REFLECTIONS ON A TRILOGY TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING

June 07, 2012
It was a tender moment on book tour when a reader came up and nervously asked if I would sign her old book--a copy of the original THE BEACH HOUSE. Remember the paperback with the team picture on the back? I smiled to see it again. I don’t have a copy! She told me she’d never part with it. That’s high praise from a reader and it gave me pause.

It’s been ten years since THE BEACH HOUSE was released. Ten years! It still staggers me how fast the years have flown by. This book marked a pivotal change not only in the way I research and write novels and in my career, but in my life as well. I didn’t know that my interest in sea turtles would become a life long passion.

I moved full time to the Isle of Palms in 1999 after years of visits. The first thing I did was join the Island Turtle Team because I wanted to write a novel that included turtles. My sister, Marguerite (who I dedicated BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES to) lived in
Florida and told me how a loggerhead had come ashore outside her house to lay her nest. Marguerite is a painter and she described in vivid words how tears flowed down the loggerhead’s face as she laid her eggs. I shivered when I heard this, resonating to the metaphor of one female creature connecting with another during birth. Now I know that the tears are, in fact, a salt water cleansing of the eye. But that’s not the inspiration for a book! I intuitively felt so much more.

This book began a process of novel preparation that I continue to this day. I first do an academic approach, studying and reading and interviewing experts. Next I volunteer. This is critical to the process. Only by rolling up my sleeves do I connect intimately with the story world—the animals, the setting, and the people who inhabit the world. As a licensed “turtle lady” on Isle of Palms, I developed a passion for this ancient mariner and created characters who shared this passion with my readers. Holding my breath, I handed this "book of the heart" in to my publisher.

THE BEACH HOUSE was my first NY Times hit and green-lit my ability to continue writing stories set against an endangered species or landscape issue. It was an important hallmark for me. I wrote books set against birds of prey and sweetgrass, and more. Rolling up my sleeves and doing volunteer work myself provides my inspiration. After five years, I returned to sea turtles when the SC Aquarium began its sea turtle hospital. Exciting! Again I dove in and began rehabilitating sick and injured sea turtles under the guidance of director Kelly Thorvalson. This book, SWIMMING LESSONS, was the sequel to THE BEACH HOUSE and continued the stories of Toy Sooner, Cara Rutledge and Brett Beauchamps in a new arena of turtle care.

Fast forward five more years and my daughter read THE BEACH HOUSE and said she didn’t know why the character Lovie didn’t just leave her abusive husband. I stared at her and realized, stunned, that she had no clue how different the lives of women in 1974 were from today. A married woman living south of Broad Street in
Charleston, SC in that era could not divorce her husband without a huge scandal that affected not only her, but her children and extended family. She would be ostracized and could possibly lose her children. And where would this abused woman go? There were no shelters. I knew it was time for me to revisit this story and bring to light the issue of spousal abuse—one that continues to be a hot button today and crosses all economic and class lines. And what better way to do so than with the story of one of my most beloved characters, Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge. With her, I could also bring to life the relaxed, quiet life on the island back in the day when the northern tip of the island was still a wild maritime forest, back when the kids were all Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers, back before DNR organized turtle teams. Back when a woman’s path was laid out before her.

So I wrote the third book in this series. On reflection, I realized that when I wrote THE BEACH HOUSE, I had identified with Cara Rutledge, the daughter returning home after a long absence to reconcile with her mother and to minister to her health. Cara, like me, was learning how to become a “turtle lady.” While writing the sequel SWIMMING LESSONS I identified with Toy Sooner, the young woman who was forging a new life and beginning to rehabilitate sea turtles.

While writing BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, I identified with Lovie Rutledge, a woman of a certain age looking back on her life. Her children were grown and she could contemplate the decisions she’d made with the equanimity of maturity and the grace of acceptance. I could not have written this book ten years ago. In the thirteen years I’ve been a “turtle lady,” the sea turtles have taught me many lessons, and in this novel I had the opportunity, through Lovie, to share them with my readers. It's a story of a woman's hard won validation and self respect.

