Tom Ryan was born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia. He’s a graduate of Mount Allison University and NSCC. Since 2012, Tom has published several books for young readers of all ages. He has been nominated for the White Pine Award, the Stellar Award and the Hackmatack Award, and two of his books - Totally Unrelated and Big Time - were Junior Library Guild selections. Two of his young adult novels, Way to Go and Tag Along, were chosen for the ALA Rainbow List, in 2013 and 2014. In 2017, on the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, his first novel, Way to Go, was chosen as one of the most significant books in Nova Scotia’s history. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction. His 2019 release Keep This to Yourself was chosen by the Globe & Mail as one of the ‘Globe 100: Books that shaped 2019’ and was named one of 2019’s top books for young readers by both Quill & Quire and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Tom, his husband and their dog currently divide their time between Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Website: http://www.tomryanauthor.com/media-kit Instagram: @tomryanauthor Twitter: @tomryanauthor
Machaela Raney: I was fascinated by the somewhat soft-spoken protagonist, Mac Bell. What inspired you to give him the strength and bravery to take initiative and reinvestigate the murders in Camera Cove rather than a character with a stronger personality like Quill?
Tom Ryan: I love mysteries and grew up reading everything from Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan, but when I was a teen back in the 90s, I never once came across a mystery that featured a queer teen. I’m gay, and when I began writing YA, I made a very conscious decision to centre LGBTQ teens in my stories, so it was natural for me to make the protagonist in my first mystery a gay teen detective. I’m also a big fan of stories that feature characters who are forced to step out of their comfort zone and rise to an occasion. Mac certainly isn’t the kind of guy who would actively go hunting for a mystery like this to solve, but when it’s dropped into his lap he’s compelled - for obvious personal reasons - to ’take the case.’ I definitely think the tension that arose from putting such an insecure, somewhat introverted teen into such a high stakes scenario opened up all kinds of interesting dramatic scenarios.
MR: Each of the characters possess a very distinct disposition, from Mac’s introverted inquisitiveness to Doris’s guarded, dry intellectualism. Is there a character that you relate to the most among them all, or do you project parts of yourself into all of them?
TR: When I write, I try to place myself into the minds and perspectives of each of my characters. On the surface, people might think that Mac is most closely related to me, and in some ways we have a lot in common (I used to be a rather insecure gay teen in a small coastal town) but for the most part, I try to find an equal distance between distancing myself from all of my characters in a way that allows them to become real to me, and being intimately aware of what’s happening in their lives and minds so that I can portray them convincingly.
MR: Keep This to Yourself seems mainly plot-driven but also exhibits significant character development, which was especially evident in the protagonist, Mac. Is there a specific moral you hope that young adult readers pick up on through viewing the struggles and growth of your characters?
TR: In a nutshell, no, because I try to avoid moralizing or preaching in my fiction. That said, I love the fact that we’re moving towards more actively diverse representation in fiction for young readers, and I definitely try to do my part by including queer diversity in all of my stories.
MR: Keep This to Yourself is wrapped up with a major plot twist. Was that planned from the beginning, or is it a development that revealed itself to you throughout the writing process?
TR: The first image that came to me was the very first scene, in which a group of childhood friends who are no longer tight, come together to open a time capsule on the night of their high school graduation. Almost right away, I realized that one of the groups was missing, and it became clear to me that he had been murdered. That basic premise was really intriguing to me, and as soon as I began to consider possibilities, I had a flash of inspiration and realized how the story needed to end. I had what I thought was a great beginning and a killer ending (so to speak!), and I just had to write my way from A to Z!
MR: What was your inspiration for writing a murder mystery for a young adult audience?
TR: I’ve been writing YA for almost a decade, but my previous books have all been contemporary (i.e. based in the real world, focused on teens dealing with more grounded, day to day concerns). I knew that I wanted to make a shift towards genre fiction, and mystery/thrillers were a natural move for me, because I read them voraciously. I absolutely loved the process of writing a mystery. Working out how to plant clues without being obvious and leaving just enough red herrings to point readers in the wrong direction was a challenge, but so much fun!
MR: Would you say that your various works focus on certain central themes, or do you hope that each is individual and capable of standing alone in multiple genres?
TR: The broader themes I like to explore in YA (for example, the evolution of friendship (particularly friendship groups) as people grow up and begin to imagine life beyond high school; the struggle to articulate and understand identity) are broad enough that they can work within any genre.
MR: Based upon that answer, do you plan on writing more YA thrillers like Keep This to Yourself?
TR: Yes! I loved writing this book so much, and the reception has been so positive that I intend to keep pumping out thrillers and mysteries as long as people will keep reading them! I have another mystery coming out in Fall 2020 called I Hope You’re Listening (Albert Whitman Teen) in which a 17 year old girl who was the only witness to her friend’s unsolved abduction from a decade earlier anonymously starts a true crime podcast to deal with the guilt she feels from that traumatic event. When another girl goes missing in their old neighborhood, she has to decide how close she wants to get to the new case, as details emerge that indicate the two might be connected.
MR: Did you find tying up all of the strings and ensuring plot cohesiveness in regard to the mystery aspect of your novel intimidating?
TR: Absolutely. As a mystery reader, I know that there’s nothing more frustrating than a mystery/thriller that fails to stick the landing. If someone is going to take the time to read one of my books, I want to do my best to satisfy them, and that meant paying very close attention to every last detail, to make sure everything fit neatly into place. I’m not sure I did it perfectly, but I definitely tried my best!
MR: What is your favorite piece of advice to pass along to aspiring writers?
TR: My best advice is to write the book that you want to read. Don’t try to chase trends, just practice your craft and keep working towards material that would satisfy you as a reader. It’s more fun to write, and ultimately, you’ll do a better, more authentic job with something you truly care about.
PRR Writer, Machaela Raney