Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: ONCE UPON A MEMORY by Nina Laden, illustrated by Renata Liwska (SCBWI Western Washington)

The Crystal Kite Award is given by SCBWI in 15 divisions across the globe. In this 15th (and final) profile of our 2014 winners, the spotlight shines on ONCE UPON A MEMORY by Nina Laden, illustrated by Renata Liwska.

Representing SCBWI Western Washington (from whence Nina Laden hails), ONCE UPON A MEMORY won for the Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota Division.

Award-Winning Author Nina Laden

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Nina: “Once Upon A Memory” began as poem that I wrote during a particularly difficult period in my life. I was walking on the beach and I found a feather and as I held it up and tested it in the wind, it got me wondering if it remembered that it once was a bird. That question, “does a feather remember it once was a bird?” led to a string of questions that turned into a poem as I kept walking down the beach- until it got to the point that I nearly had to run home to write them down before I forgot them. 

At first I thought the book, which I originally called “Does A Feather Remember?” was going to be a whimsical board book with novelty flaps that revealed the answers. Things didn’t go that way, in fact they changed at a SCBWI conference in my home state of Washington. 

A few years back I was faculty at our SCBWI-WA Spring Conference and after the conference ended, editor Connie Hsu (who was with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers at that time) and I had a glass of wine and discovered that we both had the same birthday. On a whim I decided to send “Does A Feather Remember?” to her, and after a series of revisions, a chunk of time, and the submission of four different samples of my different illustration styles decisions were made. Little, Brown became the publisher. Connie became the editor- and for the first time ever, I became the author only. It was actually a very interesting experience and a lesson about letting go. My style was just not “sweet enough.” (I have never been accused of being “warm and fuzzy. Hah!) 

Working with Connie was wonderful and it was a lot of work. Every single word and every concept/image was thoroughly scrutinized. I was ever so grateful to help choose the fabulously-talented Renata Liwska to illustrate this book. Renata and I have become friends through this experience. There is even a cultural bond because Renata is originally from Poland, and I, too am part Polish. (My last name used to be Ladinski and was changed by my paternal grandfather.) 

Through all of this, “Does A Feather Remember?” became a beautiful, evocative picture book, and Little, Brown felt that I needed to change the title. This was a difficult thing for me to do, but it was a group decision. I submitted many ideas and everyone agreed that “Once Upon A Memory” was the best choice. There is so much of my own curiosity and wonder at the world we live in; to see this book come to life from an idea on the beach, to a gorgeous book about so many deep and important questions has been a reward after a long period of not creating the books that sustain me. 

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Nina: I didn’t know about SCBWI when I submitted and published my first book, “The Night I Followed the Dog,” back in 1994, but I found out about them right after I was published and I joined. I can’t remember if it was late ‘94 or in ‘95. I tell people that I wish that I had known about them before I was published, but I think that not knowing has given me a greater sense of value of this incredible organization. SCBWI has been such an invaluable tool for networking. That is my number one reason for never letting my membership go after almost twenty years. Writing and illustrating is solitary work, and when I first started I didn’t even own a computer. Now we do have way too much social media connecting us to the point that we are over-stimulated. The SCBWI connections are the most meaningful ones in my book, though. I do wish I could attend more conferences, but being involved in the organization in the small way that I’ve been has helped me feel like part of such a great community. SCBWI lets us all share our knowledge and we pass on information and inspire each other. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Nina: My advice for other children’s book writers and illustrators is to keep a journal/sketcbook/scrapbook. I’ve always done this – I put everything in my journals: ideas, stories, poems, drawings, cartoons, things I’ve cut and pasted... Anything that means something, even if I don’t know what it is. It could be the seed of an idea. You must feed your imagination. And you must get out into nature. I know we talk about keeping your “butt in the chair,” but... If you don’t get out there and have adventures and explore, you won’t have things that inspire you to write and draw. I truly believe that to create we have to “recreate” which is “re-create” if you look at the syllables... (and you have to eat well, too, there is an “ate,” there and I believe that cooking is also a connection to creativity.)

Thanks so much, Nina!

I also contacted SCBWI Western Washington co-Regional Advisors Dana Sullivan and Dana Arnim to find out more. Here's what they wrote:

SCBWI Western Washington tends to have most members clustered in the Seattle/Bellevue area, although we span from the British Columbia border up north all the way south to where Washington meets Oregon. We spread from the Cascade Mountains all the way west to the Olympic peninsula. (SCBWI’s Inland Empire region serves most cities and towns east of the Cascades in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.) SCBWI WWA hosts an annual season of events which includes: monthly programming from September through May, a conference in April, Inside Story events, illustrator exhibitions, "Kid Lit” drink nights, both writers' & illustrators’ retreats, and a series of schmoozes in both the north and south sound areas. 

Thanks to Nina and the Danas, and Cheers to both Nina and Renata on ONCE UPON A MEMORY winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Nina at her website here.

Learn about Renata Liwska and see more of her beautiful illustrations at her online home here.

And discover lots more about SCBWI Western Washington here.

Illustrate and Write On,

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