On the cover of author Gervais Hagerty’s debut novel, “In Polite Company”, there is some premium blurb.
It’s the kind that can make or break the trajectory of a title on a bookseller’s shelf, whether it’s brick and mortar or whatever.
The first is the catchy statement: “The charm of the South, the cobbled streets and the genealogical society of Charleston are served on a silver platter in this mind-boggling debut album.”
Then there is the giver of such praise. It would be Mary Alice Monroe. In the unlikely event that you don’t know this name, the coverage covers that as well. She is a New York Times bestselling author.
This tried and true editing trumpet isn’t all Monroe did for Hagerty. She became a dedicated mentor to the novice writer, guiding her through everything from character training to hiring an agent.
What’s in it for her? She really likes it.
The making of a mentor
“She calls me her protege,” Hagerty said, appearing to marvel at the turn of events.
After first reading a draft of Hagerty’s manuscript, Monroe came to embrace the role with the same meaning she applies to her own illustrious 27-pound writing career.
And, while she never seeks those connections, this isn’t her first mentoring gig, and it probably won’t be her last.
“They happen organically, by chance,” Monroe said.
For Monroe, it’s just how she rides. That is, when she can spot talent and save time.
“I have always felt a strong sense of camaraderie,” she said.
Before the internet made it possible to quickly connect with writers, Monroe formed such groups with others keen to study the art of writing.
“We criticized each other’s work for the sake of encouragement, not what was wrong,” she said. They’re looking for what’s wrong. “
When it comes to Hagerty, there are certainly some affinities that might lend themselves to the chemistry required for mentoring. The two see Charleston as a signature setting – and both live in the area, with Monroe on the Isle of Palms and Hagerty on the peninsula, where she grew up. They are both committed conservationists. They both find meaning in supporting other women.
Certainly, there was an additional incentive for Monroe to open his manuscript. Hagerty’s father, Richard Hagerty, a retired artist and doctor, had mentored his own daughter, first when she was considering becoming a doctor, and then when she decided to become an artist.
“When her daughter asked me, of course, I was so thrilled that I could say thank you to her helping Gervais. What happens happens,” she said.
According to his daughter, Richard Hagerty has also benefited from having himself a powerful mentor in his own artistic career. It was Laura Bragg, the famous first female director of the Charleston Museum.
But all the iced tea in Charleston couldn’t get Monroe to champion a young author if there wasn’t some talent in the mix. When there isn’t one, Monroe finds ways to compliment the writer and send him on his way.
This time she spotted the ability, felt the affinity. Yet the styles and voices of the novelists are very distinct.
Monroe writes in the third person, elegantly and weaving together stories overlaid, bringing together generations of the women and men around them. She unfolds the details with the ease and subtlety of a seasoned storyteller, creating a timeless patina on her southern world.
In her latest book in the “Beach House” series, “The Summer of Lost and Found”, she focuses on multigenerational women “who loved the beach, sea turtles and others with constant devotion”. His language is luxuriant and fluid: the eyes slide, the looks sweep.
Hagerty, meanwhile, goes forward in first person. It is through the main character of “In Polite Company”, Simons Smythe, a young woman from an established Charleston family (much like the author) who oscillates between the age-old mores of her tribe and a growing need independence. .
The writer happily maintains this conundrum with crisp, jerky sentences and an impressive array of verbs (leaf slips, white lights, Simons scampers), charging briskly with an edge of self-mockery and quick-firing comedic turns.
“She has a voice. She has a personality and an eye for detail,” said Monroe, adding that Hagerty also respected the old adage of writing what she knew and was able to deliver a story of authenticity.
Make his debut
According to Hagerty, here’s how it happened: Monroe invited her to discuss the work after she finished it.
“I was so nervous,” Hagerty said, noting that this conversation was well advanced before she gleaned from Monroe that she had potential.
Monroe deftly rummaged under the hood, tinkering with the structure, one of his strongest assets. She introduced a crucial backstory to a main character, Grandma Laudie, producing a key visual trope in a Capezio dance shoe that served to unlock its complexity and poignant character.
Monroe then sent the writer in with these recommendations, offering to review them afterwards.
Hagerty mopped them up, returning to the office and delivering revisions to a small extent.
In doing so, she had unwittingly crossed the second hurdle.
“The second thing I’m looking for is the person’s response – if they get on the defensive, if they sulk,” Monroe said, adding that Hagerty had taken her advice and had followed it.
Monroe has since delivered the blurb, as well as business advice. She presented it at events. She gladly set aside time for this story, explaining that mentoring is a topic she is passionate about.
And, yes, there was also Kismet. Last year, Monroe invited Hagerty and another rising author, Signe Pike, author of the “Lost Queen” series of medieval Scottish novels.
As they gathered, Monroe’s agent rang, looking for the next Southern writer. According to Hagerty, Monroe said: “It’s Gervais”. As Hagerty ended up signing with another agent, the ball picked up a breakneck speed.
“She struck lightning,” said Monroe, who has spent a lot of time cheering on writers less quickly chosen during the standard release rounds. Hagerty, on the other hand, jumped into action and garnered HarperCollins’ oh-so-tony name as editor.
The old wise man
Monroe said she learned early on from one of her own mentors, Nora Roberts, who gave her some of her early blurbs, that an established author can support a promising young author. A strong editor can also be a mentor, who takes “more than a professional interest in the work, but also a personal interest”.
It is a motif that also plays out in the novels of Monroe, the old wise old fairy tale model. In many “Beach House” books, the character of Lovie Rutledge was quietly leading. In recent books, the role is filled by the character Cara.
And, in life as in fiction, the writer has shaped herself into a wise old woman. “I proudly am.”
So when it comes to guiding aspiring writers, what does Monroe gain?
“It gives me great pleasure to help new authors take off. It really is, “she said. She also likes to show off her talent for editing, which, like” The Matrix, “allows her to see how it all comes together.
“I can’t explain how I know this,” she said.
With a young author, Monroe can often spot structural issues that then affect the pace or ability to lead a climax to its fullest.
“It’s something I can see. And once a young author sees it for herself, she has it for life.
She recently encouraged her longtime assistant, Angela May, to co-write a book for intermediate readers, “The Islanders”. two friends in turtle rescue. It’s now on the New York Times bestseller list, along with another in the ongoing series.
Nonetheless, Monroe is careful about the number of authors she can help at any one time.
“I have to say no, just because I always struggle to find the time to write my own novels,” she said.
When she agrees, she has to hold her breath, hoping it will be good. If she’s spying on talent, then she’s in it.
In “The Summer of Lost and Found”, struggling Linnea Rutledge receives a helping hand from her aunt, Cara, with the keys to her family home on the Isle of Palms.
It’s a tough world for women, Cara said. “With so many blessings, we pay it on to the next.”
Or maybe it was the voice of a certain old woman, reputedly wise, telling an uplifting story in remarkable women and words.