Fresh Starts by Diana Renn
It’s launch day for my new middle grade novel, Trouble at Turtle Pond, and I’m delighted to celebrate here at Middle Grade Book Village. Thank you for hosting me!
Trouble at Turtle Pond is a friendship-centered eco mystery. When eleven-year-old Miles moves to Marsh Hollow, he’s desperate for a fresh start, eager to leave his troublemaking reputation behind. In his new neighborhood, nesting turtles are on the move. His neighbor, Pia, convinces him to join the Backyard Rangers, who are working to protect them. Miles and Pia discover clues to crimes against endangered Blanding’s turtles. Worse, a pair of foster turtle hatchlings in Pia’s care go missing at a town event. Suspecting poachers, the Backyard Rangers investigate a string of suspects. But when Miles becomes a suspect himself, he has to convince his new friends he’s not who they think he is, and stop the crimes before more turtles — and people — get hurt.
My road to publishing this book started with a turtle. When I moved to a new town, I nearly ran over one. I quickly discovered that turtles were among my neighbors. My human neighbors taught me how to move a turtle safely across a road. I also learned about other dangers turtles face, including predators and habitat loss.
Our local schools partnered with a conservation group to restore the population of Blanding’s turtles at a nearby wildlife refuge. Kids and teachers cared for hatchlings in their classrooms. Whenever I volunteered to help with turtle-related activities, I was in awe of how much advocacy was kid-powered, from hands-on care, to fundraising, to educating our community.
Volunteering with the conservation group turned into a family endeavor. We went turtle tracking with field biologists to locate nests. We fostered ten hatchlings for a month. I knew I had to write about turtles. My mystery-writing brain kicked in.
Previously, I had published three YA mysteries featuring globetrotting teens, and an international art heist thriller for adults. I now felt a strong pull to write mystery for younger readers, and to write about conservation issues closer to home. Like Miles in my story, I wanted a fresh start.
At first, I wasn’t sure I could write a “turtle thriller.” Would people find turtles as thrilling as I did? Then I hit plot snags. Who would be out to get turtles? Nobody in my real-life network seemed remotely capable of harming turtles or sabotaging a biologist’s efforts. Crafting criminals for this kind of mystery proved more challenging than I imagined.
Delving into research on wildlife crimes and consulting with experts gave me some real-life prototypes to consider, though. After a few false starts, the crime angle took shape.
I then realized this wasn’t really a thriller.Instead, I had all the ingredients for a cozy mystery: the quirky small town of Marsh Hollow, a team of young investigators with a cardboard box ranger station, a string of suspicious characters around town, and themes of friendship and belonging. So cozy mystery became another dimension of my fresh start.
Fresh starts are not without risks. The editor I’d worked with for three books had left for a fresh start of her own, so I’d be sending this out on submission. Then it turned out this book wasn’t a good fit for my agent. We agreed I should seek different representation for my books for younger readers. This was an unexpected fresh start. But I began querying for the first time in a decade, got some good feedback, some close calls, some no’s . . . and then the pandemic hit, greatly slowing the process down.
I generally have some patience with slowness. Heck, I wrote a book about turtles. But the pandemic made querying timelines feel even less certain. It also brought a fresh sense of urgency to my desire to publish this book. I had a feeling that people might become even more interested in goings-on right in their own backyards, and that books with a grassroots conservation theme might become desirable, even helpful.
I decided to look into publishers that would take unsolicited manuscripts. A friend of mine loved her publisher, Regal House, and recommended I look at their expanding children’s book imprint, Fitzroy Books. I liked what I saw. They were a smaller traditional press, but mighty, growing, putting out excellent books that were getting great reviews and winning awards. Their values aligned with mine, even down to their sustainability statement on their website. They also moved quickly. They requested my full manuscript within 24 hours of my query.
By the end of July 2020, I had a signed contract in hand. It’s been an honor to work with the fantastic team at Regal House, and to get to know other authors there. There’s a wonderful collaborative spirit to marketing and promotion at this press, a true community effort, that reminds me very much of my grassroots work with the turtles.
In the process of getting the word out about this book, I’ve had the privilege of engaging with so many educators, bloggers, authors, and other readers, as well as scientists and conservationists. So publicity, too, has been a collaborative process that has energized me. Every day I feel that I’m still helping turtles by writing and talking about them.
It takes a lot of people to keep their eyes out for turtles and help them safely cross roads. It also takes a lot of observant, dedicated people to help a little cozy mystery about turtles find its readers in a busy marketplace. I’m happy I took some risks, tried a fresh start, and found my path forward with this book. I’m profoundly grateful to all the people who’ve taken an interest in Trouble at Turtle Pond and helped it along its journey!
Diana Renn is the author of the middle grade novel Trouble at Turtle Pond (Fitzroy Books / Regal House) as well three young adult mysteries: Tokyo Heist, Latitude Zero,and Blue Voyage (Viking / Penguin Random House). She also works as an editor and book coach. Diana lives outside of Boston with her husband and son, on a street she shares with turtles. Visit her online at www.dianarennbooks.com.
To find out more, or to get in touch with Diana:
Twitter @dianarenn https://twitter.com/dianarenn
Instagram @dianarennbooks https://www.instagram.com/dianarennbooks/
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