Friday, June 25, 2021

Angela May

Angela May is the founder of May Media and PR and a former award-winning television news journalist who helps promote great books and share important community stories as a media specialist. She’s been working with Mary Alice Monroe for more than a decade. The Islanders is their first book together! May’s husband is a middle school assistant principal. They have two children and live in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

When we started writing this middle grade novel, the working title was The Island during the rough draft. It seemed fitting at the time, considering that the setting of the story--Dewees Island, SC--was a special nature sanctuary that my co-author, Mary Alice Monroe, and I absolutely love it. The title seemed to appropriately reflect the strong sense of place we were creating. However, as our characters developed and the scenes crystalized, their adventurous story led us to rename the book The Islanders because that is who they became, together, in their summertime journey together. And, through the characters’ experiences, we felt like the reader would grow to feel like one of the gang too, an Islander who yearns to return to Dewees again and again. You’ll have to let us know if you think we chose the better title after you read the book. We’re curious to know!

What's in a name?

Each character’s name in the book is special to us, and the names were relatively easy to come up with.

First, our main protagonist is Jake Potter. Mary Alice originally wanted to name him Jack, in honor of her first grandchild. But, then she thought that might not go over so well with her other five grandchildren in the near future. So, I suggested Jake. It’s a nod to my dear husband, whose mother and father have always called him that nickname, even though his name is Jaeson! I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought that nickname to be endearing.

Next, is Jake’s grandmother who he calls Honey. It is a wonderful moniker for one of my family members, which I’ve always thought was a sweet name in place of the traditional grandmother names. And, several years ago, when Mary Alice and I took an informal survey among readers asking what their grandkids call them, Honey was mentioned several times. I’m not sure if it’s a southern thing, but whatever it is, it’s sweet and perfect for our character.

Jake befriends two kids on the island who are coincidentally his age. Macon Simmons is from a successful and wealthy African American family in Atlanta. Mary Alice chose his first name in honor of Macon Bolling Allen, an Indiana black man born in the 1800’s and believed to be the first African-American lawyer in the U.S. and eventually was appointed to the bench to serve as a probate judge in Charleston, SC.

And Lovie, she’s the low country girl I sure would have loved to be when I was her age. Curious, knowledgeable, and fearless in the wild. Her name is specific to Mary Alice’s beloved Beach House series, which is her long-running and bestselling book series that include a matriarch named Olivia Rutledge, AKA Lovie. And later a child born is named in her honor and is nicknamed ‘Little Lovie’. Our editor didn’t like us using ‘Little’ in Lovie’s name, so we dropped the first-half and simply kept Lovie. Her interests and family dynamics mirror the child character of the same name in Mary Alice’s contemporary adult fiction series.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage reader self wouldn’t even believe this would be possible! Published writer wasn’t on the list of possible career choices at that age.

It wasn’t until my early twenties, and several years into my journalism career writing other people’s stories, that I wished in my heart that I could write books for children. I had no idea that my journey would unfold the way it has so far, and in middle grade fiction. I would have never picked that, but I’m totally in love with writing in this important category in literature.

Also, my teenage self would feel immensely grateful for this unsuspecting opportunity and proud of her efforts.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me personally, the endings are hardest. When creating The Islanders with Mary Alice, the beginning drastically changed from its original outline. The shift in one single event in Chapter 1 from Jake’s father dying while serving his country overseas in the Army, to surviving his injuries but not without sacrifice, changed so much of the book. But, that change made the story stronger, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone because we had to reimagine everything. Mary Alice seemed to handle that change much better than me. I credit that to the depth of her experience as a writer. I mean, she’s published 27 books so far. Surely, she’s much more adapted.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

These characters are not exactly me or Mary Alice in any way, but each character embodies qualities or skills that I’d love to have in my own life. Whether it’s their knowledge of the flora and fauna of the low country, or their ability to maneuver a boat through the rich, winding creeks, at least I can live vicariously through my characters; story lives.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For The Islanders book series, the diverse landscape of my home state of South Carolina inspires me--from the barrier islands to the network of rivers, and the blackwater swamps and national forests. As a former journalist, my job gave me a rich opportunity to visit places I would not have otherwise seen and talk with interesting people with deep connections and understanding to the land and its wildlife.
Learn more about The Islanders and visit Angela May's website.

--Marshal Zeringue