10.06.2014

Produce & Poetry: An Exclamation Point!

An apology for not posting anything since June 14th. It has been a long summer of producing a new board book, producing and harvesting two home gardens of fruit and vegetables, and dealing with more curve balls from the school of life. Yet here I am. My "To-Do list" is never-ending. I have books to dummy-up and create sample illustrations so my agent can submit them. I have school visits and events coming up- including the celebration for the Washington State Book Award: my book, "Once Upon A Memory" is nominated in the picture book category. I need to update my website to include my new "Peek-a Who? Matching Game." I must order more Moo cards; I'm almost out. And four different people want blog interviews from me and I haven't update my own blog in four months. 

Somehow life goes on.

Yesterday, I went to the Ballard Sunday Farmer's market to buy produce and see my friend Elizabeth Parker. (and buy more of her beautiful jewelry) I love supporting Elizabeth- she has been through a lot- she is a veteran and so very talented, but she has been homeless frequently in the past few years. I don't get to the Sunday market very often, but I know Elizabeth will be there and we talk about life, gemstones and mental illness. Booth walked with me to the market, but after I filled our bags with poblano peppers, delicata squash, fresh roasted peanuts, corn, white chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and a bottle of hard cider he did his sherpa duty and hauled it all back up the hill, leaving me to my own devices. 

That's when I found them.

There were two guys with typewriters. They had a sign that said, "Poems - Your Topic - Your Price." The dark-haired mustachioed guy on the right was busy. He received repeat orders while I stood there and watched. One patron came by to pick up a love poem he had ordered and then requested a second one. A couple standing there asked for a poem about "goats." I decided to request a poem from the "other" poet.

He was wearing a black fedora, suspenders, and he had a very red beard, plus an assortment of crude, perhaps self-inflicted tattoos on his fingers and hands. His right fingers spelled out "J A S S." I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be "J A Z Z" and he did the "s's" backwards? He was typing on an old Olivetti portable, like the one I had growing up, only mine had a script font.

I handed Trip, he said that was his name, a ten dollar bill and requested a poem on "writing." He paused and started typing and then he stopped. "I just want to let you know that I don't have an exclamation point," he said. For one second I thought we were in some parallel universe where people speak in punctuation, but then I realized what he was saying.
     "Yes, you do," I told Trip. He looked at me like I was an alien life form... I pointed to the Olivetti, "what you do is type a period and then backspace and type an apostrophe- voila'- an exclamation point!"

It was an epiphany for Trip, and I high-fived him. He said I was sent to him, "like a winged-Hermes"- or something like that. Then he made his partner-in-poetry try it on his skeletal Olympia, too. They were both in "exclamation point ecstasy." I felt like I was sent to them to re-discover this long forgotten experience from growing up which combined my love of writing and typewriters. 

Then Trip got down to business and wrote my poem. 

I stood there in the sunshine and watched as people and dogs swarmed like bees. Two little dogs took shelter under Trip's table and chair. He didn't seem to notice. He was producing- full of words like an apple tree full of ripe fruit, the keys falling on the small slip of paper. He was a two or three finger typer and I could tell that he was jazzed (or jassed?) by the newly discovered exclamation point because he typed four of them in my poem.

When the poem was done, he asked me if he could date it. I said, "of course, and please add your name." So he put the paper back into the Olivetti sideways and typed his name and the date. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed what "date" it was. It was still October 5th, which it truly was... but it was 1972. I'm not sure why Trip picked 1972; he wasn't even born then. But I was ten in 1972. (and I had chosen to pay him ten dollars for the poem) I also noticed that he used a capital "I" for the "1." He knew that trick already. 

I walked home with a fresh poem in my bag and a feeling of pleasant punctuation, an exclamation of enjoyment in a surprisingly delightful day.

Here is the poem that Trip wrote for me: 
With Love and Poetry,
Nina







6.14.2014

My Father: Portrait of the Narcissist as an Old Man


It's that time of year again. The time of year that I want to tell the media to shut up already. I don't want to hear about celebrating dad and I don't want to see all of the loving photos my friends post of their wonderful fathers. Truthfully, I am jealous. I don't have a father in the real sense of the word. After all that I have learned in my fifty-two years on this planet- I have a sperm donor, a tormenter, an ugly and evil competitor who only cares about himself. This is not someone you fete with a barbecue and gifts of bathrobes and slippers. This is someone you spend thousands of dollars on psychotherapy to rid your nervous system of the anxiety and nightmares that he has caused over the course of your lifetime.

