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Farmville author ends popular mystery series

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Farmville author Sheila Turnage with her dog, Callie, at her home in Farmville. Turnage's Southern roots are evident throughout her Mo & Dale Mystery series. "The Law of Finders Keepers" begins with a snow hysteria that Turnage's North Carolina fans understand well. "Snow is huge in the South, and everything does stop for snow," she said, laughing. "My editor was a little puzzled at first ... it took a little explanation."

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sheila Turnage’s new book is a keeper.

“The Law of Finders Keepers” is the fourth and is meant to be the last in the Farmville author’s award-winning Mo & Dale Mystery series. After spending nearly a decade writing about Miss Moses LoBeau, a spunky sixth-grader who washed up in a quaint North Carolina town  after a hurricane, Turnage believes the story has run its course.

Some fans of the popular middle-grades fiction series may tend to disagree.

“Is it true that this will be the last installment?” one adult reader posted on Turnage’s Facebook page. “I certainly hope not! I just discovered the series and have fallen in love with these characters.”

Readers of all ages have been falling in love with Mo and her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III since Turnage’s “Three Times Lucky” was released in 2012. The book, which has been translated into Swedish and Chinese, went on to become a Newbery Honor Book, a New York Times best-seller, an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book and an Edgar Award finalist.

Already, “The Law of Finders Keepers,” which brings the search for Blackbeard’s treasure to the fictional town of Tupelo Landing, is a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance “Okra Pick” and a Junior Library Guild selection. Due to be released Sept. 11, it has received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus, which declared that the book, arriving nearly three years after Turnage’s “The Odds of Getting Even,” to be “absolutely worth the wait.”

For Turnage, an East Carolina University graduate, one of the highest compliments came from a fifth-grader who offered her $50 for her advance copy. That’s how eager students are to solve the mystery of Mo’s Upstream Mother, a case that Mo and the Desperado Detectives finally take on in “The Law of Finders Keepers.”

According to the series, Mo was born during a hurricane and set adrift on a broken billboard, which earned her the name Moses. Taken in by the owners of a local café, Mo launches letters in a bottle to her “Upstream Mother,” but there is never a reply.

“Will Mo ever find her Upstream Mother?” is a question young readers have been asking Turnage for years. It was a mystery that she didn’t initially intend to solve, but passionate pleas from fans of the series won her over.

“It just seemed like it was time to let her look,” Turnage said in a recent interview. “I didn’t want to leave Mo hanging forever. I really didn’t.

“I wanted to give her a chance, to give her a shot at that in this book and to see how that mystery would unfold.”

A good mystery writer wouldn’t dare reveal the ending of a book, but Turnage did talk about the ending of the series and where she’s going now that she is leaving Tupelo Landing behind.

Q: How many years have you and Mo been together?

A: Mo and I have only been together a year because each book covers about three months. But in our real time, in author years, the first book came out in 2012, and, you know, it took two or three years to write the first one. So that’s a long time to spend with the same set of characters. It’s a long time to spend in the land of Tupelo Landing, in that world. So I’ll miss them, too.

Q: Was it sad for you to finish?

A: Oh, yeah. Every book has its own challenges. One of the challenges with this one was that I was grieving the loss of the characters as I wrote the book because I knew it would be the last one … I knew it was the last, so there was that feeling of letting go.

Q: Are readers going to be mad at you?

A: We’ll see. Ask me after kids have had time to write back. I think some people don’t want them to end, and I understand that because I love these characters, too.

Q: How did you decide to end it? Because they (the characters) are yours. They could have gone on forever.

A: They could have. I love writing about these characters, Mo and Dale, the ages that they are. But if I continue in the vein that I have been going, they’ll just continue to age. I love encapsulating them at this age and keeping them here.

The other thing is there are only 148 people in this town, and you know I’ve killed one. I’ve set Lavender on fire in one of them. There’s only so much you can do in a town of 148.

Q: You left this one little thread.

A: I thought, I’m going to leave this window. Maybe I’ll come back to it sometime, but not for now … I want to write other things.

Q: What are you doing now?

A: I have started another book. It too is set in North Carolina on the Outer Banks in 1942, and it’s a different set of characters, but I think it has the voice of North Carolina. I’m having fun with the characters. There is a mystery involved; there’s a lot of action. The voices are distinctive, but I’m just in the rough draft, so we’ll have to see how everything develops.

Q: Will there be a Mo & Dale movie?

A: Every now and then a kid will offer to audition, (saying) “I look just like Dale.” As of this moment no (movie), but I would love for that to happen.

Q: Did you ever think when you started with this character that she was going to go four volumes and win awards?

A: You know what? I did not. I just knew the voice was really compelling. The story was really good and I wanted to go with it to see where it would go, and this is where it ended up. It’s not something that I was expecting, but it’s something that I’m delighted with.

When I wrote “Three Times Lucky,” I did not know even as I finished that book that there would be another. That’s just kind of what happened. Mo had those stories to tell. But I like that it worked out that way.

It’s amazing also to me especially “Three Times Lucky” is read all over the world. Right now in China, some child is reading about eastern North Carolina. How remarkable is that? That’s just incredible, and I never foresaw that. To get back to your question: Did I see any of this coming? No, I didn’t. I was just trying to write a good story.

Author Sheila Turnage will launch “The Law of Finders Keepers” at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at Quail Ridge Books, 4209 Lassiter Mill Road Suite 100, Raleigh.

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