Important Books in my Life

I’ve been having fun thinking of seven books that have been influential in my life, yet another Face Book tagging game. I’m sure there could have been others, but these are the ones that came to my mind first.

the book I re-read at least once a year, while occasionally wishing I was Kate DiCamillo (because she’s funny, wise, and such a good writer of middle grade novels)

one of the few “adult” novels I’ve read a few times (although I’ve never wished to be John Irving:)

the picture book that made me wonder if I couldn’t try writing my own picture books

one of my favorites from childhood; this is the 1958 edition I still have, although it was printed a couple of years before my birth. I’ve been sewing for a lot of my adult life, and maybe this story had something to do with that, and my obsession with making something of nothing.

during my English degree, I began noticing that certain authors were really good. I do wish Dickens had been a little less wordy, since all his books take a very long time to read, but I admire his artistry.

I got to live for a month in iconic Canadian artist Doris McCarthy’s Scarborough Bluffs home, Fool’s Paradise, in 2015, and I decided to start playing around with art the following year. I continue to seek  a publisher for a young person’s book about this amazing, gutsy, forthright woman, who was ahead of her time in a lot of ways.

and the novel that really set my course for the ten years since it was first published. Inspired by a man I know, this story of the Lost Boys of Sudan took almost five years to research and write; not sure I have that kind of energy for a writing project anymore, but if the right topic comes my way, who knows?

Thoughts? What books have been influential in your life? Like me, I’m sure you’re all doing more reading during these Covid times (and more Netflix watching, but that’s another topic…) Cheers!

Masks, Grandparents, and Tragedy: Nova Scotia in the Times of Covid

I’ve been making masks, about 50/day for the past ten days, and raising lots of money for the Food Bank. I know many kids get a good chunk of their nutrition at school, when there is school, and I wanted to find a way to help them. I didn’t know the demand would be so great, and I suppose before long it will become mandatory to wear a mask whenever we’re out in public, buying groceries, etc. Oh, well. It’s good busy work during these strange times. Friends donated lots of sheets and t-shirts, which I’m ripping up for the ear loops as there’s a worldwide elastic shortage, not surprisingly.

 

The other day, I found myself dipping into my rag bag for mask-makings, and ended up using some pieces of sheets that I’m pretty sure my grandparents gave us for a wedding gift 33 years ago. It was from Nana and Gramps Mingo that I learned to sew. Nana had a turquoise Singer sewing machine, and I remember her patiently showing me how to thread it, etc., and how thrilled I was with the idea that you could actually make something useful from a sheet of fabric. I’ve always loved visiting fabric stores, looking at the array of prints, and for 15 years, before I got into the crazy writing business, I made toddlers’ clothing, cuddle duds, which gave me a chance to stay home with my kids. I wonder what Nana and Gramps, who were born in the first decade of the 20th century, would think of our Covid-infested world. Maybe they’d like the idea that the entire world has slowed down and become quieter, since they’d no doubt find our usual hectic pace a bit odd. I’m sure they did lots of scavenging during the Great Depression, another time when nothing went to waste. They were composting before composting was even a thing.

And one week ago, Nova Scotia was attacked violently and senselessly by a fiend impersonating an RCMP officer, driving a fully-marked car and wearing a uniform. Twenty-three innocent people lost their lives; countless family members, friends and community people are left devastated; all of this in very rural parts of our tiny province, areas previously most well-known for their peaceful, quiet beauty and friendly people. So many children and grandchildren left without parents and grandparents; there are no words for their kind of sadness. Support and messages of hope have flooded in from around the world, and Nova Scotians stand strong and united, but this is not the way those precious lives were supposed to end.(poignant art: Bruce MacKinnon,THE CHRONICLE HERALD)

Nature, Picasso and other ramblings…

  1. As we’re all trying to keep up with the COVID-19 news, I’ve been spending lots of time by the ocean. I’ve been thinking about Nature, the essential part of our world we have so little control over. I wonder what lessons we’ll all take away from this pandemic. Will we travel less? Buy more locally-produced goods? Feel more or less friendly towards people around the world?

2. Totally unconnected, but I love this, sadly, very true Picasso quote:

3. And on the topic of nature, a little video produced by RUNNING THE GOAT PRESS, the publisher of DANCING WITH DAISY:

4. Otherwise, I’ve been taking a few pictures here on beautiful Saint Simons Island, Georgia (as we begin to prepare ourselves that we may have to leave early… Charlie would be devastated. But of course, there are worse things that could happen.)

Thanks for putting up with my rambling. Stay safe out there, and stock up on soap!