If you have read some of my old blog posts, like this one, and this one, you will know that my father is bipolar with psychotic episodes of mania that last for years. You will also have read that I saved his life when he was in his last depression, moving him out his crumbling home in Mahopac Falls, NY, and into my home- nursing him back to health only to have him turn on my husband and me in a violent way. We caught him and we released him. He loves his mania. He even tattooed it on his arms.
 The devil on one side....
...and a laughing Buddha on the other.

















My brother took those photos- this was right around the time my father was sending toxic mail and throwing things that looked like bombs in my yard.

I have not seen my father "officially" since he crashed my book launch for my book "Once Upon A Memory" on December 3, 2013. He came to make the event about him, but we were prepared and we used a secret weapon- my beautiful friend Teresa- to defuse him. Teresa used her wile and wit and she caught the nasty fly and held him captive, away from my reading until the very end. Then I had to face the enemy- and he was full of himself and full of smoke and weed- his t-shirt had burn holes, and an image of Frida Kahlo that he had written on- to add my mother's name, which was Frieda Savitz, and her birthday, which was the very day of my book launch. It was a disgusting display of vulgarity. He hurt my mother so badly that he destroyed her. She died 28 years ago this past January.

My father did not come to have me sign a copy of "Once Upon A Memory" to him. No. He had bought a copy himself, in advance of the signing, and HE had signed it. He drew a picture of the Oscar® that he had been nominated for- and told me to "remember that Oscar® had visited him twice..." (he didn't win either time) and he wrote other gibberish that was all about how great he is. I tried not to let him ruin my book launch, but he definitely left a horrid metallic taste in my psyche after it was over.

After that December day, my husband and I would spot him occasionally. He lives in our neighborhood in Seattle, about a mile away and we walk our errands all of the time. One day this spring he walked right past us, but didn't see us there. I drew this in my journal after that:

Then about three weeks ago on a Friday evening- the same day that I had given a live interview on CNN International about the Hachette-Amazon battle, Booth and I were walking home from a lovely dinner in Ballard. It was a gorgeous late spring evening and people were out and enjoying the weather. There was a crowd in front of the bar Hazelwood, which is next to the the Anchor Tattoo parlor. As I walked right next to the bar crowd, I looked up and there was my father- looking very clean-shaven, wearing hipster glasses, hitting on a 30-something woman, talking to her non-stop. I stared at him- and then watched as he quickly glanced at me and Booth walking by, and then went right back to chewing the woman's ear off, wishing he was chewing on the rest of her. He had no idea who we were. Booth turned around to see if he did a double-take, but he did not. We both laughed. I felt a sense of relief that I didn't have any anxiety. Sure, it was sad and pitiful, but it had not hurt like in the past.

I have spent my entire life trying to please this man- wishing for his love, for him to be proud of me, but over and over I have been screwed- not only by him, but by others in his new family circle after he left my mother. I have worked on the puzzle that caused so much hardship in my life and when I was 35 and had fallen into major clinical depression I figured out that he was bipolar, which shed light on why he was the way he was. He has refused treatment, fighting it vehemently. But even the bipolar diagnosis did not explain his lack of love and empathy. My mother was also bipolar, but she loved my brother and me and even though she was broke and dying, she loved us and said we were her "greatest achievements." Last week I stumbled on a website that dealt with "Toxic People," and my eyes were opened - it was like discovering another planet- not one that supported life, though- I read a description that fit my father so aptly; it was as plain as the enormous nose on his face: My father  has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

This doesn't absolve him of his sins. However, now I have context and I understand what I have been dealing with. A long time ago I had a Jungian Astrological reading done and the report said that my parents were "Beauty and the Beast." I didn't understand that then, but it has come true in so many ways, except I do not love the Beast. I will not celebrate him on Father's Day. Do not cry for him, though, he has built yet another world of adoring fans and as long as they agree with him and do his bidding, he will shower them with his incredible presence. Or if they are a pretty young woman, he will try to get them into the shower with his tattooed 82 year old body.

I will celebrate Father's Day with my husband, who is a great father. I will also remember both of my grandfathers, Sam and Ralph, who were great fathers. I will also work on healing myself from my painful past. I still thank my father for so many lessons that he has taught me- most of them on how "not to be..." But as a narcissist, he will claim credit for how I've turned out and what I've done.

