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 https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/.
This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.