New York Times-bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe will visit Rock Hill this week to talk about her latest book, the lessons we can learn from dolphins, and the possibility of one of her novels being made into a movie.
Monroe, a Lowcountry resident who sets most of her novels along the South Carolina coast, will be speaking over dessert at 2 p.m. Friday at Westminster Towers.
The author is currently on tour promoting her latest work, “The Summer’s End,” the last in her “Lowcountry Summer Trilogy.” The book explores the relationship between three sisters – each named after a famous Southern writer – their grandmother, her Sullivan’s Island home, and a bottlenose dolphin named Delphine.
Monroe spoke with The Herald in advance of this week’s visit.
Q: Your latest book includes the same three women – Carson, Dora and Harper – from your two previous books, “The Summer Girls” and “The Summer Wind.” Did you set out to write a trilogy, or is this just how the story developed over time?
A: It was always going to be a trilogy. All three of the characters are in all three books, but each one focuses on a different one of the three, and they have three different themes. Carson is the heart of the first book, which has a theme of connections. “The Summer Wind” is about Dora, who is this failed Southern belle, and focuses on her story of healing. And now Harper’s story is one with a theme of release.
Q: Your novels all contain strong environmental themes, and in “The Summer’s End,” much of your storytelling focus is put on a dolphin. What’s the significance of the animal for this story?
A: I’m always inspired by nature. I don’t think of a story first, I think of a species ... So I studied dolphins, and I then I draw themes and plots from them. In this case, dolphins excel in communication, they have very strong community bonds, and they live in social groups. That’s reflected in the family bonds between the characters in all three books.
Q: As part of your research for this book, you worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Charleston and volunteered at the Dolphin Research Center at Grassy Key, Fla. What exactly did you do there?
A: I went out on a boat with the crew to make photo IDs of the dolphins, to monitor the population. We captured the dolphins for a short time and took them on board to take blood samples. And then I did every kind of dirty job they had ... Dr. Pat Fair (at NOAA Charleston) has really become a mentor to me. She read every section of the book on dolphins to make sure it was accurate.
Q: Your work often contains strong female characters. Is there one of the women in this book you identify with particularly strongly?
A: I’m interested in Carson a great deal. My daughter is not Carson, she always wants me to say, but she is a kite-surfer, and that’s where Carson gets her interest in kite-surfing. Carson also has more issues than the others, and she deals directly with the dolphin, Delphine, and they form a connection that I identify with. But I’m also a grandmother, and I know the power of grandmothers, so I know what Mamaw can provide ... mature love without expecting anything in return.
Q: All three of these sisters are named after other Southern writers. Is there one of them you identify with more strongly?
A: I have looked to them for ways I can emulate them. Eudora Welty had a strong sense of place, and Harper Lee has a strong sense of social issues, but Carson McCullers wrote so much about family dynamics, and she felt so strongly about what she wrote and did. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a passionate person.
Q: In addition to your new book, it was just announced your 2002 novel, “The Beach House,” is going to be turned into a movie for the Hallmark Channel. Are you going to be involved with that project?
A: I hope so. I’ve talked to Andie MacDowell (who will star in and produce the film), and I know she cares about it a great deal and she loves the state. I’m supposed to come on board as a consultant, but I don’t want to get in Andie’s way, and I have my own books to work on.
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062
Want to go?
What: An appearance by author Mary Alice Monroe
Where: Westminster Towers, 1330 India Hook Road, Rock Hill
When: 2 p.m. Friday
How much: Tickets for limited reserved seating cost $20 and are available by calling 803-328-5000. The purchase includes dessert, refreshments and a signed copy of the novel.