Mysteries that Matter
With its themes of conservation, community science, and ecology, Trouble at Turtle Pond adds an engaging complement to a STEAM curriculum. The novel can also complement an English Language Arts curriculum, as it introduces young readers to the classic elements of mystery novels; the team of young sleuths piece together clues, investigate suspects, and analyze the suspects’ means, motives, opportunities, and alibis. Additionally, the novel supports a social-emotional learning curriculum in its exploration of friendship issues, from making new friends to resolving conflicts peacefully. It models mindfulness practices, as the Backyard Rangers engage in sustained observation activities, paying attention to the natural world around them. Finally, the novel speaks to neurodiversity by presenting a sleuth with ADHD and a range of other characters who think and see the world a bit differently. The characters in the novel are rising 5th graders. It is most often used with grades 4-6. However, younger students have enjoyed the story as a read aloud, and older students (through grade 8) have read the book through the lens of environmental issues, conservation, community science, and activism.
I am an experienced public speaker and workshop leader. I have taught writing, literature, and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings, and worked in educational publishing for many years. I love connecting with young readers, and am happy to tailor my author talks and workshops to complement your curriculum. I especially love leading writing workshops!
I am located in Concord, MA, and typically do events and school visits in Boston and the MetroWest region. I am open to traveling for school visits and events, but do charge a travel stipend if drives exceeding one hour, flights, or overnight accommodations are needed.
Now booking school visits for Fall 2023!
Special offer for schools partnering with Zoo New England’s HATCH program – free virtual visits and 50% discount on in-person visits; details below!
I also invite you to check out my resources on TeachingBooks.net with students, including an audio account of the backstory for Trouble at Turtle Pond; you are welcome to share the recording with your classes.
30-minute Virtual Visit: $50. (15-20-minute slideshow presentation and short reading, followed by Q&A) (FREE for World Read Aloud Day)
45-60-minute Virtual Visit: $150. 20-30 minute presentation followed by Q&A; can include an interactive component like a writing activity or discussion.
60-minute Online Writing Workshop: $200. Workshops can be chosen from my topic list and modified for the length of time and the age group.
In-person Visit: Half-Day: $400, up to two sessions (presentations or workshops) If the location is greater than 60 minutes driving for me (I’m located in Concord, MA), I charge a travel fee based on mileage.
In-person Visit: Full-Day: $800, three to four sessions (presentations and/or workshops). If the location is greater than 60 minutes driving time for me, I charge a travel fee.
Panel Moderation: Fee starts at $250. To be determined on a case-by-case situation, depending on location and the nature of the event. I am an experienced panel moderator and especially love leading discussions about mystery writing, eco-fiction, and writing for young readers. I have led numerous panel discussions at conferences, bookstores, author festivals, classrooms, and libraries. I’m great at working with authors to bring out the most fascinating aspects of their book or their research and generating lively discussions. I’m happy to host or interview authors at book launches and other events, and to moderate audience Q&A sessions. Please email me to discuss the details of your event.
Please reach out to me if you are interested in an author visit but feel that the prices may be a barrier for your school or program. I feel strongly about providing all students access to authors. I do offer a limited number of visits to low-income schools at reduced fees.
Here are some of my most popular topics for school and library visits. All topics can be presented as either virtual or in-person events.
Hatching a Book: How My Volunteer Work with Blanding’s Turtle Hatchlings Grew Into a Novel. This talk is well-suited for grades 4-8, and can help to bridge science and ELA. I tell the story of how my son took care of hatchlings in his classroom through Zoo New England’s HATCH (Hatching and Turtle Conservation Through Headstarting) Program, and how I got involved as a parent and a classroom volunteer. My son and I went on to do more turtle work together as community scientists, accompanying local biologists to track nesting female turtles, helping turtles cross our busy roads, and fostering ten hatchlings in our guest bedroom for a month. I share facts about endangered Blanding’s turtles and how a network of biologists, kids, teachers, and parents are working to protect them in Concord, MA. I then talk about how I turned my real-life experience as a turtle helper into a story, sharing photos from my community science work and research to show real-life events that shaped the story. Finally, I encourage kids to explore what THEY are curious about in nature, and explain how telling a story or creating art about wildlife can make a bigger impact. This talk uses a lot of photos and typically takes around 30 minutes, but can be modified to suit any timeframe.
