Connect with Ross A. McCoubrey on Twitter @RossAMcCoubrey or facebook: www.facebook.com/rossmccoubrey.
Q&A with Author Ross A. McCoubrey:
- If you could swap places with one of your fictional characters for 24 hours, who would you choose to be? Why? And what would you do that day?
This is a very difficult question to answer! Having written the book it already feels as though I got to be each of these characters on some level and, being emotionally attached to them all, it almost feels like I would be choosing a favourite child if I were to select just one. Okay, so, slightly guilty conscience aside, I would have to select Shane. Why Shane? There are a number of reasons. I have absolutely no artistic ability so it would be an amazing feeling to draw or paint something, he has a great dog (and I love animals), and he has a cute boyfriend with a pretty awesome mystery to help solve. What would I do on the one day? I’d live the 16 year-old life I didn’t get to experience myself and spend the day with my boyfriend, walking in the woods and enjoying each other’s company.
- Can you tell readers a little bit about the debut novel, One Boy’s Shadow?
One Boy’s Shadow is a young adult mystery novel that combines elements of the supernatural with a modern coming-of-age story. The story is told by its protagonist, Caleb MacKenzie, so everything is as seen through his eyes. He is fifteen at the outset of the story and the novel spans just over a year in his life. His father takes a new job and they move from the city of Halifax to rural Nova Scotia to a home with a troubled past.
Being a huge fan of mystery novels involving ghosts, I wanted to include some of the basic elements essential to such a story; the old house with the new owners and young people being the central characters. I have described it as a mash-up of “The Ghost Whisperer”, Stand By Me, Field of Dreams and The Hardy Boys with a modern coming-out story interwoven throughout.
I have been overwhelmed with the wonderful responses and reviews the book has received, from fellow authors and readers alike. It means so much when people take the time to positively respond to your work.
I am happy to let people know that 100% of my profits from sales of One Boy’s Shadow go to The Youth Project, an LGBTQ young adult organization in my home province’s capital city of Halifax.
- One Boy’s Shadow is categorized as a YA ghost story. What inspired you to write such an excellent ghost story?
Inspiration for One Boy’s Shadow arose within a dream, as many ideas do. The dream was very different from the end result of the novel but the initial idea of a ghostly connection combined with a coming-of-age/coming-out story remained. So, from a few lines scribbled on the back of a box of tissues at four in the morning eventually would come the novel. That’s where the thought(s) originated (and sat, unused, for over a year).
It wasn’t until I read a quote of Toni Morrison’s that I began to put those thoughts into a story. She said, “If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” That really resonated with me as I had always searched to find a story that spoke to me personally as I was growing up. It was almost impossible to find a young adult novel, or any novel that I knew of or would have access to, that had a protagonist that was not only young and gay but was more than just a typical coming-out story. I always searched for a Hardy Boys style adventure and mystery that had characters that I could really relate to and, I figured there had to be lots of other people out there searching for the same thing.
- Do you believe in ghosts?
Absolutely! I have had personal experiences that give me no question as to the existence of the supernatural, be it a ghostly apparition or otherwise not of this plane. Not to spoil anything for someone reading this who hasn’t read yet One Boy’s Shadow, but the scene taking place in Wakefield House with Shane in the back bedroom comes from a very real, personal experience.
- What would you like young readers to take away from your novels?
My hope/goal from the outset was simply this: to reach one person, just one. I always searched for a movie or a book that I could return to and feel comfortable and safe in its world when my own felt so very all-consuming and judgmental. If a reader, of any age, can take something away from my book I hope it’s this: love will always conquer hate. Be proud of who you are, and if you’re proud you don’t ever need to put down anyone else for being him/herself. Celebrate our common humanity as well as our individuality. Lofty ideals…perhaps, but true nonetheless. To simplify, if a reader can take away the notion that it does, indeed, get better, that will be as good a place to start as any.
I inscribed a special note to a young man to whom I gave my first copy of One Boy’s Shadow and I’ll end this interview with its very simple truth, “Having the courage to be yourself is a gift you give the world.”
Now Available from Ross A. McCoubrey:
One Boy's Shadow Fifteen-year-old Caleb Mackenzie doesn't put up a fight when his father announces the family is moving to Stapeton, Nova Scotia. In fact, Caleb looks forward to a fresh start in the scenic little area. Their new home, Wakefield House, sports large rooms, a big barn where Caleb can work on cars, and acres of forested land for privacy. But it also has a troubling past. In 1943, a boy who lived in the home vanished. Caleb hears the stories about what may have occurred so many years ago, but he passes them off as folklore until one day he's alone in the woods and hears the faintest whisper. Did someone in the distance just call his name? And what about his discovery in the hayloft? Could there be something to those old stories after all? The initial need to dismiss everything as coincidence becomes a soul-searching journey into the past where Caleb is determined to uncover the truth about what really happened to the missing boy. And in the process, he learns even more about himself and what's really important.
EXCERPT: One Boy’s Shadow by Ross A. McCoubrey ©2012
Scene Setting: Main Character, Caleb MacKenzie, and new friend, Shane Radnor, go for a walk together in the forested area behind Caleb’s new home. The woods they go walking in are at the end of Wakefield Road, an area where, 60 years earlier, a teen-age boy disappeared. The scene begins on page 101 of the book.
“Sure is peaceful in here,” Shane said as we walked along the old trail. The air was heavy with the scent of pine trees and trapped pollen in the branches of the spruce. A pileated woodpecker, looking almost prehistoric, pounded away at a dead birch tree. The air in the woods was humid, and we were both sweating almost instantly. The trees blocked out most of the light from overhead, but enough filtered through to allow occasional boxes of sunlight to form on the ground in random patterns like pixels on a computer screen. I cursed myself for wearing sandals, as pine needles kept collecting on and between my toes. Shane was having the same issue, but neither of us mentioned it.
