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,