Like most people of a certain age, I sometimes think about how I’d like to be remembered, after I’m gone. When I’m here on SSI, I love walking along the shore reading the bench memorial plaques (I wrote about them five years ago, too: https://wordpress.com/post/jancoates.ca/1967)- such a thoughtful and meaningful way to remember loved ones, while at the same time sharing a beautiful spot for passersby to sit and enjoy the view! I hope you’ll enjoy reading these ones – what would you like your family to write about you?
After finally getting to finish my highly-personal, and exciting, dedication for ANNA MARIA & MAESTRO VIVALDI (Red Deer Press, 2022, art by the amazing Francois Thisdale, whose work I’ve admired for years), I’m taking some time to reflect on November and December. We were in Ontario for those two months, back and forth between Kingston (a very easy city to live in/get around) and Toronto, spending time with Shannon & Peter, Liam & Rachel as they awaited their first babies.
Ada Jane (AJ) Vooys (named after my late mum and Peter’s Grandma Jane) arrived on November 22nd, on what would have been my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary, and Noelle Clara Coates arrived on December 21st, the first day of winter. Sadly, I can’t show you pictures as their parents have wisely decided to keep them off social media, but I’m completely in love with both of these sweet little girls. It’s early days, but it already seems they may have very different personalities – who knows? I’m just so grateful for their safe arrivals – thanks to their Mamas who did the hard work of growing them!
They’re so beautiful, snuggly, soft, sweet, cute – all the baby adjectives, and I loved them from the moment I met them (or possibly before they were born), something that kind of surprised me. I loved my own kids from the moment they were conceived, I think, but I didn’t know it would be the same for grandbabies. Best of all is watching their sleepy parents love them, too, as they figure out this parenting thing. Both couples will be such great parents, and they’re all taking a teamwork approach, supporting each other, exchanging bleary-eyed smiles, even across poopy diaper changes, with Vaseline-slathered hands😊
Both AJ and Noelle are lucky little girls to have the parents they do, and I am so looking forward to being part of their life stories as they unfold, chapter-by-chapter (diaper-by-diaper)! Fortunately, my almost-forgotten baby-holding skills kicked in immediately – there’s nothing like that new baby smell and warmth to send a new grandma into raptures.
Meanwhile, back home in Wolfville, I’m still making masks – I stopped counting ages ago, but it’s well over 5,000. Lots of snowy days to work on my illustrating, too. Hope you’re able to tune out Omicron for the most part, and that you’re vaccinated, boosted, and finding your way through this endless pandemic.
Years ago, I developed a habit of reading the Nova Scotia obituaries every day. This morning, this little gem caught my eye.
“I think it’s important that each of us wring out of every day whatever we can. Play the game full out, and don’t leave anything on the table. Decide what you want from this month and go for it. This month is going by no matter what we decide to do, so take a few minutes and write down all the things you want to accomplish this month and attack the list.” (with thanks to the late Michael Crosby)
Since we sold the cottage just over a month ago, I’ve been following Mr. Crosby’s advice and keeping very busy with daily lists, getting ready to be away for a couple of months in Ontario awaiting the arrival of our first two grandbabies😊 I’m still sewing masks, plus kitchen towels and mug rugs in addition to my soul smiles greeting cards and books, all of which I sell at the Wolfville Farm Market Store. Stockpiling for the two months of Christmas has kept me extra busy, although most days I feel like I’m rushing to cram all the stuff I want to do in to each day. Since the heart attack I had when I was 47, I’ve lived my life with gusto – we never know what lurks around the corner, so make hay while the sun shines!
I have a picture book coming out from Red Deer Press in 2022, Anna Maria & Maestro Vivaldi, which will be illustrated by the wonderfully talented Francois Thisdale, an artist whose work I’ve admired for years. Beverly Brenna is the new editor at Red Deer, and she’s been lovely to work with on this project.
And a little plug for my friend Laura Best’s new book from Nimbus Publishing, A Sure Cure for Witchcraft – I really loved this fairytale-feeling book about soul friends connecting across the centuries. If you have middle grade readers in your life who are fans of Gail Carson Levine’s books (like Ella Enchanted), I think this book would be right up their alley.