What I've done is let him go.

With Love,
Nina

6.10.2014

Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency: Communing With Book People

I was thrilled when the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts asked me to teach at their Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Residency this August. They not only dangled the literary carrot of getting to hang out with other writers and characters who love writing and books, but they also enticed me with the setting of gorgeous Whidbey Island and the Captain Whidbey Inn. Now that the plot is thickening and the registration period is still open (until June 15th) I thought I'd lend my voice to help promote it by answering the five questions that Guest Faculty were given to answer.

1. What's your favorite thing about teaching writers?

Getting to check out their glasses and writing tools. No, seriously, I think my favorite thing about teaching writers is sharing a love of story. Stories are how we communicate and how we share our experiences, and though themes may be similar, we all bring something fresh to the table. 

2. How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire? 

With dark chocolate, a glass of wine, and don't ask them to "help them get published." I am half-joking of course, but I wasn't joking about the "getting published" part. Students seem to want to put the cart before the horse, and not the art before the course! (I just made that up. The last part, that is.) Don't put the emphasis on being published. Approach writers, agents and editors as "someone who wants to learn." There is much you can glean from those who have been there and done that, but have a "beginners mind" and stay open and curious. There is no "one way" to get to your destination- there are many ways, so take a light-hearted approach and make friends with writers, agents and editors, but please don't force them to read your manuscript immediately, and don't tell them that it is "guaranteed to be a bestseller," or that your kids or grandkids loved it. 

3. How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?

I am teaching two workshop sessions. Here are the descriptions that I wrote for them:

“WRITING FRICTION: Why You Need Conflict in Children’s Books”

Children’s books, especially picture books seem deceptively simple. People want to know “how many can you write in one day?” (Can you hear me laughing?) In this workshop we will explore the need for conflict in children’s books and how you can increase the tension in order to create a page-turner for the grade school set. Bring a pencil and journal and your imagination as we brainstorm up some good “frictional” ideas.

“The 1st Person, The 2nd Person & The 3rd Person Walk Into a Book”

The 1st Person says, “I want to be the main character.”
The 2nd Person says, “You don’t have what it takes.”
The 3rd Person says, “They always make a mess of things.”

In this workshop we will discuss voice in children’s books.
We will be writing, and we will be talking!

4. Tell us what "literary community" means to you.

If you look at the sketch at the top of this post, you will see that I can sometimes take things literally. But the truth of the matter is that I love the world of books. Everything about books- from scheming up ideas to polishing them until they shine, to working with other writers and artists, to hanging out at bookstores and breathing in volumes of words and stories, to going to conferences and meeting like-minded individuals who all would rather be wearing sweats, sitting on their butts and making things up, to getting to know publishers, editors, agents, art directors, bookstore owners and clerks, teachers, librarians, to standing in the aisle at Office Max and imagining how each pen would feel touching the paper in my journal, to dreaming that one day my books would get published and I would share them with people around the world, to waking up and finding out that dream came true.

5. When not teaching or working at your "day job," you can be found...

(deep breath)... hunting for agates and other minerals, foraging for mushrooms and wild edibles, cooking everything from scratch, preserving and canning things I grow, taking long walks on the beach and writing in my head, working out with a body ball, taking care of two homes, my beloved husband, my sweet rescue cat, playing guitar and ukulele, dreaming of skiing next winter, kayaking around our Lummi Island waters, reading great books, wondering what I forgot to list here, and sleeping.

BONUS QUESTION:
The MFA Residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?

5.













I hope that this has piqued your interest and that you will want to sign up for this incredible workshop- at very least to see me in the Salish Sea in my bathing suit.

With Love,
Nina

5.29.2014

Once Upon A Nightmare: The Amazon Situation

You may or may not be aware of the battle going on between Hachette Book Group, who owns Little Brown Books For Young Readers who publishes my book "Once Upon A Memory," and discount digital giant Amazon.com. I became aware on May 9th when an email from Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch explained the "situation," which sent me clicking over to Amazon to see for myself. Lo and behold! There was the sales page for my book, "Once Upon A Memory," which had been selling well after winning the Crystal Kite Award for the West Region, and now it was hardly selling at all. Amazon had removed the usual discount (which people seem to demand) and raised the book to its full cover price. That in itself was not terrible. What was terrible is that they placed a banner over the book touting books that were "similar but lower in price," and they were saying that the book would ship in 3-5 weeks- even though it was available and in stock.

