Ghosts of Christmas Cards Past

I have made my own holiday cards since I was a child. My mom got me started, so I can blame this on her. She used to do block prints. I remember one where she took all of the religious icons and had them morph into peace signs. That was probably in the late sixties. She had me making potato prints where I would carve a Christmas tree into half of a potato and then I would dip it in tempera paint and press it onto construction paper to be used for cards. I haven't stopped making them since. I made fish cards in 1992 and hand painted them.

This one was scratchboard, but instead of printing it myself, I paid a printer to print it and fold it. That was way better than the three days it usually takes me to make around 120 cards or so. I used to send out about 200 cards, but I've had to cut the list back. We owned espresso bars in Atlanta when I made this over-caffeinated Santa.

I can't remember when I made this one, but I think it was the year that my book, "The Night I Followed the Dog" came out, which was 1994. That would explain the dog theme.

In 1998 I got fancy. I created this skating polar bear in chalk pastels and Peaceable Kingdom Press printed and sold it and sent me a stack, so I sent out full-color glossy printed cards for the first time. 

I'm not sure what happened between 1998 and this card from 2006. I know I created and published a slew of books. But this card with a "gourmet snow-person" featured my brownie recipe inside, which called for all-purpose flour. This was the year before my husband's health went from bad to horrible and we discovered he was allergic to wheat and gluten. This was also the last card I illustrated.

For some reasons that are not so odd, life started to become very difficult. I switched to making cards with photos that I took, printed, and glued onto cards that I also printed, cut and folded. It seemed to take a little less time to go into Photoshop and use Illustrator for layout instead of illustrating in whatever medium I chose- mostly it had been scratchboard in the past. 

In 2009 we had a really bad year, but somehow we survived. Hence the Titanic theme. We wished for a better 2010, and it was a little bit better, but I won't show the card I made that year. I don't like it.

This year I'm going with a photo again. This year has been rough. Not quite Titanic rough, but we still feel a bit beat-up. So this year I'm going to look forward. Not back. And I'm hoping that next year I'll have the desire to illustrate again. Something fun. Something feisty. Something festive. 

For those of you who are on my list- you will get the card in the mail. Hand made. Days of printing, cutting, folding and taping. For those of you who are out there in cyber-space- I will share the card with you here. May we all have have happy holidays, a happy new year, and may the ghosts of the past go on their merry ways and send nothing but good cheer.

From my heart to yours.
With love,


The Post-Post

How do you feel when it's over? How do you feel when you've finished that first draft? Do you feel a little empty? Is it like post-partum depression? You spent all this time and emotion and days, weeks, months, dreaming, pounding keys, and now what? Did you let that manuscript rest a little? Let your brain rest a little? (or treat it to something bubbly and numbing?) Did you start thinking of editing in your sleep? Were your characters calling you up in the middle of the night saying, "I miss you, come back, you forgot a transition between chapter twenty-two and twenty-three?"

It is an odd feeling to complete a manuscript, especially when you have given yourself a very time-compressed deadline. You live and breathe that work, and then suddenly it's over. Gone. You are left with a 614K document file. What do you do? Comb through it again and again. Look for typos. Check to see that your characters are staying true to their voices. I have one character in my new work-in-progress that does not use conjunctions. No, he does not. Another says "ye," instead of "you." Fine tooth combs don't alway catch these things on screen, so often, I have to print out the full text- in this case 212 pages and edit the old fashioned way.

Once the line edits are done, and the re-reading makes me smile, or cry, or feel hopeful, then, and only then do I hit the "send" button and my new child goes off to school for the first time- off to my agent's inbox. Waiting there in the queue for her to read it.

And then you are back to that "post-post" feeling again, which will repeat itself when, if all goes well, your "baby" will be sent on to submissions. All that waiting and anticipating is anxiety producing. Writer Jeffrey Eugenides told me that he called it, "being on the roaster" when I met him at the Seattle Library over a month ago. It's true. It does feel like you, or your creation is on a spit, turning ever so slowly over a fire. There is really nothing you can do to put the fire out. Except maybe to start dreaming of the next story. To start plotting, scheming, researching, sketching.

But really it's that fire that keeps you going in the first place, so enjoy the heat while it's there, because it is your creativity that produced it. Break out the marshmallows and toast your accomplishments- each step of the way...

"It's not the destination, it's the journey," is a popular and true statement.

