2.06.2017

If I Had A Little Dream: Making it Come True

If I Had A Little Dream comes out February 7, 2017

My new book, IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM, written by me  and illustrated by Melissa Castrillon is about to be born. I am very exited about this book for so many reasons, but first I want to tell you how this book, this LITTLE DREAM came to be, came to me, how it happened. I hope you will find the process interesting. 

Let me describe the scene: It is August 24, 2013 and the height of summer on Lummi Island where we live. It has been a rough year for me with my husband almost dying more than one time from heart disease, botched open heart surgery, and a scary emergency room trip after the first surgery, followed by a second surgery. Finally Booth was patched up, albeit scarred and not-quite-whole, but our life was beginning to return to the sweeter things that we loved. 

We both love blackberries, and they grow wild all around our property. For years and years we pick them in August, by the gallon, and I make my famous blackberry jam.
The process of heating the berry and sugar mixture to 220ºf can take a while and I have to be very careful not to let the mixture burn at the bottom or overflow at the top, so I'm constantly monitoring. I get into a certain rhythm when I'm "jamming" and I started writing a song while I was stirring. I've played guitar since I was eight years old, and I've written songs since I was thirteen. I pulled out the orange pad next to the kitchen counter and started writing down the verses as they came to me while I was stirring. 

I was on a roll... and the verses came out of order, but I just kept writing and watching the blackberries cook.
I even wrote on the back sides, too.
There was time to call out the important words/themes.
And come up with what I wanted to name those themes.
All this while making jam. And I still thought I had written a song. I was thinking that and when Booth walked into the house, I asked him if he wanted to hear my song, and my poor husband, who always has to say "yes" when I ask him to read/listen/look at what I'm writing/singing/drawing said "sure." After I read it, he said, "that's not a song." I replied, a bit sadly, "it isn't?" He said, "it's your next book."

Booth was right. It was a book. Even though I've been writing and illustrating children's books and published for over twenty-two years now, I also know that even if I think it is a book, it doesn't mean that anyone else will think so. But I knew I had to give it a shot. So I figured out the order of the verses. You can see my numbers on the original text. Then I typed up the manuscript. 
I started doing some sketches in my journal, and I did this bigger sketch on tissue paper.
I sent it to my intrepid agent, Laura and asked her what she thought. She loved the text, but for some reason didn't like my sketch. She thought that Renata Liwska who had just illustrated my poetic book, ONCE UPON A MEMORY would be a better illustrator. 

I am professionally trained as an illustrator, btw. I have a BFA in Illustration and my parents were both fine artists, but I do understand that my style doesn't work with everything I write, so I've had to learn to let go and be collaborative. Working with Renata was a fantastic experience. We did ONCE UPON A MEMORY with publisher Little Brown Books for Young Readers, so we submitted it to them. They were interested and made me an offer, but it turned out that the offer was only if Renata could illustrate, and she was "booked" for years. The offer was rescinded. I felt sad and wondered if I should illustrate a full dummy and submit samples... but Laura told me not to do that and that she'd send the book out to other publishers.

To my delight, Paula Wiseman of Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster loved IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM and made me an offer. We talked about illustrators and she suggested a young illustrator from Cambridge, England named Melissa Castrillon and she sent me a link to Melissa's website. I loved Melissa's warm, quirky, almost fine-art drawings, and her color choices were both retro and modern at the same time. I didn't even worry when Paula told me that Melissa had never illustrated a children's book before. She had only done book covers. 

As an artist, I have confidence in other artists. I also know to leave them alone. And I did. I didn't see what Melissa was doing until we got to the proof stages, and when they showed up, I nearly fell over. Here is just one spread:
Melissa's work was astonishing! Each spread was better than the next. This book was going to be a treasure and a dream all rolled together.

Meanwhile, Paula and I were tightening each verse and making sure that each word, like each blackberry in my jam, was perfectly ripe and right. I also had to submit my dedication. At the time the dedication was due, one of my dear friends, Debbie Alvarez, a librarian from Beaverton, Oregon, and then Hong Kong, was dying of cancer. She wrote the fantastic blog, "The Styling Librarian." I'd visited her school in Beaverton many times. I knew that this was going to be her book. 
I wish I could have made Debbie's dreams come true. She fought cancer so valiantly, but cancer won and she died at age 42, leaving behind husband, Doug, and son Declan. 

IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM is a deceptively simple book about naming things. 

If I had a little land,
I would name it THERE.
THERE would be my home,
Be it stormy, be it fair.

It also about wishing for wholesome things that bring joy and grounding to your life.

And it is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

And it is a lullaby and a bedtime book.

On the dust jacket it says, "Our world is full of possibilities if you look for them. IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will inspire you to look around you and find the dreams that are waiting just for you."

Right now, more than ever, I think children, and the world needs to find their LITTLE DREAMS. We need comfort in what we have around us and I hope that IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will be that comfort for little readers everywhere, be it stormy, be it fair.

Thank you all for reading this- and please share the book and this post if you are so inclined.

If I had a little dream, 
I would name it YOU.

