Angela May hopes to get kids engaged in reading with her new book series with Mary Alice Monroe

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Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Angela May has worn many hats in her time in the writing and publication world. She has always been a reader, consuming books and stories from a young age. She went on to study journalism at the University of South Carolina,  and later on, she started her own business in media and PR (May Media and PR).

With the release of the middle-grade level novel, "The Islanders," she adds co-author to the list.

Her writing partner, established author Mary Alice Monroe, is someone familiar to May; in fact, before writing "The Islanders," May had been doing her PR work for years. Monroe was the one to pitch the idea, having been interested in moving from her work in adult fiction to a different project for children — specifically, middle grades. When she decided she wanted to move forward with such a project, she approached May in the office to see if she wanted to help with the writing.

"It was one of the easiest ‘yes’s in my life," May recalls. It was a surprise, but she was immediately enthusiastic about the project.

Combined ShapeCaption
Angela May, left, and Mary Alice Monroe.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Angela May, left, and Mary Alice Monroe.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Combined ShapeCaption
Angela May, left, and Mary Alice Monroe.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

And so, for years, May and Monroe worked tirelessly on "The Islanders," passing it back and forth between them. One would write a chapter and send it to the other; the second would then revise what was written and add to it.

“'From beginning to end, we have built this story,'” May replies when asked about what it means to co-author a story. "We learned we made a great team."

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There was a lot of planning involved — detailed outlines, frequent meetings, and inspirational outings were common throughout the writing process. Even so, the first book took a very, very long time. After all, Monroe was used to adult fiction; May was used to journalism. Neither of them had ever tried collaborative writing on such a scale.

At first, May was worried about her own unfamiliarity writing fiction — specifically middle-grade fiction. She soon realized, however, that she was already intimately familiar with the genre.

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'The Islanders' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

'The Islanders' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Combined ShapeCaption
'The Islanders' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

“[Middle-grade stories] were the books that shaped me and opened my eyes," she explains. "They transported me to other places to learn about people and landscapes that at that time I had not known.”

This realization inspired her to write more than ever. She wanted to pass on her literary experiences to this generation of young readers, and "The Islanders" was the perfect opportunity to do so.

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She describes middle grade fiction as "the important bridge between the fun and beauty of picture books into young adult and contemporary fiction."

“This is where you can hook readers and keep them and hopefully grow their love of reading — or spark that love of reading," she explains. While exact ages are sometimes debated, middle-grade age is generally considered around ages 8-12. At this point in life, children lose interest extremely quickly and may not be super willing to read, so authors have to be deliberate in their writing.

Combined ShapeCaption
Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Combined ShapeCaption
Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

"They have no sympathy," May jokes. “Every word matters, and every little detail matters.”

Thus, one of the most important parts of writing "The Islanders" was making sure the book captured its audience. Painting a vivid world, creating fun and engaging characters...every skill in the writer's toolkit had to be honed.

One of the most effective ways Monroe and May found to draw in their young readers was through setting. The real-life Dewees Island, a barrier island on the coast of South Carolina, was a location that the two decided was perfect for their story.

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May describes the island as a "nature sanctuary" and "a whole other world." There are no cars, restaurants or roads on Dewees, and the only way to access it is by ferry. Animal life is not only common, but expected.

Both Monroe and May were enraptured by the island's beauty and isolation; it was perfect for the book. And visiting the island reignited their love for the natural world — a love that, with their story, they felt invigorated to pass on to children and their families.

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Angela May's son exploring the Dewees Beach.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Angela May's son exploring the Dewees Beach.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Combined ShapeCaption
Angela May's son exploring the Dewees Beach.

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

In an age of technology, instilling a love of books and nature alike in the new generations is especially difficult, but especially important. With "The Islanders," Monroe and May successfully combined the two — and they don't plan to stop there.

Their sequel, "Search for Treasure," (released June 15) continues the story of Jake and his friends, but new characters and adventures keep things fresh. The second book's writing went smoother, with the experience gained in the first, and they're already planning a third.

More notably, though, are May's upcoming library visits.

On Monday, May will visit the Islands Library, which is located near Savannah — a deliberate choice by May. She notes that the climate of the story is very similar to coastal Savannah and that Dewees Island is a near equivalent to Skidaway Island.

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'The Islanders: Search for Treasure' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

'The Islanders: Search for Treasure' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Combined ShapeCaption
'The Islanders: Search for Treasure' by Mary Alice Monroe and Angela May

Credit: Courtesy of the author

Credit: Courtesy of the author

"For kids in Savannah, [the story] will 'feel like home,'" May explains.

On both library dates, she will share the stories that inspired "The Islanders" and "Search for Treasure." There will also be an activity for kids (and their families) to create a "nature journal" to document their own summer adventures. She hopes this journal will not only keep up the kids' enthusiasm for nature, but also give the family an opportunity for bonding in the natural world.

“Whether you are eight or eighty-eight,” she states, “we hope that we’ve inspired you to get outdoors and explore the wild places near you. It can be your backyard; it could be a little trail; it could be your county park. Anywhere near you—get out and look for the beautiful things, big and small.”

IF YOU GO

What: Angela May on her series 'The Islanders'

When: Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday from 1-3 p.m.

Where: Saturday: The Village Library, 1 Skidaway Village Square; Monday: Islands Library, 50 Johnny Mercer Blvd.

Cost: Free

Info: liveoakpl.org/homethevillagelibrary.org

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Angela May hopes to get kids engaged in reading with her new book series with Mary Alice Monroe


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