To that, I add, "it's not the published book, it's the story behind the story that makes your journey so rich and rewarding," so enjoy it all whether or not you ever get "there." Wherever there is.

Writer Richard Peck said, "you should end with a beginning."
I agree. I will be beginning another book soon.

I hope you will find joy in endings, and beginnings...
and middles, too.

With Love,


Who Says An Artist Needs to Suffer? (and giving thanks)

I have had this postcard since I was in high school. It has followed me through art school, through my early career and life in Atlanta, and now over thirty years since I bought it, it lives on the cork-board in my home/office in Seattle.

When I first bought it, I looked at the woman artist sitting on that stool. She seemed old to me. Now she seems young. I loved the butler and the maid and harbored a fairy-tale-like fantasy that someday I would have a huge loft in Soho and servants to help so that I could just create.

(pardon me, I'm rolling on the floor, laughing)

Noooo... that didn't happen. I do everything myself: cook, clean, shop, weed, take care of two homes, an elderly father, and stepsons, one who is currently back in residence and causing enormous stress. The cat seems easy, so she is no burden, and my husband is my helpmate and my fellow inmate during the rocky times and the good times. And I work. I write, I concept, I illustrate, I promote, I live and breathe books.

I just finished the first draft of a new Middle Grade novel using National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo as my deadline. I wrote just over 50,000 words in twenty-two days, which worked out to 210 manuscript pages. I wrote early in the morning each of those twenty-two days until about 2pm, and then quit to go do grocery shopping, cook, clean, and deal with any fires that needed to be put out. 

That three-plus weeks of writing kept me sane. I told friends that my fictional life was better than reality, and it was true. My characters were nicer company than certain family members who shall go nameless. My writing filled me with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of hope. 

There are times when I have believed that you do need to suffer for your art. My dear friend, artist Woodleigh Hubbard once told me, "Nina, you are like an oyster. You can only create the pearl when you are irritated."Maybe she's right. But sometimes I think I need to revise my definition of suffering. We all have to deal with our share of tragedy and pain. You can chose to complain about it, or you can chose to use it as a motivator to improve on all levels. 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I must say that I am thankful for my suffering. It has taught me a lot. I think I am a better, more empathetic person for it, and I think it has given my work a richer texture. No, it has not made me rich from a financial standpoint, but I feel rich because of what I treasure most: my loving husband, my amazing friends, this beautiful world, and the chance to speak my mind and share my talents. I am thankful for all that and more. 

I hope you are not suffering this Thanksgiving, but if you are, I feel your pain, and I hope you will find a way to share it and be creative.

Sometimes the gravy is lumpy, but it still tastes good.

With Love,


That NaNo Thing: National Novel Writing Month

It's that time of year again. November. It's been a time of harvest and preservation, and a time of family (way too much family, and it's not even Thanksgiving around here...) and a time of writing. There is no need to go into the history of the wild band of pensmen and penswomen in San Francisco who started the NaNoWriMo movement. You can read about it on their website. "It" stands for "National Novel Writing Month," and the object of the game is to write 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th.

This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo, and I've "won" the two previous years, writing over 50K both times. The first year my husband asked if you could write the same word "fifty-thousand times." Yes. I'm sure some do. Or they copy the dictionary. Or they write proprioceptively emptying the contents of their brains directly into their hard drives.

The inside of my brain would look something like this. So many things. So much going on. But is there a plot? (I do love to do a lot of things, not just writing and illustrating, and I worried about that. Maybe I was schizophrenic. My shrink assured me that was not the case; I was a polymath. I feel better now. I think.) 

I couldn't approach NaNoWriMo that way. I couldn't approach writing a novel that way. The word "novel" is the key to the whole exercise. You are writing a novel: that means it has characters, voice, setting and a plot. Some participants call themselves "pantsers," meaning that they write by the seat of their pants. I'm not one of them. I want to make the best use of this gift of a weird deadline. Under normal circumstances writing 50K words, which is close to 200 manuscript pages is insane to attempt in thirty days. But it is doable. And donable. (yeah, you can make up words, too.) But the real trick- or treat- is that it makes you turn off your inner editor, the little voice that says "you suck." When you have so little time, you have to tell that voice to "shut the heck up," and get back to your writing. They'll be plenty of time to edit over the next year.