While on book tour I was surprised how many fans didn't realize that BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES is the prequel to THE BEACH HOUSE. I’ve been asked many times which book of the trilogy to read first. My answer is that each book stands alone. However, THE BEACH HOUSE and BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES are intimately connected because in the former, Lovie tells Cara briefly of the summer that changed her life. BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES is the story of that fateful summer. So I would recommend that the reader read THE BEACH HOUSE first, followed by BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, then move to SWIMMING LESSONS. However, if that’s not the way you are reading it, that’s good, too.

Will there be another book in this series? I’m not sure. I am still a "turtle lady." And in SWIMMING LESSONS, the beach house was available for rent. Hmmm…

Book news, book events, and book releases

May 18, 2012
What a spring season! A lot is happening and I'm excited to share all the great news with you- book releases, signing events, book recognitions and so much more. Here we go---

THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER, just released last month in trade paperback, and has been selected as a 2012 SIBA Book Award Finalist for the year's Best Book. (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance). I'm proud and delighted this book has wings!

NEW RELEASE: BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES
My new novel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, is selected as a SIBA Okra Pick! I'm flattered to be one of only a dozen books chosen by Southern indie booksellers as a summer must-read.

May 8th was the big release of my newest novel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES. This milestone has been ten years in the making. As the prequel to the bestsellers THE BEACH HOUSE and SWIMMING LESSONS, this release completes the saga of the beloved "turtle lady" Olivia "Lovie" Rutledge. BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES returns to Charleston and the Isle of Palms in 1974, a tumultuous period in the South for issues of class, infidelity and domestic abuse. Lovie reflects on the difficult choices she faced during that fateful summer that changed her life. I've always felt a bond to the character of Lovie 's story and her story as a wife, mother and "turtle lady" is one that I felt it was time to tell. You can see the book video trailer and read an excerpt on my website at www.maryalicemonroe.com.

BOOK TOUR
To celebrate the May 8th release of BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, I'm in the middle of a 20-city book tour that stretches from the Carolina mountains to Florida's sandy shores with several stops in between. I hope you'll come to an event to say hello and support your local bookseller.

The book tour fun kicked off in Charleston, SC with an unprecedented, not-to-be-missed book launch event at the South Carolina Aquarium benefiting its Sea Turtle Hospital. More than 200 people came out to this Monday night event and it was an amazing event for all!

I look forward to every signing event because each is uniquely fun and I am welcomed by the most wonderful and exuberant crowds who never cease to amaze me with memorable conversations during Q&A sessions and at the signing table.

As a real-life "turtle lady," I wanted to do something extra special with my readers for our beloved loggerhead sea turtles. So, a small number of tour events, such as the launch party, are also special fundraisers, in which a portion of every book sold will benefit a local sea turtle hospital in that area. Thank you to the event hosts who eagerly signed up to help me find a way we can collectively help volunteers and sea turtle hospitals in their efforts to support the loggerhead species for generations to come. Visit my website to learn more about the fundraising events and to RSVP at one near you.

BOOK GIVEAWAYS
Don't miss out on the chance to win a free book! A new contest will be posted on my website and Facebook fan page each week so check in often.

Other worthy book notes: THE BEACH HOUSE is on sale now as a special anniversary edition. The new paperback cover is beautiful! And THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER is now available in paperback as well.

I look forward to meeting you, reading your letters, and celebrating sea turtles during this book tour!

Notes from the Road

May 18, 2012
It's the second week of the BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES book tour, and so far it has been a memorable and exhilarating adventure.

One of the most amazing moments happened Monday afternoon during the "Moveable Feast" literary luncheon in Pawleys Island, hosted by Litchfield Books. It filled my eyes with tears.

Before I explain why, let me share a little background first. Most of my readers know I'm passionate about sea turtle conservation. My personal work with these majestic creatures inspired not only BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, but also my New York Times bestsellers THE BEACH HOUSE and SWIMMING LESSONS. When planning this book tour, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to not only celebrate the progress that's been made in sea turtle conservation but also share the exciting expansion plans of the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital. As I've been saying during this book tour, let's move that hospital out of the basement.

We revealed the plan during the book launch party at the aquarium, and the huge crowd responded enthusiastically. Proceeds from the party's book sales went toward the turtle hospital initiative. Approximately 225 people attended the celebration, many of them were sea turtle volunteers themselves. Fans traveled from all over the Carolinas to be there. I even met a couple from New Hampshire!

