#TuesdayTalk with Jeff Ross. His new novels, High Note and A Dark Truth, are on shelves now!
Tell us a bit about your books.
High Note is about best friends whose friendship is turned to rivalry as they compete for a role in their school’s production of The Marriage of Figaro. A Dark Truth is about a young skateboarder who discovers what white privilege is and how not everyone can see past the color of a person’s skin.
What was the catalyst for your stories?
High Note came out of my interest in working with a Limelights title again. I love the whole premise of these books. My wife works closely with professional opera singers so I have been lucky to see the behind the scenes interactions. This left me wondering what it would be like if ambition came between friends. When would people back down. Would they?
The idea for A Dark Truth came to me after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’ and visiting the Black History museum in Clarksburg Ontario, I really began to think about white privilege. What is it? How does it effect people? And how could I create a story within which a character is faced with this reality in a way he cannot ignore? I wanted to write another skateboarding book as well, everything kind of fell together with these two ideas and the media coverage of endless police abuses.
The Orca Limelights series has a lot of flexibility in that the series is only specifically about the performing arts. The rest is up to the author. What I like about these series as well is the page count. It is a great challenge to get a full story in so few words.
What was your favourite book as a child and why?
I loved the choose your own adventure books. I remember reading (and ‘cheating’) almost all of them. These were great books for someone considering becoming an author because it seemed as though there were some real possibilities available in writing. Which ending did I like most? Which plot progression? It felt like being a part of the process.
In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?
Characters. If we don’t care about the characters then it doesn’t matter how exciting the plot is, the book will fall flat. Compelling characters make compelling stories.
Do your books have a niche or specialty market?
I think High Note would be interesting to anyone interested in getting into the performing arts where some form of audition is necessary. It doesn’t matter if this is for a vocal position or band or drama. The inevitable competition monster will rear its ugly head.
Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?
I believe I’ll always write YA now. Though that’s an age designation and not a genre. I like mysteries, but don’t necessarily focus on those either. I think the best part of writing YA is that you can do whatever you like.
What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your books?
With High Note, I hope people will see that competition should never really be between people, but simply each individual doing their best. That undercutting someone to promote yourself will not make anyone happy.
I hope kids who pick A Dark Truth up will better understand what white privilege is. There’s a depth to this discussion which isn’t taking place where it should be, in the schools. It is not to say that everyone is racist. In fact I hope A Dark Truth shows the exact opposite. But there’s a history we must acknowledge and an inherent prejudice in place which needs to change.
Tell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.
I have been in a number of bands over the years and always thought I was an okay singer. A couple of years ago, a friend told me that my singing voice is ‘tolerable’ I don’t think that’s an endorsement for me to pursue that particular line of work. I also still skateboard all the time. When the weather turns warm, I try to get out every day. I call it exercise, which it is, but it’s also endlessly fun and completely empties my mind so I can come back to my work refreshed and renewed.
Jeff Ross is an award-winning author of several novels for young adults. He currently teaches scriptwriting and English at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario, where he lives with his wife and two sons. For more information, visit www.jeffrossbooks.com.