Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) continues this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!
Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Sheila Turnage! We sat down* with Sheila to chat about her new novel, THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS. (*emailed because geography and technology)
Hi, Sheila! For the readers who are new to the world of Mo & Dale, would you mind providing a short overview of the series?
Sure! The Mo & Dale Mysteries, which kicked off with Newbery Honor winner THREE TIMES LUCKY, are set in Tupelo Landing, NC. Each book is written as a stand-alone mystery taken on by eleven-year-old Miss Moses LoBeau and her best friends Dale Earnhardt Johnson III and Harm Crenshaw.
The arc that ties all the mysteries together is the biggest mystery of Mo’s life. Mo was torn from her mother’s arms the day she was born and washed into Tupelo Landing by a hurricane. So, of course, the mystery of all mysteries, for her, is ‘Where is my long-lost mother?’
In THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS, which launched September 11, Mo and her fellow Desperado Detectives reopen that mystery as they also hunt for the pirate Blackbeard’s treasure. So, this is a hunt for two kinds of treasure: treasure of the world and treasure of the heart.
What drew you to writing middle grade stories?
Honestly, I didn’t start out to write middle-grade mysteries. I just set out, with THREE TIMES LUCKY, to write the best story I could for Mo LoBeau – rising sixth-grader, yellow belt karate student, and co-founder of the Desperado Detective Agency.
It turned out to be middle-grade, but that was never my intent going into it.
Having said that, I love writing these books! I really think Middle Grade suits me. They’re fast paced and have an innocence you don’t find in books for older readers. I appreciate both of those things.
I love visiting schools and talking to kids, and receiving email from them. (Sheila@SheilaTurnage.com)
What’s your favourite part about writing mysteries?
Solving the mystery! Mysteries are puzzles, and I really enjoy figuring out how everything fits together. So in THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS, I love racing for the treasure, and I love finding out whether Mo will actually find her mom – and if she does, how that might affect all the characters in the book, not just Mo.
Mo and Dale are an awesome pair with a great friendship. How did you come up with those characters?
Mo’s one of those characters who just pops onto the page. I loved her as soon as I started “hearing” her voice in my imagination, if you know what I mean. She’s so smart and strong, and so vulnerable. And downright hilarious.
Dale grew alongside her. He’s a great foil, and he adds a lot of humor and love to these books. The two characters balance each other really well.
So I’d say Mo and Dale evolved together as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote these books. I can’t really imagine one without the other. Dale’s trust balances Mo’s worldliness, and his wisdom balances her temper and sometimes rash courage. I love them together.
Any tips for people interested in writing a mystery series?
Let’s start with tips for writing a mystery. I’d say make sure your main character is likeable, see where the mystery leads you, make sure there’s a larger meaning to the mystery, and finally hide your clues! I usually hide the clues last, after I understand how everything works.
I add tons of action, and as much humor as I can. Because who wants to write a boring book? Not me.
I think a series benefits from a longer arc, to tie the volumes together. I think readers continue to follow Mo and Dale in part because they want to know more about Mo’s mother. I keep that issue alive with letters Mo writes to her “Upstream Mother” in her Piggly Wiggly Chronicles, throughout all the books. So that emotional thread is always there.
And that’s what they’re following up on in THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS.
How do you construct your mysteries? Do you know the problem first? The perp? Do you start with a great idea for a clue? What’s your jumping off point?
Usually I start with something going spectacularly wrong, and let things develop from there. Often I know who the perp is and have a good idea of the ending, but getting from beginning to end can be a mysterious process!
I may hope I know how the two connect, but honestly I just let the story unfold, and see what happens. I take a lot of wrong paths before I find the right one, as my editor Kathy Dawson can tell you. But it seems to work out in the end.
We heard this is the last Mo & Dale novel! How does it feel to say good-bye to these characters after four adventures?
It’s hard. I love Mo and Dale and I could write about them forever.
At the same time, they’re aging as I write and I don’t want them to get too old in these books. They’re at a super age – sweet and smart. I’d like to keep them in that world.
And, too, Tupelo Landing is a small town – 148 people. So far I’ve killed one man, wrecked a couple of race cars, put the beloved Grandmother Miss Lacy in the hospital for a while, kidnapped a few people… I’m pretty sure I actually set the handsome racecar driver Lavender on fire in one book. (Don’t worry, he’s fine.)
But honestly, how much can one set of characters take?
Who is your favourite fictional detective and why?
Mo LoBeau, of course. With Dale and Harm. 😀
But if you mean outside these books, I grew up reading the Hardy Boys. I like Sherlock Holmes, because he’s smart and quirky. And I freely admit I love all the BBC mystery series on television.
Our readers love discovering new books so tell us about one of your favourite recent reads!
I’d say keep an eye out for THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd. It’s not a mystery, but it’s a smart, funny book with a dynamite voice. And it’s set in the southern USA, like my books are.
And lastly, what’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
My best advice is never stop writing what you love to write, and find a writing community. I take a creative writing class at my local community college, for instance, and have for thirty-some years. I love the feedback, the deadlines, and the family that forms between writers.
Fantastic advice! Thank you so much for joining us, Sheila!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, keep scrolling to enter our giveaway so you can win a copy of THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS for YOUR book shelf!
Sheila Turnage is an author, poet and journalist. Her book THREE TIMES LUCKY features Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader, and Mo’s best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson, III. It’s set in Tupelo Landing, NC, population 148 minus 1 (murder).
In addition to The Mo & Dale Mysteries series, she is also the author of HAUNTED INNS OF THE SOUTHEAST, COMPASS AMERICAN GUIDE: NORTH CAROLINA, and TROUT THE MAGNIFICENT.
Sheila was born in Jacksonville, NC, and grew up on a tobacco farm in eastern North Carolina. She earned a B.A. degree in anthropology from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.
She has worked as a freelance writer for many years. Her articles have been published by Southern Living, Our State, American Heritage, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among many others.
Sheila Turnage and her family live in North Carolina.
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Click here to win a copy of THE LAW OF FINDERS KEEPERS!
The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.