The temperature in Florida Tuesday was a goosebump-raising 58 degrees, but Island artist Margot Datz was riding shotgun in a convertible and was not about to let the weather foil her plans of a road trip with the top down. “I’m on a teenage adventure at 54,” she crooned into her cellphone while en route from Jacksonville, Florida to Savannah, Georgia.
On March 3, Ms. Datz flew to her beloved city of New Orleans for her annual spring vacation. Never one for the beaten path, Ms. Datz’s trip this year has been far from average, even by her standards. “Before we went, my absolutely wonderful boyfriend said to me, ‘I think that this vacation should be about you and your book,’” said the artist who, come April, will add author to her list of titles, which also includes former sculptor, mother, aspiring mermaid and owner of Yoda, a hairless pint-sized dog who has a natural mohawk and painted toenails.
The mermaid has long been an inspiration for Ms. Datz. “She’s an archetype for women,” she said. “We’re betwixt and between. We’re pulled different ways between our instincts and the demands placed on us by our culture.” Alas, Ms. Datz is landlocked. So she has settled and uses the mermaid as both a subject and an inspiration in her paintings. Mermaids, Metaphors and l’Amour was the name of her annual summer art show two years ago at the Grange Hall, and from its old walls hung original paintings with such titles as, Something About Him Made Her Want to Be Naughty.
Many of the pieces had been painted for the book Ms. Datz is now promoting, A Survival Guide for the Landlocked Mermaid. Although she has illustrated many a children’s book in the past, this book will mark her debut as a writer. The guide is to be released by Beyond Words, the spiritual book imprint of Simon & Schuster, on April 3 and is chock full of whimsical prose and fanciful art. “It is a picture book for women of all ages,” Ms. Datz said. “It is everything I have learned the hard way dipped in chocolate.”
After the couple landed in New Orleans in early March, they bought a secondhand black convertible, dropped the top and headed straight for Key West, where they stopped in at the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Park, the oldest tourist attraction in Florida and home to many a mermaid. Ms. Datz, with her frame long and lean and her hair flowing, looks as mermaid-like as a lady of the land could look and brought along a copy of her book for the mermaids to peruse. “They had requested to meet me,” she proclaimed. “Getting to meet each other, mermaid to mermaid, was so fun. It’s a spirit, it’s something inside of us.”
From the Keys, Ms. Datz and her sweetheart, Tom Haines, headed north. They bought a global positioning system, plotted their route and programmed it with the addresses of all the independent bookstores they would hit along the way. With Mr. Haines behind the wheel, the two have stopped at each bookstore and presented the book to the owners and buyers. “It just made sense to me that in an impersonal world, we would take a personal approach,” she said. “We’re inundated with thousands of new books each season and owners have a lot to pick through. I knew with my book that if they could just see what’s inside, they’d get it,” she said. “Once you get inside my book, you realize that it’s really quite different from anything that’s out there. It’s very, very original.”
Ms. Datz thanked Ann Nelson of the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven for the idea. “When she was grooming me for success, she said to me that what really meant something to her was when an author sent her a handwritten postcard,” Ms. Datz said.
Ms. Nelson was also the first person with whom Ms. Datz shared the idea for the book, when it was still just a concept in her creative mind. “She said, ‘I think you’ve got something,’” Ms. Datz remembered. And so it is fitting that on Friday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m., the Bunch of Grapes will host the grand release party for the book. Over the course of the summer, Ms. Datz will continue to promote her guide regionally, and this July, on her birthday, she will celebrate again with a mermaid party and book signing at Lola’s restaurant in Oak Bluffs.
Until then, Ms. Datz is content riding in the passenger seat for the last leg of her tour, even if her map reading skills are somewhat questionable. “We’re getting lost,” she laughed. “But it’s been fun to be lost. We’re always supposed to know exactly where we are in life, but sometimes we just get lost. It certainly has been the story of my life.”