Kathie: Hi Diana! Thanks so much for asking us to be part of your cover reveal for TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, which comes out in April 2022 with Fitzroy Books/Regal House. Can you please give us a brief synopsis of your story?
Diana: Thanks so much for hosting me here today! TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND is an eco-mystery about a boy named Miles who moves to a new neighborhood near a wildlife refuge, where nesting turtles are on the move. A neighbor girl, Pia, convinces him to join her in being a Backyard Ranger, a self-appointed wildlife ranger working to protect road-crossing turtles and other creatures of the pond. They discover clues pointing to a series of crimes against Blanding’s turtles, which are endangered. The crimes disrupt the work of a local biologist and her conservation group that have been working hard to protect them. Worse, a pair of turtle hatchlings that Pia has been fostering go missing at a town event. Suspecting wildlife poachers are involved, Miles and Pia investigate a string of suspects in town. Miles hopes to get positive attention for solving the mystery and stopping more turtle crimes. He’s desperate to leave his troublemaking reputation behind, as his ADHD-related challenges brought him only negative attention at his old school. The rangers double their numbers, convincing two other kids on the street to join their team. But an unexpected twist throws suspicion back on Miles. He has to convince his new friends that he’s not who they think he is, and stop the turtle crimes before more turtles – and people – get hurt. It’s a story about citizen science sleuths, activist kids, and the power of paying attention.
Kathie: Congratulations, this is your middle-grade debut book! What did you most enjoy about writing for this age group rather than the older audiences of your previously published books?
Diana: Thanks! It was so much fun to write a mystery for this younger age group. In some ways, the process I went through was exactly the same as my work for teens and adults: doing some planning, making sure I understood the world these characters were in, coming up with a series of related crimes that ratchet up in intensity, having a good number of suspects to work with (each with their own means, motives, and opportunities for crime), planting clues, then covering my tracks. But what I really loved about creating a younger investigative team was the chance to turn up the dial on suspense, and to make relatively ordinary occurrences become infused with possibility — and even tinged with menace. The Backyard Rangers are taking those first steps toward independence, widening their worlds, even by venturing a couple of blocks from their home, or out to the pond alone, or to a shop without a grownup. They’re encountering so many things for the very first time. Senses are heightened. Everything’s exciting. Nothing is taken for granted. I also liked exploring the friendship dynamics with this age group, as kids are investigators of themselves as well at this age. They notice more things about one another, from appearance to interests to obligations to fears and anxieties. Finally, kids at this age usually still have one foot in the world of magic and imagination. For Miles, a highly creative kid, that means thinking he can communicate with animals, feeling a special connection to them. If he were a teen or adult, we might call him just highly attuned or empathetic, but because of his age, I was able to play out entire mental dialogues that he has with the turtles he comes across.
Kathie: Your story has a number of different themes that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Could you tell me what sort of readers I could recommend this book to?
Diana: I hope it will appeal to mystery lovers of all ages, but especially those in the 8-12 age group who like a twisty, small town mystery that can keep them guessing. Animal lovers in general (and turtle lovers in particular) should enjoy the story too, and anyone who cares deeply about nature. Kids with ADHD, executive function issues, sensory issues, or anxiety, may relate not only to Miles but also the other characters; I wanted to be sure that Miles isn’t the only neurodivergent kid in the book, and that there are a range of experiences represented. Finally, I think teachers who have citizen science themes in their curriculum would enjoy this story, and there are numerous opportunities to connect to STEM / STEAM themes.
Kathie: Can you tell us about your main character and what you admire most about him?
Diana: Miles is a kid who happens to have ADHD, which comes packaged with some other things like anxiety and sensory processing issues. Miles has always viewed his diagnosis as a weakness, something that’s led him to impulsive actions, social disconnections, and the unfortunate nickname “Mayhem Miles.” But it actually aids him greatly in solving this mystery, as the things he pays attention to, and the way he processes information, ultimately help him here. He’s also able to turn his unique talents into things that directly help the conservation group (like making box turtles to raise money), and he has some innovative ideas that people take seriously once he articulates them. I love Miles’s creativity, his outside-the-box thinking, his sense of humor (even if he sometimes tries too hard to get a laugh), and his fierce loyalty to the turtles and his friends.
Kathie: Who is the cover’s illustrator, and what was your involvement in the process?
Diana: C.B. Royal is the chief cover designer at Regal House Publishing. Her work has been getting so much attention lately, and even winning awards. Fitzroy Books / Regal House has a very collaborative marketing process with their writers. I was invited to submit extensive notes about what I envisioned for a cover, from palette to characters to symbolic elements to the overall feel. I also shared with them some covers I liked for comparable books. I really wanted a cover that felt like a classic cozy children’s mystery – this story is set in a small town, with just enough danger to keep the pages turning but still let you sleep at night. The typewriter font and the woodcut-style boy with the flashlight accomplish that feeling nicely. I also wanted a cover to capture that sense of mystery and danger; hence the dusk hour we see, and the grouping of trees that almost appear to be whispering. I wanted the cover to appeal to all genders, and not to be specific with regard to character features. So the boy with the flashlight in silhouette, cloaked in shadow, is merely suggestive, and lets readers maintain their own mental picture of Miles. And I love the palette, all the pond colors.
Kathie: Drum roll please, here is the cover of TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND!
Kathie: Oh wow! I really love the blue background and how the flashlight beam is reflected in the trees. Can you tell us something about the cover that a reader may not discover on their own?
Diana: This is incredibly subtle, but if you look very closely at the turtle on the log — you may even need to shine your phone’s flashlight on it — you’ll see it has a yellow throat. This is a distinctive feature of the Blanding’s turtle. (That and the fact that they always appear to be smiling, because of their jaw shape, so that makes them desirable — though illegal — pets!) I love that the designer registered that throat detail in my preliminary notes, and honored it in her design. This is no clip art turtle. I know it’s a Blanding’s turtle.
Kathie: What’s one thing you’d like our readers to know about your story?
Diana: “Little is big.” Miles and his friends are working to save turtles that are often quite small — the hatchlings are no bigger than quarters when they first emerge from their shells. They are advocating for creatures that people are driving by and, unfortunately, driving over. They are a voice for the voiceless. They also work to save turtles – and ultimately solve a mystery – through a series of seemingly small actions that all add up to big change. The story was loosely inspired by real-life turtles in my own neighborhood, and the small but huge actions taken by kids and teachers to foster turtles in our town’s classrooms and give them a head start in life (releasing them into ponds after letting them grow bigger and stronger in classroom tanks). I hope TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND inspires readers to look around and see what’s worth protecting and fighting for in their own backyards — if not turtles, then something else.
Kathie: Thanks so much for joining us today, Diana, and I hope the months pass quickly until your release date.
Diana: Thank you for having me! I hope the months pass quickly too. My release date is timed with the turtles in my neighborhood. They’re heading off to hibernation soon. When they start emerging to nest in the spring, my book will be emerging too!
Diana Renn is the author of three YA mysteries: TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO, and BLUE VOYAGE (all published by Viking / Penguin Random House). Her debut middle grade novel, TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, will be published by Fitzroy Books / Regal House April 5, 2022. She lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband, her son, a dog and a cat, and a street full of turtles. Visit her online at http://dianarennbooks.com.
TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND is available for pre-order! https://www.regalhousepublishing.com/product/trouble-at-turtle-pond/
(Please consider pre-ordering directly from the website of this independent publisher as opposed to a larger entity, as it’s the best way to support a smaller press!)