She is here today to talk about her middle grade mystery series, the Mo & Dale Mysteries, which began with the Newbery Honor-winning Three Times Lucky (click here to read a synopsis). In September, it will end (sob!) with The Law of Finders Keepers. Penguin Random House is the publisher of this series. Trust me. You will want all of them.
Sheila is represented by Margaret Riley King at WME. Her editor/publisher is Kathy Dawson of Kathy Dawson Books (which is the imprint for the last three books of the series). Now, let’s talk to Sheila!
El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sheila: I grew up on an NC tobacco farm, and live there today with my husband Rodney, a dog named Callie, and way too many chickens, guineas and ducks. Well, I guess that’s more than four, even after I left out the goats.
El Space: Three Times Lucky won the Newbery Honor in 2013. How has winning this award been a game changer for you?
Sheila: Winning a Newbery Honor was huge for me. Honestly, at the time, I had no idea HOW huge. Thanks to that award, I get to visit schools all over the US and talk to kids about my books and about writing. Plus Three Times Lucky is published all over the world, which is just amazing. It astounds me to think of my mystery involving two best friends—Mo LoBeau and Dale Earnhardt Johnson III—being read by children in China, or Sweden, or . . .
The Newbery Honor was huge for my heart, too. It’s an amazing feeling, hearing your name called and walking out in front of all those librarians to accept that award. And it’s an incredible acknowledgement of a lifetime of work.
El Space: Mo and Dale are some of the best kid characters I’ve read on this side of To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, all of your characters (Harm Crenshaw, Miss Lana, the Colonel, etc.) are well realized. What were the inspirations behind Moses, Dale, and their town—Tupelo Landing? Which character, if any, is like you? Least like you?
Sheila: Wow, thanks for the compliment!
Honestly, Mo’s just one of those characters who shows up, and starts whispering her story in your ear, if you know what I mean. She was just THERE one day—vivid and sassy and tender. And wearing those plaid sneakers. And Dale kind of grew into whatever space Mo left vacant, I think. They’re a great team.
Of course the voice is rural North Carolina—which is where I was born, and live. I’ve been hearing the poetry of that language all of my life. And readers hear it in Mo’s voice, too.
As for Tupelo Landing, there are lots of small towns in rural North Carolina, and they’re the inspiration for Mo’s and Dale’s little town. If you come to visit, you’ll find tiny towns scattered all along our many rivers and streams. The waterways used to be avenues of commerce. They’re not now, but those great towns are still here—sleepy and slow.
I think I’m a blend of Mo and Dale, probably. I’m more like Dale when I’m writing a lot. And more like Mo other times. I hope I’m least like Mo’s arch enemy—the very stuck-up Anna Celeste Simpson, aka Attila Celeste. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m the least like her. Which is a relief.
El Space: Yes! Of the books in the Mo and Dale Mysteries, which was the most challenging book to write? Why?
Sheila: Each one presented its own challenges. But in many ways, The Law of Finders Keepers was the hardest to write, maybe because I knew it was the last and I was grieving as I wrote it. I wanted to write a book that was strong enough to end the series on. I think I’ve done that, so I’m happy with it. But honestly, it was hard on my heart. I’m going to miss Mo, Dale and Harm. All of them, really.
El Space: I will definitely miss them! What mystery books or shows, if any, inspired you as you created this series? Did you always have a certain number of books in mind for the series? Why or why not?
Sheila: When I was a girl I loved reading the Hardy Boys and so I guess they inspired me, in a way. I’ve always liked books with cliffhangers, and lots of action—and that’s what I write.
I really didn’t start out to write a series. I wrote Three Times Lucky as a standalone, and things unfolded from there. Each book is designed to be read as a standalone, or in sequence.
For kids who’ve read only Three Times Lucky, and want to know whether Mo ever finds her Upstream Mother—well, all I can say is the Desperado Detectives take up the case of Mo’s long-lost mom in The Law of Finders Keepers. Mo’s fans won’t want to miss it.
El Space: I have been waiting to find out! In rock, paper, scissors, what do you usually go for the moment you hear, “Rock-paper-scissors”? Seriously, which one? Why?
Sheila: Rock! I’m suspicious of scissors because they’re so snippy. And I get tired of using paper all day. . . .
El Space: What will you work on next?
Sheila: Thanks for asking! I’m already working on a new middle-grade book for my publisher/editor Kathy Dawson (Penguin Random House). It’s set in Eastern NC again—this time on the Outer Banks, near the Graveyard of the Atlantic. I’m having fun with it, and I hope readers will too!
El Space: Sheila, thank you for being my guest!
Sheila: Thanks so much, Linda! You rock! (paper-scissors)
Looking for Sheila? Her website’s under construction currently to add her latest book. So, you can find her at her author page on Facebook.
You can find the Mo & Dale Mysteries at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wonderful bookstores near you. But one of you will win a copy not only of the first three, but a pre-order of the fourth, The Law of Finders Keepers, which is available on September 11. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be revealed on Monday, August 13.
Book covers courtesy of Sheila Turnage and also Goodreads. Author photo by Rodney L. Beasley. Guineas from animal-wildlife.blogspot.com. Newbery honor medal from somewhere on Pinterest. Rock-paper-scissors image from dramafever.com.