This was Amazon's way of negotiating for lower prices and bigger profit margins from Hachette- in effect using books as collateral. I was furious. I was frustrated. In the dark of night, in my office, by the light of my laptop I typed up a complaint letter and submitted to Customer Service at Amazon, knowing full-well that no one would read it. Sure enough, the next morning I received a "robo reply." However, that did not thwart my efforts. I had copied the letter and I had also decided to share it publicly on Facebook. Little did I know that it would go viral. Here is the letter that I shared on May 16th:

I have supported Amazon for as long as Amazon has existed. I've been published for 20 years now and you have sold so many of my books. I am frankly shocked and angry at what you are doing to my new book "Once Upon A Memory" which has just won the Crystal Kite Award and is published by Little Brown. You are punishing me- the author- because you want a deeper discount from Hachette- this is deplorable. You want authors and illustrators to suffer being used as pawns and we have nothing to do with this. Your actions to raise the prices of our books, place banners touting books that "are similar but lower in price" and saying that our books will ship in 3-5 weeks when they are in stock is not only a disgusting negotiation practice, but it has made me tell my readers to shop elsewhere- and they are and will. Authors and illustrators struggle to make low percentage royalties. We are not "big businesses," yet we are the mainstay of what you sell. Do you really think that this will endear Amazon to us, or do you- does Jeff Bezos- truly not care? It's all about money, I am sure. You make more and we make less. Not a recipe for good will, but perhaps you don't care about that. As a Seattle resident I am doubly upset at you, Amazon for doing this. I am going to share this letter and I hope others will share it, too.
I'm sorry that I've supported you in the past.
You have let me down.
Children's Books Author/Illustrator
Nina Laden

Over 470 people shared it- and it was tweeted. (Not by me, I'm not on Twitter.) Then on May 23rd it was quoted and linked in the New York Times Blog. On the morning of May 24th I had an email from a producer at Bloomberg Tech News. I did an interview with them via Skype and that aired online. Then my agent called and told me that CNN International had contacted her and wanted to send a Town car to take me to their Seattle affiliate to do a live interview with their London correspondent Richard Quest for his show "Quest Means Business." I was so nervous but I kept my wits, even when he baited me with a question about whether the US Government should step in. (This is not my area of expertise and I deflected.) I also did a phone interview with APR Marketplace reporter Sabri Ben-Achour that aired that evening.

The next day, Saturday, I was quoted in the actual New York Times. I still have not seen the paper. I was at our island cottage and our store doesn't sell The NY Times. This morning, May 29th I was on NPR's Morning Edition in a very short clip with Arts Correspondent Mandalit del Barco. Mandalit told me that her daughter loved my book, "Roberto the Insect Architect." I enjoyed talking with her; we talked for about ten minutes, but only ten seconds were used in the actual piece.

The media exposure- a complete shock and surprise to me- has garnered me many new friends and followers on Facebook, most of them fellow writers, illustrators, teachers, book people, and I've had a lot of positive feedback. I have no idea if this will help make up for lost sales from Amazon.com for their tactics against Hachette. What I have also done is to become an "IndieBound" affiliate- a wonderful organization that will find all of the independent bookstores that carry books you are searching for- near you. You can purchase my book "Once Upon A Memory" this way. Many independent bookstores, like the University Bookstore in Seattle, even offer free shipping. Other bookstores: please chime in here in the comments and add your links!

But at this point I've done all that I can do and I just have to re-focus and get back to the business of making books, letting the giant corporations deal with their stalemate... Pawns, such as myself, don't usually get to "Checkmate." I just hope that my next royalty check will not reflect this ugly game.

Thanks for your support, dear friends!
With Love, 
Nina

5.06.2014

Once Upon A Kite: The Crystal Kite Award

On Friday noonish I was sitting on the dock at Gooseberry Point waiting for the ferry to arrive and transport us to Lummi Island. I was listening to our new rescue cat, Marley softly meowing her discontent at being stuffed in a cat carrier for the two hour drive, and I was scrolling through email. When I saw an email from "Lin" with a subject that said "Hooray- Great news!" I squealed with delight as I opened it and read the first line, "Congratulations! Your book ONCE UPON A MEMORY has been awarded the Crystal Kite from your SCBWI region."

