Turtles of the Midnight Moon
María José Fitzgerald takes us on an adventure to Honduras where we encounter many twists and turns in solving a mystery. I had a chance to find out more of the behind-the-scenes with my interview with her. Read to find out about how this book came to be, tips on writing your own eco-mystery, and ways to use the book in your classroom. Plus, enter the book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Turtles of the Midnight Moon!
Maria Jose’ Fitzgerald – Debut Author Interview
About the Book
Hi Maria! Thank you for sharing Turtles of the Midnight Moon with me. I love a good eco-mystery! Can you give us a short summary about the book?
Thank you so much for sharing my debut novel in From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!
Turtles of the Midnight Moon follows two 12-year-old girls, Barana and Abby, as they attempt to solve a sea turtle egg poaching mystery in Barana’s coastal village in Honduras. Barana has a special—almost magical—connection to the leatherback sea turtles that come to her beach to nest. She is a poet and an artist with great compassion for the planet and its creatures. She also feels invisible and misunderstood by her family. Abby lives in New Jersey and is a multi-cultural kid with a Honduran father and American mom. She is a budding photographer who sees the world through her camera. Abby longs to one day visit her father’s homeland. As she struggles to reckon with a difficult year in 6th grade, she’s overjoyed to finally get the opportunity to join her Papi on a work trip to his childhood home. Abby and Barana’s stories come together when Abby and her father stay at Barana’s abuela’s casita, or guest house. Upon first meeting, Barana and Abby want nothing to do with each other, but soon enough, they join forces as the two commit to trying to stop the poachers and bring them to justice. As they hunt for clues and follow leads, the two of them also wrestle with questions of identity, family, and friendship. Turtles of the Midnight Moon is a story about our connection to the natural world and each other, and how compassion and courage can cause big waves of change.
Preorder Available Now
When does it come out?
The book is available for pre-order now and will hit bookshelves on March 14th, 2023!
Tell us who would especially enjoy this book?
Readers who love a character-driven mystery and who appreciate our amazing planet and its creatures will especially enjoy this novel.
Weaving Parts of Yourself into the Story
How did your childhood help to shape this book? (Be sure to tell us about your grandfather’s impact on you!)
As a kid I was a little scared of the ocean, but I loved it anyway, and I believed there was something magical about it. Every year, we spent time on the beach with my family. It was my paternal grandmother, Bela’s, happy place, and where she was born. One of her favorite stories to tell us was how they’d set up shark alarms on the beach to alert the fishermen when there was a shark in the water! I learned to swim and snorkel at an early age, and I would explore until my fingers looked like raisins, despite constantly looking over my shoulder for sharks and barracudas. Though I never saw a leatherback sea turtle, I did see many other beautiful creatures in the reefs, including other species of sea turtles. My paternal grandfather was a big nature lover. He’d go on long walks in the woods and sometimes take us with him for parts of it, pointing out birds and other critters. He nicknamed each of us after an animal. I was his bunny—Coneja. Many of the characters in my story have bits of my childhood and my family. Tulu’s disdain for plastic and trash, Chiqui’s art, Abby’s questions about her identity as a Honduran-American, the food in the novel, and so much more. I think it’s impossible to tell a story without weaving in parts of yourself, little anecdotes, and even things that we are not even conscious about as we’re writing them!
Becoming an Author
How did you end up becoming an author? And did you have other jobs before that?
I always loved stories, writing, poetry, and keeping a journal, but I never, ever imagined I’d be a published author. I studied Ecology, Education, and became a teacher. Though I was a teacher for a long time, I also had other odd jobs throughout my young-adult life, all of which have shaped who I am. In 2019 I turned 40 and decided to take a break from my teaching career to focus on my family (and to possibly give writing a try) …That summer, Barana and Abby came to me as fully formed characters, and I wrote a (pretty bad) first draft that year. A little backstory: when I was in my twenties, I wrote a picture book about sea turtles. The opening poem in Turtles of the Midnight Moon is a revised iteration of that picture book!
As writers do, I started querying after sharing my first draft with a handful of friends. I received a lot of rejections in 2020, and a couple of R&R’s. It was discouraging, but I wasn’t about to give up. Later that same year, my manuscript was selected for Pitch Wars. That was the moment everything changed. Under the mentorship of Jessica Vitalis and Julie Artz, I was able to rewrite, revise, and polish my manuscript and sign with my agent. While I returned to the classroom this year, I am still writing and dreaming up stories in my free time. Stay tuned for my second book announcement sometime this year.