“Hatching a Book” is a great fit for science classes looking for connections to ELA. I can amplify the science behind the story as needed, and focus on what it’s like to be a community scientist using research and field work to shape a story. Although the characters in the story are rising fifth graders, I have given this presentation to middle schoolers and ecology book clubs with teens.
Becoming a Nature Sleuth: How I Write Eco-Fiction. This presentation describes how I plan, research, and write my “Backyard Rangers” eco-mysteries through a conservation lens. From finding seeds of inspiration in nature, to taking myself on field trips, to volunteering with conservation groups, to collaborating with researchers and scientists, writing eco-fiction has made me a creative conservationist. This presentation can incorporate writing exercises to get young writers inspired to write their own stories with conservation themes or about environmental concerns. The entire writing process from planning to revising / editing is covered along the way. This talk uses LOTS of photos, including many of wildlife I have encountered in my community. This talk is also a great fit for science classes looking for ELA connections.
A Book’s Voyage: From Idea to Publication. How does a book become a book? Using examples from my own journey to publication, I explain how an idea can get developed, drafted, revised, sold to a publisher, and eventually find its way into the hands of readers. I also discuss the process of revising and editing with a professional editor, marketing books, writing for oneself versus writing with audience awareness, and what an author’s life is really like.
Write What you DON’T Know: Researching a Book. My novels are meticulously researched and cover a wide range of topics. In addition to writing about different cultures, I have delved into such diverse topics as the Japanese yakuza, the life and work of Vincent van Gogh, bike mechanics, bicycle racing in South America, archaeology, goldsmithing, Turkish shadow puppetry, endangered freshwater turtles, birdwatching, and wildlife photography! Using examples from my work, I discuss the types of sources I turn to, how I evaluate these sources, how I organize my research, and how I juggle researching with writing.
Demystifying Mysteries. This discussion covers the craft of mystery writing, hitting the basic elements: sleuths, crimes, alibis, red herrings, and, of course, carefully planted clues. I discuss problems and challenges mystery writers (especially those writing for younger readers) can sometimes run into, and how we attempt to overcome them. (Note: This topic can also run as a writing workshop, and I’m happy to tailor the workshop to the needs and age of the class if you are doing a unit on mysteries).
Writing about Places. My novels take us to locations around the world, as well as closer to my home in Massachusetts. I discuss how I have turned my travel experiences into fiction – including “travels” in my own neighborhood. I also share some of my favorite tools for descriptive writing that create a strong sense of place. (This can also be a writing workshop tailored to the needs and age of your class, and it works quite well with younger students).
Popular Topics for Writer-Focused Craft Talks and Workshops – best for teens or adults:
The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Plot. Can’t we all just get along? Many of us go out of our way to minimize or avoid conflict in our lives, but this can be lethal when plotting a work of fiction. If you feel your story grinding to a halt, reenergize it by putting your characters in uncomfortable conversations that they’d rather avoid. In this session, we’ll analyze scenes of characters in confrontations ranging from awkward to angry to understand how to adjust the dials on conflict and emotion. We’ll also identify common conflict-avoidant strategies in fiction. Writers will come away with fresh ideas for a story, or solutions to problems in a current work-in-progress. If your characters are frequently making hasty retreats, resisting the urge, biting back words, restraining their impulses, and belatedly thinking of snappy comebacks or what they really wanted to say, this workshop is for you!