Now, back to yesterday's Pawleys Island event. I had just shared some of those hospital expansion details with the packed house, when one woman in the crowd spontaneously decided to pass around a glass jar to collect contributions for the cause. The gesture alone made my heart swell and I figured they might collect a hundred dollars or so. That would have been a wonderful donation. My eyes bulged when told the final tally---$640! I was moved to tears by this group's generosity. I have THE BEST fans!

Just days before, Coastal Discovery Museum in Hilton Head Island, SC also raised money for the sea turtle hospital during a private book tour event. Thank you all for your generous spirit.

One more note about the South Carolina Aquarium. The sea turtle rescue program manager, Kelly Thorvalson, and her team will be releasing two loggerheads back into the ocean at the Isle of Palms County Park on Friday, May 18th at 3pm. I've been a part of these releases many times, and each one is an emotional sight to see. If you live near Charleston, SC, I hope you'll be able to witness this incredible event. You can learn more about the sea turtles being released at www.scaquarium.org.

I'm in North Carolina for the next few days and then I'll drive over to Kingsport, Tennessee. Take a look at my complete book tour schedule at www.maryalicemonroe.com, and I hope to have the opportunity to say hello to you at one of these events.

WHY I READ MY AUDIOBOOKS

March 13, 2012
Many people ask me why I choose to read my audiobooks, and what is it like to do it? It’s definitely hard work. Very, very hard. To give you some idea, if you think you’d like to become a narrator, do what director Laura suggests: Try going into a small room and read for eight hours. If you can do that, then continue every day for five days.

I had read my books at signings for years and many people had told me, “You should read your books on tape.” When I was young, I took acting classes, as well. So when the time came that an audiobook offer was made, I talked to the head of Brilliance, Eileen Hutton, and told her that I’d like to give it a try. If my voice was worthy, then I’d read the book. If not, I wouldn’t. My feelings would not be hurt. We both wanted the audiobook to be the best it could be. I went to the College of Charleston, made a brief CD using their equipment and sent it off. Eileen later called and told me, “That’s exactly how I heard the voice of Toy in my head!”

I read my audiobooks at the Brilliance Audio studios located in Grand Haven, Michigan. It’s a beautiful spot, especially in the summer, but I always end up recording in mid winter! Once I was there when they got hit by a blizzard. It was both exciting and beautiful, especially since we rarely see snow on Isle of Palms. I stay at the Harbor House, a charming Inn overlooking Lake Michigan. My first book was Swimming Lessons and it took me five days to complete reading the abridged and unabridged. Since then, I’ve read Time is a River, The Beach House (we read that one in a studio in Charleston), The Butterfly’s Daughter, and now Beach House Memories. I must be getting better since I finished this last one in 3 days! Professional narrator Sandra Burr has read my back list.

The routine is: I get picked up at the Inn and arrive at the Studio before 9 am. I wear soft clothing, no jewelry or make up. I don’t drink coffee during the day as it dehydrates or soda while reading as it makes the stomach bubble and burp. Instead, I drink warm or hot water with lemon. It’s important to keep the throat hydrated during the recording. My director and engineer are in an outer room with the script and computers, and I go into a second interior room behind double doors that is padded for sound. There is a small lectern, a bright light, and a microphone, earphones and my script. First we set up my mike and volume. After that, I wait for the engineer’s signal from the window. When he waves his hand, I begin to read.

First, you can’t get nervous. That’s when mistakes are made. A good run is when I get through several pages without error. It’s like being in the zone for writing. I can get caught up in the story and have fun with it. But sooner or later, I make a mistake and we have to stop. An error includes any noise, like a page rustling, a click, or body noises. Then I can simply slip in my reading, like substituting the wrong word (could for should), making a singular word plural, switching pronouns, or sloppy pronunciation caused by a tired tongue or jaw. And sometimes, for a really long sentence, I didn’t use my diaphragm to get a good breath and simply run out of steam. Try it, and before long you’ll see what I mean. When I make a mistake and we stop, the engineer tries to find a “hole” where he can let me jump back in seamlessly.