 

I READ CANADIAN DAY, February 19, 2020

Hope everybody finds 15 minutes (or more) this Wednesday (or any day) to read a Canadian-authored book! I’ll be visiting  the elementary school in my hometown of Wolfville, Nova Scotia tomorrow and sharing this little guy with the primary and grade one students.

And some recent comments that made me smile, in the “kids-say-the-darndest-things” way:

*10-year-old boy: “That (RAINBOWS IN THE DARK, 2005) was my favorite book when I was in nursery school. I used to ask them to read it to us every day. And I was so excited when I got to school and found it in the library.” And then his grandmother bought a copy for another grandchild:)

*Teacher: “Are you Jan L. Coates? Two of my grade 7 students just read TALKING to THE MOON, and they said it was amazing. I can’t wait to read it.”

*Student (age 11): “I’m writing a book. When you’re writing, does your own story ever make you cry?”

Me (enthusiastically): “That’s my goal in life!”

Another student (age 13): “That’s because you have empathy for your character. She’s a real person to you.”

Happy reading!

Welcome 2020!

Some people have been posting grand lists of their decade of accomplishments as 2019 ended. Well, this isn’t one of those lists. But it is a list – a reminder to myself of some things that I’m grateful for as 2020 begins:

  1. My people: two sons and two daughters – Liam & Rachel; Shannon &Peter; husband Don and sister Nance, and one fur person, Golden Retriever Charlie. They are my heart, my life, my soul. Period.
  2. Health, mobility and well-being.
  3. My writing colleagues and my true-blue friends, the ones who show up at my launches and read my books even if they’re not interested😊 Without them, I wouldn’t get to wake up each morning (well, most mornings), eager to get to whatever tasks/pleasures await me.
  4. My newly-discovered passion for illustrating. Who knew?
  5. Readers, and everyone who connects books and readers (librarians, publishers, booksellers, teachers, parents, etc.) If no one reads a book, does it really exist?
  6. The great outdoors. After breaking my wrist six weeks ago, I’ve missed being in the woods, on my bike, and near the water. I’m looking forward to getting back after saying goodbye to my purple cast later this week.
  7. Sunshine and clean air.
  8. Smiling people who go out of their way to be pleasant and helpful.
  9. Peace.
  10. Young people who are our future.

Thank you for being part of my 2019. I hope your 2020 will be a year full of possibilities, contentment, creativity, good health and magic for you and yours!

Fun with art

I’m obsessed with learning to illustrate lately, and I’ve been selling my “cuddle cards” for the past year or so at Stirling’s, a local farm market. I used a quote by Mark Twain for my most recent illustration, above:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you DID NOT DO,

than by the ones you DID DO. Explore, Dream, Discover!

Matching words and images is so much fun! I was that kid who gave up on art in about grade four when I realized lots of other kids were better “drawers” than I was. I’m so happy I decided to heed Mark Twain’s advice, take the plunge, and pick it up again (about 50 years later). This summer, I published my first book that has my name on the cover as both author and illustrator, KARISSA & FELIX. The quality of this JPEG isn’t very good, I fear… But I’m pretty proud of the book, and I hope it will help some kids find hope after a great loss. I do still have a lot to learn about illustrating, but I’m enjoying the process. If you’d like to buy a copy (or 10), I have several boxes in my writing room…

Showing some love to Winn Dixie (the book dog, but the store’s good, too)

The book I wish I’d written

Just finished my annual reading of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE (Newbery Honor Book, 2001, and DiCamillo’s first published book), the kind of book I always tell students I’m hoping to write one day, if I live that long! She won the Newbery Medal in 2004 for THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Googling Kate DiCamillo (in vain hopes she may offer workshops from time to time) led me to two things:

  1. She’s doing a bookshop reading/meet and greet in Saratoga Springs, NY on November 1st, and
  2. this site:

https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/teachers/lesson-plans/migrated-featured-files/winndixie_story.pdf

wherein Kate DiCamillo allows us to see inside her process, draft by draft.

Her notes after each of the drafts show that her process is pretty much like any writer’s – one word at a time.

This first draft is how I do all first drafts; single-spaced, capital-free, light on the punctuation and full speed ahead.

She was lucky to find that India Opal’s voice was there from the very beginning. Maybe that’s why the book is so good.

At one point, she talks about putting her name and address on the first page, a sign that the manuscript is progressing, and she thinks she may actually have a story she’s going to try to get published. I do that, too, and I bet a lot of writers do. It’s almost like we don’t want to put our name on it until we think it may be worthy.

