If you love books and loggerhead turtles, it’s likely you recognize the name, Mary Alice Monroe. Bestselling author many times over, this well-loved writer is probably best known for her Beach House Series, whose characters have become a part of us over the past 15 years. I was honored to chat with Mary Alice by phone while she was in her mountain home in Tryon, North Carolina.
Of course we had to first talk about what’s happening in the world right now. Mary Alice believes she may have contracted the coronavirus early on. “I went on a cruise early in February, and on the plane ride home, a woman from my cruise was hacking and coughing.” Continuing, she said she began having a fever, cough and chills a few days after getting home – and also had trouble breathing. “I was tested for the flu, but didn’t have it. I was told I had ‘a virus.’ But they did not have Covid 19 tests. I stayed home and thankfully recovered.” Mary Alice said she now realizes how important physical distancing is to keep the virus contained. “I’m solitary by nature and because of my writing – I’m not very inconvenienced.”
“I believe my readers trust me and know I’m going to write a story that will evoke human emotions and touch real issues,” said the author and environmentalist when I asked her to talk about the amazing popularity of her work. Before writing a word, Mary Alice does her research in order to be accurate. “I talk to experts. I go out to work with the animals. In my novels I never proselytize or point fingers. I’m a storyteller. I want readers to become aware of the animals the same way I became aware–through experiences. Still, my response is always human.” Readers have told Mary Alice that they enjoy the stories, but they especially enjoy the learning –and there is a lot to learn in the beloved Beach House Series that teaches us about the natural world through characters that become like family. “I get letters begging me to never stop writing them.”
And luckily for us, Mary Alice is currently working on the next book in the series. While we dive into On Ocean Boulevard, released this month, this prolific author is working on The Next Generation, another exciting chapter in the lives of the characters we have come to love. “I’ve been writing this for 20 years,” Mary Alice said. “My characters have aged. Now it is Cara’s second wedding, and in this story there are a lot of complications that readers will identify with – Cara has come full circle. It’s her turn to be the matriarch for the next generation.”
“I’m changing my story line in the novel I’m writing because of what’s happening in the world,” continued Mary Alice. “I’m looking at what’s happening on the beach. The SC Aquarium has just closed its doors, people are being laid off…and this one family, the Rutledge family, comes together during this time of social distancing. They have struggled through adversity for years, and discover that love, perseverance and commitment gets them through. After this summer, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say!”
“My mountain home is my escape from hurricanes,” laughed Mary Alice when I asked her about her second home. “I am always writing in the fall.” As much as she loves her ocean-side home, the beauty of the mountains draws her in for a different kind of inspiration. “Creativity stems from both, it’s just different. How wonderful that we live where we can easily go from place to place. Nature has such variety, that no matter where we go–as long as we go outdoors, we will be inspired.” When she’s in the writing mode, Mary Alice writes all day – and sometimes into the night if deadlines are approaching. And she loves the whole process – from researching, to volunteering, to writing, to editing the first draft with her editor, to copy editing and finally book tours. “Sometimes, though, I choose not to write. I give myself a vacation to let go of Book A before I begin Book B.”
We are all aware that one of Mary Alice’s passions is the protection of the loggerhead turtle. “We had such a good year last year; I wonder what this year is going to look like? The environmental issue in On Ocean Boulevard is plastic and the damage it’s causing.” On Mary Alice’s Facebook page, there is a link to join “Light One Candle,” a group highlighting her vetted information about what is happening in the natural world, and how one person can make a difference. “My dad used to tell me not to try to change the world, just light one candle.” Continuing, this passionate environmentalist said, “People are overwhelmed with climate change and now the coronavirus. Knowledge is power and action stops fear. I want people to know there is something they can do to make a difference in their own life.”
“In writing you always take your hero, hit them with all the problems and box them in a corner. This is the dark moment. Action is what creates a hero – she decides what to do and acts. We can become heroes in our own life. I invite everyone to join us and light one candle.”
I asked about the future and was very relieved by the answer. “I do want to slow down, but I don’t ever want to stop writing.” Mary Alice has three children, and six grandchildren, and does plan to take a little more time to enjoy her family. “Writing is all I do, it’s my life. Researching or writing. Two things I enjoy.”
The looming shadow of the coronavirus kept creeping back into our conversation. Mary Alice’s book tour has been cancelled – including the huge launch party at the SC Aquarium. Her daughter has postponed her wedding and her future son-in-law has coronavirus (recovering well). Mother’s Day plans are also on hold. “I am usually touring around Mother’s Day, but I try to be in Chicago where one of my daughters lives, but everything is on hold.”
Mary Alice does have a plan in the works to host an online book club, reading the entire Beach House Series. “I hope to have a discussion about each book leading up to On Ocean Boulevard and The Next Generation. It will be a lot of fun and a great way for us to get together with old friends. I hope it brings joy and comfort.”
Learn more about Mary Alice Monroeand her work on her website, www.maryalicemonroe.com. Find her on Facebook and Instagram @maryalicemonroe. Join “Light One Candle” from her Facebook page by clicking on “Groups” from the home page.
On Ocean Boulevard will be available on May 19th at booksellers everywhere and online.
To learn more about the work being done locally to protect the loggerhead turtle, visit S.C.U.T.E. (South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts) on Facebook. Local volunteers walk our beaches every morning around sunrise to check for new turtle nests and then report their findings. If you see a “turtle walker” on the beach, stop and thank her! (From six feet away please.)