The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Sheila Turnage

Author Sheila Turnage photographed here by Rodney L. BeasleyMiddle Grade Mafia is thrilled to feature Newbery Honor winning author Sheila Turnage. Her writing is poetic, funny, and original. Three Times Lucky immerses the reader in a fictional small town in East Carolina where you get to know some of the off-beat lovable characters of Tupelo Landing. One of my favorite lines of all times is from the second book in the series, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing – “Lavender’s bad moods fall rare as snow and melt just as quick.”  No one tells a story quite like Sheila Turnage.

Middle Grade Mafia: How has winning the Newbery Honor award changed your life?

Sheila Turnage: Wow, it’s changed my life a lot. I get to write more books, and visit lots of classrooms and conferences all over the country. Publishing Three Times Lucky was one of the most exciting things ever for me, especially since I got to work with such an excellent editor – Kathy Dawson -and with the good folks at Dial! And winning the Newbery Honor? What an amazing thing for me!

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MGM: Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication and if you feel the regional setting and tone of “Three Times Lucky” made it easier or more difficult to gain attention from publishers?

ST: I’ve been a writer for many years, but Three Times Lucky is my first middle grade novel. The book is set in Eastern North Carolina, where I live. And I do think the poetry and humor of the language of Eastern NC and the texture of the setting help recommend the book. Also I think Miss Moses LoBeau’s voice has a lot to do with the success of the book. She’s smart and spunky and tender. People really connect with her voice.

MGM: I understand you live on a farm in North Carolina. Can you tell us your favorite time and place to write?

ST: I do live on a farm, in a farmhouse that was once my great grandparents’ home. My favorite time to write is in the morning, though I generally write all day. I like to go outside and look at things and describe them as I see them. I get better descriptions that way.

MGM: Are any of the characters in the book based on people you know? How about the places?

ST: Nope, everybody’s fiction but you’ll find little bits of me and people I know or see in all of them. That’s how fiction works, I think. There’s no place that I’ve described literally for the book except the exterior of Dale’s house, and that was demolished not too long after I stopped and sketched out a description.

But Eastern NC is full of small communities and towns with interesting cafes similar to the one in the book. Well, sort of similar anyway. And the terrain, plants, weather – it’s all Eastern NC.

MGM: How many more mysteries are in store for Mo and Dale’s Desperado Detective Agency? What other projects are you excited about diving into?

ST: I know there will be at least three and maybe four Mo and Dale Mysteries. The Odds of Getting Even – which continues Dale’s story and involves Sal more than the other books – comes out this October. I love writing Mo’s books, but I do have other projects in mind too. For instance, I’d love to write a book set on the North Carolina coast…   I’ll keep you posted!

MGM: I would be first in line to see Miss Mo LoBeau on the big screen. Do you think “Three Times Lucky” will ever be made into a movie?

ST: I would love that! I think Three Times Lucky would make a great movie and I hope my agents can make that happen!

MGM: Last question and you don’t have to answer this but I’m dying to know. Will Mo ever find her “upstream mother?”

ST: I don’t know. That was the huge heart mystery of the first book, Three Times Lucky. People ask me that all of the time, and I will have to keep writing and see what unfolds!

Thank you for spending time with the mafia. We look forward to the release of The Odds of Getting Even in October. To learn more about Sheila and her books, visit her website and like her on Facebook.


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