Fall has given us beautiful, warm weather and sunshine here in Nova Scotia. Hope things are going well in your corner, and that you and yours are vaccinated and staying safe! I think we’re close to having 85% of eligible Canadians vaccinated now – yay us!
WordPress recently reconfigured everything, (grrr….) so please bear with me as I try to figure out how to make my posts look okay.
Lots going on this summer, including selling our lakefront cottage of 19 years – both our Ontario kids and partners are expecting their first babies, so we know we’ll be spending our free time with them as much as possible.
So a strange mix of sad and super glad, I guess, as so much of life is. One thing I know is that I don’t like having to keep everything tidy for regular real estate showings, so I hope we can sell it soon and enjoy it for the rest of the summer:)
I was recently chosen as a Covid Community Hero by Doctors Nova Scotia for the 3700 masks I made and sold last year, and the $18,000 I raised and donated to local non-profits, mainly to support kids. You can read about it, and my life in general, here:
Still busy with my Etsy shop – thanks so much to everybody who’s supported this new adventure for me and my soul smiles cards. You can see my shop HERE: and other illustrations here https://jancoates.ca/illustrations-art. I’ve been selling my cards through local farm markets for a couple of years now, and it’s so much fun combining pictures and words! Hope your summer is shaping up to be a good one for you!
A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few days making a book trailer for THE HERMIT. I used Animoto, which was new for me, but I have to say it’s a nice program (once I figured it out, roughly). And I got to include my late grandparents, Nana and Gramps Mingo in a YouTube video:)
Here’s the link to the two-minute trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19vC0aFDBdc.
I’ve been continuing to play with art, but I did work on the first edit of my forthcoming picture book with Red Deer Press, tentatively “Anna Maria & Maestro Vivaldi” due out in 2022. The wonderfully talented Francois Thisdale is doing the art for this one, which I’m pretty excited about.
I recently had some great news for THE HERMIT – it’s one of five finalists for the IODE Violet Downey Book Award, for the best Canadian book for readers 13 and under – two of the other finalists are also finalists for the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards, so my novel is in good company. I’m reading the other books, and so far I’ve read BANKSY (Tanya Lloyd Kyi, MY PINE ISLAND HOME (Polly Horvath) and SARA AND THE SEARCH FOR NORMAL (Wesley King) – they’re all very different and really excellent. Next up is THE BARREN GROUNDS (David A. Robertston). I have absolutely no hope of winning, but I’m happy my novel, from a relatively tiny, indie publisher (Nimbus Publishing) in Nova Scotia has gotten some recognition nationally:)
Hope you’re enjoying spring – it’s arrived a little early here in NS, and I hope all of you will get to see your people sometime before summer ends – I’ve had one shot of AZ, and I have to say I’m hoping for something else for the second shot now that AZ has been paused across Canada. The good news is the roll-out has been faster than expected – now we just have to persuade everybody to book an appointment. Cheers!
I finally got around to reading ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, Stephen King’s book that every writer should read. Since he reportedly earned 17 million last year, he must know a few things about writing. Plus there are over 350 million copies of his dozens of books in existence. He has such an easy conversational writing style, and I completely enjoyed the book, written partly while he was recovering from a horrific car accident. I took notes while reading, and thought I’d share them here (in case you don’t have time to read the book):
” …the reader must always be your main concern; without Constant Reader, you are just a voice quacking in the void.” (Constant Reader being the person you imagine being the perfect reader of your book)
“The adverb is not your friend.”
“The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story … to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.” (Love this advice)
“Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” (on using other people’s books as learning tools)
“Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth-telling.”
“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” (made me think of , and how much I dislike obvious authorial contortions of a story’s events (which don’t feel organic to the story/characters).
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. … For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else. … it’s as easy to over-describe as to under-describe. Probably easier.”
“The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”
“And if you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own. I know that sounds a little creepy if you haven’t actually experienced it, but it’s terrific fun when it happens. And it will solve a lot of your problems, believe me.” (this is so true, and so difficult to explain, but wonderful when it happens!)
“With the door shut, downloading what’s in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like cross the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.”