So I began with an outline way before November 1st. This year I'm writing an upper Middle Grade novel. I had the idea for this book years ago, and in 2008 I wrote a 25 page outline for it. Then right before NaNo started, I did heavy research so it would be fresh in my mind- I love to mix facts and fiction. The research gives my story texture, richness and hopefully believability. Plus I get to learn all sorts of cool things. (For example: did you know that folk wisdom says that if you want a boy, when you are pregnant you should eat red meat and salty things, and the husband/father should drink coke? Who knew?)

Then the rest is up to you. Open that document. Put your fingers on the keyboard, and listen to the voices in your head. One of the best parts about this is that when you are in the flow, even though you may have outlined and thought you knew exactly what was going on, your characters will take on a life of their own and surprise and delight you. Keep typing and transcribing. If you write about 1700 words per day, you'll "win." You win way more than feeling the accomplishment of writing all those words- you also win a Work In Progress that is already a first draft. That's better than just talking about that novel you're going to write someday.

Okay. I'm wasting words. I'm on page 36 of my WIP now. Time to get back to it. My characters have things to tell me, and at this moment in time, my fictional life is much happier than what is going on at home.

Happy NaNoWriMo-ing!
With Love,


When Life Gives You Tomatoes: Making Catsup

It's still harvest season here. Summer came late but blessedly stayed late and my tomatoes ripened. For over fourteen years I've been growing black plum tomatoes, an heirloom variety. I dry and save my own seeds every year. Each plant can produce more than one hundred Roma-style tomatoes. These are flavorful tomatoes. Normally, as they ripen, I slow roast them and eat them on top of pesto-plastered pasta, dotted with smoked salmon or grilled chicken breast. But when I come to the end of the crop and there is a pile of these dark mahogany beauties, I make catsup.

My friends think I'm crazy to make this ubiquitous condiment. Leave it to Heinz and Hunts. However I love to get to the root of things. Even the history of ketchup, catsup, catchup, whatever you want to call it, is fascinating to me. I also love to know just exactly "what" is in my food. And... I like to keep busy while waiting to hear back about my book submissions. The benefit of all that nervous energy is a pantry full of canned and dried goods that we grew, foraged, and preserved for future feasts.

Now this isn't a food blog. I have friends like Shauna James Ahern and Tara Austen Weaver. They are experts in that arena. I do, however, love to share my experiences - so I'm going to share this one with you in a sort of recipe/photo essay. Let me also warn you: once you try homemade catsup- you will never want to eat store bought again. By the way, I created this recipe by reading a half-dozen different versions online, and then I combined ingredients and techniques that worked best.

Nina's RED CAT (that's what I call my catsup)

Note: These ingredients are not exact- feel free to play. I also cut the recipe in half easily since I only had 4.4 lbs of tomatoes this time and the recipe works beautifully. This is the whole recipe here.)

About 8 lbs home grown tomatoes, cut into pieces
1 red pepper, cleaned, seeded and stemmed, and cut into small pieces
2 large onions, chopped
4-6 TBLSP light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp whole allspice
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 1/2 tsp whole mace (this is the hull that wraps around nutmeg)
1 1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp dry mustard
short stick of cinnamon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 fresh bay leaf (use dried if you don't have a bay laurel tree)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

In a small saucepan, combine vinegar and all spices. (No salt.) Bring to boiling, then remove from heat and let sit.

Wash tomatoes and cut in pieces. Chop onion and red pepper. Place in large heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil.

Cook, uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring often until all ingredients are soft.

Press tomato mixture through a food mill (I love my Cuisipro food mill- I'm using the finest screen here.) into a medium-sized saucepan - or use a bowl and return pureed mixture to your cleaned stockpot.

Discard the skins and seeds- I put them in my compost bucket.

Add the brown sugar to your pureed mixture and stir well. Heat to boiling, reduce heat.

Gently boil, uncovered for 1-2 hours, or until reduced by half, stirring occasionally.

Now strain your vinegar mixture into the tomato mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Discard/compost the spices. Add salt to taste. Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until desired consistency, stirring often.

Ladle catsup into hot, clean half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/8" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. If you want shelf-stable catsup that doesn't need to be refrigerated until opened, you will need to process the jars.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Make sure the water covers the lids. Remove the jars from canner and cool completely.

You just made 6-8 half-pints of catsup! (If you made the full recipe.) Label it and enjoy! Now get back to working on new book projects and keep the faith that your other ones will sell. 

With Love, (and catsup on top)


On Genre On Jackson On Austin and Itching

I just returned from a trip to Mississippi and Texas. All sorts of things collided in my brain on that trip and I'll attempt to elaborate on them here.

