love a monarch? This amazing bug is the only insect to migrate like a bird or a whale. Yet, it isn’t the same butterfly that makes the round trip. It is the great-great-grandchild! Long live the king! But the monarch is endangered. This year some 80% died. My novel is a mother-daughter story set against the endangered phenomenon of the monarch migration. In other words, we have an amazing road trip that chases butterflies from Milwaukee Wisconsin , through the Midwest to Texas and finally the remote mountains of Mexico where millions of monarch butterflies overwinter.

I’ve spent a year raising monarchs and visited the sanctuaries in Mexico. When I stood before millions of monarchs flying around me like brilliant flames against an azure sky, I knew I was breathing rarified air. It was pure joy—and I had to bring that moment to my readers.

I believe I’ve succeeded in my novel. THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER will be released from Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster in May 2011.

And…I’ve written a children’s book to accompany the release. My hope is to reach the next generation of stewards through stories that capture a child’s imagination and changes the way they look at nature forever. In Turtle Summer, the child joins her mother in tending sea turtles during the nesting season. In A BUTTERFLY CALLED HOPE a young girl discovers a caterpillar in her garden and with the help of her mother and Nana Butterfly, raises the caterpillar in her home and releases it to the garden. Only 1 % of monarch eggs survive to butterfly, so imagine the difference children and their parents can make if they bring the eggs indoors to raise! The miracle of metamorphosis is a powerful educational tool for children of all ages.

You do such a great job exploring relationships in your books. Do you think being married to a psychiatrist helps you with these scenes?

Absolutely! Markus and I discuss my characters with him and he helps me stay on point with authenticity. He offers me a wider perspective, challenges me to dig deeper. My sister, Marguerite, is a therapist and we are soul sisters as well. She and I work together very closely on every book to deepen the character’s journey throughout the novel.

Turtle Summer is your only children’s book and it’s won several awards.  How is the writing process different when writing a children’s book?

Writing a children’s book is completely different from writing a novel. It is, frankly, very hard to get right. I use photographs to keep it real for the children. The text must be both educational and inspiring, with a dash of emotion to tug the heartstrings. My goal with the children’s books is to plant a spark of curiosity and desire to protect the species– the planet! I hope to fill their minds and hearts with questions so that they will go to their mothers and fathers, their grandparents, and most of all, their teachers to learn more.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time for me is rare because when I ‘m not working on the novel in my office, I’m doing some adjunct work that pertains to the topic. For example, when I’m not writing THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER, I am tending the monarchs I am raising, working in the butterfly garden, tagging butterflies as they migrate through, or developing waystation gardens for butterflies in my community. I am hopefully starting an indigenous butterfly exhibit as well. I am committed to helping to inspire people to create butterfly gardens throughout the country asap. It would make a tremendous difference in helping to restore the monarch butterfly population.

I thoroughly enjoy each of these activities! The simple truth is—volunteering adds so much joy and dimension to one’s life!

Down time for me in the summer is swimming. I’m a fish and am in the water—the pool or the ocean—every chance I get.

What authors/genres do you like to read?

I love southern fiction. It speaks to me—I never get enough and read many authors. My “must read” southern authors include: Patti Callahan Henry, Cassandra King, Dorothea Benton Frank, Sue Monk Kidd, Nicole Seitz, Josephine Humphreys, Barbara Kingsolver, Billie Letts, the Carl Hiaasen young adult books, and the poetry of Marjory Wentworth.

Thanks so much to Mary Alice!  After reading her answers, I’m really excited about THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER!  I’ll be lucky enough to meet Mary Alice later this week – watch for a giveaway of LAST LIGHT OVER CAROLINA then.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 7:23 am

    Wow. The passion with which she talks about the lowcountry makes me want return there for another visit.

    I admit that I have not read any of Monroe’s books, but this interview has convinced me that I am missing out on an author that I’m sure I could relate to — not just for the environmental messages but because I am fairly outdoorsy and the focus on the natural world around us would be such a good match for me.

    You can believe it that I’ll be back for the giveaway. Have fun when you two meet later this week.