I’m not an actress so getting the accents right can be tricky. I do my best, and when I get into trouble, my director steps in to help me out. I have a new appreciation for narrators who can really get great voices. On the other hand, my readers know that I’m not an actress. They want to know how I perceived the character in my head and how I heard the line spoken in my mind as I wrote it. For me, the story truly comes from my heart. For example, for Beach House Memories, when I read the scenes between husband and wife, Stratton and Lovie, as they argued, it grew heated and highly emotional. I felt these scenes intensely. My tears were real as I read. It’s a tough day. So when the day is done, I’m spent. I go home, eat alone in my room, and fall asleep early so I can be fresh the next day.

So why do I do it? While I read aloud and create the voices for my characters, the story comes alive for me in a whole new way than when I wrote it. I imagine watching your story world come alive for a film is as—or even more—thrilling for an author. In reply, I read my audiobooks for the same reason I write my books—I love telling a good story. I love bringing to life the characters in my head. I hope you enjoy them!

Go Away If It's Not Blood or Fire

February 01, 2012
Back when I was struggling to make it as a young author, I launched two books under two names---Mary Alice Monroe and Mary Alice Kruesi. The premise behind this poor advice from my agent---that at the time seemed like a good idea---was not to confuse the readers because I had sold two different kinds of books to two different publishers. The Monroe name was used for books considered Women’s Fiction. My married name, Kruesi (pronounced as “cruise-ee”), was used for my fantasy novels. I still can’t believe I agreed to do such a thing, considering that my own family members still sometimes misspell my married name.

There I was with two contracts with two separate publishers. Sounds like a happy problem, right? Be careful what you wish for. I was committed to writing two novels in one year. At that time, I was also a young mother of three children—fourteen, eight, and six years old. It was a lot for any author to take on, much less a new one.

One day I burst into tears, sure that I was going to fail as a writer, as a mother, and pretty much as a human being. So I picked up the phone to call my friend Nora Roberts. Who else would better understand my dilemma of writing two books a year than America’s favorite romance writer with a solid reputation of churning out wonderful novels at rapid-fire pace?

From a professional standpoint, Nora has no compassion for excuses or laziness. She is well-disciplined in the craft, writing at her desk for eight hours a day, seven days a week. And she expects others to do the same if they are serious about making it in the writing world. As my friend, she also understood how hard it was to try to find the time to write while raising young children. Nora offered me the greatest writing advice I’ve ever received—and now I’ll share it with you.

Nora told me how, when her two boys were young, she put a sign on her home office door that stated in big, bold red letters, IS IT BLOOD OR FIRE? IF NOT, GO AWAY!

What Nora taught me that day was that a successful writer had to have enough respect for her time and craft that she wouldn’t let trivial distractions interfere with serious work time. Once the author was committed, she had to buckle down and see the project through without tears or excuses. Though, chocolate and French fries were permitted.

The advice reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s admonishment in her book A Room of One’s Own:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction... So when I ask you to earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life."

That very same day I wrote the message in red magic marker on an 8X11 sheet of paper and slapped it on my office door. My children thought it was funny at first and ignored it. Were they surprised when I firmly ushered them out of the office and closed the door in their faces! I played fair. At the same time I established a writing schedule that began the moment they went to school and I turned off the computer at three o’clock when they returned home. For years, my youngest thought it was very special to come into my office when he arrived home knowing I was waiting for him with my full attention. He’d sit on my lap to tell me about his day.

My children learned to respect the sign after some trial and error, and a few tears. But that simple sign gave me the balance I desperately needed in my home life and budding professional career. It set boundaries, both physically and emotionally. The process taught me how to respect the craft of writing, my writing space and time, and it taught my children to respect it also. Mom’s business meant business. And yes, I finished two books that year. (I can’t say I’d do it again.)

Writing this blog entry today makes me realize that I’ve slowly slipped away from this discipline as my children left home. I am at the office every day, but I take for granted my free time and allow phone calls, drop-ins, even pets to disrupt my schedule. For 2012 I’m resolved to re-establish those precious writing hours that ban all outside distractions-- unless it’s blood or fire. It’s time to put that sign back on the door!

Mary Alice Monroe is a NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. Her new book, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, will be released May 2012. Learn more at www.maryalicemonroe.com.

