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.

 

Cloud watching…

from “The Cloud”
…I am the daughter of Earth and Water, 
And the nursling of the Sky; 
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; 
I change, but I cannot die…
                – Percy Bysshe Shelley
I’ve been trying to figure out how to capture the ever-changing and endlessly fascinating sky with my water colo(u)r pencils, and I see I’ve collected lots of cloud pictures over the past few years (taken in (randomly)  Port Joli, Lunenburg and New Ross, Nova Scotia; Edinburgh, Scotland; near Dublin, Ireland; near Surrey, British Columbia; Scarborough Bluffs, Ontario; Curcuron, France). Hope these pics make you smile:)

Doris McCarthy, Storyteller – Sharing the Joy

Late Light and Pyramid Mountains, 1982, Doris Jean McCarthy

Iceberg With Icicles, 2000, Doris Jean McCarthy

Trees at Georgian Bay, 1938, Doris Jean McCarthy

In August of 2015, thanks to Doris McCarthy and Ontario Heritage Trust, I got to be the first writer-in-residence for the entire month at Fool’s Paradise, former home of iconic Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy. During that month, living in the space she’d so lovingly crafted over her lifetime, I became fascinated with all things Doris, and set about writing her story for young readers. She was a woman ahead of her time in so many ways, determined to succeed in what was largely a man’s world in the 1930s and 1940s. For Doris, nothing was impossible, and anything was possible. Alongside a 40-year teaching career, she spent her life creating 6,000 works of art, telling Canada’s story, sharing her joy and love for life and the wild.

This past November, I was asked to present at a McCarthy Symposium hosted by the McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto, Scarborough. I worked for weeks putting together a PowerPoint presentation to go along with my lyrical version of Doris’s life story. Along with the other eleven presenters, I was happy to meet some of the significant people in Doris’s life, including her long-time agent, Lynn Wynick, and two daughters of Doris’s dearest friend, Marjorie Beer Woods. At the end of the symposium, the five of us who had been artists-in-residence at Fool’s Paradise had a panel discussion about living in that magical space, which was super interesting; all of us felt Doris’s spirit which is still strongly present in her home.

There are painfully few books for young readers on the subject of Canadian artists, especially female Canadian artists. So far, I haven’t found a publisher willing to take on the project, but, like Doris, I’m determined, and will continue reworking the manuscript, and revisiting her life, until somebody says yes.  Wish me luck!

Musings on School Author Visits (and a wedding)…

 

I’ve been doing a few school author visits this month, as well as mentoring some young writers, and I’ve been musing…

  1. Small rural schools are a lovely thing; with fewer than 200 students, every adult in the building knows the kids, and that makes it an easier environment in which to be a kid, I’m pretty sure. Class sizes are typically smaller, and it just feels more like family than the bigger schools. It’s sad that as a cost-saving thing, school boards are amalgamating such small schools, leading to longer bus rides for kids and what must be overwhelming crowds for a lot of kids who value their personal space.
  2. Kids are aware of the scary, addictive nature of the internet. While visiting one middle school, a  girl approached me after my presentation, seeking my advice on how to avoid being sucked into the Google vortex while trying to write a story. On the spot, the only advice I could give was to use Google as a reward – say, after you’ve written a couple of pages, allow yourself a few minutes of internet time. Amazing that she’s so self-aware at age 12.
  3. Kids want to be good and want to learn. At that same school, three students approached me as they were leaving (on their own initiative) and apologized for their misbehavior (which I hadn’t even noticed since it was a large group), explaining that they’ve been diagnosed with ADHD.
  4. Calling out students who are inattentive, by mentioning they’ve made themselves outstanding by being the only one in the room without a “listening face” as I call it, is effective. Probably makes me some enemies, but maybe they’ll learn something about being polite, rather than trying to drag others off-task with them. I’m always happy to put on my teacher hat when required:)
  5. The absence of school librarians is noticeable. The middle school above (500 students) does have a librarian, and the library is so well-used, especially at lunchtime, partially as a quieter refuge from the noisy cafeteria. One school I visited has a parent volunteer to supplement the few allotted librarian hours, which is awesome. The good thing is, most kids do have a public library card (and hopefully have somebody to take them to the library occasionally…)
  6. Couldn’t resist adding this gem from today: A student told me about a friend of hers who keeps a list of lines for picking up girls (they’re 12). The one that made me laugh out loud: Getting out a pocket mirror, showing the to-be-wooed girl her face in it, and asking: “Does your father know you stole the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes?” You can’t make that stuff up!
  7. Kids are the best, and I’m so happy I get to write books for young readers. Sharing in their enthusiasm and energy for life is a real treat.
  8. Shout-out to Linda Hudson of the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia who makes these school visits possible through their Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, and to all the adults who make the time to arrange for authors to visit. But mostly, thank you to the students who show up (for the most part) with their “listening faces.”

And I couldn’t resist putting in a few wedding pics from Shannon and Peter’s October 20th country wedding at Peter’s home. Such a wonderful day; my heart was/is full!

Our new, LARGE extended family in Tyrone, ON

The bride making her bouquet in this DIY country wedding.

Proud and happy parents – a new son!

Our four kids – two by birth, two by marriage – love them!

Lots of musicians (and dancers) in the crowd.

Mr. and Mrs. Vooys!