This email was copied to illustrator Renata Liwska, editor Connie Hsu and our local SCBWI Regional Advisors, Dana Armin and Brenda Winter Hansen. I also forwarded it to my lovely agent, Laura Rennert. I sat in that ferry line, oblivious to the sun sparkling on the Hales Passage, and emailed back and forth congratulating Renata and Connie, and thanking Lin, our incredible SCBWI President... and wanting to thank all of the West Region of the SCBWI who had voted for our book... but I had to wait until it was announced officially on Monday.

The Crystal Kite Award is a different sort of award- it is not like the Caldecott, which is chosen by a committee of fourteen librarians... it is more like the Oscar®- it is chosen by a large group of your peers, in this case they are the members of the SCBWI from your region. There are fifteen international regions in the SCBWI. The West Region comprises: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Northern Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota. 

I have won awards before, like the Parent's Choice Gold Award, Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York... and others. 

When I was a child, I decided by age nine- when I created this book, "The Unbearable Bird," that I wanted to be a children's book author and illustrator. I also dreamt that someday I would win a Caldecott award. After twenty years of having my books published I let go of that dream. I realized that it was a very arbitrary goal, and it was counterproductive. What mattered most to me was that my books were loved, and that they sold and endured. I found much more pleasure in experimentation- both in illustrating and writing. I kept trying to spread my wings and fly.

When I first submitted "Once Upon A Memory" the original title was "Does A Feather Remember?" I still love that as the title, but creating a book is a team effort and I've learned to be a good team player after all these years.

I also had to let go of doing the illustrations, which is very ironic for me. I come from a fine art background. My mother was an abstract expressionist painter. My father is a sculptor/collage artist and retired special-effects make-up artist. I majored in illustration in college, but I've always written: stories, poems, songs, concepts, whatever inspires. However, I thought of myself as "an artist who wrote." Funny how the tides can turn. Now I think of myself as "a writer who is also an artist." The truth is that is is ALL ART.

It was a truly incredible experience to collaborate on "Once Upon A Memory" with Renata Liwska. I think I can safely say that we both respect and love each other. Each of us brought so much to creating this book, and it could not have happened without the brain and vision of our editor, Connie Hsu at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I also must thank the amazing art director Patti Ann Harris, who I adore and respect. "Does a book remember it once was a word?" has so much meaning to all of us as we worked to fit the pieces together, which wasn't easy, but now looks seamless. Publishing a book requires magic and wizardry and so much talent- and then when the book comes out- you have to let it go- like a kite- and see if it will lift and fly...


I have always loved kites. In 1982 I was twenty years old, and I was a waitress on Martha's Vineyard. I was asked to create an illustration for the t-shirts and posters for the annual Kite Festival held in Oak Bluffs near the famous gazebo.




The SCBWI had called its' Bulletin "The Kite," and I don't know when the actual words, "The Kite" were dropped, but now each issue has a different illustrator who interprets their own idea of a kite for the full-color cover. I was honored and thrilled when SCBWI Presidents Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser asked me to create a Kite Cover for the March-April 2010 issue.

Lin told me she loved my book, "When Pigasso Met Mootisse," so I decided to use them in a creative kite battle scene.



The Crystal Kite Award is just what it sounds like- a beautiful, large crystal kite. It is quite heavy, though, and won't fly.

But that doesn't matter to me because that "Kite" has already made my spirit soar. It is such a magnificent feeling to feel the lift that all of my friends and peers have put under the sails of "Once Upon A Memory." I'm so happy that you have chosen this book to win the award for the West Region. This is one memory that I will never forget, and I send you all deep gratitude and hugs.

With Love,

Nina

3.25.2014

Where Have I Been?