  2. June 6, 2010 7:45 am

    Kathy, this was wonderful. I really enjoyed your interview with Mary Alice Monroe. One of my favorite female fiction books is THE BOOK CLUB by this author. I’ve read it more than once. I know I’ve read others as well. THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER sounds great and I’ll be watching for it next year. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

  3. bookingmama permalink
    June 6, 2010 7:49 am

    Terrific interview. Of course, her answers were fascinating but your questions were super! I’m looking forward to the giveaway!

  4. June 6, 2010 7:51 am

    Great interview and thanks for introducing me to a ‘new to me’ author. BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER sounds like a wonderful book. I’m adding this one to my wish list for next year.

    Thoughts in Progress

  5. June 6, 2010 8:13 am

    What a fun interview, Kathy! I really enjoyed it. I have only read Last Light Over Carolina, but I loved it a lot. It’s nice to know a little more about her.

  6. June 6, 2010 8:32 am

    The Butterflys Daughter sounds wonderful! I just love author interviews.

  7. June 6, 2010 8:34 am

    That’s the first interview I ever read in which the writing was as good as a book! :–) Thanks for the great interview – you get the most amazing authors down in your area!

  8. June 6, 2010 9:30 am

    A great Q & A. I learned a lot about Mary Alice and her books, but also about her passions. That makes me want to find her in the bookstore.

    Straight From Hel

  9. Pam Keener permalink
    June 6, 2010 10:08 am

    I have been a fan of Mary’s since reading The Beach House years ago. I love how she educates you and gives you a good story too. Thanks for the interview. She is an autobuy for me as well as being on my keeper shelf.
    Love & Hugs,

  10. June 6, 2010 12:14 pm

    thanks for the wonderful interview! after reading this i just want to go out there and purchase a book by mary alice monroe. i haven’t read any of her books yet! 😦 what would your recommendation be? thanks!

  11. June 6, 2010 12:15 pm

    Fantastic interview Kathy! I have a few of Mary’s books on my shelves that I must get to not to mention a few others I want to pick up as well.

  12. June 6, 2010 3:26 pm

    This was a wonderful interview. She shared so much of herself. I also like the questions you asked her. I wanted to know why so many good authors come from the low country. You asked and she told. Thanks.

  13. June 6, 2010 4:20 pm

    Thanks for introducing another good author. I love getting to know authors I haven’t read yet, though I doubt my TBR likes it much. 🙂

  14. June 6, 2010 5:24 pm

    I haven’t heard of this author but I will have to check her out. I really enjoyed her Q&A.

  15. June 6, 2010 5:41 pm

    Isle of Palms is one of my favorite places on earth–we’re going there in a couple of weeks, as we have every other year for decades. I guess I need to look up some more of Munroe’s books when we go into Charleston!

  16. June 6, 2010 6:34 pm

    Kathy, this is a fascinating interview! My intrigue with the Carolinas has increased! I love how Mary Alice Monroe’s books are related to environmental issues. I also love monarch butterflies and am always is awe of them when they appear.

  17. June 6, 2010 10:29 pm

    I love reading author interviews, and this one was quite interesting. What a talented woman! I have never read any of her books. Thanks for introducing her to us.

  18. June 7, 2010 9:04 am

    Very nice interview! I am so super psyched about her upcoming book involving butterflies! They are my absolute favorite animal and I don’t think I have ever read anything about them in popular fiction. To have a story centered around butterflies seems like an awesome thing to me!

  19. June 7, 2010 9:12 am

    I really enjoyed this interview and Mary Alice Monroe is going on the top of my list of authors to read. I’m an environmentalist as well, very concerned with wildlife, and at the moment sickened by the pictures from the gulf. She is doing something so positive; I admire her dedication. Thank you for helping us get to know her a little.

  20. June 7, 2010 8:10 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview, Kathy. I’ve only read The Book Club (which I loved) and plan to get copies of both The Butterfly’s Daughter and A Butterfly Called Hope. Actually, I’ll probably get two copies of the latter. One for my niece and one for my granddaughter. They’re both about to turn eight and I know they’d love this book! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  21. stacybuckeye permalink
    June 11, 2010 11:08 pm

    You are a great ambassador for southern wirters, Kathy 🙂

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