Main Street Melancholy

When I was a kid in 1960s small-town Nova Scotia, going “uptown” was a big deal. Oh, the wonders to be seen at Woolworth’s, the hardware store and the Metropolitan store in those simpler times!

Tanks full of innocent goldfish, waiting to be bagged up and taken home to a guaranteed short life; the lunch counters with their super-salty gravy-soaked french-fries, milkshakes, and cherry cokes. And, of course the toys. We had so few in those days, making do with our dolls and our imaginations – my sister and I were never hard-pressed to find something fun to do. We played endless games of store, library, school, and house. We didn’t even have TV at home until the middle of elementary school, but we always had library books. I figure that’s a big part of why I grew up to become a writer.

In those days, the main street (Prince and Inglis (pictured above, circa 1965) in my hometown of Truro) was the beating heart of the town. The same families owned the same shops for decades, and it was all so familiar, but exciting at the same time since we didn’t consume stuff so voraciously then as we do today. Most things we did buy we kept for a long time, and they were produced in North America – how that has changed! As I found out when busy with my Masks for the Food Banks project when I couldn’t find elastic produced anywhere in Canada.

I’ve been spending some time in Kingston, Ontario, lately, visiting my daughter (who’s a grade one teacher) and husband (and their new puppy, Winnie!) and I was sad to see so many empty storefronts on Kingston’s busy main street, Princess. University towns and cities are missing the annual September in-flow of students. Driving through other small towns in southern Ontario, the economic effects of this pandemic are bleakly visible in the “For Lease” signs in empty shop windows.

Everybody I talk to mentions how little they’ve been spending during Covid times (and a lot of the spending people are doing is online, judging by the fleets of UPS and FedEx trucks everywhere), and I’m starting to wonder if that’ll become the new reality, permanently. Lots of people are still cautious about venturing into stores or restaurants, even though we all know we should be supporting local as much as possible in these hard times. Nobody wants to get sick, so we continue to “stay the blazes home,” as instructed by Premier Stephen McNeil in the pandemic’s early days.

Small business owners pour their hearts and souls into their enterprises, but they can only stay afloat for so long with mortgage/rent payments looming and diminishing revenue. Meanwhile, the big-box stores seem to be doing just fine, one-stop shopping and all that. I’ve driven past the Costco in Kingston several times, and there are always dozens of people lined up to get inside.

How’s your Main Street looking seven months into this pandemic? I’m busy writing and drawing (thanks for the grant, Arts Nova Scotia!) and looking for the silver lining, as we prepare to nestle in for a long, lonely winter…

Endless mask-making

Demand is great, and I’ve now made over 3,000 masks,including these lovely sea-inspired ones worn by my writing retreat pals, raising thousands of dollars for local food banks and school backpack programs. The latter (facilitated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Wolfville)  is even more important now that Nova Scotia is reopening schools at full capacity in September. Masks are now mandatory in all indoor public places in Nova Scotia, and people are being super-compliant. We’ve been pretty much Covid-free for several weeks now, although that will change once all the interior Canadian borders reopen – date TBA, and people start flying around the country more often. I’m really getting frustrated by not seeing Liam & Rachel, Shannon & Peter (and sweet puppy Winnie)

and feeling as if I may book a flight to Ontario very soon, although I’d have to quarantine for 14 days upon returning…

People have been very generous in donating in exchange for my homemade 100% cotton masks, but I’ve had to start putting each one in a plastic bag after someone was trying them on at the local farm market, the amazing staff of which is kindly selling them for me!!  Some people…

Haven’t done much writing/art with all this mask-making, but I’m seizing the opportunity to raise money and do some good, and honestly, I don’t see mask-wearing disappearing anytime soon. If the entire world had made masks mandatory at the outset (as Thailand did; 70 million people, 3,300 or so cases), would we all be in a lot better place than we find ourselves in August, 2020?

How’s the battle going in your neck of the woods?

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)

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN (Mean What You Say) – an excerpt

Publishers are asking authors to contribute some online content in these days of homeschooling; not sure if this link will work, but here it is, in case you have 15 spare minutes – personally, I’m using my spare time trying to learn to sing harmony – a lifelong goal. Let’s just say I’m not a natural… Stay well, stay home, stay sanitized!

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?