I haven't been here in over three months. But I'm still here. I've been there, too. Somewhere over the rainbow on the island of Kauai on a much needed and long over-due vacation where I finally learned to snorkel without drinking copious amounts of sea water, and I swam with reef fish of all colors, tribes, nationalities, circling me as if I was the new aquarium attraction.
I tried to remember how to relax, even though I wrote a new picture book text on the flight over the Pacific, flying on the same exact day that Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared, flying into oblivion. I followed the news while on vacation, filled with anxiety about the return trip home. Life is so fragile. This time on Kauai, unlike our trip there over two years ago, we heard sirens every day. A man drowned as we drove past the beach where first responders gathered. We were going to get sushi rolls at a food cart at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and he was revived by the medics, only to then die of a heart attack immediately afterwards. He was 79 and his granddaughter had to witness this.
Our world can be so beautiful, yet sometimes so deadly. We left for Kauai after a huge snowstorm blanketed little Lummi Island, followed by winds that snapped branches and took down trees, and left us powerless for days. There was joy in the simplicity of life without conveniences, but after a day or two of cooking with headlamps on the propane stove and moving the contents of the refrigerator to the snowy deck, we were ready to rejoin the modern world. We are lucky to have all of these connections, and it is interesting to imagine where we would be without electricity. Perhaps this is why I prefer to write in my journals with pens. 
I may have been away from this blog, but I have not been away from the one thing I count on to take me places, and ground me simultaneously: my imagination. I've been writing. Four picture books to be exact. Two are completely new and two are older ideas that I finally figured out after years of revising and stewing. I have learned that time is an essential element in some stories, and timing is sometimes even more critical. My agent has been submitting my novel, "Jacked" after a hiatus, hoping that the timing is right for it now. I continue to hope that it will find a place on some editors' list and eventually it will find a place in readers' hearts.

I also have two new books that came out on March 4th, 2014:
"Peek-A Zoo!" is the follow-up to my 2000 release, "Peek-A Who?" which has now sold a million copies. I explained in an interview with Publishers Weekly why it took me fourteen years to do the next book. "Peek-A Zoo!" went into a second printing before it came out and already has 65,000 copies in print. My publisher, Chronicle Books also did an adorable "book trailer" for it that you can watch here. You can buy my new books through all of the standard book sellers, including great Indie stores, who I support with my heart and my wallet.
My other new book, "Daddy Wrong Legs" also came out on March 4th, 2014. (It was a great day to "March Forth.") I love this book; it splits in half and you can mix and match tops and bottoms of assorted "daddies" of all kinds. There is a poem that I wrote to go with it, of course. I hope that kids and adults will enjoy not only reading, but playing with this book.
There is still great news for my book, "Once Upon A Memory" which published on December 3rd, 2013 with the incredible Renata Liwska as illustrator: we just found out today that The Bank Street College Children's Book Committee selected it as a 2014 Best Book of the Year! Also, both Renata and I will be giving a master workshop together at the SCBWI-WA Spring Conference in Redmond, WA April 12 and 13, 2014.

So I have been here. And not here. I will also be here on April 5th at 11am, (at Village Books in Bellingham, WA) reading and signing all of my new books. I will be at some schools, too. And I hope to be in my studio. I have a lot of sketching to do; new dummies to create, sample illustrations to bring to life, and a new board book to paint, too. 

If you don't see me, know that I'm still around, and I hope you are around, as well.
Thanks for not forgetting me.

With Love,
Nina






12.20.2013

Once Upon A Memory: A Release

He said his name was Mack and he came from Bahstan, and as I started to call him Mack I realized that his name was actually Mark. Mark was a congenial man a bit older than me, which would put him on the upper end of middle age. He told me that he had been following my books and he was at my book signing for "Bad Dog" which came out in 2000. This was a loyal fan, and he was out on a night that snow was predicted, and he was eagerly awaiting my event for "Once Upon A Memory" at the University Book Store. He was early, and he was alone. 

Many people think that book events are glamorous things- akin to movie premieres. That may be true if you are J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman, but for the majority of us, it is hit and miss. We want to celebrate our books and we want others to celebrate our books, but mostly we want them to find their way into readers' hands and hearts. That process is a gradual one, sometimes glacial, as word-of-mouth spreads, or if you are lucky, as buzz begins and the media helps your book take wing and fly.

It is hard work to create a book, and it is even harder work to launch it. There are untold folks along the way who breathe life into this, your creation, and help it pass from the reaches of your imagination into a solid and tangible object that people would love to own and cherish. The list begins with agents and editors, art directors, production people, printers, proofers, people bringing coffee, spending countless hours in meetings, publicists, marketing gurus, sales people, distributors, truck drivers, warehouse workers, container ship captains and crew- as most books are printed overseas and then journey far and wide to find their homes again, independent bookstore owners, managers from large store chains, purchasers for online stores, reviewers for magazines and newspapers, bloggers, and the list continues with friends, who I call "my secret sales force" who turn the cover face-forward in shops, who tell stores to order it, who give it as gifts. So many hands turn these pages and they deserve recognition and gratitude. 

