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…


  1. Mary Alice, I wanted to get to one of your booksignings but Mimi has been so ill. I still have the Brunswick Beacon article with our pic in it where you said she reminded you of what Lovie would look like. I am going to buy a book and read it to her on her balcony at Eagle Crest here at the beach. At least I can follow you on your blog.

  2. Please continue! These books give me a chance to go on vacation while reading them.

  3. The Beach House is not a place but a state of mind. I am sure the newest occupant will discover this as well. Wasn't an artist renting? Oh there is a great story here!

  4. Very enlightening and interesting, Mary Alice! An author's process of writing always fascinates me; each one of us seems to have a personalized path to our "zone of creativity." I'm going to send my FB friends to this blog post; they'll find it fascinating.

  5. Please please please write another book in this series!! I've read The Beach House 3 times now, and each time I read it I feel like I'm revisiting old friends. Before picking up that book, I knew nothing about the loggerheads, but was completely hooked halfway through. Becoming a turtle lady is on my bucket list--I've told my husband countless times that we'll be moving south when he retires!!

  6. I find your books that you have written to be very enlightening. There is always a lesson to be learned from the simplest of jobs. I enjoyed butterfly's daughter and also time is a river. Thank you for using you talents though your writes as an inspiration you have been blessed ewith talent.

  7. You treasure a book more when you know a little something about the author. I chose The Beach House for my love of the beach , but I soon became filled with a fondness for all the characters , their strengths and weaknesses . I loved it !! Now almost completed The Book Club . I'm growing along side Doris as she 's made courageous changes in her life after her month at the cottage . I'm excepting you don't have to be young to be content with yourself . These characters are fiction but the experiences are so true to life . Your writings are a gift of inspiration . back to the trilogy , My next book The Beach House Memories followed by The Swimming Lessons . And as for the cozy Beach House on the beautiful Isle of Palms vacant .... not hardly ... I say RENT IT OUT . we can hardly wait to see the new occupants ..... the best of luck on your new book . The other's have brought laughs , tears and inspiration to many !!

  8. Please write another book. You take me to the beach on those days I can't go!

  9. Tonight is my first visit to your blog and I am so glad I've found you. Although I live in Colorado, this SC girl found you while searching "South Carolina" at the public library. I love that you educate while inspiring and entertaining. I recently was thrilled to see my first baby loggerhead at Fort Fisher while on vacation and an early fall loggerhead nest prior to Hurricane Sandy. Hoping the nest hatched those little guys before the storm. Any sequels coming for Skyward??


Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts. Learn more about my books on Facebook and my website www.maryalicemonroe.com.

All the best,
Mary Alice