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”
Hope you’re filling up on all things creative as we all await spring and vaccinations. Thanks for reading!
I attended an excellent webinar put on by CANSCAIP (Canadian Society for Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) last night. It was moderated by author Natasha Deen, who had wonderful questions for Katie Hearn, Editorial Director at Annick Press, and Gayna Theophilus, Rights and Sales Director for Annick. They had excellent, in-depth and thoughtful answers, and I know all 178 attendees from across the country, like me, were wishing they could work with these people on a book! I honestly came away from the meeting thinking this is a publisher with so much integrity, and the people there really want to help the world through their young readers.
What is Annick Looking for?
They spoke a lot about Annick’s new author mentorship program for historically underrepresented groups, but I’m going to summarize my quick notes on what Annick looks for in a manuscript. In point form:
- issue books, stories that encourage deeper thought
- nothing didactic; don’t talk down to kids (who are very sophisticated these days)
- pacing that flows
- what is the author’s approach?
- is the voice (impossible to describe, but we all know it when we read it) authentic? Is there a spark?
- show, don’t tell
- is the story nuanced?
- keep your adult voice out of a young person’s story.
What does the Art Director look for?
Katie shared some notes she had from Art Director Paul Cavello including:
- does the art show confidence?
- is it fun, appealing, expressive, unique?
- does the artist have various styles?
- would the artist likely have multiple and original ideas to suit a particular project?
- does their work demonstrate dynamic possibilities?
- could the artist collaborate well and be flexible?
Both editors said they look for illustrators on Instagram, so if you’re an artist, use #Canadianillustrators (or something like that), when posting art.
In the past year, I’ve submitted two projects to Annick, and I haven’t had a response, so I’m wondering if they’re a “no response means no thanks” publisher these days. They do produce beautiful books, and I’ll continue trying… Hope you’ve found this useful!
Happy I Read Canadian Day (February 17th)
And Happy I Read Canadian Day (February 17th) – I’ll be “visiting” students at Humber Park Elementary, and proudly wearing my IRC t-shirt:) Apparently, 2,000 schools participated last year, and it will be 4,000 this year – not bad for a volunteer-driven program!
I enjoyed my first virtual school visit last week (Dr. Arthur Hines School), using Google Meets. It went well, although for the Q&A portion, kids had to approach the teacher’s laptop directly; otherwise I couldn’t hear them. From grades 4 and up, the students in Nova Scotia are masked, so it was a little tricky to make them out by times, but they had tons of great questions. Of course, it’s not like soaking up all that young energy like I usually enjoy during school visits, but at least now I know it’s doable. During my slideshow, the kids could see me in a postcard side image, but I could only see my screen as I was talking into my little camera light on my laptop, so that’s a little strange, and it was tricky to ask questions during the presentation since the teacher had to relay answers to me. But doable. And Arts Nova Scotia and the Writers Federation of NS are fully funding school author visits this year through the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, which is amazing!
I spent two months with my kids in Kingston and Toronto, Ontario during the fall; we were all working, but it was so nice to be part of their daily lives for a short time. I was lucky enough to receive a grant from Arts Nova Scotia this fall, so I was working on an illustrated chapter book project, “Charley & Maple,” which has been so much fun! I ended up doing 25 pencil/ink illustrations – now to find a publisher… You can see some of my illustrations here: https://jancoates.ca/illustrations-art/
I was glued to the American election last week and was part of the collective sigh of relief echoing around the world once the end result appeared imminent. I do wonder if Kamala Harris will be the first female President after hearing her speak for the first time.
I was part of the group launch Nimbus Publishing had last weekend for its fall titles, including my new middle grade novel, THE HERMIT. I’m not a huge fan of book launches, organizing, begging people to come out, etc., so I didn’t mind the group launch at all. Everyone was keeping their distance and wearing masks, as we all are these days.
We’ve had a nice stretch of weather for November, but I’m not looking forward to the long cold winter ahead, especially without our annual trip to Georgia to look forward to. But we have lots of firewood, and there are always crossword puzzles to be done.😊
1960s small-town life
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.
A new grand-dog and empty storefronts
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…
Masks for the Food Bank
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?