So much of writing is like walking down a dark hallway with your arms out in front of you. You bump into things.

Progress is hard to measure in any creative endeavor, I think. It’s often a matter of instinct, of feeling your way through what works and what doesn’t. The only thing I’ve found that works is to keep on working and not to expect that you’ll get it right the first time.

And here’s Kate speaking so eloquently for a couple of minutes about the importance of reading aloud.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA8GkalW-lU

But enough of that – now I need to figure out how I can get to Saratoga Springs, NY on November 1st… Except that rather than being in a bookshop, it’s in a 500-seat venue. Do I really want to line up for that long just to say hi and get a book signed? Probably not. But I do have her latest book (BEVERLY: RIGHT HERE) on request at the Wolfville Library, although it’s not available yet.

I did a live TV interview about my new middle grade novel, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, a few days ago.  The publisher, Nevermore Press, is donating $1 from each book sold until Thanksgiving to Feed Nova Scotia. Here’s the link, in case you’re interested: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2419569621662341

P.S. Did a Library reading yesterday, and the South Shore Public Libraries bought every kid there a copy of SAY WHAT YOU MEAN – love libraries! And I signed all 58 copies:)

Who’s your writing hero(s)? Have you ever met them?

A wedding, a dancing hurricane and a fairy dogmother – oh my!

Seems like I’m busy this summer, first with our son’s July 13th wedding in Toronto – all went well, other than the torrential downpour that started just as the venue got the outdoor seating set up. Being pros, they quickly got us under cover, and although the aisle was shorter than the outdoor one would have been, it was lovely, and we danced until the restaurant, The Granite Brewery, was ready for us to leave at 1:00 am. One of my hips is still sore:) One of the best parts, other than Liam’s new wife, Rachel, was that he had 8 friends stand with him, many of whom we’ve known for literally decades, since they were toddlers. Many of them flew in from Nova Scotia, as well as one from Rhode Island. The official pics aren’t in, yet, but here’s one my sister took after the “dudes” got ready. Thank you!

I also have two new books this summer, so those have kept me busy, too. DANCING WITH DAISY will launch this coming Saturday at the lovely Wolfville Library. It’s with a lovely small press in Newfoundland, Running the Goat Press & Broadsides. This blurb in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, had me smiling.  “Bisaillon’s pictures perfectly match the exuberance and high spirits of Coates’s story, which is sure to inspire young readers to tell tall tales of their own summer adventures.” My local independent bookstore, The Box of Delights, will be on hand to sell books, and Celeste, one of their summer employees, is responsible for the very cool piece of art pictured above. Thank you!

My second book is a middle grade novel, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN (Mean What You Say), and it features a fairy dogmother, as well as dealing with soup kitchens and mental health struggles. It’s with a new Nova Scotia publisher, Nevermore Press, in Lunenburg, and they’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with. Launch date hasn’t been set yet, but hopefully sometime in September. This is my first novel cover that’s 100% original art, and in Nevermore’s spirit of collaboration, I got to be in on their chat with the artist, Valerie Gagnon, as the cover was being developed. She’s really captured the essence of the story. Thank you!

Hope you’re enjoying summer. Here in Nova Scotia it didn’t arrive until the first week of July, and we’ve had lots of humidity, but I like the heat so I’m not complaining.

Home?

I’ve been thinking about the idea of “home” lately, possibly because my short story, “You Get a Line” is included in the recently-published anthology, My Nova Scotia Home. Many of the pieces are non-fiction, but mine is pure fiction. It’s an interesting collection, and each Nova Scotia writer has a unique take on what home means to them.

As always, Pooh is right, and I’m the kind of person who, in a few days or even hours, can be comfy in a lot of different places. Here are some of the places I’ve felt at home in recent years:

Port Joli House, NS

Sandy Bay fish house, Port Joli, NS

Doris McCarthy’s kitchen at Fool’s Paradise, Scarborough Bluffs

Liam and Rachel’s house, Toronto, ON

Cucuron, France (L’hermitage)

Charlie, Horseshoe Lake, Leville, NS

The Wolfville Library

my writing room

Sea Breeze Cottage, Saint Simons Island, GA

Home, Wolfville, NS

the beach, anywhere:)

Home means different things to different people, I suppose. For me, it’s not the house, it’s not the surroundings or landscape, beautiful as they may be. It’s not the stuff I’ve collected over the years, as nice as all those things are, and finding second-hand treasure is so much fun! Of course, I’m grateful for all of this, and try not to take any of it for granted.

 

But, for me, home is the people, these people. Wherever they are, that’s home for me.

my definition of home.