"Once Upon A Memory" has taken this journey, and it has not been solo. Both Renata Liwska and I are on it together. We had not met in person, nor talked during production of the book. All correspondence went between us and our esteemed editor, Connie Hsu at Little Brown Books for Young Readers. As the December 3rd launch date approached and I was working with my local independent bookstore, Secret Garden Books to create a beautiful event, I hatched a plan to get Renata to come to Seattle from her home in Calgary, Canada. The plan worked and I was very excited to be driving to SeaTac Airport on a chilly, but clear early December morning to bring Renata back to my house. 
Renata and I bonded, as I had hoped we would. We were both artists, and my three-quarter Polish-Russian heritage and her 100% Polish origin made me feel like we were connected before we met. We walked to coffee shops and drew things, bought art supplies and clothing... we talked about books, characters, animals, stories, and we prepared for our Tuesday evening launch for "Our Book."
A lot of work went into the launch. In advance I had made around one-hundred-and-fifty paper owl feather bookmarks and cut them out with a scissors while sitting next to our wood stove. I sent out Evites, and created an event on Facebook, cross-promoted it with my different writers groups, and I worked on the window at Secret Garden Books with help from Dawn who works there.
I made signs and baked brownies. I bought apple cider and Portuguese vinho verde. I asked my amazing neighbor and friend, Savitri Parsons (I dedicated the book to Savitri, her husband Jon, and especially to their son, Miles.) to bake cookies (she baked these incredible almond ball cookies dusted with powdered sugar) and take photographs because she is a pro. My friend Teresa Bledsoe brought quiche and fruit, and she took on a very special mission, one that I didn't know was going to be part of book launch planning. I won't go into details in this post, saving it for the future, but I will say that my mentally ill father, who had threatened me not too long ago, made an appearance just as the event was underway, but with advanced warning from the store, Teresa worked her charms and kept things on a very even keel. 






The launch of "Once Upon A Memory" went beautifully. There were probably sixty or seventy friends and guests in the cozy store and we all had fun.

Everyone was patient and waited in line while Renata and I signed and chatted. Secret Garden Books owner Christy McDanold joined in the celebration: she is wearing the red sweater above.
Renata and I were exhausted but so thrilled to launch "Once Upon A Memory" together. We stayed up talking in my living room until past midnight buoyed by the energy of the evening.

The energy from our book launch has continued and so has the buzz. "Once Upon A Memory" has received many incredible reviews including a Starred Review from Kirkus Magazine, a beautiful blog post from Kirkus Blogs writer Jules Danielson, who also created this lovely post on Renata's gorgeous illustrations on her "7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast" blog. It is an "Indie Next Pick," and it received a Picture Book of the Year Honor in the "Heartfelt category" from the Huffington Post. Super-Librarian Nancy Pearl said this on Twitter: Once Upon a Memory: Another winning picture book from the ever inventive Nina Laden. And the illustrations by Renata Liwska are marvelous. √ it out. Many friends who blog have also given it rave reviews. All of this warms my heart, especially since the book is 18 days old as I type this. Yet, I know that isn't really true. Years have gone into making it. 

This brings me back to Mack, I mean Mark, who was waiting for my book event at the University Book Store last night. Mark was the ONLY person waiting. There was no one else, save for both Anna and Lauren who work there. Poor Caitlin was out with a cold and Duane had been working since 8am and couldn't be there at 7pm. Maybe it was the forecasted snow. Maybe it was the fact that everyone was off doing their pre-Christmas whatever-you-do-pre-Christmas-things. It didn't bother me a bit. I knew I would sign the University Book Store's huge stack of books and that they would sell them in short order. And Mark? Mark had a magical evening one-on-one with the author. 

Mark's eyes lit up as he told me how much "Once Upon A Memory" meant to him. It was like watching that scene in "Ratatouille" when hardened critic Anton Ego tastes the ratatouille and it immediately transports him back to his childhood. "This page especially," Mark said as he pointed to the page "Does work remember it once was play," "this brings me back to my childhood and our sugar maples," he told me. "I loved playing in those leaves," he said dreamily. "I still like raking leaves because of that," he added. Then he told me, "of all of your books, this one is my favorite." 

This may not have been my biggest book event, but seeing how "Once Upon A Memory" touched one man, I must say that I will never forget it. This is the reason I love to create books. This is the incredible release I get when my book gets let out into the world. It's not about the big buzz or the hype. It is about hard work, and quiet love. Thank you Mark, for coming to my event. And thank you all for reading my books and this blog. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

With Love,
Nina