I’ve always loved mysteries and thrillers, and when it came time to come up with some marketing ideas for my own young adult mystery, Keep This to Yourself, my mind flew instantly to the pulpy teen thrillers I inhaled as a teen in the ’80s and ’90s. While discussing creative preorder incentives with my publisher, Albert Whitman, I tossed out the idea of commissioning an LGBTQ artist to come up with a queer twist on the garish, saturated covers of the worn vintage paperbacks I’d loved in high school.
They loved the idea, and after a lot of research (there are a lot of talented queer illustrators in the world), we settled on a shortlist. From day one, however, I had one dream artist: the incredible comics artist and illustrator Cat Staggs. Her amazing, detailed character drawings and the timeless aesthetic of her art seemed like the perfect fit for a vintage reimagining of Keep This to Yourself. We approached Cat, knowing it was a long shot, and were thrilled when she agreed to take on the project.
I am so excited to reveal this unbelievable variant cover for Keep This to Yourself. To say Cat nailed it is an understatement; it’s easy to imagine pulling this out of a cardboard box at a yard sale, worn and weathered, piled together with an assortment of Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike novels. The icing on the cake, of course, is the queer rep: as a closeted teen, it would have meant so much to me to stumble across a book with a gay teen detective protagonist.
Gazing at this vintage-style illustration, with my main character Mac and his love interest Quill staring back at me, ready to dig into the secrets of Camera Cove, I can almost imagine myself as a teen again, finally recognizing myself in a book.
Without further ado, here’s Cat’s illustration!
Keep This to Yourself will be on shelves on May 21, and all pre-orders (U.S./Canada) are eligible for an art print of this illustration, along with some other cool swag. You can find out more at www.keepthistoyourselfbook.com.
Exclusive Excerpt for The Mary Sue:
Quill points at a building near the road. A sign outside reads Wandering Surf Cottages: Main Office and a board tacked beneath it says Closed Indefinitely. Directly across the road is a low, one-story house with a veranda across the front. There’s a woman sitting there, her hair up in curlers, staring at us suspiciously as I slow down.
“Drive past it,” he says. “I know where to go.”
We continue on past the beach, and the road turns away, dragging us into a stand of spruce trees, out of sight of the cottages and the old lady with the hawk eyes.
“Pull over here,” says Quill, and I slow the car down, sidling up along the gravel shoulder.
I haven’t even turned off the key when he’s out of the car.
By the time I make my way around the back of the car, Quill is already sprinting back across the main road and onto the hill, where he waits for me. I follow him up and together we stare down at the beach. It’s wide and deserted, but not nearly as nice as the beaches closer to town. Instead of white sand and dunes, this is rocky and bordered by red clay hills. Farther back along the coast, we get a clear view of the Wandering Surf Cottages lining the beach, defeated and deserted.
We descend a narrow path and stealthily make our way back towards the cottages, staying low and scurrying past when we get near the main office. A sign stuck prominently in the ground where the cottages are built reads trespassers will be shot.
“I don’t know about this,” I say.
“That shit is ridiculous,” Quill says. “Who is going to shoot us? That old lady?”
The cottages are depressing. They were obviously once built to take advantage of the post-war tourist boom—small brightly colored housekeeping units with nice little verandas and cement block barbecue pits out front—but they’re now just ramshackle shells. The paint, once cheerful pastels like canary yellow, cotton candy pink, and baby blue, is dulled and dirty and peeling in thick flakes from the walls. Unpainted plywood boards have been nailed over all of the windows. The verandas are saggy and the barbecue pits are full of years worth of debris.
“Why would Joey have even been here?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine.” He steps up onto the veranda of the first cottage and tries the key in the front door. No luck.
He tries it in the next four cottages, and with each one I get more apprehensive, worried that someone is watching us, calling the cops and reporting us.
“Relax,” says Quill, noticing my discomfort. “Nobody gives a shit about these places.” He puts the key in a lock and with a rusty shudder, the bolt slides open. I freeze at the bottom of the steps as Quill turns the knob and pushes the door inwards. With a flourish he holds it open with one arm and steps to the side, using his free arm to usher me up the steps.
Anxious, and wishing he’d gone in ahead of me, I step into the little cabin.
The room is dark, dimly lit by the open door. Then Quill steps in behind me and the door slams shut, and I jump a little at the sound. Now the darkness is only broken up by thin shafts of dusty light that sneak in from cracks around the edges of the boarded up windows.
Quill laughs. “Scared of the dark?”
I ignore him and pull my flashlight from the side pouch of my backpack. The room emerges from the shadows: a small kitchenette in one corner, a couch and two chairs, and a partition with a curtain in front of it at the back.
“Check it out,” says Quill, stepping towards the small kitchen counter. I shine the light at the open shelf and see what he’s noticed, two candles stuck in empty beer bottles. He pulls a lighter from his pocket and lights them, placing them on the table in the middle of the room.
“That’s cozy,” he says.
“These are newish,” I say, pointing at the bottles. “They look like recent labels.”
