Award-winning children’s author John Coy will spend the first half of November in residency at Write On. While here, John will visit with school students in Gibraltar, Sturgeon Bay, and Washington Island. He will also give a public program on Friday, November 10, 6 pm, at Crossroads at Big Creek in Sturgeon Bay. The reading is free and open to the public. Maggie Peterman recently had the chance to talk with John about his upcoming visit.
Maggie Peterman: Where is home for you?
John Coy: Minneapolis, Minnesota
MP: What was your childhood like?
JC: I lived the first five years of my life in Minneapolis, two more in Minot, North Dakota, and from third grade through high school in Eau Claire. All of the books I write explore my childhood in one way or another so they’re excellent places to look for clues. I feel lucky to spend as much time as I do thinking about my childhood and how that impacts me as an adult. One thing I tell students is that when I was a kid I never had an author come to my school and talk about making books. I also never had a teacher or librarian talk about the possibility of being an author. One of the reasons I like visiting with students so much is to show them what’s possible and broaden the choices they see for themselves.
MP: What was your favorite class/teacher in school and why?
JC: Values and identity tight by Mr. Art McMillion at Eau Claire Memorial High School was an excellent class. The focus of the class was figuring out who we were as individuals and what we valued. That’s very good training for a writer.
MP: What after-school activities did you participate in?
JC: Sports and reading. I played baseball, basketball, and football, and I loved to read.
MP: What is your favorite library memory?
JC: Going to the old Carnegie library in Eau Claire with my mom and my brother and two sisters to check out books. My mom let us check out what we wanted and she checked out lots of books herself. We were not able to buy many books, but the library opened up the world to us.
MP: Which author or book has most influenced your own writing and why?
JC: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. The first story I wrote as an adult was Night Driving and the influence of Owl Moon is evident. Both are about a child spending time with a father at night. Before Night Driving, I didn’t think of myself as a writer. After Henry Holt published it with stunning illustrations by Peter McCarty, I did.
MP: What are some of your favorite books?
JC: Way too many to list! It’s like asking me for my favorite breath of air. There are so many good ones and they keep coming.
MP: What book do you think every elected official should read?
JC: Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I think that’s a great book for every citizen to read.
MP: What is your writing discipline like?
JC: Come up with an idea, write it down, rewrite it over and over to make it better, then rewrite some more. After that, maybe we have something.
MP: What can you tell us about your current writing project?
JC: My Mighty Journey is a first person waterfall story that goes through twelve thousand years of people living by what’s now called the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis in about eight hundred words. I am collaborating on it with the brilliant artist Gaylord Schanilec who is making extraordinary wood block prints with wood collected from the banks of the river. We have been working together on this for over three years and we should have a book in 2019. I’ve also had a new picture book accepted about what the world would be like if people were not here. It’s scheduled to be released on the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day in 2020.
MP: How did you become involved with Write On?
JC: I am huge fan of Jerod Santek. I knew Jerod when he was at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and think the world of him. Earlier this year my friend Naomi Shihab Nye told me about what a wonderful time she’d had at Write On. She said, “You have to get over there.” I’ve never gone wrong with following Naomi’s advice.
MP: Why is there a need for an organization like Write On in Door County?
JC: Everybody has a story to tell. An organization like Write On can help people in Door County uncover that story and provide them new tools to tell it.
MP: What can people expect from your upcoming programs?
JC: They can expect to learn a lot about the writing and publishing process. I will show drafts, revisions, rejections, and folded and gathered pages. I will discuss all the people who work together to produce a book. I’ll also discuss the joys of writing and ways students can improve their reading and writing.
MP: What advice can you give to aspiring Write On writers?
JC: Write. One thing writers are good at is not expecting a first draft to be great. It’s just a start. Get a first draft down and then make it better and better and better. You’ll surprise yourself using that process.