A land where ‘Smaerds’ come true
September 26, 2008 · Updated 5:09 PM
It takes a lot of work to turn childhood fantasy into grown-up reality. But islander Andrea von Botefuhr and her sister, Angela Russell, put their heads down and did it. Literally.
“This is the first manifestation of our dream...it’s only taken 40 years,” von Botefuhr said.
Von Botefuhr’s recently published children’s story, “The Land of Smaerd,” originated when 10-year-old Russell wrote the story for a fifth grade English assignment.
The sisters didn’t let the story dissipate; instead, with Russell’s blessing, von Botefuhr decided to revisit the tale as an adult. She stuck with the original thread, but instead of using the original prose narrative, she opted for verse.
In the hardcover picture book, which debuts today with a reading in Redmond, a young girl traverses the world of dreams. She meets many archetypical creatures and elements of fantasy along the way – giant butterflies, dolphins that fly, “fairies, or gnomes, or big ice cream cones, or long winding roads made of old cobblestones.”
Gentle rhymes and sweet imagery abound, in the same types of charmingly off-center combinations that are so much a part of our sleeping consciousness. Just as our dreams give us pause and make us go, “Wha...?” upon waking, von Botefuhr’s verse entices with small ah-has here and there:
“In the gardens, fruits and vegetables are abundant and blooming, yet the seotatop and storrac never need pruning.”
Seotatop. Storrac. Smaerd. See?
Von Botefuhr circled and circled the concept of “Smaerd” without quite being able to put her finger on how to re-create her sister’s story.
Then, as so many creative efforts do, it just hit her. As she sat in lay-over land in LAX one day in 1994, en route home from a trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, the entire story emerged in rhyme.
“That’s how writing works,” she said. “You’ll be contemplating and contemplating, and it all comes out in the bathtub at 3 a.m.”
The sisters, born in Hollywood and raised in Hawaii, collaborated on the project from there on out, undertaking the writing and publishing effort themselves.
Russell, now based in Kirkland, formed Know Wonder Publishing and its umbrella outfit, Know Wonder Entertainment, to put out “Smaerd” and other efforts. In addition to tending to the business end of things, she acted as artistic director and the primary contact with illustrator Bryn Barnard.
Von Botefuhr, meanwhile, worked on refining the story, such as trimming her finished product to a third of its original length.
To add to Barnard’s rich, starry-purple sequences and fantastical creatures – like the dragon that’s also a mountain – Russell designed a series of mandalas for the book. On some pages, they’re subtly placed, while on others they create large, sunshiny focal points that add to the book’s bright, meditative quality.
“This is one of those things a kid could look at forever and keep finding things,” von Botefuhr said.
For von Botefuhr, the book’s key lies with the line, “Luckily Randall’s parents kissed and hugged him, which released those poor dreams, and they no longer bugged him.”
For her, it’s all about learning how to cope with and re-frame unexpected situations and whacked-out perceptions that could seem nightmarish without the bolstering quality of love.
“We have nightmares arrive in all forms in our lives,” she said. The trick, she added, is to diffuse them with compassion.
At the Harbour Public House, where von Botefuhr works as a bartender, she’s been passing the book around to colleagues and patrons. And even though this over-21 crowd isn’t her target audience, the book seems to be resonating. She’s witnessed no fewer than five adults, men included, finish the book in tears.
Life for her is good, too. She went from being a struggling single mom to being a published author, with a day job that gives her flexibility, provides her with a sense of extended family, and enables her to support her 12-year-old daughter.
She’s also got new projects in the works, including another children’s book and an idea for an animated film to be produced by Know Wonder Entertainment. Every day, she offers gratitude to the universe for her abundance, and when people ask, “How are you today?” she answers, “I’m fantastic, and I’m getting better.”
“Me and J.K. Rowling,” she said, knocking wood.