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.