FQ: Can you describe your inspiration for the story behind Allie the Albino Squirrel?
McCOY: I hold Allie the Albino Squirrel (Allie) near and dear to my heart. I have worked as a children's ultrasound technologist for fourteen years. During this time, I've helped care for countless children, all of whom have their own story and have left their mark on my heart.
Allie is a representation of all the children I have helped care for throughout the years. Allie represents any child who feels different in any way. The child embarrassed by their glucose monitor, the beautiful girl with alopecia, the boy who can't play contact sports because of his kidney transplant...the list goes on.
I wanted to write a book that reminded ALL children that one quality does not define who we are. We are defined by all the qualities that live within our hearts. With that being said: parents, grandparents or whoever is reading Allie to a child, please take a moment to remind them what kind of “squirrel” they are.
It was also important to me that I make the main character, who was struggling with feeling different, white. I felt it allowed an opportunity for children to talk about inclusion and differences without exclusively placing the spotlight on a BIPOC character, as many books about diversity do.
FQ: You have previously written two books for adults. What prompted you to write a children’s book?
McCOY: I actually wrote Allie before I wrote Surviving McCoy and When Stars Align. However, being new to the publishing world, I wasn’t sure how to find an illustrator, so I decided to publish my other books first.
As I previously stated, I have many years of experience working with children and I have personally witnessed children going through many difficult situations. Early on in my medical career I knew that children held a special place in my heart and I wanted to find a way to give back to children in need. A portion of all proceeds from Allie will be donated to organizations who support children’s health and wellness as well as literacy. A few I have in mind are The Dragonfly Foundation and the Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati. I’m still currently researching programs and plan on donating to as many as I possibly can.
FQ: Is the main character of Allie modeled after anyone in your real life?
McCOY: Going back to Question 1, no, Allie is not modeled off one person but is a representation of all the children I have helped care for throughout the years. Allie represents any child who feels different in any way. I truly believe everyone can relate to Allie in one way or another.
FQ: Some of the illustrations appear to include real photographs along with the drawings from your illustrator. What made you decide to go this route with the illustrations?
McCOY: Yes, some illustrations do include real photographs. From day one, I knew I wanted to incorporate real photographs in my book. Since Allie is a representation of children, I thought that using real life photos would help children connect to Allie, and make her seem more relatable.
FQ: What are your plans for authoring future books, and will they be for adults or children?
McCOY: I am in the process of rewriting and publishing When Stars Align through Atmosphere Press. We hope to have it released just in time for romance novel lovers to binge read this summer. However, after that, my main focus is going to be on children’s books.
Allie is the first of the Waverly Wood Series. Allie's friend, Bree, has her own story as well as a frog, Frederick, who hasn't been introduced yet. All characters have their own life lesson to share with children. Ghazal has already agreed to team up with me as my illustrator for these books. We have a wonderful relationship and I consider myself lucky to work with such a talented woman. Our goal is to provide fresh, whimsical illustrations.
I also have another children's book in the works, but I'm not ready to release those details just yet!
FQ: How did you come to the decision that your main character, Allie, would be a squirrel?
McCOY: The first home I bought was on a corner, up the street from a creek. Working in the hospital most days, I’d wake up before sunrise. Every morning when I’d look out my back window, it was like a scene from Snow White: deer grazing, squirrels, chipmunks. It seemed that my backyard was where all the wildlife would congregate.
One year, there was a family of albino squirrels that lived in our neighborhood. My oldest daughter, Ellie, was around seven years old at the time, and we’d keep an eye out for the albino squirrels. I began telling her tales of the albino squirrel family and one night, Allie was created.
FQ: The message behind the story of Allie is a critical one for children to learn. Is this something that you have personally dealt with in your life?
McCOY: I honestly believe that to some degree, everyone can relate to Allie. For me, it was my height. I’m very petite, a towering 4’8’’ tall. Growing up, it was far too easy to make comments about my size. “How’s the weather down there?” “Has anyone seen Emily” (when I’m standing right in front of them)? In grade school, I stopped growing. I was referred to our local children’s hospital where I was found to be healthy, just short. I was given the option of using growth hormones. Even though I was young, I remember being frustrated by this. No one asked me if I liked being short or not; everyone just assumed I wanted to be taller but I didn’t. I declined and I’m still 4’8’’.
I grew up being told I was loved the way I was inside and out. I want all children to feel that kind of self-love and empowerment when they read Allie.
FQ: Your biography states that you have worked as an ultrasound technologist for many years. What led you to begin authoring books?
McCOY: I have always been a writer at heart. I started writing poems in fourth grade. In high school I was a part of the Miami University writing team. I envisioned studying creative writing and working for a publishing firm. However, I had my first daughter at the age of nineteen, and I didn’t have time to be a starving artist, so I studied medical imaging instead. But that didn’t deter me from following my dreams.
During this time, I was a single parent and fortunate enough to have extremely supportive parents that allowed Ellie and I to live with them while I attended college. By 2009, I graduated college and Ellie and I were able to move out of my parent’s house. After Ellie would go to bed, I would spend hours writing what would eventually become my three published works.
After many years of sending query letter after query letter and no interest in my work, I decided to self-publish. In November 2017, I published a family dramedy, Surviving McCoy, that would go on to win a self-publishing book award. In 2018, I published the romance novel When Stars Align.
In 2019, I was able to attend the American Library Association Conference in Washington, D.C. to claim my award for Surviving McCoy. This award was the turning point in my career; it gave me the validation I had been seeking and I felt my work was finally being viewed as a "real author’s" work.
In March of 2021, Atmosphere Press picked up Allie the Albino Squirrel. Now, here we are a year later and Allie is making her debut in the world and I couldn't be more proud of her message.
FQ: How did you make the connection with your illustrator?
McCOY: I Instagram-stalked her! No, in all seriousness, Atmosphere Press gave me a list of very talented illustrators, but when I told Nick Courtright, CEO of Atmosphere Press, that I wanted an illustrator that would draw animals a little differently than what we’re used to seeing, he gave me Ghazal’s name.
So, naturally, I looked her up. Her Instagram account was very impressive and full of posts of drawings on top of photos. I had already determined that I wanted to do this for Allie and I knew instantly that I wanted to work with her. I told her I wanted a unique squirrel and she delivered. I love her take on the squirrel’s tails! I consider myself very lucky to work with her.
FQ: Do you foresee any future books with Allie as the main character?
McCOY: All the characters of Waverly Woods have their own message that are just as important as Allie’s. Before writing more Allie books, I want to focus on getting Frederick and Bree’s books published. With that being said, after their publications, I can definitely see myself writing more stories featuring Allie. I mean, really, what’s not to love about Allie?
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me!