Report From the Beach: August

October 12, 2011
A busy time at the beach for the Island Turtle Team. In the morning we get word about turtle tracks and race to find the nests, and in the evenings we act as midwives to the nests, guiding the hatchlings safely to the sea. This summer we're getting a lot of nests. And not only are the turtles keeping us on our toes—the ghost crabs are taking a turn at it!

At 6:30 am Sunday morning I awoke thinking we had two inventories scheduled. I could get them done and be home for coffee and the newpaper by the time my husband woke up. An inventory is an investigation of a nest three days post the hatchlings emergence. We open the nest and count the hatched and unhatched eggs, and if we’re lucky, we discover a few straggler hatchlings that might not have made it out of the nest without our help.

On our way, we got notice that not one but two sets of turtle tracks were located by volunteers. The Turtle Team was scheduled to begin the morning's inventories at 7:30 am so we kicked into high gear. We were tag teaming and scrambling to take care of relocating and marking these new nests and still getting to the 6th Avenue inventory on time. Proud to say we settled the "twins" in record time.

We hurried back to our cars and arrived at 6th Avenue just in time. A small crowd was already waiting with lots of children eagerly tugging parents closer to the nest. Unfortunately for the kids, this nest did not have any live hatchlings to see. But they were happy to see the eggs. “They look like ping pong balls” is the usual comment. We said goodbye and rushed off to our second inventory. We arrived at Dewees Inlet a few minutes after 8:00 am. I was doing this inventory with Bev. Opening the nest I noticed a foul stench which can mean trouble. We dug so deep I had to lie on the sand digging to find the eggs. At last I felt the familiar hard shell and found a few hatchlings stuck in the hard sand. Do you remember the Clay People in Flash Gordon? That’s what this looks like. The turtles are motionless in the hard sand until we loosen them out.

So there I am, shoulder deep, nose to the sand, and I begin pulling out a hatchling when out from the hole leaps the biggest, freakiest ghost crab I’d ever seen! Whoa! It flew past my face, claws straight out, its funny eyes large black dots seemingly staring in my face. There was a collective gasp and squeal as everyone took a step back. I think I jumped back as far as the ghost crab!

Once I collected my wits I was so angry at that crab for having the audacity to try to kill the hatchlings that I grabbed a stick and... well, let’s just say that crab will not bother other hatchlings again. Imagine having to stick your hand back in a dark hole after that! Having a monster ghost crab leap out at us was a turtle team first!

None of the 16 hatchlings we found in the nest were injured. Fortunately we got there before Mr. Crab could do his damage. The tide was going out and we released these healthy hatchlings from the red bucket to the sand. We watched as they scrambled in their comical fashio to the water then swim away. In the distance one dolphin and her baby were feeding. In the sky, two gulls circled. We could only hope the natural predators missed these hatchlings and they would make it to the safety of the sargassum floats in the Gulf Stream.

I arrived home hot, sweaty, tired, and dying for a cup of coffee. But inside I was feeling chuffed. Not a bad morning of "twofers." Two new nests and two inventories. But we weren't finished yet. I soon learned that two more nests had major "boils" or emergences the night before. The inventories for these two nests are scheduled for Wednesday...

And it's only early August!

To see pictures and follow this blog, visit www.maryalicemonroe.com.

A Turtle Season of Highs and Lows

October 12, 2011
The first breath of fall has come to the Isle of Palms. An early cold front brought a chill to the dawn air. I wake early and wrap favorite patchwork wool and cashmere shawl around my shoulders, slip my bare feet into sandals and step out into the morning. The scent of pluff mud is strong this morning and I smile. It is the scent of home.

There is an inventory of a turtle nest this morning. The first one since Hurricane Irene’s waves battered our coast. We dodged a bullet with that storm. Originally it was predicted to hit our shores as a category 2 or 3 hurricane. Instead, she veered north. Who would have thought my brother and sister-in-law in
Vermont would have been clobbered? I always say, never turn your back on a hurricane.

Our island is saddened, however, because Irene destroyed dunes and we lost 9 nests and three that were due to be inventoried. Which makes today’s inventory special. I make my way along the narrow beach path bordered by high walls of sand dunes. The tropical storm’s heavy rains and the cool air have gifted the lowcountry with a second spring. The undulating dunes are blanketed with countless cheery heads of yellow primrose, gaillardia, and the tiny, sensual wild purple orchids I adore. My heels dig into the cool sand as I climb the final, tall sand dune. I can hear the roar of the ocean before I can see it.