As we were walking, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, stopping me in my tracks. Shane pulled me over to him and pointed off to the side of the trail. A deer was walking through the deeper woods. We watched in silence until it was gone from sight. Shane’s hand was still on my shoulder.
“Oh, hey. Sorry,” he laughed awkwardly.
“Good eyes to spot the deer.”
We continued walking until we reached a steep slope. Carefully navigating our way down, holding on to tree trunks and roots as we went, we reached the bottom and heard a trickling sound. Ahead of us was a small clearing and a waterfall. We sat down on a fallen tree that appeared as though it had been there forever for the exact purpose of being a bench, but had somehow managed to not rot. We ate some granola bars and drank some water.
“It’s really nice down here,” I said.
“Yeah. I’m glad we kept going.”
“I’d like to paint this.”
“Yeah, you should, man.”
“I dunno. It’s just a thought. I have lots of ’em. Most I don’t know what to do with.”
“I hear ya. I’m trying to take Blake’s advice and stop thinking so much—just do stuff. You know, take more risks.”
“Easier said than done.”
“That’s for sure.”
Shane picked up a stone from the ground and played with it, keeping his focus solely on it. I wanted him to talk to me, but I didn’t know what to say.
“Thanks for hanging out with me and stuff.” I looked over at him, trying to get his eyes on me for a moment. I was pleased that it worked.
He turned his head and replied, “You don’t have to thank me for that. I like you, Caleb. Like you a lot. You’re a really cool guy. I knew that from the first time we talked.”
“It’s funny. When I first met you, I never figured we’d be friends. I thought you were way too cool to hang out with me.”
Shane shook his head. “You’re so hard on yourself, man. What gives? I mean, the gang all likes you, your family all obviously love you so, I mean, why don’t you think more of yourself?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Guess I’m still trying to answer that myself.”
His expression turned to a genuine smile. “We’ll keep working on it then.”
Shane headed over to the waterfall and caught some water in his cupped hands. He splashed it over his face and called me over. “It’s really warm!”
I stood by him and leaned my head into the waterfall, getting my hair wet and shaking my head as I stood up straight, spraying him with the moisture that came off my hair. He put his hands up defensively and laughed. His white T-shirt and beige cargo shorts were now covered in a splattering of rain. His wet eyelashes caused his eyes to sparkle. His smile showed his white teeth. He was so beautiful. I went with my instincts and leaned in, kissing him on the lips. They were soft and moist and sweet.
Surprising myself by what I had done, I stepped back quickly. Shane looked at me, stunned. “You kissed me.”
“Yeah. Shit. Sorry. That was dumb. I don’t know why I did that. Please … forget it, okay?” I pleaded as nonchalantly as possible, even though my heart was pounding so hard I was sure it had to be visible.
“I can’t forget it happened, Caleb.” Shane’s voice was serious, and it frightened me a bit. I knew I had just lost the best friend I had ever had.
I felt sick to my stomach. All sorts of scenarios raced through my mind—none of them good. “Please. I’m so sorry.” I felt myself on the verge of crying; my limbs started to shake from panic.
“Caleb,” Shane looked me deep in the eyes as he spoke, stepping toward me.
For a moment I thought he was going to hit me, but he took my face in his hands instead. “I don’t want to forget it. Not ever.” Shane slid one hand down to the small of my back, and the other moved to the back of my neck as he leaned in and kissed me. Softly. Passionately. Slowly. When our lips finally parted, he was smiling. “You’re never supposed to forget your first kiss,” he said gently.
Having been given the courage to do what I had yearned to do for so long, I wrapped my arms around him and held him tightly against me. We stayed in the clearing for some time, watching the water for a while as the stream ran over the shiny stones and snaked its way out of the forest and into the field.
As we walked back along the trail toward the house, we held hands. The sensation of feeling Shane’s hand in mine is one I’ll never forget. In such a simple gesture, I knew so much about him, and even more about myself. We began to talk openly, on a level where I had never conversed before.
“So, when did you know you’re gay?” Shane asked me.
At this point, we were walking side by side, no longer holding hands, but still close—there may have been daylight between us, I can’t be sure.
I considered his question before answering. “Well, I guess I’ve known for a coupla years now, but I kept giving myself excuses like telling myself that when I saw a guy I thought was hot, I was really just jealous and wished I looked like him, right? Like, I wish I had his build, instead of, I wish I had him on top of me.” I laughed at myself and shook my head. “God, it seems so dumb when I say it, but in my mind it always made sense.”
“I know exactly what you mean. Hell, I voted for Jaydee Bixby over two hundred times to win ‘Canadian Idol’—and I don’t even like country music.” Shane chuckled. “But that boy is so cute.”
I smiled and scuffed at some pine needles. “So, I guess, really, I’ve always known. I mean, I’ve always liked guys. Girls are cool as friends, but I don’t want to, umm, you know, be with them. All my crushes have been on guys, but I always made excuses, like I said, and suppressed my thoughts. It’s been making me miserable.”
“Yeah. I get ya. It’s so stupid, too. I mean, there’s nothing any different about us—we just dig guys when the majority of guys dig girls.”
“Exactly. So, when did you know?”
“Kinda like you, I’ve always known I was different. I mean, I did the whole making-excuses thing too, but I got to a point when I just said, ‘Screw it. I like guys, and that’s cool.’ But it’s one thing to tell yourself that; it’s a whole new ball game when you tell other people.”