Month: June 2019

Author Interview: New novel on hurricanes brings Mary Alice Monroe to town for library talk

Mary Alice Monroe knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer. Growing up with nine siblings fostered her imagination, as she would often join her brothers and sisters in writing stories, plays and musicals. But it wasn’t until she found herself on bed rest during a difficult pregnancy that she finally found the time to write her first novel.

Now, 22 novels and two picture books later, it’s safe to say she’s found her calling. But for Monroe, it’s about more than just telling stories. After her fifth novel, she moved to South Carolina, joined the island turtle team…and had something of an epiphany.

“I decided my next book would be a vehicle to spread awareness about sea turtles,” she said. “I knew my passion and awareness would translate into emotions for my readers, and with so many species in trouble there’s a real sense of urgency.”

Monroe’s newest novel, “The Summer Guests,” is set against a backdrop all too familiar for Tallahassee: an approaching hurricane and widespread evacuations. Think the evacuations of Hurricane Irma and the threat of Hurricane Michael rolled together. Instead of sea turtles, the featured animals in this story are horses — whose caretakers face the monumental task of safely moving their very large, powerful and valuable cargo out of the storm’s path.

“I think the real question of the story is when you evacuate, what do you take? What do you really value?” Monroe said. “After 20 years of hurricanes, I’ve learned I throw my animals in the car. The rest is just stuff. It’s the memories and relationships that matter the most.”

Relationships are the focal point of the story; Monroe likes to raise questions in all of her novels about human relationships with animals and nature and how those relationships are intertwined.

“I hope this story inspires,” she said. “And I love the fact that my readers can sit on a beach and be in the world in the novel.”

As for inspiration, Monroe offered a few words of advice for aspiring authors.

“Being born with a talent to write is a gift, but to be published you have to hone your craft,” she said. “And listen to your editor. Your mother will love every word you’ve ever written. Your editor will make it better.”

Monroe also encouraged people to become active volunteers in their communities, noting volunteering has been the bedrock of her career. For more information on volunteer opportunities, especially as the 2019 hurricane season kicks off, please visit

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Meet the Illustrator: Dan Hanna

More often than not, the books we read as adults are unillustrated (and what a shame!). But children’s books still incorporate the magic of imagery, and The Pout-Pout Fish series is no different. And picture books have always been important to Dan Hanna, the illustrator of the famous Mr. Fish.

“When I look back on my life and the decisions I’ve made, I’ve come to realize the picture books I saw as a child have affected me deeply,” he said. “Children’s books, I think, are the most powerful books in the world. They plant seeds that play a big part in who you become.”

Hanna’s art in the books is instantly recognizable, and he explained that the main character is based on a real fish he encountered on a scuba diving trip in Fiji.

“There was a pudgy little fish about the size of my fist. I swam right up to him, just inches from his face, and he stared right back at me with his big pouty lips,” he said. “Little did I know that funny fellow was destined to become Mr. Fish, the main character from the books.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Hanna’s style is so distinctive is the time and effort he spent refining it. His goal, he said, was to develop a style that looked different than what he’d been seeing in other picture books.

Now, when he gets a new manuscript from author Deborah Diesen, he works to create images that are, in his words, “rich and detailed enough so the reader stands a good chance of seeing something new if/when they revisit the book.” He also never communicates directly with Diesen during the entire process; their editor acts as an intermediary.

He may not talk to Diesen during the illustrating process, but he said one of the most surprising things about illustrating the stories is how easy it is to start talking to himself…and what great conversations he’s had.

His path to becoming a children’s book illustrator was somewhat circuitous; he attended college first for film and then switched to computer science. After college he started working with computer graphics and eventually saved enough money to go back to school at CalArts for a degree in Experimental Animation. Ten years later, the company he was working for went out of business so he decided to reach for his dream: children’s books.

Perseverance was key to the journey. It took over five years of writing and illustrating his own stories, submitting them to publishers and getting rejected before he finally got the Pout-Pout Fish job. Hanna also said it’s important to have faith in your own abilities, and that’s it’s perfectly ok to listen to criticism and advice from people without following it.

“Try things, fail, make mistakes and learn! Be adventurous and fearless,” he said. “Oh, and open up a Roth IRA account as soon as possible and contribute to it as much as you can.”

This article was first published by Midtown Reader.