The vista of the mighty ocean spread out to infinity to meet the heavens never fails to take my breath away. The ocean is moody this morning, gun metal gray with long, choppy waves that curl to shore foamy white. The recent storm has ravaged the shoreline, cutting through the dunes and leaving a long line of wrack, a foot high in places. Shells of all kind and size littered the wrack with sponges and sea whip and the ubiquitous plastic bottles.

I’m amused, as I always am, by a flock of sandpipers playing tag with the wave. They are poking their little black awls in the sand with an urgent hunger. One little black and white peep dares to venture close. We stare at each other a moment, its shiny black eyes unblinking. Curious, I take a small step closer and it skitters away. Above, a laughing gull seems to mock my pensive mood.

I am met by my fellow Turtle Team members, Mary,
Tee, Bev, Linda and the Barbaras. We divvy up duties and begin the first of two inventories that morning. Our only observer this morning is
Elizabeth and her fiancé. They are getting married on the weekend and they glow like the dawn breaking overhead.
Elizabeth is a volunteer and found this nest. It was a healthy nest with a total of 106 eggs hatched for a 91% hatch.

??We move on to 9th Avenue for a second inventory. I found one little hatchling trapped in the cold sand and put it into the now famous red bucket. This is another successful nest with114 eggs and had a 92% hatch success.
Elizabeth releases this lone swimmer to the sea. He leaves a watery trail on the sand before he reaches the sea. Instinct kicks in and the hatchling dives and swims off, disappearing into the waves. ?

I stare out at the sea and wonder if I’ve ever seen a more beautiful morning on the beach. A pale blue sky is covered with a thin layer of pearly gray, wispy clouds, like lace over a gown. The ocean absorbs the gray color, mysterious, even threatening. Yet in the distance hints of pink fringe the horizon, promising dawn. The tide is going out leaving a wide watery sheen on the sand that is aglow in rosy hues.

As this season comes to a close, I think how it’s been filled with an unusual number of highs and lows. Early in the season the turtles came in greater numbers than we’ve had in years. We were so excited at racking up the number of nests, betting we’d get to forty and feeling exultant when we hit forty-four. A few of the nests were hard to find when the wind destroyed field signs. There were three CSI triumphs for the team. The Pink Panty nest remains one for the books (read my August blog posting if you missed that story). And, of course, there was Irene’s destruction of the nests we’d carefully moved to a location we’d always thought was safe.

 

As the sun rises higher in the sky and we head back to our homes, we talk about the season and we find comfort in knowing that despite the loss of nests to the hurricane, because we had so many nests this season in the end we helped more hatchlings to the sea this year than last. Nature is the great teacher if we stand back and take the long view. We might face storms and incessant rain, but there is hope in each dawn. I take a final look back at the ocean and smile. That one small hatchling is racing to the
Gulf Stream.

To see pictures and follow this blog, visit www.maryalicemonroe.com.

It's Not a Sequel, But...

October 12, 2011
“Please write a sequel.”

This is a frequent and flattering comment I get on my website guestbook pages, in my email inbox and at signing events. Interestingly, the majority of these requests are for The Beach House and its sequel, Swimming Lessons. People are curious to learn more about the lives of Lovie, Cara and Brett, Toy, Little Lovie and Ethan at the quaint, charming little beach house on the Isle of Palms.

It’s been ten years since I introduced you to Olivia “Lovie” Rutledge in my first NY Times hit, The Beach House. Lovie Rutledge is the island’s turtle lady, a widow trying to make amends for mistakes made long ago before the sun sets on her final summer.

Lovie stood alone gazing toward the west. The day’s light extinguished and the night grew dark and silent save for the clicking of the swaying sea oats and the gentle lapping of waves along the shore. As ghosts of the past rose up to swirl in the hallucinatory colors of twilight, she sighed deeply, clasping her hands tight in front of her as one in prayers. She was nearly seventy years old. There was no time left for regret or misgivings, no time for dreams of what might have been. There were plants to be made. The beach house—and all the secrets it held—had to be place in secure hands. Too much had been sacrificed for too many years to let the secrets slip out now. (Prologue, THE BEACH HOUSE)

There’s an old saying” You must know where you came from to know where you are going. This is what motivated me to write the prequel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES. After reading The Beach House, my married daughter remarked that she couldn’t understand how Lovie could have stayed in a marriage with an abusive husband. I realized that she—like so many young women today—had no comprehension of the rigid social structure for women as recently as the 1970s. I explored the parallel of change occurring in women’s lives in Charleston at the onset of feminism and the destruction of the last vestige of wildness, a maritime forest, on Isle of Palms.

How far would you go, how much would you risk for love? Is the price of love worth your reputation, your marriage, your family? Now imagine answering those questions in the south in 1974. The repercussions of any woman seeking a divorce in the seventies, but especially one from ‘South of Broad’, were staggering. Divorce was scandalous. Adultery was unforgivable. “You made your bed, now lie in it,” was an often repeated phrase. The fight for women’s equal rights raged in the north, but no bras were burned in Charleston! The role and expectations of a southern lady held firm—to be subservient to her husband and to know her role as a homemaker and mother. She had no where to go if she was in trouble. As a supporter of women’s shelters, I knew I had to tell this story.

So all summer, I’ve been writing Lovie’s story. The year is 1974. Cara is nine years old and Palmer is teenager. It is a life-altering summer of secrets. Peeling back the layers of these characters’ past reveals complicated and thought provoking lives and decisions. I hope the prequel will answer questions that lingered in the pages of The Beach House-- and I have new surprises, too.

I’m curious—what questions do you have? Who is your favorite character?

The prequel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, will be released in hardcover in May 2012. I hope you’ll enjoy this look back into a tumultuous, important time in Charleston’s history as well as that of the Isle of Palms, seen through the eyes of one of my most beloved characters.

To follow this blog, visit www.maryalicemonroe.com.

It's Fiesta Time

May 12, 2011
Wow! The day has finally arrived for THE BUTTERFLY'S DAUGHTER. The book release date comes just ahead of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, and it's rather fitting. The main character of my novel is a young American woman of German-Mexican descent. And the story culminates in Central Mexico at the breathtaking site of the monarch butterfly sanctuary.

In honor of the new book release and Cinco de Mayo festivities this week, I'm sharing with you a delicious refried beans recipe from a Moosewood cookbook that I've whipped up many times for family, friends and my book club. It's a perfect dish for any fiesta!

Refritos
2 c. raw pinto beans
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 c. minced green pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. coriander (optional)
3 Tbsp. olive oil for sauteing peppers and onions.

Cook beans (over-cooking is desirable). Reduce liquid. Mash beans with potato masher.

Heat oil in skillet. Add onions, garlic and peppers and cook till translucent. Add cumin, salt and pepper at beginning of cooking.

Add mashed beans to veggies and seasoning and mix well. If too soupy, may be reduced over low heat at this point.

Serve hot. Feeds 4-6 people.

The Monarch and the Afterlife

May 12, 2011
Have you ever experienced the presence of a deceased loved one through nature? Maybe it was the kind gesture of a total stranger that came when you prayed for a sign from above. Or it was a bird that landed nearby and peered at you the moment you began thinking of that loved one.

The monarch butterfly has a centuries-old symbolic connection to the afterlife in many cultures. I was fascinated by this fact, and so I started asking people about their personal experiences. I was amazed to discover how many said they’d had a personal connection with a butterfly after a loved one died. Perhaps at the funeral, or later when they thought of the person, a butterfly appeared.

So I included this element in my new novel, THE BUTTERFLY’S DAUGHTER, through a few of my characters who have there own experiences with the comforting presence of a deceased loved one during a monarch sighting. Little did I know that shortly after writing those scenes I too would have my own experience.

My father- in -law passed away during the writing of this book. My son and I ceremoniously released three butterflies I had raised in his honor. Two flew promptly away, as they all want to do. But one butterfly lingered for a long time, alighting on my arm and my son for a long time. He seemed reluctant to leave. I was astonished. It was just as I’d described it in my novel! I released many butterflies that summer but this was the only time one lingered so long. It was memorable and poignant. I believe we have connections with nature that we simply do not understand.

Have you had a similar experience with a butterfly?

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