“Do you think Joey was here?” he asks, and his usually sarcastic bravado is gone, replaced by a hushed sadness.
“She must have been,” I say. “Right? She had the key.”
I move into the kitchen and begin opening drawers. Most of them are empty except for a few random pieces of junk: old takeout forks, a deck of cards, a child’s coloring book that looks as old as I am. Quill takes one of the candles and moves over to the wall behind the couch, where there’s a small bookshelf.
“Anything good?” I ask, abandoning the kitchen and joining him to kneel on the floor next to the shelf.
“Not unless you like board games,” he says, poking at a stack of old games.
We search the rest of the small cottage, and nothing emerges. A bedroom—complete with a double bed and two bunk beds but no mattresses—yields absolutely nothing.
Finally we go back out to the main room.
“I guess that’s it,” I say. “Maybe we should get out of here before someone comes searching.”
But instead, Quill flops onto the couch. “What’s the rush? Come sit?”
If I was a better person, maybe I’d be able to keep my mind on the matter at hand. Instead, all thought of Connor and Joey disappears completely, and I find myself moving towards the couch.
I sit down awkwardly next to Quill, holding the flashlight in my hands. He reaches over and takes it from me, switching it off and placing it on the floor. The only light in the room now is the soft flicker of a couple of candles, and a few random streaks of light.
“That’s nicer, isn’t it?” he asks.
I nod and part my lips to speak, but the words get stuck in my throat.
Quill reaches his hand around and puts it on my shoulder, pulling me gently around to face him.
I lean towards him, closing my eyes. I can feel his warm breath against my lips.
“Quit being scared of everything, Mac,” he whispers.
I feel dizzy, my mind melting away completely, when suddenly a thought snaps into my head like a lightning bolt, and I jump up from the couch.
“What the hell?” he asks, frustrated. “Are we going to keep playing chicken?”
I barely hear him; instead, I’m fumbling for the flashlight on the floor. I snap it on and rush to the back of the room.
“What is it?” he asks, his anger replaced by alarm or curiosity.
I pull a game from the top of the stack on the bookshelf.
“Ever play Clue?” I ask him.
I take the box to the table, handing him the flashlight. He shines it down on the box as I open it, pull away the game board. Inside are the typical pieces of an old, well-used board game: colorful plastic player figures, dull metal weapons, the tan plastic coil of rope, cards, and a small envelope.
And a piece of paper, ripped from the pad of tally sheets.
“Look,” I say, my hands trembling as I reach into the box.
I flip the paper over. It’s been scrawled and scratched on, the little squares filled in and Professor Plum and Conservatory circled.
“Joey” is written across the top.
Quill stares at the paper, frozen in place, for a long time. I watch him from the side of my eye, waiting for him to react, but he just stands there, hovering.
“Are you okay?” I ask, finally.
He reaches out slowly and picks up the paper. Every trace of the brashness I’ve come to associate with him disappears.
“I can’t believe it,” he whispers. “She was here, Mac. She was right here in this stupid cabin, playing board games with somebody, for fuck’s sake.”
The words are barely out of his mouth when our heads both snap back towards the game board. Quill reaches down and unfolds it, and, sure enough, there’s another tally sheet sitting inside. Like Joey’s, it’s been worked over with pencil, but there’s no name written anywhere on the paper.
“Goddamn it,” says Quill. “Who the hell was here with her, and why would they have been playing board games?”
“You said she was seeing someone in secret,” I say. I pick up the flashlight and shine it around the room again. “Maybe there’s something here that we missed. Some kind of clue.”
We work our way around the room again, pulling away couch cushions, peering into the darkest corners of the kitchen cupboards. Quill even takes the back of the toilet off and sticks his hand down into the depths of the murky water, coming up empty.
Eventually, we have to admit that the place is empty.
“This is such bullshit,” says Quill, disgusted and defeated.
“Don’t be upset,” I say. “We have a clue.”
“Whatever,” he says, turning away from me and moving back to the door, angry. He wrenches it open, letting a shard of bright daylight into the dingy room. “You coming?” he asks.
I don’t answer; I’m staring at the ceiling in the corner of the room. The daylight he’s let in from outside is shining a bright, crisp-edged beam along the floor, up the wall, and onto a specific, triangular patch on the ceiling. In this light, it’s obvious that one of the ceiling tiles is askew, and sitting slightly off grid from its neighbors.
“Do you see that?” I ask.
He nods. I grab one of the small wooden dining room chairs and carry it over so it’s beneath the hole. When I climb onto the chair, I’m able to push the tile up, pretty easily.
“Shove it out of the way,” he says.
I do as he says, and he drags a second chair over. I shine my phone light up into the opening.
“There’s something up there,” he says.
Tom Ryan is the author of several books for young readers. He has been nominated for the White Pine Award, the Stellar Award and the Hackmatack Award, and two of his books 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. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction. Tom, his husband and their dog currently divide their time between Toronto and Nova Scotia.
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