Love, 
Nina





11.03.2016

An Inktober Graphic Novella

Hi, it's me again. Long time no see. I just can't do all these digital things. There is too much going on in real life. However... Last October I drew or painted an octopus each day not realizing there was something called #Inktober. I started to see it popping up in my Newsfeed on Facebook, yet I started making fun of it this October 1st with this cartoon:
The next day I kept the potato theme going.
By the third day I discovered that there were actual PROMPTS for Inktober.
Then I did the next prompt.
And the next prompt...
After the fifth day, I sat there staring at the list of prompts and I realized it was a story. I've been aiming towards doing graphic novels for a while now. I used to do comics when I was a kid and teenager, but moved away to illustration and children's picture books, but I've always done cartoons in my journal and I love good, old-fashioned pen and ink... 

So I began a journey- a visual journey, using the Inktober prompts. These were all done quickly with a simple pencil sketch and no reference- they are all "out of my imagination." I didn't square things up- I wanted this to be more of a storyboard where the story is the most important part. I hope you like it. 

My Inktober message is to rescue and adopt animals... and to play visually.

Feel free to share this.

With Love,
Nina














3.22.2016

Are We WHERE Yet?























I have been THERE, but I have not been HERE writing this blog for about six months. Life just got in the way, like it usually does when you juggle as many things as I do. At the end of September I moved my father into an Adult Family Home the same weekend that we had the funeral for my dear Mother-in-law. Then I spent months up to my eyeballs in filth and hoarded art, books, stuff- clearing out my father's mess, getting his condo fixed up (Thank you, Manning Sedgwick Realty) and sold.

Life is a crazy journey and my journey has been a very strange road trip. I dreamt of a wonderful creative life where I'd just be writing and illustrating and making books that people would love, and parts of that came true, but the way it happened wasn't very dreamy. It has not been easy juggling my career with my family, and I give birth to book ideas all the time, and then they have to sit and wait for me to be able to get to them.

"Are We There Yet?" my new book, which just came out on March 1st from my longtime publisher, Chronicle Books, was no exception. I originally conceptualized this book in June 2006 while I was driving to our home on Lummi Island.


For seven years I took numerous detours and had to deal with family crises that I wish upon no one. I only had two books come out in those seven years, my baby book, "Who Loves You, Baby?" and my cloth book, "Button Nose." I kept writing during that time. I even wrote a novel.

Finally in 2013 I was out of the worst of the nightmarish period and I was finally THERE. I created these detailed thumbnails for "Are We There Yet?" and submitted the book.

Then the journey took another detour that surprised me. I had submitted this book thinking that I was going to illustrate it, but I was not offered that opportunity. I was working on my "Peek-a Book" series at the time, so I let it go. I've been asked why I didn't illustrate it, and honestly, I don't have a good answer. What I will say is that Adam McCauley used my sketches as a launching point and added his cool details and did a masterful job. 

I've had a lot of fun "performing" "Are We There Yet?" in schools over the past two plus weeks- I have the kids play "the kid" and I play "the mom," and they love asking "are we there yet?" over and over as we go deeper into the journey of imagination, and when reality returns, and it seems "boring," then they get to say, "let's do it again!" 

I've also written the "Are We There Yet?" song- on my ukulele. When I get over being afraid of filming myself playing it, I'll share it here or there...

The next strange part of this journey is that there is another book of the exact same name coming out from Caldecott medalist, Dan Santat. I have not seen his book. I do not have his marketing, or his momentum. But I do have my own road and my own journey to stay on and enjoy the scenery- because the one thing I've learned after over twenty-two years of making children's books is that wherever you are, you are always THERE, and THERE is where you are meant to be.

I hope you will share some of my journey with me. 
I love having you all along for the ride...
And YES, we are there.

Love, 
Nina



11.01.2015

Octoberpus: A Month of Octopuses

It's been ages since I've posted. No need to go into details, but there have been family crises and obstacles and to put not-too-fine-a-point on it, things have sucked. So I decided to pull myself out of the cave and the pity party and do something completely weird and creative. I invented "Octoberpus." I've always loved cephalopods and I challenged myself to draw or paint one each day and post it on Facebook. The experiment worked. The creative juices flowed thanks to these little suckers. They were done on the fly, in hotels, in doctor's waiting rooms, at night before bed, in between finishing the art for my next "peek-a book." Some are scanned and others are just taken with my iPhone. I hope you enjoy them- they are all the product of my strange imagination and various techniques that I play with as sketches- whether in ink or paint- these are not "finished illustrations."

On October 26 and 27 my plate was too full, so I posted two octopuses from the recent past.
I drew this Rugged Beauty for a line of jewelry I'm making.
This one was a quick cartoon with an octopus riding a bicycle- my statement on how being on a device keeps you from seeing the world around you.
There you have it! Thirty-one days of octopuses. I hope you found some you liked... and I imagine this will be spawning future projects for me. I already have a picture book concept going. 

I highly recommend doing something like this- whether you are sketching something or writing something every day for a month just to sharpen your imagination. 
Happy creating!
Love,
Nina