An Indies Introduce Q&A with María José Fitzgerald

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María José Fitzgerald, author of the novel Turtles of the Midnight MoonMaría José Fitzgerald is the author of Turtles of the Midnight Moon, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce Kids selection.

Fitzgerald is a writer of children’s books. Her favorite stories usually include animals, friendships, family, and magic. She grew up snorkeling and hiking in her homeland of Honduras, where nature and culture nourished her soul. When she’s not writing, you can find her teaching, reading, walking her dogs, relaxing on the couch with her family, or maybe out on a mountain bike ride.

Earl Dizon of Green Bean Books in Portland, Oregon, served on the panel that selected Fitzgerald’s debut for Indies Introduce. Dizon called the book, “A delightful middle grade eco-mystery that brings two girls from different backgrounds together as they try to stop poachers from stealing turtle eggs. I enjoyed the little bit of magical elements interwoven into this story.”

Here, Fitzgerald and Dizon discuss Turtles of the Midnight Moon.

Earl Dizon: Do you recall when you first had the desire to tell this story — and deciding it was going to be alternating between the two girls’ viewpoints?

María José Fitzgerald: This story had been with me for a long time, probably since the year 2000 or thereabouts! I grew up always wanting to tell stories set on the north coast of Honduras, but I wasn’t sure whose story I wanted to tell until Barana and Abby sort of came to me as fully formed characters. That happened in 2019, and that’s when I sat down to write the novel that is now Turtles of the Midnight Moon. I wrote it as alternating viewpoints from the very first draft, but it was definitely not the neat A-B-A-B format that it is today! The very first version was way messier, with several chapters in a row from Barana’s point of view, and then a couple of Abby chapters, and so on. I even remember having mini-chapters from the poachers’ POV sprinkled in between!

ED: Have you ever felt a strong connection to any animal similar to Barana’s with Luna?

MJF: Absolutely. My whole life I have felt a connection to animals. I’ve always been an empath when it comes to living things, and when I was little my father used to think I’d become a veterinarian. As far as having that deep bond with one particular animal the way Barana has with Luna, I’d have to say that has come through with my dogs. As a child, I used to firmly believe that I could understand my dogs’ feelings and thoughts. One dog in particular, Oscar, was especially meaningful in my life. When he started having seizures, I would feel my body tense up, and it was very difficult to witness his pain. I do think humans are capable of connecting deeply to other feeling creatures. I witnessed a nesting turtle once, and her tears brought tears to my own eyes, which is where that scene in the book came from.

ED: I love that you showed Barana and Abby being able to express their passion in different ways — through poetry and photography. Have you worked on any collaborative multimedia project that you still think about today?

MJF: Thank you, and what a wonderful question! I am so glad this aspect of the characters resonated with you. Abby’s love of photography and the way she views the world through that lens was a very important part of her arc. Barana’s love of words and poetry gave her strength and helped her make sense of the world. Even Tulu, Barana’s brother, has his own favorite art medium. I had to think back to try to recall my own collaborative multi-media art projects; I love and appreciate art in all its forms, and I try to incorporate it into my work as a teacher whenever I can, but it’s been a while since I collaborated on a multi-media project personally.

One pretty special and recent collaborative art piece was when my daughters and I made an illustrated book of memories for my husband for his 50th birthday. We created a 50-page book in which we took turns writing and drawing 50 memories in total. We were each responsible for about 16 pages, and then we put them together and bound it for him. In one of my Spanish classes a couple of years ago, I had my students collaborate on a portrait of Frida Kahlo. Each student had a section of the self-portrait, and then we put all the finished pieces together. I think making art from found or recycled trash is one of the coolest things, especially since so much of that stuff would otherwise end up in our oceans. My father has a shed (actually, it’s where he keeps his coffee roaster), and he built its windows completely out of recycled bottles. Some of the bottles are green, others are clear, blue, and so on. It’s pretty amazing what one can create from everyday objects, and it’s even more wonderful that it keeps these objects from harming our marine life. I’m currently in the process of collecting and filling jars with those little plastic clips and ties that come with store-bought bread. When I’ve collected enough, my idea is to use them to create a sea turtle.

ED: Reading food scenes always gets me hungry. If you could have any of the meals you wrote about right now, which would it be?

MJF: Me too! I love food, and I especially love Honduran food. Hands down the meal I wrote about that I would happily have any time would be a warm, freshly made Honduran baleada with a side of papaya and mango!

ED: Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers to get them involved (if they aren’t already) in taking care of our beautiful planet and the creatures that inhabit it?

MJF: Our planet truly is beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how stunning it is and how incredible its creatures are. The biggest message I’d like to offer readers is that no act is too small. Taking care of the critters and the environment in your immediate community is a great place to start. Are there nature centers nearby that you can support? What kinds of organizations in your community are doing good work to protect our natural environment? There are lots of little things we can do at home, such as being mindful of how we dispose of our trash and what kinds of products we buy, that have a big impact on the environment. Even if you don’t live near the ocean, so much of what we do affects the sea. My advice would be to start small, get involved in local projects, and do your research on the everyday things your family purchases.

Turtles of the Midnight Moon by María José Fitzgerald (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780593488706, Hardcover Middle Grade, $17.99) On Sale: 3/14/2023.

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