Congratulations on your second book! What authors (and/or books) would you say influenced your writing style?
So many authors have inspired me and influenced who I am as a writer. E.B. White is a big one that comes to mind–I love the compassion in his stories. Erin Entrada Kelly is a master at creating memorable, relatable characters, and I love to read her stories as mentor texts for that reason. Other authors whose work inspires me are Katherine Applegate, Adrianna Cuevas, Meg Medina, Heather Murphy Capps, Anne Ursu, Rebecca Balcárcel, Kim Baker, Anna Sewell, and Rebecca Stead, to name a few!
You mentioned the characters Abby and Barana are inspired by your daughters. Who do you feel you’re more like of the two?
I am definitely a little bit like both of them, but perhaps I share a few more traits with Barana than I do with Abby. Barana’s love of words and poetry, her special connection to Luna, her compassion for wildlife, and her frustration with the gender roles she must abide to in Honduras are things I have in common with her. I wish I were as brave as Barana though! She is certainly much more of a risk taker than I ever was at her age. I can relate deeply to Abby’s struggle with not feeling “Honduran enough” or “Latina enough,” and also like Abby, I dealt with my closest friend moving away in 6th grade.
What was your original spark for the book?
It’s hard to explain, but the stories that come to me just show up like lightning in my mind. I have no idea what sparks them. Life experiences, personal interests, timing, and the mystery of the human imagination!
I know that you grew up in Honduras, but I’m guessing you still needed to fill in some holes. What research did you end up having to do?
Yes, I did have to fill in some holes. I spent a lot of time reading about the lobster diving industry, decompression sickness, and the many issues faced by lobster divers and environmental activists in Honduras. I knew quite a bit about sea turtles already, but I did have to do some fact checking about leatherbacks for the novel. For Abby, I spent a lot of time following, reading about, and admiring some amazing wildlife photographers on social media.
What is something from your childhood that you snuck into the book?
I snuck in a lot of things, but I’m not sure I can list them all here! The food, for one. I included my favorite dishes growing up in Honduras, which continue to be my comfort food. The trash collecting and recycling we see Tulu doing is something my father still does to this day. He does not make art sculptures per se, but he will reuse anything and everything, and he’s built a lot of decorative windows from recycled bottles. The scuba diving, sibling rivalries, and church-going in the story are all very loosely based on my own experiences as a child.
Turtles of the MidniAny tips on writing an eco-mystery or a mystery in general?
Writing mysteries can be scary for writers. They’re like a big puzzle that you have to somehow structure in your mind and then get on the page. For me, it required lots of pre-writing and lots of thinking! Here are three tip I can offer for writing a mystery in general:
- Know who your villain/culprit is from the get-go. Whether you are a plotter, a pantser, or anything in between, knowing the ending is crucial for a mystery.
- Try to include a plot twist after the mystery has been ‘solved’ so that both the reader and the protagonist can discover the real truth at the same time.
- Remember your readers are smart! Leave hints and plant them throughout the novel but keep them subtle and organic so they feel naturally a part of the scene.
This would be a great read aloud or small group novel in the classroom, teachers! My suggestion of topics to discuss and research: the impact of humans on wildlife, the culture and the biodiversity of Honduras, and friendship.
Maria, any suggestions you have for ways to use Turtles of the Midnight Moon in the classroom?
I think this novel lends itself nicely to an interdisciplinary unit that includes science, language arts, social studies/geography, and art. Students can research marine ecosystems and sea turtle ecology in science, explore the themes, magical elements, and structure of the eco-mystery novel in language arts, make art sculptures or collages from recycled plastic in art, and perhaps study Central American geography in social studies.
Are you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!
Absolutely! I am very excited to do school visits! The target grade range is 4th-7th grade, with the sweet spot being 4th and 5th grade. I’ll cover topics such as the writing process, how a book gets published, and share a little bit about the novel itself (without spoilers), Honduras, and sea turtles. I will try to deliver a message of hope and empowerment, so that kids leave my presentation knowing that they, too, can have a great impact in their local community’s natural environment.
How can we learn more about you?
My website is www.mariajosefitzgerald.com
I am mostly on Instagram @ https://www.instagram.com/mariajosewrites/
María José Fitzgerald will be giving a copy of Turtles of the Midnight Moon to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy. (U.S. addresses only, no P.O. Boxes)