The Spark That Started it All

Are you like me after reading a really good book—wondering to yourself what sparked the idea behind the author’s story?  Memorable characters, suspenseful scenarios, unforgettable dialogue…I try to imagine what real-life experiences or observations in that writer’s life might have led to such a well-told story that kept me interested from cover to cover. 

I just returned home from a whirlwind book tour that has me both exhausted and exhilarated.  Exhausted because I’ve been on the road since the week before THE SUMMER GIRLS debut.  Exhilarated because I've received such amazing support and comments from readers and booksellers.  Thanks to all of you, this novel, book one of The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, hit the main New York Times Best Sellers list.   

During the book signings, reading events and luncheons, readers often asked what was the spark behind THE SUMMER GIRLS? As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (Why Dolphins, Why Now), my style of writing weaves together the characters’ lives from my story world with the animals of our real world.  Nature is the inspiration for my novels.  I’ve long dreamed of writing about the bottlenose dolphins I often see here in the Lowcountry but the moment was just never right.  I hadn’t received a sign from above to write the novel; that is until one particular day at the South Carolina Aquarium.

While serving as a member of the board of directors, we were called together at the aquarium for an important meeting led by Philippe Cousteau—explorer, environmental activist and grandson of the famous Jacques Cousteau.  He was giving a special presentation about dolphins.  Coincidently, I had just watched a soul-stirring documentary on dolphin captivity in Japan called The Cove (an eye-opening, must-see film).  With Philippe were Dr. Stephen McCulloch of the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation program at Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Pat Fair, head of marine mammal studies at the Charleston branch of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  They informed us that 48%--almost half--of the dolphins living in Charleston's estuarine waters were sick.   And 52% in Florida's estuarine waters.  I was shocked, as I'm sure you are, too.  It was during that meeting Philippe and Pat told me that it’s time to write the book about dolphins--now.  They understood how my novels can reach a wide range of readers, people who might not pick up a non-fiction article or book about dolphins. 

I dove first into academic research, learning everything I could about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, the type of dolphin found in our waters.  I also began Photo IDs of our resident dolphins with Dr. Pat Fair.  Pat has since become my mentor in my research and a friend.  We zipped along the waterways in NOAA's Zodiac boat, stopping whenever a dolphin was sighted.  Photographs are taken of the dorsal fin.  These have unique markings similar to our fingerprints. The photos are then analyzed in the computers, dolphins identified, and the community health status observed.

Next I journeyed to the Florida Keys to volunteer at the Dolphin Research Center.  For several weeks I did whatever dirty job they asked me to do, slowly moving my way up the ladder to involvement with the dolphins.  I learned that dolphins are not only social and  highly intelligent creatures, but that they have huge personalities.  The second year's visit I volunteered in the Pathways program with a boy with special needs, and the Oddyssey program with wounded warriors.  I'll write more about these powerful experiences later.

During the many months of reading about, observing and working with the species, my story world opens up.  Characters take shape.  Plot develops.  Themes crystalize.  Everything starts coming together.  The dolphins taught me three major lessons: 

1) the power of communication
2) the importance of family and community bonds
3) to remember to laugh.  

From these lessons I created themes, then plot and characters.  Of the characters, there are two strong females, parallels that seam all three books together--Mamaw, the Muir grandmother and Delphine, the charismatic dolphin.   

THE SUMMER GIRLS isn’t about the bottlenose dolphin though.  It’s about three sisters, disconnected, unable to communicate and searching for their identities, brought together by their scheming grandmother, Mamaw, on hopes they will rediscover the bonds of family.  During a three-month stay at Mamaw’s Sea Breeze beach house, the women find their lifeline in a wild dolphin .

Little did I know that Philippe’s push to write the dolphin book I’d been dreaming of would become a trilogy!  And that leads me to the most frequently asked question I’ve been getting on tour, through my website and on Facebook—when’s the next installment coming out? 

The answer is…June 2014, my friends! 

Thank you for the massive support of THE SUMMER GIRLS, book one of The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy.  I'm already working on book two . I can’t wait to share more with you about the Muir girls and the beguiling dolphin, Delphine.

What did you find most interesting about the bottlenose dolphin in the novel?  What questions do you hope will be answered in the sequel?    


  1. Thank you so much for sharing! As a features writer who hopes to one day write a book, I find it very inspiring to hear about that moment is all started to take shape for amazing authors like yourself. I haven't had a chance to pick up the book yet but truly hope to soon so I can write about it on my blog, Goodness & Grit! {www.goodnessandgrit.com}

  2. Just started TSG, 20 pages in and it has me wishing I hadn't started because I know that the end will come too soon. Still missing everyone from Beach House Memories. Your books are so real, you make a reader suspect you've written their story and made them feel like a triumphant survivor. Thanks for many wonderful hours.

  3. Last night I watched a very interesting show on National Geographic Wild. It was called The Dark Side of Dolphins and parts were filmed in South Carolina. If you have not seen, you might want to check it out! Terry on Seabrook Island!

  4. I really hope the second book comes out sooner then you're saying! I can't wait to find out what else happens, especially with the secrets of the past and with Harper's mother. I had no idea how dangerous it is to feed dolphins!

  5. Having working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I will have to check out the Oddyssey program....thanks for sharing that!!


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All the best,
Mary Alice