Knowing that I would have many hours on planes and in airports, I was eagerly anticipating all of that reading time. I had just started "Great House" by Nicole Krauss. I loved her previous book, "The History of Love." But a small voice in my head said, "you can read "Great House" when you get home. Trips are time for adventure. Read something "different." So I told my editor to send me some new YA books- and she overnighted a package. (Thank you, Ms. C!)

I must admit I am not a genre person. I have never fit into a clique or genre myself. I am my own living version of literary fiction or faction- my term for facts turned into fiction. I have never been into fantasy or vampires. I've dabbled in science fiction- I do love Ray Bradbury, I even wrote a song based on one of his short stories when I was in junior high. I'm more of a Michael Chabon and T.C. Boyle (and Tom Robbins) girl. (and I can't wait for the new Jeffrey Eugenides novel, too.)

But when my editor sent me this: 
(and wrote "awesome" on a post-it note on the jacket) I said, "okay, my mind is open and my suitcase is packed," and off I went. 

I went to Jackson, Mississippi, where I paid tribute to dear Eudora Welty.
Coincidentally I had been to Jackson before, and not only did they put me in the same hotel, but last time I walked to Eudora's house. She was alive then, but I was too nervous to go knock on her door. I wish I had...

I was in Jackson to speak in the brand new, gorgeous Mississippi Children's Museum.
I wish I had one of these when I was a kid. I think I would have liked to have lived in it. They even have an amazing exhibit of traveling author/illustrator quilts right now, and I "said hello" to many of my friends' painted and illustrated squares.

This is just one shot of the interior.

And I wish I had thought of a bench like this:
I met and made friends with many wonderful people in Jackson. I ate at the fabulous Walker's Drive-In with museum volunteers Stephanie (who is the Jackson TV anchor), husband Mark, and volunteer, Kathy. We talked about books, Eudora and the San Juan islands. I also must thank Chavanne, Kelsey and the museum staff for making me feel completely at home and feeding me strawberry cake.

Then I took off for Austin.

My nephew was getting hitched on Sunday on Lake Travis, but I was there to see my dear, dear art school friend Sharon, and get a dose of what makes Austin weird.
Sharon and her boyfriend Scott- who is a singer-songwriter-arborist-tall-handsome-Texas born and bred-generous soul (he spent his birthday with us...) showed us Austin and environs in tasty snippets.
 I saw diseases of the tongue, taxidermy squirrel bands, and great folk art at Uncommon Objects and Yard Dog gallery.
We ate barbecue at Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX, and had incredible burgers at Hopdoddy in Austin.We went for rancheros and migas at Cisco's. We wanted to swim at Barton Springs, but it seems that we ended the drought by bringing two inches of rain with us from Seattle. You don't want to swim in the springs after serious run-off of who-knows-what. We loved Sharon's house and the cool commune-like area she lives in, Sunset Valley. Austin charmed us. Mostly it was the people. You can get more natural beauty in the Northwest, but I would put Austin much higher on the friendliness chart. And I must admit I'm a sucker for boots and guitars.

Then there was the wedding.
Our nephew, David Buckley married gorgeous Cat Chu. They are both computer geniuses. The groom's cake was shaped like a game piece. I can't remember the name of the game.

But what I couldn't forget was the book. I read "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" by Laini Taylor in and out of DFW three times. Six flights. One night in a hotel room. I finished it on the last leg on the way home. I was practically itching to finish it. Now there are no vampires in this novel, but there are angels and chimaera, seraphim, a world with two moons, a girl of seventeen named Karou... a warlock of sorts named Brimstone. Yes, it is fantasy, but it is also beautifully written, layered, voiced, laced with complex characters, filled with rich setting, and full of tension and conflict. I don't want to give anything away. No spoilers here. You'll just have to read it yourself.

What I will say is that when a book is good, that good, the genre doesn't matter. At least not to me. What it does do is leave me itching to write like this myself. To build a world between the covers that is believable, fascinating and not like anything else you've read before. There are no formulas. There is only you, and you become who you are from all of the adventures that life throws at you.

So on genre, on Jackson, on Austin and itching, I leave you, processing all of this past weekend, hoping it will filter into the next book I write. After all, NaNoWriMo is coming soon. 

What will inspire your next book/poem/song/painting/dance...?

With Love,


A Song for our Anniversary

Seventeen years ago today, my husband, Booth Buckley and I eloped on Martha's Vineyard. We got married in Tom Maley's Field Gallery in West Tisbury. 

We were married by Justice of the Peace, John Alley, presiding in a top hat, tails, jeans and high-top sneakers. He read from his day-timer. He read a Native American poem that he liked, and he read a Kahlil Gibran poem that I liked. Then he forgot to read the actual vows and by the powers that be, vested in him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he pronounced us "husband and wife." That was it. We were married.

No wedding. No party. Just us. We bought some lobsters on the dock in Menemsha; bought some corn from a farm stand, and ate that small feast with a bottle of champagne, at our friends, Faith and Hasty Runner's place. Faith, who was a friend of my mother, was the only witness to our ceremony besides John Alley and the photographer I paid to shoot one roll of film.

I would have liked a real wedding. A small one, just for friends. But Booth, who had been married before in a Baptist church in Alabama, was not interested in any kind of "event." Our families were strewn all over the country, and the one person who mattered to me the most was dead. That was my mom. I had spread her ashes on Martha's Vineyard. It was her favorite place. So I decided that since I didn't get a wedding, I'd choose where we eloped.

Marriage was a frightening event for me, quite frankly. Booth and I have actually been together over 22 years now. It took me a while to get to the "let's make this official" phase. My father left my mother and ran off with my brother's first grade teacher when I was growing up, so I had little faith in men sticking around. I had worked hard to make sure that I could take care of myself by myself. This had the unfortunate side effect of me fearing true commitment and intimacy. I struggled internally.

But what helped turn me around was a song. It was a song I wrote. I've written songs since I was around 13 years old. This is me at 15 with my 1974 brand new Guild D-35. I still play it. The guitar, that is. I play the song, too. I wrote it for Booth, but I really wrote it for me. I wrote it around the time that I decided I was ready to get married. It pretty much summed up all of my feelings, though I didn't really understand them, at the time. What amazes me, is that now, seventeen years later, those words seem even more powerful.

I want to share them as an anniversary gift to my husband. To the man who is still here, after all these years, who didn't run off and leave me for someone else. His love and his trust are the best anniversary gift I could ever ask for. I hope these words will still ring true for now and always.

With Love, 


It's not black or white
It's not day or night
It's somewhere in between
What we think is true
What we never knew
What we always hoped would be.

I see changes coming
And I should be running
But they're coming much too fast
So it's sink or swim
I'm going to jump right in
Before the net is cast.

I used to have all these expectations
That I'd hold high above
But I'm going to try
And compromise
And not be paralyzed by your love.

The door is open
These words were spoken
I'm here to stay
I'll be your lover
I don't want no other
For the rest of my days.

Sometimes it's a mystery
What you see in me
But I know your love is real.
I believe the trust
Between the two of us
No one can ever steal.

(chorus and repeat first verse)
©Nina Laden 


Hearing Voices

The cat woke me up around 5:30am, howling for breakfast. Cali has quite a quiver of resonant sounds in her repertoire. When we are gone and return, she delivers a sonorous soliloquy as we try to get settled in. She can purr like a mis-firing Harley Davidson, too. I try to mimic her murmurings, as if she is teaching me to speak "feline." No other cat that I have owned or known has the vocabulary of this calico creature. Cali, who chose us as her "people" almost 12 years ago (she's 15 now) has entertained us, tortured us, and she has inspired me. 

There is a new picture book in the works because of her, but that is not the topic of this post... What I'm talking about is voice. 

Voice is the invisible ingredient that glues story together. Without voice, your writing is dry and technical, or possibly gibberish, unless you can find a creative way to tell a story in gibberish. I hear over and over again (and I have said this a few times, too) that you can't teach voice. You either have a unique voice, or you don't. 

I really don't believe that. One of my favorite quotes is from composer Harry Partch:

"Originality cannot be a goal. It is simply inevitable. The truly pathbreaking step cannot be predicted, and certainly not by the person who makes it at the time he makes it. He clears as he goes, evolves his own techniques, devises his own tools, ignores where he must. And his path cannot be retraced, because each of us is an original being."

We all do have a unique voice, a unique perspective, a unique DNA. We just don't always trust it.

I hear voices. In my head. I hear them on the street. I hear them when I read. If you want to write, you have to become aware of voices. That doesn't make you schizophrenic. 

How do you define voice? This is the general description you'll find on the internet:

Voice is the author's style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author's attitude, personality, and character; or

Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing.

Doesn't really help, does it? 

Yes, style is a large part of it. Yes, speech and its' cadences are indispensable. But how do you do it? You know, find that voice? 

Like Harry said, we are all original and we will all follow our own paths, but sometimes it's good to have a trail map, even if it's over-grown and you have to bushwhack. 

What helps me, quite honestly, is walking. I walk. Long walks. My characters talk to me in my head. They have rich conversations. When I get home, I write them down. I also love the shower. Repetitive motion like washing oneself, or cleaning- seems to get my head off in character-land. I've said I should keep a voice recorder in the shower... but I don't like saying these things out loud. They live in my imagination and then get transferred to my journal. I will read them aloud when they are typed into the word document and then I listen for fluidity, cadence, word choice, structure, etc...

I also see a very close tie between acting and voice. I'm not saying you need to audition for plays, but you do need to be able to play- "in character" in order to understand the nature of voice. Be your character. If it helps, pick a hat. What hat would your narrator wear? Set the stage to help you stay in the mood. Choose your tools.

Maybe it would help the voice if you typed on a typewriter... or used a feather quill while outlining... I know a writer who prefers a typewriter because you can't edit while you are writing. You just have to keep moving forward. You can edit later. 

I also have to admit that in order to stay "pure" in my attention to the voice I am focusing on, I feed my brain a healthy diet. That diet includes no TV. Yep. Sorry. That's how it is for me. I read. I read books. I read the newspaper in the morning, although I will go through periods of no news, too. I watch DVD's- but not regularly. I am woefully behind on all current films. I do check in with my "peeps" on Facebook, but I curse the day I joined. It's a time-suck for sure. I don't Twitter or Tweet. I prefer natural birdsong and long treasure hunts for agates or mushrooms. My iPhone is used as a phone and a camera. That's it. I don't game. I spend hours cooking- also a great time to talk in my head- and relish dinner conversation with friends- in face and body, not on screen. 

This is by no means the direct line into finding your voice. This is just what works for me. I thought I would share it so that when you hear that strange conversation in your head, you won't dismiss it, you'll invite it to stay and sit back (or keep walking) and enjoy the story.

Then write it down before it gets lost in the cacophony of daily living.

I would love to hear your thoughts about voice, too.

With Love,


World Peace Order

Sitting here on the precipice, the full-moon-full-metal-jacket day before the tenth anniversary of 9-11, one cannot help but revisit the past. Author Lisa Yee put up a Facebook status report this morning accounting what she was doing (working out at the gym) when "it" happened. Aside from feeling like a lazy-ass because I was in bed (Pacific coast time for me is my only excuse, but Lisa lives in LA...) when I found out when my husband left work to come home to tell me to turn on the TV.

I sat there, in shock, and watched in horror as the city of my birth crumbled- and the world as I knew it disintegrated. I grew up in New York City. We couldn't afford to eat at Windows on the World, but my mom took me there just to look out the windows. My father knew one of the passengers on one of the planes that hit the towers...

And then there was the "issue" of my name. 

Laden. My last name, my birth name (even though I'm married to Booth Buckley, I didn't change my name all those years ago.) is five letters: l, a, d, e, n. It used to be Ladinski. My Polish grandfather, Ralph changed it to be "more American." We pronounce it "lay-den," just like the word. I was always embarrassed when a teacher read a passage like, "the ships were heavily laden," and everyone looked at me. Thankfully I wasn't heavy. In high school a few boys liked to call me "Nina got Laid-in-the-barn." Yes, I had a barn. No, I never got laid in it. The creamery, yes. The barn, no.

Anyway, so here I was sad, shocked and horrified about 9-11, and suddenly the letters of my last name were plastered on the papers and in the news everywhere. Not only did people start mispronouncing my name, they also started calling me- even though there is no "bin" in my name- and threatening me on the phone. Believe me, I am so NOT related. My ancestors are Jews. Yet the TSA put me on the No-Fly list for years. 

For years they would not let me check in. I had to get Port of Seattle police clearance every time I flew. After nine flights I threatened to go to the ACLU and then they gave me "corporate clearance." I'm a children's book author and illustrator and I was flying to speak in schools and inspire creativity... but to this day, they still search my bags every time I fly. 

However, I realize that my name "issues" are nothing compared to what so many other Americans went through. I am here. Intact. I cry, though, for my city, my natal home. I hurt for the way the world will never be the same. I thought about changing my name, but I thought that was trivial, and now I just laugh and tell people the correct pronunciation. 

The day after 9-11, September 12th, my husband and I paddled our kayaks around Golden Gardens in Seattle and were struck by the silence. I went back to my studio and wrote the following poem, and created the collage at the top of this post in my journal. 

I know this isn't anything earth-shattering, but it was just my initial reaction to how the world and life as we know it changed. On this anniversary, I wanted to cry with you and share it. I think if we share our feelings and try to understand each other, maybe there will be hope for that peace. And I hope you won't judge me because of those three consonants and two vowels that make up my last name.

Here is the poem, with love- Nina


The borders are closed.
The planes won't fly.
People sit and stare
At the TV and cry.

But come snow or sleet,
Terrorists or hail
The mailman arrives
To deliver the mail.

No letters
No bills
No statements
No magazines
No checks 
No postcards
No business reply...

It's sad but it's true
Junk mail catalogs
Are the only things
To get through.

Come national disaster,
Hell or high water
Operators are standing by
To take your order.

"I'd like World Peace
In "one size fits all."
Put it on my card.
I know it's a tall

But if your catalogs
Reach every American
Maybe they'll order it
Again and again.

We'll close all the bases
And open the borders.

Please overnight
My World Peace Order."

©Nina Laden 9/12/01


Books: Food for Thought

Two and a half months ago we moved my seventy-nine year old father, Bob, in with us. It has been exhausting and stressful. He was starving in so many ways. Neglecting to eat, barely drinking water, not showering (which is still a habit we have not broken, to my olfactory distress) and lacking in human companionship. We have been trying to fill up his tank and untangle his massive mess. It has definitely put a dent in my ability to be creative and work in my studio.

However, it being summer, I put my energy into harvesting, canning, preserving, storing up.

I cured over 300 bulbs of garlic that we grew.

I put up 40 pints of blackberry jam and baked many blackberry pies. (Gluten-free of course.)

And I decanted last year's batch of our "PLummi Gin" made with wild island Damson plums, then started the new brew infusing in the crawlspace, to be reaped one year from now.

Sometimes you go through phases of sowing. Sometimes you are just fertilizing, and sometimes you get to harvest the rewards. It's the same with writing and books. 

There have been some very productive years in my now seventeen years of being published. I did a lot of sowing and harvesting and produced seventeen books. They did not come one per year, though. Five of them came out in 2000. Some years the fields had to lay fallow and recover. There has been a lot of that lately. 

As I watch my father, I am struck by his extreme pattern of being productive, and not only laying fallow, but going completely to seed. This, sadly is a direct result of his untreated bipolar disorder. He is now reduced to being planted on my sofa day after day- a weed of sorts, yet he is being nourished by yours truly.

I feed him daily. I feed him healthy, good food. He has gained over twenty pounds since we took him in. He is six feet tall in his bare, ghostly feet, (a result of poor circulation and no exercise for a decade or more) and he weighed maybe 120 lbs when he came here. Now his face has filled out, and he is 140 lbs and gaining. 

I also have fed him books. He loves to read. He always has. Both of my parents, when they were married to each other, hoarded books. Books were always sacred in our home. When my father left my mother, one of the biggest battles was over who would get which books. Now in some strange ironic set of circumstances, my father has not only moved in with me, but he has rejoined his previous collection of books that I have owned since my mother died twenty-five-plus years ago.

My father sits on that sofa and I see him like a mosquito. He sucks in books, text, sentences, paragraphs, voice, story, set-up, conflict, resolution like the very life-blood that keeps him going. He is engorged with fiction and non-fiction. He is living in a writer's mind. At first I was angry that he just sat there and read and did nothing. He doesn't even offer to help with the simplest things we have to do for him. He reads and reads. But then I realized that I may be jealous that he just gets to sit there and soak up all that literature. Wouldn't that be nice to have that luxury of time, space, meals prepared, house cleaned, cat vying to warm your lap?

So I go about my business of keeping things together and dreaming of what my next novel will be. I have a few picture books in the works and I'm aching to get into my studio to do sketches- to see if that field is ready for planting again. My first novel is heading out to adult publishers soon and I am very eager to see if it will take root. I have already let my father read it, and he was riveted- and not just to the sofa. 

Here's to books. Without them, I'm not sure how my father or I would survive. It's a better world because of them. May books bring you happiness in all ways, shapes and forms.

With Love,