The Writer as Sleuth: Mystery Novel Problems and How to Solve Them. Has something gone wrong with your mystery, but you’re not sure where? Whether you are writing a traditional genre mystery or developing a mystery sub-plot, it’s easy to find yourself stuck in a plot hole, overwhelmed by decisions, or stalling out on your story. Revision can also feel overwhelming, as seemingly small adjustments can have big consequences across an intricate mystery plot. In this workshop, we will discuss the most common challenges mystery writers face, raising our awareness of where and how mysteries can go off track. Challenges to be analyzed include The Case of the Overcomplicated Plot, The Mystery of the Missing Clues, The Convenient Coincidence, The Murky Motive, The Trouble with Technology, The Sleuth Who Had No Stakes, and the Scooby Doo Reveal. We will then discuss how to turn these challenges into opportunities, creating more dynamic characters and plot twists that keep readers guessing. A series of guided writing exercises designed to aid decision making will help you to diagnose problems in your work-in-progress or prevent them if you are just starting out. This workshop will be helpful for writers of both adult and children’s fiction.
Crafting the Child Detective. Mysteries for middle grade and young adult readers present unique challenges and opportunities for the mystery writer. Child detectives may have curfews, cash flow problems, lack of legal knowledge or police contacts, disbelieving adults and overbearing parents. But they can also be surprisingly resourceful or have opportunities and assets that adults and professional sleuths don’t have. In this workshop, you will get to know your young gumshoe better or create one from the ground up. We will study examples from classic and contemporary children’s mysteries, develop a sleuth profile, consider the roles and types of sidekicks, discuss age-appropriate set innovative investigational methods, and even seek out the perfect crimes for our kid sleuths to solve. Finally, we will discuss hidden dangers in writing mysteries for kids (such as implausibility, unintentional parody, the Scooby-Doo reveal) and how to avoid them.
PRAISE FROM TEACHERS, LIBRARIANS, AND PTO
“Wow! You were an inspiration to over 250 students today during our World Read Aloud Day event. Thank you for sharing your story Trouble at Turtle Pond and teaching us about the Blanding’s Turtle!” — Ms. Talbot, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, Library Media, and Data Reporting; North Merrick School District, New Jersey
“The workshop style worked really well with the fifth graders; you were very engaging and made the writing activities fun and interesting for them!” — Ms. Lane, PTO coordinator of West Elementary Readers and Writers Conference, Andover, MA
“My students absolutely loved your presentation! A mark of a great lesson is when students leave the class and continue discussing what they learned in the hallways and beyond. There was much talk about Blanding’s Turtles in the hallways as I made my way back to my classroom to teach my next class. Thank you so much for being such a professional and for being such an inspiration to all who come in contact with you. What a phenomenal presenter you are!” — Mr. Morelli, middle school English teacher, Westchester Country Day School, High Point, NC
“Sending you a huge THANK YOU for such an engaging zoom meeting this morning. My fifth graders were really interested in your presentation and they all want to read your book now! I am so glad we found a fellow turtle lover and also got to learn about the writing process.” — Ms. Smith, fifth-grade teacher, Cottage Street School, Sharon, MA
“Thank you for taking the time to virtually visit our class. The students thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and reading.” — Ms. Folling, eighth-grade science teacher, Franklin School, Newark, NJ
DISCUSSION AND ACTIVITIES GUIDES
My new middle grade novel, TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, has an accompanying Discussion and Activities Guide, which was developed under the guidance of Creature Conserve’s Arts + Sciences Mentorship Program (www.creatureconserve.com) and with input from classroom teachers and arts educators. A PDF of this guide can be downloaded for free. Please feel free to print it out and to share. (COMING IN 2024: THE OWL PROWL MYSTERY, a sequel to TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND; a Discussion Guide will also be available for this title).
My three YA novels are TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO, and BLUE VOYAGE. TOKYO HEIST was an Indie Next Pick and LATITUDE ZERO was a Junior Library Guild Selection. BLUE VOYAGE was selected as a Massachusetts Book Awards Must-Read for 2016. TOKYO HEIST is available in a paperback reprint edition from Speak / Penguin Random House. LATITUDE ZERO and BLUE VOYAGE are hardcover only and currently out of print, but still available in libraries and as e-books.
The three YA novels are stand-alone mysteries set in other countries (Japan, Ecuador, and Turkey) and feature strong female sleuths. They are marketed for grade 7 and up, but are appropriate for slightly younger readers too. Free Readers Guides with discussion questions and extra activities are available for each of my books and can be downloaded here: