M.H. Herlong grew up in a small town in South Carolina where she once had a dog and never went sailing but did read about a million books. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that she writes all the time and that her first published novel was about sailing and her second, about a dog.
She went to The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she majored in English and studied fiction writing under Stephen Marlowe. On the first day of the two-semester class, the students received the single assignment for the entire year—write a novel—which they all did. After college, Herlong taught high school English for a year then moved to Florida with her new husband where they served as captain and crew of the Sonshine and lived aboard Arawak, the sailboat which became the basis for Chrysalis, the boat in The Great Wide Sea. Together they have sailed at sea in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands but lately most of their sailing has been off the beach in Alabama.
After two sunny years in Florida, they moved back to Virginia, first to work on Capitol Hill and then to attend the University of Virginia where Herlong earned her Masters Degree in English and then her law degree. After law school, she and her husband moved to New Orleans where they both practiced law. Soon their first son was born and then the second. Herlong retired from the practice of law and a one-year stint as a law professor. Before long, sons number three and four arrived.
Sometime in the midst of the bottles, oatmeal, and soccer games, Herlong took up writing again. Her goal with The Great Wide Sea was to write a book her sons would want to read. Three of her sons read it immediately and liked it. Then The Great Wide Sea was named one of YALSA’s 2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults and included on numerous state reading lists, including the Texas Lone Star Reading List and the Florida Sunshine State Young Readers List. But it wasn’t until three years after the book’s publication that the hold-out son finally read it. At last, she had succeeded. He liked it, too.
Herlong’s second published novel, Buddy, grows out of her experience as a New Orleanian when levee breaks in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina caused massive flooding and destroyed much of the city. Her own evacuation, return, and rebuilding story are quite different from the one of Li’l T and his family. But all New Orleanians, no matter what happened to them or where they are today, share the essential experience that firmly divided time for every one of them into life pre-Katrina and life after.