New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe talks the inspiration behind the concept for her poignant Southern women’s fiction series, The Lowcountry Summer trilogy. THE SUMMER GIRLS mass market edition is on-sale today, and stay tuned for THE SUMMER WIND, the second book in the series, out 6/17!

I’m lucky to call a small barrier island near Charleston, South Carolina my home.  The landscape is the wellspring of my novels. Sea turtles, monarch butterflies and birds of prey have all served as backdrops in my work and inspire characters that are authentic.  And now, I can add dolphins to that list as well.

For years, I had dreamed of writing a novel with a dolphin in it.  These graceful mammals are common here offshore and in our saltwater creeks.  The sight of a single dorsal fin always fills me with excitement and awe.  But I needed some kind of sign from the universe to know for sure when to write the book.  That sign came in the form of this simple, yet startling fact: 48 to 52 percent of wild dolphins in South Carolina and Florida are sick or contaminated (source: NOAA).

How could I not write a book after learning that statistic about the enigmatic creatures with a beguiling smile that I had been admiring for so long?  So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on book research.  I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with federal researchers who are studying dolphin health and water quality.  Dolphins are an important sentinel species, so whatever is plaguing them is a warning to us.  I also volunteered at the Dolphin Research Center, in Grassy Key, Florida where I participated in programs for children and adults with special needs and a program for our wounded war veterans.  I trained dolphins, swam daily with them in a safe environment and discovered the power of connection.

From these experiences, the themes of my novel began to take shape—communication and connection, family and community bonds.  And my idea of writing one book soon morphed into a series called The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy.

In book one, THE SUMMER GIRLS, you meet Carson, Eudora and Harper, three half-sisters who are disconnected on so many levels.  The only surviving family member they have in common is Mamaw, a Charleston dowager with ancestral ties to pirates, who is selling her seaside home on Sullivan’s Island by the end of summer to live in a retirement community.  Desperate to restore the bonds among the only family she has left, Mamaw lures her grand-daughters home under the guise of a party to celebrate her eightieth birthday.  The sisters’ reunion quickly becomes a debacle that uncovers old wounds, misunderstandings and lies.

It is Carson’s fateful encounter with a wild dolphin which eventually becomes a lifeline for this dysfunctional family. The dolphin, Delphine, makes periodic visits to Mamaw’s boat dock on the cove but soon finds its own life on the line.  The dolphin’s perilous journey serves as the keystone to the trilogy.

I’m delighted to announce that THE SUMMER GIRLS, is being re-released today. And, in just a few weeks, readers will finally get to read more of this southern saga with the June 17th release of THE SUMMER WIND, the second installment of The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy.

Each book focuses on one woman, but all the characters’ stories move forward in each novel toward a final climax. I know what that ending is and I am excited to weave it all together when the final book, SUMMER’S END, is released in 2015.

My great hope is when you finish reading THE SUMMER GIRLS (and the entire trilogy), you’ll feel a satisfying attachment to the characters and realize that you also learned a lot about dolphins too. Happy reading!