If you go
› What: FocusLit fundraiser for Southern Lit Alliance
› When: 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 12
› Where: Stratton Hall, 3146 Broad St.
› Tickets: $40; $80 VIP; reservation deadline is June 11
› For more information: 423-777-4221
When Mary Alice Monroe is introduced at the Southern Lit Alliance luncheon on June 12 as an environmental writer, don't expect to hear heavy doses of data, a talk laced with eco-jargon or the latest in environmental policy.
That's not her style.
"I call that lazy writing when a writer just dumps a lot of info to show what they know," says Monroe in a phone interview from her South Carolina home.
In fact, many of her readers probably wouldn't categorize her books as environmental because they pick them up for the engaging character relationships she has such a skill for bringing to life.
"If you make the reader care, they take care" is Monroe's mantra when it comes to environmental advocacy.
"When someone reads my book, they care about the characters, but the characters are so intimately involved with the animals as a backdrop, they can't help but feel my passion about the species as well."
So environmental concerns become plot catalysts: preventing human interference with the nesting cycles of sea turtles in "The Beach House" and "Beach House Reunion"; the decline of shore birds in "Beach House for Rent."
And she's as good as her word when it comes to advocacy.
"When I moved to Isle of Palms, I joined the sea turtle team. Because I was volunteering I realized I could bring awareness through my books," Monroe says.
"After I wrote 'The Beach House,' I began working with birds of prey and volunteered there many years. I wrote 'Skyward' based on that. I also have canaries. I knew someday I would find a way to put them in (check out Heather Wyatt in 'Beach House for Rent.') We've experienced a 70% drop in shore birds in this country since the 1970s. It's a real concern. I've been working with the Audubon Society to get that information out."
Volunteering in the real world is one-third of the prep work for her literary world. When planning for each book, she first does academic research, followed by talking with experts in that field, then volunteers/works with the species she's writing about (if she hasn't already.)
"When my character looks a dolphin in the eye, the emotions she feels are real because I've done that," says the author.
"My characters have a job to do in a novel: Get a story across. My novels are to get people to pay attention and get them interested. Then I want them to go to their libraries and learn more. I'm the hook to get them interested."
Monroe's newest novel, "The Summer Guests," comes out June 11, one day before her appearance in Chattanooga at FocusLit, Southern Lit Alliance's fundraiser in Stratton Hall.
"We are excited to be one of her first stops on her book tour," says Lynda LeVan, Southern Lit Alliance executive director.
"The Summer Guests" was inspired by an evacuation experience of Monroe's during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
In her book, several equestrians evacuate to the North Carolina mountain home of a friend to escape a hurricane targeting their stables in Florida. Other friends are coming from South Carolina as well. They must choose only a few treasured possessions to bring with them. What's most important; what can't be left behind? Over the following days, relationships are put to the test as the characters deal with unresolved issues and realize what really is important in their lives.
"When I started this book, I was working and volunteering with rescue horses," says Monroe. "I evacuated to Tryon, North Carolina, with three dogs and five canaries. I slept above the barn, and I became much more connected to horses as I heard them neigh at night.
"When I was there, it was truly women helping women. All these people who came to the farm were equestrians. It was a pressure cooker of an environment, but we all became friends. I do believe hurricane evacuation, or evacuation from any natural disaster, is going to become a major issue in coming years."
While she assures her readers there will be another "Beach House" in the series, her next novel will be a family saga about a Charleston family. She also has her first middle-grade book coming out called "The Island."
"It's about three children on Dewees Island without stores, without cars and no electronics."
During the luncheon, Southern Lit Alliance will award its first Barnett Prize to an outstanding local writer. LeVan says 18 authors were nominated/applied. The inaugural winner will receive an original piece made by sculptor Isaac Duncan.
Monroe will hold a question-and-answer session with her audience following her talk. Tickets are $40 for the luncheon and Q&A session. An $80 VIP ticket includes the luncheon, Q&A session, post-luncheon reception with champagne toast, copy of "The Summer Guests" and guaranteed time with Monroe for a book signing.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.